Phra Mongkhonthepmuni (Sodh Candasaro; 10 October 1884 – 3 February 1959), the late abbot of Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen, was the founder of the Thai Dhammakaya meditation school in 1914.
Birth to ordination
Phra Mongkhonthepmuni was born as Sodh Mikaewnoi on 10 October 1884 to the family of a rice merchant in Amphoe Song Phi Nong, Suphanburi, a province 100 km to the west of Bangkok. At the beginning of July 1906, aged twenty-two, he was ordained at Wat Songpinong in his hometown and was given the Pāli name Candasaro.
As a student, Phra Mongkhonthepmuni was a disciple of two traditions, unlike most of his contemporaries, and studied under masters of the oral meditation tradition as well as experts in scriptural analysis. He started to study meditation on the day following his ordination, and after his first rainy season, travelled far and wide in Thailand in order to study with all the renowned masters of the time.
Phra Mongkhonthepmuni devoted the rest of his life to teaching and furthering the depth of knowledge of this meditation technique. It is this technique which has come to be known as ‘Dhammakaya meditation’ (i.e., meditation for attaining the dhammakāya). In 1918, Phramongkolthepmuni was appointed abbot of Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen, and there he devoted his time to researching the insights of Dhammakāya meditation and refined the technique, to make it more systematic, through experimenting with the ways the meditation could best be applied for the common good. During an exceptionally long ministry of over half-a-century, Phramongkolthepmuni was unflagging in teaching all comers the way to attain dhammakaya, with activities nearly every day of the week. He recognised the need to open up and redevelop the oral tradition of meditation teaching, which was becoming disorganised and rare in Thai Buddhism.
He provided the opportunity, with the technique, for meditators to verify for themselves, in their firsthand experience, the success of the technique. Indeed, Phramongkolthepmuni would challenge others to meditate in order that they might verify for themselves the claims which he made about the technique. It was the response to this need which led to the innovative building at Wat Paknam of the ‘meditation workshop’. Phramongkolthepmuni declared that this workshop should be kept in use by meditators for twenty-four hours a day, day and night, and selected from amongst his followers the most gifted of the meditators. Their ‘brief’ was to devote their lives to meditation research for the common good of society.
Phra Mongkhonthepmuni was also the first Thai preceptor to ordain a westerner as a Buddhist monk. He ordained the Englishman William Purfurst (a.k.a. Richard Randall) with the monastic name ‘Kapilavaddho Bhikkhu’ at Wat Paknam in 1954 and Kapilavaddho returned to Britain to found the English Sangha Trust in 1956
Phra Mongkhonthepmuni was taken ill in 1956. He brought the work of the meditation workshop to an end by dismissing all of the meditators except four or five of the most devoted nuns including Chandra Khonnokyoong and Thongsuk Samdaengpan. It was these nuns who were heirs to the oral tradition of Dhammakāya when Phramongkolthepmuni died in 1959, aged seventy-five.