While traveling throughout South East Asia you will visit a Buddhist temple. Temples are as ubiquitous as Starbucks in New York, hipsters in Seattle or trucks in Texas. Visitors are mesmerized by the imagery throughout the temple depicting ancient scenes, wars that would have been forgotten and kings that ruled only long enough to build a temple. We tourists, like most of the locals, do not know the significance or reality of the scenes that are depicted. We can only presume that if it managed to make it onto the wall and survive hundreds of years, it must be important. So what if we built a modern temple? What would be depicted of our current era?
Luckily, Thai artist turned cardboard cutout Chalermchai Kositpipat has the answer.
(Note to self: when making cardboard cutout of self, karate chop the air, it looks cool.)
Wat Rong Khun, known as “The White Temple” in Chiang Rai, Thailand opened in 1999 and is still under construction. The centerpiece White Temple is glaringly white to represent Buddha’s purity and is adorned with small mirrors that reflect the wisdom of the Lord Buddha “that shines brightly all over the earth.” The color alone differentiates this temple from the colorful traditional temples, but that is just the beginning…
The outside of the temple is surrounded by evil. This evil is not just on the premises, rather it is the entire world around it, the world in which you are now sitting in. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make it to the purity of Buddha, in the temple. To get there though, you will need to cross the cycle of rebirth from the human world through hell (suffering) into the temple. Conveniently there is a bridge that allows you to cross the human suffering. This straight and narrow path is littered with those who did not find it a la Matthew 7:14.
Follow the path through the teeth Rahu to the temple entrance and things start to get weird. I mean, I am used to the idea of the world being evil, needing to stick to the straight and narrow, and holiness being white, but nothing can prepare you from what you will find adorning the walls inside the temple. If each temple is to depict the times in which it was created…what does our time represent? What evils of the world is currently fighting with righteousness?
How about Jedis versus the Dark Side. Keanu Reeves versus the Matrix. Or, the two faces of the devil himself, George W Bush and Osama bin Ladin versus his holiness, the Buddha. I’m 100% serious here, these battles are on temple walls. If not for a ridiculous amount of staff and handlers around making sure you didn’t take photos, I would happily show you. As much as I want to show you, there are no postcards for sale or photos of the devil’s eyes (GW and bin Laden) or the burning World Trade Center murals. This is something you need to see for yourself.
This brings us to legacy, long after we are gone, maybe records are lost too, will tourists visit this “historic” sight and wonder what these scenes are? As I view images from hundreds of years ago in other temples and wonder what is depicted, will people do the same of this? I have to assume so; we are so quick to assume that the sacred images of religions are sacred for a reason, not just because they managed to stand the test of time. Could the religious imagery worldwide be the movie characters and religious zealots of their day?