His ninetieth years of dedication to Buddhism and
Forty years of Wat Thai Washington, D.C. USA (1974 - present)
The promotion of Thai Buddhism in the U.S. by missionary monks started in 1969 with the journey around the world of Somdej Phra Phutthajahn (Aj Asapamahathera), the Director General of Wat Mahathat Yuwaratrangsarit, Bangkok while he was “Phra Bhimoldhamma”.
Later many venerable monks such as Somdej Phra Phutthajahn (Kiao Uppasenamahathera) from Wat Saket, Somdej Phra Maha Rajamangalajahn (Chuang Worapunyamahathera) from Wat Pak Nam, and Phra Bhramagunabhorn (Prayudh Payutto) traveled to the U.S. and other countries. Other groups of Thai Buddhist monks then started to travel abroad to establish temples or meditation centers as a gathering places for Thai communities abroad.
The initiative in establishing a temple for Buddhist residents in the local area began when several Thai communities in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and neighboring states recognized that although this country was modern and developed in many ways, there was a spiritual void that only a Buddhist temple could fill. A temple would provide a place for Thai people to come and cultivate themselves by listening to the teachings of Lord Buddha and participate in religious ceremonies in a familiar spiritual environment and language.
The Establishment of Wat Thai Washington, D.C
Early in 1971, a group of Thai people formed the Assembly of Buddhists. On several occasions, they invited monks to perform religious ceremonies, providing an opportunity for the people to make merit. Later on that year, members of the Assembly of Buddhists unanimously agreed to rename to the Buddhist Association in Washington, D.C.
The first president of the Association was Colonel Pramoch Thavonchanta, the Military Attache of the Royal Thai Embassy. The Ambassador of Thailand to the U.S., His Excellency Sunthorn Hongladarom, served as the first advisor to the Association which consisted of other fourteen members.
Upon the Ambassador’s return to Thailand, his successor, His Excellency Anand Panyarachun, assumed the role of advisor. The task of fund raising for a new monks’ residence was begun. The source of main income came from the donation of the general public.
Late in 1973, after Colonel Thavonchanta returned to Thailand, the Association invited Colonel Vichian Buranasiri, the Education Counselor of the Royal Thai Embassy, to be the president in November. Colonel Buranasiri reorganized the committee structure of the Association to facilitate its growth and progress.
In order to raise funds, he initiated a variety of activities and festivities including the first Songkran festival which was held at the Ambassador’s residence in April 1974. Monks from the Thai temple in Los Angeles were invited to perform the religious ceremony at this festival. After Songkran the Association had raised a total of US$3,744.33 in its treasury.
The First Monks’ Residence
Having sufficient funds, members of the Association conceived the idea of first to establishing a monks’ residence and second to invite at least two monks from Thailand to perform religious ceremonies in order to increase the involvement and support of the Thai community in the area. In the Education Counselor’s meeting room on May 1, 1974 at 08:00 pm, the Association called for an open meeting with 28 participants who were government officials, students, and Thais of different occupations in order to obtain their opinions on this idea. Based on the comments and suggestions from this meeting, the Association agreed to use the funds in the treasury to carry out the proposal. A committee was formed and directed to find a rental place to be the new temporary monks’ residence. The committee finally found a house for rent at 705 Wayne Avenue, Silver Spring, Maryland. The rental agreement was one year and the monthly rent was US$350.00
Colonel Vichian Buranasiri, the president of the Association, contacted Phra Maha Sobin Sopago, the chief of monks at Wat Thai Los Angeles, California requesting for monks. Phra Maha Sobin then wrote a letter to Phra Dhamma Kosajahn (Chob Anujaree) of Wat Mahathat Yuwaratrangsarit, asking him to send monks to come and stay at the new residence. The new monks will lead in merit-making and others religious ceremonies on the first day of the Buddhist’s Lent, which would also be a grand opening day for the residence.
The First Group of Missionary Monk Performed Buddhist Ceremonies
On July 4, 1974 which was U.S. Independence Day and Asalha Puja Day, the first two monks—Phra Kru Phibulbodhabiratana (Koon Boontum) and Phra Palad Vorasakdi Dipangkaro from Wat Mahathat Yuwaratrangsarit in Bangkok—arrived and resided at the house at 705 Wayne Avenue, Silver Spring, Maryland.
Three months later, in October 1974, Phra Maha Kliang Tejawaro was invited from the Thai temple in Los Angeles to assume the duties of Phra Palad Vorasakdi Dipangkaro who had returned to Thailand due to health issues. The invitation was made possible by Phra Maha Sobin Sopago, the chief of monks at Wat Thai Los Angeles, who was contacted by Colonel Vichian Buranasiri.
In January 1975, Phra Kru Phibulbodhabiratana also returned to Thailand. On February 11, 1975, Phra Maha Surasak Chiwanantha of Wat Vajiradhammasadhit in Bangkok arrived to assume position of the Abbot following the invitation of Phra Maha Sobin Sopako and Phra Maha Kliang. Furthermore, he still holds this position today but under the new title of Phra RajaMongkolrangsi.
After the monks have agreed to stay permanently, the fundraising for the temple becomes more effective. Laypeople in Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia as well as other states were willing to donate funds to purchase the rented house. In July 1976, the Wayne Avenue house was purchased for US$52,500 by the Association.
However, within a few years, the need for a larger building became apparent. The house seemed too small for many religious ceremonies, especially in winter times when people have to gathering inside to perform ceremonies. Moreover, the temple need to organized more activities for the communities such as Dhamma practice, Sunday school, Samatha and Vipassana meditation which all are very important tasks in promoting Buddhism.
In the middle of 1977, the Buddhist Association in Washington, D.C had a meeting and decided that a larger building was necessary to establish a new temple. “The New Temple Committee” was appointed. The committee spent over three years searching for a proper place and submitted over ten sites to the Association to consider, but no conclusion was reached.
The Second Move to Georgia Avenue and the Third One to Layhill Road
In early July 1980, the committee found a house at 9033 Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland. This new location was not far from the previous temple, easy to commute, and had a nice landscape. The house selling price was US$260,000.00 but the Association was able to negotiate it down to US$240,000.00. The move was completed on December 7, 1980.
During the five-year period it became apparent that the Georgia Avenue location would not be adequate to meet the rapidly growing needs of its members. The committee therefore decided to make another move to the house at 13440 Layhill Road, Silver Spring, Maryland. This site has nice surrounding with 5 acres of land. The purchase price was US$265,000. Later on a room for the Principal Buddha image was added to the existing structure.
An Auspicious Move to the New Temple
On the eve of July 20, 1986 which was Asalha Puja Day (the full moon of the eighth lunar month), the committee and laypeople have relocated the Principal Buddha image “Phra Buddhamongkol Wimol D.C.” from the house on Georgia Ave. to be situated at the new location on Layhill Road. This day in the history was the day the Lord Buddha travelled from the Bhodi tree in Bodh Gaya to the Isipatana Forest to preach the five associates in the ancient times.
After moving into the new temple on Layhill Road, the monks and the temple committee did everything possible to comply with the laws in the State of Maryland to become recognized as a true religious temple. Wat Thai Washington, D.C. finally received an official permit to function as a place of worship on June 2, 1992.
A subcommittee for the ordination hall construction was appointed. This subcommittee worked diligently to complete the construction project starting with the permit application on March 5, 1993. While waiting for the local government to grant the construction permit, the temple organized the “groundbreaking ceremony” on June 6, 1993, which was on Visakha Day. On March 5, 1994 the permit was granted to begin the construction.
The subcommittee signed a contract with Warder & Associates Inc. with the construction budget of US$1,143,883.00 and started the work on June 13, 1994. The mixed Thai style building had two stories with the dimension of 40 foot wide and 100 foot long. The upstairs houses a worship hall that is used for meditation practices and religious ceremonies with a capacity of 299 people. The lower level has a large open multi-purpose room with a capacity of 300 people that is used for social functions, meetings, and can also be partitioned into a number of classrooms. The construction was completed according to all the terms listed in the contract.
The monks and the temple committee organized the grand opening ceremony on June 17-18, 1995 which included the Blessing of the Cornerstones and Sema Limit (marking the boundary). The chairman of the ceremony was His Excellency Manaspas Xuto, the Ambassador of Thailand to the U.S., and HRH Princess Chulabhorn Walailak kindly sent HSH Princess Vudhichalerm Vudhijaha to preside over the ceremony.
In this occasion the Council of the Thai Bhikkhus in US and Wat Thai Washington, D.C. co-hosted the 19th Seminar of the World Wide Missionary monks, and the 1995 General Annual Meeting of the Council of Thai Bhikkhus in the US on June 15-16. The event was attended by the committee of the Council from various temples, venerable monks from Thailand, and many administrative and teachers from Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalai University. By the order of Somdej Phra Phutthajahn (Kiao Uppasenamahathera), the Region Chief of the Eastern from Wat Saket, Phra Dhammarajanuwatra from Wat Thai Los Angeles was the Sangha Chairman.
With the support from the National Council on Social Welfare of Thailand, the temple was allowed to use the emblem of the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of His Majesty the King’s Accession to the Throne and displayed the pictures of His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen on the veranda in front of the ordination hall.
The 72th Birthday Anniversary Celebrations of Luang Por Chiwananda
To celebrate the 72th Birthday Anniversary of Phra Maha Surasak Chivanandho on
June 9, 1997, the monks, the temple committee and laypeople organized many events during June 6-8, 1997. Educational seminars and meditation workshops were held. The National Council on Social Welfare of Thailand organized “Thailand: Present and Future” seminar, while Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalai University organized “Thai Missionary Monks: The Age of Givers and Leaders” seminar led by Phra Dhammakosajarn (Panya Nandha) and Phra Rajaworamunee (Prayoon Dhammajitto). His Excellency Nitya Pibulsonggram, the Thai ambassador to the U.S., gave a speech on “The Next Decade of Thai Missionary Monks in the U.S.”
After the celebrations, the missionary monks and the laypeople started to promote Buddhism through internet technology. The IIRT Corp with the collaboration of the Council of the Thai Bhikkhus in U.S.A. and Wat Thai Washington, D.C. organized a course for missionary monks and the general public called “Buddhism Promotion through IT Project” in December 1998. The monks learned how to create homepages to promote Buddhism in the modern world.
Phra Maha Surasak (pen-name Luangta Chi) was promoted to the Venerable Phra Vidhetdhammarangsi
On the 60th Anniversary Celebrations of His Majesty the King’s Accession to the Throne on December 5, 1999, Phra Maha Surasak Chivanandho (Dhammarat) was promoted to a new title the Venerable “Phra Vidhetdhammarangsi”.
The Monks and laypeople of Wat Thai Washington, D.C. celebrated this occasion and his birthday during June 7-11, 2000 by organizing meditation courses and others activities. The Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalai University and the Council have also organized seminars for worldwide missionary monks.
Phra Vidhetdhammarangsi (Luangta Chi)’s 80th Birthday Anniversary Celebrations
On June 9, 2005, Phra Vidhetdhammarangsi turned 80 years old. Monks, laypeople of Wat Thai Washington, D.C. and his students hosted the birthday celebrations for him during June 3-12, 2005. The activity includes meditation workshops, the 29th seminar of the worldwide missionary monks, and the 2005 General Annual Meeting of the Council of the Thai Bhikkhus in the US.
The “groundbreaking ceremony” for “Luangta Chi’s Library Building” was held and presided over by Venerable Phra Visutthibodi, a committee member of Maha Thera Association, Wat Sutat Thepwararam who was the Sangha chairman, and HSH Princess Vudhichalerm Vudhijaha was the laypeople chairman.
Phra Vidhetdhammarangsi (Luangta Chi)’s 84th Birthday Anniversary Celebrations
On June 9, 2009, Phra Vidhetdhammarangsi was 84 years old. The Meditation practice and the seminars of worldwide missionary monks have been organized to celebrate this occasion during June 1-7, 2009.
Phra Vidhetdhammarangsi (Luangta Chi)’s 88th Birthday Anniversary Celebrations
On June 9, 2013, Phra Vidhetdhammarangsi turned 88 years old. The Monks, laypeople of Wat Thai Washington, D.C. and his students hosted various activities to celebrate the occasion during June 3-12, 2013. The activities organized were meditation workshops, the 37th seminar of worldwide missionary monks, and the 2013 General Annual Meeting of the Council of the Thai Bhikkhus in the United States.
This year’s programs were also attended by the Committee of the Supreme Sangha Council of Thailand. The senior members of the council include Phra Promvajirayan the abbot of Wat Yannawa, Phra Prombundit the abbot of Wat Prayurawongsawas, and the rector of Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalai University. Together they presented the Missionary Monk Model Certificate to Phra Vidhetdhammarangsi at this occation.
The new building project called “Luangta Chi’s 80 Years Building” has been completed according to the planned schedule. The ground breaking ceremony was done since Phra Vidhetdhammarangsi turned 80 years old on June 9th, 2005. Moreover, the project Luangta Chi Library has changed its name to the Multi-Purpose building.
This new building has three levels. The basement consists of classrooms, the living quarters for the summer school teachers, the multi-usage room, shower room, and the restrooms. The first floor consists of main office, a room for Luang Por Dum, the dining room, kitchen, and the restrooms. On the second floor consist of Luangta Chi’s library, monks’ living quarter, guest rooms and the bathrooms. Also, this building has one interior elevator for general public. The parking lot and landscape have also been improved. The project total cost was US$2,744,941.00. The temple committee decided to have a name changed from the Multi-Purpose building to “88th years Luangta Chi” and organized to have Luangta Chi’s Birthday celebration and the grand opening ceremony of this new building on June 9, 2013.
Phra Vidhetdhammarangsi (Luangta Chi)’s 89th Birthday Anniversary Celebrations
Phra Vidhetdhammarangsi turned 89 years old on June 9, 2014. The monks, Wat Thai committee, his students, and the Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalai University’s Alumni in Washington, D.C. organized the merit-making ceremonies to pay homage to him during June 5-8, 2014.
The Committee Members of the Supreme Sangha Council of Thailand were among the attendees which includes Phra Promsuthee the abbot of Wat Saket and the Chairman of the Missionary Monk Affairs, Phra Promdiloke the abbot of Wat Samphraya and the Governor of Ecclesiastical Province of Bangkok Metropolis were among the Maha Thera (senior monks) who kindly came to celebrate this special occasion. In addition, there were Thai Missionary Monks from all over the world traveled to Washington, D.C to participate in this memorable event.
Phra RajaMongkolrangsi (Luangta Chi)
On the auspicious occasion of His Majesty the King’s Birthday December 5th, 2014 Phra Vidhetdhammarangsi was promoted to Phra RajaGhana as Phra RajaMongkolrangsi with the full title of “Phra RajaMongkolrangsi Sudheevidhetsassanagij Mahakanisorn BorvornSangharam Khamavasi Phra RajaGhana”. This auspicious occasion has brought the joys and delights to all members of Wat Thai. The monks, Wat Thai Committee Members, and Thai people in this area plan to have his 90th Birthday Celebration together with the new title of Phra RajaGhana Phra RajaMongkolrangsi on June 6-7, 2015.
The 40th Anniversary of Wat Thai Washington, D.C
From 1974 to 2014, this period of 40 years Wat Thai Washington, D.C. has been a Buddhist Monastery in the United States of America. It started in 1971 as “The Buddhist Association”, with the aims of encouraging the study and practice of Buddhism, of propagating the Buddha’s teachings and promoting and assisting in meritorious activities, social welfare works and public service. The collaboration among Thai students, Thai business groups, Thai government workers, and general public has made this new temple become an icon of all Thai temples in the US today.
Phra Rajamongkolrangsi (Luangta Chi) former Phra Maha Surasak Chiwanandho was a pioneer in the missionary monk project from Thailand. He accepted the invitation to be an abbot of this temple from the beginning. He was 50 years old at the time, and now he just turned 90 on June 9, 2015. He is the most senior, with the longest abbot duty of all the venerable missionary monks in the United States.
Wat Thai Washington, D.C.’s progress and success were undoubtedly due to the faith that the laypeople have in Phra Rajamongkolrangsi (Luangta Chi). He is very well known and kind spiritual leader of Thai Buddhists in the United States. He has published many books and articles on Buddhism. He is very strict in maintaining the Buddhist traditions at this temple. He is the excellent example of a great Buddhist monk who has worked very hard to promote Buddhism.
Together, Wat Thai Washington, D.C. and Phra Rajamongkolrangsi (Luangta Chi) have greatly benefited the society and communities in cultivating Buddhism, Thai language, Thai culture, and Thai performing arts. The Thai communities in this area, as the result, are closely integrated. This signals a blossoming and long-lasting future of Buddhism abroad.www.luangtachi.org 89 years Gallary