Children’s Dhamma: Kruba Srivichai

Note

The following is a copy of an article I originally posted on Blogger.com, July 21, 2011:
http://paultrafford.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/childrens-dhamma-kruba-srivichai.html


 

the cover for Children's Dhamma, Vol. 4 No.1, published by the Birmingham Buddhist Vihara

I went to school in Birmingham between 1980 and 1987. Around that time, the Birmingham Buddhist Vihara published Children’s Dhamma for younger members. Reflecting the multiple traditions, there were contributions from Zen and Tibetan practitioners as well as from Theravadins.

I would like to highlight an article from March 1984 written by my mother about Kruba Srivichai, a Thai monk, whose exemplary life she probably got to learn about whilst growing up in Thonburi. He may not be so well known now, so I reproduce what she wrote about him here. But this is just the first article – there was more to follow. I must have another delve into the family papers to see if I can find the sequel…

Kruba Srivichai

by Fuengsin Trafford

Kruba Srivichai was one of the most famous monks of Northern Thailand. He was an inspiration to many and was revered by thousands of monks, nuns and laymen, from cities, towns, villages and the hill-tribes. Under his guidance they came together and volunteered to rebuild, repair and restore many beautiful pagodas and temples and the roads leading to them.

They worked very hard and brought their own food. Some people gave money, food and transport. As a result of their good work magnificent ancient buildings and pagodas which had been destroyed in the war were restored to their former glory.

Kruba Srivichai’s work can be found throughout the north in an area which at one time was known as “the Kingdom of Laannaa Thai”.

This remarkable monk led a very holy life, and worked very hard for the Buddha-Dhamma, and he was a good example to many. In the eyes of his followers he had a kind of supernatural quality but this he always denied, saying he was just an ordinary monk. After his death his fame spread further and he was called the “Saint of Laannaa Thai”.

Kruba Srivichai was born on the 11th. June 1878, (the Year of the Tiger), in a small village outside the Province of Lumpoon, called Baan Paang. He was the fourth child and had four brothers and sisters. His parents were poor and lived on a small farm which was surrounded by very high hills and thick forests. It was said that on the night just before he was born the bright moon was suddenly darkened by a cloud and there was thunder and lightening. There was also an earthquake which shook the family’s cottage. In those days this was thought to be a very good omen for a saintly person’s birth. The baby was given the name “Faa Hong” which means thunder.

At the age of seven Faa Hong was very good and quiet and did not enjoy playing with children of his own age. He was very kind, never harmed animals and looked after the family’s buffaloes very well. Once he freed the fish which hie father had caught and kept in a jar of water. He showed deep compassion for every creature. He refused to eat meat and was content to have rice and a variety of chilli sauces for his meals. The young boy’s favourite chore was to take the buffaloes to graze in a quiet and lonely field, he would then sit under a tree and contemplate. He loved to visit Wat Baan Paang, a local temple which was situated on the edge of a hill; the Abbot was called Kru Baa Kaat. According to his name he was a respected monk who had been studying and practising the Dhamma.

Faa Hong was set on going to school at Wat Baan Paang, the local education centre in those days. He was also inspired by the monk’s behaviour and way of life. Having watched his brother’s ordination he was even more impressed, and later asked his parents permission to be ordained. When he was asked why he wanted to become a monk, he said it was not because he wanted to run away from the hard life of a farmer, but that he wanted to study the Dhamma and gain merit for a better rebirth for his parents. His parents were very happy to hear this and granted his wish. So Faa Hong was ordained a Samanera (novice) when he was just eighteen years old.

The new Samanera worked very hard and studied the local alphabets which were written on palm leaves. He also studied Pali and Sanskrit so that he could read the scriptures.

Over a year later Samanera Faa Hong had mastered all the local languages and went on to study the Dhamma and Vipassana Meditation. Almost every day he went up to the top of the hill to sit in solitude surrounded by all kinds of plants and trees.

Two years passed and Samanera Faa Hong was twenty one years old. He was ordained a Bhikkhu and given the Pali name “Siri Vichyo”. People prefered to call him “Phra (monk) Sri Vichai”.

His teacher noticed the young monk’s dedication and unblamable conduct and sent him to a superior teacher called “Kru Baa Upala” at Doi Tae to study meditation. It was the first time he had left home having a difficult journey on foot and by cart. It took several days to reach the temple although it was in the same province.

His new teacher was soon impressed with the young monk’s excellent memory and undivided attention. One year later Phra Sri Vichai finished his studies and went back to Wat Baan Paang. By then his reputation for being a most worthy monk had spread. He ate only one meal a day and was a vegetarian.Three years later the Abbot passed away and Phra Sri Vichai was appointed Abbot.

Baan Paang village was surrounded by many Hill Tribes, and they lived in the high hills and forests nearby. These people were very poor and badly needed medical care. Phra Sri Vichai had great compassion for them and wanted to teach them the Dhamma, and make them see how foolish it was to worship spirits, and took inspiration from the Buddha who used to travel to many places to teach all kinds of people. So Phra Sri Vichai went into the forests and hills to teach, spending a few days in each village. He also healed many people with herbal medicines. These people soon realised that his medicine was more help than the spirits. He spent a month amongst the tribes and soon mastered all their languages. More and more of the Hill Tribe people e.g. Maeu, Yau, Karen, Leesaw, etc. became Buddhists and the great monk’s fame spread. Many people sent their sons to be ordained by him, and to stay at Wat Baan Paang and study the Dhamma. —

— to be continued.

A couple of others articles, with photos:

For further interesting articles for youngsters, please read Children’s Dhamma Volume 4, No. 1. (scanned copy in PDF format).

County Express interview with Fuengsin Trafford (1981)

Note

The following is a copy of an article – with minor edits – that I originally posted on Blogger.com, June 12, 2011:
http://paultrafford.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/county-express-interview-with-fuengsin.html


 

Fuengsin Trafford at home, 1981. Credit: Phil Loach

The Internet and, especially, the Web are enabling old lines of investigation to be reopened with possibilities of new finds – for all kinds of detectives, including biographers! In March 1981, Fuengsin was interviewed for the County Express, which was published, as far as I can recall, in Stourbridge and Kidderminster. Jill Skelding was the reporter and she came round to our house with a photographer, Phil Loach; I can’t remember them myself, so I expect it took place during the day whilst I was at school. The article was part of a series called Woman to Woman and this particular interview was entitled: Buddhism as a way of life. It was published on Friday 13th March 1981.

I thought that it would be a good time to reproduce the article online (I don’t think the paper is in circulation under that name any more; it may have become Stourbridge News). We kept a few cuttings, but even if we had preserved them in mint condition, the newspaper medium meant that photographic reproduction was limited in quality. Fortunately, Google came to the rescue (again) and 30 years after the interview I was able to locate Phil, who is still in the photography business with The Silver Image. What’s more he was able to send me a pretty good scan (a larger version of the one online). So the complete article is available to view.

Here I’d just like to highlight a few things my mother said.

It’s really quite a typical piece – finding the mundane and profound in the everyday and the present moment. You get a taste of something unusual in the first two paragraphs, though it’s definitely more mundane in flavour!

With an impressive Oriental family history spanning several centuries and an unusual childhood spent in Thailand, there’s nothing Fuengsin likes better than to disappear to the depths of her kitchen and cook … spotted dick steamed pudding!

Mrs. Fuengsin Trafford, who lives in West Hagley, came to England 17 years ago, in her mid-twenties, from her home town near Bangkok. She studied at London University – and soon found she had a weakness for English food.

The kitchen wasn’t always frequented with such endeavour. One of my mother’s childhood friends said that the two of them used to play cooking. I asked whether that was because in reality they didn’t do any cooking and she nodded and grinned! In fact my father taught her some of the basics English cookery – there was little indication that she could later produce a cookery book! And as for her regard of the culinary offerings of this new land, the initial response was typically to bring out a tin of red chilli powder … at breakfast!

There’s a brief summary of how she came to the UK as a student, met my father, married, and settled in the UK. When she left Thailand in the early to mid 60s, Thonburi, where she grew up, was still separate from Bangkok on the other side of the Chao Phraya river and certainly was not so developed. We spent our first family holiday there in 1972, and there was a lot of change already by that time, but looking at photos from that period still shows many areas of fruit cultivation. Fuengsin did not return next to Thailand until after the interview, so she probably had nostalgic recollections in mind when she recalled:

“By that time my father had died, but my mother and Anthony got on remarkably well – the pace of life is so different out there, it’s hard for anyone from the Western world to understand it immediately.”

“The pace of life in Thailand is much slower than here in England – there just isn’t much stress, or traffic come to think of it!”

Our next family trip was in 1988 and I think we all found the new Bangkok somewhat overwhelming.

The article then moves on to discuss my mother’s Buddhist outlook, which is clearly the theme of the photograph, which shows her in a quite serious pose seated underneath three Buddha rupas. Fuengsin’s characteristic directness is clearly recorded:

“Buddhism is something that has to be achieved by the individual – but once you have reached that point you will have enlightenment.

“It isn’t a Sundays-only type of religion, and I know it’s hard for people who know nothing of Buddhism to even to begin to understand what it’s all about, but basically, no one can tell you how to practise Buddhism, it’s something the individual must learn for him or herself.

“It has to come from inside a person, and it is a very personal thing – no one can help you with it, and you can only practise Buddhism though life itself.

“It is closely linked with meditation and when you meditate you look at a figure of a Buddha and bow – that way you are aiming to suppress your ego, and get rid of any pride. Once you are rid of that you are at one with the universe.”

She had a very practical approach to Dhamma and these teachings are really core to the article, including the value of service. It’s mentioned that Fuengsin taught English to Asian immigrants – I recall she said these were elderly Pakistani ladies and that she was a member of a volunteer group (she didn’t even get her bus fare paid). I’m sure my mother would have had a quip about ‘Big Society’!

The article concludes by switching back to food and more steamed puddings. I think my father and I must accept some responsibility for this – we created quite a demand for puddings and cakes!

You are welcome to read the interview …

 

The Hampshire Buddhist Society in the late ’60s

Note

The following is a copy of an article I originally posted on Blogger.com, February 23, 2010:
http://paultrafford.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/hampshire-buddhist-society-in-late-60s.html


 

I’ve recently started translating from Thai into English some documents authored by Fuengsin Trafford (formerly Sarayutpitag), my mother. I’m pleased to make available a draft of Some Buddhists in England, being a translation from the Thai of ส่วนหนึ่งของชาวพุทธในอังกฤษ.

The article describes the early days of the Hampshire Buddhist Society, which was founded in 1966. It organised some lectures at Southampton University, but it really developed at Crabwood Farmhouse, near Winchester, where core members of the Society met regularly. I found it particularly interesting to read about the format of the sessions since I attend a group in Oxford, where we follow a very similar procedure. This is no coincidence since our group used to be led by Freda Wint, who, I gather, was one of the early members of the Society. It’s a wonderful feeling to know this sense of continuity.

I’ll write separately about the process of translation itself, but just comment here that I think this would have been far more difficult for me even 5 years ago, but current electronic tools have really helped. However, I still need a Thai person to make corrections!