Smai Harnsontthi, oversaw 43 Thai Buddhist temples, dead at 66


AUBURN, Wash. (USA) -- Smai Harnsontthi, abbot of the Thai Buddhist temple in this Seattle suburb and overseer of 43 temples in the United States, is dead at 66.

Harnsontthi collapsed after complaining of chest pains during the monks' regular chanting Wednesday morning and died at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way, a neighboring suburb, as doctors tried to clear arteries to his heart, Buddhist officials said.

The king of Thailand and all Thai Buddhist temples in the United States and Thailand were notified, temple spokesman Anjan Boonliang Rosehom said Thursday.

"Everybody is shocked by his death," Boonliang said.

Harnsontthi, elected eight years ago as the chief U.S. monk in the Dhammayutti Nikaya branch of Theravadan Buddhism, also will be honored in death at about 60 temples and meditation centers aligned with the more liberal Maha Nikaya sect, Boonliang said.

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Harnsontthi became a novice monk at age 14 in Thailand and a monk at age 20. He came to the United States in 1982, staying first in Tennessee and Georgia before moving to the Puget Sound area in 1984 to build a temple.

Eight years later the Wat Washington Buddhavannaram was formally dedicated next to a small lake. The temple now has 800 members and also is often visited by Thai Buddhists from elsewhere in Washington state, Oregon and British Columbia.

The abbot's body will lie in state at the temple from Friday night through the weekend, then will be sent to Thailand for cremation, Boonliang said.