Phra Ajaan Keng Khemako’s “Chao Khun” Conferment

On 14 Dec 2013, the Sangha and Board of Management of Palelai Buddhist Temple, Singapore, and Santi Forest Monastery, Ulu Tiram, welcomed devotees to join in celebrating Phra Ajaan Keng Khemako’s Chao Khun conferment by H.M. The King of Thailand. 
Phra Ajaan Keng is the first Singaporean, ordained in the Thai Buddhist tradition, to be conferred the ecclesiastical title of Chao Khun.  It is testimony of his practice of the Buddhist Path and Dhammaduta activities to promote the study & practice of the Dhamma among the laity of Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.

The below is the introduction that was read out by the event organisers on 14 Dec 2013. The introduction is included here to provide the event background and significance of the celebrations. 
Following , there is a write-up "Commemorating the Conferment of the Ecclesiastical Title of Chao Khun on Phra Ajaan Keng Khemako Bhikkhu by H.M. the King of Thailand, 5 Dec 2556 (2013)". This is an introduction of Phra Ajaan Keng.

Photos and videos from the event are also available below.

More information about Buddhist monks and ranks can be found here: http://www.thaibuddhism.net/ranks.htm

Celebration of Phra Ajaan Keng Khemako’s “Chao Khun” Conferment On 14 Dec 2013

Good morning brothers and sisters in the Dhamma.

Today we’ve gathered for an especially happy occasion not just for Palelai but for Singapore as a whole.

For the first time in the history of Singapore, a Singaporean who is ordained in the Thai Buddhist tradition has been honoured by His Majesty, The King of Thailand with the conferment of the Ecclesiastical title of Chao Khun Saman. This is in recognition of his personal practice of the Dhamma, his leadership of his fellow monks, his support and assistance to his fellow monks, and his Dhammaduta or missionary work, among the people of Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.  

This Singaporean is none other than our Phra Ajaan Keng Kemakho Bhikkhu. Phra Ajaan was appointed as the President of our Board of Management during this year’s annual general meeting. 

For those who would like to know, the Thai Buddhist order has a system of recognition of the contribution of monks by honouring them with ecclesiastical titles.  

There are three categories of titles and these are:
1. Phrakhru Sanyabat or Phrakhru
2. Phra Racha Kana or Chaokhun, and
3. Somdej Phra Racha Kana or commonly known as Somdej

Within each of these categories are different grades or levels. In the Phrakhru category, there are 53 grades, the Chaokhun category has 6 grades, and the Somdej category has three grades. There are a small number of monks appointed as Somdej and amongst them, one will be appointed the Sangha Raja or Supreme Patriarch of Thailand.

In recognition of his contributions to the Sangha, the lay community, and his missionary work for the promotion of Buddhism, Phra Ajaan Keng was appointed a Thana-nukrom (Assistant to Somdet Phra Wanarat of Wat Bovornnives) and conferred the title of Phrakhru Phalad Samphi-phathana-sudhajan Yanakosol Vimon-seelajan Maha-khana-tikan Nayok Bido-ethamma-rakhit of the Dhammayuttika sect, on 17 September this year at Wat Bovornnives.  

It is a very pleasant surprise to everyone that within this same year on 4 December, he is again given further recognition by the Sangha authorities when they recommended him for the conferment of the title of Chao Khun. This is indeed very unusual as he was moved so quickly within a few months to the Chao Khun category.

So, this is indeed a very special occasion for all of us Singaporeans as such recognition is very rare even amongst native Thais.

The lay community got together and decided that we should celebrate and recognise Phra Ajaan Keng’s contributions to the Buddhasasana and the people of Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.

In Thailand different communities will mark the occasion as they see fit. For example, some communities will hold a village wayang performance for 7 days! This morning’s celebration is a combination of secular and religious activities.

We will first celebrate it in a Singaporean and Malaysian Chinese way with lion and dragon dances. In Buddhism, the lion and dragon does have significance. The Buddha was known as the lion among men as he was the first to conquer his mental defilements and discovered the path to enlightenment. The dragons, or nagas, are a class of beings who protect the teachings of the Buddha.

After that, we will invite the Sangha and Phra Ajaan Keng into the main shrine hall and that’s when the religious activity will start. Please note that we have more than fifty monks in attendance today and as our hall is not large enough to accommodate everyone, we have decided to only have the Sangha in the hall. The rest of us will watch the proceedings from the two large tv screens outside.

As the events will unfold quite quickly, we will not have too much commentary during the event. So, I’ll give you an idea of what will take place in the hall afterwards.

After Phra Ajaan Keng has paid his respects to the Buddha and the Sangha Elders, he will be seated in an appointed seat. Ching Hwa, Nina, and I will read the Royal Edict from His Majesty the King of Thailand – in English, Chinese and Thai.

Thereafter, the Sangha will rejoice by chanting the ‘Jayanto’ or “Stanzas of Victory”. Once this is over, Phra Ajaan Keng will offer his thanks to the Sangha by giving them tokens of appreciation.

He will then dedicate merits to his relatives, friends and all beings by pouring the water of dedication of merits. After this is done, there will be a group photo session for the Sangha, followed by lunch.

The Sangha will then proceed to the dining hall for the meal offering. Again as the hall will be filled by the Sangha, we will restrict it to only the helpers and the Sangha.

You’re invited to join the communal offering of food to the Sangha and thereafter, we can proceed to have our buffet lunch. Please don’t go home yet as after the lunch at around 1pm, you will be invited back into the hall to listen to a Dhamma talk and Phra Ajaan Keng will present a momento for this celebration to all of you. 

We thank you for taking the time to join us in celebrating this significant and proud occasion for us and ask your forgiveness should there be any shortcomings or inconveniences on the part of the organising team.  

On behalf of Wat Palelai and Wat Santi, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Sangha for gracing this occasion as some of them have come from  the USA, Thailand and Malaysia.  

We must also recognise and thank the efforts of all our volunteers and sponsors who gave so freely of their time, effort, and donations to make this event such a success. Thank you and let’s celebrate!

Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

Phra Ajaan Keng Khemako – A short introduction

Phra Ajaan Keng Khemako was ordained on 29 July 1987, so he has been a monk for the past 26 years.

He received his early monastic training under the mentorship of Phra Ajaan Thanissaro Bhikkhu at Wat Dhammasathit, in Rayong, Thailand.  He spent the first three years of his monastic life in Wat Dhammasathit, learning the Dhamma-Vinaya and meditation.

After the first three years of monastic and meditation training, he felt that he had gained sufficient spiritual strength and grounding in Dhamma-Vinaya and was ready to undertake the dhutanga practices (tudong) and to go on pilgrimage in the deep forests for even more intensive training in meditation.  

This first tudong experience gave him the confidence and conviction that newly ordained monks should live in forested areas to develop their meditative skills. 

Since then, he spent the next five years in the deep forests of Mae Sot and Chiang Mai, living on the kindness and support of the hill tribes.  

He then went to live at Metta Forest Monastery, San Diego county, USA, on the invitation of Phra Ajaan Thanissaro.  

Phra Ajaan Keng spent three years in Wat Metta, assisting Phra Ajaan Thanissaro in teaching the members of the growing Sangha and lay community.

Upon returning from the USA, Phra Ajaan Keng spent time in Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia. With a growing following of monastic and lay supporters, he founded Santi Forest Monastery in the Ulu Tiram area of the State of Johor, Malaysia. 

While working on the project to set up Wat Santi, he continued to look for secluded forests in Thailand to continue his practice. This took him to the Karen hill tribe village of Omkoi, in the Chiang Mai region. After four years of spending time in this area, he decided to help the villagers by setting up a monastery there.

Although he had been keeping to the forest contemplative lifestyle, preferring to dwell in forests and caves, Phra Ajaan Keng was still active in propagating the teachings and practice of Buddhism to the peoples of Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. He had acted as a mentor and guide to other monks from Singapore and Malaysia. Over the years Phra Ajaan Keng has helped about 150 men obtain ordination in the Thai Buddhist Sangha and is continuing to do so.  

The conferment of the ecclesiastical title of Chao Khun on Phra Ajaan Keng is a further recognition of his deep devotion to the practice of the Buddhist path, leadership of both ordained and lay members of the Buddhist community, his mentorship & support to his fellow monks, and propagation of Buddhist to the lay community as a whole. 

Phra Ajaan has indeed been living for the welfare and benefit of devas and human beings and it is our sincere wish that he enjoys good health and strength to carry on his Dhamma work for many more years to come.


Phra Ajaan Keng Chao Khun Conferment Celebration 14 Dec 2013


Celebration of Phra Ajaan Keng Khemako's Chao Khun conferment - 14 Dec '13



Commemorating the Conferment of the Ecclesiastical Title of Chao Khun on Phra Ajaan Keng Khemako Bhikkhu by H.M. the King of Thailand
5 December 2556 (2013) 

Phra Ajaan Keng Khemako Bhikkhu (lay name: Ong Kah Keng) was ordained on 29 July 2530 (1987), in Wat Asokaram, Samut Prakaan Province, Thailand.  His
Preceptor was Phrakhru Sunthorn Dhammarangsee (Abbot of Wat Payaprap, Phra Padaeng), Phrakhru Suwan Dhammajoti (Abbot of Wat Asokaram) was his Kammavacariya, and his Anusasanacariya was Phrakhru Nanda Dhammakhun (Deputy Abbot of Wat Asokaram). 

Immediately after his ordination, he headed to Wat Dhammasathit, Rayong, Thailand to begin his monastic training under Phra Ajaan Thanissaro Bhikkhu.  He spent the first three years of his monastic life in Wat Dhammasathit, learning the Dhamma-Vinaya and meditation from Phra Ajaan Thanissaro Bhikkhu (lay name: Geoffrey DeGraff).

After the first three years of monastic and meditation training, he felt that he had gained sufficient spiritual strength and grounding in Dhamma-Vinaya and was ready to undertake the dhutanga practices (tudong) and to go on pilgrimage in the deep forests for even more intensive training in meditation.  As he had often heard of the beauty and tranquility of the forests in the Kanchanaburi province from Phra Ajaan Thanissaro, he decided to head to that location for his first tudong pilgrimage.  He spent a very fulfilling and eventful period of intensive meditation, living in the open forest alongside Phra Ajaan Sathien Samacaro. This first tudong experience gave him the confidence and conviction that newly ordained monks should live in forested areas to develop their meditative skills. 

Since then, he decided to spend time in the deep forests and mountains of Thailand, preferring the forest contemplative lifestyle of the forest monk than living in urban centers. The intention to live the forest contemplative life saw him spending the next five years in the deep forests of Mae Sot and Chiang Mai, living on the kindness and support of the hill tribes. He then went to live at Metta Forest Monastery, San Diego county, USA, on the invitation of Phra Ajaan Thanissaro.  

Wat Metta is located in the hills outside of San Diego county and was founded by Phra Ajaan Suwat Suvaco in 2533 (1990). Phra Ajaan Thanissaro returned to the USA to visit his father and had the opportunity to meet Phra Ajaan Suwat.  Subsequently, Phra Ajaan Suwat requested Phra Ajaan Thanissaro to assume the position of the abbot of the new monastery in 2536 (1993). Phra Ajaan Keng spent three years in Wat Metta, assisting Phra Ajaan Thanissaro in teaching the members of the growing Sangha and lay community.

Upon returning from the USA, Phra Ajaan Keng spent time in Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia.  With a growing following of monastic and lay supporters, he founded Santi Forest Monastery in the Ulu Tiram area of the State of Johor, Malaysia. While working on the project to set up Wat Santi, he continued to look for secluded forests in Thailand to continue his practice. This took him to the hill tribe village of Omkoi, in the Chiang Mai region. After four years of spending time in this area, he decided to help the villagers by setting up a monastery there.

His intention of setting up a monastery in this primitive village was two fold: 1) to create a conducive environment for the training of monks in the forest contemplative tradition, and 2) out of gratitude and compassion for the villagers; give them the opportunity to make merit for a better life here and hereafter.  To him, this was a ‘win-win’ arrangement. He considers the younger generation of monks not mentally tough enough and as most of them used to live in city areas like himself, they were not prepared for the harsh conditions of living in impoverished conditions. The villagers were mainly surviving on sticky rice and salt/chillies and therefore, that was all that they could offer to the monks during their alms round.  However, Phra Ajaan Keng feels very strongly, through his own experience, that practising under such conditions will create a strong foundation for monks. The founding of the monastery in Omkoi not only helped the monks. The lay community also benefited  from the exposure to the harsh conditions that the hill  tribesmen had to live in. A member of the Management Committee of Wat Santi once visited Omkoi and commented that he realised how ‘rich’ he was, when compared to the poor the villagers. To Phra Ajaan Keng, such harsh conditions are the perfect places for developing the quality of kanti (patience/endurance). 

Although he had been keeping to the forest contemplative lifestyle, preferring to dwell in forests and caves, Phra Ajaan Keng was still active in propagating the teachings and practice of Buddhism to the peoples of Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. He had acted as a mentor and guide to other monks from Singapore and Malaysia. Over the years Phra Ajaan Keng has helped about 150 men obtain ordination in the Thai Buddhist Sangha and is continuing to do so.  
To give more Singaporeans and Malaysians the opportunity to obtain ordination and to enable the Sangha of Wat Santi to conduct their official duties in accordance with Dhamma-Vinaya, Phra Ajaan Keng established the ordination hall in Wat Santi – the first ordination hall of a Dhammayuttika monastery in both Singapore and Malaysia. The consecration of the ordination hall was attended by 135 monks from both the Dhammayuttika and MahaNikaya sects of the Thai Buddhist tradition along with more than 1,000 lay people from all three countries. Immediately after the consecration, 68 men were ordained as monks in the ordination hall. This is testimony of Phra Ajaan Keng’s sphere of influence and is indeed a first on all counts, in the history of Malaysia and Singapore! 

Somdet Phra Wanarat of Wat Bovornnives Vihara, in Bangkok, commented to one of his lay supporters that Phra Ajaan Keng impressed him by the fact that he came from an urban and materially rich society but yet was able to undertake strict ascetic practice, keeping strictly to the tradition of the forest masters. This is something which a majority of modern day monks find challenging to accomplish. The Somdet was also present at the ordination hall consecration ceremony and had confirmed for himself the extent to which Phra Ajaan Keng had motivated and aroused the faith of the laity.  

In recognition of his contributions to the Sangha, the lay community, and his missionary work for the promotion of Buddhism, Phra Ajaan Keng was appointed a Thananukrom (Assistant to Somdet Phra Wanarat of Wat Bovornnives) and conferred the title of Phrakhru Phalad Samphiphathanasudhajan Yanakosol Vimonseelajan Mahakhanatikan Nayok Bidoethammarakhit of the Dhammayuttika sect, on 17 September 2556 (2013), at Wat Bovornnives Vihara. 

The conferment of the ecclesiastical title of Chao Khun on Phra Ajaan Keng on 5 December 2556 (2013) is a further recognition of his deep devotion to the practice of the Buddhist path, leadership of both ordained and lay members of the Buddhist community, his mentorship and support to his fellow monks, and propagation of Buddhist to the lay community as a whole.  

Phra Ajaan has indeed been living for the welfare and benefit of devas and human beings and it is our sincere wish that he enjoys good health and strength to carry on his Dhamma work for many more years to come.  Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

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