Namo tassa bhagavato Arahato Samma-sambudhassa chanted the monks three times, as I entered the zen atmosphere of a Buddhist temple for the first time.
Intrigued by the monotonous tone of the Buddhist monks, the sound of the bells dancing in the wind and the exotic smell of the burning incense, I walked around barefoot, accompanied by several monks with shaved heads dressed in yellow robes.
“It makes you laugh with delight to think that anything so fantastic could exist on this sombre earth,” said Somerset Maugham, an English author from the 20th Century, when describing Thailand.
Around 15 million tourists visit Thailand, the country of smiles, every year to admire the splendor of its many monasteries.
As the official religion of the country since the end of the 13th century, Buddhism is practiced by 95% of the population. Thailand in itself counts about 40,717 temples reuniting 450,000 monks.
Most tend to think of Buddhism as a religion — it’s actually more of a philosophy focused on reaching Nirvana; the final stage of the reincarnation cycle, where all suffering, sense of desire and self come to an end.
Based on this cycle of reincarnation, any buddhist can come back to life in the form of an ant or even a plant, as well as a human being.
Reincarnation may take several hundreds of years, but every buddhist must try to reach this goal in his or her present or future life. No buddhist can know how long it will take to reach Nirvana, but all remain hopeful thanks to the legend of Jataka, which recounts the 547 past lives of Buddha Sakyamuni — the historical Buddha.
Buddha statues often serve as decorations in our homes. They are also known for being the focus of modern restaurants, like Buddha Bar. Words, such as Karma, Zen and even Nirvana have roots in Buddhism and have become part of our daily language as well.
Although these words are part of our lexical, Buddha is in reality neither a noun nor a person.
Buddha is the name given to any human being capable of profoundly understanding the world and able to heal all of humanity’s sufferings.
As a result, according to Buddhism, we are all capable of being Buddha, whether we are male or female.
Buddhism is based on three principles, known as The Three Jewels: Buddha, Dhamma (Buddhist laws) and Sangha (monastery community). Those who don’t practice buddhism, the laymen, have a shorten list of five principles to follow, which are common to any other religion, such as do not kill, do not steal, do not lie and do not commit adultery. However, taking drugs or consuming alcohol are also prohibited.
On the other hand, monks have 227 rules to abide by to reach perfection. Monks live a simple life — their only possessions being their robe, a belt, a bowl, a razor, a needle, a water bottle, a stick and a toothpick — and live from offerings given to them by the laymen.
Due to their lack of means, monks highly depend on the rest of the population’s offerings. In return for their donations, Buddhists are granted with merits. It is an impressive scene — waking up at the crack of dawn and witnessing the yellow robes and pijama-dressed citizens filling up the streets.
Entering a temple is an experience that calls upon all of your senses. Discovering this cultural and spiritual side is a must while visiting Thailand, as it opens your eyes to the wonders of the world.
“Once you’re on the temple trail, you may find you can’t stop. At first, you’re in awe of the history, the design and the details. In a short while, they might start to look all the same. But after you’ve walked inside ten or twenty or fifty, you begin to notice the myriad differences between even the most similar,” said J. Cummings and D. White, authors of Buddhist Temples of Thailand.
Photo credits: Michelle Bijo
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