Asceticism has been practiced since time immemorial. It is not a practice unique to Hinduism. In fact, it was also and, perchance, is also practiced by many religions including Christianity and Islam. In Hinduism, laypeople who practiced asceticism and who have achieved high level of inner tapas (supernatural powers) were collectively called “Rishi” (rheesi).
In our previous article “Understanding Thai Buddhism” we have highlighted the entwinement between Buddhism and Hinduism as well as religious complexity in Thai Buddhism and the topic of this article again reinforced that unique relationship. We will not be going into the controversies pertaining to the various schools of asceticism but suffice to establish the nexus between original Buddhism and asceticism.
Lord Buddha too led an extreme ascetic life but realised extreme asceticism does not lead to enlightenment. Only moderation does. The five ascetics who practiced asceticism with Lord Buddha became His first five disciples and they are, Kondañña, Assaji, Bhaddiya, Vappa, and Mahānāma. It has to be noted that Lord Buddha did not condemn the practice of asceticism or the supernatural abilities deriving therefrom but only extreme indulgence therein. In fact, many of Lord Buddha’s disciples who subsequently attained arahantship were ascetics and the most prominent being Mahākāśyapa (Kassapa). Mahākāśyapa is one of the nine main Rheesi honored by the inner path.
Rheesi and Thai Buddhism
Rheesi is an important part of Thai Buddhism and Thais are generally familiar with Rheesi because ancient chronicles and old archives often make references to Rheesi. Furthermore, Rheesi also appears in various literatures as the sole governor of ceremonies whom rulers need to learn from in order to lead the people. Other than that, Rheesi also dominate many academic disciplines such as music, theatrics, medicine and et cetera. For examples, in music, dance, and theatrics, you see people worshipping Phra Rheesi Narathanmuni whilst people in the medical profession worship Rheesi Chiwokkomaraphat. In other words, Rheesi are regarded as ancestors and teachers of various disciplines with regards to humanity which is why “wan wai khru” is such a solemn and important occasion to the Thais. The general attire of the Rheesi is either white robe or tiger skin with tall headgear.
Classification of Rheesi: Disparities within Inner Paths
Things are more complicated when it comes to the inner path where Phra Weyth or supernatural elements form the core of practices. There are too many Rheesi, some of them pious, some iniquitous, and some in-between. Nonetheless, the various schools of thoughts generally agree on the 108 categories of Rheesi but they differ in classification and numbers of the main Rheesi which thus underscore their disparities in cultivation and practices. However, in Regalia, as disciples of Luang Phor Somjit, we inherit and adhere to a classification of nine main Rheesi as follows:
(1) Rheesi Narod (Monday) – Protection and charisma (Bhrama)
(2) Rheesi Narai (Tuesday) – Strengthening positive energy (Vishnu)
(3) Rheesi Nanua (Wednesday) – Strengthen charisma
(4) Rheesi Tafire (Sunday) – Destroy bad energy (Shiva)
(5) Rheesi Kalaikot (Thursday) – Defeat enemies
(6) Rheesi Kassapa (Friday) – Add charm
(7) Rheesi Glaipok (Saturday) – also known as Rheesi Prabman or Rheesi Akasatya the Demon Slayer
(8) Rheesi Nalaek (Wednesday night) – Increase wealth and fortune
(9) Rheesi Petcherukan (Everyday) – Attract positive energy and return all bad things to their places of origin.
Theoretically, these main Rheesi may be traced back to Vedic religions and, again, different schools of thoughts have their own versions. These disparities hitherto remain contentious issues within the inner paths. However, we will not be delving into the specificities and origins of each Rheesi in this article but suffice to state herein that, in general, anyone who worships Rheesi must first worship and honour Rheesi Narod because Rheesi Narod is believed to evolve from the fifth head of Phra Promthada and is considered to be the first Rheesi of Triphumi, alternatively known as the three worlds. He is thus also the leader of all Rheesi and, therefore, regardless of lineage, Rheesi Narod must first be invited and honoured in whatever ceremony and ritual or else that ceremony or ritual will be incomplete. Only after honouring Rheesi Narod then will you worship other Rheesi. This pronouncement is seconded by the various different schools.
For a practitioner of the inner path, there is a specific guardian Rheesi from and through which all magical powers are derived, cultivated, and practiced. This guardian Rheesi is known as the ancestral Rheesi of a particular lineage (Kru Yai). The ancestral Rheesi of our lineage is Rheesi Petcherukan. Those who have followed our wan wai kru rituals in person would have noticed we begin our ritual by honoring the Triple Gem (the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha) before inviting and asking the 9 main Rheesi to descend. We then proceed to invite Phra Prom, Phra Narai, Mae Kongkha, Mae Phra Pai, Phra Phayana, and Phra Angkarn to take specific positions. We will then make offerings to Mae Tollani and invite all gods around the compound to come and rejoice together with our ancestral Rheesi. Once all these Pali chants and recitals are completed, we then do the Kham Athithan or prayers before engaging in a short 5 to 10 minutes of meditation. These rituals usually take about an hour or more to complete.
Phra Rheesi Petcherukan: The Two Forms
Phor Gae Phra Rheesi Petcherukan Pang Phrapaktheap
Many people may have heard about Rheesi Petcherukan who is the headmaster of supernatural powers and magic in the rank of Rheesi but little do they know that Rheesi Petcherukan actually has two forms. The form which people are more familiar with, including most Thais, is known as Phor Gae Phra Rheesi Petcherukan Pang Phrapaktheap who they usually only refer to as Phor Gae Phra Rheesi Petcherukan. In this form, Rhessi Petcherukan looks not much different from any other Rheesi who are clothed in white robes and tall headgears. As Rheesi Petcherukan Pang Phrapaktheap, he is also known as the weapon maker for all class of gods. It is through his incantation and spell that the weapons derive magical powers.
Por Gae Phra Rheesi Petchrukan Pang Phrapak Asura
Traditional Thai shadow puppeting, dance, and music artists worship Phor Gae Rheesi Petcherukan Pang Phrapaktheap and they will always conduct a small ritual to worship Phor Gae Phra Rheesi Petcherukan Pang Phrapaktheap before their shows begin. Astrologists and soothsayers too have to worship Phor Gae Phra Rheesi Petcherukan Pang Phrapaktheap in order to see through hidden things in the three realms of past, present, and future although Rheesi Mordo is their ancestral Rheesi.
The other form lesser known to people in general is Por Gae Phra Rheesi Petchrukan Pang Phrapak Asura. “Asura” refers to the same class of power-seeking deities as used in Hinduism and not any evil forces assumed by movie scriptwriters. According to Hindu mythology, Asuras are not essentially evil just as Gods are not necessarily good. The term “Asura” does not denote good or evil but just as opposition to “Sura”. In other words, the term is merely a categorization of clans within the cosmos. However, in the form of Pang Phrapak Asura, Phra Rheesi Petchrukan is so powerful that he leads a large army of warring gods, spirits, demons, and ghosts across the three realms. Consequential of his power and influence in art of supernatural abilities, Por Gae Phra Rheesi Petchrukan is officiated as the headmaster of supernatural powers and magic in the rank of Rheesi.
As high ranking deities, all nine main Rheesi inevitably show compassion and benevolence to a certain degree. Even for the two more aggressive ones, namely, Rheesi Tafire and Rheesi Glypok, they merely either repel or destroy harmful elements to protect believers whereas Rheesi Petcherukan in the form of Pang Phrapak Asura goes as far as returning harmful elements to their original sources to destroy their root causes. It is more of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
Owing to the fact that our ancestral Rheesi belongs to the Asura clan, we are instructed to conduct one of our three annual “wan wai kru” on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, that is Ghost Day. Good, bad, and in-between spirits are summoned whereby both white and black magic are being amalgamated and consolidated through recitals.
Other than Luang Phor Somjit hitherto there have been no other guru monks or masters able to perform the special rituals in making and consecrating Por Gae Phra Rheesi Petcherukan Pang Phrapak Asura. This has resulted in the prices of His Venerable’s creation skyrocketing from ten-twenty thousand baht to several hundred thousand baht.
His Venerable has also made and consecrated a batch of Por Gae Phra Rheesi Petcherukan Pang Phrapak Asura for believers. This include the miniature skeleton-like figurines shown above which has become most popular and sought after by believers; that in a shape of a sea shell known as Bia Kair Petcherukan; and the more subtle form in a talisman container called takut Petcherukan. Nonetheless, because all sacred items were personally handmade by His Venerable hence the numbers were inevitably small and limited.
Rheesi Petcherukan is Not Hoon Phayom
Since the past decade or so, a new and trendy object has found its way into the Thai Buddhism amulet market and it is called Hoon Phayom. Many people mistook it as Por Gae Phra Rheesi Petcherukan Pang Phrapak Asura or that the Por Gae Phra Rheesi Petcherukan Pang Phrapak Asura made and consecrated by Luang Phor Somjit were actually Hoon Phayom. The irony is that Por Gae Phra Rheesi Petcherukan Pang Phrapak Asura has a long history rooted in Vedic religions whilst Hoon Phayom per se is neither a deity nor ghost according to their makers but a “bodyguard” character developed from an untraceable story. Again, we will not be exploring the details of Hoon Phayom but suffice to pronounce herein that it is not Por Gae Phra Rheesi Petcherukan Pang Phrapak Asura or vice versa.
Simplicity in Worshipping Rheesi for Laypeople
For practitioners, you will have to follow the methods imparted by your teacher (ajahn) and the chants associated with your lineage. Whereas for general believers and followers, worshipping and honouring Rheesi on wan wai kru is actually quite simple. All you need are fruits, flowers, tea, coffee, some sweet or savoury desserts, beetle nuts, cigarettes, and liquor. If you do not find it cumbersome and are affordable, you may offer a variety of food of your choices as well. Kham Athithan or prayers, which are totally different from charms or incantations used by practitioners, need not be recited in Pali or Thai languages. You may use your own choice of language, Rheesi can understand you.
Make 3 bows and you may begin as follow:
On this auspicious day, in the grace of the Triple Gems, the Lord Buddha, the Holy Dharma, and the Sangha, I humbly ask for your blessings as I recite my prayers under the prestige of the Triple Gems in honour of Phra Rheesi Narod (followed by the names of other Rheesi you worship). I humbly invite and ask you to descend upon this house and bestow upon me (and whoever else) all positive energy. I humbly beseech….. (request what you want)…..May my wishes be granted as my faith weighs.
Make another 3 bows and that is it.