A Biography of Phra Wijaranayanmuni

(Than Chao Khun Khron / Luangpu Khron)

Before being ordained as a monk, Than Chao Khun Khron had been given the name Khuan by his parents. His father was named Chum and his mother was Kaew. The family’s surname was Ratsadorncharoen. Khuan was born on a Thursday in the 12th month of Thai calendar (raem 1 kham) in the year of the Rabbit (1876) in the district of Apam in the village of Bangsek (Malay: Repek), Pasir Mas, Kelantan. At the age of 12, his parents sent him to study at Wat Uttamaram under the direction of the then abbot Phra Lok. As was the tradition in Kelantan at the time, Khuan studied Thai literacy as well as the old Cambodian script known as khom. Khom was important as all Buddhist texts were written in this language and mastering it was part of monastic education. Khuan also studied Thai-Pali incantations which were transmitted orally by his teacher. In addition, Kelantanese Thai monastic education entailed that the students assist the monks in the day to day activities of the temple.

 

As with most boys living in Kelantanese Thai temples (dek jom), Khuan was ordained as a monk at the age of 21. He was ordained at Wat Uttamaram by Phra Palad Chai from Wat Maisuwankhiri (in the village of Khao Din, Tumpat). Phra Palad Chai was Khuan’s main Preceptor (upacha). Phra Palad Chai was assisted by Phra Khru Ophat Phutthakhun from Wat Ban Nai, Tumpat and Phra Athikarn Phud from Wat Bangtuwasilaloi, Pengkalan Kubur. These two monks were Khuan’s Monastic Teachers (kammawachanusawanajarn). Khuan was ordained on the 15th of June 1895. Upon ordination, Khuan was presented with the monastic name of Punnasuwano. Phra Khuan Punnasuwano spent the first two years of his monkhood at Wat Uttamaram. He then moved to Wat Hua Pom Nai in the district of Muang in Songkhla. Here he studied Pali which at the time was the highest standard of monastic education a Kelantanese Thai monk could aspire to. He studied the texts, Khamphi Mulakajayana and then progressed to a study of the Khamphi Thammabot. After having completed his studies of the two texts and having the ability to translate Pali into Thai, Phra Khuan began to immerse himself in learning Buddhist meditation. He also memorized Pali incantations and was an exponent at Buddhist chanting.

 

Phra Khuan studied Buddhist meditation and Pali chanting at Wat Hua Pom Nai, Songkhla for some fifteen years. In 1906, Wat Hua Pom Nai did not have an abbot and Phra Khuan was invited to fill the position. He did so for ten years. Phra Khuan then returned to Kelantan in 1919 and was appointed as the abbot of Wat Mai Suwankhiri (Khao Din) which had been the temple of his Perceptor. Six years later, he was appointed as abbot of Wat Uttamaram. In 1927, Phra Khuan was promoted to the monastic rank of Phra Palad by the then chief monk of Kelantan, Phra Khru Ophat Phutthakhun (Pho Than Kiu) of Wat Ban Nai.

 

In 1933, Phra Palad Khuan was promoted to the rank of Phra Upachaya, in 1941, he took on the rank of Phra Khru Wijarn and in 1945, he became Phra Wijaranayanmuni and the chief monk of Kelantan – succeeding Phra Khru Ophat Phutthakhun.

 

After returning from Songkhla, Phra Khuan taught Vipassana meditation to interested practitioners. These were not formal classes but rather restricted to monks who had an interest in meditation. Phra Wijaranayanmuni (Khuan) initiated the study of Buddhist history and philosophy (nak tham) in Kelantan. Prior to that, Kelantanese monks who were interested in pursuing Buddhism had to travel to Siam to study. The first nak tham classes in Malaya were conducted in Kedah in 1948 but spread to Kelantan a year later. These were taught by Phra Wijaranayanmuni’s deputy at Wat Uttamaram, Phra Maha Chan Kesaro who was to succeed Phra Wijaranayanmuni as the next chief monk of Kelantan upon the former’s demise. Formal nak tham exams were held at Wat Uttamaram. 

 

During his illustrious life, Phra Wijaranayanmuni built profusely. He initiated the construction of the ubosot (ordination hall) at Wat Uttamaram and other buildings, including the abbot’s quarters at the temple. Even in his old age, the temple was a hive of building activity as new buildings were erected and old ones restored and renovated.

 

Phra Wijaranayanmuni had a deep knowledge of Buddhist magical incantations. He was renowned amongst both Thais and Malays for his sacred knowledge. Even non-Kelantanese were familiar with the monk’s sacred powers. Monks and laymen from across Malaya would visit him regularly and he would travel across the Peninsula to visit with interested monks and laymen. In fact, just before passing away, Phra Wijaranayanmuni had returned from a visit to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

 

People who met Phra Wijaranayanmuni recalled how he was a very moral and upright person. Anyone who had come into contact with him were struck by his politeness and pleasant demeanor and thus held him in high respect. Even the sultan of Kelantan was awed by the senior monk and visited him when he was sick.

 

Phra Wijaranayanmuni fell ill in the beginning of the Phansa season of 1962. News of his illness brought a stream of well-wishers to the temple. The best doctors cared for him regularly. Despite his frail condition, Phra Wijaranayanmuni was fully conscious of his surroundings and meditated regularly. On the 19th of November 1962, at the age of 88 and after having spent some 68 years in the monkhood, Phra Wijaranayanmuni passed away. This was a mere 15 days before he was to have received his ceremonial fan (phat yot) from King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok as part of the monk’s new monastic title.

 

*The above text is published with the permission of Wat Uttamayanmuni, Singapore