Searching for Buddha

web-buddha#Thailand is one of the good places to search for #Buddha …  and I expect to search for Buddha in #Mongolia too – next month. in the meantime here is some of my story about my search and some photos for you to enjoy too

Source: Searching for Buddha

Searching for Buddha

Buddha images for sale
Buddha images for sale

Buddha images, large, small, or ruined, are sacred objects and in Thailand.  Reverence of those ancient or broken Buddha extends to the making of Buddha images and I’m searching for a Buddha maker.

Following leads up side streets, I find denture-makers, massage schools, Buddha’s for sale and dead ends, but no artisans making the Buddha’s I see everywhere. Giving up on this search, I head for the ancient capital, Ayutthaya, on yet another wild goose chase.

web buddha in hand

However, while there I hear Thailand’s biggest Buddha is being built an hour away so hop on a local bus and head for Wat Muang Monastery in the tiny Ang Thong province.  I’m told a very rich man was so upset that some Taliban had destroyed the sandstone Buddha statues in Afghanistan (2001) that he was funding the building this huge one to replace them.

My one-handed photo from the moving motorbike.
My one-handed photo from the moving motorbike.

It is enormous and, one-handed, from the back of a motorbike, I take my first photos of it and the monsoon-flooded fields that surround it. The seated Phra Buddha Maha Nawamin statue towers over the temple of Wat Muang. A Theravada Buddhism cement statue, it is 92m high, 63m wide and the top half has already been painted gold. I’m fascinated at the huge crane, the scaffolding, and ant-like people as they clamber over their divine being’s arms and legs.

Despite not being a (western) tourist area, the temple has several places of interest. A shiny, silver temple, and the Ubosot (ordination hall) is surrounded by enormous lotus petals, the largest in the world I’m told: this temple likes big.

 

It also has a Buddhist theme park full of chilling and warning scenes of mutilation, death, of a Buddhist heaven and hell. One depicts the result of adultery: they’re doomed to climb, naked, a cactus type tree while crows attack from above and it looks bloody and painful.

Finally, when I had given up all hope of discovering any craftsmen, a Swiss tourist told me that six months earlier his cyclist sister had found such a place. The next day, after a journey of some hours on a motorbike, train, and then cyclist rickshaw, I found Sgt. Major Thawee and his Buranathai Buddha Image Foundry in Phitsanulok. He doesn’t speak English – my Thai minimal but I spend a week watching the process (lost wax) from early morning until they stop at dusk.

On an a day and time considered to be auspicious, I finally watch as bronze was poured into the Buddha.  Phra Pairoj, the head monk, and people from the temple which had commissioned the image were there for the blessings and culmination of the work. The ceremony finished with a shared meal and, as with many events I’ve attended in Thailand, I was the only ‘farang’. (Foreigner) My searching for Buddha was complete.

fixing a new buddha image's hair
fixing a new buddha image’s hair
A Buddha in the making
repairs to a Buddha in the making

Some years later I get off a train at a stop too soon, but after a few hours, finally get to Wat Muang to see the competed giant Buddha.  The theme park has grown, the food stalls multiplied, and I even saw one Western family as I photograph the finished work.

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As for those ruined Buddha in Afghanistan – someone must have heard the oft-quoted Mark Twain saying about not letting the truth get in the way of a good story. Construction of the Phra Buddha Maha Nawamin statue had commenced in 1990 – eleven years before the dynamite had exploded.

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Other visitors want to have their photos taken with me
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Paying homage to the Buddha image

 

Thailands biggest Buddha

Thailands biggest Buddha.

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More about this huge Buddha in Ang Thong Province on my return to New Zealand.

I saw this under construction a few years ago to good to see it completed … with all the food stalls that now are part of the temple grounds.

In the palm of Buddha – two of my fav’ photos.

I’m off to revisit this now completed Buddha tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing it without the scaffolding … but not sure any of my new photos will be as special as these as I know no one else has them. When I was there a few years ago tourist s didn’t know it existed.

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Building a Buddha image 

Man shrinks as Buddha grows Man shrinks as Buddha grows

The seated Phra Buddha Maha Nawamin statue located at Wat Muang in Ang Thong Province, some two hours north of Bangkok & an hour north of Ayutthaya may well be the biggest buddha in Thailand.

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In the palm of Buddha – two of my fav’ photos that I’ve taken

Building a Buddha image 

 

 

Man shrinks as Buddha grows
Man shrinks as Buddha grows

The seated Phra Buddha Maha Nawamin statue located at Wat Muang in Ang Thong Province, some two hours north of Bangkok & an hour north of Ayutthaya may well be the biggest buddha in Thailand.

Buddha’s birthday this month

Buddha’s birthday – Vesakha Puja – is being observed by most Theravada Buddhists this month, commemorating the birth, enlightenment and death (the passing into Nirvana) of Buddha.

In Thailand, Buddha images, large, small, or ruined, are sacred objects: for me some of the most beautiful images are those which are the most ‘damaged’: and I see that in people too. Just as the beautiful lotus grows from muddy waters, so too can we.

During  various travels in Thailand I wanted to know more about Buddhism, meditation and dharma, and have twice spent ten days in a silent retreat at Wat Suan Mokkhabalarama –  started by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (1906-1993) one of Thailand’s most revered monks. His back-to-basics philosophy still draws Thais from all over the country to study Theravada Buddhism and Vipasana (insight) meditation at this temple. My teachers and kalyana-mita (a good friend to novice’s, a teacher or mentor) were the Venerable Ajahn Poh; Tan See Telapalo and nun, Maechee Pairor. Suan Mokkh, a forest Wat, has no Buddha images at their International Dharma Centre.

In Thailand, the reverence of ancient and broken Buddha images is extended to the making of Buddha images: on another trip I wanted to find where and who makes those images. Despite asking Monks, tourist guides, local hotel staff, and even the staff at the New Zealand Embassy, no-one could tell me where to find such a place or person.

As with all spiritual and life journeys the path to find such an artisan was not smooth. I followed many leads and explored many dead ends, finally – when I had given up all hope of discovering the artists – a Swiss tourist told me that six months earlier his cyclist sister had found such a place. The next day, after a journey of some hours on a motorbike, train, and then cycle-rickshaw, I found Sgt. Major Thawee and his Buranathai Buddha Image Foundry in Pitsanulok. He doesn’t speak English – my Thai is minimal.

Staying at a hostel one block away I spent a week watching the process (lost wax) from early morning until they stopped at dusk. After two days it felt the workers realised I was serious and respectful about watching and recording their work and they greeted me daily without laughing at me photographing things that seemed so normal to them. We chatted to each other despite each of us having very little idea what the other was talking about.

On December 24, 2006 at 7:43am – an “auspicious date and time” I was told – the bronze was poured for a Buddha which is for a temple in the forest near Chiang-kham, Phayao Province some 330-ks north of Pitsanulok. Phra Pairoj, the head monk from that temple and many of the locals who had contributed financially to the creating of this Buddha were there for the culmination of the work, and the blessings during the pouring of the bronze – finishing with a shared meal. As with many events I’ve attended in Thailand, I was the only ‘farang’ (foreigner) there.

Some of these photos will be on exhibition from 30th June – 3rd July, at Thistle Hall (Cuba St Wellington, New Zealand)

Most sacred Buddha in Bangkok

Photo exhibition – you are invited

 

 


Searching for Buddha

A photographic journey in Thailand

30th June – 3rd July 2011

Thistle Hall, Cuba St, Wellington

 Heather Hapeta (kiwitravelwriter.com)