Children’s Dhamma: Kruba Srivichai


The following is a copy of an article I originally posted on, July 21, 2011:


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).

A Wander around Chulalongkorn University


The following is a copy of an article I originally posted on, January 16, 2011:


In between conference preparation, pilgrimage, visits and general sight-seeing, I was given a special tour of Chulalongkorn University, by Khun Tewee, a long-time family friend who used to play with my mother as a child. Both of them had studied at Chula – Khun Tewee physical sciences and my mother (then Fuengsin Sarayutpitag) liberal arts. On this occasion I wanted just to get a feel for the environment, and see how much it resembled the scene depicted in group photos from the late 50s (my mother is standing, 5th from the left):

Chulalongkorn University occupies a privileged position in Thai history and culture. Even its Thai wording claims the linguistic distinction of having the word ‘university’ following the name: จุฬาลงกรณ์มหาวิทยาลัย [Chulalongkorn Mahawitthayalai] so it reads in the same order as in English, whereas all other universities would put Mahawitthayalai before the name.

The University has its roots as a civil service training school, founded during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) at the end of the 19th Century CE to help in Siam’s administration. It gradually expanded its remit and so emerged Chulalongkorn University, formally granted its new name and status in 1917, the first university to be established in Thailand. It is located fairly centrally in Pathum Wan district of Bangkok, with the nearest BTS station being National Stadium and occupies a rectangular plot of land plus a number of surrounding buildings.

When Khun Tewee proceeded to showed myself and one of her friends the central site, she led us first of all towards the original entrance across playing fields. There looking out from a raised platform were the University’s two founders commemorated in a memorial statue:

King Rama V and VI, founders of Chula

Seated is King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and standing beside him is King Vajiravudh (Rama VI). Whilst we were there, a couple of students were paying respects, lighting incense sticks. Nearby there were some elaborate floral kratongs, very likely student creations, now looking somewhat bereft after the Loy Kratong festival, but still nice and colourful.

Next we retraced some steps and approached some of the original buildings (or, at least, the oldest that are still standing). Particularly prominent is the main auditorium, where the conferral of degrees and other major ceremonies take place in a grand theatre:

Auditorium, Chulalongkorn University

We then carried on to the Faculty of Arts building, close by, and naturally I was keen to explore.

Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University

The first thing that struck my was the lightness of the building. By modern standards it doesn’t have many floors, but as I wandered around, I could gaining a feeling of great solidity and substance, an imposing presence, with lofty spaces. It was a very distinguished environment and not hard to imagine students feeling like princes or princesses. Every angle seems to be pleasing architecturally, certainly worth protecting with the nagas!

Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University

The only disappointment was learning that these buildings are now used mainly for administration. So where do the Faculty of Arts students have their classes, if not in these buildings? Looking from the centre, there are new buildings dotted around:

Chulalongkorn University

The tall building in the distance is บรมราชกุมารี Borommarajakumari (Supreme Daughter of His Majesty the King), an epithet for HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who herself was a graduate from the Faculty of Arts in the 1970s (details in a biography). It is a multi-purpose building: as well as lecture spaces, there are exhibition areas and academic staff have rooms towards the top.

Inevitably a lot of change, but it seems to retain a distinguised ethos and it looks like the staff and students continue to build on the heritage. It still looks an attractive place to study.

Somboon Sarayutpitag and Satriwithaya School


The following is slightly edited version of an article I originally posted on, January 14, 2011:


In recent trips to Thailand I’ve been learning how my maternal grandparents greatly valued education. I’m sure they were a strong influence on my mother, Ajahn Fuengsin, who acquired a lifelong interest in learning and transmitting her knowledge through teaching (Ajahn is a general prefix for an established teacher).

My grandfather had been awarded the title of ‘Luang’, so he was subsequently addressed as Capt. Luang Sarayutpitag (he had been a captain in the army). The distinctive Thai surname seems to have been spelt in more than one way; my cousins generally insist on ศรายุธพิทักษ์, but there are several letters that can represent an ‘s’ sound and an extra ท (‘t’) seems optional, so I think it could have been written สรายุทธพิทักษ์ (with an opening ส instead of ศ). I expect that if one knows the roots of Thai language (Sanskrit, Pali and so on), then one can work out the appropriate letter, but I guess that might be like asking someone in the UK to distinguish between Greek and Latin etymology…

Anyway, prior to this visit, I had heard that my grandmother, Khun Yay Somboon Sarayutpitag, had attended the same school as the Somdet Ya, the Princess Mother (the mother to H.M. King Bumiphol). This school was called Satriwithaya School, a girl’s school in the heart of Bangkok. Some time last summer I started typing into Google ศรายุธพิทักษ์ and a few permutations.  Eventually I came across the Web site of the Srinagarindra [Somdet Ya] museum, the museum of Satriwithaya School, set up in honour and memory of its most famous pupil. Google had spotted an occurrence of the name in the following paragraph:

สิ่งที่เป็นจุดเด่นของพิพิธภัณฑ์สมเด็จย่าคือ พระบรมฉายาลักษณ์ ที่มาของภาพเก่าอันทรงคุณค่าของสมเด็จย่า ส่วนหนึ่งมาจากศิษย์เก่าและครูเก่าเก็บไว้ และอีกส่วนหนึ่งได้ไปขอมาจากสำนักพระราชวัง หนึ่งในรูปภาพที่ทรงคุณค่าอย่างยิ่งคือภาพถ่ายหมู่ของนักเรียนชั้นมูลปีที่ หนึ่ง(ปัจจุบันคือระดับอนุบาล) ถ่ายวันที่ 9 มีนาคม ร.ศ.127 (พ.ศ.2451) สมเด็จพระศรีนครินทราบรมราชชนนี ครั้งยังทรงเป็น ด.ญ. สังวาลย์ โดยพระองค์ประทับในแถวกลาง เป็นลำดับที่ 3 จากซ้าย ซึ่งภาพต้นฉบับสีซีดจนอ่านตัวหนังสือบนแผ่นกระดานที่แขวนไว้ด้านหลังนัก เรียนไม่ออก ต้องใช้คำบรรยายที่เจ้าของภาพเขียนติดไว้ด้านหลังภาพ ภาพนี้ได้รับความอนุเคราะห์จากทายาทนางสมบุญ ศรายุทธพิทักษ์ ในภาพมี ด.ญ.สมบุญอยู่แถวหน้า ลำดับที่ 6 จากซ้าย ส่วนด้านขวาสุดคือครูทิม

My attempted translation is as follows:

A prominent feature of the Srinagarindra [Somdet Ya] museum is the Royal source of some valuable old pictures of the Princess Mother. One part comes from the collections of alumni and former teachers, and another has been requested from the Bureau of the Royal House. One exceedingly valuable picture is a group photograph of first year pre-elementary students (now equivalent to kindergarten) taken on the 9th of March R.E. (Ratanakosin Era) 127 (B.E. 2451). The Princess Mother [can be seen] at the time when she was still a girl, Miss Sangwan; Her Royal Highness is residing in the central row, 3rd from the left. As an original picture it is extremely faded to the extent that it is not possible to read the writing on the plate mounted on the board behind; it’s necessary to use the description that the owner has attached on the back of the picture. This picture was received with the assistance of the descendants of Mrs. Somboon Sarayutpitag. In the picture Miss Somboon is in the front row, 6th from the left.

The next paragraph presents an invitation:

สำหรับ ผู้ที่อยากชมภาพนี้ มีภาพขยายใหญ่เกือบเท่าตัวจริงติดอยู่ในห้องเอลิซาเบธ ซึ่งเป็นห้องประชุมของโรงเรียน ห้องนี้มีขึ้นในช่วงที่ควีนเอลิซาเบธที่ 2 เสด็จมาที่โรงเรียนสตรีวิทยาในวันที่ 30 ตุลาคม พ.ศ.2539 เพื่อทอดพระเนตรกิจกรรมและนิทรรศการการป้องกันยาเสพติดในสถานศึกษา พระบรมฉายาลักษณ์สมเด็จพระราชินีนาถ เอลิซาเบธที่ 2 พร้อมพระปรมาภิไธยที่ได้รับพระราชทาน ขณะนี้อยู่ที่พิพิธภัณฑ์สมเด็จย่า

In approximate English:

For those who want to look at this picture, there is a near life-size enlargement on display in the Elizabeth room, which used to be the school assembly hall. This room was set up on the occasion of the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Satriwithaya School on October 30 2539 to observe events and exhibitions relating to drug prevention in schools. The picture of Queen Elizabeth II, together with her signature, is in the Srinagarindra Museum.

I soon found a copy of the photograph online in the Wikipedia entry for the Princess Mother. However, having read the description above I thought, “I’d really like to see this picture for myself at the school!”

I was fortunate. I got in touch with my cousin, P’ Laem, and he made enquiries through an aunt who used to teach there. Soon arrangements were made and we went along to visit one Friday afternoon in late November. Designed around a courtyard, the buildings rise on three sides to several storeys, having expanded considerably since its foundation over a hundred years ago. When we arrived the school was still bustling with activity; at the entrance there was a large tree occasionally shedding its leaves under which a group of pupils was anticipating its every move … and then a leaf would come sailing down and they’d try and catch it. Later when we left there were just two girls by the tree, still playing the same game!

On the left hand side as you enter there is a status to the Princess Mother:

statue of the Srinagarindra (the Princess Mother) at Satriwithaya School
The inscription says it is dedicated to สมเด็จพระศรีนครินทราบรมราชชนนี (Somdet Phra Srinagarindra Boromarajajonani), giving the dates she was alive (B.E. 2443 – 2538, i.e. 1900-1995CE). It was unveiled by สมเด็จพระเจ้าพี่นางเธอ เจ้าฟ้ากัลยาณิวัฒนา กรมหลวงนราธิวาสราชนครินทร์ (Somdet Phra Chao Phi Nang Thoe Chao Fa Galyani Vadhana Kromma Luang Narathiwat Ratchanakharin). This is the full title of HRH Princess Galyani, the elder sister to H.M. King Bhumipol. P’ Laem informed me that she took a great deal of interest in the Royal family history and was particularly interested in the school. The statue was unveiled in B.E. 2543 (2000 CE).
We were shown inside the museum by a librarian and directed to a number of books on the table. These contained further photographs and descriptions. We learnt that at the time that group photo was taken, Khun Yay Somboon was 14 years old and the eldest in the group. Afterwards we were led to the Queen Elizabeth Room, which now serves as the board room, where the enlargement has been placed on the wall. Here it is (clicking on it will take you to the version on Wikipedia):

Satriwithaya School group photograph, 1908
This photo was taken in 1908, right towards the end of the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). Thailand’s process of modernisation through especially European influences is evident in the uniform: you can see the children wearing the traditional jongraben, but also Western style shoes and socks!

Thailand’s tropical climate is very severe on paper, yet the photograph itself is in very good condition. How come? P’ Laem explained that Khun Yay Somboon had cherished this photograph very much and took special care of it. His parents had built their home very close to the grandparents’ house and P’ Laem’s room was almost opposite Khun Yay’s. He could see it hanging at the back of the room as Khun Yay emerged onto her balcony. The positioning was deliberate!

The Princess Mother subsequently went on to Chulalongkorn Hospital to study nursing. Khun Yay also had an opportunity to study there but declined, apparently afraid of the ghosts! Thai people are generally sensitive to spirits, but this response surprised me as she was certainly a strong character, as I hope to convey in a future post or two…