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Somdej Wat Rakang

An Introduction to Phra Somdej Wat Rakang votive tablets



Sitting in (Center) Somdej Phra Puttajarn Toh Prommarangsi, (Left) LP Hai of Wat Rakang, (Right) LP Kam of Wat Amrin.

Phra Somdej Wat Rakang is probably the most famous Buddhist amulet in the whole Kingdom of Thailand. This is simply due to its sacred Buddhistic values made by a highly respected monk in the 19th century, Reverend Somdej Phra Puttajarn Toh Prommarangsi of Wat Rakang Kosittaram in Bangkok. This highly revered Phra Somdej votive tablet originated from Wat Rakang "Temple of Bell" in Bangkok.





The above Somdej WRK is regarded as a highly collectible piece made by Luang Pu Pu, the Chief Abbot of Wat Intharaviharn



The above is another stunning Wat Rakang in excellent condition that is a 100 years old known as Ajahn Toh made in rememberance of Somdej Puttajarn Toh Prommarungsi by the temple. It consisted many original powder contents and it is very beautiful when looked closely under a magnifying loupe. Given to me as a gift by my teacher Ajahn whom is also a great collector himself.



This 7-Tiered (Jed-chan) Keschaiyo style is origin from Wat Rakang. It is also called Ajahn Toh and is at least 100 years old made for the same purpose in rememberance of Somdej Puttajarn Toh Prommarungsi.



The buddha amulet Somdej Wat Rakang was given the name as the "King of all amulets" by Tri Yampawai a master in Thai Buddhist amulets world. Tri Yampawai had classified Somdej Wat Rakang as the 1st of amulet grouping in the Grand 5 "Benjapakee". The other 4 amulet groupings are Phra Rod Maha Wan (Lam Phun), Phra Nang Phaya (Phitsanulok), Phra Sum Kaw (Khampaeng Phet), Phra Phong Suphan (Supanburi).

Front entrance of Wat Rakang


River crossing from Tha Chang jetty




Somdej Wat Rakang Votive Tablets


Old somdej by LP Nak and LP Hin, Wat Rakang


Somdej LP Nak circa B.E.249x


LP Nak old somdej circa B.E.249x


LP Nak somdej circa B.E.2490 - B.E.2500


Let us now dwell into the The History and Making of Phra Somdej Wat Rakang for the benefit and knowledge of all Simply Buy members. First and foremost, it is extremely hard to find a genuine piece of Phra Somdej Wat Rakang and not to mention about owning a genuine piece. We should feel very fortunate even if we can own a remade model with left over ingredients or remade batch which contained broken fragments of these genuine pieces. Somdej Phra Puttajarn Toh passed away in 1872 and since then till now in 2011, it is 139 years. From my perspective after many years of research, should one being able to collect a Somdej Wat Rakang piece that is 100 years old, it is considered a true blessing.

There are many fakes being traded in the amulet market circle, and owning a new issued Wat Rakang Somdej is a safe choice. We would encourange every amulet enthusiasts to pay high respect to this well known votive tablet whether its old or new Phra Somdej Wat Rakang.

Somdej Phra Puttajarn Toh Prommarungsee was born on 17 April 1788 in Ayuthaya Province. It is believed that he is the son of King Rama 2 of the Chakri Dynasty. He was ordained as a novice monk in 1800 at the age of 12 years old. At the age of 21 in the year 1807, he was ordained as a mond under the Royal Patronage at Wat Praseeratanasasadaram (Wat Prakeo) in Bangkok. His clerical Buddhist name is Prommarungsee. In 1864 at the age of 76 he was bestowed the Buddhist rank Somdej Praputtajarn - a prominent status of then Rattanakosin city (the predecessor of Bangkok). His tenure in the monastry began in the reign of King Rama 1 until the reign of King Rama 5, a total of 65 years. He passed away in 1872 at the age of 85.

There are a lot of Buddha amulets in Thailand but there is not even one as famous and sought after as Phra Somdej Wat Rakang made by Somdej Phra Puttajarn Toh Prommarungsee. The other famous amulet also made by Somdej Phra Puttajarn Toh is named Somdej Wat Bangkhunprom.


Wat Rakang B.E.2515 (100 years "Roi Pee" Commemorative)



Wat Rakang B.E.2515 (100 years commemorative of Somdej Toh)

Phra Somdej Wat Rakang was made from five kinds of sacred powders namely Pattamung, Ithije, Maharaj, Puttakun and Treenisinghe. The process starts with incantation of holy scriptures, writing sutras and holy symbols (yantra) with chalk on a slate board, erased and rewrote several hundred times over and over again. The dust gathered thus signifies the sacred powder of the ritual. This first collected powder is called Pattamung. Pattamung powder is then mixed with water to mold into a pencil shape, sun-dried and the used in writing another chapter of sutras. The process of writing and erasing is repeated as many times as stipulated in the holy sutras. The dust gathered from the second rite is Ithije. The same process is performed until all five ingredients have been collected. The ingredients of five kinds are then mixed together and added to the bulk substance which consisted of ground shells as main part, others included dried cooked rice powder, crushed banana, different kinds of pollen grains, different kinds of sacred powders, holy water and Tung oil which acted as a cement substance.

All kinds of ingredients mentioned above are thoroughly mixed in bulk. Then a small part of the ingredients is pressed into each mold made of slate (blue-grey stone). The five molds named as follows;

1. Pim Pra Pratarn or Pim Yai
2. Pim Jedee
3. Pim Gate Buatoom
4. Pim Tarnsaam
5. Pim Prokpoh


Phra Somdej Wat Rakang Phim Yai, Phim Sendai and Somdej Pilan. Photo courtesy from a Thai veteran collector cum volunteer helper in Wat Rakang.





Phra Somdej Wat Rakang of different molds were man-made in many occasions from 1867 to 1871 reaching a total of 84,000 units from the 5 molds equaling the number of the Dhamma Khanda (holy scriptures).


After each batch were made, incantation was recited alone over the amulets to be sacred as much as possible. Then they were given to persons who believed and respected on those Pra Somdej amulets. Most of Phra Somdej Wat Rakang are not kept in the pagoda except a small number was found mixed with another Phra Somdej Bangkoonprom in the pagoda of Wat Bangkhunprom in Bangkok.

Somdej WRK Physical Compositions

This is a general composition known today on the magic sciences of creating Somdej Wat Rakang. During inspection under good magnifying glass one may see one or a combination of the physical compositions listed here.

Since the magical sciences were handed down from its originator; Somdej Toh to succeeding abbots after he passed away, we have strong reason to believe that most of Wat Rakang Somdej’s ingredients and making procedures today are similar with the past. The notable difference is the beautiful appearance of newer Somdej as today’s modern mold technique are much more advanced than ancient molding technique by hands.

We may be able to find some physical compositions in newer Somdej Wat Rakang e.g. B.E.2499 and even some newer B.E.2537 to have certain similarities to the ancient Somdej Wat Rakang. One must also take note that each individual Somdej are unique and its characteristics and physical compositions will differ from one another although they came from the same mold on the same batch.

However, we are careful to point out that this subject matter is derived from our personal analysis and research. Therefore, this is merely a theory and shall NOT represent any professional identification process. The physical composition guidelines here will serve as a reading interest only to the general mass visitors.

1. White spots on the surface may be caused by white shell powders or Phra Tat (relics).

2. Red spots may be seen in some cases and is assumed to be caused by broken Buddha images e.g. Soomkor. It is widely believed that Soomkor have the properties of “If you have me, you will never be poor” that constitutes portion of Somdej WRK ingredients.

3. Black spots are assumed to be caused by a number of possibilities. But nevertheless, most experts will treat it as burned incense sticks or burned holy scriptures and pollen powder. Hence, black spots may be from any of these ingredients.

4. Green spots are assumed to be caused by fragments of green stone particles i.e. Jade or algae. Jade are strongly believed in Chinese culture to be able to avoid dangers. Some popular beliefs are saying that green spots may be the case of algae (fungus). However, we are not discrediting this fact entirely because some old amulets when immerse into holy water for a long period of time may have green algae stains after they have dried up.

5. Brown spots usually represent any one of the 108 types of the pollen flowers that are dried after many years.

6. Sacred sands have been known to be included as part of the ingredients during sacred ceremonies performed by Somdej Toh.

7. White bulge in some areas are assumed to be caused by Phra Tat powder that may appear mostly at the back surface.

8. Gold dust is thought to be old gold from the melting of an old golden Buddha image at Wat Rakang.

9. Some tiny white bulge are assumed to be caused by the 5 main sacred powders; Pattamung, Ithije, Maharaj, Puttakun, and Treenisinghe.

10. Majority may have visible signs of sunken appearance on some parts which was largely due to the weather temperature, humidity and natural ageing process.

11. Some may show an oily skin characteristic (looks shiny under lighting) due to too much mixture of Tung oil.

12. Some are covered with a layer of gold or black lacquer to preserve the sacred amulets. However, you may find that it was later removed because the owner had wanted the surface to be revealed visible to the eyes.

13. White color stains presumed to be caused by white shell powder or Phra Tat (similar to physical composition no. 1). It may also be caused by a type of white powder that was applied during the process of pressing the ingredients into the mold.

14. Cracked or broken surface skin layer due to ageing process and weather condition. However, this characteristic is not common with those made by adding in Tung oil.

15. Natural crack lines on the surfaces are assumed to be caused by drying process of the inner and outer skin layers.


A fine piece of genuine Phra Somdej Wat Rakang in good condition after more than 140 years is exhibited above for your reference.  This is one of the many blocks made by Wat Rakang during Somdej Puttajarn Toh Prommarungsee's era.
  

Somdej Phra Puttajarn Toh Prommarungsee was born on the 12th day of the waxing moon, 5th lunar month, year of the Monkey falling on Thursday,April 17,1788 in the morning at 06.35 hours and passed away on the 2nd day of the waning moon,8th lunar month,year of the Monkey,falling on Saturday,June 22,1872 at midnight. His age was 84 years, 2 months and 5 days. He was the 5th Somdej Phra Puttha in the Rattanakosin Era.

We are very fortunate to be able to view these valuable and scarce Phra Somdej WRK. The picture above are the sacred Somdej WRK circa B.E.2499 that were soaked in sacred water. In our opinion, this 50+ years old batch is comparable to the famous Somdej Bangkhunprom B.E.2502 and B.E.2509 where it was remade by using old broken fragments of early Somdej Bangkhunprom made by Somdej Toh.



It must also be noted that these circa B.E.2499 WRK somdej pieces are not made by later masters e.g. LP Nak or LP Hin. These are named "Ajahn Toh" simply because they contained leftover from Ajahn Toh's sacred powders or broken fragments and very likely mass chanted. These are very good Somdej as substitutes to the original Somdej WRK made by Somdej Puttajarn Toh's hands that are above 140 years. These B.E.2499 series are a rare to find nowadays after being released for the first time to worshippers  whom have affinity with Ajahn Toh's sacred amulets. 




Picture above is a Somdej Toh 12 inches bucha in meditation posture.

Another important Wat Rakang votive tablet in recent times is the 40+ years Phim Chedi style (circa B.E.2500s or A.D.1960s). This is also a very rare batch named Ajahn Toh's Somdej similar to the B.E.2499. It's said that this batch contained high concentration of Ajahn Toh and Wat Rakang materials.


Phim Chedi (exhibit 1) front and rear view


Phim Chedi (exhibit 1) side views

Below is another well preserved piece of the B.E.2500s Somdej Wat Rakang Phim Chedi for reference. Compact powders, dried flowers and holy materials can be clearly seen on the reverse rear sides of both pieces.
Phim Chedi (exhibit 2) front and rear view

Phim Chedi (exhibit 2) side and lateral view

The above circa B.E.2499 together with the B.E.2500s are excellent Somdej Wat Rakang that one can possibly find today for personal collection as they are made in accordance to the formula left by Somdej Toh. Whether the tablets will give the owner good experiences or not very much depends on his/her virtues. The same principle is applicable to original Somdej Wat Rakang and also the above later pieces that contained Somdej Toh's powder.

Just to share our humble view and we seek your pardon should our view contradicts with the formal Buddhism teachings. It may not be as easy as one may think to wear an original piece of Somdej Wat Rakang even if a person is able to own it. Back in those days A.D.1860's when Somdej Toh made these somdej tablets he had followed the Dharma strictly with purity of mind to help people who believed in the amulet power. Therefore these Wat Rakang amulets must be highly respected by the owner and the sure way is by respecting the Triple Gems by the owner. Therefore, if a person who have no respect to the Triple Gems namely the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and do bad deeds will certainly not be able to receive blessings from the amulet's devine power. We shall conclude that whether it is a new or old Somdej Wat Rakang, proper respect and care must always be maintained in the highest order to uphold ones own virtue in representing the Teacher - our Gautama Buddha as all somdej that prominently display a Buddha image sitting on top of 3 levels representing Anicca (Impermanence), Dukkha (Suffering) and Anatta (Non-Self).


Wat Rakang also produced other equally good and inexpensive Somdej votive amulets in recent times. Shown below are 2 such pieces made in B.E.2537 (A.D.1994); the Additional Base Mold and the Lotus Bud Bundle Hair Mold.


The Additional Base mold or known as Phim Tarn Saem in Thai is one of the print design in ancient Somdej Wat Rakang. This phim is described with an additional thin base line just under the lap of the Buddha followed by the 3 base levels. It has a very light blue/purple colour bell shape stamp on the rear. The original surface on front and rear is beautiful with natural line cracks and some people may refer it as "crack meat".


The Lotus Bud Bundle Hair or known as Kate Bua Toom is also another print design in ancient Somdej Wat Rakang. This piece had a small crack on the top right edge due to an unintented mishap. However, with proper safekeeping and preserving well this Somdej tablet over the past few years, we have noticed that its holy properties in the form of white powder spots began to surfaced naturally on various parts notably around the chin of the Buddha image and the bell arch as can be seen on the photo below.



With proper respect for Somdej Wat Rakang's blessings, in our humble view it makes no difference between an aged old Wat Rakang and a new Wat Rakang votive tablet as all Wat Rakang somdej are made with the intention for people who have high respect for the power of such tablets to grant ones safety and protection. It is the wisdom of the beholder that makes a world of difference by understanding the values of both old and new votive tablets following Somdej Phra Puttajarn Toh Prommarangsi lineage.




Wat Rakang is also closely associated with Wat Mai Amataros formerly known as Wat Bangkhumprom.


Another interesting temple worth reading is Wat Mahathat that has a rich history in the making of Somdej Orahang that in some ways it has influenced the making of Somdej Wat Rakang.


At times Wat Rakang will release previous amulet batches for charity cause. In this case the B.E.2538 and B.E.2548 was taken out to the public for donation. If you are lucky to visit during that time, you can certainly find these good and inexpensive amulets from Wat Rakang.





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For additional reading on origin of Wat Rakang authentic amulets that have been preserved over the last century, please visit our other article title Great Somdej by Ajahn Toh.











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PHRA KATHA JINABANCHORN


Before Chant this Katha Say "Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhassa" x 3 times


"JinapancaLa-Panitang, MangRak-Katu Sappada"

OR

Putta GarMo Lapae, Puttang Tana GarMo Lapae, Tanang Atti Kayae GarYa YaYa,

Devanung PiyaTung Suttava

(respecting for the magic power that would help call upon)


Itipiso Pakava Yamarachano Tao Vessuvanno, Moranung Sukang AraHung, Sugato Namo BuddhaYa

(respecting for the magic power that would protect the worshipper from dangers)



FULL VERSION OF JINABANCHON KATHA
Jayasanagata Buddha Jetava Maram Savahanam

Catu-sacca Sabham Rasam Ye Pivinsu Narasabha

(The Buddhas, the noble men who drank the nectar of the four Noble Truths, Having come to the victory seat, having defeated Mara togher with his mount)

Tanhankaradayo Buddha Attavisati Nayaka Sabbe Patithita Mayham Mathake te Munissara

(These Buddhas, the 28 leaders, the sovereign sages beginning with Tahankara are all established on the crown of my head)

Sise Patithito Mayham Buddho Dhammo Davilocane Sangho Patithito Mayham Ure Sabba-gunakaro

(The Buddha is established in my head, the Dhamma in my two eyes, the Sangha the mind of all virtues is established in my chest)



Hadaye-meh Anuruddho Sariputto Ca Dakkhine Kondanno Pitthi-bhagasmin Moggallano Cava Make

(Anuraddha is in my heart, and Sariputta on my right. Kondanna is behind me, and Moggallana on my left)


Dakkhine Savane Mayham Asum Ananda-Rahula Kassapo Ca-mahanamo Ubhasum Vama-sotake

(Ananda and Rahula are in my right ear, Kassapa and Mahanama are both in my left ear)


Kassapa pithi-bhagasmim Suriyo va Pabhankaro Nissinno Siri-sampanno Sobhito Muni-pungavo

(Sobhita, the noble sage, sits in full glory, shinning like the sun all over the hair at the back of my head)


Kumara-kassapo Thero Mahesi Citta-vadako So Mayham Vadame Niccam Patithasi Gunakaro

(The great sage, the mind of virtue, elder Kumarakassapa, the brilliant speaker is constantly in my mouth)


Punno Angulimalo ca Upali Nanda-Sivali Thera Panca Ime Jata Nalate Tilaka Mama

(Five elders – Punna, Angulimala, Upali, Nanda and Sivali have arisen as auspicious marks at the middle of my forehead)


Sesasiti Mahathera Vijita Jina Savaka, Etesiti Mahathera Jitavanto Jinorasa, Jalanta Sila-tejena Angamangesu Santhita

(The rest of the 80 great leaders, victors, disciples of the victorious Buddha, sons of the victorious Buddha, shinning with the majesty of moral virtue are established in the various parts of my body)



Ratanam Purato Asi Dakkhine Metta-suttakam, Dhajaggam Pacchato asi Vame Angulimalakam, Khanda-Mora-Parittanca Atanatiya-suttakam, Akase Chadanam asi-Sesa Pakara-santhita

(The Ratana Sutta is in front of me, the Metta Sutta to my right. The Dhajagga Sutta is behind me, the Angulimala Paritta to my left. The Khanda and Mora Parittas and the Atanatiya Sutta are a roof in space above me. The remaining Suttas are established as fortress wall around me)

Jinanabala-sammutta Satta-pakara-lankata, Vata-pittadi-sanjata Bahirajjha Tupaddava

(Bound by the power of the Victors, realm, seven fortress walls arrayed against them)


Asesa Vinayam Yantu Ananta-jina-tejasa, Vasato Me Sakiccena Sada Sambuddha-panjare

(May all misfortunes within and without caused such things as wind or bile be destroyed without remainder through the majesty of the unending Victor)


Jina-panjara-majjhamhi Viharantam Mahitale, Sada Palentu Mam Sabbe Te Maha-purisa Sabha

(As I dwell in all my affairs, always in the cage of the Self-awakened One, Living grounded in the midst of the Victors, I am always guarded by all of those great noble men)

Iccevamanto Sugutto Surakho, Jinanubhavena Jitupaddavo, Dhammanubhavena Jitarisangho, Sangha Nupave Najita Tarayo Satama Nupa-Wapalito, Jarami Jina-Panjareti

(Thus am I utterly well-sheltered, well protected. Through the might of the Victors, misfortunes are vanquished. Through the might of the Dhamma, hordes of enermies are vanquished. Through the might of the Sangha, dangers are vanquished. Guarded by the might of the True Dhamma, I live in the Victor’s cage)



Legends of Somdet Toh

by

Thanissaro Bhikkhu



Somdet Toh — his formal title was Somdet Budhacariya (Toh Prommarungsee) — was probably the most famous and widely loved monk in nineteenth century Thailand. A skilled meditator closely associated with the royal family, he was famous for many reasons, but his wide popularity rests on two things: Despite his rank, he was easily approachable to people on all levels of society; and he made amulets that — because of his meditative prowess — were reputed to be very powerful. He was also famous for his wisdom and wit. Since his death, in 1872, a cult has grown up around his memory, with many mediums throughout Thailand claiming to channel his spirit.

At the same time, many legends have grown up around his name. Here are a few of my favorites. I can't vouch for their accuracy, but they all carry a good lesson, which is why they merit passing on.

Somdet Toh was an illegitimate son of a nobleman who eventually became King Rama II. The story goes that one day in 1787 or 1788, when the nobleman was in northern Thailand cleaning up after the Burmese invasion, he happened to get separated from his troops. As he rode along on his horse, he came across a house with a young woman about sixteen years old standing in front. Thirsty, he asked her for some water. She went to the well, got a bowl of water — in Thailand in the old days, they would drink water out of a bowl, rather than out of a glass — and crushed a lotus flower over the bowl, sprinkling the stamens all over the surface of the water. Then she handed the bowl to him as he was sitting on his horse. He took one long look at the stamens on top of the water and then had to drink the water very carefully so as not to swallow them. As he handed the bowl back to her, he asked her, "Was that a trick?" "No," she said. "I saw that you were so thirsty that you might gulp the water down and end up choking on it. So I figured this would be a good way to make sure that you drank slowly."


Well. He asked her, "Are your parents around?" So she fetched her parents. They didn't know who he was, but he was obviously a nobleman, so when he told them, "I'd like to have your daughter," they gave their consent. So she joined the king in the army camp, but as the campaign was ending he said to her, "I'm afraid I can't take you down to the palace with me, but in case you do have a child by me, here's my belt. Give the child my belt and I'll know that it's my child. I'll take care of him or her in the future." So he left her and went down to Bangkok.

Her whole family soon followed down to Bangkok when they discovered that she actually was pregnant. They moved onto a floating house moored on the bank of the Chao Phraya River in front of a monastery, Wat In. She gave birth to a son and named him Toh, which means "large." When he was old enough, he was ordained as a novice. A few years later, when the nobleman had become King Rama II, the family took Novice Toh to Wat Nibbanaram — currently Wat Mahathaad, a temple right across the road from the Grand Palace — and showed the belt to the abbot. The abbot took the belt to the king and the king said, "Yes, that's my son." So he later sponsored Novice Toh's ordination as a monk.

When Prince Mongkut — later Rama IV — was ordained as a monk, Phra Toh was his "older brother monk," the one who gave him his initial training in Dhamma and Vinaya. Soon after Prince Mongkut's ordination, his father died, and although by birth Prince Mongkut was next in line for the throne, the Privy Council chose one of his half-brothers to reign as Rama III instead. When this happened, Phra Toh decided it would be wise to leave Bangkok, so he went into the forest. Prince Mongkut stayed on as a monk for 28 years, until Rama III passed away. He was then offered the throne, so he disrobed and was crowned King Rama IV.

Soon after his coronation he sent out word to fetch Phra Toh back to Bangkok. Officials went into the forest, dragging back any monk they could find, and asking, "Is this the monk?" "No." "Is this the monk?" "No." Finally word got to Phra Toh, and he came out voluntarily. The king gave him the title of Somdet — which, next to the Supreme Patriarch, is the highest title a monk can hold — and put him in charge of Wat Rakhang, the monastery across the river from the palace.

Rama IV is remembered as a wise and humane king. Somdet Toh's own epithet for him — in a brief poem he wrote summarizing the history and prophesizing the future of the Chakri (Bangkok) dynasty — was that he maintained or embodied the Dhamma. And Rama IV's desire to have Somdet Toh near the palace is an indication of his wisdom. He knew that, as king, he would have trouble finding people fearless and selfless enough to tell him frankly when he was wrong, and so he wanted his former teacher nearby to perform this function. But even as the king's former teacher, Somdet Toh had to exercise tact and skill in criticizing the king.

One story tells that one day early in his reign, the king — and remember, he had been a monk for twenty-eight years — was sitting out on the boat landing in front of the palace drinking with his courtiers. So Somdet Toh came paddling across the river in a small boat. The king, displeased, said to him, "Here I've made you a Somdet. Don't you have any respect for your title? How can you paddle your own boat?" The Somdet replied, "When the king of the country is drinking in public, Somdets can paddle their own boats." Turning around, he paddled back to Wat Rakhang. That was the last time the king drank in public.

Another time, King Rama IV felt that since Thailand had been laid waste by the Burmese, many ancient Thai customs had disappeared, so new customs should be developed to replace them. So he decided, "Wouldn't it be nice if we had a boat parade at the end of the rains retreat? Every monastery in Bangkok will be responsible for decorating a boat, and we'll have a contest to reward the best-looking boat." So the royal decree went out that every monastery in Bangkok had to decorate a boat for the parade.

When the day for the parade came, a long line of beautifully decorated boats floated past the royal reviewing stand — except for one, a little canoe carrying a monkey tied to a leash with a sign on its back. The king's immediate reaction was anger:

"Somebody's making fun of me." He had his officials check the roster to see which monastery was responsible for the boat, and it was Wat Rakhang, Somdet Toh's monastery. So they took the sign off the monkey to see what it said. It said, "Willing to lose face in order to save cloth," which rhymed in Thai, but didn't make any more sense in Thai than it does in English. A few days later, the king invited Somdet Toh into the palace for a meal and a Dhamma talk, after which he asked him, "Suppose someone sponsored a boat with a sign like this on the back of a monkey. What do you think it might mean?" And the Somdet said, "Well, it might mean that monks don't have any resources of their own to decorate boats and it's certainly not appropriate for them to ask for donations from laypeople to decorate boats, so the only course left open to them would to have been to put their robes in the pawn shop. So they were willing to lose face in order to save their robes." That was the last time the parade was ever held.

Another story concerns a funeral in the royal palace. Funerals in the palace could go on for a hundred days before the cremation. Every night they'd invite four monks to chant. The famous, high-ranking monks would chant toward the beginning of the hundred days, and by the end of the period they were getting down into the ranks of the junior monks. One night toward the end of this particular funeral they invited four young monks who had never seen the king before in their lives. And this was back in the days when if the king said, "Off with your head!" it was off with your head. So they were nervous about their performance. After all, the king had been a monk for 28 years. He would know if they made any mistakes in their chanting.

Finally the king entered the room, followed by his entourage. Now, Rama IV had a rather stern and fearsome appearance, and as soon as the monks took one look at him they went running behind a curtain. This infuriated the king. "What is this? Am I a monster? An ogre? What is this? Disrobe them immediately!" So a royal decree was written up and sent over the river for Somdet Toh to disrobe the monks. He happened to be sitting at a writing table, next to a small altar where incense was burning. Taking one look at the royal decree, he placed it over a stick of incense, burned three holes in it, and sent it back across the river to the palace. The king, of course, had studied Buddhist doctrine; he knew what the three fires were: the fire of passion, the fire of anger, and the fire of delusion. The Somdet's message was, "Put them out." So the monks didn't have to disrobe. That's how you criticize a king.

Once, however, Somdet Toh didn't get away with criticizing the king. There is a tradition recorded in the Apadanas that the Buddha's clan, the Sakyan clan, started from a time when the sons and daughters of a particular king had to leave their country. They took up residence in Kapilavastu, the area that eventually became the Buddha's home. After building their city and settling in, they looked around the area for spouses but couldn't find anyone who was high-born enough for them to marry. So the brothers ended up marrying their own sisters. That's the tradition recorded in the Apadanas to explain the name of the Sakyan — "One's Own" — clan.

One day Somdet Toh was giving a talk on this topic in the royal palace, and after discussing this point he continued, "Ever since then it's become a custom among royal families. Uncles go running after their nieces, cousins go running after their cousins..." Now, Rama IV's major queen was his niece, so again he was furious. "You cannot stay in this country!" he said. So Somdet Toh was banished from Thailand. Now, in Thailand the civil law does not extend into the sima, the territory immediately around ordination halls. For instance, if a thief goes running into a sima, the police have to get the abbot's permission before they can go into the sima after him. So the Somdet returned to Wat Rakang and moved into the ordination hall. For about three months he didn't set foot outside the sima.

Meanwhile, the king had forgotten all about the banishment order, and one day he said, "We haven't had Somdet Toh over for a talk in a long time. Let's invite him over." So the invitation went across the river to the monastery, but word came back, saying "I cannot set foot in this country, remember?" "Oh," the king said, "I forgot." And he lifted the banishment order.

So it wasn't an easy thing to criticize kings in those days. Even if you were his personal teacher, you had to be careful. Of course, not all of Somdet Toh's comments about the king were critical. After all, the respect he felt for the king was what had inspired him to leave the forest to be of help in the first place.

One of the most famous stories about their relationship concerns a Dhamma talk Somdet Toh gave in the palace. Palace Dhamma talks were highly ritualized affairs. The talk was expected to be long and literary, preceded with and followed by many elaborate chants and other formalities. Once Rama IV invited Somdet to present such a talk and had prepared an especially large pile of offerings to be presented to the Somdet after the talk — a sign that he was looking forward to an especially long and learned disquisition, to test the Somdet's knowledge of the Dhamma. After the beginning formalities, however, Somdet Toh said only one sentence: "The king already knows everything there is to know." Then he chanted the ritual passages to conclude the talk and returned to his seat on the dais, quiet and composed. Immensely pleased, the king presented him with the offerings, commenting that that was the best Dhamma talk he had ever heard. (Ajaan Lee tells the story that later another monk tried the same trick, but with different results: The king was so offended that he had the monk stripped of his ecclesiastical titles.)

At another, similar event at the palace, Somdet Toh began the closing blessing with the standard chant:

Yatha varivaha pura

Paripurenti sagaram

Evameva ito dinnam

Petanam upakappati...

Just as rivers full of water fill the ocean full,

Even so does that given here benefit the hungry ghosts...

As he reached this point in the chant, the king in a very unusual breach of Buddhist etiquette called out, "Why are you giving all the merit to the hungry ghosts? What did they do to deserve it?"

Somdet Toh, without missing a beat, backed up to change the last line:

Evameva ito dinnam

Sabbam rañño upakappati...

Even so does everything given here benefit the king...

The king, who was fluent in Pali himself, was delighted with the Somdet's ability to think on his feet.


There are many other legends concerning Somdet Toh that don't deal with the king. Ajaan Fuang, my teacher, especially liked to tell a story of how Somdet Toh dealt with high-ranking lay people who would visit monasteries and waste the monks' time in idle conversation.

Somdet Toh ate his meals in a small open pavilion in front of his dwelling. If a stray dog wandered past, he would toss a little food to the dog — which meant that, over time, a whole pack of dogs would regularly come to sit around him at his meal time, waiting for food. This meant that if any high-ranking lay people wanted to come pay their respects and chat with him while he was eating, they'd have to bow down to the dogs as well. As a result, only the people who weren't too proud to bow down to the dogs got to talk to him during his mealtime.

Another story concerns a wealthy layman who wanted to invite Somdet Toh to his house for a meal and a Dhamma talk. Events like this would often be fairly public, with the donor inviting many friends and relatives to participate in the meal offering and to hear the talk. So the layman sent his servant to convey the invitation to Somdet Toh, saying that he wanted Somdet Toh to give a talk on a lofty topic, the four noble truths. Now, it so happened that the servant wasn't familiar with the term, "four noble truths" — which in Thai is ariyasat. To him, it sounded like naksat, or zodiac. So he told Somdet Toh that his master wanted to hear a Dhamma talk on the zodiac. The Somdet knew that this couldn't possibly be right, but the servant's mistake amused him, and he decided to use it as an opportunity to make a Dhamma point — and have a little fun at the same time.

When the day for the talk arrived, he went to the layman's house and, after the meal, got up on the sermon seat and began the talk by saying, "Today our esteemed host has invited me to deliver a Dhamma talk on the zodiac." He then proceeded to describe the twelve houses of the zodiac in a fair amount of detail. Meanwhile, the master was staring daggers at the servant. After finishing his description of the zodiac, the Somdet then added, "But, regardless of what house of the zodiac people are born into, they are all subject to suffering." With that, he switched to the four noble truths — and probably saved the servant's job.

Another time some Christian missionaries came to visit the Somdet. One of the missionary strategies in those days was to show off their knowledge of science so as to dazzle the heathens, win their respect, and possibly win converts. With Somdet Toh so closely associated with the king, perhaps they thought that if they could convert him, the king might be converted as well. So they discussed various scientific topics with him, and finally touched on the fact that they had proof that the world was round. The Somdet, instead of being surprised, said, "I know. In fact, I can show you where the center of the world is." This surprised the missionaries, so they asked him to show them. He got up, took his staff, went out in front of his hut, and planted the staff firmly on the ground, saying, "Right here."

"But how could that be?" they asked him. He answered, "If the world is round, it's a sphere, right? And any point on the surface of the sphere is as central as any other point on the surface." After that, the missionaries left him alone.

On the final day of the Rains retreat in 1868, King Rama IV passed away. His eldest son, Prince Chulalongkorn, who was now Rama V, was only fifteen years old. As a result, the running of the government was placed in the hands of a Regent — Chao Phraya Sri Suriyawong (Chuang Bunnag) — who was to hold this office until Rama V reached maturity. (In a later reminiscence, Rama V stated that during this period he lived in constant fear of being assassinated.) Shortly after the Regency was instituted, Somdet Toh — who was now 80 — appeared at the Regent's palace in the middle of a sunny day, carrying a lit torch that he held aloft with one hand, and a long, narrow palm-leaf Dhamma text that he carried at a backward-sloping angle under his other arm. After he had walked through the palace halls in this way, word reached the Regent. The Regent respectfully approached Somdet Toh and asked him to take a seat, after which he assured him that he understood the Somdet's message: He would not allow his deliberations to be overcome with the darkness of defilement, and he would hold to the Dhamma as a rudder while steering the ship of state. Four years later Somdet Toh passed away.

Hope you have enjoyed the legend about Somdet Toh. Thank you.

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