Asian Temples: Embrace Diversity

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There are candles being lightened, prayers spoken, sticks of incense hold and sacrifices made in order to be heard by various gods and goddesses… Throughout Vietnam, Thailand and Bali you will find similarities regarding their temples but also uniqueness to each culture. Let’s have a closer look at Buddhist, Hindu and Taoistic Asian temples!

 

Jade Emperor Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

 I enter the temple and take a deep breath. It smells different than outside. Slowly, my eyes get used to the darkness. Lanterns with prayers on them are hanging off the ceiling. It is a quiet atmosphere.  I start walking around. Mystic sculptures and creatures are watching my every step. Some of them look alike, others totally unique.

An old woman stands in front of a big black sculpture starring back at her. Her mouth is moving quietly. Her hands are surrounding a joss stick. She doesn’t seem to notice anyone else, she is totally focussed on  her prayer.

I wonder what she is praying for.

I don’t feel like disturbing her and carry on. There are plates full of fruits and presents in front of gods and goddesses all over the temple. A young boy devoutly carries a half empty cup of fruit juice towards one of the shrines. Like many Hinduists he believes that what he sacrifices will not be missing in his own life. The gods and goddesses will give him back plenty of it. I can find those cups and bottles in a lot of places, it is also commonly placed at street shrines.

The Jade temple has been built 1909. It is a complex building consisting of several rooms where Buddhists and Taoists would pray. Outside of the building a huge amount of turtles is placed into a tiny pond. The turtle symbolizes strength, longevity and intelligence in Vietnamese culture.

 

Wat Rong Khun – Chiang Rai, Thailand

Also called “The White Temple”, this is one of the most unusual Asian temples I have ever seen on my travels. It is situated in Chiang Rai. The white colour symbolizes the purity of Buddha, whereas the white glass symbolizes his wisdom. Besides being all white, in line with the idea of architect Chalermchai Kositpipat, there are many things to discover around every corner. The sculptures look like taken from an alien movie!

There are prayers hanging literally everywhere accross the temple which looks amazing! There are spots where you can’t see the ceiling anymore. I was totally blown away from the golden toilet house as well 😀

 

Temple Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – Chiang Mai, Thailand

There are a lot of stairs to climb – but what you will get on top of that hill is a spectacular view on the surrounding area! And the temple itself is just one big golden building like I have never seen before! Although it is for sure a touristic place, I couldn’t stop starring at all those golden sculptures and towers. Truly amazing. I wonder how they managed to put that all on top of that hill! The legend says that a white elephant carrying a relic died after a three days walk on top of the hill, symbolizing the eremite Wasuthep living right there that this would be the perfect place to build a temple. The statue of both Wasuthep and the elephant can be seen within the temple area. Eh.. true story?

 

Cao Dai Temple – Tay Ninh, Vietnam

 Sparkling colourfully in the sun light, this massive temple represents the Caodaist religion. Never heard of it? Some Vietnamese people are proud to announce Caodaism as the one religion founded in Vietnam, in 1926.

The idea is to unite Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Confucian, Islamic and Taoist religion – all the 6 together! They believe that the fundament of each religion is the same and therefore preach tolerance.

I found this a very nice thought, how much trouble would we save, how many conflicts could be solved with an approach like this?

I was fascinated by the funeral procedure that took place during my stay. The deceased one was being carried into the temple in a big boat that should symbolize his journey to the other side. The whole temple complex is full of symbols and signs covering every religion, trying to unite their core beliefs.

What seems like a nice idea, comes along with some other ideas: The temple is structured in stairs. The higher you climb on those stairs, the more pure you are. It takes years to get onto the next stair. A shortcut is a pocket full of Vietnamese Dong.

 

Little Borobodur – Java, Bali

The Buddhist monastery, also called “Brahmavihara Arama Budha”, is the biggest Buddhist monastery on Bali, built in the 1970s. Unfortunately, it got damaged by an earthquake, leading to some major repairing costs. Getting there involves some driving but I think when on Bali, you should give this place a visit.

I really like the way it is arranged, the great view on the garden and the pond, all the blossoms on the trees, all the sculptures, shaped by nature. Compared to other Asian temples, especially the Thai temples, this monastery might lack a bit of maintenance. But then, it is a simple and modest monastery with beautiful views, so what more do you need to pray?

 

Asian temples impress with their own uniqueness. They might not always be the tidiest and some of them might even remind of a construction area, but they certainly bring in their own colours, shines and cultural richnesses. Wanna find out more about Asia? Stop by my Asian section for more!

 

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