Chandra Khonnokyoong

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Khun Yay Maharatana Upasika Chandra Khonnokyoong
Chandra khonnokyoong.jpg
School Theravada, Dhammakaya Movement
Nationality Thai
Born (1909-01-20)January 20, 1909
Nakhon Pathom, Thailand
Died September 10, 2000(2000-09-10) (aged 91)
Bangkok, Thailand
Senior posting
Based in Wat Phra Dhammakaya, Pathum Thani, Thailand
Title Khun Yay Maharatana Upasika
Successor Luang Por Dhammajayo
Religious career
Teacher Luang Pu Sodh Candasaro, Thongsuk Samdaengpan

Chandra Khonnokyoong (20 January 1909 – 10 September 2000) was a Thai mae ji (nun) who founded Wat Phra Dhammakaya. Rachelle Scott has described her as "the most influential female meditation teacher in Thailand".[1][2]:503 Her own students call her Khun Yay Ajan Mahā-ratana Upasika Chandra Khonnokyoong (Khun Yay Ajan, for short), an honorific name meaning "grandmother-master-great-gem upasika".[3][note 1] Although illiterate, she was widely respected for her experience in meditation, which is rare for a mae ji. She managed to attract many well-educated students, despite her rural background and illiteracy.[5] Some scholars have raised the example of Mae Ji Chandra to indicate that the position of women in Thai Buddhism may be more complex than was previously thought.[6]

Early life[edit]

On 20 January 1909, Chandra was born in a middle class farming family in Nakhon Pathom province, of Thailand.[7] She never had a formal education, as this was uncommon for Thai women in those days. In her childhood years, she helped both with farming and the household. One day, when her father was drunk, he had a fight with Chandra's mother. Trying to downplay Chandra's mother's insulting words to Chandra's father, Chandra made her father angry. He cursed Chandra, saying that she would be deaf for five hundred lifetimes. Thai people in those days believed that the words of someone's parents were sacred, and would normally be fulfilled. When Chandra's father died unexpectedly in 1921, she still wanted to reconcile with him to lift the curse.[8]:12–7[9]:71[10]

A few years later, in 1927, Chandra heard that a meditation master in Thonburi was able to use meditation to communicate with beings in the afterlife.[11] This was Luang Pu Sodh Candasaro. To accomplish her wish to reconcile with her father, Chandra left her family eight years later and travelled to Bangkok to find her way to Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen. This is where Luang Pu Sodh was located at that time. At first, Chandra lived with her aunt in Bangkok. Later on, to acquaint herself with Wat Paknam, Chandra decided to work as a servant. She applied to work in a household which was regularly visited by a teacher from Wat Paknam. This was the household of Liap Sikanchananand in Saphan Han, Bangkok, in which Ajan Thongsuk Samdaengpan came regularly to teach. After a while, Ajan Thongsuk started to teach Chandra in private and Chandra quickly made progress in Dhammakaya meditation. Students in the Dhammakaya tradition believe that she eventually attained the state in meditation called Dhammakaya and was able to contact her father in the afterlife.[9]:72[10][11]

Wat Phra Dhammakaya often emphasizes Mae Ji Chandra's illiteracy, to make the point that she became a spiritual leader solely because of her character and spiritual maturity, rather than academic knowledge.[12][9]:75 With regard to this, the temple's biography states that "she made a classroom of the vast paddy fields of her youth".[8]:14

Life at Wat Paknam[edit]

In 1938, with the permission of the mistress of the house, Chandra was taken by Ajan Thongsuk to meet Luang Pu Sodh for the first time. She was going to spend a month at Wat Paknam. Having met Luang Pu Sodh, he addressed her with the words: "You are too late!" as though they had known each other previously.[2][11][12] He allowed her to join an experienced group of meditation practitioners in Wat Paknam without having to pass any probation or tests. This was highly unusual.[2][11][1] This privilege was not taken for granted by others at the temple, however, and she was looked down on at first. Despite these obstacles, she was able to develop her meditation and, still within the first month, was given a special meditation seat (Thai: เตียงขาดรู้) used for training mindfulness, considered a sign of inner progress.[8]:40–4 Before her period of leave was finished, Chandra decided to ordain as a mae ji and stay at Wat Paknam. She and Ajan Thongsuk ordained at the same day.[2][11] In the literature of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, it is described that Mae Ji Chandra quickly became one of Luang Lu Sodh's best students and was praised by him as "first among many, second to none".[11][9]:72–4 At that time, she became well-known because people believed she had the ability to share merit with people who had died, analyze people's karma, and other forms of abhiñña (direct knowledge) coming from her meditation practice.[2][9]:72–4 However, other temples have contested Mae Ji Chandra's significance as the number one student in Dhammakaya meditation, citing that an illiterate person would not be able to meditate at the highest levels.[10][13]:133–4

Luang Pu Sodh would often assign Mae Ji Chandra to go to teach different groups in different provinces. Because of her lack of formal education, at times she felt uncomfortable about this. Eventually, she managed to do this well.[11] She became known for being able to explain difficult teachings.[12] Though Mae Ji Chandra would travel and help to teach Dhammakaya meditation at times, most of her time was spent on meditating. Mae Ji Thongsuk had a much busier teaching schedule. After Luang Pu Sodh's death in 1959, Mae Ji Thongsuk got cervical cancer. Mae Ji Chandra took care of her in her last months, and organized a suitable funeral for her.[8]:67–9

Setting up a new meditation centre[edit]

After Luang Pu Sodh died in 1959, Mae Ji Chandra transmitted the Dhammakaya tradition to a new generation at Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen.[14] The house in which Mae Ji Chandra lived quickly became too small to accommodate all her students, and funds were raised to build a new house, called the "Dhammaprasit House" (Thai: บ้านธรรมประสิทธิ์).[8]:80

Maechi Chandra Khonnokyoong teaching meditation using kasina object.

Mae Ji Chandra encouraged meditation practitioners who were still students to ordain after graduation. One of the first of these was Luang Por Dhammajayo, who ordained in 1969.[9]:73 The number of students increased quickly, and in 1975 exceeded the capacity of Wat Paknam. Continuing there became inappropriate. Plans were made for establishing a new meditation centre. An 80 acres (320,000 m2) plot of paddy-field was donated for building the centre by Khunying Prayat Phaetayapongsa-visudhathibodi, a land owner of royal blood.[11] Having only 3,200 Baht ($80) to their name,[8]:101–4 a group of meditation practitioners headed by Mae Ji Chandra began establishing the temple. On the new land a meditation center was gradually built. It was first officially established on Magha Puja Day, 20 February 1970, and called "Sun Phutthachak Patipattham" (Thai: ศูนย์พุทธจักรปฏิบัติธรรม; 'the Dhamma practice center of the Buddha-sphere'). Luang Por Dhammajayo and Mae Ji Chandra took responsibility for the finances of the establishment, and the lay-supporter who later ordained as Luang Por Dattajivo, took responsibility for building on the site. Every canal in the temple compound was dredged and excavated by the volunteers and the trees in the temple were planted by hand. In the beginning, the soil was very acid.[8]:108 While working to plant the trees, Mae Ji Chandra became seriously under-nourished and at one time came dangerously close to death.[8]:157 She recovered under medical attention. In 1978, the meditation center became an official temple with the name "Wat Phra Dhammakaya". Despite the initial difficulties, in the 1980s and 1990s the temple grew to be the largest in Thailand.

During the period of establishment, Mae Ji Chandra sought finance to support the center and set the regulations for those living in the temple. Luang Pu Sodh was her model in this. An example of such a regulation was that a monk had to receive guests in public rooms rather than in their living quarters.[8]:117–8

Later life[edit]

Cremation of Maechi Chandra Khonnokyoong. The peacock-shaped vehicle carried Maechi Chandra's remains.

In her old age Mae Ji Chandra was still active in the temple, though she had to be hospitalized from 1996 to 1997.[8]:153–6 She died peacefully on 10 September 2000 at Kasemrat Hospital, Bangkok, at the age of ninety-one.[15] Her cremation was postponed for over a year in order to give time to everyone to pay their respects to her and make merit on her behalf. When her funeral was held, on 3 February 2002, a hundred thousand monks from thirty thousand temples throughout Thailand attended to show their final respects, which is unusual for a mae ji in Thailand. The heads of the monastic communities (Sangharajas) of several countries came to join.[16][17][18]

In 2003, Wat Phra Dhammakaya built a monument in honor of Mae Ji Chandra, called the "Mahavihara Khun Yai Ajan Mahā-ratana Upāsika Chandra Khonnokyoong". This is a hexagonal building with a meditation hall and a life-size golden image of Mae Ji Chandra in it.[2][3][8]:201



  1. ^ To refer to a mae chi as "Khun", combined with an honorary kin term, is a common way of addressing a mae chi on familiar, yet deferential terms.[4]


  1. ^ a b Scott, Rachelle M. (2016). "Contemporary Thai Buddhism". In Jerryson, Michael. The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism. Oxford University Press. p. 203. ISBN 978-0-19-936238-7. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Scott, Rachelle M. (2010). "Buddhism, miraculous powers, and gender: Rethinking the stories of Theravāda nuns". Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. 33 (1–2). 
  3. ^ a b Seeger, Martin (September 2009). "The Changing Roles of Thai Buddhist Women: Obscuring Identities and Increasing Charisma". Religion Compass. 3 (5): 811. doi:10.1111/j.1749-8171.2009.00165.x. 
  4. ^ Cook, Nerida M. (1981). The position of nuns in Thai Buddhism: The parameters of religious recognition (Ph.D. Thesis). Research School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University. p. 153. 
  5. ^ Gombrich, R. (1996). "Freedom and Authority in Buddhism". In Gates, B. Freedom and Authority in Religions and Religious Education. London: Cassell. p. 11. 
  6. ^ McDaniel, J (2006). "Buddhism in Thailand: Negotiating the Modern Age". Buddhism In World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. pp. 101–28. ISBN 1-85109-787-2. 
  7. ^ Nemsiri, Mutukumara (1 February 2002). "Upasika Khun Yai the founder of Dhammakaya". Daily News (Sri Lanka). Lake House. Retrieved 2016-09-05. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Dhammakaya Foundation (2005). Second to None: The Biography of Khun Yay Maharatana Upasika Chandra Khonnokyoong (PDF). Bangkok: Dhammakaya Foundation. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f Scott, Rachelle M. (2009). Nirvana for Sale? Buddhism, Wealth, and the Dhammakāya Temple in Contemporary Thailand. Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 978-1-4416-2410-9. 
  10. ^ a b c Mackenzie, Rory (2007). New Buddhist Movements in Thailand: Towards an Understanding of Wat Phra Dhammakaya and Santi Asoke. Abingdon: Routledge. p. 34. ISBN 978-1-134-13262-1. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Fuengfusakul, Apinya (1998). ศาสนาทัศน์ของชุมชนเมืองสมัยใหม่: ศึกษากรณีวัดพระธรรมกาย [Religious Propensity of Urban Communities: A Case Study of Phra Dhammakaya Temple] (published Ph.D.). Buddhist Studies Center, Chulalongkorn University. 
  12. ^ a b c Falk, Monica Lindberg (2007). Making fields of merit : Buddhist female ascetics and gendered orders in Thailand. Copenhagen: NIAS Press. ISBN 978-87-7694-019-5. 
  13. ^ Newell, Catherine Sarah (1 April 2008). Monks, meditation and missing links: Continuity, "orthodoxy" and the vijja dhammakaya in Thai Buddhism (PhD). London: Department of the Study of Religions School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. 
  14. ^ Heikkilä-Horn, M-J (1996). "Two Paths to Revivalism in Thai Buddhism: The Dhammakaya and Santi Asoke Movements". Temenos (32): 93–111. 
  15. ^ Litalien, Manuel (January 2010). Développement social et régime providentiel en thaïlande: La philanthropie religieuse en tant que nouveau capital démocratique [Social development and a providential regime in Thailand: Religious philanthropy as a new form of democratic capital] (PDF) (Ph.D. Thesis, published as a monograph in 2016) (in French). Université du Québec à Montréal. pp. 130–1. 
  16. ^ Rajakaruna, J. (28 February 2008). "Maha Dhammakaya Cetiya where millions congregate seeking inner peace". Daily News: Sri Lanka's National Newspaper. 
  17. ^ Scott, Rachelle M. (2010). "Buddhism, miraculous powers, and gender: Rethinking the stories of Theravāda nuns". Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. 33 (1–2). When she died in September of 2000, the Temple delayed her cremation for over a year in order to grant more people the opportunity to pay their respects to her and to make merit on her behalf. Thai Buddhists afford this courtesy only to the holiest of individuals in Thailand. To my knowledge, it was the first time that such respect had ever been paid to a nun in Thailand. 
  18. ^ Nemsiri, Mutukumara (1 February 2002). "Upasika Khun Yai the founder of Dhammakaya". Daily News. Lake House. The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. Retrieved 2016-09-05. 

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