Text & Photos by Angelia Tan
It’s an old island here in Koh Samui. Situated on the east coast of Thailand, the history told takes you back several hundreds of years. Maps of the island date as far back as the 17th century, but there is very little documented history as most of the knowledge was passed down through the generations by word of mouth.
On the island, at 4169 Ring Road between the Na Muang waterfalls and Hua Thanon, sits Wat Khunaram. Here, something not quite as old, but just as miraculous as this stunning isle, sits and silently demonstrates an admirable faith.
Phra Khru Samathakittikhun was born within the local community on the paradise island of Koh Samui. He was to live a dignified life and attain a death even more extraordinary. But before all this, Samathakittikhun had to journey through the years to find his purpose and later on, to achieve it.
When he reached the age of 20, he was ordained as a novice monk at Wat Samret. According to Thai tradition, every man should be ordained at least once in his life. Samathakittikhun himself was a novice monk for two phansa (periods of the Buddhist Rains Retreat).
He then left the monkhood to lead a layman’s life, marrying and subsequently having six children. It was a good life in many ways; he was not only financially well to do but also well respected in the community.
A test of character – where he passed with flying colours – gained him even greater respect. He did what he could to help his neighbours, donating clothing, medicine and other necessary items.
By the time the war ended, having spent over 30 years of his life as a layman, Samathakittikhun decided to dedicate the later part of his life to Buddhism and returned to the temple where he felt most at peace. Already in his 50s with grown children, he was ordained a monk by Phra Khru Tipachan, the abbot of Wat Samret, who was also the chief monk of the Koh Samui District.
At the beginning of the Buddhist Lent, he began to practise samatha meditation in Yai Cave at the foothill of Khao Ma-ngaen under the guidance of his meditation teacher, Phra Khru Prayoon Thammasopit. He remained in Yai Cave for two years before moving to stay with Luang Pho DaengTisso at the monks’ abode at Hua Laem Sor. Luang Pho DaengTisso took him on a Thu Dong trip to seek the true Dhamma. The trip lasted for about a year. Samathakittikhun then took leave of Luang Pho DaengTisso and returned to Wat SilaNgu to develop what he had learnt. This took over four years.
The story goes that Samathakittikhun went on a Thu Dong trip again, where he found a very tranquil forest in Chaweng and decided to move from Wat SilaNgu. Here, he built a small hut to practise samatha meditation for almost four years.
Later, he heard of Chao Khun Phra Phimolatham of Wat Mahathat in Bangkok, who had started a course in vipassana meditation. He went to Bangkok to study this form of meditation and become a disciple of Chao Khun Phra Phimolatham. This went on until he was able to meditate and keep his mind in control for as long as 15 days without any physical movement. It is said that his body would then become as hard as wood.
In about a year of practising, Samathakittikhun (or Luang Pho Daeng, as he is more popularly known today) became very learned and knowledgeable about vipassana meditation. His teachers agreed to allow him to disseminate Buddhism and a piece of land was bought in Bo-phut Subdistrict, Koh Samui, for the building of a wat – Wat Boontharikaram (Wat PhungBua) – so that he could teach vipassana meditation.
It soon attracted a large number of followers comprising mainly of monks, novices and both male and female devotees. Luang Pho Daeng resided at Wat PhungBua for about 20 years and during the later part of his life, he became seriously ill twice due to his ageing body.
With his meditative abilities, Luang Pho Daeng was able to foresee the time of his death, despite the disbelief of his attendants, children and disciples. No one took his instructions seriously when he continuously asked to have an upright casket built for him so that he could sit in meditation at the time when he was going to pass away.
For the rest of this article (Asian Geographic No.86 Issue 1/2012 ) and other stories, check out our past issues here or download a digital copy here