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https://srv1.worldometers.info/

7,792,958,373
Current World Population - COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic Recovered:
4,796,901







Last updated: June 21, 2020, 00:10 GMT
May all be Happy, Well and Secure!


May all live Long!


May all have calm, quiet, alert, attentive and equanimity Mind with a clear understanding that Everything is Changing!

Coronavirus Cases:



9,037,142





Deaths:




466,253





7,792,958,373
Current World Population-38,569,994 Net population growth this year-48,070 Net population growth today 7,792,958,373 Births this year-48,070 Births today-Recovered:4,732,888 from COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic 




World Population

66,479,811 Births this year
82,854 Births today
27,909,817 Deaths this year

34,784 Deaths today

38,569,994 Net population growth this year

48,070Net population growth today



Government & Economics

$ 3,258,127,568 Public Healthcare expenditure today
$ 2,227,987,558 Public Education expenditure today
$ 1,012,837,855 Public Military expenditure today
37,385,673 Cars produced this year
71,544,221 Bicycles produced this year
118,718,094 Computers produced this year

Society & Media

1,271,909 New book titles published this year
102,776,286 Newspapers circulated today
144,146 TV sets sold worldwide today
1,405,176 Cellular phones sold today
$ 62,927,628 Money spent on videogames today
4,595,737,087 Internet users in the world today
56,667,094,021 Emails sent today
1,495,491 Blog posts written today
168,240,031 Tweets sent today
1,560,881,768 Google searches today

Environment

2,467,869 Forest loss this year (hectares)
3,322,419 Land lost to soil erosion this year (ha)
17,159,064,027 CO2 emissions this year (tons)
5,694,507 Desertification this year (hectares)
4,646,897 Toxic chemicals released in the environment this year (tons)

Food 

843,915,666 Undernourished people in the world
1,694,992,081 Overweight people in the world
759,366,378 Obese people in the world
6,614 People who died of hunger today
$ 125,091,899 Money spent for obesity related diseases in the USA today
$ 40,885,050Money spent on weight loss programs in the USA today

Water

2,069,698,264 Water used this year (million L)
399,588 Deaths caused by water related diseases this year
800,148,456 People with no access to a safe drinking water source

Energy

100,944,294 Energy used today (MWh), of which:
85,929,483- from non-renewable sources (MWh)
15,201,330- from renewable sources (MWh)
632,521,962,748 Solar energy striking Earth today (MWh)
20,703,652 Oil pumped today (barrels)
1,505,198,228,842 Oil left (barrels)
15,697 Days to the end of oil (~43 years)
1,095,213,563,482 Natural Gas left (boe)

57,643 Days to the end of natural gas

4,315,526,169,682 Coal left (boe)

148,811 Days to the end of coal


Health

6,159,945 Communicable disease deaths this year

231,245 Seasonal flu deaths this year
3,606,770 Deaths of children under 5 this year
20,179,566 Abortions this year
146,665 Deaths of mothers during birth this year
41,885,253 HIV/AIDS infected people
797,680 Deaths caused by HIV/AIDS this year
3,897,108 Deaths caused by cancer this year
465,438 Deaths caused by malaria this year
3,273,676,422 Cigarettes smoked today
2,372,088 Deaths caused by smoking this year
1,186,792 Deaths caused by alcohol this year
508,839 Suicides this year
$ 189,826,865,994 Money spent on illegal drugs this year
640,538 Road traffic accident fatalities this year

27,909,817 Deaths this year

34,784 Deaths today
COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic - Coronavirus Cases:

9,037,142 - Deaths: 469,595




Last updated: June 21, 2020, 23:50 GMT





BIRTH, OLD AGE, SICKNESS, ILLNESS, DEATH ARE CERTAININTIES


May all be Happy, Well and Secure!


May all have Calm, Quiet, Alert, Attentive and Equanimity Mind with a Clear Understanding that Everything is Changing!


May all those who died attain Eternal Bliss as Final Goal and Rest in Peace
as they followed the following original words of the Buddha the Mettiyya Awakened One with awraeness :

Countries and territories without any cases of COVID-19



1. Comoros,2. North Korea,3. Yemen,4.
The Federated States of Micronesia,5. Kiribati,6. Solomon Islands,7.
The Cook Islands,8. Micronesia,9. Tong,10. The Marshall Islands
Palau,11. American Samoa,12. South Georgia,13. South Sandwich
Islands,14.SaintHelena,Europe,
15. Aland Islands,16.Svalbard,17. Jan
Mayen Islands,18. Latin America,19.Africa,20.British Indian Ocean
Territory,21.French Southern
Territories,22.Lesotho,23.
Oceania,24.Christmas
Island,25. Cocos
(Keeling) Islands,26. Heard Island,27. McDonald Islands,28. Niue,29.
Norfolk Island,30. Pitcairn,31. Solomon Islands,32. Tokelau,33. United
States Minor Outlying Islands,34. Wallis and Futuna Islands,
35.Tajikistan,
36. Turkmenistan,37. Tuvalu,38. Vanuatu

as they are following the original words of the Buddha Metteyya Awakened One with Awareness:


Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta


1. Dasa raja dhamma, 2. kusala 3. Kuutadanta Sutta dana, 4.
priyavacana,5. artha cariya ,6. samanatmata, 7. Samyutta
Nikayaaryaor,ariyasammutidev 8. Agganna Sutta,9. Majjima Nikaya,10.
arya” or “ariy, 11.sammutideva,12. Digha Nikaya,13. Maha
Sudassana,14.Dittadhammikatthasamvattanika-dhamma ,15. Canon Sutta ,16. Pali Canon and Suttapitaka ,17. Iddhipada ,18. Lokiyadhamma and Lokuttaradhamma,19. Brahmavihàra,20. Sangahavatthu ,21. Nathakaranadhamma ,22. Saraniyadhamma ,23. Adhipateyya Dithadhammikattha,24. dukkha,25. anicca,26. anatta,27. Samsara,28. Cakkamatti Sihananda Sutta,29.Chandagati,30.Dosagati, 31. Mohagati,32.Bhayagati,33.Yoniso manasikara,34. BrahmavihàraSangaha vatthu,35. Nathakaranadhamma,
36.SaraniyadhammaAdhipateyya,37. Dithadhammikatth38.Mara,39.Law of Kamma,

40.Vasettha Sutta in Majjhima Nikaya


Ambattha Sutta in Digha Nikaya

Assamedha

Sassamedha

Naramedha

Purisamedha

Sammapasa

Vajapeyya

Niraggala

Sila

Samadhi        

Panna

Samma-sankappa

Sigalovada Sutta

Brahmajala Sutta

Digha Nikaya (Mahaparinibbana-sutta
dhammamahamatras

while
many greedy leaders of the countries are harrasing their downtrodden,
underprevilaged subjects by permenant curfew/ lockdown making them
unemployed followed by hunger.

7

BUDDHISM, POWER AND
POLITICAL ORDER IN PRE-
TWENTIETH CENTURY LAOS

https://tenor.com/view/buddha-art-shapes-god-buddhism-gif-17377041


Buddha Art GIF - Buddha Art Shapes GIFs


Laos Wonderland (full documentary) - The Secrets of Nature
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Volker Grabowsky

The history of Lao Buddhism is a subject that still awaits greater scholarly
attention. Though Buddhist rites and practices in contemporary Laos
have been analysed from a historical perspective by Archaimbault and
from a social-anthropological aspect by scholars like Archaimbault (1980),
Condominas (1998), and Zago (1972), we lack a comprehensive study of
the di
ffusion of Theravada Buddhism in Laos and of its relationship with
the pre-colonial political order. However, as an historian not specialised in
Buddhist studies I would like to touch upon three problems that I consider
crucial to the understanding of the political role of Buddhism in pre-
twentieth century Laos. First, when and how did Buddhism become the
dominant religion in Lao society? Second, how did Buddhism in
fluence Lao
conceptions of kingship? This question is directly related to the interrelation
between the political and religious orders in pre-colonial Laos. Third, to
what extent did Buddhist monks help legitimise and strengthen political
institutions?

First of all, I have to define the geographical and cultural scope of what
we call
pre-colonial Laossince the geo-bodyof modern Laos is doubtless
the product of a political discourse which dates back to the late nineteenth
century when the colonial power of France encountered Siam. When de
fining
pre-colonial Laosas the region under the political control and/or cultural
in
fluence of the Lao kingdom of Lan Sang (13531707/13) and her successor
states, we have to be aware that the borders of Lan Sang had been subjected
to constant changes over the centuries and were not conceptualised in any
modern sense. Moreover, large areas in present-day northern Laos did not
belong to the kingdom of Lan Sang but had been under the in
fluence of
other Tai polities (such as those of the Tai L
and the Tai Yuan) and of their
respective religious traditions. On the other side, the bulk of the Khorat
Plateau, which is the nowadays northeastern Thailand, was an integral part
of Lan Sang. It is this region, instead of the Lao Peoples Democratic

Republic, where four fifths of the Lao speaking people are living today.
Diffusion of Buddhism in Laos

According to a standard view shared by most scholars of Lao history,
Theravada Buddhism came to the Lao lands, quite lately, in several waves:
The
first wave started shortly after the founding of the Lan Sang kingdom
by Fa Ngum (r. 1353
1373/74), an exiled prince from Mang Sua (Luang
Prabang), who uni
fied the politically fragmented Lao-inhabited areas of
the middle Mekong valley with the military support of his father-in-law, the
ruler of Angkor (Phanya Nakh
n Luang). At the request of his daughter,
the Khmer king sent a religious mission to Luang Prabang to help Buddhism
take root in Lan Sang. This mission brought monks from Cambodia and Sri
Lanka along with a complete collection of Pali texts, including the Tipitaka,
and two sacred Buddha images to the Lao capital. Thus Buddhism
first
entered Laos from the South and strengthened Khmer in
fluence on Lao
culture. A second wave of Buddhism reached Lan Sang from the North in
the mid-
fifteenth century. Following a period of political turmoil, which lasted
more than one decade, King Vangbuli (r. 1442
1479/80) forged close religious
and political ties with his western neighbour Lan Na, which at that time
had developed into a major centre of Buddhist learning in Southeast Asia,
under King Tilok (r. 1441/2
1487). The Lan Na schoolof Buddhism
was reinforced during Phothisarat
s reign (15201547/48). Phothisarat who
married a princess from Chiang Mai sent a mission to Lan Na in 1523 to
bring back copies of the entire Buddhist canon, other religious texts, and
to invite learned monks to gather at a great monastic council in Luang
Prabang. This event marked the third wave of disseminating Buddhism,
which resulted in a deep and penetrating embodiment of Buddhism in Lao
society. How accurate is this standard view in the light of the historical
evidence?

1 The only evidence suggesting a southern origin of Lao Buddhism is
the
Nithan Khun Bulom (NKB), The Legend of Khun Bulom, the earliest
version of which dates back to the reign of King Visun (r. 1501
1520), i.e.
the early sixteenth century. It says that the two senior monks dispatched by
the Khmer king, Phra Pasaman and Phra Maha Thera Cao Thep Lan
̇ka ̄,
founded close to the southern section of the ancient city wall of Luang
Prabang two monasteries, which were named after their respective founders.
Both monasteries are now deserted and no archaeological evidence has been
discovered to support the assertion that Buddhism was spread to Luang
Prabang via Cambodia in the mid-fourteenth century. In a recent paper
Michel Lorrillard, representative of the
cole franaise dExtrme-Orient at
Vientiane, stresses the
completely artificial natureof the narration in NKB
referring to the religious mission sent by the Khmer king in 1359 as it
establishes links with various similar literary traditionsfound in the Tai-
Lao world.
1 Shrinking back from totally refuting the NKB narrative as mere
fiction, Lorrillard (2003: 9) proposes that it might rather reflect the collective
memory of a pre-Lao past of early forms of Buddhism that had
flourished in
the middle Mekong valley generations before the arrival of the
first Lao
immigrants. Closer attention deserves an idea raised
first by Tatsuo Hoshino
(1986) and later elaborated by Amphay Dor
(1987). Hoshino argues that
three or four di
fferent accounts about the spread of Buddhism in Laos were
mixed up in NKB (Hoshino 1986:147). Whereas Fa Ngum and his Khmer
wife Kaeo Keng Nya promoted a
Lamaistinspired form of Buddhism that
had spread to mainland Southeast Asia during the
first half of the four-
teenth century under Mongol-Chinese in
fluence, a rival Theravada Buddhist
school
was introduced, or at least supported, by Fa Ngums second wife
Kaeo L
t Fa, a princess from Ayutthaya (see Dor1987: 678681). Martin
Stuart-Fox speculates that it was not until Kaeo Keng Nya
s death in 1368
and the arrival of the Siamese princess
that adherents of an invigorated Sri
Lankan school of Theravada Buddhism then dominant in Sukhothai and
Ayutthaya
finally gained the upper hand(Stuart-Fox 1998: 53). Though this
hypothesis is by no means convincing, it seems that di
fferent schoolsof
Buddhism were contending for religious supremacy in Lan Sang during the
second half of the fourteenth century. All
schoolsfaced an obstinate oppos-
ition from the traditional spirit (
phi) cults, the vehemence of which is testified
in NKB. At the time when Fa Ngum had returned to Luang Prabang:

[. . .] all the people of Meuang La ̄n Xa ̄ng worshipped [only] the Phı ̄
fa ̄, Phı ̄ Thaen, Phı ̄ Phoh, Phı ̄ Mae (ie. paternal and maternal spirits).
Worse, they did not know the virtue of Phra Buddha, Phra
Dhamma, and Phra Sangha. Moreover, they like to show o
ff their
precious stones (
ie. amulets), their daring, lances and swords.

(Souneth 1996: 193)

Fa Ngums own half-hearted support of Buddhism and tolerance of animist
practices might have contributed to the king
s deposition and sending into
exile in 1373/74.

2 Vangbuli whose reign (14421479/80) marked a long period of political
stability was the
first Lao king who ascended to the throne under a name of
Pali origin, namely Phanya Sainya Chakkaphat (Jaiya Cakkavattin) Phaen
Phaeo. The title
cakkavattin (Skt: cakravartin) means universal monarchand
this exhibits the ruler
s ambition to build up a powerful Buddhist kingdom.
He was an exact contemporary of King Tilok of Lan Na (r. 1441/2
1487) and
King Trailok of Ayutthaya (r. 1448
1488), whose official titles also referred
to the
cakkavattin ideal of a universal Buddhist monarch. Vangbuli probably
had cultivated good relations with both neighbouring kings who were waging a
long and bitter war over the control of the Sukhothai-Si Satchanalai region.

Stuart-Fox emphasizes the political and religious ties between Lan Sang and
Ayutthaya, which were
particularly closeas is evident from the lavish gifts
dispatched by kings of Ayutthaya on the occasions of both his coronation
and cremation
(Stuart-Fox 1998: 64, cf. Souneth 1996: 236237: Sila 1964:
43, 46). Though it seems quite plausible that the Siamese ruler paid special
respect to Phanya Sainya Chakkaphat Phaen Phaeo because he was the son
of King Sam Saen Thai
s Siamese wife, Nang Kaeo Lt Fa, this alone is not
su
fficient evidence for any significant Siamese influence on the Lao political
and religious order. The
Lan Na factor, however, was much more import-
ant. In early 1449, the Tai principality of Nan, a former ally of Sukhothai,
was subdued by troops from Chiang Mai. A subsequent Lao attempt to seize
Nan from Lan Na failed, and in border skirmishes that
flared up several years
later the Lao forces lost out again. (See Wyatt and Aroonrut 1995: 81
83.)
Thereafter relations between the two kingdoms, now close neighbours, seem
to have continuously improved. The incorporation of Nan into the Lan Na
polity promoted, in the long run, manifold exchanges between Lan Na and
Lan Sang. Military support of Lan Na to repel strong Vietnamese forces,
who had invaded Lan Sang in 1478 and even temporarily occupied her cap-
ital, was crucial for the very survival of the Lao kingdom. Though refuted
by the Lao chronicles,
2 contemporary Chinese sources confirm that the Lao
Prince Cao Sai succeeded his father Sainya Chakkaphat Phaen Phaeo, who
had apparently been killed during the war, under the name of Suvanna
Banlang as King of Lan Sang (in 1480) with the help of King Tilok of
Chiang Mai.

It was obvious that from that time on Lan Nas political as well as cultural
in
fluence on Laos had intensified. The prestige of Chiang Mai did not depend
on the military factor alone; just one year before the Vietnamese invasion of
Lan Sang the eighth o
fficial Buddhist council was held at Vat Cedi Cet Yt in
Chiang Mai with the purpose of producing a new recension of the Tipitaka.
Although doubts about the nature of this council exist (see Swearer and
Premchit 1978: 30
31) no account is found in the Lan Na chronicles and
we don
t know whether monks from Lan Sang had attended it at all, it cer-
tainly contributed to the spread of the
Lan Na schoolof Buddhism to
neighbouring countries, such as the eastern Shan region, Sips
ng Panna, and
Laos. Two of the oldest dated Buddha images, found so far in the Lan Sang
cultural area, are from the 1480s and they resemble images from northern
Thailand. An inscription at the pedestal of a Buddha image of bronze kept at
Vat Sisaket, Vientiane, dated
Saturday, the twelfth [waxing] day of the third
month, C.S. 852, a
kot set year(22 January 1491), is the earliest known sam-
ple of the Lao Dhamma script,
4 the Mon-derived religious script of Lan Na
which spread in the second half of the
fifteenth century throughout the
Greater La Na cultural area(including the Land Khn inhabited areas east
of the Salween river). During the reign of King Visun (1501
1520), Suvanna
Banlang
s younger brother, the religious influence of Lan Na continued.

3 Donald K. Swearer and Sommai Premchit characterize Tilok as the
monarch of Lan Na who
best exemplifies efforts to build a single moral
community uni
fied on the sociological level by a common religious institu-
tion
, a Sangha who, despite royal support for the new Sı ̄hala Nika ̄ya (head-
quartered at Vat Pa Daeng), integrated di
fferent Buddhist sects. Thus, the
groundwork for the
golden age(Thai: yuk thng) of Buddhist scholarship in
Lan Na during the reign of M
ang Kaeo (14951526) was laid. Lao rulers
tried to emulate their Tai Yuan counterparts. The famous Lan Na chronicle
Jinaka ̄lama ̄l ̄ıpakaran.am. (Jkm.), composed by Bhikkhu Ratanapañña
between 1516 and 1527, reports that in 1523 the king of Lan Na o
ffered
Visun
s son and successor, Phothisarat (r. 15201548) sixty volumes of the
Pali canon and other gifts:

On the full-moon day itself, he (i.e. King Mang Kaeo) made lavish gifts of monastic requisites including pairs of fine robes of the Elder Devaman ̇gala together with his followers and sending with him the Tipitaka consisting of sixty volumes5 he despatched him to the King of the city of Dasalakkhakujara, City of a Million

Elephants(i.e. Luang Prabang), in order to convert him.
(Ratanapa
ñña 1968: 183)

What does the phrase in order to convert him(pasa ̄da jananat kam. pesesi,
literally:
in order to produce faith in him) mean? As Buddhism had already
been the religion of the state and the ruling elite for generations, this phrase
certainly does not indicate a completely new
conversion. It refers rather to
the introduction or re-introduction of a new religious order to Lan Sang
where Buddhist heterodoxy and pre-Buddhist beliefs were still dominant.
Could it be that King Phothisarat introduced the orthodox S
ı ̄hala Nika ̄ya of
Vat Pa Daeng to Lan Sang to purify and unify the Lao
Sangha along the
model of Chiang Mai? Probably, he did so under the in
fluence of his princi-
pal wife who was a daughter of King Ket Klao of Lan Na (r. 1525
1538)
(Ministry of Education and Culture 2000: 177). In 1527, Phothisarat ordered
to stop the misguided worship of Phı ̄ Ya ̄v, Ph ̄ı Heuan and Phı ̄ Seua whose
shrines are in the houses of the people and the great shrine of Sob Dong
.6
The propagation of the cult of sacred Buddha images, the construction of
monasteries under royal patronage and the donation of land and people to
support these monasteries increased under the reigns of Phothisarat and his
successor (see details in the following section). Lorrillard observes that since
1527 the sacred Dhamma script appears on Lao steles along with a secular
script that is almost identical with the northern Thai Fak Kham (
Tamarind
pod
) script. He arrives at the conclusion that:

[. . .] All these inscriptions, which bear a very strong mark of north-
ern Thai culture, are royal inscriptions commissioned by Phothisarat
(Phothisalalat) and Setthathirat (Setthathilat), who were the first
Lao sovereigns to appear in epigraphy during their lifetimes. It can
be seen very clearly that the Lao lands, which had already been
reached by a form of Buddhism originating in Lan Na during the
fifteenth century, experienced a second wave of Buddhism in the
sixteenth century. This later movement di
ffered rather significantly
from the
first, in that it was based both on more orthodox practice
and on a more evolved textual tradition. The introduction of the
Tham script is clearly associated with the appearance of Pali language
traditions which probably had previously been unknown.

(Lorrillard 2003: 5)

Though Phothisarat and his son and successor Setthathirat (r. 15481571)
were pious kings who took every opportunity to demonstrate their devotion
to the universal values of Buddhism, heterodox beliefs, including the
phi
worships, survived; and in times of political and social crises, even experienced
a revival, as was the case in the nineteenth century. Despite the fact that
Buddhism had taken
firm roots in Lao society when the first Europeans
arrived at the court of King Suriyavongsa (r. 1633/38
1690/95) (see de Marini
1998 and Lejosne 1993), large segments of the population in Lan Sang,
notably the indigenous
Khapeoples, still adhered to non-Buddhist beliefs.
Furthermore, the southern provinces of present-day Laos were only periph-
erally, if at all, touched by Buddhism at that time.
7 Buddhism was spread
with the southward migration of the politically dominant ethnic Lao. This
migration reached the areas south of Saravan and the interior of the Khorat
Plateau not earlier than the late seventeenth century. The founding of
Champassak by Lao dissidents from Vientiane (in 1713) furthered the
Lao-isationand Buddhisationof the South. I will discuss this subject in
the last section.

Lao kingship and Buddhism

All the kings of Lan Sang, at least since King Sainya Cakkhaphat Phaen
Phaeo, emulated the ideal of the righteous Buddhist monarch (
dhammara ̄ja)
and many of them claimed to be at least formally the status of
cakkavattin
or universal conqueror. However, not all acquired the reputation to live up to
that ideal. Some of those Lao kings who are remembered and eulogized in
Lao historiography because of their outstanding political and/or religious
achievements
such as Visun, Phothisarat, Setthathirat, and Suriyavongsa
included the titles dhammikara ̄ja, dhammavam. sa, or dhammadevo in their
o
fficial names. A righteous king had to abide by the dasa ra ̄jadhamma (tenfold
royal code)
8 and several other moral codes as they are stipulated in the
Khamphi Pha Thammasat Luang, an ancient Lao customary law text. More-
over, as moral principles he has to follow strictly the thirty
pa ̄ram ̄ı, i.e. the ten Buddhist virtues, each to be attained in three stages of spiritual perfection,
which a Bodhisattva achieved on his way to Buddhahood. In 1566, Set-
thathirat built the That (Dha
̄tu) Luang, the great stupa, in Vientiane in
order to reinforce the
dhammara ̄ja concept as the foundation of Lao king-
ship. Tracing the origins of the new ritual centre of Lan Sang back to the
days of King Asoka, the NKB reports:

When Phra Jaya Jettha ̄dhira ̄ja Chau lived in Meuang Candaburi,
[he] built the Maha
̄ Cedı ̄ over the Pulima Dha ̄ tuwhich was first built
by Phraya
̄ Srı ̄ Dhammasaokara ̄ja. Then [he] built thirty Samatingsa
Pa
̄ramı ̄ to surround this stupa. He gave a lot of offerings and count-
less [pieces of] glassware to worship the Phra Sa
̄lı ̄ka Cedı ̄. Indeed,
when Phra Jaya Jettha
̄dhira ̄ja Chau occupied the throne, [he] abided
by [the Dasara
̄ja]dhamma, [and] enjoyed the friendship of Phraya ̄
everywhere.

(Souneth 1996: 258)

As Souneth Phothisane observes, the central spire of the That Luang repre-
sents Mount Meru, the axis of the world in Buddhist cosmology, but it also
symbolizes the
cakkavattin. The thirty smaller surrounding stu ̄ pas represent
thirty tributary
mang. The control over many vassal states was one important
factor to prove the king
s claim that he did indeed possess such qualities.10

According to Lao Buddhist theory, a kings legitimacy was derived from
a superior store of merit that he had accumulated over many previous
existences. The king had to increase his store of merit in his present life by
doing good deeds, notably by making donations to the religious order and
constructing or repairing Buddhist monuments. Almost all Lao kings since
the times of King Visun founded monasteries or built
st ̄upas as visible
manifestations of Buddhist kingship. King (Sai) Setthathirat is a case in
point. In 1560, when the king was probably already preparing for the transfer
of the royal capital to Vientiane (accomplished in 1564), he still ordered
the construction of a splendid monastery in Luang Prabang, situated at the
con
fluence of the Khan and Mekong rivers: Vat Siang Thng Vlavihan.

Vat Siang Thng Vlavihan: The monastery, housing at present more
than
fifty monks and novices, occupies the site at the confluence of
the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers where two na
̄gas are thought
to have their residence. The two shrines dedicated to the two na
̄gas
were preserved at Vat Siang Th
ng until recent times. The monastery
also played an important role in royal ceremonies. A stairway leads
from the Mekong to the entrance of the monastery, and it was there
that important visitors entered the town before being received by the
king. Mosaics on the rear of the
sim and surrounding buildings
depict scenes from Ja
̄taka stories and the famous classical epos Sin Sai. One mosaic also shows the magnificent flame-of-the-forest tree
(
Rhinacanthus nanitus), called Ton Thng in Lao, which is believed
to have once grown nearby and from where one part of the old name
of Luang Prabang, Siang Dong-Siang Th
ng, derives. In fact, Siang
Th
ng comprised the peninsula at the confluence of Mekong and
Khan River. Siang Dong (
Town at the Dong River) is situated in
the southern section of present-day Luang Prabang.

Luang Prabang was to maintain her position as a place of Buddhism and
of the three gems
, as Lao chronicles emphasize, but the new capital needed
also a powerful religious symbol to lend legitimacy to the new political and
ritual centre of the kingdom. Such a symbol was That Luang which the king
built after the model of the Cedi (Cetiya) Luang of Chiang Mai. This
stu ̄ pa, by far the largest one in the country, is revered to this day as one of
the most important religious symbols and as
the central symbol through
which the nation remembers itself
(Evans 1998: 41).12 Furthermore, That
Luang, situated at the highest point (of Vientiane next to the National
Assembly), is the place where the That Luang festival (
ngan bun that luang) is
held in November of every year. Grant Evans reports that the That Luang
festival was promoted as a national festival under the Royal Lao Government
in the 1950s, and
it became the time for swearing an oath of fealty to the
king at Vat Ong Tue
(ibid.: 42), a monastery in the centre of Vientiane
founded by King Setthathirat.

The sacredness of That Luang was backed up by the popular belief that it
has been built on the site of an ancient stone pillar (
sao hin) once erected by
King Asoka and containing relics of Lord Buddha. According to the
Nithan
Urangkhathat
, there was an old prophecy saying that the sacred stone in
Candabur
ı ̄ (Vientiane) would one day become the site of an important
religious centre.
13 By fulfilling this prophecy, Setthathirat linked his new royal
capital with the very origins of Buddhism.

There are many more cases showing that other Lao kings acted in a similar
way. In 1816, King (Cao) Anu of Vientiane, who was a Siamese vassal at that
time, initiated the work on Vat Sisaket, which is a jewel of Lao architecture.
It di
ffered from other Lao monasteries both in style and the costs spent on its
construction. When the monastery was completed on 6 May 1824,
14 King
Anu ordered the engraving of a stone inscription to eulogize the construction
of the monastery and its founder. The king is here called Phra Bun Sai
Settha Thammikarat,
the meritorious ruler Sai Settha, the righteous king
(ibid.: 53). The founding of Vat Sisaket has to be seen in the context of Cao
Anu
s aspirations to regain full independence from Siam. His attempt seven
years later to unify the Lao lands under his leadership, however, failed and
ended in the almost total physical destruction of Vientiane and the end of
autonomous rule in central Laos.

Apart from the construction of religious monuments, Lao kings gained political legitimation by promoting the worship of sacred Buddha statues
and footprints of the Buddha (
phra phutthabat). Lao chronicles, such as the
NKB and the Urangkhathat, tell us of how the Buddha left his footprint at
sacred sites in each important
mang. In Lan Sang such sites were considered
the centre of their respective
mang; and people believed that stu ̄pas for
relics had to be built on places tha the Buddha had once visited. Footprints
of the Buddha were designed to override the power of sacred sites associated
with pre-Buddhist spirit cults. Due to the symbolic links established between
Buddha
s footprints and the nearby religious monuments built for housing
his relics, these sites became places of pilgrimage throughout the king-
dom of Lan Sang.
16 Thus, a cult of the mang centred on the worship of
Buddhist relics replaced the spirit cults and thereby legitimised the power
and territorial rights of the king.

The worship of sacred Buddha statues played likewise an important role
of reinforcing Buddhist kingship. Two of these statues are in particular
regarded as the Lao royal palladia. One statue is the Emerald Buddha (
phra
kaeo m
rakot). The Emerald Buddha was a famous statue that was found in
1464 near the town of Chiang Rai and then, twenty years later, established in
a monastery under royal patronage in Chiang Mai. First it was the palladium
of the Lan Na kings, and after Setthathirat
s accession to the throne in Chiang
Mai (1546), it became the royal symbol of two kingdoms
Lan Na and Lan
Sang
united under one rule for a short period. On his way back to Luang
Prabang (1547/48), Setthathirat took the Emerald Buddha to Luang Prabang
and established it later at Vat H
Pha Kaeo in Vientiane. Like a winners
trophy
, the sacred statue was removed to Siam by King Taksins victorious
armies in 1779. It is now kept in the Thai Royal Palace in Bangkok.
17 Until
today, among normal Lao citizens the loss of this single prestigious Buddha
statue arouses much stronger nationalistic resentments against their western
neighbours than it is the case with regards to the loss of the territories on the
west bank of the Mekong River.

The second statue under discussion is the famous Pha Bang Buddha image,
which became the focus of a state cult after King Visun had moved the statue
from Viang Kham (in Vientiane province), where it had been housed since
the days of King Fa Ngum (r. 1353
1373/74), to Luang Prabang. Visun built
in the early years of his reign a richly endowed temple to house the statue.
The monastery was called Vat Visun after its founder but is better known as
Vat Mak Mo (
water melon temple) for the shape of its st ̄upa.18 Worship of
the Pha Bang as the palladium of both the kingdom and its ruling dynasty
dates from that time. It was in front of the Pha Bang image that governors
and vassal rulers took oaths of allegiance to the king. Such a ceremony is
described in a ritual text entitled
Great sermon of tributary rulers(kan
suai saban luang
), which probably refers to the reign of King Visun. Among
the
mang of which their governors (cao mang) had participated in that
oath-taking ceremony are Champassak and Si Khotab
ng (present-day Savannakhet) in the south, Vientiane, Loei and Dan Sai in the centre, and
Sam N
a, Mang Phukha and the land of the Lamet in the north (Dor
1987: 733). The Pha Bang cult provided a focus for royal support of the
religious order, in return for the legitimation of the king as a
dhammara ̄ja.
The cult e
ffectively reinforced the institution of Buddhist kingship (see
Stuart-Fox 1998: 72).

Lao kings saw themselves and their subjects as having definite places
within a well-de
fined Buddhist cosmological order. They tried to regulate
their kingdom according to the principles that they believed to be in har-
mony with that order. The
dasa ra ̄jadhamma (Lao: thotsa latcatham) defines
religious donations (
da ̄na) as the first and foremost task of a king. One of the
most meritorious acts a Buddhist monarch could perform was the allocation
of land to monasteries and the donation of people to provide services of
various kinds for these monasteries. A survey of Lao inscriptions from the
Lan Sang period (c. 1353
1707/13) shows that the vast majority of them
almost exclusively deal with religious matters, notably monastic endowments.
Such royal donations, called
kappana in Pali (a term Lao inscriptions seldom
use), could comprise:

  1. 1  Manpower:

    1. a  senior abbots (thera);

    2. b  monks (bhikkhu) and novices (sa ̄man.era);

    3. c  sa ̇nghaga ̄r ̄ı (those responsible for the administration of laypersons

      attached to the monastery);

    4. d  temple serfs (kha okat or khi okat19).

  2. 2  Land:

    1. a  the monastery grounds (rattanakhet or phutthakhet);

    2. b  the area surrounding the monastery, space of the nearby village

      (khamakhet);

    3. c  rice fields (na canghan) of the temple serfs.

    Let us begin the discussion with the donation of land: Lao inscriptions distinguish between the rattanakhet (P: ratanakhetta)21 and khamakhet (P:
    ga ̄makhetta), on the one hand, and the so-called na canghan, on the other
    hand. Whereas the former were donated by both the king and powerful
    high-ranking aristocrats, the donation of the latter seems to have been
    limited to the privilege of the king. However, this thesis is based on the
    twofold assumption that the
    na canghan were never donated alone but only
    together with temple serfs and that the king held the exclusive right to remit
    people from corv
    e labour and the payment of taxes to the state (Thawat
    1984: 157
    158). We know from Lan Na inscriptions that before the reign of
    M
    ang Kaeo (14951526), ambitious governors donated both land and manpower to monasteries so as to accumulate religious merits and concur-
    rently to increase their political reputation. Later, they
    first had to ask the king
    for permission and religious endowments were made in the names of kings
    alone (Rawiwan 1982: 122). Unlike the Lan Na inscriptions which frequently
    record large numbers of donated temple serfs, sometimes comprising whole
    villages (see Grabowsky 2004: 56
    58) and even their names being mentioned,
    the Lan Sang inscriptions place particular emphasis on the size of the
    endowed lands, while the donation of manpower is more implicitly men-
    tioned by prohibitions to use the
    khi okat (as well as the crops from the
    na canghan) for purposes other than religious. Potential violators were
    intimidated by curses such as the following one which appears in the
    final
    lines of an inscription engraved on the pedestal of a Buddha image of bronze
    (kept at the National Museum, Kh
    n Kaen):

If someone is full of greed and comes to violate22 this royal edict, this
person will be on
fire in hell23 for four lifetimes. Dont be ambitious
and insolent. Don
t be daring and violate the stipulations of the
royal edict.

The status of khi okat was hereditary; the obligations a temple serf had
to ful
fil were also valid for his or her descendants.25 Lao customary law
Khosarat stipulates that khi okat who had abandoned their duties and
placed themselves illegally under the protection of a nobleman in another
locality would have to be sent back to their original monastery, as soon as
their new master had found out their real identity.
26 No person of high rank
had the right to use
khi okat for his own service. In the inscription No. 2 of
Vat Daen M
ang (Phon Phisai district, Nng Khai province), dated 1535, it
is stated that
[concerning] the plantations and rice-fields of the country
(
ban-mang), the betel nuts, the coconut and sugar plantations, and the serfs
(
khi) who [are employed] by the monastery and the monks, a man called
Mui and Lung Phanya Can have dripped water [expressing the wish] that all
those who take [the fruits of the land and the serfs] away for the [bene
fit] of
the
cao (king) and the khun (nobles) have to return them. Dont let them
perform corv
e labour(Thawat 1984: 238). This text obviously refers to a
previous donation to the same monastery made in 1530.

It ought to be stressed that both the Buddhist Sangha and the king took
advantages of endowments to important monasteries. Though neither in Lan
Na nor in Lan Sang the
Sangha seemed to have been a big landowner, as was
the case in Sri Lanka, the endowments certainly enhanced its reputation. The
king on the other hand secured an e
ffective means to increase his religious
prestige as well as his political in
fluence beyond the region close to the capital.
Through this means he pro
fited from the monopoly of religious foundations
that he,
de facto, held.28 The king succeeded in consolidating his role as
thammikarat, and at the same time in weakening potential rivals because the loss of workforce to the monasteries could mean for the regional rulers a
serious decrease in their demographic basis. The king imposed a network of
loyal religious institutions on a system of potential centrifugal forces. A rare
description of the donation of temple serfs is given by the Genoan priest
Father Giovanni Maria Leria who had stayed in Laos for several years in the
1640s, i.e. during the early part of King Suriyavongsa
s long reign. His memo-
ries were later recorded by Giovanni Filippo de Marini, another Genoan
priest with experiences in the Far East:

[The king] always pays them (i.e., the monks) the greatest honor
possible. Indeed, as soon as he observes a monk he greets him
first by
raising his right hand, which is the signal of respect and civility most
used in this country. He makes slaves of his vassals and destines them
to the service of their temples in payment for the tribute that they
owe him. Sometimes he has evacuated villages and entire quarters in
favor of monks and obliged those who lived there to maintain and
supply the monasteries in their area, which these poor unfortunates
accept with reluctance and by coercion as they have then to deal with
insatiable people whom one can never fully please, insolent in their
demands and importunate when they receive what is given to them
and authoritarian in the orders they prescribe, so that those who
know them well, would rather become slaves and serve others than to
depend on the monks while not losing their freedom.

(de Marini 1998: 64)

This statement is, of course, full of prejudices the Catholic priests held
against Buddhism, and especially against the Buddhist clergy. It is doubtful
whether living conditions for the temple serfs were really so unbearable that
they preferred anything else rather than working for the monks. On the con-
trary, there is evidence showing that temple serfs, in general, were very proud
of their special status,
29 which, however, did not always prevent them from
being recruited in the military service,
30 as it could be argued that fighting
against a foreign invading force contributed to the defence of Buddhism (see
Thawat 1984: 152).

Another aspect related to the donations of land and manpower to monas-
teries is of an economic nature. The Thai historian Dhida Saraya sees a close
connection between religious donations and the expansion of settlements
in the region of today
s Thailand. Noting that the endowments, known as
kappana (or kalpana), were associated with both Hinduism and Buddhism,
she argues that the rulers of Dva
̄ravatı ̄ and Lopburi, later also the ruler of
Sukhothai, had attempted to expand their territories into previously mostly
unpopulated new land by means of donating land and labourers to Buddhist
monasteries.
31 In Lan Sang, as in Lan Na, new religious centres and the
supporting villages received from the monarchs often generous material
advantages, which gave them a quasi-model character. Thereby they could
attract more settlers so as to reclaim additional land for cultivation in the
region and to establish additional villages. In this way, the newly developed
regions prospered. Since in general the king as
ruler of the land(phracao
phaendin
) possessed the privileges of such a donation, the founding of
monasteries, the expansion of settlements, and the consolidation of the royal
sphere of in
fluence developed hand in hand with one another.

It is unknown when exactly the tradition of royal endowments of monas-
teries in Laos began. The earliest evidence found is mentioned in an inscrip-
tion dated 1530, i.e. in the reign of Phothisarat (1520
1548). From the rather
incomplete corpus of Lao inscriptions, we can conclude that most royal dona-
tions occurred during the reigns of Setthathirat (1548
1571) and Suriyavongsa
(1638
1695). In the early eighteenth century, this tradition was apparently
interrupted, probably due to the political instability, which prevailed after the
division of the Lan Sang kingdom into three separate entities and the decline
of royal authority as a result of it. There is a hiatus of almost one century until
a short-lived revival of monastic endowments under the reign of Cao Anu
(r. 1804
1829). The last epigraphic record is from 1811, when the ruler of
Vientiane donated land and temple serfs to the Vat H
Pha Kaeo (Si Chiang
Mai district, N
ng Khai).32 From then on, the Lao lands on both banks of the
Mekong River became increasingly exposed to Siamese in
fluence, politically
as well as culturally, and the institution of an independent Lao kingship
with
the partial exception of Luang Prabang
ceased to exist.

The relationship between the religious and the political order

As mentioned above, the Lao Sangha had many privileges from the monarchy,
which in return was legitimized by a supportive
Sangha. The relation-
ship between the religious and the political orders was in fact based on
mutual bene
fits. Going back to the reign of Sainya Cakkaphat Phaen Phaeo
(1442
1479/80), we can observe that the king of Lan Sang reinforced the
religious legitimation of his rule by appointing new abbots in two prominent
monasteries of Luang Prabang. The two abbots were given exalted titles,
such as
dhammasena ̄ and san ̇ghasena ̄ (Hoshino 1986: 195). The influence
of the
Sangha increased steadily. After the withdrawal of the Vietnamese
invasion forces in 1479, the reconstruction of the destroyed country was
discussed jointly by the king
s ministers and monks from five important
monasteries in Luang Prabang (Souneth 1996: 233
234). On several occa-
sions the Supreme Patriarch played a crucial role in nominating new kings.
This happened, for example, in 1591, when a delegation of senior monks led
by the Supreme Patriarch
33 went to Pegu to ask the Burmese king, as Lan
Sang was a Burmese vassal state at that time, to appoint Pha N
Mang
(N
Kaeo Kuman) as the new ruler of Vientiane (Souneth 1996: 276). Both
in lending support to a pretender to the throne and in rescinding its backing,
the Buddhist clergy was able to gain political power as well. A case in point is
the political upheaval following King Suriyavongsa
s death. In this crisis a
senior monk called Pha Khu Phon Samek took up a prominent position.

Who was this monk? How did it happen that he could play a very impor-
tant role in Lao politics at a turning point in the country
s history? Apart
from oral histories, various versions of the
Champassak Chronicle provide
rather similar accounts of Pha Khu Phon Samek
s role as one of the
founders of the kingdom of Champassak in 1713.
34 He was born around
1631 in Yasoth
n (northeastern Thailand), an area where, at that time, ethnic
Lao lived in close neighbourhood with Mon-Khmer-speaking indigenous
peoples. A legend that associates him with the founding of Phnom Penh at a
later stage of his life might hint at his non-Lao, possibly Khmer, ethnic
background. As a novice he impressed a senior monk in the capital with his
outstanding intelligence and amazing capacity to memorize whole volumes
of sacred scripts. The novice
s fame spread throughout the kingdom and
caught the attention of King Suriyavongsa, who supported his later monas-
tic career. Entering the monkhood
first at Vat Phon Samek (near Vientiane),
the young monk was soon given the prestigious title
Pha Khuand thus
received his popular name. Pha Khu Phon Samek combined a strict observa-
tion of the Buddhist moral precepts and a profound knowledge of the
religious scripts, which he learned perfectly by heart, with the alleged posses-
sion of supernatural powers. This might have explained the charisma he
reputedly possessed. In the early 1690s, Pha Khu Phon Samek was the
most popular and widely revered monk in Laos. The only surviving Lao
manuscript of the
Champassak Chronicle reports:

By observing moral commandments and monastic discipline, Than
Phakhu reached the levels of the [six]
aphinnya35 [and] the eight
atthasammabat;36 he possessed abundant merits (puñña) and per-
fections (
pa ̄ram ̄ı); he was able to accomplish everything he wished.
All people revered him. About his spittle, which was left in a spit-
toon, or even his urine and faeces, [people also] said that they
smelled good. Known under the name of Pha Khu Phon Samek a
number of people called him Pha Khu Achom H
m (literally, the
learned monk whose faeces smell
). He was praised under different
names by di
fferent people. The King of Vientiane wished to become
an attendant [of Pha Khu Phon Samek].

In 1695, King Suriyavongsa passed away without leaving an heir. Phanya
M
ang Can,38 the highest-ranking minister, seized the throne and paved the
way for a long period of political turmoil in Lan Sang. The Lao chronicles
are contradictory and inconsistent on the events during the two decades
following Suriyavongsa
s death as Lorrillard has demonstrated (Lorrillard
1995: 215
224). If we follow the historiographical tradition of the South, it appears that Phanya Mang Cans downfall, only six months after he had
usurped royal power, was brought about by a lack of popular support and
opposition from in
fluential figures of the Buddhist clergy. Pha Khu Phon
Samek is given credit for lending tacit support to the usurper
s opponents.
To avoid a direct confrontation with Phanya M
ang Can, the charismatic
abbot of Vat Phon Samek led 3,000 of his followers, among them Princess
Sumangkhala, who was one of Suriyavongsa
s daughters and pregnant at
the time, out of the capital to the south.
Wherever, they stopped on his
way downstream
, says the That Phanom Chronicle (Nithan Urangkhathat),
great numbers of devotees volunteered to join them on their journey
(Preuss 1976: 66). At That Phanom (Nakhn Phanom) the monk and his
followers stopped to repair the ancient and most sacred reliquary; through
this meritorious act the dissidents linked their uncertain political future with
the perceived glorious Buddhist past of the country.

The refugees finally reached the region of Champassak where they settled
down with the permission of the town
s female non-Lao governor Nang
Phaen. The
Champassak Chronicle says that this governor, a devout Buddhist,
asked Pha Khu Phon Samek to take over the administration of Champassak
in order to facilitate Buddhism throughout her entire territory. The monk did
not refuse and thus gained control of both secular and religious a
ffairs.39 After
a certain period of time, in 1713, Princess Sumangkhala
s son was crowned
as King of Champassak under the royal name Cao S
i Sisamut Phutthangkun.

At least parts of the founding story of Champassak appear fictitious. In
particular, the story of the two female rulers
Nang Phaen and her mother
Nang Phao
preceding Si Sisamuts reign seems sheer legendary, as
Archaimbault (1961: 530
536) has testified. It may, however, reflect the
hybridorigin of Champassak, namely as a polity where Lao Buddhist
settlers from the North intermingled with a strong pre-Buddhist Mon-Khmer
substratum. Should we interpret Pha Khu Phon Samek as a symbol for a
long-term cultural process in today
s southern Laos which may have started
some time in the late seventeenth century, and after one or two generations
had transformed this formerly predominantly non-Lao and non-Buddhist
region into a constituent part of the Buddhist Tai-Lao world?

As a direct descendant of King Suriyavongsa, who was the last fully recog-
nized ruler of Lan Sang, S
i Sisamut linked Champassak with the rest of
the Lao world. Thus, the kingdom of Champassak could repudiate the image
of a
renegade provinceand claim to be one of the three successor states of
Lan Sang, on a par with Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Royal lineage alone,
however, was not su
fficient to consolidate political power in the South. The
young king needed the charismatic monk Pha Khu Phon Samek to reinforce
his moral standing. In the town of Champassak, the capital, S
i Sisamut
built Vat Luang Mai,
the new main/royal monastery. This monastery was
the symbol of Buddhist kingship focusing on the concepts of righteous king
(
dhammara ̄ja) and universal ruler (cakkavattin).

On close reading, the Champassak Chronicle reveals the importance
attached to Pha Khu Phon Samek for the religious legitimation of secular
power and for de
fining the territorial extent of the kingdom. The chronicle
describes how the monk led his many followers to seek a suitable place for
settlement and
finally established a new mang. Together with his disciples,
he prayed for auspicious signs, which would show the Lao migrants the land
of their destiny. All these episodes render strong support to the legitimation
of kingship. Furthermore, Pha Khu Phon Samek had a reputation for
possessing supernatural powers that could make him even invisible.

As was discussed above, sacred Buddha images were used to legitimate royal
power. Pha Kaeo Phalik, a beautiful Buddha image made of pure crystal, was
found by two brothers of
Kha, i.e. non-Lao, origin. They took the image as
the e
ffigy of a small human being. This shows that their community was still
untouched by Buddhism. The Pha Kaeo Phalik image was later enshrined in
a
st ̄upa in the town of Champassak. This happened still during the reign of Si
Sisamut. Thereafter, the Pha Kaeo Phalik was revered as a state palladium,
the symbol of prosperity of Champassak.

Even though the Khawere the indigenous people of southern Laos, they
often migrated to other places. They moved because of their special connec-
tion with the local spirits. A number of the
Khapopulation from Ban
Somp
i Nanyn, where the Crystal Buddha had been discovered, left their
home village and settled next to the city of Champassak as they were needed
by King S
i Sisamut to serve as serfs of the Crystal Buddha (kha pha pha-
lik
).42 Furthermore, they were also required when sacrificial ceremonies or
traditional festivals were held.

Traditionally, a monastery was not only the residence of Buddhist monks
and novices, but was also a centre of education. Learned men who sometimes
took over the position of village headman used to be former monks or novices,
in other words Buddhist-educated men. Therefore, the founding of monas-
teries by a king increased his religious merits and thus was an indicator for the
legitimacy of royal rule. By donating parts of their property to the
Sangha, the
kings would expect that the people considered them as generous and benevo-
lent. Thus the people would respect and praise such righteous monarchs. The
Champassak Chronicle (Vat Citsavang version) does not fail to mention that
S
i Sisamut (r. 17131737) built at least two monasteries for Buddhist monks.44
One of his later successors, Cao Kham Suk (r. 18631900), who was already
a Siamese vassal, founded the monastery of Vat Nyuttithammathalalam.
45
All these activities ought to be considered as fulfilments of the duties of a
ruler relying on Buddhism for political legitimacy.

Concluding remarks

Theravada Buddhism came to Laos later than in any other country of
mainland Southeast Asia. Contrary to the assertion of traditional Lao


Notes

I am grateful to Foon Ming Liew for helping me to polish up my English and
giving me her comments on the draft version of this essay. My thanks are also
extended to Bounleuth Sengsoulin for allowing me to make extensive use of his
MA thesis on the
Champassak Chronicle, Citsavang Version. I also would like to
thank Michel Lorrillard for his acute remarks on my essay and providing me with
some of his unpublished work on the history of Lao Buddhism. However, the
responsibilities for the statements contained in this essay remain with the author.
Lorrillard (2003: 2). In fact, the mention of a huge entourage, including astro-
logers and craftsmen, accompanying the monks and Brahmins from Angkor to
historiography it was not the Cambodian influence of the mid-fourteenth
century that had a decisive impact on the di
ffusion of Buddhism in Lao
society. It was probably not earlier than the mid-
fifteenth century, starting
with the reign of Sainya Cakkhaphat Phaen Phaeo (r. 1442
1479/80), that
Theravada Buddhism became the dominant religion of Laos, at least among
the ruling Lao elite. The most in
fluential Buddhist wave reached the Lao
kingdom of Lan Sang via Lan Na. The cultural, religious, and political rela-
tions between the two kingdoms intensi
fied in the sixteenth century; and after
the incorporation of Lan Na into the Burmese sphere of power, Lan Sang
even became the heir of Lan Na
s erstwhile flourishing Buddhist culture. In
the Lao lands the new religion spread with the southward migration of the
Lao people and reached the interior of the Khorat Plateau and today
s
southern Laos only by the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Lao kings took the concepts of righteous king (dhammara ̄ja) and univer-
sal ruler (
cakkavattin) seriously. As in neighbouring Lan Na, but unlike
Ayutthaya, royal donations of land and manpower to monasteries were
widespread in Lan Sang. Such religious endowments demonstrated that a
monarch lived up to the expectations of Buddhist kingship. The Buddhist
Sangha thus held a privileged position in traditional Lao society and was
in times of political crises even able to intervene in the secular realm. Lao
customary law texts, such as the
Kotmai Khosarat, were inspired by the rules
of monastic discipline (
vinaya). Thus, the monksadvice would have been
appreciated in the decision of law cases. The borders between the secular,
political sphere (
a ̄n.a ̄cakra), and the religious order (buddhacakra) were more
fluid than it is the case today.

What has not been discussed in this essay but deserves special attention
is the transformation of the religious order during the period of Siamese
domination (i.e. since 1778/79). We can deduce that the gradual loss of politi-
cal sovereignty and, more decisively, the social disruptions following the
destruction of Vientiane (in 1828/29) had precipitated the decline of royal
control of the Buddhist order.
47 The millenarian revolts that shook Laos in
that period are certainly associated with these fundamental changes.
48 This,
however, would have to be discussed separately.

Luang Prabang, resembles the Mon Princess Ca ̄madev ̄ı’s procession from Lavo to
Hariphunchai, where she founded a Buddhist kingdom in the eighth century,
according to a Lan Na chronicle of the
fifteenth century.

  1. 2  According to the NKB (Souneth 1996: 234235), King Phaen Phaeo abdicated in
    favour of his son, who alone expelled the Vietnamese.

  2. 3  The Mingshi Gao (Draft of the History of the Ming Dynasty) (chapter 189, p. 34a)
    reports.
    In the year Chenghua 17, [6th month, renzi] (1481), Li Hao (r. 14591497),
    [the King of] Annam, commanded 90,000 barbarian soldiers (
    man bing), con-
    structed three routes through the mountains, and marched his troops to conquer
    Ailao (the Lao people) and then proceeded to the territory of Laowo (Laos),
    killed the father, the Paci
    fication Commissioner, Dao Banya of Lanzhang (Cao
    Phanya of Lan Sang), [and his] two sons, three persons [in all]. The youngest
    son, Paya Sai (Phanya Sai or Cao Sai), turned to Babai (Lan Na) for support. The
    Paci
    fication Commissioner [of Babai], Dao Lanna (Cao Lan Na, i.e., Tilok), dis-
    patched troops to escort [Phanya Sai] to Jingkan (Chiang Kham).
    (Mingshi Gao
    [Draft of the History of the Ming Dynasty], edited by Wang Hongxu, Wan Sitong
    et al., completed in 1723 (repr. 1973, 5 vols, Tokyo; 1985, 7 vols, Taipei.)) Quoted
    after the translation of Liew n.d.: 100.

    The claim laid by the Royal Chronicle of Ayutthaya that the Siamese king
    (personally?)
    granted that Phraya Sai Khao be anointed as the King of Lan
    Chang
    does not appear credible. Quoted from Cushing (2000: 17).

    The Luang Prasoert version (Phraratcha phongsawadan krung si ayutthaya
    chabap luang prasoet
    [The Royal Chronicle of Ayutthaya, Luang Prasoet Version]
    1963. In
    Prachum phongsawadan [Collected Chronicles], Part 1, Vol. 1, pp. 141171.
    Bangkok: Khurusapha: 138) says :
    In the year [cula]sakkarat 842, the year of the
    rat (B.E. 2120), the king of Lan Chang (Sang) passed away and Phaya Sai Khao
    was enthroned as the new King of Lan Chang.

  3. 4  See Hoshino (1986: 216). The inscription is published in Gagneux (1975: 8183).
    Michel Lorrillard argues that the inscription was dated according to the Chiang
    Mai calendar (which di
    ffers by exactly two lunar months) because the script was
    clearly
    Tham Yuanand the Buddha image thus of Chiang Mai provenance.
    Lorrillard proposes 24 November 1490 as the corresponding date of the Julian
    calendar (Lorrillard, personal communication, 29 April 2004). Moreover, this day
    was a
    ruang rao day mentioned on line five of the inscription. (Note that rao is
    only barely legible whereas we have a lacuna for
    ruang.) However, 24 November
    1490 falls on a Wednesday, not a Saturday (
    wan sao) as the inscription clearly
    states on line 3. From my point of view, the
    Tham Yuanstyle of the inscription
    does not necessary imply that the Buddha image was originally produced in Lan
    Na. A dating according to the Lao calendar is only contradicted by the fact that
    22 January 1491 was a
    kot san day, but the following day 23 January 1491 was
    indeed a
    ruang rao day. This slight deviation may be attributed to a calculation
    error of the scribe.

  4. 5  N. A. Jayawickrama, the translator and editor of the English-language version, comments: There is no such division of the Tipitaka and the phrase can equally
    be translated as with sixty volumes (treatises) and the Tipitaka. See Ratanapañña tangtae plai phutthasattawat thi 21 thng ton phutthasattawat thi 23 [The society of
    Lan Sang since the end of the twenty-
    first until the beginning of the twenty-third
    Buddhist century]. MA thesis, Thammasat University: 77.

    Lieberman (2003: 259) observes that [a]s late as the second quarter of the 15th
    century a king of Chiang Mai, to the scandal of monastic chroniclers, revered

(1968: 183, fn. 3).
6 NKB, Souneth (1996: 249). Cf. Piyachat Sinthusa-at (1997)
Sangkhom lan chang shamans while sacrificing cattle to the spirits of trees, rocks, and mounds.As to
epigraphic evidence for Photisarat
s edict see, for example, the inscription no. 2 of
Vat Daen M
ang (Lorrillard 1995: 365367).

  1. 7  The Chronicle of Attap(Phongsavadan Mang Attap) claims that the Kha
    peoples in the south got closer contact with the Lao civilization in the early 1570s
    when King Setthathirat retreated to the south in the face of a Burmese attack on
    Vientiane. Legend says that Setthathirat disappeared in Attap
    but did not die
    as he was rescued by the local Kha tribes who accepted him as their leader.
    Setthathirat remained immortal in the eyes of his people. They were waiting for
    him, like the Germans in the Medieval Age were waiting for Kaiser Barbarossa to
    return and establish a new empire. In 1579, a native from Attap
    claimed that he
    was the reincarnation of King Setthathirat. As a man who claimed to possess
    magical power (
    phu wiset), he gathered many followers whom he sent to conquer
    Vientiane (see
    Phongsavadan Mang Attap[The Attapue Chronicle]. Composed
    by Maha Butdi Sakdavong,
     2491, 20 December 1949, transliterated from Lao
    Buhan into modern Lao script by Volker Grabowsky, October 1997).

  2. 8  The Khamphi Pha Thammasat Luang defines the tenfold royal code as follows:
    1. da ̄na making donations; 2. s ̄ıla abiding by the five or eight religious pre-
    cepts; 3.
    parica ̄ga giving up of [ones own] belongings, elephants, horses, clothes,
    gold and silver, and donating it to the
    sena-amat (i.e., high-ranking officials) and
    close friends; 4. a
    ̄java () rectitude; 5. maddava gentleness to elderly
    people; 6.
    ak{k}odha freedom from wrath; 7. avihim. sa refraining from
    harassing the population; 8.
    khanti having patience; 9. sacca sticking to the
    truth and not accepting lies; 10.
    avirodha no violation of ancient royal customs,
    rules and traditions. See Aroonrut Wichienkeeo
    et al. (1986) Khamphi phra tham-
    masat buran
    (kotmai kao khng lao) [Phra Thammasat Buhan: An ancient Lao law
    text]. Bangkok; Samlit Buasisawat (transcr.) (1993)
    Khamphi thammasat luang:
    kotmai buhan lao
    [Thammasat Luang: A Lao customary law text]. Vientiane. Cf.
    Ministry of Information and Culture 2000: 177.

  3. 9  The ten Buddhist virtuesare da ̄na [donation], s ̄ıla [religious precept], nekkhamma [renunciation], pañña [wisdom], viriya [courage], khanti [patience], sacca [honesty], adhittha ̄na [praying], metta ̄ [mercy] and upekkha [equanimity].
    ̇ ̇

  1. 10  See ibid.: 385386. As to the construction and the meaning of That Luang, see
    Lorrillard (2004), the so far most detailed and authoritative study on this subject.

  2. 11  Pha One Kaeo Sitthivong and Volker Grabowsky, Comprehensive List of Monasteries in Luang Prabang, in Berger (2000). This account is based on
    oral traditions. Lorrillard points out that no original Lao source mentions the
    construction of Vat Siang Th
    ng in 1560.

  1. 12  That Luang is visible as a central symbol on the Lao national emblem as well as on
    present-day Lao bank notes.

  2. 13  See Kham Campakaeomani (1994) Phrathat luang wiang can[The great stupa
    of Vientiane]. In
    Phrathat cedi wat samkhan lae phrakhru yt kaeo phonsamek
    [Important stupas-monasteries and Phrakhru Yt Kaeo Phonsamek], pp. 113.
    Chiang Mai: Social Research Institute, Chiang Mai University: 2.

  3. 14  The construction works had started already five years earlier, and the first date
    mentioned in the inscription of Vat Sisaket, 4 March 1819, probably marks the
    beginning of the works. See Lorrillard (2002: 4). As to the dates mentioned in
    the stone inscription on the founding of the monastery, cf. Can Inthuphilat (1994)
    Phra khru phonsamek ryakhru khi hm[Phrakhru Phonsamek or Yakhru Khi
    H
    m]. In Phrathat cedi-wat samkhan lae phrakhru yt kaeo phonsamek [Important
    stupas-monasteries and Phrakhru Y
    t Kaeo Phonsamek], pp. 8599. Chiang Mai:
    Social Research Institute, Chiang Mai University.

  1. 15  Accidentally, Vat Sisaket was the only major religious building that escaped the
    Siamese pillage of 1828.

  2. 16  See, for example, Buddhas footprints at Luang Prabang (Phusi), Vientiane (Phon
    San), and That Soeng Sum (Sakon Nakh
    n, northeastern Thailand).

  3. 17  According to one legend, in 1464 lightning struck at a figure of a Buddha made of
    gypsum in a pagoda in Chiang Mai. The
    figure broke and a sitting Buddha made
    from one whole piece of jade came to light. The Emerald Buddha
    first found its
    home in Chiang Rai and from 1486 onwards in Chiang Mai. Since then it was a
    sort of palladium, a function, which it also served after 1548 in Laos until the
    Siamese, suppressing the uprising of Cao Anu (1828), brought it to Bangkok,
    where today it is still placed in Wat Phra Kaeo in front of the royal palace. On the
    history of the Emerald Buddha until it was brought to Luang Prabang see, for
    example,
    Tamnan pha mang kaeo [The Chronicle of Pha (Mang) Kaeo]. Vat Si Sai
    Mun,
    tambon Nng Cm, amphoe San Sai, Chiang Mai, SRI 80.047.05.019019,
    25
    ff°. The title of this manuscript from Vat Si Sai Mun (San Sai, Chiang Mai) is a
    bit misleading as it is not about the reign of King M
    ang Kaeo (r. 14951526) but
    concerns the
    journeyof the Emerald Buddha image (pha kaeo).

  4. 18  The Pha Bang (Pra Bang) is said to have originated from Sri Lanka from where it
    came to Cambodia. The Khmer king gave that golden image portraying Lord
    Buddha standing with both arms raised forward at the elbows, palms facing out-
    ward, to Fa Ngum, his son-in-law, in order to promote Buddhism in the newly
    founded Lao kingdom of Lan Sang. The precious Buddha image, only 50 centi-
    metres tall, was worshipped as a state palladium and should later give the royal
    capital of Siang Dong-Siang Th
    ng its new name under which it is still known:
    Luang Prabang,
    Royal [City] of the Pha Bang. The Pha Bang image was trans-
    ferred several times during the last centuries re
    flecting the vagaries of Lao history:
    Vientiane (1563), Thonburi (1778), Bangkok (1781), Vientiane (1782), Bangkok
    (1828), and
    finally back to Luang Prabang (1867).

  5. 19  Also known as kha phra yomsong or lek vat.

  6. 20  Adapted from Thawat Punnothok (1984) Silacark isan samai thai-lao: sksa thang dan akkharawitthaya lae prawattisat [Northeastern Thai inscriptions of the
    Thai-Lao period: Epigraphical and historical studies of the Northeast]. Bangkok:
    Thammasat University Press: 153
    154.

  7. 21  In several Lao inscriptions also called khet phra rattanatrai.

  8. 22  Mang, literally to destroy, to annihilate.

  9. 23  Abai (P: apa ̄ya), literally places, states or conditions of suffering. It refers to one of four rebirths where there is no hope of progress or of escape.

  10. 24  Thawat (1984: 364). The inscription is dated the seventh day of the waxing moon of the second month in the year C.S. 1155(Wednesday, 8 January 1794).

  11. 25  See Thawat Punnothok (1999) Kha okat phrathat phanom[The temple serfs of
    Phrathat Phanom]. In:
    Saranukrom watthanatham phak isan [Encyclopedia of Thai Culture: The northeastern region], Vol. 2, pp. 488492. Bangkok.


    The monastery containing the
    st ̄upa of That Phanom, one of the most
    important religious monuments of Lan Sang, had up to 3,000 temple serfs. See

    Preuss (1976: 58).

  12. 26  See Saowani Phannaphop (1996). Sksa wikhrkotmai khosarat nai thana thi pen ekkasan thang prawattisat [An analytical study of the Khosarat law as an historical document]. MA thesis, Sinakharinwirot University: 54, 433.

  13. 27  See Inscription No. 1 of Vat Daen Mang, in Thawat (1984: 230235). Compare similar prohibitions in numerous other inscriptions.

  14. 28  Lao inscriptions mention very few exceptions. An important one is the donation of Mae Cao Kham Haeng to Vat Saensukhi-aram (Vientiane province) made in 1603. See inscription G 3/34 N° 108 dated seventh day of the waning moon of
    the tenth month, C.S. 973
    , i.e. Wednesday, 28 September 1611 (Gagneux 1975:
    191
    192).

  1. 29  Thawat Punnothok (1999) mentions the so-called Bun Sia Kha Hua, a merit-
    making ceremony performed until the present day on the eighth day of the third
    month (Lao calendar) of every year by the descendants of a village whose ances-
    tors had been temple serfs of Vat That Phanom (Nakh
    n Phanom province).
    The obligations of the temple serfs had ended more than two centuries ago when
    Siamese rule spread to the Khorat Plateau.

  2. 30  See, for example, the inscription of Vat Si Suphana-aram (Nng Khai), dated
    Tuesday, 4 March 1567. Thawat (1984: 261
    264).

  3. 31  See Dhida (1982: 155158). Dhida (ibid.: 157158) emphasizes that there was a
    basic belief concerning land and territorial spirits regardless of religion, which
    made people donate primarily as a means of gaining merit. This notion corres-
    ponds with Paul Mus
    s idea about the belief in the relationship of land and
    territorial spirits that played an important role in the expansion of the chief
    s
    authority and rights to land. This basic idea spread among the peoples and left
    some traces in the practice of donating land to religion.

  4. 32  This inscription, dated Wednesday, the second day of the waning moon of the
    fifth month in the sanga year (i.e. year of the horse), CS. 1172 [10 April 1811], is
    published in Thawat (1984: 381
    392). Eade (1996: 129130) argues convincingly
    that Thawat misread the digit
    5as a 4as this would change the corresponding
    Western date to 11 March 1811, which is a Monday.

  5. 33  Called Maha San ̇ghara ̄ja Cao Khu Hong Kham, which means literally, Supreme
    Patriarch, teacher in the golden hall
    .

  6. 34  Pha Khu Phon Sameks life is discussed in the Champassak Chronicle, Citsavang
    version,
    ff° 4/1/115/1/2. Cf. Bounleuth (2004: 1837). A well-written synthesis of
    the various accounts of Pha Khu Phon Samek in the
    Champassak Chronicle and
    orally transmitted traditions is Can Inthuphilat (1994)
    Phra khru phonsamek r
    yakhru khi hm[Phrakhru Phonsamek or Yakhru Khi Hm]. In Phrathat cedi-
    wat samkhan lae phrakhru y
    t kaeo phonsamek [Important stupas-monasteries
    and Phrakhru Y
    t Kaeo Phonsamek], pp. 8599. Chiang Mai: Social Research
    Institute, Chiang Mai University.

    One finds a short biography of the monk in the That Phanom Chronicle (Nithan
    Urangkhathat
    ) where he is credited with the respiration of the sacred st ̄upa of
    That Phanom, notably its spire. See Preuss (1976: 65
    67).

    For other accounts of Pha Khu Phon Sameks life, see Phraratcha Prichayan-
    muni (1970)
    Theraprawat [Biography of senior monks]. Nakhn Phanom: Cao
    Khana Nakh
    n Phanom: 120; and Toem Wiphakphotcanakit (1987) Prawattisat
    isan
    [A history of the Northeast]. Bangkok: Thammasat University Press: 3447.

  7. 35  Very deep knowledges: 1) supernatural power; 2) all-hearing ability; 3) extra-
    sensory perception, reading the mind of another; 4) ability to remember previous
    incarnations; 5) clairvoyance, all-seeing ability; 6) ability to eliminate evil thoughts
    or emotions, cessation of desire.

  8. 36  Attainment in the practice of Buddhist meditation.

  9. 37  Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff° 5/1/45/2/2. (Bounleuth 2004:

    2021).

  10. 38  In the various versions of the Champassak Chronicle called Phanya Mang Saen.

  11. 39  Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff° 10/2/311/1/1. (Bounleuth 2004 2930).

  12. 40  Than Phakhu then was praying [for his safety] With the power of the good deeds (des ́a pa ̄ram ̄ı) being performed in the past existences, [I] would help human beings (panna sat) to avoid danger. [I] prayed to the Gods (thepphacao) for pro-
    tecting people in this time.
    Then, Than Phakhu could conveniently lead [his]
    families [of laity] to escape from danger. See
    Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang
    version,
    ff° 8/1/18/1/2. (Bounleuth 2004: 32).

  1. 41  Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff° 16/1/216/2/4. (Bounleuth 2004:
    39
    40).

  2. 42  For details, see Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff° 17/1/1.
    (Bounleuth 2004: 40).

  3. 43  For details, see Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff° 12/1/4.
    (Bounleuth 2004: 32).

  4. 44  For details, see Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff° 11/1/2, 11/1/3
    and 15/2/1. (Bounleuth 2004: 30, 37
    38).

  5. 45  Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff° 41/1/341/2/1. (Bounleuth 2004:
    79
    80).

  6. 46  Piyachat (1997: 79) even proposes that Buddhism [. . .] received a role to support
    the secular realm (
    a ̄n. a ̄cakra) to a large extent until it appeared as if the buddhacakra
    and the a ̄n.a ̄cakra were inseparably linked with each other.

  7. 47  Bechert (1967: 268) mentions that equally disrupting were the raids of the Chinese
    (
    Hò’) marauders in 1872/73 and 1887.

  8. 48  As to a discussion of the millenarian revolts, notably the uprising of Cao Hua Sa
    Kiat Ngong (1817
    1819) and the so-called Holy Men uprisings(kabot phu mi bun)
    of 1901/02, in the Lao lands since the late eighteenth century see, e.g., Nonglak
    Limsiri (1981)
    Khwam samkhan khng kabot hua mang isan ph.s. 23252445 [The
    importance of the uprisings in the northeastern region,
     17821902]. MA thesis,
    Bangkok: Silapakorn University; and Toem (1987: 491
    516).

8

PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
IN BUDDHIST PROPHETIC
LITERATURE OF THE LAO

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Khandro Rinpoche – Buddhism: Past, Present, Future
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Peter Koret

Whereas the topic that is most prominently treated in prophetic literature of
the nineteenth through twentieth centuries is not surprisingly the future, a
study of its content reveals that in that future the authors are very much
talking about the present, and that that present is very much given meaning
by their preoccupation with the past. Prophetic literature, therefore, can
serve as an important source of information in the construction of both a
cultural and intellectual history of Lao-speaking people, and more generally
a study of the e
ffect of modernization on traditional Theravada Buddhist
cultures in Southeast Asia. In our approach to prophetic literature, we will
examine prophetic works in the context of a) the literary tradition out of
which they originated, and b) the historical circumstances under which they
were composed, out of which arose the speci
fic set of concerns that literary
expression was made use of to address. We will examine both prophetic
literature from the nineteenth through early twentieth centuries, which antici-
pated modernization and its consequences, and prophetic works from the
mid-twentieth century onwards, in which the consequences that were antici-
pated in earlier works very much dictate the concerns that a traditional style
of writing is made use of to express.

Part One: Prophetic works of the nineteenth through early
twentieth centuries

In contemporary studies of traditional culture in Southeast Asia (both by
westerners and Southeast Asians), the perspective of the writers
and the
style that is made use of in the presentation of that perspective
is very
much a product of the modernization of which they write. One important
aspect of prophetic works is that in contrast and in counter-balance to mod-
ern studies of the past, prophetic works can be understood as
studiesof the future as seen from the perspective of the past by literary composers whose
very duty was to preserve that past from the threat of that future.

Buddhist prophetic literature of the nineteenth through early twentieth centuries presents a picture of the world based upon the belief in a Buddhist era of five thousand years following the enlightenment of the Buddha. As time grows increasingly distant from the appearance of a Buddha on earth, Buddhist teachings gradually deteriorate, throwing the world into a state of great turmoil. Prophecy of the decline of Buddhism is not original to the Lao, but can be traced back to the Tripitaka. Indeed, one of the most
̇popular works of Lao Buddhist prophecy, Khwam Fan Phanya Patsen (The
Dreams of Phanya Patsen), is based upon a canonical Ja
̄taka tale. Prophetic
works of literature depicting the decline of Buddhism are also widespread
among neighbouring Southeast Asian groups, including, for example, the Tai
Yuan (i.e. people of Lan Na), the Thai, the Khmer, etc.
1 Similar to the use of
the framework of canonical Ja
̄taka tales in the composition of traditional
Lao literature, the conventions of Buddhist prophecy were adapted by the
Lao and came to take on a variety of traits re
flective of Lao society in their
adaptation.

Literary and historical context to prophetic literature

In order to make sense of Lao works of Buddhist prophecy, we first need
to understand the sense that they make in the context in which they were
created, i.e. as a form of literature. Whatever unique characteristics they
may possess within their own category, that category only exists as part
of the larger literary tradition, in the context of which it was meaningful.
Traditional literature provided the composers with a pre-existing framework
of conventions with which to record their thoughts in writing, and the audi-
ence with a familiar
vocabulary of expressionwith which such thoughts
could be understood and appreciated. It was very much this literary back-
ground, both in the conventions of literary expression and the social context
in which such expression was customarily presented to an audience, that gave
the literature its power as a means of communication.

Both the similarities and differences between traditional and prophetic
works of Lao literature need to be understood in the context of the social
and historical environments that led to their creation.
2 From the fourteenth
through late seventeenth centuries, Lan Sang was a powerful and prosperous
kingdom that united Lao and other groups under a single rule. Similar
to other Southeast Asian kingdoms during the same period, Theravada
Buddhism played an important political as well as religious role as an insti-
tution. The power of the temple was at times comparable to that of the
monarchy, which was dependent upon religious legitimization in its govern-
ing. The signi
ficance of literature in Lan Sang largely rested upon its efficiency
as a medium through which the temple could communicate its teachings.

Literature in Lan Sang owes its origins to two primary sources: a) the cul-
tural in
fluence of the neighbouring kingdom of Lan Na, from which the Lao
borrowed many of their stories, conventions in the telling and performance
of the stories, and the scripts in which the stories were recorded, and b)
a tradition of regional oral poetry and story-telling that has predated and
continues to exist to the present day side-by-side with the written tradition.
One of the most important literary imports from Lan Na was the speci
fic
relationship between literature and the temple, and the precise ways in which
the literature de
fined its religious identity. On one level, a fundamental
objective of literature in Lan Sang was to teach Buddhist practices that
were expected to be followed by laymen, such as the observance of the Five
Precepts, support of the temple, etc. On another level, the responsibility
of literary works was the maintenance and preservation of the
worldfrom
one generation to the next, which included, for example, conventions to be
followed in everyday life, performance of the monthly rites (known as
Hit
Sip Saung
– ‘Annual cycle of events that are mandated by custom), which
were necessary to avert disaster and assure the prosperity of the community,
a prescribed code of interaction between people and groups of people based
upon established social hierarchies, an understanding of man
s place (and
his proper duties) within the world in which he lived, etc. None of these
teachings in any way contradicted the notion of literature as a religious
tradition, for the conventions were not legitimized and given value within a
modern nationalist framework as being part of a precious and secular
Lao
heritage
, but rather through the way in which they were traceable back to
the
religiousrealm of the past in which they were sanctified by the Buddha,
the Lord Indra, and various Tai deities.

In the late seventeeth century, Lan Sang split into three smaller states as a
result of internal rivalry among its nobility. The lack of unity within the
kingdom, and the weakened conditions that it engendered, were to ultimately
prove fatal to the Lan Sang royalty and their aspirations for power in the
region. The bitter con
flict between the kingdoms that formerly comprised
Lan Sang was ultimately to be exploited by the kingdom of Siam, which
desired to extend its in
fluence, while at the same time fearful of the assistance
that independent Lao kingdoms might provide to their enemies, the Burmese.
Vientiane was invaded and sacked by the Siamese in the early 1820s after a
war between Siam and Vientiane that was to have disastrous consequences
for the Lao. Following the defeat of Vientiane, the Siamese signi
ficantly
increased their control of the region, and implemented deportations of an
unprecedented scale in which people were forcibly settled in Northeast and
Central Thailand. Despite Siamese expansion, however, prior to the late
nineteenth century Siamese control was largely exercised indirectly through
local elites who continued to rule following traditional Lao administrative
practices. At the same time, Siamese culture did not make great inroads into
the region. All of this was to drastically change, however, with the threat of
French colonial expansion. The territory that comprised contemporary Laos
was annexed by the French at the end of the nineteenth century. Fearful of
further expansion by the French and British, King Chulalongkorn radically
reformed the administration of outlying regions of the country. In Northeast
Thailand, the local elite were replaced by administrators and administrative
practices brought in from Bangkok, and vigorous attempts were made to
instil in its inhabitants a Siamese identity. Such change, however, did not go
uncontested. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, millenarian
movements spread throughout the region, which can be interpreted as a
result of both the social and cultural upheavals in the region, and the
exploitation of those upheavals by members of local elites whose interests
were directly threatened by the process of change.

During this period, literature in the traditional mould continued to be
produced and performed. Indeed, there is even evidence to suggest that the
majority of literary works in the Lao language that have come down to us
were produced during the nineteenth century.
3 At the same time, however,
from the late nineteenth century onwards, the unsettled conditions of the
period also provided the impetus for the creation of a type of literature that
was very di
fferent from previous works. The literature of prophecy can be
understood as a re
flection of and reaction to the social and political tur-
moil of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which brought about new
demands in the preservation of the
worldthat was a traditional subject
of literature. In traditional literature, not only was the preservation of tradi-
tional society a primary objective in its composition, the very preservation
of those traditions was, in and of itself, undertaken in a traditional manner.
The conventional nature of the style that was made use of in literature was
not only considered practical as a result of its proven track record (i.e. it
had worked in the past), but also legitimized as a part of the past that it
attempted to preserve. In contrast, as a result of the radical changes in
society, composers were forced to recognize that traditional approaches
could no longer successfully achieve their desired ends. As a result of the late
stage of the Buddhist era, the authors commonly declare that a) new diseases
have arisen that have never before been seen, and b) old types of medicine
have grown ine
ffective in the treatment of the very same diseases that they had
once cured.

Prophetic works composed during this period are widespread in Lao-
speaking regions, and can be found throughout northern, central, and south-
ern Laos, and Northeast Thailand. In my own research I have uncovered a
total of roughly twenty works, which are by no means exhaustive. Whereas
the majority of Lao literary works are composed in poetic form, the great
majority of prophetic works are recorded in a prose form known as
Nitsay, a
writing genre in which Pali texts are (or supposedly are) translated into Lao.
5
In previous writings, the sole reference that I have found to this type of
literature is in relationship to its connection with the above-mentioned
millenarian movements and the political objectives of its instigators. It is
important, however, to emphasize that whereas some of the works were
indeed made use of (and perhaps speci
fically created) by such movements,
and the identity of their composers shared certain similarities with what we
know about
figures within these movements, the category of works in general
can be understood less as being deliberately orchestrated by certain groups
or individuals than as the outcome of the cultural environment under which
such movements were to arise.

The logic of prophetic works of Lao literature

In our analysis of the logicof prophetic works of literature as a response
to the threat of modernization on traditional culture, this essay will investi-
gate prophetic literature in comparison with traditional literature through
a discussion of a) the construction of a religious identity, b) claims of sacred
origin, c) types of religious teachings and karmic enforcement, d) the
prescribed handling of the texts, and
finally, e) their social and political
commentary.

The construction of religious identity in literature

Similar to traditional literature, the legitimacy of an authors message in a
work of prophetic literature is dependent upon claims to the sacred nature of
its origins. In order to understand how such claims are justi
fied, we must first
consider the construction of religious identity in traditional works of litera-
ture.
6 Regardless of its patronage by the temple, the majority of traditional
literature is not scriptural in origin. Individual stories frequently bear close
similarities to tales within the oral story-telling tradition, and it is not
uncommon to
find that the element of religious teaching within a given work
is relatively minimal, and even subservient to the role of the story as romance
and entertainment. However, regardless of either the origins and/or content
of individual tales, written literature is perceived by its audience as a source
of religious authority. The religious identity of literature is established both
through conventions in the composition of individual works, and the exist-
ence of that individual work within the larger tradition. The religious quality
that is attached to literature, much of which was inherent in the tradition in
Lan Na prior to its introduction into Lan Sang, is a product of both the
social context of its usage and the nature of the literary medium itself. As a
result of the central role of the temple in the patronage of the literature,
there are a number of factors in the recording, storage, and performance of
traditional literature that serve to establish its religious credentials, including:

The script in which literature is recorded; There are two types of scripts,
the Tham (literally,
dhamma) script, which is intended for the recording of religious works, and the Lao script, which is made use of for topic
matter that is more worldly in nature. In actuality, however, in many cases
the use of a given script denotes less the content of a given text than its
social use. Works in Tham are typically stored and performed inside the
temple, whereas writings recorded in Lao are kept and performed in
private homes. In the case of poetry, on the other hand, identical works
can be recorded in both scripts and made use of either in the context of
religious sermons or entertainment. The re-recording of a poem from
Lao into Tham can be referred to as
ordaining a book. In prose works,
however, which are generally composed in a form known as
Nitsay
(which shall be discussed in greater detail later in this section), the restric-
tions are greater, and they can only be recorded in Tham and are usually
stored inside of the temple.

  • Performers and performance; works recorded in the Tham script are
    typically performed within the temple by monks and novices. They are
    performed as a part of religious sermons, and events within the annual
    cycle known as
    Hit Sip Saung, which often have their own specific
    religious signi
    ficance.

  • Place of storage; literary works in Tham are generally stored in the
    temple inside of a library known as
    Hau Trai (Room of the Tripitaka

    ̇

  • Skills prerequisite to the creation, preservation, and consumption of
    literature; the major skills involved in the literary process are learned at
    the temple, including, for example, literacy, methods of transcription,
    chanting styles, etc.

  • The central role of kamma in the literary process; both the promise of
    positive
    kamma and the threat of negative kamma serve as major moti-
    vational factors behind the creation of literature, the donation of materials
    required for its creation, its performance, and participation as a part of
    its audience.

    As can be seen in many of the above points, the religious perception of
    the literature is based upon the patronage of the Buddhist temple, and the
    opportunities that the written medium allows for its control of literary pro-
    duction and consumption. In addition, the religious perception of literature
    is also a result of the limitations of the same medium, and obstacles in the
    distribution of literature that e
    ffectively prevent an individual from gaining
    a broad or thorough understanding of the tradition. Obstacles in gaining a
    thorough knowledge of literature include, for example, a) the time-intensive
    method of its circulation, in which the transcription of even a single manu-
    script can take months to complete, b) the impossibility of establishing the
    Scriptures), in which writings are not differentiated as being of scrip-
    tural or non-scriptural origin. (When works in Tham are occasionally
    found in private homes, they tend to be placed upon altars where sacred
    objects, such as Buddha images, are stored.)
    authorship of individual works and the date of their composition, c) difficul-
    ties in communications, which renders impossible any overview of the literary
    tradition as a whole, etc.
    7 These types of limitations have contributed to the
    Lao perception that literature was of mythical proportions and beyond the
    mastery of a single individual. It is perhaps not surprising that the religious
    identity of literature and the mythical proportions of the tradition came to
    be exploited for the bene
    fit of those who were knowledgeable (or perceived
    to be knowledgeable) in that tradition, and invested the works with an
    authority that was directly translatable into power. For this reason, access to
    literary works was not only limited by the nature of its medium and poor
    communications, but also intentionally restricted by both the temple, where
    the majority of the works were stored, and private owners of individual
    manuscripts.

An understanding of the religious identity of traditional literature pro-
vides an important foundation from which to approach the study of proph-
etic works of literature. As predictions of the future, a crucial concern of
such writing (to which composers devoted much of their text) was the estab-
lishment of its authority as religious discourse. We can observe that they
made use of many of the identical conventions as conventional literature in
their achievement of that objective. It is important to note the degree of
flexibility in the construction of literary works as religious texts, as clearly
illustrated in the use of the Tham script in the
ordinationof a work of
literature based upon intended social usage rather than actual content. This
type of
flexibility was instrumental in the legitimization of prophetic works.
Based upon available evidence, prophetic works of literature were primarily
stored in private homes rather than the temple.
8 Whereas it would not per-
haps have strictly been forbidden to keep such works in a temple, the type of
social commentary contained in their content, and particularly the direct
criticism of the state of the monkhood, meant that it would have been highly
unfeasible for them to have been performed by monks or even during the
type of communal occasions when literary works were customarily read.
Regardless of such restrictions, however, it is signi
ficant that their authors
insisted on composing the great majority of prophetic literature in the form
of
Nitsay prose, which can only be recorded in the religious Tham script that
is generally intended to be performed by monks in a temple.

Claims of unique origins

In general, individual works of traditional literature do not devote a lot of
space or e
ffort to the repetition of specific claims of sacred origin, which are
pretty well established through the conventions described in the previous
sections. In addition, claims to unique origins of individual works are not
attempted, as they would contradict the very foundation from which such
works claim their authority
as part of a larger tradition.

In contrast, a primary characteristic of prophetic works of literature is the
great emphasis on the sacred origins of a work, and the uniqueness of those
origins, which is repeatedly stated throughout the text. Prophetic works are
attributed to either the Buddha (in one example the Buddha together with
the Future Buddha, Phra Maitreya), Indra, or a combination of both.

In Pheun Meuang Krung, for example, the Buddha journeys to Southeast
Asia and makes a prophecy to his disciple A
̄ nanda, which is put into writing
by Lord Indra, whereas in
Kala Nap Meu Suay, the Buddha prophesies in
answer to a deity who asks him about the state of Buddhism after the
Buddha
s own enlightenment. In Tamnan Hin Taek (Chronicle of the Broken
Rock), the Buddha preaches to Phra Maitreya in response to the concerns
of a sacred hermit, and the text is subsequently attributed to both the pre-
sent and future Buddha. In
Kham Saun Phraya In (The Teachings of Lord
Indra),
Fa Samang Kham, and Nangseu Tok Jak Meuang In (Writing That
Has Fallen From the Land of Indra), the words are held to be speci
fically
composed by Indra.

In traditional Lao literature, we have already observed the use of the writ-
ten medium as a means through which to establish the sacred quality of the
content. This characteristic is especially developed in works of prophetic
literature in order to establish their unique origins. In
Tamnan Hin Taek, for
example, the work is uncovered by a farmer when he goes to his
fields and
discovers that a bolt of lightening has struck a great boulder, revealing writ-
ing that is miraculously inscribed on its inside. He is unable to make sense of
the writing, which is later interpreted by a noble of high-ranking position,
who states:
The content is truly profound. . . . The writing on that stone is
not composed by ordinary human beings. . . . It is likely that it has been
inscribed and brought down by deities, and encountered by us as a result of
our great merit
(Niyom Suphawit 1989: 4). In Pheun Meuang Krung and Fa
Samang Kham
, the manuscript is described as being brought down by Indra
in a golden container. The signi
ficance of the medium in the establishment of
the miraculous nature of the texts can be seen in the fact that it serves as the
title of some of the works, such as
Tamnan Hin Taek (Chronicle of the
Broken Rock
i.e. where the writing is inscribed), and Nangseu Tok Jak
Meuang In
(Writing That Has Fallen From the Land of Indra). Note that
the word
nangseu(writingor book) is not commonly used in the title of
literary works. Whereas composers of prophetic literature make use of tradi-
tional conventions in the construction of their sacred identity, the extent to
which they attempt to establish their unique and powerful origin indicates
that in comparison to traditional literature there is a greater sense of insecur-
ity concerning the level of acceptability of such works among their intended
audience. Whereas the reasons behind this insecurity will be discussed at
greater length later in this essay, it is su
fficient to say that in the construc-
tion of what are essentially
undergroundreligious works that are largely
performed exclusively outside of the temple, there is a need to authenticate
the content in a manner that would not be necessary for works composed
directly under religious patronage.

Types of specific teachings and karmic enforcement

In terms of instructions as to how an audience is specifically told to act,
traditional and prophetic works of literature are in many ways remarkably
similar, re
flective of the popular practice of Buddhism in Southeast Asia.
Audiences are repeatedly exhorted to a) follow the Five Precepts, b) pay
respect to the Triple Gems, c) give support to the monkhood, etc. At the
same time, people are taught established codes of behaviour in the inter-
action between di
fferent individuals and groups of people in society (such
as relationships between children/parents, students/teachers, subjects/rulers,
etc.), which are all placed within the context of Buddhism.

Whereas there is great similarity in the nature of their basic teaching,
there is also a major di
fference between traditional and prophetic works
of literature in the way in which such teaching is taught. On a fundamental
level, both forms of literature place their teaching within the larger frame-
work of
kamma, through which the audience will be rewarded and/or pun-
ished in terms of the level of their conformance to the wishes of their
authors. The exact use of
kamma, however, differs considerably between the
two groups of works. In traditional literature, proper patterns of behaviour
are largely taught indirectly through the stories that are told. It is also not
uncommon for an author to insert an occasional remark directly aimed at
the audience in which they are told to observe the Five Precepts, support
the temple, etc., for which they will reap the positive consequences of their
kamma. In prophetic works, the use of kamma differs in a) the great frequency
of direct demands upon the behaviour of the audience, and b) the consis-
tently intimidating nature of the threat of karmic punishment by which
it is enforced. In prophetic works, large portions of the texts are devoted to
the depiction of various types of human su
ffering in the immediate and not
so immediate future, such as war, starvation, separation of families, the
abandonment of entire villages, etc., which doubtlessly re
flect the social
circumstances of the time of their composition. In addition, however, the
author appears to dwell on the morbid details of the punishments, as in
if
you sit you will die, if you lay down you will die, you will cough up blood
and die, you will die from a variety of diseases, you will have head aches,
blurry eyes, animals will kill, eat, and bite you
,9 you will die by scorpion
bites, tiger bites, centipede bites, snake bites
,10 etc. The authors state consist-
ently that the only way in which such su
ffering can be avoided is to act in
conformance with the morality set forth in the text. On one level, there is a
de
finite connection between the claims of the unique, and uniquely powerful,
origin of the texts, and the power that is made use of to coerce the audience
into acquiescence to their demands.

The increased role of coercive power in prophetic literature is illustrated
in a shift in emphasis from the Buddha to the Lord Indra. In traditional Lao
literature, the Lord Indra is primarily made use of as a deity of great power
who intervenes in our world on behalf of the Buddha and the Buddhist
religion. Whereas he is clearly subservient to the Buddha, he is also seen as a
representation of sheer power in a manner that would be impossible to be
attributed to the Buddha, a characteristic that is evident in traditional litera-
ture, and particularly comes to the foreground in prophetic works.
11 Whereas
a composer would hesitate to present a picture of the Buddha as a great
destructive force wreaking havoc on mankind, Indra
as a symbol of power
in the service of the greater good
is portrayed in works of prophetic litera-
ture as committing (or ordering) deadly attacks on thousands or millions of
humans who are labelled as sinners. It is in this role as an enforcer and
powerful agent of righteous anger that Indra becomes such an important
figure in (and frequently the attributed author of) prophetic literature, in
which he is the central actor, and the Buddha is relegated to the background
as the necessary justi
fication behind his violent actions. Indra, for example,
as the author of the widespread prophetic work
Kham Saun Phraya In,
warns his audience:
If you do not follow the customary conventions, I per-
sonally will smash your head into seven pieces with a heavy piece of metal
,
a statement that would be di
fficult to place into the mouth of an enlightened
being. In
Tamnan Hin Taek the Lord Indra recognizes that human beings
have grown immoral, and no longer act in accordance with the Buddha
s
teachings. He therefore devises a strategy to resolve the situation, which
involves ordering his subordinates to kill sinners, consisting of the majority
of mankind. Similar to the relationship between the Buddha and the Lord
Indra is the relationship between the Man of Merit (sometimes stated to be
Phra Maitreya), and the various non-human entities such as guardian deities
(
rakkha) and local spirits (phi). In Pheun Meuang Krung for example, the
arrival of the Meritorious One and the dawning of a new age on earth is
preceded by the arrival of vast numbers of these creatures, who appear on
earth in order to destroy the multitudes of immoral humans who are not
fit to take part in such an age. Despite the emphasis on righteous and
extreme violence, however, on certain occasions, the authors feel the need
to legitimize it in the context of Buddhist teaching. In
Tamnan Hin Taek,
Chatulok is sent down to earth by the Lord Indra for the express purpose of
taking all sinners. When he is asked by the very same Lord Indra why so
many people have died, his answer is:
No one caused their deaths. It is the
result of their own
kamma(Niyom Suphawit 1989: 8) . In a similar fashion,
when, in
Pheun Meuang Krung, the Buddha is asked by a disciple why
enlightened beings do not save mankind from the disasters that befall them,
his answer is that it is impossible as a result of the immorality of the humans,
who cannot escape their
kamma.

For all the horrendous display of power by the authors of prophetic works of literature, the precarious nature of that power is clearly illustrated by the
extent of the e
ffort they find it necessary to exert merely in order to compel
their audience to believe in their words, a belief that the authors of traditional
literature would have simply taken for granted. If the audience accepts the
contents of prophetic works as the truth, they will escape a variety of dan-
gers described in the authors
prophecies, they will see the Future Buddha or
Man of Merit, etc. To the contrary, if they do not, they will cough up blood
and die, all members of the household will die, they will never see the Man of
Merit, etc. In
Tamnan Hin Taek, for example, the author writes: There once
was a person who did not believe in these sacred teachings . . . He said:
I
do not believe . . .
Not long after he said this all three members of his
household died. None were left. For that reason, everyone should believe

(ibid.: 9). In addition to coercing an audience into accepting the truth of
their writings, the authors of prophetic works of literature also provide an
equal amount of incentive in order to ensure their writings
wide distribu-
tion. The audience is instructed both to keep prophetic works of literature in
their homes and distribute them to others. They are warned that
phi will
travel to each house to destroy sinners, sparing only those households that
have prophetic works in their possession. If, however, one is to keep proph-
etic literature to oneself and make no attempt to circulate its content, the
inevitable result will be
great troubleand ultimately death. This type
of negative reinforcement is not commonly found in traditional works of
literature.

The prescribed handling of the text

We have observed that kamma provides a fundamental motivational factor
in the promotion of all aspects of the literary cycle, including the creation,
preservation, performance, and consumption of literary works. The tran-
scription, donation of materials necessary to the transcription, performance,
participation as an audience, etc. all have very speci
fic amounts of kamma
(and specified rewards) to serve as incentive towards the continuation of the
tradition. In addition, manuscripts not uncommonly describe the respectful
manner in which they must be treated as a result of their sacred origins. In
certain stories, for example, the audience is told that the texts must be coated
with gold, held at a proper height, formally shown respect with an o
ffering of
flowers and incense, not performed on certain occasions, etc.12 Specific
instructions regarding the treatment of prophetic manuscripts do not sub-
stantially di
ffer from those of other types of literature. However, there is a
greater emphasis that is placed on the importance of the respectful treatment
of manuscripts as a whole, which
fits in with the general thesis that their
authors are more insecure concerning the acceptance of their writings
among their intended audience. Whereas in traditional literature instruction
concerning the treatment of manuscripts generally occurs exclusively at
the end (or at times beginning) of a text, in prophetic writings similar
instructions occur consistently throughout. In addition, there is also a greater
extent to which the threat of bad
kamma is stated in relationship to the
improper treatment of the manuscript, which is equal to, if not exceeding,
threats for failure to follow the Five Precepts, the Triple Gems, etc.

Social and political commentary contained in literary works

In our examination of social and political commentary in prophetic works of
literature, we
first need to address a question that becomes apparent from the
previous sections: if the major objective of their composers is simply to ask
an audience to follow patterns of behaviour that have commonly been taught
in works of literature and religious sermons for centuries, why do they feel
the need to make so much e
ffort both to a) establish the unique and powerful
origins of their works as a source of religious authority, and b) intimidate
through such a persistent threat of such extreme forms of punishment? In
answering this question, we must take into account a distinction between the
context in which such teaching is presented in traditional and prophetic
works of literature, and the extra meaning that it thereby comes to take on
in the latter type. In traditional literature, the basic teachings (such as the
following of the precepts, etc.) are presented as if normal practice that is
logically followed by people in the
world, a worldthat literature is made
use of to preserve. People who fail to follow such practices are exceptions
rather than the norm, and their behaviour is eventually corrected (through
their death or otherwise), and the norm preserved. The
worldof prophetic
literature, however, is a
worldthat has very much changed, in which failure
to act in accordance with traditional conventions has become the norm.
As a result, exhortations for people to follow basic teachings, such as the
observance of the Five Precepts, etc., take on a social signi
ficance as a
condemnation not only of individuals but also an abnormal world, in which
normaland logicalpractices are no longer observed.14 This extra meaning
can be seen in the fact that such teachings are by and large expressed a)
negatively as threats and admonishments rather than more neutrally, as is
generally the case in traditional literature, and b) within the larger context of
social and/or political statements concerning society as a whole. Commentary
of this nature in prophetic works is expressed as very speci
fic criticism
directed at the actions of three di
fferent groups of people: a) political author-
ities (including kings, nobles, and government o
fficials), b) the Buddhist
temple, and c) the general population.

Social and political commentary is not unique to prophetic works, but
also exists within the content of traditional literary works. It is common,
for example, to
find stories that depict an evil king, who as a result of his
misdeeds is eventually driven from his throne. In this type of story (as
illustrated, for example, by
Thao Kamphra Kai Kiaew, Suphrom Mokkha, etc.), however, the conclusion ultimately serves to reaffirm the legitimacy
of the institution, which through the law of
kamma possesses a self-
correcting mechanism to protect it from abuse. It is far less common to
find
criticism of the monkhood (which as far as I know consists of nothing
more than humorous depictions of mischievous novices).
15 This should not
be surprising considering the central role that the temple plays in literary
production.

In contrast to traditional literature, both the specific types of criticism that
are contained in prophetic literature and their objectives are considerably
di
fferent in nature. Rather than providing an example of the corruption of
an individual within an institution and its ultimate
correction, prophetic
works portray the state of the institutions themselves as being corrupt, and
lacking a self-correcting mechanism (at least in the foreseeable future), in
which such corruption can properly be addressed. Indeed, as repeatedly
stated throughout the works, the decline of the institutions is a normal (if
regrettable) state of a
ffairs, as a result of the late stage of the Buddhist era,
as a
ffirmed by none other than the Buddha himself.

In order to understand the logic of social and political commentary that
is the subject of prophetic works of literature, let us brie
fly consider the
criticism of political authorities and the Buddhist temple that is contained
in their content. A commonly found criticism of political authorities is that
the monarchy, nobles, and government o
fficials have no legitimacy in their
rule as a result of the fact that the government of Siam has appointed
commoners to administrative positions that customarily should be
filled by
those of noble blood. In
Pheun Meuang Krung, for example, the suffering of
the Lao and other groups under Siamese domination is declared inevitable,
as the Siamese royalty have been descended from common stock since the fall
of Ayutthaya. Prophetic works also condemn speci
fic actions of kings and
government o
fficials, the barbarity of which is often blamed on their low
birth. Examples include corruption, favouring rich people in legal cases,
excessive taxation, and extortion of money from poor villagers. Criticism
of the low birth of high o
fficials is also typically expressed through the use
of symbolism, including, for example,
wolves becoming royal lions, evil
people riding beautiful elephants
, golden swans bowing down to black
crows
, etc.16 In its criticism of religious institutions, prophetic literature
frequently portrays monks as being lazy, having no interest in Buddhist
studies, and failing to observe rules of monastic discipline. In addition, they
are condemned for greed, and their desire to engage in commercial pursuits.
In
Kham Saun Phanya In, the author declares that monks nowadays are
similar to
rotten fish wrapped up in banana leaves.

In the context of this type of social commentary, it may be tempting to
approach prophetic literature from a modern perspective as a form of secular
writing in which the primary signi
ficance of religious expression is in the
legitimacy that it confers on political incitement aimed at contesting the
powers that be. To the contrary, however, in the context of the society in
which the works were originally composed, it is less appropriate to consider
the use of religious commentary as a means through which to express a
political message than to understand the use of political commentary as part
of a larger message that is essentially religious in nature. Whereas the criti-
cism of worldly institutions is in one sense political, its cause, meaning, and
ultimate solution is envisioned entirely within the religious context of a
traditional Lao world-view.

In analysing the religious dimension of social commentary in prophetic
works of literature, let us return again to our previous observation that in
works devoted to the future, it is signi
ficant to find such a preoccupation with
the past. A primary objective of prophetic works is an aggressive insistence
in the continued authority of that past, the relevance of which is not in
spite of the changes of the present but precisely because of them. One major
importance of the past is its role as a vehicle through which meaning is given
to the seemingly meaningless turmoil that engulfed Laos and Northeastern
Thailand in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As such, psycho-
logically, it provides an important source of reassurance to people who are
uprooted, whether physically through war and political instability, or mentally
as a result of the insecurity of the times. Buddhist prophecy has a lot to say
about the abnormal state of the present; it was not necessary to go outside
the framework of Lao traditional culture to be given sense and meaning. As
the nature of the changes were clearly against the interests of the people who
produced the literature, it is not surprising that there is no ambiguity in the
meaning of the change according Buddhist prophecy. It is
immoral,
abnormal, and evil, and yet at the same time part of the natural course of
events, which will in the end (if in a time frame that may well be beyond the
life of the composers and their audience) only serve to rea
ffirm the authority
of the past. After all, whereas on a super
ficial level it may appear that the
Lao are powerless against the Siamese and/or French authorities, ultimately
these foreigners have been created by
and are forced to act in accordance to
Lao traditional culture, a culture that dictates their present appearance,
judges their actions as immoral, and eventually will see them destroyed,
together with the Lao people who are foolish and ill-advised enough to
support them.

A second important role of the past in prophetic literature is as a compass
that dictates the way in which people must navigate through the uncertainty
of the present. The present and future depicted in prophetic texts is a world
of great danger,
filled with suffering and death. It is only through the con-
formance to the traditional cultural practices of the past (as represented by
the observance of the Five Precepts, respect of one
s elders, etc.) that one can
circumvent the types of dangers that are so heavily advertised in the texts.
Never is there a suggestion that the su
ffering that is brought about by the
social change of the period (inclusive of government oppression, war, etc.)
can be overcome through a solution that is either political or military in
nature. Rather, the only solution is moral, which requires a restoration of
the moral and orderly
worldof the past. Whereas one cannot deny the
pessimist perspective of such writings (which is re
flective both of the times in
which they were written and the conventions of Buddhist prophecy), it is
noteworthy that many of the prophecies do in fact end with a restoration of
order either a) with the arrival of Phra Maitreya in the distant future, or b) a
Man of Great Merit (occasionally also referred to as Phra Maitreya), who
will appear within the lifetime of the audience. An individual
s ability to
escape the turmoil of the present is largely determined by his or her ability
to come into contact with the Man of Merit in this lifetime or Phra Maitreya
in a future one, which can only be achieved through the conformance of
one
s behaviour to traditional convention, through which positive kamma
will be generated to spare one from punishment.

In addition to its preoccupation with the past, a further illustration of
the religious dimension of social commentary in prophetic works can be
seen by the fact that the majority of criticism is directed neither at political
nor religious authorities, but rather the general public. Whereas the improper
deeds of the government and the temple result in the su
ffering of the com-
mon people, it is ultimately their own weak morality that is the cause of
their punishment. As stated consistently by the composers of such works,
human su
ffering in the late stage of the Buddhist era is the result of the
failure of the public to act in accordance with the
compassof tradition,
whether that su
ffering is to be inflicted by non-human entities or government
agencies.

In many ways, prophetic writing can be interpreted as a tradition of
underground religious literature in Lao society, rooted in two seeming con-
tradictions: a) the essence through which it makes sense of the world and
legitimizes that sense is religious in nature, and yet it appears to have been
excluded from public performance inside of the temple, and b) a major
motivation in its composition is the preservation of the major institutions
of society, and yet according to its authors, such a conservative goal can only
be achieved through radical change. Such contradictions, however, do not
represent a major shift in the world-view of its composers or their concept of
literature and what it was intended to accomplish in society, but rather the
state of the times, in which the preservation of the traditional world was no
longer synonymous with the upholding of the status quo.

Part Two: Lao prophetic works of literature from the
mid-twentieth century onwards

By the mid-twentieth century, the Lao culture of Northeast Thailand, and
to a lesser extent Laos, had changed radically from a half a century earlier.
This type of change is aptly illustrated in the interpretation of the Lao and
Northeast Thai of their own literary tradition from this period onwards.
Typically, in the transformation in the social use of traditional Lao literature,
one initially
finds an attempt to maintain the relevance of literature through
the use of older literary forms in the communication of modern concerns,
and subsequently the use of older works of literature as cultural artefacts
that are used to represent the past in a way that is meaningful to the present.
18
One finds a similar pattern in the twentieth century use of prophetic litera-
ture. In this section, we will consider three examples of the modern use of
prophetic literature, including a) the composition of
Panha Tamnai Lok
(Riddles of Buddhist Prophecy), in Northeast Thailand in the mid-twentieth
century, b) interpretations of
Kala Nap Meu Suay, a prophetic work of
literature from the nineteenth or early twentieth century, and c) the inter-
pretation of
Kala Nap Meu Suay and its adaptation in the song-writing of a
political band of the 1970s from Northeast Thailand known as Caravan.

Panha Thamnai Lok (Riddles of Buddhist Prophecy)

Ironically, the very centres of modernization that were so rapidly to destroy
traditional literature were also to play an important role in its preservation.
However, the circumstances of that preservation were inevitably to have a
profound e
ffect on how literature was to be preserved and changed in the
process. By the mid-twentieth century, the continued survival of traditional
literature in Northeast Thailand was dependent to a large degree not upon
the Buddhist temple in rural communities, but rather printing houses, mostly
run by Chinese in the larger towns. These presses helped to maintain the
relevance of literature through a) cheap mass production made possible by
the introduction and spread of printing technology, and b) their transcrip-
tion in the Thai script (but not language), as newer generations of Lao
speakers were no longer educated in the scripts in which traditional litera-
ture had been recorded. Whereas these printed works could be made use
of in temples, by and large they served as entertainment to be read individu-
ally or performed together with music.
Panha Tamnai Lok (Riddles of
World Prophecy), by A. Kawiwong, is a work of prophecy that was pub-
lished in 1959 by a small publishing house in Khon Khaen, Northeast
Thailand.
19

Panha Tamnai Lok is written in the form of Buddhist prophecy. It is
composed as a series of inter-related riddles, ambiguous in nature, each of
which is answered at length to explain the state of our world in the future.
The style of the work is reminiscent of the well-known prophetic work
Khwam Fan Phanya Patsen (The Dreams of Phanya Patsen), upon which the
work is likely to have been based.
20 In addition to its style, there are a number
of basic aspects of the work that show the in
fluence of traditional Buddhist
prophecy, including, for example: a) the claims to the sacred origin of the
riddles that comprise its context, which are stated to have been formulated by
Shiva, b) the negative assessment of the future, which includes both criticism
of the general population (in a similar manner to the prophetic works of
at least half a century earlier) and political institutions, and c) statements
concerning the role of Phra Maitreya in the alleviation of the abnormal
state of the world. At the same time, however, there are also a number of
important aspects to this work that indicate that the intention of the author
is not to make sense of social change through a traditional Buddhist world-
view, but rather simply to make use of that world-view as a conventional
means with which to construct a statement that is essentially political in
nature. As a result, one can observe serious tensions, and ultimately contra-
dictions, between the political message that the author intends to convey
to his audience and the religious framework that is made use of in its
presentation.

The shift in the use of prophetic literature from the past can be seen in
a number of statements that clearly illustrate that the author does not
share the traditional religious view of the world from which early works
of prophecy were generated and given meaning. As a major objective of
earlier prophetic works was to
find meaning in social change, Panha Tamnai
Lok
, in its introduction is somewhat similarly claimed by its author to be of
interest to its audience as an explanation of why revolutions are a common
occurrence throughout the world. However, whereas works of prophecy
through the early twentieth century legitimize their prophecy through the
sanctity of their religious origins, the primary means through which the
author of
Panha Tamnai Lok provides justification for his composition to
a new generation that has been educated in secular government schooling
is with the writings of H. G. Wells, as explained in its introduction. As the
Thai increasingly turned to the west rather than the temple for guidance,
the foreboding state of the world depicted in works of western
fiction rather
than scriptural sources provided important evidence that the destructive
state of the world and its future should be accepted as a universal and
universally recognized phenomenon.

The shift in the world-view of the author is illustrated rather dramatically
in his refutation of two of the fundamental principles of prophetic literature:
a) the assertion that the abnormal state of the world is the result of the late
stage of the Buddhist era, and b) the belief in the coming of Phra Maitreya,
and the hope for salvation. First, the author declares that the world has
always been in the same miserable state and always will be up until the time
of its
final destruction. Second, in a manner somewhat surprising for a work
of Buddhist prophecy, in the beginning of the work, in the interpretation of
the
first riddle, the author appears to make fun of peoples belief in the
coming of the Future Buddha, as follows:

Riddle Number One: Oh Stork, Why do you not make noise?
Reply of the Stork: Because the fish do not come out

In the authors explanation, he writes: . . . the reason that the stork does
not make noise, people are waiting for Phra Maitreya, the Man of Great
Merit, to come down. Everybody is waiting for the Man of Merit to come
to help. They can wait forever and they will never see him.
The above two
statements are noteworthy not only in their disagreement with the very
principles which form the foundations of prophetic literature, but also the
fact that each is contradicted in the passage by which it is immediately
followed. After stating that the world will always be in the same degraded
state until the
final day of its destruction, the author briefly describes the
dawning of a new and better age heralded in by the arrival of Phra Maitreya.
In a similar fashion, after he warns people that they will never see Phra
Maitreya, no matter how long they wait, he once again describes the future
arrival of Phra Maitreya on earth. In each of these two instances (which
are the only references to Phra Maitreya in the entire text), we can observe
that the author has no desire either to convey the message that the su
ffering
of mankind is the result of the late stage of the Buddhist era, or that it
is redeemable through a religious solution. He appears obliged to make his
prophetic work conclude in the way that prophetic works are supposed to
conclude, but at the same time is not willing to have his work retain the
meaning that is ultimately inherent in that conclusion. Perhaps not surpris-
ingly for a composition that is stated to explain the reason behind
revolutions
throughout the world
, it appears to be the opinion of the author that only a
fool would believe in a mystical solution to a problem that is essentially
political in nature.

The political orientation of the author is clearly observable in the inter-
pretation of individual riddles, of which eight out of a total of twelve are
explained as an indictment of political institutions, whereas the other four
serve as descriptions of the general immorality of the population. The polit-
ical criticism that is contained in the work is essentially no di
fferent than that
addressed by social critics in Bangkok during this period (many of whom at
this point of history would have been in Lat Yao prison), other than in the
style of its presentation. The government is accused of being corrupt, out-
wardly speaking of its desire to develop the country but in actual fact using
its resources to enrich itself. Through excessive taxation and other means, it
is said to extort money out of a public that is already desperately poor. The
soldiers are declared to have too much power, and yet the public, fearful of
punishment, is afraid to speak. Two further examples illustrate the use of
prophetic imagery in the expression of a modern political message:

1. Riddle Number Five: Oh Owner of the Cows, why do you not
free your animals (to graze)?

Reply of the Owner of the Cows: I have an upset stomach

According to the interpretation, the owner of the cow, representative of the government of Thailand, does not allow its people to have freedom. The
government claims that

it is ruling over the entire country in a new and civilized fashion
known as democracy. In a democracy, when the public agrees
(with a speci
fic policy) they give their opinion and act in accord-
ance with that opinion. This is what they have announced to the
public. But afterwards their declarations did not turn out to be
true. We, the Thai public, are truly fed up, and yet if anyone
makes a brave and frank statement concerning our frustration,
death will be the only result. The o
fficials carefully observe those
who are brave enough to speak. They are then able to tie them up
and kill them.

(Panha Tamnai Lok: 1011)
2. Riddle Number Eleven:
Oh Frogs, Why do you cry so?

Reply of the Frogs: We cry because we are being chased by a snake

According to the interpretation, the frogs, symbolizing the people of Thailand,
are in great turmoil, because the
snake(i.e. the Thai government) suppresses
and extorts money from them. According to the author,

Each administration is the same. We, the public, are the ones that put
them in power because we wish to be able to rely upon them to help
us when we are destitute . . . However, the moment they are in power
they forget all about the public. They do not turn to look at our tears.
We cannot depend upon them. The new administration is absolutely
no di
fferent.

(Panha Tamnai Lok: 16)

What is remarkable about the political criticism that is contained in Panha
Tamnai Lok
is less the style of the criticism (which is after all based upon
traditional conventions in the expression of worldly a
ffairs) or its content
(which arguably is a fairly straightforward assessment of Thai political dicta-
torships of the 1950s) than the very fact that it was published and circulated
in such a climate. Were similar sentiment to be expressed in other forms, such
as political commentary in the columns of a newspaper, or even short stories
or novels, they would not have seen the light of print, and it is not improb-
able that their authors would serve some time in prison. However, as a result
of its publication in small regional publishing houses in the Lao language in
the form of Buddhist prophecy composed in poetry, it was easier for such
writing to escape detection. Ironically, however, the very form that served to
hide the literature from hostile authorities was also of use in providing it
with a wide circulation. First, whereas a small minority of Northeastern
Thai would have been receptive to modern styles of writing composed in the
Thai language, there was a large audience of works composed in traditional
forms in the Lao language, as testi
fied by the success of regional publishing
houses during this period. Second, in contrast to modern prose, traditional
poetry such as prophetic works was not read silently by individuals, but
rather the subject of public performance.

Kala Nap Meu Suay

One of the few works of prophetic literature that is composed in poetic
form, this has been the subject of a variety of interpretations in Northeast
Thailand and Laos. Among works of prophetic literature, it is one of the
most open to creative interpretation, as it consists of a sequence of ambigu-
ous imagery depicting the world in disarray, with little in the way of speci
fic
commentary.

In one interpretation, imagery of the poem serves as propaganda in sup-
port of the communist revolution in Laos. The imagery is analysed as a
depiction of the corrupt state of Laos under the Royal Lao Government,
and its recti
fication through revolution. Interestingly, the version of this
interpretation that I have access to is in
Phaya, a publication by Bunkeut
Phimawonmethakun, the Chair of the Cultural Council of the province of
Khon Kaen in Thailand, published by a small press in the province in 1996.
The pro-communist sentiments of the interpretation (not to mention the
communist terminology used in its expression) is probably explainable less in
terms of the subversive tendencies of the Chair of the Khon Kaen Cultural
Council than his predilection for plagiarism.
22 Here imagery that was origin-
ally composed as a symbolic description of the chaotic state of Lao and
Northeast Thai society in the nineteenth century is converted into a con-
demnation of the state of Laos under the Royal Lao Government. For
example, the poem reads:

Frogs cried out, intending to read verse
Poisonous snakes and sea serpents grow fearful

According to the interpretation, in the rottensociety of pre-communist
Laos, immoral people have great power, and people of morality grow fear-
ful.
23 In this type of society, the obstacles to revolution are considerable, as
can be seen in the interpretation of the following image:

The jackals howl at the elephant; How funny!

According to the interpreters, the capitalists and imperialists, who are a small
minority of the nation
s population, will threaten and throw up obstacles in
the face of the masses in order to prevent any substantial change in society.

The success of the revolution is assured, however, as can be seen in the
following lines:

The earthworm will know how to fly in the sky;
Great boulders will rise above the water and
float

According to the interpreters, the great masses, which consist of laborers,
farmers, and the poor, who have been oppressed by the capitalists and
imperialists, will be freed from their oppression, and rise up to build a new
scienti
fic society in which everyone will have equal dignity as human beings.

A second interpretation is presented in the work Kala Nap Meu Suay by
Sawing Bunjeum, published in a small printing house in Ubon province,
Northeast Thailand, that is owned by the author. Sawing
s book is a tran-
scription of several related poems, the content of which are explained in an
extensive series of footnotes. It is worthy of note that the footnotes to
Kala
Nap Meu Suay
frequently occupy more space within a given page than the
text of the poem itself. Similar to the previous interpretation of the verse,
Sawing
s commentary appears to be more the expression of the authors
dissatisfaction with the state of contemporary society than a key to an
understanding of the verse. The creative interpretative style can be seen in
the following examples:

1. Wise men fill up the great rivers, until (their water) is lacking and
dried

According to the interpreter, There are people with doctorate degrees all
over. But the public gets no knowledge out of them at all
(Sawing Bunjeum
n.d.: 128).

2. The mortar will distance itself from the paddy, with which it has
become bored The bamboo basket
filled with weaving shuttles will grow bored of
women
s dresses and the spinning wheel

According to the interpretation, people will turn their back on their own
culture
(ibid., 130)

3. Small chickens cry, asking to drink the milk of the crow
Puppies will cry, asking to drink the milk of the tiger

The interpreter writes: Villagers will ask for money from people who are
campaigning for positions as government representatives, who will swallow
them whole as chickens are eaten by crows and puppies are devoured by
tigers
(ibid. 131).

The specific interpretation of imagery within Kala Nap Meu Suay by
Sawing Bunjeum and his understanding of the world is the product of a
cultural and political environment that is quite far removed from the period
of time in which prophetic works originated. At the same time, however, it
would be di
fficult to deny that there is a similarity between Sawing and the
authors and audiences of the works that he interprets in the way that they
both manipulate ambiguous imagery in the presentation of a critical assess-
ment of the status quo. Similar to the people who are likely to have authored
Buddhist prophecy in earlier times, Sawing is a man who spent many years
in the monkhood and received a high level of religious education. On one
level, considering the type of criticism that the author is fond of expressing
concerning both the government and the state of the monkhood, is it not a
little ironic that: (a) funding for the book was made possible through the help
of an abbot of the Thammayut sect who is the administrative head of the
tenth religious district in Northeast Thailand; and (b) an introduction to the
work, praising the author, was written by a civil servant of high rank who in
the past had arranged for the author to further his religious studies in India?
As in earlier times, therefore, the social commentary of Sawing Bunjeum
is given a certain degree of legitimacy and authority through the religious
context of its expression and the religious credentials of its author.

Caravan

The band Caravan was formed in the early 1970s by a group of people from
Northeast Thailand to create left-wing political music, and was in
fluential as
part of the student movement that led to the overthrow of the dictatorial
government of Thailand in 1973, and later as members of the underground
Communist Party of Thailand. As the poorest region of the country, North-
east Thailand came to be emblematic of political and economic injustice in
Thailand. The political message of the music of Caravan, therefore, was not
only in the words that they wrote, but also their self-conscious identi
fication
with the region from which they originated. In the construction of their
identity, Caravan made use of regional language (Lao and Khmer), com-
posed songs in regional musical forms as performed on regional instruments,
and adapted passages from regional literature, including the prophetic work
Kala Nap Meu Suay. A small passage from the poem is included as part of
their song
Pla Nauy Kin Pla Yai (Little Fish Eats Big Fish), as follows:

The amazing shrimp join together and eat the giant catfish
The small
siwfish swallow the crocodiles, that flee to hide in rock
fissures

According to an explanation of the songs content in a book of music pro-
duced by the band, the above verse was originally composed by a Northeastern
Thai poet during the time of the millenarian uprisings.26 The revolt of
the masses (against their oppressors)
, write the authors of the book, is
comparable to the small
fish (in this poem, which must necessarily rise up in
rebellion) as long as the fearful giant cat
fish and crocodiles are to act in a
wild manner, comparable to the criminals who govern our country.
27 In
the context of the actual poem, however (together with similar imagery by
which it is both preceded and followed), the above imagery is more likely an
expression of criticism of the topsy-turvy state of the world in which people
lacking in noble descent are allowed to take part in the governing of their
country, which goes against all established tradition.

In conclusion, a comparative study of modern and pre-modern works of
Lao prophetic literature illustrates the historical, cultural, and literary
dimensions of the
meaningof the future as prophesied in the past. On one
level, this article is intended to show the richness of the body of Lao proph-
etic literature (which in itself is a part of a greater inter-related mainland
Southeast Asian tradition) as a source that is highly valuable in its potential
to deepen our understanding of the region. On a larger level, Lao prophetic
literature is only one piece in a much larger puzzle, and it is hoped that one
day the great wealth of literary documents in existence will be collected and
play their proper role in the construction of a broader cultural history of
Laos and Northeast Thailand.

Notes

  1. 1  A comparative study of these traditions (and particularly that of Lanna) would
    shed valuable light on the Lao tradition. One important work of prophetic
    literature found in Laos,
    Kham Saun Phraya In, makes several references to
    geographical locations and historical (or mythical?)
    figures of Lan Na, and is
    likely to be of Tai Yuan origin.

  2. 2  The brief description of Lao religious literature in the context of the history of the
    kingdom of Lan Sang and its aftermath that follows is summarized from Koret
    (1994).

  3. 3  See the appendix to Koret (1994).

  4. 4  We can observe this type of sentiment also in the related work Leup Phasun – ‘The extinguishing of the sun (light)(a poem probably composed in the mid-nineteenth
    century which has much in common with prophetic works), in which the author
    deliberately writes in a unique style that is disorienting to its audience. He presents
    himself (seemingly self-depreciatingly) as a religious teacher who has strayed from
    the proper
    Vinaya discipline in his conduct, while at the same time saying that he
    has a
    reasonfor doing so.

  5. 5  Note that among the Lao, Buddhist prophecy is not unique to the nineteenth and
    twentieth centuries, but has also been a topic addressed in literary works that are
    probably far earlier in their date of origin. Works of Lao prophetic literature of
    the nineteenth and twentieth centuries can be considered to belong to one speci
    fic
    category, however, because they each share a number of similar characteristics
    that are not commonly found in other works, including, for example, the use of
    Buddhist prophecy as a) the primary subject matter of the texts, and b) a means
    towards a similar objective, i.e. as a type of expression through which to come to
    terms with the social and political turmoil of the time of their composition. In
    addition, writings within this category make use of a variety of similar conven-
    tions ranging from the type of origins that are claimed by their authors to the use
    of a speci
    fic set of imagery and phrasing. The extent of such similarity indicates
    that in many cases individual texts were composed by people who were familiar
    with other works within the same tradition.

  1. 6  For more detailed discussion, see Peter Koret Why Love Poetry is Sold in Shops
    Selling Religious Paraphernalia: Religion and Romance in the Literary Traditions
    of the Lao
    ’ – unpublished paper delivered at National University of Singapore
    Conference on Laos, January 2004.

  2. 7  A more complete discussion of this type of limitation in the understanding of
    literature can be found in Koret (1999).

  3. 8  Based upon personal research.

  4. 9  Kham Saun Phanya In, p: 7.

  5. 10  Tamnan Hin Taek.

  6. 11  In the context of traditional literature, this can also be seen in comparisons of the Lan Na and Lan Sang versions of Thao Khatthanam. In the Lan Na versions,
    the hero, who is a model of righteous behaviour, is described as the
    bodhisattva,
    and his father is the father of the Buddha, whereas in Lao versions, in which his
    power and romantic appeal takes precedence over his position as a religious role
    model, his father is the Lord Indra.

  7. 12  The latter prohibition frequently refers to the performance of literature after
    childbirth, which, although popular, can be considered improper.

  8. 13  Often there is a connection made between the two, and lack of respect given to the
    manuscript is speci
    fically stated to be the result of its offence to Buddhism.

  9. 14  This does not mean to imply that on a day-to-day basis people were any less
    observant of Buddhist teachings than they had been in the past. However, this
    type of religious admonition was central to the framework in which the chaotic
    state of the world and the era was given meaning.

  10. 15  Note that oral literature goes much further in this regard.

  11. 16  Quoted from Phon Phanao Temple Research Center (1968) Kala Nap Meu

    Suay (Vientiane: Phon Phanao Temple); Phon Phanao Temple Research Center
    (1968)
    Kap Kham Saun Phra Muni (Vientiane: Phon Phanao Temple [also pub-
    lished as Ariyanuwat, Dr Phra])
    Kap Phra Muni (1990) (Maha Sarakham: Apichat
    Publishing House); and
    Kap Vithun Bantit (Versified Teachings of the Wise Man,
    Vithun) in Phra Ariyanuwat (1990)
    Kap Phra Muni (Maha Sarakham: Mahachai
    Temple).

  12. 17  To the contrary, the aim was to return to the status quo of the past. Note that
    limitations in the performance of prophetic works of literature do not in any way
    mean to imply that the temple was not actively involved in their production.
    Similar to what we know about in
    fluential figures in the millenarian movements
    during this period, the composers of prophetic works of literature were likely to
    have either been monks, or men who had achieved a religious education at the
    temple, as is evident by the type of knowledge that is displayed in their
    composition.

  13. 18  This topic is described in greater detail in Koret (1999).

  14. 19  Note that the date is that of the specific publication of the work, and its original composition could be years or even decades earlier.

  15. 20  Typical of literature, there is no statement by A. Kawiwong to indicate that he

    either wrote the work or copied it from a manuscript. In any case, whether or no the riddles are of older origin, their interpretation is clearly the work of A.

Kawiwong.

  1. 21  A study of this poem and specifically why it is composed in poetry rather than

    prose would be the profitable subject of a paper in and of itself.

  2. 22  The author does include a number of Lao books in his bibliography. The most
    likely candidate to be the source of origin is
    Kham Phanya Phasit Lae Kham Tong

    Toey by Duangchan Vannabuppha, published in Luang Prabang in 1991.

  3. 23  p. 234.

  4. 24  p. 243.

  5. 25  p. 244.

  6. 26  When I asked the author of the song about the historical circumstances of its

    original creator, he informed me that he was uncertain of any specific details.

  7. 27  Tamnan Kharawan (Chronicle of Caravan) by Khana Phu Jat Ngan Sip Saung

    Phi (Kharawan: 308309).

  8. 28  In addition, the same band also composed a song, Seung Isan, in criticism of the

    American military presence in Northeast Thailand during the Vietnam War in
    imitation of a major prophetic work of literature,
    Kap Phra Muni. The song was
    written in the same poetic form as the prophetic work, with a similar use of
    phrasing, in which original criticism of Siamese administrators in the nineteenth
    and early twentieth centuries was rehashed in attacks on the Thai Government of
    the 1970s.


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