Sunday, February 28, 2021

Remembering meditation master Luangphor Viriyang Sirintharo

Jan 03. 2021
A photo of Luangphor Viriyang Sirintharo. The message on the board pays tribute to him with the words 'we miss venerable Luangphor Viriyang Sirintharo'.
Credit: Wat Dhammamongkol.
A photo of Luangphor Viriyang Sirintharo. The message on the board pays tribute to him with the words 'we miss venerable Luangphor Viriyang Sirintharo'. Credit: Wat Dhammamongkol.
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By Wichit Chaitrong
The Nation

The passing of mindfulness meditation master Luangphor Viriyang Sirintharo in December is a great loss to thousands of his students and followers.

Buddhists pay tribute to Luangphor Viriyang Sirintharo on December 23 at Wat Dhammamongkol in Bangkok.

While the pain of being unable to meet him in person any longer is immense, he has left behind priceless treasures to enrich the minds of his followers and meditation enthusiasts.

A large number of people have paid personal tributes to the master whose title is Somdet Phra Yanawachirodom, as his body lies in repose at the Wat Dhammamongkol Temple in Bangkok, where he was lord abbot. He passed away on December 22 due to natural causes at the age of 100 years and 11 months.

The steady stream of visitors coming to pay their final respects are a testament to how much he is revered and loved by so many people.

Luangphor Viriyang devoted his life to monkhood and teaching mindfulness meditation. 

Born on January 7, 1920 in Saraburi province, he entered  monastic life when he was 16 years old. He was trained by the late Ajahn Mun Bhuridatta Mahathera (1870-1949), who was among the pioneers of the Thai Forest Tradition, a lineage of Theravada Buddhist monasticism. Ajahn Mun was a highly revered master of insight meditation, or Vipassana.

In early 1960, Luangphor Viriyang founded Wat Dhammamongkol and in the early 1990s, he introduced his meditation teaching in Canada and later the United States.

Laungphor Viriyang created many meditation training courses, ranging from basic to advanced ones.

I personally took three courses -- a one-day and three-day course, and a six-month course for training meditation instructors.

I was impressed with the simplicity, flexibility and usefulness of the way his Willpower Institute Meditation Centres led practitioners into the mysteries of the human mind.

On my first day of practising sitting meditation at the temple, I saw a beautiful red light in front of me, like light reflecting from a red ruby.

I did not see that sparkling red light again. Meditation practitioners have long been told not to be obsessed with such mystical experiences.

Luangphor said anyone can taste happiness when his or her mind is calm while practising single-pointed meditation, a technique that involves focusing our mind on a particular spot on our body, such as the tip of the nose. Practitioners usually feel bodily sensations, deep relaxation or feel like they are levitating when they achieve calmness of mind.

However after many months of practice, the bodily sensations and the feeling of levitation may be absent. Many practitioners start to worry that their progress has been stalled, or, even worse, they are overcome by a feeling of failure.

Laungphor comes to the rescue of these practitioners by explaining with an analogy. He says the progress beyond the initial feeling of elation is similar to that of a wealthy person who is thrilled and excited when he makes his first million baht, but as he becomes richer, and makes more and more money, is no longer as excited.

“Don’t worry, and continue your practice,” he would say encouragingly.

Even experienced practitioners, who may have great days when they achieve calmness, can have bad days when they are unable to calm their monkey minds, Luangphor Viriyang would say.

As a monk, he personified  humility. When someone would ask him about mindfulness meditation taught by other monks or other people, he replied that he did not criticise other monks’ teaching methods.

He was also secular and never had a negative attitude towards other religions. He is one of the pioneers among Thai monks in introducing meditation practice in Canada. A few people in Canada joined the first course, but the numbers jumped sharply when local media reported that an old lady who could not walk before attending the meditation, could stand and walk again. 

He was also one of the pioneering Thai monks who  introduced mindfulness meditation practices to the masses.

“In the past, I taught it to monks, but when they leave monkhood the knowledge of meditation practices imparted to them is also gone. So, I decided to create a course for the lay person,” he told his disciples, while recounting his experience as a teacher. 

Starting from the margins of society, mindfulness meditation now has become a mainstream practice worldwide. Luangphor Viriyang is one of the pioneers in making extraordinary efforts and devoting his life to make it happen and it has benefited huge numbers of people.

Although the beloved monk has left his physical body, he will remain a master through his insightful teachings.

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