Buddha, Monks, and Thai Temples

Living in the diverse city of New York City, I’m accustomed to seeing different representations of faith. I may come across a church steeple, synagogue spire, and mosque dome all within a couple blocks of one another. However, one thing I don’t often see are Buddhist temples.

Buddhism is the main religion in Thailand with approximately 95% of the population practicing Theraveda Buddhism. Theravada, meaning the ‘Ancient Teaching’, began in Nepal in 250 BCE.

Unlike Christianity, Islam or Judaism, Buddhism is a non-theistic religion. This means that its believers do not base their faith around a god. Instead, they study the teachings of a man named Siddhãrtha Gautama, or as he is more commonly known, the Buddha.

Buddhists believe that all humans are born into a cycle of reincarnation. This means that when a person dies, their soul returns through another human or living thing. According to the Buddha’s teachings, the ultimate goal of life is to break free of this cycle of death and rebirth. Buddhists believe that you can get off of the wheel of reincarnation if you lead a pure life, which leads to nirvana. Simply put, nirvana is a state of perfect happiness. Understanding different religions can be difficult, and to me, nirvana sounds similar to the Christian belief of heaven.

The Thai people are incredibly dedicated to the Buddhist faith. This can be seen through the more than 30,000 Buddhist temples, or wats, across Thailand. One of the most famous is Wat Pho. Built in the 1780s, it is both the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok. Inside, there is a golden reclining Buddha that measures over 140 feet long and almost 50 feet high. To give you an idea of its size – this Buddha statue is equal to the length of three school buses and as tall as a 5-story building!

Just across the Chao Phraya River is Wat Arun, which was constructed in 18th century. In the heart of Wat Arun, stands a beautiful 260-foot high tower called the ‘Temple of the Dawn.’ I find the name misleading; personally, think it looks most beautiful at sunset. As you will see in the video, this greyish, ceramic tile encrusted temple seems to come alive as the sun goes down and the structure lights up.