Buddhism in Thailand. As viewed through the lens of Wat Pha Lad, Chiang Mai.

One of the shrine rooms at Wat Pha Lad.

Buddhism is infused into much of life in Thailand. It blends seamlessly with elements of Hinduism, also imported from India, and pre existing animism . Features of this are found in many facets of life: from the rarified meditative atmosphere of a forest temple, to taxi drivers hanging Buddhist charms from the rear view mirror, people visiting temples seeking luck over a particular issue or to receive a blessing, monks doing the alms round in the early morning, to karmic merit making activities such as buying a caged bird from the pet shop and releasing it. It helps explain a lot of people’s behaviour, their underlying intentions and attitudes and probably the generally harmonious flavour of life in much of Thailand. My own interest in Buddhism over 30 years has been less religious environments and rituals and more that the philosophy and psychology made sense, meditation ‘worked’ and life flowed more smoothly when I followed and practiced it . However in Thailand, now and again a temple environment or some such would touch me in a wordlessly powerful way. One such place was Wat Phra Lad near Chiang Mai with its magical setting in mountain forest and surrounding waterfalls.

The forest walk up there is a treat , around 40 minutes for most people.
A cooling foot soak on arrival, one of nature’s free treats.

Originally built in the 14th century many of the older buildings and Buddhas show a Burmese influence.

The Pavillion.
Inside the Pavillion, built into rock behind.
One of the early rock temples.
Soul Stirring Stupas.

Perhaps most intriguing for me are the statues of Reusi (same as Rishis and hermit yogis in India and elsewhere). Essentially Reusi are hermits knowledgeable in, and protectors of, ancient and esoteric sciences such as: traditional medicine, meditation, Sak Yant (magical tattooing), alchemy, palmistry, astrology and more. Reusi are often specialised in one or more of these areas . Their statues are often found outside and around Buddhist temples , but never in with the Buddhas, as despite often being Buddhist they are also considered a little dangerous being also learned in esoteric and potentially dark arts. An interview with a rare western Reusi living in Thailand here.

Reusi are generally depicted with pointy hobbit like ears.

Reusi images pop up everywhere, but particularly in quiet temples in the countryside. This one near Chiang Rai.

Nagas are mythical snake like creatures found as protectors of Thai temples and symbolic of water (where they are believed to live) and fertility , depending who you ask. They are very much part of the animistic tradition in Thailand and elsewhere in Asia.

Watery Naga.

Whether we attach spiritual or religious meaning to aspects of nature or not, it’s easy to see why this site was chosen for Wat Phra Lat with its naturally contemplative ambience.

Mini cairn buildings – seemingly a universal.
Standing meditation.

The contrast with ever expanding Chiang Mai below couldn’t be much greater. Whilst not exactly undiscovered any more, I hope its specialness is protected for future residents of the city and any visitors who maybe touched as I was.

Chiang Mai.

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