Saturday, January 31, 2009

Wat Bot in Pathum Thani

On my way back to Bangkok from Ayuttaya, I visited Wat Bot in Pathum Thani. This is a relatively new temple famous for its giant statue of Somdej Toh reading scripture.
The Sala with a smaller statue. This is were people place their offerings to Somdej Toh. The giant statue is in the background. The Somdej Toh Katha taught here is as follows:

Namo Tassa (3x)
Itipiso Phakawa Rachatho Tao Wessuwano
Palasukhang Promarangsi Namatho Arahang
Puttatho Namo Puttaya.
Walking up to the statue, I look up in awe at one of the most venerated monks in Thai history.
A view from the right side of the statue.
Pay homage at the feet of Somdej Phra Puttajarn Toh.
The Jatukam image in the courtyard.
The Vihara to the presiding Buddha image of Wat Bot - Luang Por Leua.
This is the statue of LP Leua.
Another famous deity in Wat Bot is this standing 3-headed Phra Pikanet statue.
The main altar of the Vihara.
On the left side they have this small altar to Phra Buddha Nimit of Wat Na Phramen.
The billboard showing the Maharachachok batch of 3-headed Phra Pikanet the temple consecrated last year.
A portrait of the giant Somdej Toh statue available at the counter.
This is the 10" tall Somdej Toh bucha I obtained from the temple.
The 4" tall Phra Pikanet small bucha I took as well.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

LP Jong of Wat Natangnok

On 5.1.2009 I visited Wat Natangnok in Ayuttaya for the first time. This is the temple of LP Jong (1872-1965 CE), one of the most famous guru monks of Ayuttaya decades ago. He was also a good friend of LP Parn of Wat Bangnomkho some distance away. LP Parn had deep respect for LP Jong and always invited him over for any chanting ceremonies. Arriving at the temple with my driver.
The Phra Prom shrine near the entrance.
The Phra Leela shrine.
The Phra Sivali shrine.
A small Vihara venerating Bodhisattva Guanyin.
The Phra Pang Tawai Net (Sunday Buddha) statue outside the Ubosot.
The big Vihara venerating LP Jong. His golden statue is right in front. The portrait of LP Jong behind his golden statue. LP Jong was not only deeply skilled in meditation and Wicha (magical arts), he was also a very compassionate and patient master. He would not only try his best to help lay devotees and other monks who seek his assistance, he could also move those wayward people to give up their unwholesome conduct through his gentle yet sharp advice. The crystal stupa containing LP Jong's relics. It is said that he had the psychic power of Iddhividha or transformation at will. Once LP Parn's disciples took a motor boat down to Wat Natangnok to invite LP Jong over to Wat Bangnomkho to take part in a chanting ceremony. LP Jong asked them to go back first and said he would join them later. So the disciples went back by boat, and to their surprise, LP Jong was already there with LP Parn waiting for them. How did he do it when the did not take the boat and there was no vehicle available? The only explanation was that he "flew" to the temple ahead of them.
A picture showing the Rians (medals) consecrated by LP Jong in that era. LP Jong was not only skilled in making holy amulets; he also skilled in making magic oil and even my Master LP Jarun came to learn the art from him in the past.
The altar on the right side of the Vihara venerating various ancient Lersi hermits.
This is the 5" bucha of LP Jong I obtained from the temple, made of bronze material and consecrated by his disciple LP Maen, the current abbot of Wat Natangnok. At the base of the bucha are 2 wealth fetching fish "Plah Tapian" created by LP Jong.

There was a new chedi with LP Jong's miraculous finger relic on display in the LP Jong Vihara when I went there in Apr 2009. Above is the framed photo of the relic.

A closed up shot of the finger relic inside the glass chedi.

A video of the small Chedi housing LP Jong's finger relic in Wat Natangnok, Ayuttaya. What is amazing about this finger is that it is undecaying and the finger nail still grows! The finger is placed inside a gold rimmed plastic casing within the Chedi. Finally meeting LP Maen in Jun 2009.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Virtue of Humility

The Book of Changes (Yi Jing) says:

"It is the Way of Heaven to make fullness empty and to make full what is humble; when the sun is at its zenith, it must, according to the Way of Heaven, turn toward its setting, and at its nadir it rises toward a new dawn. In accordance to the Way, the moon when it is full begins to wane, and when empty of light it waxes again. This heavenly law works itself out in the fates of men also. It is the Way of Earth to alter the full and to contribute to the humble. High mountains are worn down by the waters, and the valleys are filled up. It is the Way of the gods to undermine what is full and to prosper the humble. And it is also the Way of Man to hate fullness and love the humble."
Recently there was a top level government official in the news for all the wrong reasons. He is none other than Tan Yong Soon (seen above), an ex-SAF scholar and permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment. Mr Tan wrote an article for the ST talking about his family's trip to learn fine cooking at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, spending a total of $46,500 over 5 weeks. So now we know how rich these top officials are.

This is "Chef" Tan's photo taken at the culinary school. Actually there is nothing wrong with him spending money on his own hobby, but the problem lies in the timing of his trip as well as his high position in the civil service. When the world is in the midst of an economic crisis and so many ordinary Singaporeans are facing financial difficulties, it was unacceptable for a top official to do such things and boast about it. This showed that Mr Tan had the good life for too long and lost touch with the world and his fellow Singaporeans. Inevitably, his actions drew criticism from all levels of society, as high up as Minister Teo Chee Hean and Civil Service Head Peter Ho, and as low down as the man in the street. Suffice to say, his career in the Ministry of Environment is as good as buried and he would become the butt of jokes for a long time to come. Just as the Way of Man hates fullness; having become too full, the Way of Heaven is now making Mr Tan's fullness empty as well. It's a pity that such a prominent intellectual like him, who is able to reach the top level of the civil service, yet unable to understand the Way. Perhaps he had never learned from the Book of Changes? It is a good lesson for all of us never to become too full of ourselves no matter how much we have attained in life. Constant humility is the sure path to wisdom and blessings, sadhu.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Ghosts of Camp Bang Rajan

Bang Rajan is the famous historical battleground in Singburi province where around 400 patriotic villagers held off a Burmese invading army of 100,000 for 5 months before it was completely destroyed in the year 1765 CE. The armies of King Mang Ra were repelled for 7 times by the heavily outnumbered and under-equipped village fighters. Only at the 8th attempt did they succeed in obliterating the villagers, who fought till the very end. Their destruction was inevitable because they did not receive any reinforcements from Ayuttaya despite requesting for them. Ayuttaya's failure to help eventually led to its conquest by the Burmese 2 years later, razing the entire city to the ground. Above we see the monument at Camp Bang Rajan to commemorate these patriots. And this is Wat Pho Kao Ton, the temple venerating Ajarn Thammachot, the spiritual leader of the Bang Rajan village fighters. Ever since that era, the Bang Rajan battleground had been haunted by the ghosts of the patriots, who died with anger in their minds. They were reborn as Petas, and through the power of their anger they continued to guard the land even in the afterlife. They became fierce "earth-bound spirits" and for 200 over years nobody could take anything away from that place.
The Vihara of Ajarn Thammachot.
The statue of Ajarn Thammachot inside the Vihara, covered with gold foil. Ajarn Thammachot played an important psychological role in the battle as he provided spells and amulets of "Kongkapan" or invulnerability for the protection of the fighters, who had no armour but great faith in his magic powers. He was not a native of Singburi, but was a monk from the neighbouring province of Suphanburi invited to reside at Bang Rajan. Ajarn Thammachot was skilled in Jhana meditation as well as the Wicha of protective spells and incantations. Above all he was a great spiritual leader who inspired the village fighters never to give up.As we can see on the statues of the resistance leaders, they wear vests with protective Yants drawn on them as their "armour". Roop Lor amulets of Ajarn Thammachot available at the temple counter. However even with all the protection, it was still not enough against overwhelming odds and Ajarn Thammachot was killed along with the destruction of Bang Rajan. He too became one of the angry Petas guarding the place beyond death. This tells us that no amount of magic or psychic powers can resist the Law of Karma, which must come to fruition one way or another when the time is ripe. It was like Ven Mogallana, the Buddha's chief disciple who was pummelled to death by jealous heretics despite being foremost in psychic powers. This is the well where Ajarn Thammachot used to make holy water to bless the village warriors before they went to battle. But coming back to the topic of the Petas, anybody who had stolen anything from the battleground had to return it because of the bad luck that followed. When people tried to take water from Ajarn Thammachot's well to put in their car radiator, the radiator exploded. These are Chedis built for the slain Burmese soldiers. Anyone who tried to take carved bricks from the area (to make amulets or simply for remembrance) also had to bring the bricks back to their original spot. However my Master LP Jarun of Wat Ampawan was somehow able to obtain one such brick from the provincial governor of Singburi, Mr Pook Rikkasem many years ago. Other people were not so lucky. LP related in one of his books the story of the late Sangha head of Dermbang Nangbuat district in Suphanburi, who also tried to obtain some of those bricks in the past. At that time he stayed at Wat Ampawan for one night and took a motorbike ride to the battleground the following morning. After collecting some bricks to put in his kit bag, he proceeded back to Suphanburi. But just before he could cross into the province, the motorbike skidded while making a left turn at Ta Chang market. The Sangha head got a cut on his head. But he picked up the bricks and stayed over at his sister's house at a nearby sugarcane farm. That night, there were loud mysterious cries heard throughout - the Petas of Bang Rajan were wailing for the return of their property. So the Sangha head had no choice but to return them the next morning. The story of Bang Rajan was immortalized in the Year 2000 movie "Bang Rajan" by director Thanit Jitnukun.

Important leaders of the resistance like Nai Thaen, Nai Chan and even Nai Thong Maen (the guy riding a water buffalo) were portrayed in all their bravery. LP Jarun wanted to help the Petas of Bang Rajan, so he advised the governor Mr Pook to build a fort, temple and bridge there to appease these spirits so the ferocity of the place could be reduced. Mr Pook agreed and the construction was gradually completed stage by stage. The fort became Kai (Camp) Bang Rajan (seen above) and the temple was Wat Pho Kao Ton of today. On 29 Garagadakom 2519 (29.7.1976) HM the King was invited to Kai Bang Rajan to celebrate its completion, and HRH the Crown Prince was also invited to lay the Sema stones at Wat Pho Kao Ton. The amazing thing was after HM the King made merit and transferred it to all the angry Petas of Bang Rajan, they were liberated from their state of woe and reborn. Since that day, there were no more paranormal incidents or reports of haunting. The aura of ferocity surrounding the area was gone, thanks to HM. This act of merit confirmed the saying in the Ksitigarbha Sutra that: "If there are kings or brahmins who may see the aged, the weak and women about to give birth and should they instantaneously have great compassion and show great charity to them by donating medicine, food, drink and bedding to make them comfortable, then the blissful merit they gain will be inconceivable; they will always become devas of Suddhavasa for one hundred kalpas and lords of the six heavens of desire for two hundred kalpas, and finally they will become Buddhas. They will never fall onto evil paths of existence, nor will they ever hear the sounds of suffering in their ears for hundreds of thousands of future lives." Only the great merit created by someone of exalted status out of compassion for the disadvantaged is strong enough to free all the "earth-bound spirits" of Bang Rajan. Throughout his reign HM had performed many such acts of great merit, which is very fortunate for the people of Thailand. Bang Rajan has become a peaceful park today, in contrast to the ferocious place that it used to be. The story of the ghosts of Bang Rajan is a testament to the Buddhist teaching that those who die with anger, greed or ignorance in their minds will be reborn in the woeful states either as Petas, Animals or Hell-beings. It is both a good lesson in both history as well as Dhamma that we should do well never to forget.
*This article can also be read in the 2nd issue of "Mystical Thai" magazine, out in major book stores now.*

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Huineng's Old Residence (六祖故居)

The last destination for the day was a visit to Huineng's Old Residence in Xialu Village, also not far from the Pit Village. This was the house that Huineng and his mom Madam Li used to stay when he was young. Arriving at the house we are greeted by a chicken and the big words "Gate of the Sacred Site". The twin verses beside the gate say "One flower opens six (should be five) petals at the sacred site, 10,000 years of homage to the Triple Gems in this courtyard."
Inside is the 6th Patriarch Memorial House. Actually the original house had collapsed ages ago and only the site remained. But during the 1980s, the villagers rebuilt this house at the original site to commemorate Huineng and to let devotees venerate him.
A marble image of Maitreya sits in front of the octagonal arch leading to the inner shrine.
The Inner Shrine with an statue of Huineng. On the right of the main altar was another small altar venerating his mother and father.
Outside the Guanyin Shrine.
The Kangle Pavilion in the courtyard. The memorial house was generally quite run down and still needed a lot of renovation. There were also few visitors as not many people knew about this place. If there were patrons who wish to make merit, this is one of those places that require donations for building funds. After finishing touring the small place, I left Xialu Village and made my way back to Zhaoqing.