On 25 January 2018, the eve of the 69th Republic Day of India, the Government of India announces that ten outstanding ASEAN personalities will be awarded the prestigious Padma Shri Award in March this year. For Thailand, the Award will be offered to His Holiness Somdet Phra Ariyawongsagatayarn (Amborn Ambaro), the 20th Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, and currently the Kingdom’s highest spiritual leader of all Thai Buddhists.
The Royal Thai Embassy in New Delhi and the “Team Thailand” in India join the 57 million-plus strong Thai Buddhists in humbly offering to His Holiness the Supreme Patriarch our homage and congratulations.
His Holiness the 20th Supreme Patriarch of Thailand was born as Amborn Prasattapong on 26 June 1927 in Ratchaburi Province. He was ordained as a Buddhist novice since the age of 10, and has fully become a Buddhist monk of the Dhammayuttika Sect since 1948 under the supervision of the late Venerable Vasana Vassano (who would later become the 18th Supreme Patriarch of Thailand). He completed the Dhamma and Pali study with a level-6 certificate (of the nine levels in accordance with the Thai Buddhist educational system) and went on to study at the Mahamakut Buddhist University (MBU) of Thailand, obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in religious studies in 1957. His Holiness then went to further his education in India, and graduated with a Master’s degree in History and Archaeology from Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in Varanasi in 1969. He was one of the first Thai monks who were sent to study at BHU, and the tradition still continues until today, with approximately 40 Thai monks studying there in 2017. When he was a young monk, he also sought advice in meditation in the “Forest Monk” school in the Northeastern provinces of Thailand under revered masters such as the late Venerable Phra Ajarn Fahn Ajaro. In 2009 and 2010 respectively, MBU and the other Buddhist university of Thailand, Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University (MCU) conferred on him doctorate degrees honoris causa in Buddhism-related studies.
During his eight decades as a Buddhist monk, His Holiness has been instrumental in propagating Theravada Buddhism at the international level and in promoting better understanding across national boundaries. He was among the first group of the official “Dhammaduta” (members of the Dhamma Missionary) sent abroad by the Supreme Sangha Council of Thailand with full support of the Royal Thai Government. In 1973,he began his work as the Dhammaduta in Canberra, Australia, covering Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin, and other cities. He is much admired for his role and contribution to the establishment of a solid foundation for Theravada Buddhism in Australia and New Zealand. Back in Thailand, he continued to serve as advisor to the Dhammaduta training programme, and eventually became the Executive Director of Dhammaduta affairs in the Sangha Supreme Council of Thailand. The official Thai Dhammaduta missions are still working tirelessly in many parts of the world, including in India, with the mission’s headquarters in the Royal Thai Monastery in Bodh Gaya (the Wat Thai Bodh Gaya).
Rising in monastery ranking, His Holiness has been a senior member of the Supreme Sangha Council of Thailand for many years, and has served as the Deputy Abbot, Acting Abbot and then the Abbot of Wat Ratchabophit monastery in Bangkok. He has been working in major positions in the administration of the Thai Buddhist Sangha system and also of the Dhammayuttika Sect. Since 2011, he has assumed the duty of the President of the University Council of Mahamakut Buddhist University (MBU), his own alma mater. On 7 February 2017, His Majesty the King of Thailand appointed His Holiness as the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand (and the President Ex Officio of the Supreme Sangha Council of Thailand).
His Holiness is a Pali scholar who also speaks Thai, English, and Hindi, with some knowledge of Chinese. (Pali, one of the Prakit languages, is an ancient language native to North India with Sanskrit root, and is the language of the early Theravada Buddhist Canon, the Tipitaka.)
Since the time he was still a mere Venerable monk Amborn, His Holiness has been well-known and much loved in Thailand for his humility, simple and disciplined lifestyle, accessibility, kindness, and deep knowledge in Buddhism.
The Padma Awards are among the most distinguished civilian awards of the Republic of India. In March 2017, the then President of India, President Pranab Mukherjee presented the Padma Bhushan to Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand for her contribution in the field of literature and education.