Phra Ajaan Keng Khemako (Chao Khun Vinayadhamma Vidhes) Present
Phra Ajaan Keng Khemako Bhikkhu (lay name: Ong Kah Keng) was ordained on 29 July 2530 (1987), at Wat Asokaram, Samut Prakaan Province, Thailand. Phrakhru Sunthorn Dhammarangsee (Abbot of Wat Phayaprap, Phra Padaeng), was his Preceptor, Phrakhru Suvanna Dhammajoti (late Abbot of Wat Asokaram) was his Kammavācācariya, and Phrakhru Nanda Dhammakhun (Deputy Abbot of Wat Asokaram), his Anusāsanācariya.
Immediately after his ordination, he headed to Wat Dhammasathit, Rayong, Thailand to begin his monastic training under Phra Ajaan Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu.
After the ﬁrst three years of monastic and meditation training, he felt that he had gained enough spiritual strength and grounding in Dhamma-Vinaya and was ready to undertake the dhutanga practices (tudong) and to go on pilgrimage in the deep forests for even more intensive training in meditation. As he had often heard of the beauty and tranquility of the forests in the Kanchanaburi province from Phra Ajaan Ṭhānissaro, he decided to head to that location for his ﬁrst tudong pilgrimage. He spent a very fulﬁlling and eventful period of intensive meditation, living in the open forest alongside Phra Ajaan Sathien Samācāro. This ﬁrst tudong experience gave him the conﬁdence and conviction that newly ordained monks should live in forested areas to develop their meditative skills.
As a result, he decided to spend time in the deep forests and mountains of Thailand, preferring the forest contemplative lifestyle of the forest monk to that of living in urban centers.
The intention to live the forest contemplative life saw him spending the next ﬁve years (from 1989) in the deep forests of Mae Sot and Chieng Mai, living on the kindness and support of the hill tribes. While he was residing in Mae Sot, he was under the tutelage of Phra Ajaan Den Nandiyo, another disciple of Than Phor Fuang and Luang Puu Jiak. Phra Ajaan Keng began studying under the tutelage of Luang Puu Jiak in 1988 – he ﬁrst met Luang Puu Jiak on the occasion of the transfer of Than Phor Fuang’s body back to Wat Dhammasathit.
Phra Ajaan Keng was also trained to recite the Bhikkhu Pāṭimokkha (the Therevada monks’ 227 rules of conduct) by Luang Puu Oonla Ṭhitadhammo, Abbot of Wat Paa Kaew Chumpol, located in Tambon Kho Tai, Amphur Sawang Daen Din, Sakhon Nakhon Province. Luang Phuu Oonla is considered a specialist in the Pāṭimokkha recitation by his peers in the Forest Meditation Tradition. Pāṭimokkha recitation is an important monastic skill, as the reciter of the Pāṭimokkha has to be able to remember all 227 rules by heart and to adhere strictly to the procedures for doing so.
Phra Ajaan Keng subsequently went to live at Metta Forest Monastery, San Diego county, USA, on the invitation of Phra Ajaan Ṭhānissaro.
Wat Metta is located in the hills outside of San Diego county and was founded by Phra Ajaan Suwat Suvaco in 2533 (1990). Phra Ajaan Keng spent three Rains retreats in Wat Metta, assisting Phra Ajaan Ṭhānissaro in teaching the members of the growing Sangha and lay community.
Upon returning from the USA, Phra Ajaan Keng spent time in Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia. With a growing following of monastic and lay supporters, he founded Santi Forest Monastery in the Ulu Tiram area of the State of Johor, Malaysia. While working on the project to set up Wat Santi, he continued to look for secluded forests in Thailand to continue his practice. This took him to a tribal village in Omkoi, in Chieng Mai Province. After four years in this area, he decided to help the villagers by setting up a monastery there. He named this monastery Wat Paa Doi Charoentam.
His intention in setting up a monastery in this primitive village was twofold: 1) to create a conducive environment for the training of monks in the forest contemplative tradition, and 2) to show gratitude and compassion for the villagers, giving them the opportunity to make merit for a better life here and hereafter. He considered the younger generation of monks not mentally tough enough, and because most of them used to live in city areas, as he had, they were not prepared for the harsh conditions of living in impoverished conditions. The villagers were mainly surviving on sticky rice and salt/chillies, so that was all that they could offer to the monks during their alms round. However, Phra Ajaan Keng felt very strongly, through his own experience, that practising under such conditions would create a strong foundation for the monks. The founding of the monastery in Omkoi helped not only the monks. The lay community from Singapore and Malaysia also beneﬁtted from the exposure to the harsh conditions that the hill tribesmen had to live in. A member of the Management Committee of Wat Santi once visited Omkoi and commented that he realised how ‘rich’ he was, when compared to the poor the villagers. To Phra Ajaan Keng, such harsh conditions were the perfect places for developing the quality of khanti (patience/ endurance).
Although he kept to the forest contemplative lifestyle, preferring to dwell in forests and caves, Phra Ajaan Keng was still active in propagating the teachings and practice of Buddhism to the peoples of Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. He has acted as a mentor and guide to other monks from Singapore and Malaysia. Over the years, he has helped more than 150 men obtain ordination in the Thai Buddhist Sangha and is continuing to do so.
To give more Singaporeans and Malaysians the opportunity to obtain ordination and to enable the Sangha of Wat Santi to conduct their official duties in accordance with the DhammaVinaya, Phra Ajaan Keng established the ordination hall in Wat Santi, the ﬁrst ordination hall of a Dhammayut monastery in both Singapore and Malaysia. The consecration of the hall was attended by 135 monks from both the Dhammayut and MahaNikaya sects of the Thai Buddhist tradition, along with more than 1,000 lay people from all three countries. Immediately after the consecration, 68 men were ordained as monks in the ordination hall. This is testimony of Phra Ajaan Keng’s sphere of inﬂuence and is indeed a ﬁrst on all counts, in the history of Malaysia and Singapore.
In 2015, in order to celebrate Singapore’s 50th Anniversary of Independence, Phra Ajaan Keng organised a mass ordination of 58 men in Singapore. As there was no appropriate sīmā hall to ordain these individuals, a ‘water sīmā’ was used to conduct the ordination, with a rented yacht dedicated to the purpose. This was followed by nine days of monastic training for the newly ordained bhikkhus. Together with the lay community, the new monks participated in an overnight chanting of protective discourses on the eve (8th August 2015) of Singapore’s National Day. Phra Ajaan Keng also arranged for the minting and consecration of a special-edition amulet of the Buddha blessing the island of Singapore to commemorate this special occasion.
Phra Ajaan Keng’s compassion is not just towards those who are ordained or seeking ordination. He has also helped many individuals in facing the challenges of daily life.
One example is that of a lady named Patricia from Singapore. She had contracted cancer for about six years and although it was in remission, it returned to attack her in 1991. As she was a close friend of Sis. Wendy (Bro. Sebastian’s wife), Brother Sebastian advised Patricia to seek out Phra Ajaan Keng. Together with her brother, Kelvin, Patricia sought him out while he was residing near a hilltribe village called Huay Pla Lod, in Maesot, Thailand. He was on a retreat in an area called Saam Meung Thung, Doi Puu Kaa, which was a branch of Luang Phor Daen. When Patricia arrived at Luang Phor Den’s main monastery and told him of her purpose, Luang Phor Den sent a jeep with her brother Kelvin to fetch Phra Ajaan Keng. After meeting at Huay Pla Lod and being briefed on Patricia’s condition (terminal cancer), he decided to help her out of compassion. He encouraged her to constantly meditate to prepare for the ﬁnal stage when she had to face death. Subsequently, a fellow monk of Phra Ajaan suggested that Patricia consult his uncle (who is also a monk), a reputable holistic medicine practitioner who has been treating cancer patients for a long period of time.
Together with his brother monk, Than Pok, and two other laymen (Mr Toi and Mr. Chumphon), Phra Ajaan took Patricia to Wat Khamyak, located at Tambon Khamyak, Amphoe Pho Thong, Ang Thong Province. Phra Ajaan attended to Patricia with the help of the local people for 45 days, until her death. After her death, he contacted Patricia’s family and made the necessary arrangements for her funeral.
Exhausted from the long stretch of having to attend to Patricia earlier and then to her funeral, Phra Ajaan decided to go into seclusion and stayed alone in the forest of Pang Ng at Tambon PaPae, Amphoe MaeTang, Chiengmai Province. One night, during this period of seclusion, while he was doing his walking meditation at about 2 a.m., a glow of light brightened up the forest near the end of his walking path. Phra Ajaan walked towards the light and discovered that it was Patricia. He was delighted to see her and quickly asked her what realm she was residing at. She told him that she was among a group of Dhamma emissaries and she came to thank Phra Ajaan for tending to her while she was sick. Because her friends were waiting for her, she had to leave. She vanished in an instant, and the whole forest was darkened again.
Her taking rebirth in the celestial realm may be partly attributable to the fact that she had a very compassionate heart for others. For example, even though she was suffering from cancer, she continued to volunteer her time to bring old folks (who had no family support) for their medical appointments and to help them communicate with doctors and nurses.
Even though Patricia was a total stranger, Phra Ajaan was willing to help her tackle her illness. Such indeed was the extent of his compassion for a fellow human being facing the last days of her life.
Somdet Phra Wanarat of Wat Bovornnives Vihāra, in Bangkok, commented to one of his lay supporters that Phra Ajaan Keng impressed him by the fact that he came from an urban and materially rich society yet was able to undertake severe ascetic practice, keeping strictly to the tradition of the forest masters. This is something that a majority of modern day monks ﬁnd so challenging that many of them never even attempt it. The Somdet was also present at the ordination hall consecration ceremony and had conﬁrmed for himself the extent to which Phra Ajaan Keng had motivated and aroused the faith of the laity.
In recognition of his contributions to the Sangha, the lay community, and his missionary work for the promotion of Buddhism, Phra Ajaan Keng was appointed a Thananukrom (Assistant) to Somdet Phra Wanarat of Wat Bovornnives, with the title of Phrakhru Phalad Samphiphathanasudhajaan Yanakosol Vimonseelajaan Mahakhanatikan Nayok Bidoethammarakkhit, on 17 September 2556 (2013), at Wat Bovornnives Vihara.
Later that year, on 5 December, Phra Ajaan Keng received the ecclesiatical title of “Chao Khun” from the King of Thailand and was given the name, “Vinayadhamma Vidhes.” This was further recognition of his deep devotion to the practice of the Buddhist path, his leadership of both ordained and lay members of the Buddhist community, expressed in his mentorship and support to his fellow monks and his propagation of Buddhism to the lay community as a whole.
Just over a year later, in 2558 (2015), Phra Ajaan Keng attended a training course for Preceptors (Upajjhāya), to gain the necessary skills and certiﬁ cation to conduct Bhikkhu ordinations. With this certﬁcation, Phra Ajaan has the authorisation of the Thai Sangha to ordain monks in the Southeast Asia region outside of Thailand.
In recent years, he has also been invited to many parts of Malaysia, China (Fujian Province), India (Andhra Pradesh and various cities in Indonesia (Jakarta, Medan, Pekan Baru) to teach the lay and ordained communities. There is a growing interest in the teachings of the Forest meditation tradition in these countries, and Phra Ajaan has been very motivated by their keen interest to study and practice the Dhamma.
Phra Ajaan has indeed been living for the welfare and beneﬁt of devas and human beings, and it is our sincere wish that he enjoys good health and strength to carry on his Dhamma work for many more years to come.
Phra Ajaan Keng was given the ecclesiastical title of Chao Khun Vinayadhamma Vidhes on 5 December 2014 by the late King of Thailand. He is seen here receiving the rank fan from the then Prince of Thailand, and in the grounds of Wat Phra Keow after the ceremony – with his parents, his brother, sister-in-law and niece.
Chao Khun Vinayadhamma Vidhes (Phra Ong Kah Keng, Khemako).
Monks invited for the celebration of Than Chao Khun Keng’s ecclesiastical title.