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Buddha Images in Northeastern Thailand

Buddha Image #1by Michael Babcock

See also: Some Important Heart Values and our blog entry Buddhism, Thailand, Achaan Chah.

Click pictures to see larger image.

Buddha Image #2In December 2004, Kasma and I made an exploratory trip to Northeastern Thailand, to the region of the country known as Isahn. Although I had made many trips to Thailand, I had only seen a very few places in the northeast, perhaps geographically the largest area of Thailand

Buddha Image #3 In many ways Isahn is the heart of Thailand. It is the area of Thailand where people still adhere the most closely to traditional Thai ways. It is the area of the country where Buddhism still is most clearly the basis of the culture. Except for the deep south, it is the poorest area of Thailand – much of the land has been devastated by its nearly complete deforestation, which has led to loss of much farm land and to a decrease in the amount of water available.

Buddha Image #4There is much to see in Isahn, including the Angkor Wat-like historical ruins in Pee Mai and Phu Phrabat, archeological digs containing evidence of the world's earliest Bronze culture, dinosaur remains, lively markets, and weaving. There are also a large number of Buddhist temples and I found myself fascinated by the Buddha images in these temples.

Buddha Image #5As we were driving through the NE, I had only one book – A Still Forest Pond: The Insight Meditation of Achaan Chah, compiled and edited by Jack Kornfield and Paul Breiter (Wheaton, Illinois, The Theosophical Publishing House, 1985). I had long admired the teachings of Achaan Chah, a Thai monk who had founded a famous forest monastery in NE Thailand in the province of Ubon.

Buddha Image #6It is fascinating to observe the various forms that Buddhism has assumed as it entered different cultures. Although the root teaching is the same, the trappings of, say, Tibetan Buddhism are very different from those of, say, Zen Buddhism in Japan. The form of Buddhism in Thailand is called Theravada Buddhism and traces Buddha Image #7 its core teachings in unbroken lineage back to the words of the Buddha, some 2,500 years ago. It has acquired, along the way, some of the trappings of Thai beliefs in animism and spirits – for example, one reason you see so many people wearing Buddha amulets and images around their necks has to do with the protection they are meant to impart to the wearer.

Buddha Image #8Whereas most temples offer a more social Buddhism with many ceremonies and public occasions, Thai forest monastaries offer a place for people to explore the quiet side of Buddhism, the meditative side. The teachings of Achaan Chah are direct and simple and admit no nonsense whatsoever. He is unconcerned with what any Buddhist texts or ancient wisdom may say – for him, the only source of true knowledge is one's own experience, acquired by contemplating whatever arises directly from moment-to-moment without pause. Using sitting and walking meditation as a basis for practice, one learns to contemplate the mind and sense objects with equanimity until able to do so in the midst of either great activity or no activity.

Buddha Image #8As we visited the various temples, I found myself looking at the various images and recalling the words of Achaan Chah, as recorded in A Still Forest Pond. I would like to share some of the images of these Buddhas along with some thoughts – start here and walk through the various images using the "next" link.

Learning more about Insight Meditation

We recommend the following two websites as a place to learn more about insight meditation.

  • Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in Northern California grows out of the lineage of Aachan Chah. The books page has many books available for free download in Adobe PDF format.
  • Spirit Rock Meditation Center – in Marin County, California. Jack Kornfield, one of the authors of A Still Forest Pond (among many books) is one of the many teachers here.
Copyright © 2004 Michael Babcock. All rights reserved.

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