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7 Legends

PHOTOGRAPHY/MEI PHOTO CENTER



For Prestige's 7th anniversary, we invite seven well known figures in society to share with us

their extraordinary experiences and life lessons. From personal empowerment to optimism,

transparency and compassion, their wisdom and guidance can inspire us all to change our lives and make a difference for future generations


CHAMNONGSRI HANCHANLASH


-founder of Rutnin Eye Hospital, mother and grandmother Khunying Chamnongsri believes in getting the most out of every wonderful moment.


During our photo shoot, Khunying Chamnongsri (Rutnin) Hanchanlash exhibited the energy of an impish girl. As we sat down to talk, the 72-year-old pint-sized beauty's mood mellowed to reveal a wealth of hard won wisdom about death. "My understanding of death, as a natural part of life, makes every living moment amazingly rich because it gives me a chance to learn, to renew, to reflect, to rectify, to forgive and to be truly alive."


Realising that there are infinite possibilities because "with every moment, every interaction, we reinvent ourselves," this multi-talented lady, long considered one of Thailand's leading bilingual poets and writers, cheerfully left her literary career behind. She was also the initiator of many projects, including Harbor House Foundation to help abused girls. But as she got on in life, she learned to give away responsibilities to many of these projects to others capable of

managing them.


The only roles she retains today are being a mother and grandmother, a Buddhist practitioner, a commitment to philanthropic endeavours, and Chairperson of Rutnin Eye Hospital which she co-founded with her late husband, Dr Uthai Rutnin.



Her current interest is in finding ways to help the dying to live their last days in physical, mental and spiritual peace and dignity. Besides organising 'Path to a Peaceful Death' retreats, led by renowned Buddhist monk Ajahn Paisal Visalo at her country home, she is actively involved in helping Mahidol University build a hospice for all ages and a health sanctuary for the aged. She initiated the project by donating 100 rai of land near Hua Hin to the University, telling her children that this is their greatest inheritance. With the facilities being planned by Mahidol, the well-being of the surrounding agrarian community is now her main focus.


Perhaps what Khunying Chamnongsri calls her "obsession with death" is rooted in her early days of loss and loneliness. Born in Lamsam, she was motherless by the age of three. At 12 she was sent to a boarding school in rural England. As the only foreign student with little command of English, she soon toughened up and found joy in nature, books and poetry. At 18, she returned home due to her father's failing eyesight and attended university in Thailand. She then became a journalist until she married. "Being a reporter was scandalous for a young lady in those days," she giggles. "My relatives were distraught."


Khunying began seriously practising Buddhist meditation during a period of deep unhappiness more than 20 years ago. "It puts one in direct touch with the basic and unadulterated reality of the mind and body," she says. "This reality is a canvas upon what we call life is painted. It is also the root of wisdom."


At 57, after five years of widowhood, she married Dr Jingjai Hanchanlash, nearly three years her junior. Fifteen happy years on, Dr Jingjai jokes that he feels like he has eight wives, Khunying counters that she has a five-in-one husband. "A bigamous life of synergy and diversity," she laughs. Although happy, she still seeks solitude by spending several weeks every year in austere meditation retreats in Thailand and abroad.


"Life is rich and time is generous," Khunying explains. "As long as one learns from life and oneself, new opportunities will always emerge. Life is about giving and taking of both material and intangible things."


A believer in the butterfly effect, she has witnessed how being a positive force truly makes a difference. Despite the many lives she has touched, she remains modest: "If I die knowing that I have taken less from the world than I have given, I am happy."


 

From: Prestige,September 2012.

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