Autobiography of Luang Pho Uttama (The God of Mon people)

Phra Ratcha Udom Mongkhon, or Phra Maha Uttama Ramphikkhu, known by general public as “Luang Pho Uttama”, is a highly respected monk in Kanchanaburi. He was born in Mon community and became a very important leader among Mon immigrants in Amphoe Sangkhlaburi.

Luang Pho Uttama was born on Sunday, (the 6th day of the waxing moon in the 4th Lunar month, in the Minor Era of 1272 (2453 B.E.)), at Mokkaniang Village, Tambon Kesala, Amphoe Ye, Malamaeng Province in Myanmar. He is one of the twelve children of Mr. Ngo and Mrs. Thongsuk, who were farmers in Myanmar. He was named after his date of birth (Sunday) as “Emong”.

In 2462 B.E., the outbreak of cholera occurred in the village when Emong was nine years old. In order to survive, his parents gave him to Phra Achan Nanthasaro of Wat  Mokkaniang as to study the teachings of Buddha. Emong was a very studious and intelligent student; he achieved the first rank of his class every year.  

In 2467 B.E., the mass outbreak of cholera repeated in his village and his five brothers died of the plague. Emong decided to leave the temple in order to assist his family in rice farming. Then, at the age of eighteen, the abbot of Wat Mokkaniang invited him to get ordained as a novice.

Luang Pho Uttama had a novice ordination, by Phra Ket Mala as a preceptor, at Wat Kesala, Tambon Kesala, Amphoe Ye, Malamaeng Province in the Minor Era of 1291 (2472 B.E.). In the same year, he studied Pali language, Phra Pariyatdham, and achieved         Dhamma Scholar Elementary Level, and then completed Dhamma Scholar Intermediate Level within a year later. However, he made a decision to leave the Buddhist monkhood in order to assist his family in rice farming.

Later, Mong-e, the son of his aunt, came to live with Emong’s family after the death of his parents. Having more members, Emong’s family had sufficient labor in rice farming; Emong made a decision to have an ordination again at Wat Kesala on Thursday 23rd April 2476 B.E. by Phra Ket Mala as a preceptor, Phra Nanthasaro of Wat Mokkaniang as the first ordination teacher, and Phra Wisathara of Wat Chao Khale as the second ordination teacher. Emong was religiously named as “Uttama Rampho” which means “a highly sedulous person”. At that time, Luang Pho Uttama gave a promise to spend the rest of his life under the glorious creed of Buddhism. With his full commitment and determination, in 2474 B.E., Luang Pho Uttama achieved Dhamma Scholar Advanced Level at Wat Prasat Thong, Amphoe Ye, Malamaeng Province. After that, in 2484 B.E., he gained grade 8 in Buddhist theology (the most advanced level of Buddhist theology in Myanmar) at Wat Sukkari, Amphoe Sathoem, Sathoem Province. At the same time, World War II had been taking place in many regions of the world including Thailand, Luang Pho Uttama decided to stay at Wat Kesala, and was assigned to teach Pali language to monks and novices in the temple.  Then, he went to study Vipassana Meditation at Wat Tong Choi in Malamaeng Province, and Wat Pa Lelai in Mandalay Province; he was masterful in Vipassana Meditation and several magic formulas. Having finished his studying, in 2486 B.E., Luang Pho Uttama started to deepen his practice of meditation by doing Dhutanga(ascetic practices).

While doing Dhutanga, Luang Pho Uttamawandered to many places around Myanmar and entered Thailand via Chiangmai for the first time. Then, his greatest concern about the illness of Phra Ket Mala (who was his preceptor) made him hurriedly get back to Myanmar. He had taken good care of Phra Ket Mala until the preceptor passed away. After the funeral, Luang Pho Uttama went to Thailand for the second time via Tambon Pilok, Amphoe Thong Phaphum, Kanchanaburi Province. At the 16th year of his monkhood, the violent Typhoon blown from Andaman Sea severely attacked Mokkaniang and Kesala Village. The impact of the typhoon was horrendous, more than 100 villagers lost their lives; moreover, the serious problem of homelessness and starvation widely occurred among survivors.  

Unfortunately, in addition to the natural disaster, the villagers must be suffered of the internal conflicts between The Myanmar Armed Forces and several armed groups. Instead of fighting against the government, some armed groups turned to rob and to kill innocent people. Due to the occurring situation, Luang Pho Uttama made a decision about migration to Thailand with the final destination to Preah Vihear Temple. Once people heard about his migration, several people cried and were in sorrow. With his full commitment, Luang Pho Uttama announced the main aim of his leaving that “The migration of mine would make great benefits to several people”.

Luang Pho Uttama wandered to Thailand in the period 2492 – 2493 B.E. via Itong Village, Tambon Pilok at the Thai – Myanmar borderline with an assistance of the two half Thai-Mon men who were ore miners at Itong Village.  Luang Pho Uttama resided in a small workers' house used as a temporary monk's house with the very warm welcome of faithful people. In the past, the village had no temples nor monks, half Thai-Mon people in the village therefore wished to establish a temple for Luang Pho Uttama. But, due to the status as an immigrant, the establishment of the temple was cancelled since Luang Pho Uttama was afraid of being blamed as an unlicensed monk. So, to be permitted, Luang Pho Uttama went to meet the monk dean of Pilok; he stayed with Luang Pho Tai Naem who was Karen people and was ordained at the same temple as Luang Pho Uttama. He stayed at Wat Tha Khanun, Amphoe Thong Phaphum, Kanchanaburi Province during that Buddhist Lent.

 In 2494 B.E., during the Buddhist Lent at Wat Tha Khanun, Luang Pho Uttama had visited Phra Pathommachedi in Nakhon Pathom Province and met a number of half Thai-Mon people from many cities; for example, Mae Klong, Samut Sakhon, etc. These people also invited Luang Pho Uttama to stay at Wat Bang Pla, Tambon Ban Ko, Amphoe Mueang, Samut Sakhon Province during the Buddhist Lent.

After staying at Wat Bang Pla during the Buddhist Lent, Luang Pho Uttama came back to Wat Tha Khanun. Then, Luang Pho Tai Naem assigned Luang Pho Uttama to spend the Buddhist Lent at Wat Prangkasi (a deserted temple in Karen community). At that time, Luang Pho Uttama and the Karen village leader invited 42 Karen monks who were living in the area of Kwai Yai River and Kwai Noi River tospend nine days and nights at Wat Prangkasi. Later, some monk's houses and pagodas were built by the faith of people; Luang Pho Uttama invited three Karen monks to stay at the temple and taught Mon language to them as to assign these monks to give sermons to Mon people.

Luang Pho Uttama had spent a period of the Buddhist Lent at Wat Prangkasi before being invited by Mr. Thum (a village leader) to visit Luang Pu Saeng (who lived at Wat Mokkaniang and Wat Kesala in Malamaeng Province during the Buddhist Lent) at Wat Ko, Amphoe Photharam in Ratchaburi Province. At that Buddhist Lent, Luang Pu Saeng invited Luang Pho Uttama to spend a period of the Buddhist Lent at the temple.

In 2494 B.E., while staying at Wat Ko, a large number of immigrants (who migrated to Thailand via Bikhli River) in Sangkhlaburi wished to visit Luang Pho Uttama. Therefore, after the Buddhist Lent, Luang Pho Uttama wandered to Amphoe Thong Phaphum and Amphoe Sangkhlaburi to visit these Mon immigrants. These immigrants were from Mokkaniang Village, Chao Khale Village, and Malamaeng Village (Luang Pho Uttama’s hometown) and Luang Pho Uttama suggested them to settle their community in Wang Kalang Village; the settlement at that time is the origin of Mon community in Amphoe Sangkhlaburi.  

 

Establishment of Wat Luang Pho Uttama

In the 6th month of the year 2499 B.E., with strong collaboration of Karen and Mon villagers led by Luang Pho Uttama, the pavilion at a temple was successfully constructed. However, not yet approved by the Department of Religious Affairs, the buildings held the status of a house of priest. The temple (called “Wat Luang Pho Uttama” by the villagers) is located on the hill which is the meeting point of three rivers; Songkalia River, Bikhli River, and Ranti River. This meeting point is known as “Sam Prasop”.

In 2505 B.E., fully approved by the Department of Religious Affairs, Luang Pho Uttama changed the name of the house of priest to “Wat Wang Wiwekaram” after the name of Amphoe Wangka.

In 2513 B.E., Luang Pho Uttama started the construction of Phra Ubosot (an ordination hall) by using traditional handmade bricks.

In 2518 B.E., Luang Pho Uttama started to construct a reproduction of Bodh Gaya from India and finished in 2529 B.E.

 

The Monks' Ranks and Titles of Luang Pho Uttama

In 2504 B.E., – an abbot of Wat Wang Wiwekaram

In 2505 B.E., – an abbot of Wat Si Suwannaram

In 2509 B.E., – The first ordination teacher

In 2511 B.E., – The ordination preceptor

In 2512 B.E., – Was given a Monks' Rank conferred by the king as Phra Khru Udomsit Achan, the second-rank monk dean of the subdistrict

In 2516 B.E., – Was given a Monks' Rank conferred by the king as a provost, the first-rank monk dean of the subdistrict

In 2524 B.E., – Was given a Monks' Rank conferred by the king as a high Buddhist ecclesiastical dignitary monk as Phra Udom Sangworathen

 

In 2534 B.E., – Was given a Monks' Rank conferred by the king as Phra Ratcha Udom Mongkhon