Ecumenical Parks and Cosmological Gardens
Ecumenical Parks and Cosmological Gardens
Braphai and Lek Wiriyaphan and Buddhist Spectacle Culture
Abstract and Keywords
Lek and Braphai Wiriyaphan were married Sino-Thai entrepreneurs that became some of the greatest builders of Buddhist theme parks and ecumenical memorials in Asia. They designed parks and museums including the largest wooden temple and the largest metal animal statue in the world. This chapter compares their sites to others the Haw Par Villa in Singapore, the Wat Muang “Hell Park” in Thailand, the Centro Ecuménico Khun Iam in Macau, Chan-soo Park’s Moga-A Sculpture Garden in South Korea, the Sala Keaoku sculpture garden in Laos, as well as modern Buddhist temples and art galleries designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, Thawan Duchanee, Tadao Ando, Takashi Yamaguchi, Shin Takamatsu, among others. These sites are a mixture of religious buildings, leisure and tourist sites, and spectacle sites (J. misemono). They overwhelm instead of instruct. They encourage distraction, not focus. They are an important part of carnival culture that link the spectacular, grotesque, the absurd, and the comedic.
IN 1937, TWO BUDDHIST BROTHERS FROM BURMA NAMED Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, who had amassed a fortune inventing and selling Tiger Balm (a soothing and cooling camphor-like balm for muscle pain, headaches, rashes, and the like), opened up their own amusement park, called Tiger Balm Gardens. Although it did not have rides, its sculpture gardens, large dioramas, fake mountains, and inviting fountains were a popular place of leisure for families. The park offered regularly scheduled performances of Chinese operas, moralist dramas, concerts, and circus-like acts. While it was not a Buddhist park directly, many of the displays were Buddhist.
The government of Singapore took over the park in 1988 and renamed it Haw Par Villa. It is a site still known to most Singaporeans and a wonderful place to relax and delight the senses. At the park, one can read about the lives of the brothers on mounted posters and plaques, learn about their travels from Burma, and even sit in their old car. Parents can arrange birthday parties for their children, tourists pose for photographs, couples stroll hand-in-hand, and businesspeople eat their bagged lunch on shady benches. Since the Singapore Tourism Board dropped the entrance fee, one can now stroll in and rest among thousands of colorful statues and reliefs. Many of the displays focus on Chinese epic tales like the Legend of the White Snake, the Journey to the West, and the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Dioramas display how abusing alcohol, frequenting prostitutes, hanging out at nightclubs, and ignoring one’s parents can lead to a life of suffering and crime. I particularly liked the display in which humans turn into rats because of their (p.83)
licentiousness. Alongside these literary and moralist displays stand statues of the Buddha, Maitreya, Avalokiteśvara (Guanyin), and the Daoist celestial masters, such as the Jade Emperor and the Eight Immortals. Statues of sea and land creatures, some mythological and some natural, abound. There is even a miniature Statue of Liberty and memorials to the two brothers and members of their family.
Near the entrance to the park is one of the largest displays—the cave of the Buddhist hells.1 This is truly a garish site. Originally a man-made cave inside a large dragon, the cave remains, but today the outer shell looks like a fake mountain. Inside, the lighting is low and it is very hot, as air does not flow well through the long cave. Each of the levels of hell are depicted in rather (p.84) gruesome detail: bloody corpses, naked women and men being tortured, saws slicing off limbs, stones crushing skulls, bodies floating in pits of lava, and the like. This style of diorama was copied by Buddhist temples in Thailand and Sri Lanka later in the twentieth century, but what is interesting here is that this park is designed for entertainment.2 Vendors are selling ice cream, fruit, beer, and snacks, and there isn’t a nun or monk in residence.
Haw Par Villa is a perfect example of the way pan-Asian Buddhist stories, local and regional folktales, an accumulation of commonly known cultural cues, and new technologies and building materials fit together comfortably and both reflect and contribute to the local cultural repertoires in many places in “Buddhist” Asia. The designers, Sino-Burmese brothers working in a culturally diverse (Tamil, Chinese, Indo-Malay, British) urban space, succeeded in blending the religious and the secular, the public and the private, the didactic and the leisurely to form a sensory experience that is accessible, affordable, entertaining, and educational. However, because Haw Par Villa is not connected to a specific sect, a specific religion, or a specific nun or monk, like many places discussed below, it has been overlooked by religious studies specialists; and because it was not designed by an internationally recognized architect, and is characterized more by abundance and eclecticism than by a singular vision or message, it has been overlooked by art and architectural historians. In this chapter we look at the work of Braphai and Lek Wiriyaphan in Central Thailand, as well as the designers of other Buddhist ecumenical sculpture gardens and leisure parks both in both public and monastic spaces. We will examine the various local optima that have tempered their architectural visions and observe what forces have changed their creations over time.
Lek and Braphai Wiriyaphan and the Remaking of the Cosmos through Ecumenical Architecture in Thailand
As fun, garish, and spectacular as Haw Par Villa is, it is dwarfed in comparison to the work of Lek Wiriyaphan. Lek passed away from kidney failure on November 17, 2000, after making his mark as one of the greatest eccentrics, and arguably the greatest builder of Buddhist theme parks and promoter of the aesthetics of Buddhism, of the twentieth century. He was also more focused on universal and ecumenical themes, especially later in his career, than on building cultural parks with Buddhist aesthetic features. He founded the Sanctuary of Truth and the Ancient City in Central Thailand. The former claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world and is covered with carvings of Hindu deities, planets, stars, buddhas, animals, and flowers. The latter is a 230-acre replica of Thailand, complete with giant monuments and temples, as well as man-made miniature rivers, lakes, and mountains. However, Lek’s greatest endeavor was the Erawan Elephant, the world’s largest (p.85) metal animal, which houses an impressive museum, among other things. The scale of this undertaking is hard to describe: The giant, three-headed, iron elephant statue stands 130 feet tall, is 120 feet long, and weighs 250 tons. Inside the elephant’s leg, an elevator takes people to its belly, in which visitors find a very large Buddhist sermon hall and an altar where they can prostrate, offer gifts, meditate, and regard the ceiling covered with stars and mermaid-like creatures. The park below displays elaborate fountains and gardens. Lek was not trained as a monk or a scholar of religion. He drew on his individual repertoire of cultural and religious influences and creatively improvised. Although he resisted compromise throughout his lifetime, unforeseen circumstances led him and his wife (and now his children) to settle at a series of local optima in the pursuit of their constantly shifting plans and ambitions.
Lek’s “new age” projects could be considered the creations of a wealthy, megalomaniacal, elderly man; however, behind his rather bizarre parks was a man with clear reasons and a certain vision of the future of Buddhism. Despite these large projects, nothing of significance has been written about him in any language, and were it not for a chance I had to speak with some members of his family and business, a short autobiography and collection of his poetry, and a family history published on the occasion of his cremation, I would have little information about his life.3
Lek was born in Bangkok, a few months before Kenzo Tange, in 1912. Arguably more important, his wife, Braphai, was born in 1914. Without her, he admitted, he most likely would have been just another Sino-Thai businessperson trying to climb the ranks of Thai society. She enabled him to develop his business and complete his massive parks, and she was central to his publication series and preservation work.
Lek was the child of a small Chinese drugstore owner who worked in the crowded alleys of Sampeng (Bangkok’s “Chinatown”). His father, like many Chinese immigrants of that generation, did not want his children to lose their Chinese heritage and so sent Lek away to study in Shanghai before the war. This move would prove significant, as Lek claimed that much of his intellectual and religious inspiration came from reading Chinese Daoist and Confucian texts, and most of his book collection was in Chinese. When his father fell very ill in Bangkok at the age of fifty, Lek was summoned home because of lack of funds and a need for him to run the pharmacy. His father died soon after Lek returned, and so Lek never completed his studies. While trying to develop the fledging business and keep the family together, he went to several chemists and pharmacists to develop new products.
On one of these visits, he met a young nurse and chemist named Braphai. She had just returned from completing a degree at the Nanyang Technological College (now university) in Singapore. Coincidentally, it would be Tange who would redesign the main campus of Nanyang (although long (p.86) after she had graduated). She had had an easier time than Lek. Her parents, Wichian and Yairun, were second-generation Chinese immigrants and successful businesspeople. Her grand father was a steamship worker from Southern China, and her mother was a tax collector. As a steamship worker, her grand father had worked closely with Captain Narin, who competed with Western traders and exposed the family to different lifestyles and products. Narin ended up helping her grand father’s whole family, and they were able to open a shop that later turned into the very successful Wiriyapanich Company. Their main products were pharmaceuticals, and they made a small fortune on a virility drug and general elixir called “Blataphian thi Mahanak,” which had a symbol of an Indian Brahmin Ṛṣi (soothsayer/seer) on the label and is still known today as “Mahanak” brand elixir. Perhaps influenced by growing up in pharmacies, Braphai excelled in chemistry and the Chinese language (at the Chinese school called, in Thai, Sangta khrusaba rian), made international connections herself, and, by the time she met Lek, was independent and wealthy for her young age. She was not initially impressed by Lek and concentrated on her work in her laboratory. However, because of her diabetes, which she had had since a young child, Lek won her heart (according to their daughter), by cooking healthy dishes and bringing them to her.4 Soon, they wed, had six children, and built a massive fortune together. He was charming, energetic, and ambitious. She was diligent, cautious, responsible, and had a mind for accounting. It was this combination, Lek acknowledged, which made his success possible. His autobiography includes an entire chapter about her and many photographs of her.5 Their family biography includes numerous photographs of them at work, on vacation, poring over blueprints, and the like. They were inseparable.
As they grew wealthier, the couple started not only purchasing new businesses, but also collecting art and books. The most significant business Braphai and Lek were able to start was the first major Mercedes-Benz dealership in Bangkok. This business, along with their pharmacies, generated a steady income and allowed them to hire managers and travel throughout the country together frequently. Lek became an active collector of books, especially books in Chinese on Daoism and Confucian ethics. He also liked antiques and, with Braphai, traveled almost every weekend to various provinces collecting buddha images, manuscript storage chests (tu traipidok), and architectural pieces like lintels, shutters, architraves, and columns, mostly in Nan, Kampaengphet, Loei, Uttaradit, Petchabun and other provinces in Northern Thailand along the Mekong River. Eventually, his children claim, they were able to visit every province in Thailand. Because of difficulties with diabetes, Braphai retired young and started to manage the family finances and explore investment opportunities. She also started purchasing large tracts of land. (p.87)
Lek liked to consult with scholars such as Manit and Sisak Walliphodom and Wilaisak Songsiri, who were specialists in Thai art and folklore.6 He was a frequent visitor after work on weekdays to the River City antique market next door to the high-end hotels like the Oriental and Shangri-La. Although he never studied art or history formally, he surrounded himself with experts and traded with Cambodian and Burmese art dealers. Their pan-Asian collection grew so much that storage, never mind display, became an issue. A friend, Bhiam Bunyachot, encouraged Lek and Braphai to invest in golf courses, especially mini-golf. However, while this was of some interest to Lek, he thought that the land Braphai had bought could be put to better use and that they could start using their wealth and land for their country.
According to Sisak, one of the reasons Lek’s Benz dealership was so successful was that he knew how to master the art of the “showroom.” This concept was new to Thailand in the 1960s. Lek thought that he should create a showroom for his art and for Thai history. He decided to take a large tract of land Braphai had purchased in the southern suburbs of Bangkok (in Bang Bhu, Samut Prakan Province) and use it as an outdoor history park, which he named Muang Boran (Ancient City). He also started a bookstore and publication series to promote Thai history and art, which is still one of the best bookstores in the country, although Lek did not write any books, besides a guide to the Ancient City, himself.7 At the Ancient City site, he wanted to recreate a miniature version of Thailand, complete with fake mountains, lakes, rivers, monasteries, palaces, markets, villages, and waterfalls.
A comparable site is Taman Mini Indonesia, also called Beautiful Indonesia in Miniature Park, on the outskirts of Jakarta, which was started around the same time as the Ancient City in the early 1970s (construction first (p.88) started in 1972). It has grown over time to include not only miniature versions of famous examples of Indonesian architecture, religious sites, and cultural monuments, but also cultural performances, an IMAX theatre, and amusement rides. Unlike Lek and Braphai’s Ancient City, the buildings at Taman Mini Indonesia are replicas and not actual buildings moved to the site. Also, Taman Mini Indonesia was a government-sponsored project, whereas Lek and Braphai received no government direction or funding. I have not found direct evidence that the Ancient City was modeled on the Taman Mini Indonesia, or that Lek and Braphai even knew about the Indonesian project, but the parks clearly reflect similar motivations to showcase a nation’s beauty and accomplishments as seen in national displays at world’s fairs and the early cultural displays at Disney’s theme parks.8
For over thirty years Lek slowly worked with Braphai, artisans, his children, historians, and landscapers to clear the land, move entire monastic buildings from various places in the country, and build new monastic buildings and miniature versions of palaces, fortresses, city walls, manuscript libraries, and the like. By the time of his death in 2000, there were 116 buildings in the park, as well as full-size replicas of Chinese junks floating in a lake and a bridge painted with a rainbow.9 Restaurants, gifts stores, salons, and ice cream shops all occupy a setting of premodern Thai villages, with period furniture, oil lamps, and winding pathways. One can sit along a man-made canal while merchants in traditional clothing bring food to you in their small canoes, mimicking the floating markets in Ratchaburi and Samut Sakorn Provinces that have long been popular with tourists. One can stroll around and enter into nearly full-size replicas of traditional Northern, northeastern, Central, and Southern Thai monasteries and palaces, including full replicas of the Hall of Wat Tramit in Trat, the Buddha’s Footprint Shrine in Saraburi, the Wat Chedi Chet Yot in Chiang Mai, and the Phra That Ta Khu in Kalasin Province. Lek even built a copy of a floating Thai Catholic church. Serious attention has also been paid to non-Siamese/Thai art, since he includes replicas of the Angkorian temples and pavilions in northeastern Thailand such as Prasat Phanom Rung and Phimai. Lao libraries and stupas like those in Nong Khai and Nakhon Panom sit near Shan- and Burmese-style monasteries based on originals in Lampang, Chiang Rai, Tak, and Kanchanaburi Provinces. Although Buddhist buildings dominate, there is also a replica of a 1893 French colonial building from Chantaburi Province (on the Cambodian border), as well as court of public appeals from thirteenth-century Sukhothai and the Ayutthayan Sanphet Prasat (palace). Lek was involved in every aspect of the park and spent nearly every free day he had there, and also constructed a place for Braphai to rest while there.
of Thai architecture in the Ancient City was not Lek’s objective. Unlike art historians or museum curators, though, Lek did not like to create “complete” collections and often admitted that he was not overly concerned with authenticity, age, rarity, or preservation. Visitors can touch the buildings, walk on their floors, and prostrate to their statues. Visitors can offer gifts, light incense and candles, and chant in front of Buddha images in the monastic buildings in the park. Indeed, Lek bought what he liked, even entire pavilions, walls, ceilings, and gates, from dilapidated rural monasteries. He wanted to create a living aesthetic experience in which foreigners and city dwellers could experience the mostly Buddhist art in his collections. Indeed, he explicitly emphasized that historical accuracy was not his intention. Most of the structures at the Ancient City were not brought to the site but constructed on the site from a mixture of new and old material. Oftentimes the old material was not taken from the actual palace, market, or monastery that was labeled in the park. Lek said that he bought what Braphai and he liked and enjoyed mixing styles, time periods, and materials.10 The labels on the buildings (usually in the form of small signs on the paths) provide some basic information on the date and provenance of the building in question, but do not claim that the buildings are accurate. Some signs are detailed, but most are descriptions of the types of wonderful activity that might have taken place in a building like (p.90) this in the veiled past. Moreover, there are a few small museums in other buildings, such as a replica of a village home and a hall containing manuscript chests. Here we find materials mixed together with little effort to create an accurate view of life in the past or to coordinate building dates with the style of the furniture inside. There is even a complete eccentricity to the way Lek planted trees at the park, where he mixed and matched species from different regions and climate zones.11
To compound this lack of authenticity, Lek hired an artisan from Shanghai (who is not named in sources I have found) to undertake most of the carving of Thai, Khmer, Lao, and Shan shutters, lintels, doors, and the like throughout the park. This artisan had not been to Thailand before and did not speak the language. Lek openly stated that he did not care what historians thought about his site and referred to vague criticism from nameless detractors of his park. Even Sisak criticized Lek for this attitude and lack of scholarly fastidiousness.12 Lek had a large library and traveled extensively, but seemed to have a slight resentment against academics and did not himself have advanced degrees or a scholarly pedigree. Sisak notes that Lek was a man who thought for himself and did not see the point of being rich if you could not do what you wanted. Lek often quoted sayings from Daoist literature and stated that true meaning was not in history, because history is constantly changing. His park should constantly evolve and change.13
Braphai largely agreed with him. In both the Thai and English forwards to the Guide to the Muang Boran, Braphai stated that she wanted the park to inspire people. She wanted buildings and art to be symbols to invoke profound thoughts. She believed that the rise of technology was distracting the young.14 Lek wanted to inspire the young and impress Westerners with Buddhist art and history. He wanted to create a peaceful yet entertaining place (the park has regular music and dance performances, a tram that takes visitors around, several picnic areas, etc.) where families could let their children run around, people could freely take photographs, and young couples could stroll in a shady relaxing atmosphere (rom reun). He stated that his park should be a sathan thi thiao yon jai (“a place to visit and ease the mind and heart”).15 His park should allow people to think big (tham hai goet khwam kit thi kwang) and challenge the imagination (thathai chintanakan).16 Although he notes that history is important, “suitability and beauty have no boundary in age … [they] have no nationality, no religion, no limit in time.”17
Other binaries that Lek wanted to surpass were between literary and recorded history and between the religious and the secular. One of the most striking things at the park is the way buildings and characters that exist only in Thai romances, epic poems, or folktales are presented alongside buildings and statues that are known from archaeological and historical records. For (p.91) example, there are monuments to Manohra, Khun Paen and Khun Chang, Phra Ram, Phra Lo, and Phra Apaimani, among others—all characters from famous works of Thai literature or stories drawn from Pali and Sanskrit literature. Only one, the story of Manohra, is directly taken from an apocryphal Buddhist Pali jātaka (Sudhana Jātaka). The others are heroes of Sanskrit and Thai epics and folktales. There is no natural barrier placed between these fictionally inspired monuments and buildings and replicas of actual places. Khun Paen’s house, for example, is next to the old city hall of Chonburi Province, where General Taksin supposedly rested his troops in the late 1700s. Khun Paen is a character from a Thai epic poem about a love triangle that involves violence, abduction, and the use of protective magic. Manohra’s garden is next to the famous Southern Thai Buddhist stupa at Wat Mahathat that can be dated back to the sixth century. Manohra was a half-woman/half-bird (kinnarī) character who fell in love with Prince Sudhana (the Buddha in a previous life). Other than the Buddha himself, there are no characters in the entire park taken from canonical Buddhist literature. One could argue that the Ancient City is a celebration of all beautiful things, both secular and religious, in Thailand. It is a showroom of Thai religion, literature, and art. It is not a xenophobic place, however, and celebrates ethnic diversity and acknowledges the influence of Lao, Khmer, Shan, Burmese, and even Western architectural styles on Thailand. What is a bit strange, though, is that the Chinese influence on Thai society is hardly noticeable—especially strange since the park was designed by Lek and Braphai, who read and spoke Chinese. Braphai seems to have been the motivator behind Lek’s Thai Buddhist projects. He was not particularly religious and rarely visited monasteries or attended liturgies. He spent his free time reading Chinese philosophy and novels. He had a large cabinet of rare Chinese books on religion, art, and philosophy in his office. He particularly liked reading Confucian philosophy (Thai: khong jeu) and often had a book of Confucian quotations with him, which he liked to translate in Thai for his friends as they were caught in traffic jams in Bangkok. He stated that Confucius knew the importance of the obligation of a person to their society, and Daoist philosophy taught inner strength and perseverance. A person should maintain a balance between developing their mind and helping others develop theirs.18 These sentiments are reflected in his own poems, which read like quotes attributed to Confucius. His book, Bantheuk khwam kit (Collected Thoughts), contains eighty original poems (or maxims of worldly wisdom, all between four and twenty lines), all untitled, and was published a year after he passed. Many of the poems invoke the need to remain calm and happy, but to never accept failure and to act for the sake of others when needed. For example, in two particularly punchy poems, he wrote nai chiwit khong khon rao mai mi wan dai thi mai samkhan (“in our lives, there isn’t a single day that is not important”) and khwam samret mai mi khwam lilap otthon (p.92) lae sarup bot rian chak khwam lomlao (“success is not a secret, persevere and learn from failure”).19 Additional thoughts on the meaning of life, the power of architecture, and the relationship between national heritage and everyday life were recorded in his autobiography, in a chapter called “Bhrachiya thi cheun chob” (Philosophy that Delights [Me]). One maxim that I think sums up Lek’s attitude and fearlessness in building these gargantuan sites is khon chalet somneuk tua eng khon ngo cha rawaeng phu eun (“intelligent people are aware of themselves, stupid people are concerned [with the intentions and opinions] of others”).20 Lek certainly did not care much about what others thought.
Although Lek seems to have drawn his philosophy from mostly Chinese sources, Braphai, even though she was also of Chinese heritage, did not spend her time reading Chinese philosophy or history. She frequented monasteries (Chinese-Thai as well as Thai), studied murals and Buddhist texts, and became an avid reader of Buddhist writer and social activist M. L. Dech Sanitwong. She and Lek came to see Buddhism, and religion more broadly, as the way to promote poverty reduction, national pride, political stability, and world peace. As Braphai grew increasingly ill in the early 1980s, and certainly after she passed away at the age of seventy-nine in 1992 (her ashes were placed in a stupa in the Ancient City), Lek’s interest in Chinese philosophy and art became more pronounced, and his concentration on Buddhist art and history waned. He had a shrine to Guanyin built as one of the last projects at the Ancient City. He designed a shrine to Chinese deities (the Jade Emperor, the Eight Immortals, and Mazu, among others) for his eldest daughter, Araphan. However, his interest in Chinese religion and thought was soon replaced by grander dreams that he had put on hold while he was working on the Ancient City.21
When he turned eighty, he began the aforementioned giant elephant. It was finished in 2004, but he was able to see most of the exterior finished before his passing in 2001. Here Lek reinvented himself again and moved from promoting “Eastern” wisdom to promoting a new vision of the cosmos. The Erawan Elephant, besides being extremely large and a wonder of engineering, also has a shopping complex, museum, gardens, and a planned hotel. The construction has largely been the responsibility of Lek’s oldest son, Pakpian Wiriyaphan (Khun Daeng),22 who, during the construction, was the president of the Thonburi Auto Assembly Company and a senator. The ceiling of the central temple, in the belly of the Erawan Elephant, was done by German artist Jacob Schwarzkopf, and the copper on the skin was completed under the direction of Ratchat Srichanjan with copper imported from Japan. The ceramic work was done by Samruai Amoot, who had previously done statues only at Buddhist monasteries and was excited by the challenge of creating something entirely new. Lek’s son asked him to create something that incorporated (p.93)
Khmer, Ayutthayan, Chinese, and Western designs. The architectural drawings were completed by Charun Mathanom.
Originally, Lek claims, he got the idea for the Erawan Elephant from an unnamed foreign visitor to the Ancient City who stated that he should build a giant apple in homage to worldly wisdom. However, Lek noted that the apple was not universal because no apples grow naturally in Thailand, whereas the elephant is universally known (in zoos and nature programs, at least, I suppose). Under neath the giant elephant is a museum of Chinese, Thai, Indian, and European artifacts with a particularly large collection of Ming dynasty Chinese bowls. The massive iron support columns under neath the elephant’s belly are covered not only with Buddhist (primarily Chinese), Daoist, and Hindu bas-reliefs, but also with scenes from the Christian Bible (Jesus Christ on the Crucifix, Moses holding the Ten Commandments, and the like). Each of the columns further represents the four Buddhist virtues of metta (compassion), karuṇā (love), upekkhā (equanimity), and mudita (rejoicing with others’ success). Lek believed the elephant protects Thailand since it was the mount of the king of the gods and therefore the center of the universe. The planets are symbolized by sculptures of a cow, lion, buffalo, horse, dragon, tiger, deer, the god Viṣṇu riding the mythological Garuda, and another elephant. The god Śiva protects the entrance to the museum and the base of the complex, and Guanyin is the main sculpture in the interior before (p.94) ascending the staircase or elevator to the Buddhist temple, which contains Buddha images from many different countries. The entire ceiling is a stained-glass representation of the Western zodiac. The construction methods also took “green” technology into consideration, as the glass chandeliers and ceramics are made of recycled material including Heineken, Singha beer, and fish-sauce bottles. Lek believed that global spiritual renewal is needed for the salvation of humanity, and that renewal should begin in his elephant at the center of the world.
Lek was not finished, though. One of the places Lek and Braphai liked to visit was on the coast near Bangkok, in the heavily ethnic Chinese area between Chonburi and Pattaya. Here, he said, on a small peninsula that he liked to look out at the sea and expand his mind. He and Braphai had purchased the land, but it was not until late in his life that Lek turned his attention to it. On the peninsula, he would construct one of the largest wooden buildings on earth. Although the building was still under construction (like the Erawan Elephant) when he passed away, it had already reached 345 feet in height. The building, in the shape of a huge temple resting on a ship, is covered with over five hundred statues and reliefs, entangled together, similar in some ways to the great Meenakshi temple complex in Madurai (Tamil Nadu, India). Although it shows clear Chinese, Indian, and Thai influences, no one style dominates, and there is nothing like it anywhere. Indeed, as Lek stated, it is a building not for the people of Thailand, but for all humanity. He believed that materialism was overtaking humanity and that “Eastern” wisdom could combat this by inspiring people to return to religious and philosophical thoughts and conversations.23 His introduction to the philosophy of the Sanctuary of Truth (Thai: Prasat Sacchatham), written in English and Thai, says that
Man cannot be born and exist without seven creators. The Sanctuary of Truth presents seven creators through carved wood sculptures which adorn its interior. They are: Heaven, Earth, Father, Mother, Moon, Sun and Stars. On top of the four spires of the sanctuary, the four elements that will lead to the ideal world according to eastern philosophy are presented: a wood sculpture of a celestial body (Deva) holding a lotus flower, representing the establishment of religion, the pillar of the world; a wood sculpture of a celestial body holding a child and leading an elderly person, which represents life bestowed upon human beings; a wood sculpture of a celestial body holding a book representing “the continuation of immortal philosophy”; a wood sculpture of a celestial body with a pigeon perching on his hand, symbolizing peace. On top of the tallest, central spire is Kalaki mounting a (p.95) horse, the symbol of Phra Sri Ariyametrai [Sanskrit: Maitreya]. Phra Sri Ariyamethai was the last Bodhisattva to achieve enlightenment in the world and become the fifth Buddha in the Bhadhra era (i.e., the present era).24
Lek goes on to explain that a battle is being waged between technological forces (associated with the West) and religious forces. A series of carvings of scenes from the Mahābharata and Rāmāyaṇa symbolize this battle. The battle between parents and children is symbolized by the avatars of the Hindu god Viṣṇu; children must learn to respect their parents. There are also sculptures of Chinese immortals, bodhisattvas such as Guanyin and Mañjuśrī, and numerous animals.
Lek’s thoughts grew increasingly disconnected from any tradition as he moved from creating a replica of Thailand’s religious and cultural treasures to creating a monument to his own vision of the universe. This may explain why the royal family of Thailand has visited only the Ancient City and not Lek’s other two projects, and why Thai scholars have largely ignored his work while Western scholars have completely ignored it. His creations do not fit into national, ethnic, religious, or other categories and are more like amusement parks (sans roller coasters) than like monasteries, monuments, or museums.
Since Lek’s passing, the Sanctuary of Truth has become more and more like an amusement park. I imagine Braphai and he saw the potential of the Pattaya resort region and prime ocean side property when they purchased the land: this area would grow in the late 1980s to the most visited tourist area on the entire Thai coast. It is still hugely popular, and the Sanctuary of Truth is now surrounded by several high-rise resorts and expensive condominium buildings. This particular neighborhood north of Pattaya has also become a hot spot for Russian tourists over the past eight years. Most restaurant signs and menus are in Thai, Russian, and English. Many Thai business owners, waitresses, and taxi drivers in the area (especially in Sois/Sidestreets nos. 12–16 off Na Kleua Road) speak a smattering of Russian for the many sunburnt Russian retirees wandering around in flip-flops and bathing suits, and there is also a large Russian Orthodox church.
Members of the Wiriyaphan family have adapted to the changing times and have added many features to the site to entertain visitors who are prob ably more interested in leisure pursuits on their holidays than in reflecting on the meanings of the spiritual war Lek saw coming or the meanings of individual images from the Mahābharata. The site is now run by one of Lek and Braphai’s sons, Pichan, who spends much time at the site but does not grant interviews and rarely seeks out chances for publicity or provides updates on the construction. His chief of staff gave me much information, though, and one of the artistic directors guided me through the workshops and the grounds, (p.96)
(p.97) which are impressive. Inside the large entrance gate is a ticket booth and the management office. Visitors can rent all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs) to ride for fun along the beach and around the grounds. Young couples and families can also ride horses, rent horse-drawn carriages, have their photographs taken with live elephants, or even take elephant rides. There is a petting zoo, a fish feeding area, a shark observation area, photo booths, souvenir stands, and paddle boats to tour around the man-made ponds. One can even go parasailing or take a ride on a speedboat. A children’s camp on-site has a stage for children’s music performances and a campfire area.
All this surrounds the huge sanctuary itself. Although it is an active construction site, and all visitors who enter it have to wear hard hats, what has been accomplished is stunning. Inside, a visitor is dwarfed, looking up at massive wooden carvings, thick teakwood beams, and the faces of Ganesha and Brahma speckled with light filtering through the elaborately carved windows. Since it is still an open-air building with no doors or glass, the sound of the waves crashing on the stone ramparts echoes through the large rooms and corridors. Signs in Russian, Thai, and English explain the images in great detail, and staff is available to explain the stages and technology of the construction. There is also a small museum and restaurant. The construction crew consists of 350 workers, most of whom live on-site in a large dormitory. Many of the workers are Burmese and Mon, while some are Lao, Cambodian, and Thais. They make an average of 290 baht a day (about eight US dollars, which is a good lower-class wage in this area) and receive housing and meals. The chang kae salak (wood carvers) are primarily women, and many speak Burmese to each other; they are trained on-site, work eight-hour days, and have chances for advancement. Crew managers can make up to six hundred baht a day.
After interviewing a few workers who spoke Thai (and practicing my minimal Burmese language skills with a few others), as well as a crew manager, I had a nagging question that the chief of staff answered for me, although she preferred to be quoted anonymously. I asked, “How can this site make a profit?” I asked because each visitor is numbered; I was visitor number 132 that day, a Sunday, often their busiest day. When I was there before, on a weekday, I was one of the only visitors. If I was visitor number 132, late in the day on a Sunday, at the height of the tourist season, then the Sanctuary of Truth must be losing tens of thousands of baht every day. My suspicions were right. The site loses lots of money, although she preferred not to say how much. Some days, like on holiday weekends, they had over six hundred visitors, but most days they averaged under a hundred. The entrance fee is five hundred baht per person, with extra fees for speedboat rides, ATV rental, elephant rides, and the like. These activities brought in little more, however, and income from visitors hardly dented the payroll, housing, and food costs for the staff and (p.98)
artisans. Then there was the increasing cost of wood, taxes, landscaping, and taking care of the animals. The motive for keeping the site open was clearly not profit. The site was funded by the Wiriyaphan family’s many businesses, including the Mercedes-Benz franchises, the local Thai Tata (from India) truck franchises, the publishing house (which also did not make much profit), and the very large Wiriyaphan Insurance Company (Wiriyaphan Brakanphai Chamgat). It was explained to me that Lek’s family did not turn the site into an entertainment zone to make a profit, but saw family entertainment a great way to attract people to reflect upon the “truths” that Lek and Braphai wanted to offer the world (about 70 percent of visitors are Thai families and couples, (p.99)
and the rest are foreigners). Pichan Wiriyaphan, admirably, wanted to continue his parents’ legacy. He did not need the money.
The success of Lek’s three sites is difficult to assess. They are not particularly promoted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, are hardly known to scholars of Buddhist studies or Thai studies, and are not promoted heavily on billboards, tourist company tours, or in newspapers. Many visitors who do go to these sights use them as picnic sites for their families and free space to let their children run around without entering the museums or buildings (and avoiding entrance fees, which are not extremely expensive anyway). Others prostrate and offer candles and gifts to certain images in the three sites, although they were not designed for this activity.
It seems that early criticisms of the Ancient City may have been correct and that tourists and scholars are interested in that which is “authentic.” Why visit replicas of Thai monasteries and palaces when you can visit the actual sites in Thailand? Why visit Thailand to see parks representing the universe (with an emphasis on Chinese art and Hindu art and religion)? Why go to a wooden temple on the beach when there are resorts surrounding it? Why go to a replica of a monastery when there are no monks in residence, no sermons being given, and no rituals being performed? Unlike Lumbini, which attracts pilgrims, there is no ritual or historical reason to visit these sites. Lek stated clearly that he was willing to sacrifice accuracy for inspiration, and sacredness for aesthetics and awe. He built it, but they did not come. Still, Lek said that he did not care about profits. Indeed, he was already very wealthy, (p.100) and the costs of these sites clearly outweighed any possible short-term return on his investment. Moreover, his children were well taken care of, and he had left a thriving auto and pharmaceutical business (among other smaller businesses) to them. Profit was not his goal. Historical authenticity was not his goal. Ritual efficacy was not his goal. After the Ancient City, clearly Thai nationalism and the promotion of Thai or Southeast Asian Buddhism was not his goal. Buddhism is the primary religious aesthetic force at these sites—although even that is debatable at the Sanctuary of Truth and the Erawan Elephant—but it is not the primary intellectual force behind the sites. According to his own account and his main biographer, Sisak, Lek read much more extensively in Confucian and Daoist philosophy than he did in Buddhism. He was never a monk, which is unusual for a Thai male citizen, and never studied Pali or Chinese Buddhist texts formally. His sites are universal in intention: he wanted to entertain, inspire, and create beauty without overly didactic religious or political agendas.
Pseudo-Monastic Hellscapes and Ecumenical Flights of Fancy
Lek and Braphai’s creations are extreme examples of a new type of ecumenical religious amusement park that has been developed at many sites throughout Asia over the past twenty-five years. There is little evidence that the two directly influenced the creation of other sites. However, the long Buddhist tradition of building large-scale statues, stupa, and monastic complexes is demonstrated by the famous 150-foot-tall, sixth-century buddhas at Bamiyan (destroyed by the Taliban in 2001) and the 230-foot-tall, eighth-century, seated Leshan Buddha in China, among others. In the last 150 years, large buddha and bodhisattva images, built disconnected from specific monasteries, have become much more common and popular throughout Asia because of modern building techniques, global capital, and the rise of Asian economies. However, Lek and Braphai were some of the first architects (although untrained) to create largely ecumenical, nonsectarian, non-pedagogical (formally), nonecclesiastical, non-ritual, and non-monastic spaces on this scale, where no one school of Buddhism or specific buddha or bodhisattva is being promoted. Looking specifically at Thailand, a number of new spaces like this are worth describing, to put Lek and Braphai’s work in context. Unlike Lek and Braphai’s creations, though, these sites are embedded within or next to monasteries or are connected to particular monks or holy men. Neither Lek nor Braphai ever claimed for themselves any particular religious insight, meditative power, magical or healing power, or specific political agenda (besides vague calls for national pride, less dependence on technology, and world peace). First let us look at a few sites in Thailand and then expand to other examples in Laos, Korea, and Japan.
(p.101) Within twenty kilo meters of the Sanctuary of Truth, dozens of leisure spaces take advantage of the crowds visiting Pattaya and Chomtien Beach. There is the Million Year Old Rock Park, the Sriracha Tiger Zoo, Coco Park, the 4D movie theatre, a local chapter of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, the Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden, a Four Seasons Culture Park, as well as some very large Buddhist monasteries like Wat Photisamphan and a large mosque. There is also a large Buddhist college. However, one set of sites dwarfs them all in terms of the number of visitors and the sheer size of the complex: the Buddhist sites of Wat Yansangwararam, Wihan Sien, and the tallest buddha in the world. These three Buddhist sites are located within three kilo meters of each other and are part of a large leisure park set in a lush jungle surrounding a man-made lake and dotted by limestone outcrops. Wat Yansangwararam Mahaworawihan is a relatively new (built in 1976), royally designated monastery that has been turned into a museum and sculpture park, more than an active training site for monks, on fifteen hundred acres. The main patrons and builders were a couple named Phaekkichon and Nithiwadi Antrakan, and the present chief monk (sangharat) in Thailand, Phra Yansangwon, was assigned by the royal family to look after the site. More recently Sanit and Bhriya Chimchom, among others, have also donated much to the monastery.
Like a similar site in Kanchanaburi Province along the Burmese border, Wat Yansangwararam combines many different architectural styles, including a very tall replica of the Indian Buddhist temple at Bodh Gaya, a Chinese pavilion, a modern glass temple for public assemblies, and a traditional Thai ordination hall (ubosot). In the front of the monastery is a large parking lot for tour buses, increasingly occupied by the Chinese tourists that have been pouring into Southeast Asia and slowly replacing the crowds of Germans, Danes, Israelis, Japanese, and Australians who used to dominate the tourist crowds. Next to the parking lot is a monument to the present king and queen of Thailand and a large flower garden and fountain. I was struck when I first visited that I did not see one monk in residence. I finally found the abbot’s office and was told that the day-to-day operations of the monastery are separate from the tourist area, where people picnic, take photographs, and hear explanations about the different buildings from tour guides over megaphones.
Within a short walk of the “monastery” (although most people take the buses) is the tallest buddha image in the world. Now, this statement needs qualifying: this is not a freestanding statue like the Sendai Daikannon or Statue of Liberty, but an outlined image of a seated buddha carved into a limestone cliff face and painted bright yellow—not a relief that projects from the cliff face, but an etching into the rock. Called Phra Phuttha Mahawachirauttamopatsasada, or more commonly Khao Chi Chan, it is extremely tall, (p.102) measuring over four hundred feet. The carving was done by the Department of Geological Resources in honor of the king of Thailand’s fiftieth year on the throne. This particular cliff face was the ideal site because of the surrounding park and lake and because previous mining activity had rendered the mountainside steep and flat. The stone from the mountain was used to build the runways for the Thai-US military airbase, Utapao, during the Vietnam War. Now the mountain is used for a very different purpose. The carving has no monastery connected to it; it is a campsite, garden, and picnic grounds.
Walking from the Khao Chi Chan image across a grassy plain flanked by the Wonder Farm horse-riding center and the coffee shop, one comes to one of the most seemingly out-of-place museums and gardens in Thailand—Wihan Sien. Wihan Sien, or the Anek Kusala Sala (Chinese name: Ta Pu Ei), is a Chinese museum built by Chinese businessman Sa-nga Kulkopkiat, who made his fortune in Thailand. He was given the land by the king of Thailand in 1987 so that he could build a structure to house his very large collection of Chinese art as a gift to the royal family.
The museum is very large, in classic Tang style, with a sculpture garden outside, two levels of art inside, and a rooftop shrine and veranda holding dozens of large statues of the Daoist immortals and other Chinese deities.
(p.103) After paying a small fifty baht entrance fee, one enters to encounter a large outside sculpture of the eight immortals in front of a statue of the museum’s founder dressed in traditional Chinese robes and seated on an impressive throne. He is flanked by two other statues of Chinese sages, Chou Mang U and Lew Chun Huang.25 Sa-nga Kulkopkiat was born in Thailand in 1925 and, like Lek Wiriyaphan, moved to China for his education and spent most of his youth there. He became known as a master of Feng Shui, and his building projects, including the museum, were based on these principles. Before he died in 2003, he built a similar museum in Chaozhou (Guangdong Province, China). Inside the museum are over 350 statues from Chinese Daoist, Buddhist, and Confucian traditions: for example, statues of Maitreya; the Diamond Kings of Heaven; the Twenty-Eight Daoist deities known as the “lunar mansions” like Geng Chun, U Han; the Eighteen Arahants (Chinese: Lohan); the Jade Emperor; the Deity of Soldiers “Guan Di”; Xuan Zang, the Buddhist pilgrim who was helped by the Monkey King on his journey; and other deities like Zhen Wu Ch’iao-sheng Hsien-shih, anChung-t’an Yuan-shuai; Xi Wang Mu (the Chinese Queen Mother of the West); Lu Dong Bin (a famous sword fighter and healer from the Tang dynasty and a personal favorite of Sa-nga Kulkopkiat); Yao-shih Fu (the Medicine Buddha); and at least fifty statues of Guanyin. There are also replicas of Dun Huang Cave paintings, replicas of the Xian terracotta warriors, and a large miniature version of the Great Wall of China.
In a separate room next to the gift shop is a shrine to Sa-nga Kulkopkiat himself, including his personal chairs, his bed, family photographs, writing desk, and the like, as well as photographs of him with the royal family of Thailand, paintings of him with his sons and with the late Sangharat (head of all Buddhist monks in Thailand) Phra Yansangwon, and a life-size resin and wax statue of him. His son, Winai, now runs the museum, which displays a large painting of him as well. In order to maintain the appearance that this is not an attempt to promote Chinese religion, history, and art over Thai heritage, on the top floor above the Chinese deities is a very large Thai-style image of the Buddha with a shrine for making offerings in front of it. A separate room promotes Thai Buddhist art, and paintings of the nine Thai kings of the Chakri dynasty are also placed above statues of the three main Daoist deities and a large image of Guanyin on the main floor. Like Lek’s Sanctuary of Truth, built a short drive away, the Wihan Sien does not make a profit. It cost over 220 million baht (seven million US dollars) to build and has a large staff. The art work alone is priceless. The entrance fee is less than a dollar but the manager said that many tourists, even from China, skip visiting it, as they came to Thailand to see Thai things, not a regional, although impressive, Chinese museum. For Thai families, though, it has become a popular site for photographs and even for Chinese-Thai weddings and family reunions.
(p.104) Moving away from the coast, we find many other Buddhist leisure sites that are not built in tourist areas. In a previous study I looked closely at the life of the most famous monk in Thai history—Somdet Phra Buddhācāriya Brahmaraṃsī To (Thai: Somdet Phra Phutthachan Phrohmarangsi To)—hereafter Somdet To (~1788 to 1872). He was a famous magician, healer, teacher, scholar, and had connections to the Thai royal family. Thousands of statues of Somdet To are found throughout Thailand and among Thai communities abroad. In fact, two new images of Somdet To, in Prachuab Khiri Khan Province and Nakhon Ratchasima Province, both finished in 2007, are now the largest statues of any monk in Thailand; each is over sixty-five feet tall.
While most of these statues are located within monasteries, the largest is in a non-monastic compound, open to the public and built under the supervision and funding of Sorapong Chartree, the award-winning star of numerous major Thai films. He believes that he is indebted to the power of Somdet To for helping his career. In 2004 he commissioned a huge sixty-five-foot-tall statue of Somdet To, as well as an entire image hall and garden, built along a highway in Si Khiu District in the rural northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima. Somdet To’s signature Pali-language chant, the Jinapañjara (Verses on the Victor’s Armor), is played on a giant stereo system at this complex. Sorapong is the self-designated president of the Somdet To “fan club” (called by that name, in English) and has spent the equivalent of several million US dollars on this site.
When I visited the site for the first time in February 2008 I was struck not only by the immense size of the statue of Somdet To and the ornate mixed Thai- and European-style building that was built specifically to house this image, but also by the over fifty acres of gardens, reflecting pools, waterfalls, and fountains. The entire complex is served by several restaurants and shops selling Somdet To t-shirts, umbrellas, CDs of the Jinapañjara, amulets, and the like. I spoke with one of the tour guides, Somchit, who kindly gave me two amulets and a book describing the Jinapañjara, and he explained that the entire building, which was still under construction, would be covered in Italian marble. He also showed me a large glass panel inscribed with the Jinapañ-jara in gold leaf and lists of the thousands of people, besides Sorapong, who had donated hundreds of thousands of Thai baht to help build the building and forge the image (which is claimed to be the largest in the world). Besides building the image of Somdet To, the foundation started by Sorapong had donated over one hundred computers to a local rural elementary school, several cars to an orphanage, and supported other charity projects. For the ground-breaking ceremony, a stadium was rented and marching bands entertained the crowd of several thousand. While there are many very tall statues of the Buddha in Thailand, like those mentioned before in China, Japan, and Burma, in Thailand there is a growing movement to create large public statues of famous (p.105) monks like Somdet To and the famous Southern Thai monk Luang Pho Tuat. These statues are often connected, loosely or directly, to monasteries, but many people who visit these statues offer gifts, prostrate and perform short chanting rituals, and have a picnic or shop, but do not participate in more formal monastic ceremonies.
Lek and Braphai never became monastics; conversely, some Buddhist public and leisure places have been started by monks but are not monasteries.26 For example, in rural Petchaburi Province, near the Thai-Burmese border, the monk Luang Pho Ariyawanso Bhikkhu (lay name: Dr. Suchat Kosonkitiwong, also spelled Suchart Kosolkitiwong) (1943–2005) founded the Guanyin Inter-Religious Park in 1997 after a failed attempt to open a similar park in the late 1970s.27 He had been a monk only since the age of fifty. He did not train monks, receive much formal monastic training himself, or reside for long at a monastery. The park he founded is nowhere near the size of the Ancient City or the Erawan Elephant, but it boasts many objects on its small compound.
Luang Pho Ariyawanso/Dr. Suchat wanted to create a space that was open to people of all religions. He claims that he had spent years in the 1950s and 1960s working as a thammathut or Buddhist “emissary,” working for the Thai government in their attempts to weed out Communists in northeast Thailand, especially in the city of Nakhon Phanom (near Laos). After this work, he saw the value of religion in general to fight communism and started ecumenical interfaith meetings; spoke with representatives of the Sikh, Christian, Catholic, and Hindu communities of Thailand; and began collecting and commissioning objects from these different traditions. He launched the Office of the World Peace Envoy, which had a letter-writing campaign to urge world leaders to commit themselves to peaceful resolution of their domestic and international problems and offered awards (in absentia) to those international leaders who worked for peace, like Yitzhak Rabin, Yasushi Akashi, Jesse Jackson, and others. He invited the Dalai Lama and other prominent Buddhist leaders to visit his park, and held meetings that included Catholic priests, Brahmins, rabbis, Imams, and others. But, it appears, most invitees did not visit the park. He even tried to host ecumenical prayer sessions and ceremonies honoring the dead at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, pray for the health of the Thai monarch, and conduct rituals to prevent future disasters; Brahmin ritualists and Buddhist monks conducted most rituals.
The park reflects the purported values (and perhaps paranoia) of Suchat. He claimed that he started the park because he was concerned with the impending disasters that were going to face the planet environmentally and militarily (at first in 1999 and then, when that did not come to pass, he predicted massive destruction in 2007). After Suchat passed away, Dr. Thongmoah Champangern (secretary-general of the Office of the World Peace (p.106) Envoy) posted a disturbing letter on the front page of the organization’s website, containing a mixture of Buddhist cultural and religious beliefs about the role of the evil figure of Mara, as well as vague references to traditional and systematic jhāna meditations well known to certain lineages of practitioners throughout South and Southeast Asia. Apparently, he was also concerned with aliens and wanted to build images protecting the Earth from what he believed were imminent asteroids. No one at the park wanted to speak with me about these claims. The letter reads
H.E. the World Peace Envoy, the Most Venerable Ariyawanso Bhikkhu, Dr. Suchart Kosolkitiwong who had obtained a very important information emerging from his meditation, told me that the world is experiencing severe disasters during these coming three years. You certainly have expert scientists who can prove that an asteroid or meteor is moving towards our globe and will hit the earth on the 14th February 2005. H.E. the World Peace Envoy prayed for help from the enlightened souls in the universe, as well as the aliens, to deviate the direction of the asteroid from our globe. However, in spite of the deviation, the globe might shake tremendously and could entail great natural disasters such as earthquakes, tidal waves (tsunami), eruption of volcanoes, explosion of stockpiled nuclear weapons capable of completely destroying the world. The universe might burst into parts because the astral circuits could lose their balance. Moreover, as a revenge for the eight Venusians dead in the UFO shot down by the U.S.A., the World Peace Envoy told me that the Venusians and the Martians are preparing to wage war against our world. With his firm resolution, the Most Venerable Ariyawanso Bhikkhu, Dr. Suchart Kosolkitiwong, the World Peace Envoy, who dedicated himself to the World of Souls to work towards protecting 5,000 year era of Buddhism, and to save the world and the universe, has decided to abandon his body (no long alive) on the 7th January 2005, bringing away his mind and soul through the Fourth Level of Meditation Attainment (Jhana). This procedure is a dedication to save mankind and the world. H.E. the World Peace Envoy who hoped to live to negotiate with aliens when they invade the world, has decided to discard his life after he disclosed the coming asteroid. He wanted to disclose further secret of heaven and earth on the doomsday of the world [but] Satan (Mara-Devil) prevented him by destroying his body and the functioning of his life. Therefore, on behalf of H.E. the World Peace Envoy, I wish to forward this information to you and other peace leaders of the world, pleading for your help to unite (p.107) people’s power to pray to God so He protects you and the people, as meditation power will halt military power. I should be most grateful to receive your message of condolence which will be entered in the book published in memory of H.E. the World Peace Envoy Dr. Suchart Kosolkitiwong (the Most Ven. Ariyawanso Bhikkhu). I am sincerely looking forward with high hope and respect that you will join hand with other world leaders to protect the world to eternal safety. With best wishes for humanity and may humans live together in peace.28
Although Suchat grew up in the Thai-Pali Buddhist tradition and was ordained as a monk in the Thai Sangha, the park is named for its focal point, Guanyin (Sanskrit: Avalokiteśvara; Japanese: Kannon; Thai: Guan Im). The statue is of Chinese design and was carved in Shanghai. Dr. Suchat claims that it is the largest wooden image of Guanyin in the world. It has a thousand arms that are supposed to reach out to support humanity.29 Although this is the central image of the park, it is not the only focus. Indeed, there are statues honoring what he called the “twelve great world religions.” There are images of Śiva, Brahma, Maitreya, goddesses and spirits like Nang Torani, an entire section of the park called “the Land of Mahāyana-Tao” (Thai: Taen Mahayan-Tao) with statues of the Jade Emperor and other Daoist immortals and painting images of the yin-yang symbol. Although the park is supposed to honor many religions, not only those based in Asia, little is built there in honor of Islam, Christianity, or Judaism, although they are respected in the brochure and on the website. In my brief interviews at the site, no one seemed to know why these sections of the park were not built. Since Dr. Suchat’s passing in 2005, there appears to have been little growth. Since most of the images and the participants are Thai, and services are conducted and literature is written in Thai (even if many invited guests adhere primarily to the Sikh, Hindu, or Daoist traditions), it is a local site that is concerned more with local politics and economics than promoting ecumenical values and world peace.
Another site started by a monk, the hell park at Wat Muang, in the province of Angthong, further questions the relationship between the secular and religious roles of a monastery. Like Soropong’s non-monastic park surrounding the giant statue of Somdet To, and Suchat’s Guanyin Park, this park also has a large statue, this time of the Buddha. The Buddha image, representing Śakyamuni (the historical Buddha) is in the Earth-witness gesture (Sanskrit: bhūmisparśa mūdra), seated in meditation with one hand touching the ground. It is the largest seated image of a buddha in the world, measuring over three hundred feet tall, and is located on the edge of the monastery grounds in the center of rice paddy. Visitors have started a tradition of touching their heads to one of the massive fingernails of the statue for good luck.
(p.108) Wat Muang does not attract many foreign visitors, because it is not located near any major city or beach and is difficult to reach by bus or train, but it does attract local school groups learning about Thai history and religion, and curious Thai pilgrims, especially those interested in protective tattoos, although this practice has waned since the passing of the abbot in 2001. You can see the statue from many miles away; it is a dramatic scene, since it is covered in gold paint and, from a distance, looks like the Buddha is floating in the middle of a giant expanse of verdant paddy. However, the statue is not alone. As you get closer, you realize that it is surrounded by hundreds of smaller statues and several fantastic buildings. The statue was finished in 2008, but Wat Muang itself was built in the 1950s. Since that time it has grown incrementally and now encompasses dozens of acres. The monastery is now a small afterthought next to a sprawling sculpture garden.
Wat Muang was started by the monk Luang Pho Kasem Achansupho (also known as Phra Khru Wibun Achankhun), who passed away in 2001. When he was active at the monastery, he struck a fearsome pose.30 Unlike most Thai monks, he wore dark maroon robes and was almost completely covered (except for his face) in protective tattoos. Tattooed monks are relatively common in Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, but the extent of Luang Pho Kasem’s tattooing was striking. He was well known for being able to predict winning lottery numbers, perform healing ceremonies, and meditate for long periods of time. His mummified body is still at the monastery in a glass coffin within a monastic hall (Pali: vihāra; Thai: wihan). The interior of this hall is completely covered in mirrors (ceiling and walls) and is blinding when you enter. Most people don’t enter, though, when they visit this monastery, because they spend a great deal of time in the sculpture park. Thai school and tour groups have limited time, and the park and the giant Buddha take up most of that (many try to rush the groups through three or four monasteries or historical sites in one day, and folks are always being bellowed at over megaphones to hurry up and get back on the bus. I worked as a public school teacher in Thailand in the early 1990s and remember pestering my own students to get back on the bus and stay on schedule). Luang Pho Kasem’s corpse sits lonely in his hall of mirrors; he has been overshadowed by the creation that he started in 1990. His park and statue weren’t completed until almost a decade after his death. Even today, the lay committee working at the park is planning new developments that will prob ably further marginalize his work.
The role of the laity is even promoted in the monastery, though, which houses prominent statues of two local lay patrons and teachers, Kaeo Khamwibun and Thianchai Rungruaiyat, now deceased. Their statues are placed among other statues of previous monks and abbots at Wat Muang, and they are depicted sitting in meditation like the monks and wear white robes in a style similar to the monks’ saffron-colored robes. This placement works to (p.109) subtly elevate their status as nearly equal in the lineage of teachers at the monastery.
Today not many monks are managing day-to-day activities at the monastery or the park at Wat Muang (during the rainy season of 2010 fifteen monks and fourteen novices were in residence). It is largely run by Buddhist nuns (mae chi) and lay women and supervised by Phannipha Kulabut, a wealthy retired woman from Bangkok (although she likes to stay behind the scenes in an office). She was a government official before deciding to dedicate her life to the sculpture garden. She helps bundle donations from wealthy people in Bangkok and wants to promote Angthong as a place to visit because it was the site of a famous battle (Wiset Chai Chan) between Thai and Burmese forces in the late sixteenth century. As a history and literature buff, she wants Thai children to be taught Thai heritage in a creative way. Besides her work managing donations and overseeing construction, Phannipha is assisted by numerous lay gardeners, artists, and handymen. The sculpture garden, known in Thai as Suan Narok (Hell Garden) is largely free to stroll around in, with no formal tour guides and no entrance fees, just a series of signs identifying the names of the statues. Considering that the published cost of this sculpture garden and giant seated Buddha was 104,261,089 baht (three and a half million US dollars) and the mirrored vihāra was 25,497,789 baht (835,000 US dollars), this entire monastic project was not an afterthought by a strange lay fanatic.
Most of the statues at the Wat Muang hell park are depictions of people suffering in the various levels of Buddhist hell (Thai: daen narok). For a visitor unaccustomed to Thai Buddhist grotesque aesthetics (which are largely shared by Cambodian, Sri Lankan, Burmese, and Lao Buddhists, as well as having overlapping understandings with North and East Asian Buddhist cultures), featuring graphic depictions of hell, this park can be part traumatizing, part absurd, and all surreal. There are hundreds of garish and amateurish statues of partially naked women and men being tortured, burned with hot irons, stabbed, sawed in half, crushed by rocks, ground up in winches, forced to eat each other’s flesh, eaten by wild animals, boiled in large iron cauldrons, or having their bones broken or having molten lead poured down their throats. One statue, about thirty feet tall, depicts naked lovers being forced by ogres to climb a tree covered in spikes. There are two forty-foot statues of hungry ghosts (Sanskrit: preta) with bulging eyes, stretched-out tongues, and the bloated stomachs of starvation victims. These stories are found commonly in Thai folklore, on monastic murals, and in illuminated manuscripts, as well as in modern religious guidebooks and even comic books. Standing next to the hell sculpture garden are rather large statues of Indic Buddhist monks popular in Southeast Asian narrative traditions, Phra Malai and Phra Sivali.
(p.111) and brightly colored paddle boats provide plea sure trips in the pond. A section on Thai history features life-size statues and dioramas depicting famous battles, like the one at Wiset Chai Chan led by King Naresuan, next to mythological battles featured in the Indic/Sanskrit epics the Mahābharata and the Ramāyāṇa (Thai: Ramakian).31 The local Angthong war heroes Thong Dok and Thong Kaeo are raised to the level of national and mythological statues by being placed next to these sets of statues. Thai literature is well represented, and all thirteen chapters in the Thai telling of the Pali Vessantara Jātaka are depicted, alongside scenes from the Thai epic poems, Khun Paen Khun Chang, and Aphaimani, and Thai ghost stories.
Wat Muang is not just a site promoting Thai history or Thai Buddhist stories. As at Suchat’s Guanyin Inter-Religious Park (but much larger.), the park includes a section featuring the eight Daoist immortals (Thai/Teochiu: Boi Sian) such as Cao Guojiu, He Xiangu, and Lan Caihe, as well as other Chinese gods and sages like the Jade Emperor, Confucius, Lao Zi, and Mazu. Also featured are the three planetary deities Fu, Lu, and Shou (Mandarin Chinese) or Hok, Lok, and Siu in the Teochiu Chinese dialect written and spoken among many ethnic Chinese speakers in Thailand.32 They represent good fortune, prosperity, and longevity. Another section features local Thai female deities such as Mae Nang Thorani, Mae Pho Sop, Mae Takhian Thong, Nang Kwak, and Mae Nang Phayakalong. The eighteen Buddhist arahants popular in
(p.112) Chinese Buddhist art (like Vajraputra, Nāgasena, Kālika) are placed next to the Indic gods connected with the days of the week and the planets. In addition, a Chinese pavilion of approximately seventeen stalls sells amulets, food, and souvenirs, and a small museum features local archeological pieces.
About fifty meters outside the entrance to Wat Muang’s hell park are two other impressive sites. The first claims to be the largest ubosot hall (English: ordination hall; Pali: uposatha) in Thailand. This very large building is built on top of a sculpted lotus flower painted in bright pink. A stone’s throw from this building, not to be outdone, is a pavilion with a gold statue of the Thousand-armed Guanyin (Thai: Phra Mae Guan Im Mahaphotisat Bhang Phan Meu), which also claims to be the largest of its kind in Thailand (a claim to which Suchat, if he was still living, might object). Unlike the hell park, this pavilion and statue were sponsored independently by patrons from Bangkok named Sompong and Saowalak Thimongkhonkun and completed in 2002. It has its own shop, ritual instructions, and was initially consecrated by Chinese Mahayana monks (Thai: nikai jin) from Bangkok. This type of independent patronage for particular images and buildings at Thai monasteries is common and is comparable to buildings and rooms of concert halls, universities, or museums being sponsored by wealthy families in North America.
In order to convey the detail and the ecumenical nature of this sculpture garden, permit me to simply list the variety of one set of statues. One of most impressive is the Phra Reusi (Sanskrit: Ṛṣi), or hermits, usually associated with Hindu religions but commonly depicted in Thai Buddhist monasteries and narratives. Each is in a different pose, with different ritual implements. They are united in that they all wear tiger fur or skin robes, have long white beards, and sit in meditative positions. I briefly mention their notable features here: Pho Bhu Reusi Phrohmalok (seated deep in meditation), Pho Bhu Reusi Isuan (cobra around neck), Pho Bhu Reusi Thosamungkhon (conical hat), Pho Bhu Reusi Palaigot (wearing a crown), Pho Bhu Reusi Ta Fai (third eye), Pho Bhu Reusi Ta Wua (large “cow” eyes), Pho Bhu Reusi Narai (Indra holding a conch shell and lotus flower), Pho Bhu Reusi Narot (Narada, very long beard), Pho Bhu Reusi Borom Kru Horasat (writing on a scroll depicting, I imagine, his calculations of astrological charts, or Horaśāstra), Pho Bhu Reusi Kru Wan Ya (using a mortar and pestle to crush herbs into medicine, or ya), Pho Bhu Reusi Borom Kru Phra Wet (reading a manuscript, I imagine, representing the Vedas/Phra Wet), Pho Bhu Reusi Kassapa (Kaśyapa, seated deep in meditation), Pho Bhu Reusi Uchu (wearing beads), Pho Bhu Reusi Muni Tapasa (holding a walking stick), Pho Bhu Reusi Chiwok (Jīvaka, unlike the others he is dressed in white and doesn’t wear a hat).33
This sculpture garden works as an outdoor classroom for the panoply of Thai religion, history, and culture, and Phannipha promotes this. Since (p.113) I have written about Buddhist teachings and depictions of hell realms, Phannipha asked me one day whether I would be interested in helping give a tour for two school groups from regional Thai public schools—one preschool (three- to five-year-olds) and one middle school (twelve- to fourteen-year-olds). I agreed to walk around with the children and their teachers. The teachers had flags and megaphones, and every one was wearing brightly colored uniforms except me. I knew a little of what to expect, since I had given a similar tour of murals depicting gruesome hell scenes to a group of eight-year-olds in Luang Phrabang (Laos) in 1995 when I was a Buddhist monk. As in 1995, the children were not particularly upset by the bloody images they saw. Some of the kids said the Thai equivalent of “Ew, that’s gross,” but most just joked around, pinched each other, participated in mild flirting, and generally were happy that they were not in class memorizing multiplication tables or lists of historical facts. They were used to this type of thing. None of them showed any sort of reverence or seemed to me to spend intense time considering ethical conundrums. I imagine a few wrestled with certain issues in the confines of their own minds, but most seemed to enjoy themselves. The questions the Thai teachers and I fielded were generally detail oriented, such as “What level of hell is this?” or “Who is this god?” and the like. Afterward most bought ice cream.
School groups and casual tourists throughout Buddhist Asia visit hell parks like Wat Muang. One of the most public and graphic depictions of hell is found in the hell theme park on the outskirts of southern Bangkok near the resort town of Bang Saen. Visitors to the park are greeted with a sign in English and Thai, “Welcome to Hell,” and in the park, life-size Styrofoam and plastic dioramas depict each level of hell. In one, a woman is being ripped limb from limb by ogres, and in another a saw is separating a man’s legs from his torso. Giant worms devour sinners in a vat of molten lava and iron tongs pry open a man’s throat. All of these scenes are in a garden on the grounds of a Buddhist monastery—Wat Sang Saen Suk. Perhaps the strangest thing, to a non-Thai visitor, is that this park is not strange to a Thai Buddhist. Just as for Southern Baptists, Mexican Catholics, or Pentecostal Christians in the United States, for Thais, constantly imbibing scenes of and listening to sermons about hell are part of daily religiosity. The serene and compassionate Buddhism depicted in most Western textbooks and documentaries is hard to find while watching chicken and goat men feasting on human entrails. Parks similar to this hell theme park are found at Wat Thawet in Sukhothai, Wat Phairongwua in Suphanburi, Wat Aham in Luang Phrabang (Laos), the Daoist-Buddhist Jade Emperor (Ngoc Hoang) Pagoda in Saigon (Vietnam), Aluvihāra Monastery in Matale (Sri Lanka), and in the massive hell sculpture garden in the forested grounds behind Wat Bha Rak Roi in Nakhon Ratchasima (p.114)
(northeastern Thailand), among many other places.34 Between 2001 and 2006, I had the chance to visit each one of these hell theme parks and was struck not only by the garishness of the sites, but also by the number of children and families who visit them. In Northeast Asia, descriptions of hell are popular in Japanese and Korean literature about the Bodhisattva Jizo (Sanskrit: Kṣitigarbha), who vows to empty various hell realms of all sentient beings before reaching enlightenment.
Thailand is not the only Buddhist country that produces eclectic modern builders of Buddhist sculpture gardens. Numerous other Buddhist leisure and ecumenical parks have been built in Asia over the past few decades that break down the distinction between religious and secular spaces and that are worth looking at briefly.
In the former Portuguese colony of Macao, near Hong Kong, an ambitious ecumenical center was recently completed that celebrates the Chinese religions of Daoism and Buddhism, and Confucian traditions, as well as the Portuguese-Chinese friendship that was promoted at the time that the control of Macao was transferred to the People’s Republic of China in 1999. The center is called the Centro Ecuménico Khun Iam (Guanyin Ecumenical Center). The Portuguese designer of the center, Cristina Rocha, wanted not only to create a center that promoted harmony among all Chinese religions, but also, according to a staff member I interviewed in August 2014, to use Guanyin as a female symbol that connected the Virgin Mary, Mazu (the Southern Chinese Goddess of the Sea, often called Tian Hou in Macao), and Guanyin. The statue is sixty-five feet tall and stands on top of a lotus-shaped museum that houses a bookstore, library, and meditation space. It stands at the end of a causeway on an artificial island in the bay next to the Maritime Museum, the Modern Art Museum, the Symphony Hall, and an imitation Roman amphitheater, and near several large casinos such as the Sands, the MGM Grand, and the Lisboa. It is an ecumenical site in the center of a much larger leisure and entertainment district.
About an hour outside of Seoul, Korea, one of my old friends, Soonil Hwang, took my family and me to a sprawling Buddhist garden, workshop, and sculpture garden established in 1994 by the artist Chan-soo Park (b. 1948). Park designed the buildings to resemble a monastery campus, even though not a monastery with nuns or monks in residence. These workshops serve as Park’s sculpture studios and exhibition halls, but also as places where he can train young students in Buddhist art. His specialty is wood carving (Korean: mokjongkjang).35 He also opens up his gardens for weddings.
Park named the garden and workshops “Moga,” which means the bud of tree and is also his own nickname. As one travel writer said, “It is a complete place for Buddhist culture. It is set in a beautiful garden backdrop which releases the total fatigue of the journey, if you had any. … The journey to the serene museum too is very pleasant as the climate and the road trip will make you relaxed from the hustles and bustles of the city. It’s truly worth a trip.”36 It is indeed meant to be a place to learn a bit about Buddhist art, but more importantly, it seems, a place to relax, enjoy the scenery, and have some sweets. Park’s art also is meant to be playful, with dozens of delightful totem-pole-like (p.116)
(p.117) wooden sculptures used to scare off demons, statues of the five hundred buddhas, and animals. Nothing like it, though, is found in other Buddhist monasteries in Korea. For example, Park sculpts traditional-looking buddha and arahant statues except for the fact that their heads are slightly tilted to the side, and instead of serene half-smiles, they have garish and jovial gaping smiles showing a full set of teeth. One cannot help but laugh when seeing these faces, especially if you are used to seeing the Buddha in a trance-like state. At a recent exhibition in London, he displayed a set of sculptures of buddha-like figures that celebrate leisure. One appears to be drunk. Another is playing with what appears to be his grand child. In an interview, Park said that he had spent time visiting the Daewonsa Buddhist monastery in Sancheong (Korea), where a monk in residence had emphasized that the message of the Buddha was to “enjoy yourself. Be happy. Don’t be so serious.”37 The interviewer continued, “He pointed out that Buddhism does not ban alcohol (though it is prohibited to monks): the emphasis was more on its moderate use. Reinforcing the message, The three stages of drunkenness depicts three wood carvings in the shape of soju [Korean liquor] bottles with human faces. The first shows a benign jollity, the second has entered the tipsy stage, while the third looks like he is about to engage in a late Friday night brawl. The set is charming, amusing and has a simple message.” He also carves statues of monks taking naps, or himself laughing.38
My student, Joon-Youb Lee, kindly interviewed Chan-Soo Park, since I cannot speak Korean. In the interview, Park said that he was inspired by a buddha image he had seen as a young artist, and that he “could sense the blood running through the face, hear Buddha’s whisper, and feel the wood breathe.” He wants to capture that initial affective moment by not just creating Buddhist art, but by making art a performance. Therefore, as Lee summarizes,
In addition to exhibiting his works, he has also developed a unique woodwork performance. Although most of his sculptures take months, Park’s mastery allows him to hew a simple yet elegant work within minutes. In his 2009 performance titled “Reconciliation,” he began by playing the Korean drum buk, followed by meditation on a high chair. Only then did he start carving the camellia tree that he had cut himself. After making initial cleaves with hammer and nail, he switched to moktak, a wooden percussive stick used by Buddhist monks for meditation. The audience remained mesmerized by both the dynamic movement of the sexagenarian maestro and the meditative echoes of his moktak. His performances are abbreviated forms of his woodworking process. Before he starts carving, he meditates, sometimes by a waterfall, to purify his mind to produce a true image of Buddha. The roots of (p.118) the tree become the head because they hold moisture, and the southern part becomes the face because it receives more sunlight. After six months of arduous labor, Buddha is completed and Park holds a ceremony to infuse life into his woodwork. Buddha is veiled for this ritual, and the Buddhist scripture, seven Buddhist treasures, five incenses, five grains, five medicines, and five kinds of clothing are offered, along with chanting and prayers from monks.
Lee also informed me of Park’s efforts to break down divisions between Korea’s Christian and Buddhist communities through his work. For example, while the museum is primarily a Buddhist museum, some of the first sculptures greeting visitors are the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ that Park sculpted. “It’s bad enough that our nation is divided, and I am tired of Buddhist and Christians fighting each other in Korea,” Park says. “Jesus and Buddha had the same message. Jesus just emphasized love, and Buddha compassion.” This work has garnered Park much fame throughout South Korea, and he has been invited to present his work in over thirty countries.
Two Thai artists/architects have gone even further than Chan-soo Park and have created their own “monasteries” within their sculpture gardens. In the northernmost province of Thailand, Chiang Rai, stands a new monastery and sculpture garden that is the brainchild of a modern artist. When I
(p.119) first visited Wat Rong Khun in March 2008, I knew immediately that I was at a monastery unlike any other in the world. It is the creation of Chalermchai Kositpipat, one of the most well-known Thai artists, who has had gallery shows in many different countries and has been featured in numerous reviews. Recently Chalermchai has branched out into architecture. The wihan (image hall) of the monastery, similar in size and architectural structure to Central Thai monasteries, is completely white, with carved leaping flames, statuary of Brahmanic gods, and skulls—lots of skulls—and there are dozens of small statues on the grounds as well. The front entrance to the monastery includes a bridge over a wide pit. Hundreds of sculpted hands are reaching up from the pit, which is supposed to depict hell. The hands are asking for alms, for mercy. Murals hand-painted by Chalermchai are displayed inside the wihan.
Most murals on the walls of Thai monasteries depict the life of the Buddha, the lives of famous monks and nuns, and the previous lives of the Buddha (Pali: jātaka), as well as depictions of stories from Indian and Southeast Asian epic poems such as Khun Chang Khun Paen, the Ramāyāṇa, Inao, and the like.39 However, Chalermchai’s are completely different. Among other phantasmagoric images on these murals is a depiction of the American actor Keanu Reeves dressed as his famous film character, Neo, from the Matrix trilogy, wearing a black trench coat and dark sunglasses. He is standing in a macho Kung Fu–like pose next to a pod-racer from episode one of Star Wars. Near him is a painting of Ultraman, a well-known Japanese animated hero (and, by far, my young son’s favorite mural character in Thailand). Besides these fictional and randomly assembled heroes are also images of a demon holding a cell phone and the World Trade Center in New York City
(p.120) being hit by a commercial jet. Depictions of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and international pop culture heroes are interspersed with paintings of AK-47 machine guns, gas pumps, flaming skulls, and satellites.
Chalermchai’s work is very popular in Thailand, but he has not been well-received by critics or other artists. He is a businessperson, and runs shops and a large gallery at the monastery selling his art. Life-size posters of him are hung in several places on the monastic grounds. People prostrate, offer alms, and chant Pali incantations to images of the Buddha as they would at any other monastery, but Wat Rong Khun attracts more visitors who want to view its striking architectural features and shop at the several tourist and handicrafts shops surrounding it or have a picnic on the grounds.40 Recently, this rush of visitors, especially large groups of Chinese tourists, has caused some problems. Next to the main temple, Chalermchai designed and built what may be the most beautiful public bathroom in the world. The bathroom is designed like his temple and is painted entirely gold and glimmers in the sun. When it was first built, one of its caretakers told me that many people assumed it was a sermon hall and were surprised to find that the toilet facilities were so spectacular. However, this golden bathroom apparently has attracted some rude behavior. According to a report in the Bangkok Post that has been replicated in many other online newsfeeds, Chalermchai is planning on building “Chinese” and “non-Chinese” toilets, because many Chinese tourists had not followed standard public bathroom customs and “had defecated on the floor, urinated on the walls outside and left sanitary pads on the wall of the bathrooms,” said an official who requested anonymity. Chalermchai said in a television interview that it was “impossible” for other tourists to use the bathrooms after the Chinese tours, so he would build new ones.41 Openness and leisure can have their downsides, I suppose.
Less than a ten-minute drive from Chalermchai’s glowing white Wat Rong Khun is another “monastery” built by the modern Thai artist, Thawan Duchanee, who passed away in September 2014. It is named the Black House (Thai: Ban Dam). Thawan trained under the Italian artist Feroci (mentioned in chapter 1), and for four years in the Netherlands (Royal Academy of Visual Arts in Amsterdam). He juxtaposed modern and traditional Thai Buddhist art and had a particular focus on skeletons, insects, and death. Like Chalermchai, he was a shameless self-promoter, and there is no shortage of photographs of him with his Tolstoy or Whitman-esque long white beard on his website or in the many Thai and English newspaper and YouTube videos that discuss him and his work.42 For example, in Thai and English on his website, one can read, “Born in 1939 in Chiang Rai, one of the foremost Asian painters, Mr. Thawan Duchanee has pursued his career throughout the world. His paintings are in an original genre, rooted in a unique Buddhist perspective. These paintings (p.121) depict the insanity, degeneration, violence, eroticism, and death lurking in the heart of modern man. The artist has shocked the world by creating a uniquely Asian artistic expression. Mr. Thawan is indeed worthy to be called a master of modern Asian art.” One also finds this rather magnanimous call to the people who see his art: “Do not seek for understanding, in the temple of mysterious. Feel them my friends from heart to heart. Do not ask the meaning of the stars in the constellation. Smile of the baby in the cradle of mothers. Sweet fragrance in the pollens of flowers. It is the work of art! My friends … In the deepest of my mystic mind, come closer to my spirit. Listen to my heartbeat, without word.”43
While the Thai original versions are more poetic, the self-indulgence is no less obvious. What concerns us here though is not his personality but his architecture, and his creation of a sculpture park similar to Lek and Braphai’s. The Black House is a wonder to behold. It is not a monastery, but was the artist’s own residence and galleries holding his collection, much of it created by him. Forty separate structures are spread out in a large campus-like setting. Most of the buildings are reminiscent of traditional Northern Thai monastic architecture, but painted black with some dark brown trim (with a few exceptions, like three small white stupas [Thai: chedi] with plain black doors). These structures contain large collections of mostly abstract sculpture, as well as skeletons of elephants, oxen, and water buffalo, skins of various animals, and found objects like old Thai canoes and canes. Much of the strangely shaped furniture was hand-carved by Thawan. One building is shaped like an abstract boar, and even one of the bathrooms is filled with wooden carvings of monkeys and birds. Some of the sculpture gardens consist largely of natural stone arranged in patterns. While the buildings certainly look like largely unornamented Thai monasteries and monastic library buildings, the art in the buildings is in striking contrast. As in Lek and Braphai’s Ancient City, visitors can walk around freely among the buildings, as in a village, but no effort has been made to present a history of Thai art or collect pieces representing different styles, ethnic groups, and regions. No direct comparisons are made between the artist’s ideas and Buddhist texts or well-known teachings. There are no ritual or liturgical services, no nuns and monks in residence, no direct pedagogy, and, it appears, no central “message.” Indeed, many visitors just seem to walk around with their mouths slightly open in a state of wonder and bewilderment.44
One does not necessarily have to be wealthy or famous to build a modern Buddhist monastery or sculpture garden. Indeed, one of the oldest public sculpture gardens in Southeast Asia was started on the outskirts of Vientiane, Laos, in 1958, by a relatively poor man named Bunleua Sulilat (1932–1996), who had no formal training in art. Like Sabato Rodia, the famed creator of the Watts Towers in Los Angeles, or Martin Sanchez, who started (p.122) the sprawling sculpture garden in Riverside, California, Bunleua had few resources besides time, mixed concrete, and found objects. He was born across the river from Vientiane in Nong Khai (Thailand), and even though he was not a monk, he is sometimes referred to by a title usually reserved for monks, Luang Phu. He started constructing the massive statues on his park supposedly after meeting a powerful hermit (Lao: pha leuxi) name Keaoku, who could take on the shape of a magical giant snake-spirit (Lao: Phaya Nak). Soon Bunleua’s little garden had dozens of statues, but the war in Vietnam spread to Laos and the communist forces (Pathet Lao) formed a new government in 1975. They were not supportive of religion in any form for the first two to three years after they took power. Therefore, he decided to escape to the land of his birth—Thailand. He left his statues in Laos, but started another park across the river in 1978. He named this park after his magical mentor, Sala (pavilion) Keaoku. Bunleua actually trained as a shaman in Vietnam. He told many of his followers that he was half-man, half-snake and had been granted his talents when he fell in a hole as a child and was instructed by snake spirits. His body was mummified when he died, and some of his followers believe that part of him continues to live on as a snake.
Like its first incarnation in Laos, this park grew quickly, and when I first saw Sala Keaoku before Bunleua’s passing in 1994, I was dumbstruck. It is highly idiosyncratic and draws on common iconic images known throughout the region—it is the mind of Bunleua on display. There is no effort to present either history or local culture in any systematic way, or to replicate Buddhist or local religious or Indic literature in sculpted form. Thirty-foottall statues of the Buddha stand next to fifty-foot-long statues of protective giant snakes, along with statues of foreign soldiers, mermaids, and Hindu gods like Śiva and Brahma. One of the larger statues, of a giant ogre, has a gaping mouth that one can climb into like a cave. Bunleua did not leave behind much writing about why he dedicated his life to his sculptures. There seems to be no message and no agenda. The entrance fee is less than one US dollar for foreigners and nearly free for Thais.
Outside of Korea and Laos, Chan-soo Park and Bunleua Sulilat are largely known only to a small group of international enthusiasts of modern Buddhist art and architecture. Park has had small exhibitions in different countries, and one of his sculptures is on the grounds of former US president George W. Bush’s Texas ranch.45 Tadao Ando, however, is world famous. Ando is one of the most internationally recognized architects, or “starchitects,” in the world, best known for his innovative designs of religious buildings in modern Japan. Ando won the Pritzker Prize in 1995 and nearly every other major international architecture prize over the past thirty years. His lofty status did not come easily though. Like Tange, he was not born to an elite family in (p.123) Tokyo or Kyoto, but was born in the inauspicious year of 1941 in Osaka (where he still lives today). His youth was spent eclectically. His twin brother was raised by his parents, and he was raised by his grand mother. He never excelled in school and as a teenager worked as a truck driver and even moved to Bangkok at seventeen years old to be a boxer. He has said that it was the style of Thai Buddhist monasteries that inspired him to become an architect.46 After wandering in Africa, Eu rope, and the United States and training himself about architecture through books, he boldly opened a design firm in Osaka instead of Tokyo at the age of twenty-eight, managed by his wife Yumiko.
Ando notes that he was explicitly influenced by Kenzo Tange’s work. While Tange’s work is not traditional Japanese or Buddhist, and he did not design Buddhist monasteries himself, his influence, ironically, may have partially led to the development of modern monastic architecture in Japan. Furthermore, like Tange, he acknowledges that Le Corbusier was one of his main influences, and his use of large panels of concrete reflects that. Ando even named his dog Le Corbusier (he is often photographed with his dog and supposedly brings him with him everywhere). Originally, he joked, he wanted to name the dog Tange, but he did not feel it would be respectful ordering Tange around. However, unlike Tange, Ando remained dedicated to building homes and monasteries in Japan for most of his career, primarily in Osaka and Kobe. Indeed most of his early works are small homes like the one in which he grew up. He was not, for most of his career, a builder of large public places and spaces like Tange. It is not until very recently that he has taken on some contracts outside Japan and, between 1995 and the present, has designed buildings like the Benetton Communication Research Center in Teviso (Italy); the Museum of Modern Art in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas; the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in Saint Louis, Missouri; the expansion of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts; and the Piccadilly Gardens redesign in Manchester (Eng land); as well as designs for noncommissioned projects for the Ground Zero site in New York, the Calder Museum in Philadelphia, and a stunning home built into a cliff in Malibu, California. Prob ably his most well-known public work is the Chichu Art Museum on Nao Shima, a small island in the Inland Sea near Shikoku.47
Ando’s Buddhist monasteries are what concern us here. Ando, unlike Tange, thought seriously about Buddhist design and teachings. He creates what is called the “Haiku Effect,” with simple structures, measured spaces, use of striking and singular filtered shafts of light, and lack of ornament. He has designed several Buddhist monasteries based on this principle, as well as several Christian churches in Japan. Perhaps his most famous Buddhist monastery is the Water Temple (1991) on Awaji Shima (Hyōgo Prefecture, across the straits from Kobe). The temple is unlike any Buddhist (p.124) monastery in the world, with almost no ornamentation. Nearly the entire monastery is buried underground and can be entered via a long staircase that descends through a large circular pond, which forms its roof—it is literally an underwater temple. There are long, curving, windowless, concrete corridors, and one room bathed in red light. It is officially a Shingon temple, but one would be hard-pressed to figure that out since, like Tange, Ando did not adhere to one sectarian style in his designs; the wood, the Buddha images, and the painted screens and ceilings typical of Shingon temples are all missing. This series of empty spaces was inspired perhaps in part by Tange’s work: his conversation spaces, floating concrete, and massive heavy roofs (the support structure for a large pond on a roof was necessary) are all present, but, unlike Tange’s Lumbini Park, this is not a public memorial or a non-sectarian place. It is a private monastery, although tourists and researchers are always welcome.
Ando, unlike Le Corbusier and Tange, likes walls and private spaces. He also has occasionally shifted away from the use of concrete. A perfect example of this shift is seen in the Komyo-ji Temple in Ehime (Shikoku). Here, Ando has built a wooden temple for the Jōdo (Pure Land) school. The lack of ornament, the wide eaves, and the narrow piloti-like wooden columns show the Tange/Le Corbusier heritage, but the wood and the placement of the main building floating in a pond harken back to traditional Japanese monasteries and, even more so, to Thai wooden monastic libraries, which are often placed on stilts in ponds. It is a light and delicate monastery, built on the grounds of a much older monastery, and unlike his other religious structures, has an active ritual schedule and small coterie of monks who come and go. It is open to the public, but like many Japanese monasteries, it is often closed to visitors except for designated hours during the after noon. This temple was not intended as a part of Buddhist public culture necessarily. But Ando’s fame has made it public, as it has other sacred buildings he designed.
Other examples of his work include three Christian churches in Kobe, Tomamu (Hokkaido), and Osaka, respectively, called the Chapel of Rokkozan (Mount Rokko), the Church on the Water (1988), and the Church of the Light (1989). The Chapel of Rokkozan and the Church on the Water have many of the same qualities as the Water Temple, but the Church on the Water is oriented toward the forest outside its walls and does not have the feeling of being enclosed in cubes and circles of massive slabs of concrete.48 It is also a chapel connected to the Alpha Resort Hotel and so does not have a regular congregation or regular ritual services and is open to all visitors. The Chapel of Rokkozan and the Church of the Light are near his home in Osaka. Although the Chapel of Rokkozan is quite small and perched on a cliff with a single road past it, it was visited often as it was part of a vacation resort. However, the (p.125)
resort eventually failed financially and the Chapel at Mount Rokko is now abandoned. I visited the site on a rainy day in June 2014. The Rokko Oriental Hotel it was attached to is now shuttered, and the grounds are overgrown with weeds, with broken glass seemingly everywhere. I piled up old construction material and stood on that to scale the fence. I tore my shirt on some jagged metal. Once in the garden behind the hotel, where the chapel sits and is slowly falling apart, I was able to see the power of the building sitting in silence in the rain. It was stunning and at its height hosted a number of weddings. It is now forgotten. The Church of the Light, on the other hand, while quite small (1,200 square feet), was commissioned by Reverend Noboru Karukome of the Ibaraki Kasugaoka Church (United Church of Christ) and they hold regular (p.126) services.49 It is a striking place—a single concrete box with only wooden benches facing the front of the roof. The front does not have a traditional altar or statues, but two large slices in the concrete allow light to pour in to the closed room in the shape of a crucifix.50 However, like the others, Ando’s fame has made the small Church of the Light a public place for leisure weekend sight-seeing trips in addition to a place of private contemplation and prayer. What is important to note is that, like Tange, Ando has had no formal training in Buddhism, and the philosophy behind his designs did not change because a building was designed to be used by Buddhists or by Christians: design trumps religion.
Two other notable new Buddhist monasteries, designed by Takashi Yamaguchi and partly inspired by the designs of Tange, can be seen in and near Kyoto. The first, called the White Temple, is located in a rural mountainous area between Kyoto and Kobe, in a valley noted for its family resorts, children’s camps, and hiking. The grounds include a lovely lake where one can rent paddle boats and go fishing, and a few wedding halls. Above the monastery is a hill with a café, ice cream shop, and sculpture garden featuring colorful animal statues on which children can climb. Yamaguchi designed a glowing white box, completely lacking ornament and windowless, the size of a small one-story house. The contrast is striking, as it sits behind an old traditional wooden sermon hall of the Zuisen-ji monastery. Its design mirrored, the day I was there, the clouds reflected on the lake surrounding the temple’s grounds on three sides. The White Temple serves as the monastery’s ihaidō, or place
(p.127) to pray to ancestors. While most ihaidō are dedicated to the paternal line of ancestors, the White Temple is dedicated to the maternal line and so, according to Yamaguchi, is supposed to resemble the purity of the womb. The light that pours in through the open front entrance of the long plain white box is designed to change the color of the interior naturally and make the room seem as if it is breathing and moving. The building is nearly surrounded by water, which adds further to the womb-like feeling. Although the self-effacing abbot of the temple would not permit me to enter the box, as it is restricted to relatives who honor their deceased ancestors there, the Yamaguchi firm has published the architectural plans and photographs of the interior, which largely mimics the exterior and is completely white with a series of white steps. In the middle is the only nonwhite object—a plain sandalwood statue of Kannon (Guanyin).51 While the White Temple (or more accurately ihaidō) certainly is not a temple designed for leisure activity, it is a stop-off for visitors who are on vacation in the area and seems to be the only reason nonlocals visit this other wise small, nondescript, and non-sectarian monastery tucked in the mountains.
Yamaguchi’s other temple is called the Glass Temple (2000), an underground guest house on the grounds of the 1638 Imperial (Rinzai Zen) temple of Reigenkō-ji.52 Thanks to the great assistance of Yoko Hayami of Kyoto University, I had the chance to visit the Glass Temple and interview its caretaker, the wonderfully informative and frank Kakui Nabesawa. Nabesawasan is ninety-two years old and, despite her tiny frame, runs the entire monastery, including being its cleaner and security guard. This is no small task since the monastery comprises multiple buildings, mostly built in the seventeenth century. On a cold winter’s morning she greeted us and rushed from room to room of the temple, telling jokes and explaining its history. She had worked there for over sixteen years and cleaned every day, taking only one hour off to walk down the hill to pick up her daily meal. The abbot of the temple is the sixty-seven-year-old Zenjyō Nakayama. He rarely shows his face, is often out of town, and lives on the second floor of a small apartment building outside the monastery’s walls. He has been there only three years and is from Tokyo. He was assigned to be the abbot, it seems, from the Imperial house hold, who felt that the temple, which had sat empty for years, should have an official monastic head.
The Imperial family has shown interest in the monastery because Emperor Gomizuno-o established it in 1638 for the priest Isshibunshu. After Isshibunshu’s death in 1671, the retired emperor moved his quarters from the Imperial Palace to this temple for its reconstruction as a Butsuden (main hall). This move, supposedly, was also political and helped an imperial official avoid a planned marriage. Regardless of the historical importance of the monastery, the abbot does not work there often, and there are few ceremonies, except for (p.128) the establishment and annual rites for the relatives of the monastery’s graves. These graves are the main source of income for the monastery, as is the case in most Japanese monasteries today.53 Nabesawa-san told me and my colleagues and travel companions, Yoko Hayami and John Holt, that the monastery has no regular danka (official congregation members) who support it or her, but they do get the occasional architectural student visitor, mostly Japanese students, but some, like me, from abroad.54 She speaks only Japanese language; she has seen many students from Hungary, France, Canada, Russia, and many other places, but usually does not speak with them. When I asked her about the Glass Temple, the very thing that draws these students and fans of modern architecture to the temple, she laughed. She said that Yamaguchi oversaw the building of the “temple” sixteen years ago, but that after it was built it has never been used, and it remains locked today. Built underground, with only the top visible, it is a striking place. A large glass box surrounds a smaller pure white box; the glass top, which is about forty feet long and twenty feet wide, reflects the surrounding mountains, bamboo, and sky, giving the impression of a reflecting pond on the grounds of the monastery. Indeed, it echoes an actual koi pond on the other side of the monastery. A visitor descends underground, like at Ando’s Water Temple, down a stark black slate and concrete stairway to a white door. Even though the box was locked, I know there was nothing to see inside. It is unornamented and nearly furniture-less: it holds a screen and a projector, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a television. Nabesawa-san also told us that it was wired for the Internet.
(p.129) Nabesawa-san seemed to think the whole project was a bit arbitrary. I tend to agree. It was designed to be a special guest room for a visitor, but no one stays there, and it appears that no one has ever stayed there in sixteen years. The screen and projector have never been used. There is no altar or offerings. When it first opened, it was considered a good place to display the monastery’s historic treasures and imperial implements (gohōmotsu). However, the treasures were displayed once, for one day, and then put back in storage, never to be shown again.
John Holt, a friend and scholar who visited the monastery with Hayami-sensei and me, agreed that the best part of the visit was meeting Nabesawa-san and hearing her impressions and stories (many of which I will not relate to protect her privacy). He said, “You went looking for a temple and found a person.” All the better.
Many of the sites mentioned above designed by Ando, Lek and Braphai, Yamaguchi, and others are a mixture of religious buildings, leisure and tourist sites, and spectacle sites (misemono). They produce certain types of associations. Some of these associations, experienced as diversions and distractions, are complex, even confusing, as we saw with the Sanctuary of Truth or the Erawan Elephant. The individual objects and architectural features of the sites are not “seen.” They do not teach in the form of a systematic lesson. They don’t offer a single vision of Buddhism that is supposed to be accompanied by a regimen of specific rituals, liturgies, and moral restrictions. They overwhelm instead of instruct. They encourage distraction, not focus.
Other associations created by these sites, as particularly noted in this chapter (and which take on a life of their own as a building evolves) are not just delightful, but horrifying. Much of the misemono throughout the Buddhist world are characterized by the assembling of the grotesque. This chapter describes hell gardens, bloodthirsty beasts, demons, torture chambers, and the like, which are depicted in Buddhist installation art, murals, and sculpture gardens. However, like serene ponds, flower gardens, fine art museums, and sumptuous, palace-like Buddhist spaces, these sites are promoted as places for families to visit as sites of relaxation and casual Buddhist learning.55 Buddhist adults and children do not shudder in fear at these horrifying sights, but laugh, tease, and pose for photographs. This may not be a sign of desensitizing, as purportedly caused by violent video games and the nightly news, but an important part of carnival culture and religious art. Baudelaire, Bakhtin, Hugo, Thomas Wright, Karl Friedrich Fögel, Wolfgang Kayser, and many others have seen the links in art, architecture, and literature between the horrifying, the absurd, and the comedic.56 As the famous nineteenth-century (p.130) architectural historian John Ruskin pointed out, the “grotesque is, in almost all cases, composed of two elements, one ludicrous, the other fearful.” He saw the grotesque as further divided into the “sportive grotesque” and the “terrible grotesque” and often saw Venetian churches, the main area of his research, as combining the horrifying ridiculous and the slightly fearful—as clearly seen, for example, in the figure of the gargoyle or the troll. Laughter is as appropriate a response as the shudder when witnessing these churches and their grotesque ornament. Much Buddhist ornament, whether in illuminated manuscripts, architectural features, stone reliefs, or statuary, combines these elements, as well as informs the larger aesthetic of spectacle.57
These sites, as I emphasized with the work of Kenzo Tange in the previous chapter, are not solely the product of the vision of the architect. They are complex adaptive systems, and studying them must take into account the way administrators, contractors, building material suppliers, government restrictions, repair crews, and, most importantly, the thousands of visitors, change the sites. This difficult-to-predict nature of buildings, especially largely open, public, and leisure spaces in which the architect and the manager have less control about how a space is used and experienced, is seen most clearly in the next chapter. Buildings have a life long after the architect has left the site and rolled up her or his blueprints. We will see that museums, supposedly places to teach visitors about the history and significance of individual pieces of art or rare artifacts, have taken on a life of their own in the modern Buddhist world. The museums are experienced as leisure sites, as places of distraction and apperception, as affective encounters, despite, in many ways, the efforts and intentions of their designers.
(1) In 1936, a year before the Tiger Balm cave of hell opened, a hell park was built on the island of Ikuchijima in the Inland Sea of Japan near Hiroshima. It was also built as an underground passage. See Patricia Graham’s Faith and Power in Japanese Buddhist Art 1600–2005 (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2007), 230–231.
(2) For information on these hell parks, see my Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk: Practicing Buddhism in Modern Thailand (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), chapter 3. See also information on Wat Muang in this chapter.
(3) See the cremation volume from Wat Thepsirindarasat, published by his children, called Rim Khop Fa (Wiriyaphan family, Rim Khop Fa, Bangkok: Wat Thepsirindarasat, 2544 ). This book is extremely hard to find, as it was never meant for sale or wide distribution except to people who attended the funeral. I thank Thongchai Likhitpornsawan for finding me a copy. Some additional information on his early life, especially his affection for a cooperation with Braphai, is found in his autobiography, Lek Wiriyaphan, Chiwit lae phonngan (Bangkok: self-published, 2544 ), especially chapter 1. This book is written in the form of an autobiography; however, since it was published after his death, it contains numerous additions by his friends and family, and many family photographs. There are sections in his own words and the reflections of his admirers. It was not published as a cremation volume like Rim Khop Fa though.
(4) For the rest of her life, according to Lek’s friend, Sisak Walliphodom, he helped her check her blood and gave her injections.
(5) The chapter is titled “Khu chiwit” (Couple or Partners for Life), Wiriyaphan, Chiwit lae phonngan, 37–51. The chapter includes many photographs of her, as well as a large portrait he had commissioned of her.
(6) The last chapter of his autobiography includes a series of laudatory essays about Lek and Braphai written by his friends and scholars, including Phichai Wasanasong, Pricha Wilbulsin, Sak Bunbhan, and Charun Mathanom, among others. See Wiriyaphan, Chiwit lae phonngan, 249–272. Suthon Sukphisit also wrote a touching article about Lek in the Bangkok Post after he passed away— “Reflections of a Rich Heritage,” December 6, 2000 (online at www.bangkokpost.com).
(7) Lek and Braphai published dozens of books in the Muang Boran (Ancient City) series, which continue to come out today, as the publishing house still has members of his family in the executive committee. Most of the books focus on monastic architecture, Buddhist murals, history of Thai epigraphy, Khmer architecture, fabrics and other traditional arts, and Thai drama and costumes. As part of the Muang Boran publishing house, a series has been produced with funding from the related but separate Munnithi Lek-Braphai Wiriyaphan (The Lek and Braphai Wiriyaphan Foundation). Most of these books have come out after Lek and Braphai’s deaths. Sisak Walliphodom and Walaisak Songsiri have written many of the books in this series, including Phiphithaphan Bhrawatisat Thong Thin (Bangkok: Munnithi Lek-Braphai Wiriyaphan, 2551 ), on museums and traditional folk arts in Thailand; Khu meu chukit (Bangkok: Munnithi Lek-Braphai Wiriyaphan, 2551 ), on Thai folk culture; and Phi kap phut (Bangkok: Munnithi Lek-Braphai Wiriyaphan, 2550 ), on ghost rituals in Thailand, by Sisak Walliphodom; and Phiphithaphan khong khon thammada (Bangkok: Munnithi Lek-Braphai Wiriyaphan, 2551 ), on home and temple museums, by Walaisak Songsiri. Together they wrote a book (p.192) on the far northern province of Phrae in 2008, Nakhon Phrae (Bangkok: Munnithi Lek-Braphai Wiriyaphan, 2551 ). The foundation also published two sets of studies on Thai museums, art, and culture, Bhrasopkan phiphithaphan thong thin (Bangkok: Munnithi Lek-Braphai Wiriyaphan, 2552 ), and Bantheuk chak thong thin (Munnithi Lek-Braphai Wiriyaphan, 2552 ), which include contributions from some of the best scholars in traditional culture and art in the country. Braphai herself published a study of the murals at Wat Ko Kaeo Suttaram and maintained an interest in Buddhist murals throughout her life, see Braphai Wiriyaphan, Wat Ko Kaeo Suttaram (Bangkok: Muang Boran, 1977).
(8) See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taman_Mini_Indonesia_Indah. See also Bianca Blosker’s fascinating study of “simulacrascapes” in China in her Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013). She looks at the recent phenomena in Chinese suburbs of recreating to scale neighborhoods and monuments from Paris, Vienna, and various other European cities and using them, not as amusement parks, but as residential housing blocks. Of course, Japan and the United States both have “Dutch” and “French” and other European theme parks. In fact, when I was a child, my parents took me to Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and I have taken my own children to a Netherlands-themed amusement park in Japan; to the Venetian, Paris, and Caesar’s Palace casinos in Las Vegas; and to smaller sites, like Crystal Grotto in the Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee, created in 1938 by Mexican artist Dioñicio Rodriguez. My family and I had trouble finding it, and it is not well advertised, but this whimsical cave is filled with handmade statues within a large cave under neath the cemetery. The cave walls are covered in large crystals, and the entrance and surrounding pond look like a mythological hobbit’s home. It is both a playground for children and a pedagogical tool teaching the life of Christ.
(9) The first Thai guidebook to the Ancient City was published in 1977 (Braphai Wiriyaphan, Muang Boran, Bangkok: Rongphim Phikanet, 2520 ). At that time the park contained only seventy-five buildings and monuments. Between that first edition and the edition produced around the time of Lek’s passing (Braphai Wiriyaphan, Guide to Muang Boran, Bangkok: Viriya Business Co., n.d.), the descriptions in Thai became a bit longer, with slightly more historical detail, but largely remained the same. From the photographs, the other major change seems to be that in the 1970s there were far more wild animals like baboons and elephants roaming around the park.
(15) Braphai Wiriyaphan, Muang Boran, 42. For example, one of my students at the University of Pennsylvania, Sirintra Pattaramalai, told me that when she was going to high school in Bangkok, her class participated in a “fun run” race at Muang Boran.
(19) Lek Wiriyaphan, Bantheuk Khwam Khit (Bangkok: n.p., 2544 ). It was published in honor of both Lek and Braphai’s cremations.
(21) A series of thirty documentary films on Thai culture and the importance of preserving traditional Thai folk arts called Pheua pho phiang phaen din goet (produced by the Lek-Braphai Wiriyaphan Foundation) came out after Lek’s death (p.193) and was part of his larger project to foster an appreciation of these practices in the next generation. These well-produced documentaries, with interviews with local artists and everyday citizens, with occasional commentaries by Thai scholars, were divided into five or six chapters, each about five to eleven minutes in length. These short episodes were played on Asia Satellite TV from approximately 2009 to 2011.
(22) See Wanchai Tantiwittayapitak, Sran Thongpan, and Wiyada Thongmit, trans. Charun Gaini, The Erawan Museum: Convergence of Dreams, Faith, and Gratitude (Bangkok: Viriya Business Co., 2006), 56–59.
(25) Note: These are transliterations of their Chinese names from Thai script taken from the literature available on-site at the Wihan Sien. Most Sino-Thai were originally Hakka, Hokkien, or Teo Chiu (or Teochew) speakers, and the writing of their own names or the names of Chinese deities, literary characters, and the like often are influenced not only by these Chinese dialects, but also by Central Siamese tones.
(26) While it is beyond the scope of this book to trace the history of monasteries that have been sites of intense tourist activity and the repositories of giant sculptures, it should be noted that this is not a new phenomenon at all in Thailand. Large Buddha images have been found at major Thai monasteries for several centuries. For example, one of the oldest monasteries in Bangkok, Wat Chetuphon (popularly known as Wat Pho), was the site for one of the largest Buddha images in the city. See “Copy of the King’s Initiative to Construct the Reclining Buddha in Wat Phra Chetuphon,” in Brachum chareuk wat phra chetuphon (Bangkok: Wat Phra Chetuphon Clergy, 2554 ), 72.
(27) The Thai name is Uthayan Sasana Phra Photisat Guan Im. It should be noted that “inter-religious” is not in the Thai title, but only on the English brochure (it is “The Park for the Religion of the Bodhisattva Guanyin” in Thai). In small print in Thai there is another, rather strange, name, Uthayan haeng khwam garunabhrani jak fakfa sukhawadi su daen thai, or “The Park [that projects] Love and Mercy from the [edge of] Heaven to [the border of] Thailand” (undated brochure printed at the park). A short biography of Dr. Suchat is posted online in English. Here he claims that his first park was a failure, despite the support of “many country leaders, religious leaders, and leaders of religious and peace organization[s]” because the “international Communist Party and ill-wishers to Thailand paid 400 million baht to overthrow the project.… The World Peace Envoy conceded to be collapsed for Thailand not to be Communists and the world war likely to happen to postpone to nowadays to more than 20 years.”
(29) Large Guanyin statues are increasingly commonplace in Thailand. Besides the places mentioned in the text, a few other places to see good examples of large and actively patronized images of Guanyin are Wat Muang in Angthong, Koh Loi in Sri Ratcha (Chonburi), and a large image on the popular tourist island of Koh Samui. At all these places, these Guanyin images are part of larger Thai monasteries complete with festival grounds, flea markets, fountains, and food courts. The Koh Loi (Floating Island) image in Sri Ratcha is connected to the mainland by a long causeway with a huge weekend market, an outside movie theatre, amusement park, astrologer’s booths, boating club, and aquarium. Alongside Guanyin’s pavilion are several shrines to local famous Thai monks and Thai Buddha images. It is the central entertainment district of Sri Ratcha. I thank the many people at Koh Loi who guided me around the various shrines and swapped stories about the various activities there throughout the year. Separate Chinese-Thai monasteries are also centered around images of Guanyin, (p.194) like the beautiful Sala Mae Guan Im built in the 1830s along the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok and the more modern and much larger Guanyin Shrine in the Lad Phrao section of Bangkok. I thank Susanne Kerekes for providing me with information about the latter.
(30) The exact time of his death, the room number of the hospital in which he died, and his exact age are dutifully marked at the monastery because they are all connected to special calculations for making amulets and batches of tattoo ink for use in protective magical ceremonies. For example, public documents posted at the monastery state that he died of liver cancer at fifty-four years, six days, and seven hours old, on the seventh of March in the year 2544 of the Thai calendar. He died at the oldest hospital in Thailand (Sirirat Hospital), in building number 84, in room 925, on the ninth floor. He died at 16:54 (4:54 p.m.). To see more about the ritual technology behind these ceremonies in Thailand generally, see my Lovelorn Ghost, chapter 2. For more information about tattooing in Laos and Thailand see Catherine Becchetti, Le mystere dans les lettres (Bangkok: Éditions des cahiers de France, 1991).
(31) The uniforms of premodern Thai kings are often similar to the imagined uniforms worn by Indian god-kings, and the names of different parts of the uniforms (belts, armor, etc.) have Thai-Sanskrit names taken from Indic epics.
(32) I thank Arthid Sheravanichkul for his help in identifying some of these images and helping me with the Mandarin names.
(33) For a study of the role of the “Hindu” hermit in Thai religion, see my “This Hindu Holy Man is a Thai Buddhist,” Southeast Asia Research 21, no. 2 (2013): 191–209. Here I provide detailed information about the history of various phra reusi in Thailand and the ways in which figures traditionally associated with Hindu traditions are venerated and depicted in Thailand.
(34) Benedict Anderson recently published a short monograph about Wat Phai Rong Wua; it is a provocative study. Anderson concentrates on the founder’s politics and personal life as much as the aesthetics and religious practices at the park. See Benedict Anderson, The Fate of Rural Hell: Asceticism and Desire in Buddhist Thailand (Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2012). See also Erick White’s thorough review of the book at http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2012/09/12/review-of-fate-of-rural-hell-tlcnmrev-xlii/.
(38) Ibid. In a book edited by Jeffrey Samuels, Mark Rowe, and me, called Figures of Buddhist Modernity in Asia (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2016), Hwansoo Ilmee Kim describes the work of the Korean Buddhist nun, Hŭisang, who, unlike Chan-soo Park, brings her Buddhist art to urban areas and conducts drawing and meditation courses for busy, upwardly mobile people living in various cities in Korea.
(39) For a longer description and bibliographic references for the study of Thai murals, see my Lovelorn Ghost, chapter 4. See also Uab Sanasen’s Ten Contemporary Thai Artists (Bangkok: Graphis, 1984), 144–161.
(42) Dozens of available sites are easily found online in Thai and English. See, for example, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y456xcuXDUU, http://www.thawan-duchanee.com/index-eng.htm, http://www.photodharma.net/Thailand/Black-House/Black-House.htm, http://www.neverendingvoyage.com/black-house-chiang-rai-thailand/, (p.195) http://www.nationmultimedia.com/top40/detail/7058,http://www.sombatpermpoongallery.com/thawan-duchanee/, http://www.rama9art.org/artisan/2004/october/trinity/index.html. Dozens of individual exhibition catalogs, in Thai and English, are also easily found, for more information about specific shows over his career. See Sanasen’s Contemporary Thai Artists, 58–79, for some of his early work.
(44) Thawan has become so famous among international modern art circles that his works are selling for several thousands of US dollars at international auctions. For example, at a recent Sloane and Kenyon auction, one of his paintings sold for over seven thousand US dollars.
(46) There is no shortage of information on Tadao Ando’s life. He grants numerous interviews (although rarely allows people to visit his studio), and has lectured at Harvard, Yale, and other universities. He often writes prefaces or short essays in books in Japanese and English, and he has been the subject of a film by Michael Apted, narrated by David Bowie, called Inspirations (Image Entertainment, 2003). See numerous biographies, including Masao Furuyama’s Ando (New York: Taschen, 2006); Philip Jodidio, Ando (New York: Taschen, 2004); and Francesco Dal Co, Tadao Ando: Complete Works (1975–1995) (New York: Phaidon, 1997). Interviews can be found online in many places. A good source for a detailed print interview and examples of his design can be seen in Yukio Futagawa, ed., Tadao Ando: Recent Project (Tokyo: A.D.A. Edita, 2009).
(47) Philip Jodidio, Tadao Ando at Naoshima (New York: Rizzoli, 2006). Foreword is by Ando.
(50) Its design is similar in some ways to the chapel at the Class of 1959 Chapel on the grounds of the Harvard University Business School (designed by Moshe Safdie and built three years after Ando’s church, in 1992). It is also, of course, similar to the Catholic Chapel of the Holy Cross near Sedona, Arizona, in his use of an extremely large unornamented concrete crucifix over a window to cast a shadow over the main congregation space. The Chapel of the Holy Cross was built in 1956, based on Marguerite Brunswig Staude’s design. See Kate Ruland-Thorne’s Upon this Rock (Sedona: Church of the Holy Cross, 2011). As far as I determined, Ando does not cite this chapel as an inspiration.
(52) For photographs, see http://www.architizer.com/en_us/blog/dyn/21616/a-necessary-courtesy-the-glass-temple/#.UT5BRjeukS4.
(53) Some graves can cost more than the equivalent of 250,000 USD, and these costs, in addition to annual fees, pay for the upkeep and staff.
(54) I thank Yoko Hayami for all her help finding the monastery and for translating in my interview with the caretaker. She was of great assistance while I was in Kyoto. I also thank her and John Holt for helpful advice with my research while in Japan.
(55) A much broader study of the various ways to interpret the importance of the grotesque in Buddhist cultures is Michelle Osterfeld Li’s very helpful Ambiguous Bodies: Reading the Grotesque in Japanese Setsuwa Tales (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009). See especially pages 38–48, where she discusses the importance of comedy, leisure, and horror in religious aesthetics.
(p.196) (56) For comparative examples from Japanese history and literature, see Michael Dylan Foster’s Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yokai (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008).
(57) See Li, Ambiguous Bodies, 38. See also Charlotte Eubanks, Miracles of Book and Body: Buddhist Textual Culture and Medieval Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011); Foster, Pandemonium and Parade; John Ruskin, “Grotesque Renaissance,” in The Stones of Venice, vol. 3 (Sunnyside: George Allen, 1886 [Dover, 2005]), 126; Wolfgang J. Kayser, The Grotesque in Art and Literature, trans. Ulrich Weisstein (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963); Charles Baudelaire, “On the Essence of Laughter,” in Charles Baudelaire: The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, trans. and ed. Jonathan Mayne, 147–165 (London: Phaidon, 1964); Victor Hugo, “Preface to Cromwell,” in Prefaces and Prologues to Famous Books, ed. Charles Eliot, 354–408 (New York: Collier and Sons, 1910). I also want to thank my colleague, Peter Stallybrass, for conversations on this issue. See his (with Allon White) The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986). He and Michelle Osterfeld Li note that, unlike the approach of Bakhtin, the grotesque in literature, architecture, and art is not necessarily a way of challenging the sanctity and order of the elite classes, but is actually a type of “displaced abjection” that made ugliness and buffoonery—often associated with not only immorality but also the lower classes—a openly ridiculed aspect of daily life.