Somdej Phra Maha Muneewong, 89, abbot at a royal temple, a great expert in education and a scholar, will become the 20th Supreme Patriarch of Thailand’s Theravada Buddhism. His investiture by the monarch is set for 12 February.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha last night announced on television that King Rama X had appointed the new patriarch of Thai Buddhism.
In his statement the prime minister said that His Majesty Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun had chosen Somdej Phra Maha Muneewong as the leader of the country’s largest religious community.
Also known as Umporn Umpa-row, the 20th patriarch, 89, replaces Somdej Phra Yannasangworn (3 October 1913-24 October 2013), who had been appointed in 1989 by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Since 2008, Somdej Phra Maha Muneewong served as abbot at the Ratchabophit Sathit Maha Simaram Ratcha Wara Maha Wihan temple, a royal temple built in 1869 during the reign of King Rama V.
The exterior of the building is in typically Thai style, but the interior is Gothic. Its name combines the words royal and construction and thus means ‘temple built by the king’.
A great expert in education, Somdej Phra Maha Muneewong has been involved for a long time in the education and training of novices and Buddhist monks. He is also member of a committee that deals with law and language.
He opted for the monastic life in 1950 and obtained a master's degree in history and archeology at Paranasi University (India). In 1973 he was appointed chief missionary in Sydney, Australia, with the task of spreading Buddhism.
He pursued his work with extreme efficiency and dedication, setting up numerous temples and monasteries across New South Wales, and then in cities like Canberra, Melbourne and Darwin.
The new Supreme Patriarch of Thai Buddhism heads the Mahamakut Buddhist University Council. In 2009, he received an honorary degree in Buddhism and in 2010 obtained a doctorate for his approach to spreading the Buddha's teachings.
The formal investiture ceremony, led by King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangku, is scheduled for 12 February at 5 pm at the Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram temple.
Located on the eastern end of Grand Palace, the royal complex, it is considered the most sacred temple in the country and houses the Emerald Buddha, the sacred image that protects the Kingdom of Siam and the people of Thailand.
Buddhism is Thailand’s main religion (93.6 per cent), primarily the Theravada school. About 4.6 per cent of the population is Muslim, mainly in the southern provinces, on the border with Malaysia. Christians are just over 1 per cent.