Tibetan Monks at the Alster Lake in Hamburg

Sunday afternoon I was blessed to join a procession of Tibetan monks. Last week the four Geshes from the Sera Je monastery created a sand mandala at MARKK (Völkerkundemuseum) in Hamburg, Germany. On Thursday, I went to the museum to get a glimps of their work already. To me it seemed that it is a very meditative process to make the mandala. The monks created the mandala out of coloured dyed sand laid out into beautiful designs. It took four days for them to complete this mandala.

Tibetan Monks from Sera Je make a sand mandala at MARKK in Hamburg

Tibetan Monks from Sera Je make a sand mandala at MARKK in Hamburg

When they were finished, they wiped it all away in a ceremonial act. They let it all go, without pain or regrets. This is hapiness, just being in the present moment! The week before I already joined this ritual which was performed on open day of the new Tibetan Center in Hamburg-City.

 

I quite like the meditative sound that their tools make when strewing the sand. It is definitely something you do not see and hear everyday! It is a process that requires a high level of concentration.

Sunday afternoon was the time for the ceremonial dismanteling of the mandala followed by the ritual of releasing the sand into a nearby lake. Since the Alster is close to the MARKK, we went from there to Rabenstraße. On the way, the monks were chanting a mantra that sounded familiar to me though I could not remember the name. Later that day, I did a bit of research and found out that it was the Avalokiteshvara Mantra which calls on the Buddha of compassion. I like the soothing yet uplifting sound of this mantra.

The four Geshes, walking to from MARKK to the Alster lake in Hamburg

The four Geshes, walking to from MARKK to the Alster lake in Hamburg

At the pier Rabenstraße the monks performed the ceremomial act accompanying the finaly dissolution of the mandala. The Geshes chanted in Tibetan language and unfortunately I did not know the meaning of their chanting but it was a wholesome event with a lot of positive energy.

 

After releasing the sand into the Alster, we had the opportunity to thank the Geshes and take pictures of them.

Four Tibetan monks from Sera Je at the Alster in Hamburg

Four Tibetan monks from Sera Je at the Alster in Hamburg

Finally, I may say that I’ve felt very happy to have joined the four Geshes in Hamburg. These are one of the rare spiritual (Buddhist) events over here, Even though coming from another Buddhist tradition, I really appreciate the opportunity to get to know more about Tibetan Buddhism in general.




New Tibetan Center in Hamburg, Germany

Today I would like to present to you the new Tibetan Center in Hamburg, Germany. I know this topic is not about Thailand. However, it relates to Buddhism in general. The Tibetan Center, under the patronage of H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama, has just recently opened a new location in Hamburg City (Güntherstr. 39, HH-Hohenfelde).

Tibetisches Zentrum, Guentherstrasse 39 in Hamburg, photo: tibet.de

Tibetisches Zentrum, Güntherstrasse 39 in Hamburg, photo: tibet.de

I am happy about that because this center is actually very close to my place and I am looking forward to stopping by for evening meditation now and then.

New Tibetan Center in Hamburg-City

New Tibetan Center in Hamburg-City

Well, some of you might know that I practice Vipassana in the tradition of Ajahn Tong, which is a meditation technique in the Theravada tradition. I am not about to switch or mix up my meditation practice but I think some additional Samatha and Metta meditation cannot be wrong.

Buddhaimage at the Tibetan Center, Hamburg

Buddhaimage at the Tibetan Center, Hamburg

Last Sunday I went to visit the center and I must say that it is really a very nice, neat and peaceful place. Just an ideal location for meditation! I recall that about 12 years ago I did a weekly course about Buddhist Psychology at the Tibetan Center in Farmsen-Berne. This was actually my first course in Buddhism and also the first formal Buddhist meditation practice that I did.

Time for meditation at the Tibetan Center Hamburg-City

Time for meditation at the Tibetan Center Hamburg-City

On open day last weekend, Tibetan monks performed some rituals among these were the creation of a sand mandala followed by the ritual destruction of it. When I arrived at the center, the mandala had already been completed. I think that creating this kind of mandala from fine coloured sand is a very meditative act and the monks also put their metta and well wishes into this work of art. I have learned that the mandala is for visualizing the Buddha Avalokiteshvara, who is generally known as the Buddha of universal compassion.

Sand mandala on the opening day of the Tibetan Center Hamburg-City

Sand mandala on the opening day of the Tibetan Center Hamburg-City

However, there is a lot more symbolism to the mandala but in short, it stands for impermanence and the transitory nature of material life. I also got to witness the ritual destruction of the sand mandala which is a highly ceremonial act.

Tibetan monks and the ritual around the destruction of the sand mandala

Tibetan monks and the ritual around the destruction of the sand mandala

Destruction of the sand mandala

Destruction of the sand mandala

The deity syllables are removed in a specific order along with the rest of the geometry. Once the mandala has been completely dismantled, the sand is collected in a jar which is then wrapped in silk and brought to a river. Hence, we went to the nearby Kuhmühlenteich which is close to the Alster lake. There the monks released the sand into the water and thus back into nature. This symbolizes life’s transitoriness and impermanence of the world in general.

Tibetan monks, going to the nearby river at Kuhmühlenteich, Hamburg

Tibetan monks, going to the nearby river at Kuhmühlenteich, Hamburg

Tibetan monk releases sand from the mandala into the water

Tibetan monk releases sand from the mandala into the water

Summing up, I may say that it was a very interesting and uplifting afternoon at the new Tibetan Center in Hamburg-City. I will defintely stop by there for meditation and I am also curious about other courses or seminars relating to meditation practice.




My Vipassana Intensive Meditation Course Experience

I have just returned home to Germany from my meditation retreat at the Sirimangalo International Meditation Centre in Hamilton, ON, Canada. Well, it is really not easy to relate all that has happened to me on an emotional and psychological level. Indeed, I do not really know where to begin but I had better start writing my thoughts down now while everything is still fresh in my mind.

Vipassana Meditation Course Experience

Before coming to the intensive course, I completed the online meditation course with the Ven. Yuttadhammo. I guess without this Vipassana online course first, I would never have gone on a retreat in a far away country. Indeed, this undertaking was daunting and great step for me. However, finally I felt confident enough to do the 3- week meditation course.

At the Sirimangalo Meditation Centre for the Vipassana Intensive Meditation Course

At the Sirimangalo Meditation Centre for the Vipassana Intensive Meditation Course

First of all, doing the online course really got me into Buddhist Insight Meditation, in the tradition of Ajaan Tong Sirimangalo, and I could already feel that it brought a lot of benefit and wholesomeness to my daily life. Thus, I intended to deepen this experience by going on a retreat. I did quite a lot of daily meditation at home and by the time I went to Canada I felt quite established in my practice. However, little did I know what the intensive practice would be like. Indeed, once I arrived at the centre I did not feel so self-assured anymore and I had the feeling that I was falling apart. Everything seemed strange and unfamiliar to me and it took me a few days to get adjusted.

Thinking of the Buddha helped me through my intensive practice

Thinking of the Buddha helped me through my intensive practice

The time that followed was marked by mood swings and mixed feelings. I had the impression that all sensations and feelings were more intense in the environment of a retreat. Hence, I suffered and worried a lot about all kinds of different things. However, there came a time when I really felt quite OK and happy in my new surroundings and I was glad to meditate. What is more, I felt less clinging, did not miss anything and did not get homesick at all.

Sirinya, glad to meditate

Sirinya, glad to meditate

Nevertheless, there where still ups and downs and my greatest breakdown came one Sunday about one week that I had been at the centre. I was very desperate, felt that I could not really concentrate on the practice and everything seemed so bleak to me. At that time, I just wanted to go home. Well, that is not so easily done if you come from far away. In my devastation, I could not imagine how one could ever walk out of the centre happily and with an equanimous mind. Hence, the Ven. Yuttadhammo reminded me that I came to this place for a purpose and that half of the practice was already accomplished. Thus, I took this to heart and after my tears were dried I already felt much better, relieved and able to carry on. So I rolled my sitting mat out again.

Rolling the sitting mat out again

Rolling the sitting mat out again

From that point on my practice got much lighter and I often felt very happy and calm. In fact, I thought it a relief to be at the centre and devote myself only to the meditation practice. I thought about how great and beautiful it was just to meditate, eat and sleep, not having anything else to do and not to be distracted by the outside world. However, the hardest and most challenging part of the intensive course was still to come. Well, I really understood how one could want to practice the Dhamma day and night and indeed that is what the final part of the course is about. Hence, I had three days to work with a different determination each day.

No sleep for me, practicing the Dhamma day and night

Practicing the Dhamma day and night

That seemed challenging to me at first but I already noticed that during the course I was never really tired because body and mind were not stressed. Thus, after the first meditation day in this way was accomplished, I was really going strong and also a little astonished about my own strength and endurance. However, honestly by the time the third day came, I was a bit exhausted and even resigned but also very clear and peaceful in my mind. Hence, I was about to give in to cessation and this was exactly what happened, not for very long but it happened. This is certainly a part of the practice that could be deepened but anyways, I had accomplished my aim to finish the foundation course. Thus, by that time, I did not want to leave the centre because I felt that I could continue with my practice for some further months or even years…

Mind precedes all mental states

Mind precedes all mental states

Summing up, I can say that I have learned a lot about myself during the Vipasanna Intensive Meditation Course and I also came into contact with my endurance in difficult situations. It was not easy but a profound experience. Thus, there was one last test for me to prove my patience: My flight to Germany was terribly delayed because of the snow and so it nearly took me one and a half days to get back home. And last but not least, my suitcase went missing…in the past, this would have upset me extremely. However, in this situation I was quite relaxed and calm, knowing that things are not under my control. Hence, I am glad I did the intensive meditation course and I would do it again at any time.

Yours, Sirinya




Vipassana Meditation

Today, I’d like to introduce you to Vipassana meditation (Buddhist Insight Meditation), in the tradition of Ajaan Tong Sirimangalo, which I’ve discovered for myself a few months ago. In the past, I had not been a great meditator and the techniques that I tried before had not really captured and convinced me. However, since practising Vipassana, I meditate daily for some hours at home, doing sitting and walking meditation.

Vipassana Meditation

The term Vipassana comes from the Pali language and means ‘seeing clearly’ (‘vi’– clearly, ‘passana’-seeing). This meditation technique is for the purification of the mind and based on the four foundations of mindfulness (satipatthana). These are the body (kaia), feelings (vedana), mind (citta) and dhamma.

In fact, mindfulness is the key to this practice since it allows us to experience reality as it truly is so that we are in the present moment. Hence, in Vipassana meditation, we note every experience related to the body (e.g. walking, sitting), to feelings (e.g. happy, sad), the mind (i.e. thinking about the past and the future) and dhamma which is the awareness of noting the five hinderances (liking, disliking, drowsiness, distraction and doubt).

Sirinya meditating (Vipassana meditation)

Sirinya meditating (Vipassana meditation)

Noting according to the present moment is so important since our minds and thus our concentration will become stronger and more powerful. If we practice with right effort and continuity, our faculties will also balance. These faculties are confidence, effort, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom.

Eventually, when we are able to stay aware continuously, we will let go of all existential phenomena since they arise and cease. Hence, the nature of all arisen phenomena is unstable, unsatisfying and non-self (i.e. not controllable).

What is more, mindfulness is fundamental to a peaceful mind since being aware of the present moment prevents evil from entering our minds. Thus, we can rid ourselves of defilements like greed, anger and delusion.

Sirinya in meditation

Sirinya in meditation

I’ve learned about Buddhist Insight Meditation mainly from the internet. Ven.Yuttadhammo’s Youtube channel has been a huge source of information for me. I’ve also done an online meditation course with him which I can recommend to anyone interested in taking up meditation on a daily basis.

For a beginner meditator, I also suggest you check out Ven. Yuttadhammo’s series on ‘How to meditate’.

 

Finally, there is of course also the opportunity to do an intensive Vipassana course in a related meditation center or monastery. I have not done this yet but if you are interested, check out the Sirimangalo website.

Yours, Sirinya




Dreaming of Lotus Flowers

Recently I’ve had a vivid dream about a beautiful light mansion with a pool of white lotus flowers in front. I had the feeling that this place was somewhere in Thailand. I often dream of landscapes and particularly of those in Southeast Asia. I guess this is why I long to see all these amazing places in reality. Thus, I’ve wondered what the meaning of the lotus flower is and in the days following this dream, I’ve done a bit of research about lotus as symbol.

Lotus Flowers

Lotus (credit: Love Krittaya, wikimedia.org)

Lotus (credit: Love Krittaya, wikimedia.org)

First of all, I’ve learned about the spiritual and religious meaning of the lotus flower in different cultures. In ancient Egypt, for instance, the lotus was a symbol of rebirth and hence it was commonly used for wall and tomb paintings. The lotus has the power to renew itself since it loses old blooms and adds new ones in a daily cycle.

The lotus is also a symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism. In Hinduism, this flower stands for eternity, purity and peace. Hence, it is also the flower of the Gods for Brahma, the ultimate creator of the world, arises from a lotus. It is very interesting to note that in Buddhism the lotus flower has even more, i.e. a variety of meanings. For example, it symbolizes self-awareness, love and compassion of all beings and things, emptiness from desire, enlightenment, victory over attachments, overcoming suffering and spiritual development. Thus, the lotus also stands for patience, purity and mysticism.

Graceful 2014 painting by Narongrit Galajit

Graceful 2014 painting by Narongrit Galajit

You certainly know the lotus position which is a way of sitting during meditation. It is an important position in Buddhist meditation but also in yoga practices. The lotus has a deep spiritual meaning and in the lotus position the legs are crossed and tucked in a way that makes the bent knees look like the petals of a lotus. It is important that the soles of the feet are tucked away so that it is a respectful position to sit in when visiting a temple where exposing the bottom of your feet is considered rude.

In fact, there are lotus flowers and water lilies of different colours. Since I saw white lotus in my dream let me focus on the meaning of this paritcular colour: The white lotus symbolizes awakening, representing spiritual perfection and purity. Hence, it also stands for peace and a peaceful mind.

Well, how to interpret this dream now? Maybe I’m a person who is lucidly dreaming but the mansion and the lotus flowers surely symbolize a way to realize my longing and a path to awakening, in a worldly but also in a spiritual sense. How about you? Have you ever dreamed of water lilies or other flowers?

Yours, Sirinya

Reference: https://www.lotusflowermeaning.net/

http://www.flowermeaning.com/lotus-flower-meaning/

 




The Story of The Buddha

I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value (Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha)

The story of Buddhism begins with a man who became enlightened, thus gaining abiding insight into the nature of the world and its reality. Hence, the word ‘Buddha’ means the ‘Enlightened’ or ‘Awakened One’.

Great Buddha Monthon - Great Being (photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram @knack66)

Great Buddha Monthon – the ‘Awakened One’ (photo: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram @knack66)

The Story of The Buddha

The historical Buddha was born as a prince among the Sakyas in the year 623 B.C. The Sakyas were a warrior caste who lived in Kapilvastu which is located in today’s Nepal. His parents were King Suddhodana and Queen Siri Maha Maya who died after he was born. The prince was named Siddhartha Gautama. There was a prediction that the prince would become either a great King or a supreme Teacher of the World if he choose to become a monk.

Reclining Buddha of Wat Pho, Bangkok (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

Reclining Buddha of Wat Pho, Bangkok. The ‘Sleeping Lion’ posture is the position in which the Buddha died (photo: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

Legends tell us that Prince Siddhartha was a very remarkable personality. Even though he was surrounded by luxury and splendour, he kept a serious, meditative turn of mind. Thus, one day the prince rode through the village streets and saw an old and discrepit man, then he also encountered a man severely stricken with illness and finally a dead man. Since he had not seen such conditions before in his luxurious palace, he became preoccupied with the ultimate questions of suffering and death.

The Buddha's hand (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

The Buddha became a supreme Teacher of the World. This is the Great Buddha of Wat Muang  (photo: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

Thus, at the age of 29, the prince left his palace to become a monk leaving even his beautiful wife and child behind. First, he sought instruction under several great spiritual teachers and later he undertook the disciplines of rigorous self-mortification. Finally, after six years of radical physical asceticism and abstract philosophy, he reached Enlightenment through sitting quietly in meditation beneath the Bodhi Tree. He detected the cause of suffering in craving due to ignorance, discovering a way to right view, conduct and concentration.

Centre Hall stands for the four noble truths that the Buddha has preached to all men

The Buddha has preached the four noble truths to all men (photo: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

The Buddha decided to share his insights, what he discovered through the process of Enlightenment by preaching the message of salvation (Dharma) to all people of all castes without any discrimination. Thus, he organized a community of monks, the Sangha, which included disciples from all castes. The Buddha was a wandering teacher for 45 years before he died at Kusinara at the age of 80.

Buddha Monthon against the blue sky (photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram @knack66)

Buddha Monthon against the blue sky, the Buddha teached the Dharma to all men (photo: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan)

In fact, the Buddha was a human being and his story was a story of a rich prince who became a monk and spent many years in the jungles, villages and schools in order to achieve Enlightenment. Hence, as a man he was born, he lived and he passed away. Thus, the Buddha is neither a god nor a god’s prophet. He is not a savior who saves others by his personal salvation. He rather wants his disciples to depend on themselves for their salvation.

A Buddha in Nan province (photo: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram @knack66)

A Buddha in Nan province (photo: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan)

Finally, we may also say that the Buddha does not claim the monopoly of Buddhahood. Thus, we should also point out in retelling his story that every person can achieve Enlightenment and hence Buddhahood.

Yours, Sirinya




Thai Folklore: The Tale of Sang Thong

Sang Thong is a very popular folktale in Thailand and it is maybe the most well-known tale among Thai people. It has been transmitted in various forms ranging from jataka tale, written literature, folk drama, local legend to television drama. The first written version is Suwan Sangkha Chadok  in Panyasa Chadok (Suvannasankhajātaka, Jataka Tale).  Thus, today I’d like to retell this story for you.

The Tale of Sang Thong

Sung Thong, the prince in the conch shell (photo: thaigoodview.com)

Sung Thong, the prince in the conch shell (photo: thaigoodview.com)

Once there was a king who had two wives. When his major wife gave birth to a son, this son was born in a conch shell. The minor wife wanted to banish the major wife and her son from the kingdom and she was successful. The king ordered the major wife and his son, Prince Sang, to live in another place with an old couple.

Detail of the murals of the Sang Thong Tales, Viharn Laikam at Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai, Thailand, (photo: ich.culture.co.th)

Detail of the murals of the Sang Thong Tales, Viharn Laikam at Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai, Thailand, (photo: ich.culture.go.th)

Each day, Prince Sang would leave his shell to work in the household of the couple. When his mother learned about this, she broke his shell. Still the minor wife longed to get rid of the Prince. Thus, he found harbour at the place of a giant lady who took care of him.

Chao Ngo mural (photo: ich.culture.go.th)

Chao Ngo mural (photo: ich.culture.go.th)

The giant lady forbade the Prince to jump into the golden well but one day the Prince broke this rule. He jumped into the well putting on an ugly mask to escape. When he wore his ugly dark mask he was called Chao Ngo. This was when he came across the Samon kingdom. The king of Samon had seven daughters. Hence, he ordered all kings to send their sons to his place so that his daughters could choose their husbands.

Sang Thong mural painting (photo: ich.culture.go.th)

Sang Thong mural painting (photo: ich.culture.go.th)

Six of the king’s daughters chose a husband but only his youngest daughter Rodjana did not. To the king’s surprise and anger, she finally took Prince Sang as her husband. She was the only one who could see his golden body whereas to other people the prince appeared as an ugly dark person. Enraged, the King chased his youngest daughter and her ugly husband away to live in a rice field.

Sangthong mural, Thai folklore (photo: ich.culture.go.th)

Sangthong mural, Thai folklore (photo: ich.culture.go.th)

Hence, the king also ordered his other sons-in-law to bring him a 100 fish and deer. He wanted to see Chao Ngo dead. However, Chao Ngo was clever and could perform magic. Thus, he was the only son-in-law able to bring the king what he wanted. Finally, Chao Ngo was the only one who could help King Samon to protect and save the kingdom. This was when his golden body and his royal origin were revealed.

Sang Thong, the hero, is finally acknowledged (photo: ich.culture.go.th)

Sang Thong, the hero, is finally acknowledged (photo: ich.culture.go.th)

Summing up, we can say that Sang Thong is a hero who becomes finally accepted. At first he hides behind ugliness and deformation but then his true nature and beauty is revealed.

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference: Siraporn Nathalang, Thai Folklore. Insights into Thai Culture, Chulalongkorn UP 2000)




A Jataka Tale: The Story of Prince Mahajanaka

I’d like to retell a Jataka Tale which is called ‘The Story of Mahajanaka’ (in Thai: ‘Phra Mahachanok’). I’ve come across this tale in the book ‘Folk Tales of Thailand’ by P.C. Roy Chaudhury. For a better understanding, Jataka Tales are stories about the previous lives of the Buddha. These are tales with a moral in which the Buddha shows some virtue.

A Jataka Tale: Prince Mahajanaka

In this life the Buddha was born as Prince Mahajanaka, the son of King Mithila of India. He was born after his father, the King, was killed by his brother Polajanaka. The Queen found harbour at a Brahmin’s house and Prince Mahajanaka was born and grew up there. When the Prince was 16 years old he wanted to see his father’s kingdom. Thus, he left his mother behind taking half of her jewels with him and sailed in the direction of Suvannabhumi. His aim was to make a fortune there.

Mahajanaka is saved by the Goddess Manimekhala Wat Yai Intharam, Chonburi*

Mahajanaka is saved by the Sea Goddess Manimekhala, Wat Yai Intharam, Chonburi (photo credit: buddha-images.com)

However, he got shipwrecked and the Goddess of the Sea, Manimekhala, rescued him. She took him to a mango-grove of Mithila, the former kingdom of Mahajanaka’s father. Since Polajanaka had died, his daughter, the Princess Sivali, was in charge of the kingdom. The throne would go to the man who married Sivali but she wanted her suitors to pass many tests. Thus, no one had taken this chance.

A scene from the Mahajanaka, Jataka tale, mural at Wat Yai, Chonburi*

A scene from the Mahajanaka, Jataka tale, mural at Wat Yai Intharam, Chonburi (photo credit: buddha-images.com)

Nonetheless, some ministers were sent out and they met Mahajanaka. They realized that he must be of royal origin considering the auspicious symbols on his feet. Thus, Mahajanaka was prompted to take all the tests imposed by Princess Sivali. Since the Prince passed the tests, he was allowed to marry Sivali. They lived happily together and a son was born who later became the viceroy of the kingdom.

Mahajanaka suffers a shipwreck*

Mahajanaka suffers a shipwreck, mural painting at Wat Yai Intharam (photo credit: buddha-images.com)

However, there was an event that changed Mahajanaka’s mind and life forever. One day, he realized that the mango trees in the grove were constantly plundered and then the barren ones were left alone. Hence, he came to the conclusion that it would be better to desire and possess less. If one had less worldly possessions, one would not desire and crave more.

This was when Mahajanaka gave up his kingdom and continued living as an ascetic. A short while later, he decided to become a hermit. Even though his wife tried to change his mind and the kingdom was threatened, King Mahajanaka vanished in the forest and his wife Sivali also became an ascetic in the royal gardens of Mithila.

"Phra Mahachanok" as animation project in honour of His Majesty's birthday (photo credit: nationmultimedia.com)

“Phra Mahachanok” as animation project in honour of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Birthday (photo credit: nationmultimedia.com)

Finally, the Jataka tale about Mahajanaka has been very popular in Thai culture. In fact, this story is His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s favourite tale. Thus, last year the story was made into an animation project in honour of His Majesty’s Birthday. You may watch this film here 🙂

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference: P.C. Roy Chaudhury, Folk Tales of Thailand, SterlingPublishers, 1976)




A Jataka Tale: Angati the King of Videha

Today, I’d like to retell a Jataka Tale which is also called ‘The Story of Mahanaradakassapa’ and deals with Angati, the King of Videha. I’ve come across this tale in the book ‘Folk Tales of Thailand’ by P.C. Roy Chaudhury. For a better understanding, Jataka tales are stories about the previous lives of the Buddha. These are tales with a moral in which the Buddha shows some virtue.

A Jataka Tale: Angati the King of Videha

Angati was the King of Videha who summoned three of his ministers on a beautiful full-moon night in spring. Thus, he asked them for their suggestions how to spend such pleasant hours best. Hence, the ministers gave different kind of advice. One of them said the best way is to indulge in earthly pleasures whereas another suggested listening to the teachings of a wiseman. However, the minster named Alata said they should rather ask the ascetic Guna for advice.

Wat Suwannaram, Thonburi, Bangkok, Thailand (photo Heinrich Damm, wikimedia.org)

The Jakata tale of the appearance of the Boddhisatva in form of Narada is depicted at  Wat Suwannaram, Thonburi, Bangkok, Thailand (photo: Heinrich Damm, wikimedia.org)

Nonetheless, the King was disappointed by Guna’s advice because he did not seem wise. The King longed for advice on what to do to earn merits in order to get to heaven. Foolishly, Guna said that there were no consequences of sinful behaviour and that no other realms existed. The King Angati, however, believed Guna and thus went on indulging in his life of earthly pleasures.

The King had a clever daughter called Ruja. She advised her father against Guna’s misleading instructions. However, the King would not listen to his daughter. Thus, Ruja prayed vehemently to the Gods that they might change his father’s mind. This was when the great Boddhisattva disguised himself as the ascetic Narada. He went to see the King and thus finally, the King could be converted by Narada’s counsel.

Mural of Vessantara Jataka, 19th century, Wat Suwannaram, Thonburi district, Bangkok,Thailand (photo Heinrich Damm, wikimedia.org

Mural of Vessantara Jataka, 19th century, Wat Suwannaram, Thonburi district, Bangkok, Thailand (photo: Heinrich Damm, wikimedia.org)

Finally, we may note that this Jataka tale, the appearance of the Boddhisattva in form of Narada, is depicted in a mural at Wat Suwannaram in Thonburi district, Bangkok. If you have the chance to visit this temple, I recommend you take a look at the amazing murals 🙂

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference: P.C. Roy Chaudhury, Folk Tales of Thailand, SterlingPublishers, 1976)




Hindu Gods in Thai Culture

You may certainly have noticed that Hindu gods are very prominent in Thai culture. Thus, there are often images of these gods in Thai temples and shrines. In fact, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are the three most important Hindu gods representing the recurring and continual cycles of birth, life, death and rebirth.

At the Ganesha Park (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

At the Ganesha Park (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

Hindu Gods in Thai Culture

This trinity, along with the god Indra, Ganesha and some enlightened divinities and demons, have been converted to the Buddhist doctrine according to Buddhist belief. Hence, these gods often occur as guardians of temples and monasteries. In addition, they may also be seen attending the Buddha on important events in his life.

Brahma, Hindu gods (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

Brahma, Hindu gods at the Ancient City, Samut Prakan (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

First there is Brahma (in Thai: Phra Phrom) who is the creator in the Hindu trinity. He is commonly depicted having four heads and the book of Vedas in his hand. His female aspect is the goddess of learning, Sarasvadi and his mount is the mythical celestial swan called Hong or Hamsa. Brahma is considered a guard of doors and pediments in temples. Furthermore, he is also popular as a protector of Thai hotels. Thus, in Thai culture, he is a deity of good fortune and protection.

Wat Yannawa Brahma (credit: photo dharma, Anandajoti Bhikku, wikimedia.org)

Wat Yannawa Brahma (credit: photo dharma, Anandajoti Bhikku, wikimedia.org)

In Thai art, Brahma is depicted in attendance to Buddhism along with Indra, at the crucial events in Buddha’s life. Hence, he is also considered to be converted to Buddhism. By the way, Hindu gods might also be the subject of one or the other Thai song. For instance, Noi (Krissada Sukosol), singer of the band Pru, featured a song called ‘Brahma Brahma’. I think this song is from the horror movie ‘Pawn Shop’ (Long Jamnam, 2013).

Another important god is Vishnu who is the preserver deity of the Hindu triad. In his hand, he often holds a disk and a conch shell. His mount is Garuda, the mythical bird that is half-human and half-eagle and the natural enemy of the Nagas. In other words, Garuda can be seen as the vehicle of Vishnu. What is more, Vishnu’s avatar is Rama, the hero of the Ramakien tale. In addition, this god is also associated with Thai royalty since the kings of the Chakkri dynasty have ‘Rama’ as part of their names. Similar to Brahma, Vishnu often functions as a (door) Wat guardian.

หน้าบันรูปพระนารายณ์ Vishnu tympanum (photo credit: กสิณธร ราชโอรส, wikimedia.org)

Vishnu tympanum (photo credit: wikimedia.org)

Shiva is the destroyer and regenerator aspect of the Hindu trinity. He usually has a third eye that is centred vertically on his forehead. Further characteristics are a brahmanical cord across his torso and sometimes a crescent moon which is caught in his tangled hair. Parvati is his consort and his mount is the bull Nandi.

Shiva on the bull Nandi, Prasat Muang Tam (photo credit: Ddalbiez, wikimedia.org)

Shiva on the bull Nandi, Prasat Muang Tam (photo credit: Ddalbiez, wikimedia.org)

The image of Ganesha (in Thai: Phra Pikanet) is also very prominent in Thai culture. For example, there is the Ganesha park in Nakhon Nayok which is considered a tribute to this elephant-headed god who is Shiva’s son. In Thailand, he is commonly seated at temple portals. What is more, he is also the patron of the arts and a protector of business.

Ganesha (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

Ganesha at the same-named park in Nakhon Nayok (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

Finally, we have the god Indra who is the god of Tavatimsa heaven. Hence, he is also the god of weather and war wielding a lightening bolt and riding Erawan, the multi-headed elephant. Indra is a temple guardian of portals and pediments. He is also prominent in the Vessantara story which is the last life of the Buddha-to-be. In addition, Indra occurs on mural paintings where he can be identified by his green colour. Along with Brahma, he is kneeling when attending Buddha during particular life events. Thus, it is indicated that the Hindu gods are subservient to Buddhism.

Bangkok Wat Arun Phra Prang, God Indra and the three-headed Erawan (photo credit Tsui, wikimedia.org)

Bangkok Wat Arun Phra Prang, God Indra and the three-headed Erawan (photo credit Tsui, wikimedia.org)

Summing up, we may claim that Hindu gods play a significant role in Thai culture. As a matter of fact, they not only show that Buddhism and Hinduism are intertwined but also represent a subservience of Hinduism to Buddhism. In this context, you might also want to check out my Thai Art Motifs Glossary for more general information 🙂

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference, Carol Stratton, What’s What In A Wat, Silkworm Books, 2010)