The Smart Pagoda – Chonburi, Thailand

Phra Sangkom Flow Chonburi

Community Development: collaboration with civil society leader and adoption of Royal development principles –>

Surrounding Environment: Regeneration of water table/watershed by building tanks à reforestation and rehabilitation of land based on royal development principle of 30% water resource, 30% agriculture, 30% forest cover, and 10% housing–>

Education for Ecology and Dharma: Simultaneous establishment of eco-school in which children learn about practical livelihood, environment, and sufficiency values–>

Sufficiency Economy: Planting “3 trees for 4 benefits” for food, sufficiency and commerce, housing, environmental integrity; eco-commerce development at school–>

Community Development: adults influenced by children’s education and celebrities promotion of building tanks–>

Eco-Temple: The Smart Pagoda and adobe housing as a means of embodying and promoting ecological values, sufficiency lifestyle, and spirituality–>

Energy Sector: installment of solar panels on temple guesthouse to embody and promote ecological values, sufficiency lifestyle, and spirituality–>

A Case Study in Using Tanks and Community Development to Build Ecological Communities

As a young man before ordaining as a Buddhist monk, Phra Sangkom Thanapanyo Khunsiri came under the influence of INEB Founder Ajahn Sulak Sivaraksa, through whom he also came to learn of the community development work in his own region of Surin in Northeast Thailand by Luang Po Nan, Thailand’s first prominent development monk. Since ordaining, Phra Sangkom has done development work and reforestation at his first temple in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. After his successes there, he was invited by the esteemed Prof. Wiwat Salyakamthorn—founder of the Agri-Nature Foundation and Self-sufficiency Economy Institute who worked with King Bumipon for 17 years as director of the Special Committee to Coordinate Royal Projects—to come down to Chonburi, east of Bangkok, to build a new eco temple and start a similar school and sufficiency economy community.

One of the first steps came in 2013 with the founding of the Mab-Euang School of Sufficiency Economy under the umbrella of the Agri-Nature Foundation, an autonomous non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and strengthening the Philosophy of Sufficiency Economy developed by the King Bumipon in the 1980s. At this school, Phra Sangkom recreated the educational system which had been so successful in Chiang Mai of teaching young children practical skills of livelihood development from which they can live directly, such as adobe housing and sufficiency agriculture, or can market for profit, like a variety of self-developed eco-products. For more details on the school, see this article.

students make adobe mud bricks with Phra Sangkom
students make adobe mud bricks with Phra Sangkom

A second major step was the rehabilitation of the local environment on which to build the school and the Smart Pagoda eco-temple. As with his experience in Chiang Mai, this land in Chonburi had been compromised by large scale agro-chemical farming by corporations. Both the water table and soil were heavily inundated with chemical runoff from pesticides. Phra Sangkom learned in previous visits to Sri Lanka—which shares the same Theravada Buddhist heritage—the tradition of Buddhist temples and large water tanks as the center of communities. Thailand with its vast canal and waterway systems never had the need to develop the water tank system. However, with the overuse of water resources by large agro-farms and the increase in drought due to deforestation, Phra Sangkom felt the adaptation of water tanks would be appropriate for rehabilitating the local environment in Thailand.

Water Tank development on temple land

Inspired by Prof. Wiwat’s work, Phra Sangkom adopted King Bumipon’s development concept of 30% tank (water resource), 30% rice field, 30% forest cover (not pure jungle but for use needs like a forest garden), and 10% housing–known as Khok Nong Na. Using this standard, he is promoting the practice of planting “3 trees for 4 benefits”, which are: 1) planting edible trees and vegetables, for having one’s own food to eat, giving to neighbors, and bartering or selling everyday; 2) planting usable trees for making spices, herbs, and household products so one doesn’t have to buy such products; 3) planting trees for making housing so one doesn’t have to pay and support deforestation elsewhere; 4) planting trees for providing shade and environmental integrity, the benefit of which provides true security and sustainability for the community as a whole. Phra Sangkom still continues to struggle with the chemical runoff onto his land from the industrial sugar cane fields next door, and there are many pests that flee the sugar cane fields sprayed with pesticides to his land. He is trying to buy up this land and wants to plant a jungle per the King’s development scheme.

As with his work in Chiang Mai, one of the hardest parts of the project has been convincing the local community of the benefits of this kind of community development. The support of Prof. Wiwat has been significant, but as in Chiang Mai, the power of the children’s experience and what they can show their parents in their development of their own ecological cottage industries has been essential. Phra Sangkom has also been lucky enough to gain the support of a national Thai celebrity, who’s own purchase and development of a local tank has created a buzz in the community for building water tanks.


Finally, it is the building of the Smart Pagoda with the traditional pairing of the water tank that he hopes will exemplify the values of Sufficiency Economy and serve as an educational and spiritual center for the community. Phra Sangkom had originally wanted to build the pagoda using mud adobe. However, the architect said it was not possible to do such a large and long lasting strong structure, so concrete and steel have been used for the main stupa. Still, he has incorporated a variety of other ecological ideas in the temple. Principally, they have built the temple on top of a water tank with wide-open ventilation so that the building will not require air conditioning. It will be cooled through air circulating on the water, and also water being circulated through different parts of the building. Solar panels will be installed on one level of the pagoda.

10kW PV Solar on new temple guesthouse
10kW PV Solar on new temple guesthouse

In July 2016, Ven. Miao Hai of Zhengjue Temple, our eco-temple member in China, made an initial investment by donating for the installation of 10 kW PV solar panels on the new temple guest house. Water greens will also be put on the lower roof level to cover the concrete on the outside and also aid cooling. While they have maintained the basic traditional look of a Buddhist temple, they have also made innovations to push forward with a new ecological style, including a learning center for children on the ground floor. Furthermore, Phra Sangkom has endeavored to make almost all the surrounding temple buildings, even toilets, out of adobe mud. The grand opening of the temple is slated for December 2017.

smart pagoda design

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