Buddhism

Biography of Luang Paw Koon Kantigo, a Former Abbot of Wat Nong Wang

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painting of people getting on and off a very busy train

The idea for Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa, the famous centerpiece of Wat Nong Wang temple in Khon Kaen city, came from the highly respected Phra Tama Wisut Tajan, the then abbot of the temple. Usually called Luang Paw Koon Kantigo, his life story is told in these mural paintings on the stupa’s fourth floor. อ่านภาษาไทยที่นี่ (Click here to read a Thai version.). Thanks to Suttawan Bewer, Chutima Intarapanich, and… Read More

Buddhism

The Reclining Buddhas of Thailand

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large reclining Buddha in Entering Nirvana posture with designs painted on soles of feet

In most of the world, reclining Buddha images represent the Buddha at his death. But in Thailand this is usually not the case. Of the seven reclining postures used in Thailand, two are the Buddha on his death bed, one shows him passing to nirvana, and two are for his cremation; but all of these are rather rare. And none of these is the classic hand-holding-up-his-head posture, which tells a… Read More

Buddhism

The Buddha’s Life Story (Part 1) at Wat Nong Wang

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woodcarving of Prince Siddhattha seeing an old man and a sick man

The carved wooden doors and window shutters on the sixth floor of Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang tell many of the main episodes from the Buddha’s life up to and including his enlightenment. The artist was Tawon Gonkaew. The story begins at the northeast corner on the east wall (in front of the stairs) and is told counterclockwise around the stupa. The Buddha’s life story continues… Read More

Buddhism

The Buddha’s Life Story (Part 2) at Wat Nong Wang

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woodcarving of the Buddha walking with many disciples

The carved wooden doors and window shutters on the fifth floor of Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang tell some episodes (the story is far from complete) from the Buddha’s life following his enlightenment. The story begins at the northeast corner on the east wall (in front of the stairs) and is told counterclockwise around the stupa. The first half of the Buddha’s tale is told up… Read More

Buddhism

My Abridged Versions of the Jataka Tales

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man lifting a chariot over his head

The Jataka tales (chah-dok in Thai) recount stories from some of the past lives of the being who would eventually reach enlightenment as the Buddha. Often compared with Aesop’s fables (Aesop’s and the Jataka tales even share some plots), the Buddha-to-be is often born as an animal and he frequently overcomes difficult situations or solves problems in creative and comical ways. Even though they’re a part of the Pali Canon… Read More

Buddhism

Mahanipata Jataka at Wat Nong Wang

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woodcarving of a giant naga and a man threatening two others with a sword

The carved wooden doors and window shutters on the seventh floor of Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang tell the last ten Jataka tales. The artist was Tawon Gonkaew. อ่านภาษาไทยที่นี่ (Click here to read a Thai version.) The Jataka tales (chah-dok in Thai) are a collection of 547 birth stories from the Pali Canon (the Buddhist equivalent of the Bible) recounting pre-enlightenment lives of the Bodhisatta (what… Read More

Buddhism

What the Bodhisatta was Born as in the Jataka Tales

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mural painting of a gold-trimmed elephant and a man taking one of his tusks

These are all the past-life incarnations of the Bodhisatta (what a Buddha-to-be is called) as recounted in the Jataka tales. The first of the two lists simply records his main character in each of the 547 stories while the second tallies all the individual lifetimes found in the Jataka tales taking duplicates, multiple lifetimes, and passing mentions into account. Any list of this sort will be inexact because it’s not… Read More

Buddhism

Gods of Directions and Celestial Bodies at Wat Nong Wang

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painted doors

The paintings on the window shutters and doors on the fourth floor of Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang feature four separate but related things – gods of the celestial bodies (เทพนพเคราะห์), daily Buddhas (พระประจำวันเกิด), the guardians of the directions (เทพประจำทิศ), and animals of the directions (สัตว์ประจำทิศ) –all in groups of eight. For religious purposes Wednesday is split into daytime and nighttime resulting in eight days in… Read More

Buddhism

Mahanipata Jataka Murals in Thai Temples

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temple mural painting of naga on anthill

The 547 Jataka tales (chah-dok in Thai) recount stories from some of the past lives of the being who would eventually become the Buddha. The final ten stories, called the Mahanipata Jataka in English and tot-sah-chat chah-dok in Thai, are morality tales in which the Bodhisatta (what a Buddha-to-be is called) develops the ten paramitas (“perfections of character”) that one needs to master in order to reach enlightenment. Mural paintings… Read More

Buddhism

The Kacchapa Jataka (#273)

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scene from the Kacchapa Jataka, a turtle biting a monkey's penis as the Bodhisatta watches

In the late 19th century, the first team to translate the entire collection of Jataka tales into English felt this story was so indecent that they published it only in Latin so only scholars could read it. Here is a short version of the story in English. After the Buddha ended a bitter feud between two of the king’s military officers by preaching about loving-kindness, he told some of his… Read More

Buddhism

Vessantara Jataka Murals at Wat Nong Wang

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Vessantara Jataka mural of gods caring for Prince Vessantara's children while Jujaka sleeps in a tree

The third-floor murals inside Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon stupa at Wat Nong Wang temple tell the story of Prince Vessantara (Phra Wetsandon in Thai). It’s the last of the 547 Jataka tales, a collection of birth stories from the Pali Canon (the Buddhist equivalent of the Bible) recounting some of the Buddha-to-be’s pre-enlightenment lives. The Jataka tales are, for the most part, morality stories in which the Buddha-to-be somehow overcomes… Read More

Buddhism

The Nandivisala Jataka (#28)

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scene from the Nandivisala Jataka, the Bodhisatta as an ox pulling loaded carts

A clique of the Buddha’s monks taunted and insulted other monks when they disagreed with them on something. When the Buddha was told about their behavior he scolded them and then told them this story of one of his past lives so they would understand that speaking with kindness rather than hostility is beneficial. — — — The Buddha-to-be was born as an ox. His owner named him Nandivisala and… Read More

Buddhism

The Culla-Paduma Jataka

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mural painting of Bodhisatta's wife pushing him off the cliff from the Culla-Paduma Jataka in ubosot of Wat Thung Si Muang

One of the Buddha’s disciples, while out on a morning alms round, saw a woman so beautiful he fell in love at first sight. After returning to the monastery, his obsession with her made him depressed and ill and he could no longer concentrate on his studies or meditation. The Buddha told him he should stop thinking about her and then to remind the disciples that all women are ungrateful… Read More

Buddhism

Buddhist Flags in Thailand

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Thai Buddhist flag

The Thai Buddhist Flag Nearly every temple in Thailand flies the yellow and red tong dhammachak (“Thai Buddhist flag”) which was officially introduced by the Thai sangha in 1958. The red circle is a dharma wheel (dhammachak in Thai) and it represents dharma, the teachings of the Buddha. Also known as the “wheel of law,” it was metaphorically set in motion when the Buddha gave his first sermon, known as… Read More

Buddhism

Corpse Meditation Murals at Wat Um Long

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Wat Um Long corpse meditation mural

The small old ubosot at Wat Um Long in Thoen, Lampang province, is interesting and unusual in many ways. The most interesting for me is that the majority of interior wall space is covered with murals of a monk doing corpse meditation. (The rest are scenes from the life of the Buddha.) This is not an uncommon subject matter for inclusion in temple paintings, but it’s rare for it to… Read More

Buddhism

The Buddha Nearing Death at Wat Yang Tuang Wararam

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close up of buddha vomiting on mural painting at wat yang tuang wararam

The Buddha died of dysentery after eating his final meal. Specifically what that meal was is unknown, but the traditional account says it was spoiled pork. Some people (seemingly mostly Westerners who are uncomfortable with the idea of the Buddha eating meat, even though this is discussed in the Pali Canon many times) have decided that the final meal of “soft pork” was actually a type of mushroom and he… Read More