Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Buddhist Riddle: Sitting Buddha, Standing Buddha, Walking Buddha and Sleeping Buddha

A Buddhist Riddle of the Four Brahmaviharas

While we are in the heart of Old Bangkok, we may need to adjust our mental frame as a humble Buddhist to appreciate the Sublime and Divine. Then the Sublime and Divine will manifest their omnipresence through the temples, the pagodas, the Buddha statues, the Buddhist teachings and all the other historical buildings. These physical structures will also reveal to us the high culture of Thai arts, as well as the layers of Heaven through religious symbols, faith and Buddhist riddles. From the outset, Bangkok, as its official name implies, was created by Lord Vishnu, who radiates his kindness equally toward the Celestial Beings and human beings.

The Buddha does not refute the existence of the worlds of the lower beings, nor that of the worlds of the higher beings. But he focuses on the present, how one might reach a breakthrough of one's consciousness. This is the ultimate Heaven, the Nirvana where there is no self and only absolute tranquillity. Angels or Gods may still have emotions and desires. They dwell in different realms. And they still have to go through the cycle of birth and death. But the Buddha and those who follow his path to Nirvana have no emotion or desire, only the ever-present state of blissfulness. The Buddha sees a potential to realise a perfect soul in every human being.

In the City of Celestial Beings, our mode of thought gives in to the Sublime and Divine. What is more Sublime and Divine than to have a mind-set of Brahma or to enter the realm of Brahma?

But first we have to solve a Buddhist riddle of the Four Brahmaviharas.

The Buddha employs Brahma as a metaphor in his teaching of the Four Brahmaviharas. Together with Vishnu and Shiva, Brahma forms the Trinity of the Hindu Gods. Two words combine to make Brahmavihara. As we already know, Brahma is the Hindu God of creation. Vihara means a building or a residence, generally a grand and imposing structure where the high priests perform religious rites or where the gods take their residence. To perfect the Four Brahmaviharas of Metta, Karuna, Mudita and Upekkha is to enter the realm of Brahma and to attain the Sublime and Divine.

In Thailand, we can see Brahma Shrines almost everywhere because the Thais also worship Brahma, who renders peace and prosperity and fulfils our wishes and cures our traumas. Brahma Shrines are located in front of government offices, office buildings or condominiums. There are two most prominent Brahma Shrines in Bangkok, one at the Government House and the other at the Rajaprasong Intersection near the Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel. The Thao Maha Phrom of the Erawan Shrine at the Rajaprasong Intersection, created in 1956, is the most well-known spirit house of all. Every day the Thais, as well as tourists mostly from Hong Kong and Singapore, flock the Erawan Shrine to worship the four-headed and eight-handed Brahma and his elephant Erawan with offerings, garlands of sweet-scented jasmine, roses and also wooden elephants. When the supplicants' wishes are answered, they pay a tribute to Thao Maha Phrom with a troupe of a ritual dance and traditional Thai music.

In the early morning of March 21, 2006, a man with a record of mental illness smashed the Great Brahma statue to pieces with a hammer. He was later beaten to death by an angry mob. The incident shocked the Thai public, who could not have imagined that the Brahma shrine came under the attack. It was beyond any imaginable crimes, the most sinful act of all. "It's hard to believe it happened," said Viranya Aiemcharoen, who visited the shrine with her family in the morning after learning of the incident." My heart is filled with sorrow, so I came to pay respect to the gods again," she said. Members of her family often asked for blessings at the shrine and were devastated by the statue's destruction. Patsalin Sritan, a sales clerk, said she rushed to the shrine after a motorcycle taxi driver told her what had happened." I feel sorry for all Thais because the statue was much revered by Buddhists," she said. Garland vendor Pinkaew Pipat-asa witnessed people started arriving as early as 4 am to pay their tribute. She immediately phoned her friends then rushed to the scene. "I was shocked and my heart was broken ...I am a second-generation garland seller here, I've been here for about 40 years," she said.

It was not until three months afterward that the Hindu God Thao Maha Phrom was restored. During which time there was much speculation about the motivation behind the destruction of the Erawan Shrine. One plausible theory was that the real culprit behind this black-magic act of terror would like to destroy Brahma and the Four Brahmaviharas governing the Sublime and Divine of Bangkok. The culprit hoped that if he could destroy the Four Brahmaviharas, the Thais at large would be falling to the lower worlds governed by the beasts. It would be more convenient to rule the Thais reduced to residing in the realms of Naraka or Hell under the disguised form of Democracy.

Since Brahma has four faces and eight hands, each face comes to represent a virtue of the Four Brahmaviharas (Metta, Karuna, Mudita and Upekkha), while each hand signifies a virtue of Noble Eightfold Path (Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration). Those who possess or persevere through the virtues of the Four Brahmaviharas are considered perfect human beings. Those who practice the Noble Eightfold Path will ultimately find a way to end suffering. These virtues enshrined in the Buddha’s teachings can be achieved through meditation and daily practice. The barami, or reserve power, that is acquired through the constant practice and refining of these virtues will help us attain the Sublime and Divine.

The Buddha holds that cultivation of the Four Brahmaviharas has the power to cause the practitioner to be re-born into a Brahma realm. Through the Four Brahamaviharas, we radiate our pure heart to all beings in all directions in the mental states of loving-kindness or benevolence (Metta), compassion (Karuna), sympathetic joy (Mudita), and, equanimity (Upekkha).

Metta is the wish that all sentient beings, without any exception, be happy. The Thais make merit by pouring water into a vessel (tham boon kruat nam). While they pray during this merit making, they radiate metta not only to their family members but also to other fellow human beings and animals, who all share the same fate of the cycle of birth and death in this world.

Karuna is the wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering. The Thais sometimes free the birds and release the fish back into the water in a merit-making act of metta and karuna radiation. At Wat Rakhang, which is located on the bank of the Chao Phya River on the Thon Buri side of Bangkok, many Thais make merit by sending the birds kept in cages into the air and release the fish in plastic bags back into the river so that they may enjoy freedom again. The temple's ground is a no-killing zone. A big flock of pigeons finds protection within the temple's compound. The fish, which swim in the river in front of the temple's pier are also getting fed with food and bread from the well-wishers. There, human beings and animals are treated equally.

Mudita is the wholesome attitude of rejoicing in the happiness and virtues of all sentient beings. When we don't feel jealous toward the success of some one but rejoices in his or her happiness or achievement, we are in the Mudita mode.

Upekkha is a state of mind that does not to distinguish between friend, enemy or stranger, but regard every sentient being as equal. If we treat all other sentient beings as equal, we will get the respect from all.
These virtues of the Brahmavihara form the foundation of a perfect human being. We may enter the realm of Brahma without having to wait for the next life by simultaneously practising the virtues of Metta, Karuna, Mudita and Upekkha.

The Buddhist riddle of the Four Brahmaviharas is also concealed in the Buddha statues in Bangkok and the nearby Nakhon Pathom. These Buddha statues communicate and are related to each other. We can detect the riddle of the Four Brahmaviharas, as exemplified through the Sitting Buddha, the Standing Buddha, the Walking Buddha and the Sleeping Buddha. Each Buddha statue represents one virtue of the Four Brahmaviharas.

The Sitting Buddha or Phra Sri Sakayamuni at Wat Suthat represents the virtue of Metta. The Standing Buddha or Phra Sri Ariyametreya at Wat Indhravoraviharn illustrates the virtue of Karuna. The Walking Buddha or Phra Srisakayathosphol at Nakhon Pathom's Phuttamonthon manifests the virtue of Mudita. Finally, the Sleeping Buddha at Wat Pho exemplifies the virtue of Upekkha.

These Buddha statues speak to each other. They reveal our past, present and future. They relate to us the past glory of Suvarnabhumi. They reflect the decadence and despair and hope of our present time. And they point to the future of a re-emerging Suvarnabhumi, a lost Heaven that could be regained. Only after we have come to terms with these Buddha images and fallen on your knees to pray before them, with a perfect heart of the Four Brahmaviharas, would we realise that the door to Heaven is wide open before our eyes.


The Sitting Buddha
At Wat Suthat Thepwararam, a royal temple of the first grade, the Buddha statue Phra Sri Sakayamuni offers a striking image. You are overwhelmed at once by the statue's immense size and beauty. The aesthetics of Thai arts and the Buddhist ideals are inseparable. Beauty is defined by a combination of an appropriate size and proportion. And Phra Sri Sakayamuni is created with an appropriate size and proportion to become a perfect piece of art, a rendition of the force of Metta and an embodiment of the Four Brahmaviharas. The creation of this Buddha image reflects the Golden Age of the Sukhothai Kingdom, which marked one of the early cradles of the Suvarnabhumi civilisation.

Wat Suthat is located at the centre of Old Bangkok on Bamrungmuang Road of Phra Nakhon District. In front of this temple stands the Giant Swing, a relic of Brahmanic ceremony. The Giant Swing is made of 20-metre tall red lacquered teak logs. In the ceremony, a group of men would push the swing until someone could snatch a bag of gold from a 15-metre bamboo pole with his teeth. Nearby are a Brahmin Shrine, the Dev Mandir Temple and the headquarters of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

A narrow street in front of Wat Suthat leads to the broader Rajadamneon Klang Road, where the Democracy Monument stands frugally as a symbol of modernity. Yet most motorists driving around the circle of the Democracy Monument hardly draw any inspiration from what it stands for. The Democracy Monument, created after the 1932 Revolution that toppled Absolute Monarchy, looks more like a crumbling symbol of what has gone wrong with modern Thailand. Surrounding the Democracy Monument are buried arsenals, chained together in a circle as a curse against the true Thai ideals.

The main Viharn of Wat Suthat houses Phra Sri Sakayamuni, while Phra Buddha Trilokachet is placed in the Ubosot (Ordinary Hall) and Phra Buddha Setthamuni in the Sala Kan Parien (Meeting Hall). When you cross the threshold of the main gate into the temple, you immediately enter the layers of Heaven, symbolised by both the Hindu and Buddhist ideals. Chinese and Thai arts also blend together in an order of conformity. Most important, you witness the Ayutthaya heritage in a recreation. The verandah around it was built in the style of Wat Mongkhon Bophit in Ayutthaya.

The early Bangkok people called this temple as Wat Phra Yai or Wat Sao Ching Cha. King Yodfa named it as Wat Mahasuthawat, which means the temple endowed with the beauty of the Brahma Heaven. Later on King Mongkut, one of his grandsons, renamed this temple as Wat Suthatthepwararam. The new name also came with a heaven-like connotation from Hinduism. It means the Temple that resides on the Mount Meru, the central part of Heaven where Indra takes residence. For bronze horses, beautifully cast with polished surface, are located at each direction to represent the four continents surrounding Mount Meru. Wat Suthat, like all other temples in Bangkok, is a holy place, endowed with the highest Hindu and Buddhist ideals. This temple also represents a central corridor connected to the innermost part of the centre of Heaven situated at Wat Pho and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

In 1807, King Yodfa commissioned the construction of Wat Suthat. King Lertla would help carved the door panels, which turned out to be a masterpiece. The carved doors are now being kept at the National Museum. But Wat Suthat would not be completed until 1847 during the reign of King Nangklao. A true nation builder, King Nangklao presided over the building and rennovation of most of the temples in Bangkok.

King Yodfa was conscious of the glory of Ayutthaya "when the country was still prosperous". He would like to recreate Ayutthaya, both its spirit and its physical features, in the new capital he built. Reviving the morale of the Siamese through Buddhism was his most important task, which included building new temples, renovating the old ones and moving the Buddha images from the old capitals and major cities to keep them in Bangkok. During his reign, King Yodfa ended up having 1,248 Buddha images moved to the new capita for preservation. Of these, the three most important Buddha images of the land were the Emerald Buddha of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Phra Srisakayamuni of Wat Suthat and Phra Srisanphet, a standing Buddha image installed inside the grand pagoda Phra Maha Chedi Srisanpetchadayarn at Wat Pho.

The new temple in the middle of Bangkok would be called Wat Phra Yai (Temple of the Big Buddha Image) because King Yodfa would like to model it after Wat Phanan Cherng of Ayutthaya. Located outside Ayutthaya's inner city on the riverbank in the south of the Old Capital, Wat Phanan Cherng was built probably in the year 1324 before the founding of Ayutthaya. The large Buddha image in the Vihara was called Phra Chao Phanan Cherng, whose name was later changed to Phra Puttha Trairatana Nayok. But the Ayutthaya people call this Buddha image simply as Luang Pho To. Most Thais also called Phra Sri Sakayamuni by a secular name of Luang Pho To.

The origin of Phra Srisakaymuni was from the Vihara of Wat Mahathat, the ancient city of Sukhothai in the North of Thailand. Phra Mahathammaraja Lithai, King of the Sukhothai Dynasty (1347-1375) had Phra Sri Sakayamuni Buddha image cast. The work was finished in 1361. Wat Mahathat was one of the royal temples of the first grade within what is now the Sukhothai Historical Park. The temple was left to decay with time under the scorching heat of the sun and the humidity of the rain. Phra Sri Sakayamuni, the main Buddha image in the chapel, was also left neglected. The Sukhothai Empire lost its power after the rise of Ayutthaya.

In 1808, King Yodfa commanded that Phra Phirenthep made a journey to Sukhothai to retrieve this Buddha image and bring it down to Bangkok. Phra Sri Sakayamuni was floated by raft through the Chao Phraya River before it disembarked at Tha Chang, a pier just outside the Grand Palace. Festivities followed for seven nights and seven days to celebrate the arrival of Phra Sri Sakayamuni, which would be transported via a sledge to the main vihara of the new temple.

The Buddha image was carried in a huge raft, floating down the Chao Phya River until it reached Tha Chang, some dozen steps away from the Grand Palace. Phra Srisakayamuni was installed temporarily there for celebration for seven days and seven nights. King Yodfa had a very fragile health at that point. Still, with his bare-footed, the King led a procession to move the Buddha image from Tha Chang, a new pier just outside the Grand Palace, to the new temple. Apparently, the King was committing the last virtuous act of restoring the glory of Buddhism to his land. The founder of Bangkok, who spent most of his life on the battlefield, was a deeply religious man. He was navigating the last part of his life toward Enlightenment and Heaven. He died shortly after this grand celebration of Phra Srisakayamuni at the age of 72.

Inside the Viharn where the Buddha image Phra Sri Sakyamuni is installed, there are murals portraying Thai Buddhist cosmology and scenes of the Himavanta forest with lotus ponds, Kinnara and Kinnari and their children. The Buddha image is seated at the centre of the Heaven.

At about eight metres in height and six metres in width, Phra Sri Sakayamuni is one of the largest and oldest bronze-cast Buddha images in Thailand. The Buddha image is seated in a classic mediating posture after his victory over King Mara. The Buddha image is in a crossed-legged position, with the right hand placing on the right knee while the left hand resting below the navel, dwelling on the upper thigh in front of the abdomen, with the palm facing up. The base on which the Buddha image sits resembles lion's feet. Under this base the royal ashes of Rama VIII are kept.

Indeed, Phra Sri Sakayamuni is styled after the Buddha's Subduing of the Mara. According to the Buddhist legend, the Mara King rode on elephant back ahead of a fierce army, trying to disrupt the Buddha's path to enlightenment. The appearance of the Mara King is a recurring theme of a fight between Good and Evil. The Lord Buddha called Vasundhara, or the Goddess of Earth, to witness this confrontation with the Mara King and his army. The Goddess of Earth said she would return to the Buddha the water he had poured on the earth in an act of making merit (tham boon kruad nam). Thus she began to wring water from her hair. All of a sudden, the water flowing from her hair became a mighty ocean, sweeping away the Mara King and his army to the ends of the earth and killing most of them. Frightened by this power, the Mara King fled in disgrace. The Lord Buddha's confrontation with the Mara King has deeply caught the imagination of Thai artists, inspiring them to create statues and paintings of the Buddha in the act of subduing the Mara King.
The Sitting Buddha communicates to us several profound meanings. When you wake up from a long sleep, the first thing you do is to sit up on your bed. This sitting allows us to clear the dizziness in our head and to prepare a sound mind for the day. If you assume a loving-kindness mode or Metta without holding on to your elusive self, you will be starting your good day with auspicises.

Likewise, the Sitting Buddha assumes a mode of serenity and Metta, the first quality of the Four Brahmaviharas. The way his hands are posed signifies that they are empty. The Buddha image's hands are not holding to anything. They are in effect in a "letting go" posture. The Buddha has let it go. He does not hold on to anything. To him, all the things in the universe are subject to change. Nothing lasts forever.

As you pray before Phra Sri Sakayamuni, with a lotus, a candle and three joss sticks to represent the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, you feel that the image is radiating Metta to you. The image's eyes penetrate your mind. You are overwhelmed by this Metta force. You're already entering the realm of Brahma.

Phra Sri Sakayamuni also looks into himself. He is in a meditation mode. The Buddha image looks inward, into his inner most self to realise that impermanence is the essence of this universe. The Buddha, or the Awakened One, attained enlightenment because he looked inward rather than outward. While meditating under a bodhi tree near the River Neranjana, the Buddha discovered the Four Noble Truths. He saw through the nature of suffering (Dukkha), the fundamental cause of all suffering (Samuddaya), the escape from suffering (Nirodha), and what effort a person can go to so that they themselves can attain emancipation (Marga).

Once the Buddha became enlightened, he had the wisdom to understand thoroughly the world from within and the world from without. The Buddhist Heaven he led us to is a place of absolute tranquillity.

As the name Phra Sri Sakayamuni implies, this Buddha image represents the historical Buddha, or Sithartha Gautama, who lived more than two thousand years ago. The Buddha was born into the royal Sakaya family. Since there are no photos or paintings of the Buddha, artists or artisans can only create the Buddha in their own images or imaginations. Phra Sri Sakayamuni has a facial look of a man who is and is not of this world. The part that belongs to this world must have reflected a common feature of one of the ancient persons of Suvarnabhumi, who was gentle and kind. Phra Sri Sakayamuni represents an ideal superman man of Suvarnabhumi, one who was noble, bold, religiously tolerant and having a Metta heart.

The Sukhothai artists achieved the high art of beauty through the creation of Phra Sri Sakayamuni, which could not be more perfect. The Buddha image also embodies the highest virtue of goodness because it represents the Buddha's Dharma teachings. Moreover, Phra Sri Sakayamuni also teaches us about absolute reality through his bare left hand, which does not hold on to anything because in absolute reality there is nothingness. In our life, we all aim to realise the highest ideals of beauty, virtue and truth. In Phra Sri Sakayamuni, we can realise these highest ideals of beauty, virtue and ultimate truth all at once.

By placing Phra Sri Sakayamuni in Wat Phrayai in Bangkok, modelled after Wat Phanan Cherng, King Yodfa created a necessary link between the three kingdoms into an unbroken line. The Thon Buri Kingdom would represent a ring that ties the knot between Sukhothai and Ayutthaya Kingdoms with the Bangkok Kingdom. Without King Taksin the Great, who consolidated Siam after the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, the Suvarnabhumi civilisation would have ceased to exist. King Yodfa took on from the Thonburi Kingdom to found the new capital and to restore the glory that was Ayutthaya. But he also consciously had a vision of Suvarnabhumi, through Sukhothai ideals, in his mind when he built Bangkok as the new capital. Wat Suthat would represent the glory of Sukhothai through Phra Sri Sakayamuni, the grandeur of Ayutthaya through the modelling of its spirit, and the celebration of the Bangkok Kingdom.

The surrounding courtyard, a blend of Chinese and Thai arts so prevalent during the reign of King Nangklao, contains 156 Buddha images. A statue of King Rama VIII stands in one of the corners in front of the Vihara. On the door and windows panels there are pictures of guardians and divinities. At the lower terrace of the base there are Chinese pagodas, seven pagodas on each side making 28 of them to signify the 28 Buddhas born onto this earth. Buddhists believe in the reincarnation and a perfect being in the Buddha. Phra Sri Sakayamuni is one of a series of the Buddhas born into this world to lead human beings to salvation. He was the historical Buddha, or the Buddha that had flesh, blood and feeling like all of us. And he was the Awakened One, or the Enlightened One, who understood thoroughly the impermanent of the universe.

The Sakayamuni Buddha’s teaching would only last 5,000 years before it goes into oblivion. We have already passed the middle of Buddhist era. After Sri Sakayamuni, a new Buddha will be born to lead us to redemption again. The next Buddha is called Maitreya.
Wat Suthat provides a platform for Sri Sakayamuni to pass on the candle of Dharma to the next Buddha, or Maitreya. For all of his Metta, Phra Sri Sakayamuni gives blessing of compassion for Maitreya, who waits for his turn to come down to this world to attain the complete enlightenment.

Sakayamuni spoke about the Buddha of the Future, who would follow him as follows:

"He will have a heavenly voice which reaches far; his skin will have a golden hue, a great splendour will radiate from his body, his chest will be broad, his limbs well developed, and his eyes will be like lotus petals. His body is eighty cubits high, and twenty cubits broad. He will have a retinue of 84,000 persons, whom he will instruct in the mantras. With this retinue he will one day go forth into the homeless life. A Dragon tree will then be the tree under which he will win enlightenment; its branches rise up to fifty leagues, and its foliage spreads far and wide over six Kos. Underneath it Maitreya, the best of men, will attain supreme enlightenment - there can be no doubt on that. And he will win his enlightenment the very same day that he has gone forth into the homeless life.

“And then, a supreme sage, he will with a perfect voice preach the true dharma, which is auspicious and removes all ill, i.e. the fact of ill, the origination of ill, the transcending of ill, and the holy eightfold path which brings security and leads to Nirvana. He will explain the four Truths, because he has seen that generation, in faith, ready for them, and those who have listened to his Dharma will thereupon make progress in the religion. They will be assembled in a park full of beautiful flowers, and his assembly will extend over a hundred leagues. Under Maitreya's guidance, hundreds of thousands of living beings shall enter upon a religious life."

Phra Srisakayamuni has witnessed it all. He saw the glory of Sukhothai 700 years ago and Suvarnabhumi as well as their decline. In the middle period represented by Ayutthaya, Phra Srisakyayamuni was completely forgotten. Now this Buddha image is about to make his move by passing on the legacy of Buddhism and the Middle Path principle to the next Buddha. The Standing Buddha of Phra Sri Ariyamaitreya at Wat Indhraviharn in Bangkok’s Bangkhunphrom area, which is a few kilometres a way from Wat Suthat, is about to take over as the next Buddha as a new chapter of Suvarnabhumi begins.

The Standing Buddha
After paying a visit to the Sitting Buddha, you now set your sight at the Standing Buddha, which towers over Wat Intharaviharn in the northern part of Old Bangkok. You have already acquired a Metta blessing from Phra Sri Sakayamuni, the historical Buddha. You can't rest until you proceed to visit Phra Sri Ariyamaitreya, the Buddha of the Future. The Standing Buddha has been waiting for his turn and an appropriate timing to take over the great legacy of the Sitting Buddha.

This gigantic Standing Buddha statue represents a virtue of Karuna or compassion of the Four Brahmaviharas. When you have Metta or loving-kindess in your heart, you also need to have the accompanying Karuna. Metta and Karuna are the two brotherly virtues that co-exist like your tongue and your teeth. Hence, after praying to Phra Sri Sakayamuni, it is necessary to move on to pay homage to Phra Sri Ariyamaitreya to experience the Sublime and the Divine.

From Wat Suthat to Wat Intharaviharn, the distance is only a few kilometres away. By way of a tuk-tuk, which sprints its noisy way through the narrow Dinso Road, you arrive at the broader Rachadamnoen Klang Road, where the Democracy Monument serves as a landmark. You go half way around the monument and take the connected Prachathipatai (Democracy) Road before crossing a bridge over Khlong Banglamphoo, a canal that forms a borderline of the Ratanakosin Island in the inner Old Bangkok. Then you arrive at an intersection cut across by the Wisut Kasat (Pure Monarch) Road. Not many Thais are aware of this Prachathipatai Road, which starts obscurely from the Democracy Monument. After all, it is a strange meet between Prachathipatai and Wisut Kasat.

Along the way, there are long lines of old shop houses, which appear to disconnect themselves from the modern business. You make a left turn at the intersection to enter the Wisut Kasat Road, above which is the Rama XIII Bridge. Soon you will be approaching another old area of Old Bangkok, called the Bangkhunphrom sub-district. You're still in the Phra Nakhon District, or the District of the Great Capital. On your right side before reaching Samsen Road, you will find Wat Intharaviharn, which looks as if it would like to conceal itself from the modern world. Many foreign tourists find this temple as one of their main attractions.

At 32 metres in height and 11 metres in width, Phra Sri Ariyamaitreya is the world's largest standing Buddha statue with alms-bowl in hands. Both of the hands of the Standing Buddha are almost entirely concealed under the yellow saffron. You can see only the fingers of the left hand sneaking out of the yellow saffron to hold the black alms-bowl. As you stand in front of the Standing Buddha, you are overwhelmed by its imposing and gigantic structure and radiating compassion barami (accumulated power and dignity).

The huge Standing Buddha has a solemn look, with a facial feature of a Thai. Unlike the more surreal Phra Sri Sakayamuni, Phra Sri Ariyamaitreya gives you a sense of realism in spite of its dominating size. Artistically, however, it no match to the Sitting Buddha because it was built in the later Rattanakosin period. But the two statues communicate to each other in a subtle way.

Phra Sri Ariyamaitreya strikes a sharp contrast with Phra Srisakayamuni when it comes to posture. After sitting, your next natural posture is to stand. Standing gives you another chance to think through with samadhi (concentration) before you start your day by walking. If you have already formed Metta in your heart from your sitting posture, you should begin to develop Karuna as you rise from your bed to stand. Embracing the Metta and Karuna virtues will lead you half way to the realm of Brahma.

You can feel that the statue looks almost like a living monk holding the alms-bowl and waiting to take delivery of the food from a merit-maker. But you also can look upon this Standing Buddha statue as waiting for his turn to arrive to this world and achieve the complete enlightenment before leading all of us to salvation. On the other hand, Phra Sri Ariyamaitreya also comes to represent the Triple Gem. For this standing Buddha image can be seen as a representation of the Buddha of the Future, the Dharma from his attaining the enlightenment and a monk in the Sangha, all of which are at once manifest.

In 1867, during the reign of King Mongkut, Somdej Phra Buddhachan (To Phromarangsri of Wat Rakhang Kositharam) started the construction of the statue of the Standing Buddha, commonly called as "Luang Pho To". Then Somdej To (1788-1872) was 80 years old. Phra Sri Sakayamuni also has the same common name of Luang Pho To. The statue was built by crossing the logs alternating with structural steel. Unfortunately, Somdej Phra Buddhachan died in 1872 before he could see the completion of the statue. It was not until the reign of King Prajadhipok in 1927 that the Standing Buddha was completed.

Although he lived through the five reigns from King Rama I to King Rama V, Somdej To attained the height of his fame during the time of King Rama IV. Somdej To was one of the greatest and most revered monks of the Rattanakosin period. Well-versed in the Buddhist texts and brilliant in his sermons, he commissioned the creation of Phra Somdej, which is now recognised as the crown jewel of Buddha amulets in the Kingdom. Each Phra Somdej -- the authentic one -- is now worth several million baht.

Wat Intharavihan was built during the end of Ayutthaya period. Formerly, it was called "Wat Rai Phrik" (Temple of the Chili Garden). Then the Chinese were growing vegetable or chili gardens in that area. During the reign of King Yodfa, many members of the royal family of Laos, principally Chao Inthawong, and their entourage settled down in this Bangkhumphorm area. They were brought to Bangkok after King Yodfa's army subdued a rebellion in Vientiane. The area was then called Ban Laos. Chao Inthawong was the faithful Buddhist. He had Wat Rai Phrik rennovated and renamed it as "Wat Intharam". During the reign of King Rama VI, the temple's name was changed to "Wat Intharaviharn".
Somdej To spent his childhood at this temple when he entered monkhood as a novice. His parents would like him to become a supreme monk. He eventually became the Awakened One.

Several years ago, Senator Chirmsak Pinthong held a lantern in broad daylight while he walked into the Senate chamber. He was sending out a subtle message after it emerged that the government had fallen into greed, hatred and ignorance by launching a widespread probe of the bank accounts of journalists, activists, bureaucrats and politicians. “I am holding the lantern to send out a message that our country is in a crisis when it comes to civil liberty. The lantern will provide the light in this Dark Age," Chirmsak said. "Somdej Phraphutthajarn used to hold a lantern when he met with the phuyai of the country during the daytime in order to signal that the country was facing big problems." The senator from Bangkok was known as one of the fiercest critics of the Thaksin government at that time.

One day, Somdej To walked into the Grand Palace with a burning torch in his hand. It was broad daylight and the sun was shining above his shaved head. As soon as King Mongkut saw the abbot of Wat Rakhang, he immediately understood the subtle message. The two had achieved the same level of Buddhist enlightenment. King Mongkut said: "Khrua To, Nai Luang (the King) knows what you want to say to Nai Luang." Somdej To did not say anything. He doused the flame by pressing the torchlight against the wall of the Grand Palace. Then he walked out. At that time it was known that King Mongkut was distracted more by his worldly affairs. King Mongkut had high respect for Somdej To. The revered monk wanted to warn the King about his need to get back to the business of running his Kingdom. But Somdej To was reluctant to say so directly. So Somdej To used the torchlight to send his indirect warning. As a philosopher of the same rank with Somdej To, King Mongkut, who had been ordained as a monk for 26 years, quickly got the message. He said: "I know, I know."

Another torchlight incident took place during the reign of King Chulalongkorn, or King Rama V. Then, Somdej Chaophya Borom Mahasrisuriya-wongse (Chuang Bunnag) was serving as Regent. As a leader of the influential Bunnag clan, he commanded the highest power in the Kingdom because King Chulalongkorn, who became king at the age of 15 in 1868, was too young to rule. There were rumours during that time of political transition that the Regent might want the throne for himself. After the death of King Mongkut, Somdej Chaophya Borom Mahasrisuriyawongse, who dominated the council of senior bureaucrats in the Siamese Court, picked the young Prince Chulalongkorn as the new king as requested by King Mongkut. Yet Somdej Chaophaya also did the unprecedented by appointing Prince Bovornvichaicharn, the heir to Second King Pinklao, as the Palace of the Front. King Pinklao was brother to King Mongkut and was known to the West as the Second King.

The implication of the Palace of the Front appointment was that if anything should happen to King Chulalongkorn, who was then very ill and not expected to live much longer, Prince Bovornvichaicharn, who was the protege of the Regent, would become the next king. One day Somdej To proceeded to confront Somdej Chaophya at his residence. Again in broad daylight, he held a torch in his hand. The Regent asked about the purpose of his unusual visit. Somdej To got quickly straight to the point. He said he heard that a dark cloud was descending over the country because somebody was attempting to take over the Kingdom. "If it is true, then I would like to ask him for a bowl of merit," Somdej To said. Somdej Chaophya was dumbstruck for some seconds before the managed to assure the revered monk that as long as he lived he would not allow anybody to attempt to usurp the throne of King Chulalongkorn.

During his time, Somdej To was believed to have created 84,000 Phra Somdej as a symbol for the continuity of the Buddhist religion. He also commissioned the creation of the famous Phra Somdej Ketchaiyo at Wat Ketchaiyo Woraviharn. The story of his torchlight is a classic, serving to remind Thais how to act with moral courage during a time when the country is facing a crisis.

Phra Sri Ariyamaitreya that Somdej To built speaks to us about our future. The statue points to you the great expectation of an impending arrival of the Buddha of the Future and a return to the Golden Age of Suvarnabhumi. The Buddha image represents Maitreya, who is waiting for his turn to preside over another era succeeding the Sakayamuni Buddha Era. Our universe can afford to have only one Buddha at a time. Maitreya is a Bodhisattva, who will appear on earth to attain complete enlightenment and teach the pure Dharma. This land of Suvarnabhumi is waiting for Maitreya's return.

Facing the east, Phra Sri Ariyamaitreya Buddha statue surges into the sky as if it were to reach out to the Dusita Heaven, where Maitreya the Buddha of the Future is residing. According to The Buddhist Scriptures, Maitreya is described as a person with extraordinary personality, size and statue. “His body is eighty cubits high, and twenty cubits broad." Cubit is an ancient linear unit based on the length of the forearm, from elbow to the tip of the middle finger, usually from 17 to 21 inches. Based on the sheer size alone, Phra Sri Ariyamaitreya indeed has the physical necessity of the Buddha of the Future.

Maitreya is the fifth Buddha after Sakayamuni Buddha, whose teaching would last 5,000 years before going into oblivion. We have already passed the critical mid-point of the Buddhist era in 1957 or B.E. 2500 by more than five decades. Hence Maitreya would be born any time in the next 2,500 years in Suvarnabhumi, the Land of Buddhism.

According to Buddhist cosmology, the world system would gradually decline after the passing of one Buddha and then gradually improve before the arrival of the next Buddha. We are now living at this critical mid-point juncture. Now we are seeing a fast degeneration of the world system, with the people becoming immoral with greed, hatred, and delusion and forgetting the Buddha's Dharma. Many people are also afraid that the world system would go through prolonged periods of famine, disease and continuous warfare. The catastrophe could plunge the people into complete despair and result in dead tolls in the millions. Only then would human beings realise that the roots of all the suffering arise from their greed, hatred and delusion. Many of them would go back to embrace the old Dharma values and realise all of their shortcomings. The conditions of the world would then improve. There upon Maitreya would appear to lead the people further to redemption. Then the people "will lose their doubts, and the torrents of their cravings will be cut off: free from all misery they will manage to cross the ocean of becoming; and, as a result of Maitreya's teachings, they will lead a holy life. No longer will they regard anything as their own, they will have no possession, no gold or silver, no home, no relatives! But they will lead the holy life of chastity under Maitreya's guidance. They will have torn the net of the passions, they will manage to enter into trances, and theirs will be an abundance of joy and happiness, for they will lead a holy life under Maitreya's guidance."

Some people believe that Phra Sri Ariya Maitreya represents Somdej To himself, who built the Standing Budda as a memory of his childhood when as a novice he stood in front of Wat Intharaviharn and spent his formative years there. By commemorating his past, Somdej To was also predicting the future when the Buddha of the Future would be born again to lead the people out of the cycle of suffering. Somdej To had a clear vision of Suvarnabhumi.

This is the secret of Suvarnabhumi, the holy golden land and the land of Dharma. It is a Thai version of a Utopian society.


The Walking Buddha
After visiting the Standing Buddha at Wat Intharaviharn, your next destination is Phutthamonthon, or Land of the Buddha. The Walking Buddha presides over the vast Phutthamonthon religious site. Phutthamonthon is a district attached to Nakhon Pathom, westward from Bangkok. And which is a better site to build the Land of the Buddha than Nakhon Pathom, literally the first city of Suvarnabhumi (nakhon means city; pathom means first). Nakhon Pathom was already an important centre during the Dvaravati Kingdom from the 6th century until the 11th century. The Phutthamonthon religious site is a version of the Buddhist Heaven in a reductive form.

From Wat Inthraviharn you can take a cab, which needs to make a U-turn to get onto the Rama VIII Bridge. It is a beautiful cable bridge across the Chao Phya River. Most of the bridges across the Chao Phya River bear the names after the Rattanakosin Kings. And lo and behold, as you enter the main structure of the bridge, you can see an arch-like gate designed similar to a mould of a Buddha amulet of Phra Nangphaya. Phra Nangphaya from Pitsanulok is one of the five crown jewels of the Thai Buddha amulets. The other four are Phra Somdej Wat Rakhang from Bangkok, Phra Rod from Lamphun, Phra Phongsuphan from Suphan Buri and Phra Sumko from Kamphaengphet. If you have one of these Buddha amulets hanging around your neck, you are ready to face any vicissitudes in the world with mindfulness. As you pass through this auspicious gate, you feel that you have a full blessing from Phra Nangphaya for your journey into the holy Land of the Buddha. Your mind feels blissful.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej laid the foundation for the construction of the Phutthamonthon religious site in 1957 to commemorate the 2500th year of the Buddhist Era. Two years before, Field Marshal Plaek Phibulsongkram, initiated this project. But it was not until 1978 that the construction, marred by financial shortfall, was finished.

The year 1957 or B.E. 2500 marked was the mid-point of the Buddhist Era as Buddhism under Sakayamuni Buddha was prophesied to last 5,000 years. Afterward Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future, would be born into this world to attain a complete enlightenment, teach his Dharma before passing into Nirvana. Maitreya would create another Buddhist Era to succeed Sakayamuni Buddha. The Thais believe that Sakayamuni Buddha visited Suvarnabhumi in the ancient time and declared that Suvarnabhumi would become the Land of the Buddha. And Maitreya would be born in Suvarnabhumi, and no where else, when the time is ripe. The Buddha is believed to have created footprints, many of which are still not discovered, in Suvarnabhumi to symbolise his prophecy. In making his footprints, the Buddha radiated his spiritual power to turn hard stone into soft stone before printing his foot on it.

The huge Walking Buddha image cast in bronze gold measuring 15.8 metres marks the centre of Phutthamonthon religious site. Phra Sri Sakayathospholyan was designed in 1955 by one of the most well-known artists in Thailand, the late Professor Silp Birasri. But it was not until 1981 that this Buddha image was actually cast. Modern Thai artists trace their knowledge and inspiration from Professor Silp, the Italian-born teacher and artist, who pioneered art studies at the Silapakorn University. At first Professor Silp carved out the structure of the Walking Buddha with a size of 2.14 metres. But to commemorate the mid-point of the Buddhist Era, the size of the Walking Buddha was later expanded to 2,500 krabiat. One krabiat, a Thai unit of measurement, equals 0.25. Therefore the size of the Walking Buddha was 7.5 times the original design. King Bhumibol Adulyadej named this Buddha statue as Phra Sri Sakayathosaphonlayan, which represents the historical Buddha.

In the walking posture, Phra Sakayathospholyan raises his right foot in preparation to walk. A vast lotus seat is behind him. You can see his saffron flying as he has just risen from the lotus seat and is about to walk after his long sitting posture to attain enlightenment. There is another lotus below to greet the Buddha image's feet. The right hand of the Buddha image drops loosely to the side. The left hand is raised forward to the chest level. The Buddha image is striking in appearance. It has a beautiful face of a young Buddha, one who has just attained enlightenment.

This image is reminiscent of the walking Buddha posture created in the Sukhothai period. The walking Buddha posture is known in Thai as "phra leela". Phra leela has a delicate walking posture, with elements of feminism in movement and in the curved shape of the body. Phra leela illustrates the height of Sukhothai’s artistic excellence. You can also see some of the famous phra leela Buddha images of Sukhothai at Wat Benjamabophit, the Marble Temple built by King Chulalongkorn, in Bangkok. You can sense that Phra Sri Sakayathospholyan and the phra leela Buddha images at Wat Benjamabophit are about to walk together to usher the grand tradition of Buddhism into a new age in Suvarnabhumi.

After sitting and standing, our next mode of movement is to walk. The Walking Buddha signifies an action of a carrying on of the tradition of Buddhism so that this religion will last into the future. Otherwise, Buddhism will cease to prosper. The Walking Buddha of Buddhamonthon also represents Mudita, or sympathetic joy, which is the third virtue of the Four Brahmaviharas. In Mudita, you radiate your sympathetic joy to others with a selfless heart. You're happy when you see other people happy. You don't feel any craving for yourself, but you would like others to be happy. And when you walk, you create an action. In Buddhism, action, or deed, is most important, representing your karma. If you act with good deeds, you'll get good karma. If you act with bad deeds, you'll get bad karma. In other words, good deed leads to good result, while bad deed brings about bad result.

In his paper, The Aesthetics of Buddhist Sculpture, which was read before the Siam Society in 1949, Professor Silp pointed out that there are two ways of appreciating the old art. You may look at it according to its antiquity. Or you may appreciate it according to its beauty. "In general, archaeologists and historians are enthusiastic about very old objects because they represent for them the human activity of the past, while for an artist the value of an old object lies in the extent to which it is the expression of true beauty. The artist judges from an aesthetic point of view, while the archaeologists and historians judge from scientific principles,” he argued. But the late Mom Chao Chand Chirayu Rajani, a literary giant of Thailand, adopted a non-iconographical approach. Instead of looking at a Buddha image from the outside, he proposed to look from the inside, both artistically and spiritually. Then we intuitively see the artistic beauty and feel the spiritual meaning of the Buddha image without any too much why and wherefore. (Mom Chao Chand Chirayu Rajani, “Thai Imageries of Suvarnabhumi”, Bangkok: Amarin Printing Group, 1987)

Although Phra Srisakayathospholyan is a relatively new comer to the scene and its antiquity cannot be compared to the Sitting Buddha of Wat Suthat or the Standing Buddha of Wat Inthraviharn, this Buddha image is of no less importance in artistic and spiritual value. You only have to feel the Buddha image from the inside. On a Visakha Puja Day, the moon orbits around Phra Srisakayathospholyan as if this Buddha image were standing the centre of the universe.

The Sukhothai artisans and artists found their inspiration from the Buddhist legend in creating the walking Buddha posture. During the Lent period, the Buddha once went to preach to his Mother in a heaven called Tavatsinsa or the Heaven of the Thirty-Three Devata. After the Lent, the Buddha returned to earth by descending the crystal ladder, flanked by the golden and silver ladders. The Lord Indra and Brahma followed him respectively. Montri Umavijani argued that this event had a great meaning for Buddhist art. "First of all, it was a the basis of the iconography of the Walking Buddha. Besides, it had a great effect on the attitude towards perspecitve in Thai Buddhist art. It is said that when the Buddha returned to earth, he made a miracle by 'opening all the worlds to view'. All the levels of heaven, all levels of Hell and all continents were, therefore, laid bare and equidistant to the eyes. This partly explains why the works of Thai artists before the advent of Western influence were always two-dimensional," he said.

Each area of Buddhamonthon is equally one kilometre in length, representing each virtue of the Four Brahmaviharas. Each virtue in the Four Brahmaviharas is equally important to the others. But the Buddha also suggests that once you have perfected the virtues of the Four Brahmaviharas, you will also attain good conduct, sound concentration, shiny wisdom and full freedom of the mind.

While the Buddha was staying at Bhanda, a few months before his passing away, he addressed a large community of monks about the four qualities needed to break away from the cycle of rebirth. "It is because of not understanding, not penetrating four qualities that you and I have run and wandered the round of rebirth in this way for such a long time. Which four? It is because of not understanding, not penegrating noble conduct...noble concentration...noble wisdom...noble freedom that you and I have run and wandered the round of rebirth in this way for such a long time. But once noble conduct is understood and penetrated, once noble concentration is understood and penetrated, once noble wisdom is understood and penetrated, once noble freedom is understood and penetrated, then craving for existence is cut off, the conductor of existence is destroyed, and no longer is there rebirth." (Rupert Gethin, Saying of the Buddha, Page 69.)

The Walking Buddha at Phutthamonthon shows us that action, guided by good practice, concentration and wisdom, is the basis for all goodness. The Buddha image is also leading us by walking tirelessly toward the new age of Suvarnabhumi, where the Thais live happily with a bright face and act with selflessness.


The Sleeping Buddha
Our visit to Old Bangkok should start and end at Wat Phra Chetuphon, or Temple of the Reclining Buddha. It is here that the cycle begins and ends, only to begin and end again. The Thai Buddhists prefer to call this temple simply as Wat Pho. Most westerners know the Sleeping Buddha as the Reclining Buddha.

We may approach the Sleeping Buddha in two ways. Sleeping is a state of serenity and an attainment of spiritual emancipation. Besides, one also has to sleep first in order to wake up to become the Awakened One, like the Buddha.

The Sleeping Buddha thus represents equanimity or Upekkha, which is the final virtue of the Four Brahmaviharas. With Upekkha, we learn to accept gain and loss, praise and blame and success and failure with detachment. Detachment is a neutral state of the mind, which is not holding onto anything, big or small, significant or trivial.
After sitting, standing and walking all day, we have to sleep. Sleeping allows us to develop a tranquil state of mind. These four postures of Buddha image encompass our daily activity, which should all be governed by mindfulness. To be mindful is to become the master of oneself. To pay homage to the Sleeping Buddha at Wat Pho is to realise the virtue of Upekkha. What is more sublime or divine than to realise with our direct experience all the virtues of Metta, Karuna, Mudita and Upekkha as represented by the Sitting Buddha, the Standing Budda, the Walking Buddha and the Sleeping Buddha?

Inside the chapel, the Sleeping Buddha stretches his long golden body to 46 metres in length and 15 metres in height. The craftsmanship of this Buddha image reflects the height of artistic excellence of the Rattanakosin period. The face turns northward to the Grand Palace, which locates across the Thai Wang Street. At Wat Pho, you arrived at one of the inner-most areas of the Bangkok Heaven. The image of the Sleeping Buddha was made of brick and cement and decorated with gold leaves and gum as adhesive.

King Nangklao commissioned the construction of the Sleeping Buddha at Wat Pho. Then there was not any significant Buddha image in a sleeping posture in Bangkok. The Sleeping Buddha would be created to culminate his reign of nation building when Siam began to enjoy peace and prosperity. During that time, the Burmese were tied up to their domestic turmoil. At first, the Sleeping Buddha was built in the open air within Wat Pho's compound before the chapel was constructed to cover the whole statue.

You are immediately awe-struck by the immense size of the Sleeping Buddha. So spectacular of the golden sight of the Reclining Buddha that your heart almost stops beating once you set your foot inside the chapel. You suddenly feel a sense of absolute serenity. The air inside the chapel is calm. In the Sleeping Buddha, you can witness once again a blending of the Thai art and the Buddhist ideal. The face of the Buddha image shows a serene state, fulfilled and detached from any worldly concerns.
The Reclining Buddha images are normally built with a large size. This can be traced back to a story of the life of the Buddha. The giant Asurindarahu would like to see the Buddha but hesitated to bow before him. While still lying down, the Buddha transformed himself to a larger size than the giant. He then proceeded to show the giants the realm of Heaven with heavenly figures all larger than the giant. After all this, Asurindarahu was subdued. And he paid due respect to the Buddha and left, hence the creation of posture of the Reclining Buddha image.
In the Sukhothai period, the Buddha image postures of sitting, standing, walking and sleeping were created with an aura of equanimity, perfection and holiness. They also served to highlight the height of Buddhism and the Golden Age of Suvarnabhumi. Sukhothai embraced Buddhism from Sri Lanka and also its arts. It also took in the artistic influence from the Khmer and Mon civilisations. The Buddha images from the ancient Sukhothai are most beautiful, as judged by the flames on top of the hair, the curled hair, the oval-shaped faces, the curved eyebrows, the downward gazes and gentle smiles, the broad shoulders and the small waists. The Buddha images of Sukhothai represent an ideal perception of a superman.

The Buddha image at Wat Pho, called Phra Phutthasaiyat, sleeps on his right side, similar to the way lions sleep. According to the Pali context, there are four postures of sleeping. If you lay down on your left side to sleep, this posture reflects your obsession with sexual and other worldly desires. If you sleep normally with your whole back on the bed and your face up, you'll sleep like a peta, or a ghost, which dwells in the realm of Hell. This posture reflects your state of anxiety, with your unending desire for material wealth and assets. Your desires are never fulfilled. If you sleep on your right side, you sleep like a lion. This is the healthiest posture as you sleep with mindfulness. A lion normally sleeps in this posture with its right foot overlapping with the left foot. When it wakes up, it can look into the front or turn around to look at the back to watch out for any danger. Whenever the Buddha went to sleep, he would mediate and enter into the fourth level of the trance state. His body would sleep but his mind was always awake, like a candle that always burns.

The best spot to watch the Reclining Buddha is at the image's feet. There you can see the image's body stretching out in full length, with the flame of the hair pointing to the roof. The footprints of the Reclining Buddha reflect many Buddhist symbols and riddles. They are adorned with 108 mother-of-pearl inlaid auspicious signs. The Lord's body had the 32 marks of a superman, and was endowed with the eighty subsidiary characteristics.

It is most likely that the Reclining Buddha does not signify a normal sleeping posture but represents the Buddha's attaining nirvana. The story of the last day of the Buddha is very touching. When the Buddha, with his followers, arrived at the Kusinara, his final destination, he told the venerable Ananda, his assistant, to set up a bed for him. He laid down with his head pointing to the east. Then he laid down like a lion with full conscience, and mindful of his consciousness. The Buddha did not want to wake up again. He would be entering into the realm of nirvana.
Then the Buddha uttered his final words to his followers. He said: "Everything comes to an end, though it may last for an aeon. The hour of parting is bound to come in the end. Now I have done what I could do, both for myself and for others. To stay here would from now on be without any purpose. I have disciplined, in heaven and on earth, all those whom I have disciplined, and I have set them in the stream. Hereafter, this my Dharma, O monks, shall abide for generations and generations among living beings. Therefore, recognise the true nature of the living world, and do not be anxious; for separation cannot possibly be avoided. Recognise that all that lives is subject to this law; and strive from today-onwards that it shall be thus no more! When the light of gnosis has dispelled the darkness of ignorance, when all existence has been seen as without substance, peace ensures when life draws to an end, which seems to cure a long sickness at last. Everything, whether stationary or movable, is bound to perish in the end. Be ye therefore mindfull and vigilant! The time for my entry into Nirvana has now arrived! These are my last words!" (Edward Conze's Buddhist Scriptures: Page 62-63).

In his last words to the community of monks, the Buddha emphasised mindfulness as his ultimate teaching before parting forever into the realm of absolute tranquillity. The Buddhist Scriptures from the Pali Nikayas (see Rupert Gethin," Saying of the Buddha, Oxford World's Classics) describes the process of the Buddha's arriving at parinirvana quite dramatically in transic term. After his last words, "the Blessed One entered the first absorption (trance). Emerging from that, he entered the second absorption. Emerging from that, he entered the third absorption. Emerging from that, he entered the fourth absorption. Emerging from that, he entered the sphere of infinity of space. Emerging from that, he entered the sphere of infinity of consciousness. Emerging from that, he entered the sphere of nothingness. Emerging from that, he entered the sphere of neither consciousness or unconsciousness. Emerging from that, he entered the cessation of conception and feeling."

At that point, Phra Ananda announced to the community of monks that the Buddha had attained the final nirvana.

But the Buddha reversed the process of his trance state again. "Then emerging from the cessation of conception and feeling, the Blessed One entered the sphere of neither consciousness nor unconsciousness. Emerging from that, he entered the sphere of nothingness. Emerging from that, he entered the sphere of infinity of consciousness. Emerging from that, he entered the sphere of infinity of space. Emerging from that, he entered the fourth absorption. Emerging from that, he entered the third absorption. Emerging from that, he entered the second absorption. Emerging from that, he entered the first absorption. Emerging from that, he entered the second absorption. Emerging from that, he entered the third absorption. Emerging from that, he entered the fourth absorption. Emerging from the fourth absorption, the Blessed One directly attained the final nibbana (nirvana)."

When the Buddha, through meditation, achieved enlightenment at the age of 35, he could recollected his previous lives and his future lives. He then arrived at the ultimate understanding about the impermanence of this transient world, which formed the basis of his teaching of the Fourth Noble Truths. During his meditation, he arrived at the first level of trance state or absorption and discovered the first truth as consisting of suffering. At the second level of his trance state, the Buddha realised attachment as the origin of suffering, followed by the attainable cessation of suffering in the third level of trance state, and the path to the cessation of suffering in the fourth level of the trance state. The path to the cession of the suffering is exemplified in the Eightfold Path (right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfullness and right concentration.) Right view and right intention form the basis of our wisdom, while right speech, right action and right livelihood represent our good conduct and right effort, right mindfullness and right concentration are part of our concentration. Therein lies in the unity of the Buddhist teachings.

Thereupon the Buddha had no wish to continue to go through the cycle of birth and death again. But before entering nirvana, he would preach his Dharma to the fellow human beings so that they, like him, might achieve the final salvation.

Wat Pho is the second most important temple after the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which is situated within the compound of the Grand Palace. It was an ancient temple built during the Ayutthaya period. King Yodfa had the temple renovated. Later on, Wat Pho would further assume a more important role when it became Siam's first open university, where the Thais could learn different kinds of discipline from medicine, traditional massage, astrology, Buddhism, literacy to arts.

As King Yodfa had moved more than 1,248 Buddha images from all over the country to the new capital for preservation. Hundreds of these Buddha images, which witnessed the glory past of Suvarnabhumi, were placed inside Wat Pho. It is at Wat Pho that much of the legacy of old Suvarnabhumi has been well protected and preserved.

Apart from the Reclining Buddha, the Four Great Pagodas of the four kings of the Rattanakosin period also bear witness to the grandeur of Old Bangkok. King Yodfa had the Phra Maha Chedi Srisanpetchadayarn built to install a standing Buddha image of Phra Srisanpetch. This Buddha image, which stands 16 metres, with a face of two metres in length and 1.5 metre in width. The Buddha image's breast is 5.5 metres in width. Cast more than 500 years ago, Phra Srisanpetch was almost burnt to the ground by the Burmese when they ransacked Ayutthaya in 1767. The Buddha image was established inside Wat Phra Srisanpet in Ayutthaya.
The Burmese pealed off some 3.432 metric tonnes of gold from Phra Srisanpet, leaving the Buddha image with a battered structure. King Yodfa would like this Buddha image to be re-cast, but the senior monks voiced their objection because they did not want to have the Buddha image burnt again. It would be quite inauspicious to do so. The King concurred and had Phra Srisanpetch, together with the Buddha's holy teeth, installed inside a new pagoda at Wat Pho instead.

King Nangklao, the grandson of King Yodfa, had two pagodas erected beside the Srisanpetchadayarn pagoda. The pagoda, adorned with dark blue tiles on the right side of the founder's pagoda, was dedicated to his father King Lertla, while the pagoda decorated with yeallow glazed tiles was for the Third Reign himself. In the back of three pagoda stands Phra Chedi Sri Suriyothai, built by King Mongkut and modelled after the great pagoda at Suan Luang Sobsawan Temple in Ayutthaya. Having erected this pagoda, King Mongkut suggested that he and his three predecessors all saw each other. But he added: "In the future, all kings should not follow us in erecting a pagoda for each reign in the Chetuphon Temple."
The Four Great Pagodas of King Yodfa, King Lertla, King Nangklao and King Mongkut mark the early period of Old Bangkok, which forms an unbroken line of continuity from the ancient Suvarnabhumi. Paying homage to the Four Great Pagodas amounts to honouring and seeking blessing from the founding fathers of Bangkok, without whom Suvarnabhumi would not have been restored or would have been lost.

The cycle completes with your paying homage to the Sitting Buddha at Wat Suthat, the Standing Buddha at Wat Intharaviharn, the Walking Buddha at Phutthamonthon and the Sleeping Buddha at Wat Pho. By doing so, you have realised with equal weight the four virtues of Brahamaviharas, which then allow you to wholly enter the realm of Brahma. This is the path of a perfect man, one who is blessed with loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. A perfect man, fully equipped with the Fourth Brahmaviharas, is also blessed with good conduct, concentration and wisdom, which represent the core of the Buddhist principles. And only in Old Bangkok, the capital of Suvarnabhumi, can you detect the Buddhist riddles and realise your own potential as a perfect man.

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