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Phra Setthi Nawa Kot Part 1 – The Origins

Phra Setthi Nawa Kot Part 1 – The Origins

 

 

Phra Setthee Nawa Kot

 

In the first part of this article, we will explore the origins of this peculiar statue, which is a common sight across Thailand. It has its origins in ancient Buddhist scripture, and the worship of its 9-faced form is meant to remind devotees of the significance of the omni-present core teachings of the scriptures; dana

(charity and generosity) , sila
(virtue and morality), samadhi
(right concentration and mindfulness) and panna
(wisdom leading to emancipation).

 

The Patrons who achieved Sainthood

The sacred image of Phra Setthi Nawa Kot

is a representation of the 9 billionaires (setthi) mentioned throughout the scriptures. These men were wealthier than Kings, and were routinely given to acts of random, boundless generosity. Their generosity became a shining light for Buddhism, spreading its messages far and wide.

 

Myths of Phra Setthi Nawa Kot in Thailand

The image of the 9-faced Buddha, was said to have originated in the early days of the Lanna

empire, when its people endured an age of crushing famine and mindless suffering. A wandering Phra Ariya
, advised them to craft effigies of Phra Setthi Nawa Kot for purposes of worship, in an attempt to alleviate their misery. Through their devotion, the tides were miraculously turned, and they began to prosper. This cemented their belief in the powers of the Phra Setthi Nawa Kot forever, and they believed that they had been blessed by the Baramee
of the nine billionaires.
Map

 

The Lanna version of the legend, is consistent with a similar Phra Setthi Nawa Kot myth from the ancient kingdom of Lan Xang

. For seven years, the people of Lan Xang people were afflicted by droughts, famine, and widespread poverty. They suffered through their life, even as the death toll continued to mount. Around this time, they were visited by Phra Aranyawasi
; a monk who had been living in the forest. He advised the King to craft Phra Setthi Nawa Kot for worship, in order to free his land and people from their suffering, even tutoring them in the auspicious intervals and practices for doing so. Misfortune was driven out of the kingdom, and even its once barren-soil and poisoned water, gave way to a lush, fertile oasis that continued to prosper, thus cementing the belief in Phra Setthi Nawa Kot forever.

 

The Virtue of Reverence to the 9 Patrons

The Lord Buddha was known to have praised these 9 patrons, for their generosity and sincerity shown to the community, as well as their contribution to the widespread dissemination of Buddhist teachings, conferring them the title of Phra Ariya Bokkol

; individuals who have attained at least the first stage of sainthood. One of the 9 named patrons was even elevated to the status of Cakkavatti
(read our article on Kaew Jed Prakarn on why a Cakkavatti is much revered, even being worthy of being venerated in a Jaydee).

 

There are 4 stages of sainthood described in the Theravada scriptures, and upon attaining the 4th and final stage, one is liberated from suffering through endless cycles of rebirth and death.

The first stage is called Sotapanna

, requiring one to undergo (up to a maximum of or lesser than) seven lifetimes before attaining emancipation. More highly prized than being a king, a celebrity or even ascending to the highest Heavens, is the fruit of a Sotapanna, also known as “Stream Entry”. The second stage is called Sakadagami
, where one becomes a “Once Returner”, the third stage, Anagami
, where they become a “Never Returner” and the final stage, where they ascend to the status of Arahant
.

 

“Shining, shining in the Brahma World, squeaking squeaking in the sty of pigs”

 

Once, the Buddha went on an alms-gathering trip to Räjagaha

City, accompanied by his circle of monks. While approaching the gates of the city, the party happened across a gentle little piglet, wandering aimlessly. The Buddha, noticing the piglet, let a faint smile slip. Ven. Ananda noticed this, and queried the Buddha about his bemusement. The Buddha explained that the piglet had been a princess in its past life, who, having attained the first jhana
(mental concentration), had earlier been reborn into a Brahma world, where she lived in the lap of luxury for many aeons. When her time there ran out, she fell to the realm of humans, where she chose to partake in unwholesome deeds, causing her to be reborn as a pig. The Buddha was amused by her predicament, as if she had taken care to attain the fruit of Sotapanna however, she could have narrowly avoided this fate, as such individuals will never again find themselves reborn to the 4 lower realms of existence (angry demi-gods, animals, hungry ghosts and hell).

 

As the mind stream of a person lives on, (the mind is known to be active, even in sleep, comas or death), we are confined to an endless cycle of rebirth. Like the changes in a person’s nature can be kind or deceitful at different times, so too, can the conditions of their existence. One might be reborn in heaven in one life, and commune with the beasts in their next. The fruit of Sotapanna however, means cutting off the mental fetters that keep us chained to our plebian understanding, and the clarity and wisdom to recognise our own shortcomings which allows us to transcend them eventually. This elevated clarity will never be diminished, even through further instances of death and rebirth.

See Also

Physical damage caused by a comatose state, Alzheimer’s or dementia may result in the loss of superficial wisdom, which is always gained externally. The unlocking of an intrinsic, fundamental understanding however, is eternal, and the omnipresent awareness of the human mind, ensures this. When undergoing near-death experiences, for example, it is not uncommon for people to report an instant replay of memories long-forgotten, flashing before their mind’s eye. Such is also the case in terminal brain jury, such as patients afflicted with Fatal familial insomnia (a neurodegenerative disease which destroys the brain), who often awake from their cloud of anguish and confusion at the hour of their passing, to remind their family that they love and cherish them, before passing on.

A Sotapanna will become liberated from endless rebirths within 7 more lifetimes. It is also described as “the Eye of Truth”, the ability to discern what is wholesome/unwholesome at a moment’s notice, and understand the Buddha’s teachings that will lead to liberation from the torment of endless rebirth and death.

 

The Names of the 9 Patrons

  1. Thananchai
    , (Pali: Dhananjaya
    ) who bestows respect and superiority upon the rank and file.
  2. Yutsa
    (Pali: Yasa
    ) who blesses us with success in all pursuits, and fosters unity in the hearts and minds of the people around us.
  3. Sumana
    (Pali: Sumana) who bestows us with intelligence.
  4. Chatisatsa
    (Pali: Jati Kassa
    ) who brings us prosperity and luck.
  5. Anata Binthika
    (Pali: Anathapindika) who aids us in progress with our lives.
  6. Maenathaka
    (Pali: Mendaka
    ) who blesses us with material wealth and luck.
  7. Chotika
    (Pali: Jotika) who bestows Metta and attractiveness
  8. Sumangkala
    (Pali: Sumangala) who fosters a steady, peaceful life for all
  9. Manthatu
    (Pali: Mandathu/ Mandatha
    ) who helps you with career advancement and achievements

 

A note to our readers: Many sources name Visakha

as the 9th patron of Phra Setthi Nawa Kot. However, according to our extensive research, we believe that this might be a case of differences in translation. According to the original Thai sources, Visakha is excluded from the list in favour of Manthatu, as can be evidenced from the katha
that is recited. We will explore more facts surrounding Mathatu in the later parts of this article.

 

Some texts also name ten billionaires, including Vessantorn

(whose name is also included in the katha).

 

In Part 2, we will explore the personal histories of the 9 patrons contained in the scriptural texts of Theravada Buddhism.

 

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