Phra Upãli – the greatest

Sri Lanka and Thailand share a long history of religious relation. Theravada Buddhism in Thailand is known as Lankavamsa. This is because 700 years ago King Ramkhamhaeng invited a leader of Sri Lankan monks from Nakhon Si Thammarat in the South to preach Sri Lankan Buddhism in Sukhothai. That was the beginning of Lankavamsa in Thailand. And 250 years ago Thai people had opportunity to return a favor to Sri Lanka when King Boromkot sent Phra Upali and others to revive the higher ordination tradition in Sri Lanka , after the ordination lineage in this island had been broken by Portuguese persecution. Through a great sacrifice of Phra Upali, the higher ordination tradition was reintroduced to Sri Lanka and was followed by the establishment of the Siam Nikaya.

We are gathering here to remind us of the great service that Phra Upali has done to Buddhism in Sri Lanka. When Phra Upali decided to come to Sri Lanka he might have known that it was a journey of no return. He was ready to sacrifice his life for the benefit of mankind and for agation of Buddhism. He followed the Buddhas’instruction given to the first group of 60 Dhammadutas "Caratha bhikkhave carikam bahujanahitaya bahujanasukhaya lok?nukamp?ya – Go, monks, for the benefit and happiness of the world, out of compassion for the world." Phra Upali passed away in Sri Lanka after spending three years to revive the higher ordination tradition in this land. I personally regard Phra Upali as the greatest Dhammaduta or missionary monk that Thailand has ever produced. This is because of the reason that Phra Upali not only accomplished his mission in Sri Lanka but also succeeded in establishing here the greatest Nikaya which was named after his motherland and his name as Syamopali Mahanikaya, the Siam Upali lineage or simply the Siam Nikaya.

It is interesting to learn that whereas the major Nikaya of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is known as Siam Nikaya, Buddhism in Thailand is called Lankavamsa. This is due to a historical fact that Thailand received Theravada Buddhism from Sri Lanka during the Sukhothai period in 12th century of the Common Era, and has maintained a canonical tradition and an unbroken ordination lineage since.

In contemporary Thailand, Buddhism is the state religion of the country. Under the constitution, the King as a symbol of the nation, Bust be a Buddhist. The Crown and the State have always been involved in supporting and assisting the Ordained sangha and in promoting Buddhism among the people. According to the latest census, with a total population of 63 million, approximately 94% of Thais are Buddhist. As of 2002, there were 32,000 monasteries, 265,956 monks and 87,695 novices in the Kingdom. Besides numerous forest monasteries where monks may go for extended meditation, there is a monastery in nearly every village and there are many more monasteries in the cities. Schools are often located on monastery grounds, and the Sangha is actively involved in the efforts of the state to rise the educational level of the people as a whole. Buddhism and the Sangha, therefore, are deeply intertwined with the daily lives of the people of Thailand. (More…)