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Ayutthaya, Capital of a Kingdom, Part 21
King Mongkut, Rama IV of Siam
Monkhood the Foundation of Kingship


The mission of Siamese monks returned from Sri Lanka with the borrowed Tripitaka which to be compared with the versions we had in Siam

Mongkut was born a Prince to the Royal House of Chakri in 1804. His grandfather, Rama I, founded the Chakri Dynasty and still reigned when Prince Mongkut was born. The baby Prince's father, Rama II, became Monarch five years later, in 1809, and as he was the first-born son of Rama II's Royal Queen, Prince Mongkut was perceived by many as being the heir apparent to the Siamese Throne. However, this was not to be; Prince Mongkut had an older half-brother, a son of one of Rama II's many concubines, who ultimately succeeded to the Kingdom as Rama III. Prince Mongkut, instead, became a monk in his 20th year and studied scholarly matters for the next 27 years.


Prince Mongkut developed good friendships and learned foreign languages with educated foreign residents. Roman CCatholic Monsignor Pallegoix taught Latin meanwhile Dr. Dan Bradley and other Christian Missionary members taught English.
Kingship did not fall on Mongkut's shoulders until he was 47 years or age and by that time, thanks to his lively intelligence, an inquiring mind and humbling experiences as a Buddhist monk, Siam was blessed with an educated, learned King who knew about his nation, his people and many matters far beyond the frontiers of Siam. Like many young Thai boys, Prince Mongkut initially entered a temple as a 14 year old novice. It was for only a short period of seven months in order that he might study the basics of Buddhism and the teenage Prince never expected to return to monastic life for any considerable length of time. Outside of the monastery, Prince Mongkut was tutored in the normal way and his father, Rama II, who was a great lover of poetry, story telling and the arts, gave Mongkut an insight into the beauty of language and fascination of scholarly knowledge. So Prince Mongkut had some experience of monastic life but, nevertheless, for a young man accustomed to the riches and opulence of royal surroundings, it must have come as rather a change when he re-entered a monastery in his 20th year.

Before the coronation ceremony was taken place on May 15, 1951, King Rama 4 announced that those who were in audience had to fully dress up. They could not be bare chested.

Prince Mongkut took up residence at Wat Rajadhivasa and left his royal title at the gate! He was now simply "Mongkut", a humble monk on the path of enlightenment, humility and learning in the service of Buddha and the people. Long pilgrimages, on foot, took him to many parts of Siam meeting and talking with ordinary people as he went. Poor villagers and country folk pressed gifts of food into his alms-bowl early each morning and their simple kindness and generosity moved Mongkut spiritually. The future King of Siam was learning about his people as they were learning about him.


Prince Mongkut was appointed in 1837 as the Abbot of Wat Borwornniwej where he develpoed the new more strict discipline of monkhood - Dhammayootti Nikaya
A rather skeptical mind and a religious energy pushed Mongkut to study Buddhism in depth and, as it was practiced in those days, he discovered all was not to his liking. He realized that the original teachings of Lord Buddha, in India, had been either lost or diluted by human frailties and that many monks were not at one with Buddhas teachings. How then could such monks teach the lay people? Mongkut studied diligently and visited many monasteries in the pursuit of knowledge and techniques of meditation. The sacred writings of Buddha were in the Pali language so Mongkut learned the ancient language and studied Buddhist scriptures more thoroughly. In time, his fellow monks regarded him as an expert on the original teaching and philosophy of Buddhism and Mongkut was appointed Abbot of an important temple. For himself, having learned Pali, Mongkut also discovered his natural aptitude for language.


In 1894 King Rama 3 thought that if we could defeat Chiangtoong (Kengtung) we should be able to liberate Chiangroong (Kengrung) the capital of Sipsongpanna King dom from the Burmese influence.
Many subjects, especially other faiths and other nations, fascinated Mongkut. As a hobby pastime and recreation, he enjoyed astronomy and the study of planet movements. Lively debate with visitors was welcomed and considered thought was given to other points of view. Friendships developed with the Roman Catholic Monsignor Pallegoix and other Christian missionaries. Monsignor Pallegoix was fluent in Siamese and taught Latin to Mongkut in exchange for learning Pali. Christian missionaries from English speaking countries were delighted to have the ear of Abbot Mongkut and were pleased to assist with his understanding of English Mongkut became quite fluent with both the spoken and written English language.

The new king was the real scholar who knew brilliantly in Buddhism and Pali. He also knew Latin and English languages will. He was the first and the only king in Asia during that time who could keep corresponding in English with the head of states in Europe and America.

An insatiable curiosity drove Mongkut to pursue greater knowledge and understanding. No educated opinion, either Siamese or Western was rejected out of hand. Opinions were weighed, balanced and compared against what was accepted custom in Siam or Mongkut's personal Buddhist beliefs. In many instances, Mongkut knew that the Kingdom of Siam would make progress from some Western influence so he never closed his mind, or his door, to Western debate. However, on the question of religious beliefs, he felt that no other faith could be compared with his well-studied Buddhism. Many accepted sacred writings from other faiths, he said, were contrary to common sense. Christian missionaries were advised "What you teach people to do is admirable but what you teach them to believe is foolish".

Mongkut offered his firmly held opinions not in any sense of arrogance or criticism but, rather, as humble observations from his Buddhist viewpoint. Because of this gentle sincerity he was well regarded by the many Westerners with whom he had contact French, British and Americans all held him in high esteem as a learned, interesting and humble Siamese Buddhist Abbot. They could not know how his circumstances would change in the future.

Mongkut Royal Prince of the purest Chakri blood, humble monk and wise Abbot with knowledge of the stars above Siam and compassion for the people of Siam the future King of Thailand King Mongkut, Rama IV, of Siam.

See related articles (History of Ayutthaya):


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