Khuva Boonchum

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Ven. Khuva Boonchum when he was a young monk

Venerable Khuva Boonchum ครูบาบุญชุ่ม (1964- )is a forest meditation monk, well known since the age of thirteen to a great numbers of devotees in Lao, Sipsongbanna of Yunnan Province in China, Shan State of the Union of Myanmar and Thailand for his solitary and serious meditation practice.

The Venerable Khuva Boonchum was born in 1964 (Buddhist Era 2507) in Pa Maisak (Timberfield) Village, in Chiang Saen District in northern Thailand, now known all over the world as the symbolic landmark of the Golden Triangle. He was named Boonchum (Mark of Merit/Boon) because his mother had a vivid dream of a beautiful golden pagoda around at the time of his conception. Boonchum’s grandparents were Tai/ Shan speaking people, originally from Mong Yong near Kengtung (Chiangtung) in the eastern part of Shan State, the Union of Burma and migrated to Chiang Saen where Nang Saeng La, the mother of Boonchum was born.

Boonchum was the eldest of four siblings and his father, Loong Kham La, died when he was just six months old and his mother re-married and had three more children. Following the traditional custom of South-east Asia where boys are initiated as novice (samanera) at a young age, Boonchum was initiated at the age of eleven and after the completion of his primary education, with thirty-two other boys in 1975. After a year or two, all of them returned to lay life, except Samanera Boonchum who has taken interest in meditation. After studying Buddhist scriptures for a year and having completed nak-dhamma tri, the first foundation level of formal Dhamma examinations, he decided that the formal study as it was taught to him emphasized too much theoretical understanding and passing examinations and that he wanted to learn the Buddha’s teaching in a more practical way. So, whenever given opportunity he would approach well known meditation teachers in northern Thailand and learnt from them. Sometime he would go and meditate in the cemetery or on corpses. Unusually quiet and meditative for his age, he was often teased by other novices. But that did not deter him from going into the meditation practice deeper and seriously than any of the monasteries would offer to a young novice of his age.

His serious meditation practice attracted devotees who started making offerings, including money, to him; he donated all the offerings to others. Whenever devotees came, he would also do chanting to invoke blessings of the Buddha on them and explain them the Buddha’s dhamma in simple terms; he usually talked about the admiration he had on the Buddha’s life leading to meditation on the Buddha (Buddhanussati), the Buddha’s teaching on the five precepts; the loathsome nature of the body (asubha-bhavana) and the inevitability of death (maranassati) and meditation on compassion (metta). His chanting took approximately two hours and he did so with deep concentration and a beautiful voice. His chants were all in Pali and what have been preserved in the forest meditation tradition in Lanna, northern Thailand and in the eastern Shan State of Burma. His style and his strong faith in chanting awakened the seed of devotion in many who heard it.

At the age of thirteen and just over two years into the novice-hood, he was well known enough to have attracted generous donors who helped him renovate a chaitiya (pagoda) at the village called Wieng Keau, not far from his birthplace. Since then, he moved from place to place for the observation of rains-retreat (vassana) and in search of solitude and meditation teachers. At the age of 16, he went to meditate in the Pa-sah forest near Mong Phong Village, Tachilek Township in Shan State, Union of Burma, which is, in fact, just the other side of Mekhong River from where he was born. The Pa-sah forest near Mong Phong Village was thick and he liked the seclusion it offered. His presence in the forest has led to the villagers building him a forest monastery, and from that time he came to be known as Sao (Chao) Mong Phong or Venerable Mong Phong (Maing Phone in Burmese pronunciation). Out of devotion, some people would call him Sao Ton Boon (The Venerable Meritorious) or Sao Paw Sildham (the Venerable Father of Higher Morality). His last rains-retreat as a novice was observed in the Himalaya Mountains after a pilgrimage to Buddhagaya in India and Sri Lanka.

In 1984 (B.E 2529) with the sponsorship of Mr. Sai Noom and Mrs. Nang Sam Seng family and Mr. Nan Shwe and Mrs. Nang Swei’s family from Mong Phong Village, Tachilek, he received higher ordination, upasampada, at the seven hundred years old Wat Suan-dok (Flowers Garden) Monastery in Chiang Mai. To symbolize the teaching of the Buddha on the 38 kinds of blessings, 38 monks were invited to participate in the ordination ceremony. Since his higher ordination and out of respect for his meditation practices, he came to be known as Khuva Boonchum. Khuva (Khruva in Thai pronunciation as in Phra Khruva Srivichai, 1878-1938 AD) means teacher and is synonymous with Phra Ajahn in Thai and Sayadaw in Burmese. His ordained name in Pali is Nyanasamvaro, “who guards his mind with wisdom”. In Burmese, he is known as Mong Phong Sayadaw.

After his higher ordination, Khuva Boonchum has always observed his three months rains-retreat (vassana) in a cave in solitude; he has done so in different caves in northern Thailand, northern Shan State of the Union of Burma and the Kingdom of Bhutan where he is known as Lama Khuva. In addition, he would also go into the cave from time to time for rest and meditation.

Over the years he has become an eloquent speaker of the Buddha’s Dhamma and can explain the Dhamma in all Tai family languages that include Thai, Lanna, Laotian, Shan, Dai and Tai Lue. Without any formal study, he has also learnt very quickly, just through hearing, how to speak Bhutanese and some Chinese. He has since given hundreds of Dhamma talks when not in a cave; he usually moves around constantly from village to village never settling in one place for long; and his Pali chanting has also spread far and wide. Occasionally he also does a Tibetan chanting.

Since April 2010 the Venerable Khuva Boonchum has been in a solitary retreat in the Rajagrha cave in Lampang Province, northern Thailand; he is determined to complete a three-years three-months three-weeks and three-days retreat. A life-long vegetarian, he lives on fruits and biscuits that his followers bring all the way and place them at the entrance of the cave. He comes out every now and then to take the food when there is no one around. He observes total silence while in retreat but answers dhamma questions in writing when one is put to him.