At Wat Pa Samakkhi (วัดป่าสามัคคี) in Sakon Nakhon, you'll see a courtyard of Buddha statues. But these are not statues of Guatama Buddha. They are what some Buddhists in Thailand say is the first Buddha, Somdej Ong Pathom, who attained Buddhahood centuries before Siddhartha.
The ancient Pali texts of Buddhism say that there are "Seven Buddhas of Antiquity," with Guatama Buddha being number 7. The later Theravada Buddhist texts added 21 more Buddhas, making 28 "awakened ones" in total.
Only in Thailand, however, do we hear the story of the first Buddha named Somdej Ong Pathom (สมเด็จองค์ปฐม) or Somdej Phra Buddha Sikhi (สมเด็จพระพุทธสิกขี).
The Thai story of the first Buddha comes from the famous Thai monk Luang Phor Lersi Lingdam (หลวงพ่อฤาษีลิงดำ) of Wat Tha Sung in Uthai Thani (Northern Thailand).
LP Lersi Lingdam, who allegedly had miraculous powers, conversed with Somdej Ong Pathom in a series of visions, and then shared that story with others. This mystical Thai monk also created sacred amulets during his life which are among the most sought after in Thailand.
The first Buddha courtyard at Wat Pa Samakkhi has over 50 statues of the Somdej Ong Pathom, almost all of which are sitting and in "earth touching" pose, which is a reminder to seek the wisdom of mother earth when the demons of our minds haunt or tempt us.
However, in one corner of the courtyard there are two standing statues of the first Buddha of Thailand. One is in a meditative pose prior to the release of the Dharma (Buddhist wisdom), and the second is in an open handed gesture called "opening the world," signifying the release of the Dharma teachings on Earth.
The long robe and rather feminine body of these two first Buddha statues are indicative of Lanna (Northern Thailand) Buddhist art and culture, which heavily influenced LP Lersi Lingdam. The revered monk passed away in 1992 at the age of 75. Strangely enough, his body did not decompose after his death and is still visited daily by the faithful in Uthai Thani and neighboring Thai provinces.
Wat Pa Samakkhi (วัดป่าสามัคคี) is located about 30 minutes from downtown Sakon Nakhon in the direction of Ban Tha Rae, and not far from the temple Wat Yod Lamthan, with its classic Sim and sacred giants.