Monday 31 March 2014

WAT DHAMMAKAYA - and my visit to the largest structure on EARTH ! Part 1

Wat Dhammakaya - main pagoda surrounded by 10s of thousands of white clad devotees
The Thai Buddhist (and some critics would label it a 'cult') order of Dhammakaya has it's roots nearly 60 years ago way back in 1959 and was started by the renowned Thai meditation master Phra Dhammachayo and has grown in numbers , reach and influenceever since.

The 'movement' has grown meteorically when after his death the leadership was passed to his most devoted (and disciplined) disciple of his leading 'nun' Khun Yay Acariya (Chandra Khonnokyoong) who established the temple at its current site near Rangsit in the northern Bangkok suburbs.

Founded on its new green field site in 1970 it has grown year on year from an initial 80 acres to now occupying well over 1000 acres and frequently holds congregations of its followers that can be in excess of 500,000 people.

I'd first visited the temple just over 10 years ago and I was then staggered by the scale and almost insane vision of the environment, people and buildings and on my recent two month visit to Thailand I wanted to visit the place again and find out what had happened in the following ten years.

Suffice to say the spiritual vision and its physical execution as befits a now truly worldwide movement is now well beyond crazy and also the huge , inhuman scale of the vast concrete and gilded structures is gob smacking , redolent of something which the Nazis or even the North Koreans would build and something warrants a sharp intake of breath and a heart stopping ' WTF'  Amazing Thailand moment.

The place lacks any homeliness and roots in the local population that is the mainstay of most Thai 'wats' (temple in Thai) and in my humble opinion  represents a gross perversion of mainstream Therevadan Buddhism with it emphasis on personal liberation, mindfulness and non-attachment along with 'doing good' . Dhammakaya temple is using its focus on huge structures and mass events to act as a massive show of spiritual energy and power designed to show to Thailand and beyond it is a force to be reckoned with.It would appear that building the temple and mega super-sizing the vision has become the foremost guiding principle of the movement.

UFO like pagoda made up of million Buddha statues

On entering the temple site you are first confronted by the dome of the underground meditation hall with its surrounding cascading fountain and moat. Past that you soon come across the largest structure on the site and also on EARTH!

The primary UFO shaped and alien looking modernist pagoda is encircled by a 3.2km of  a two story doubled deckered huge concrete structure that took ten years to construct which will remain unpainted (as a pint job would require huge efforts and materials and require constant updating whereas the concrete will age and stain with the passing of the years to achieve a more natural look).

It like the concepts of the Nazis Third Reich is designed to last a 1000 years and bisecting one side there is an enormous hydraulic bridge to ensure that it can open when necessary to receive huge ornamental carriages and barges where necessary. It looks rather like some vast unfinished airport building with no planes and when I visited virtually no people save for a few mediating woman dressed in white.

They also have just began setting up some support towers that eventually will support a vast roof and which will go to  make it the biggest structure ever put together on planet earth !  The 'UFO' pagoda consists of 300,000 identical Buddha statues constructed in the familiar Dhammakaya Buddha alien type shape - and now the interior of the pagoda has become sealed and full of over 700,000 Buddha statues.

After being stopped a couple of times by a pleasant  girl in white on a motorbike and then a monk I was 'encouraged' to join an organized tour group from the visitor centre which I was happy to do.

I checked into the tour centre and became a member of a Burmese tour group that led by an English speaking Burmese guide so we continued the visit on an electric golf cart around the site also, he also asked regarding who I was and whether I was in fact a journalist and likely to talk about them (for the previous 2  hours I was traveling around unchaperoned and on foot filming most of the structures).  I suppose the fact that I am blogging this now and spent much of my time looking for good video shots mean that in a way he was astute to my intentions and was right. There seems to be some degree of paranoia to the outside world and their perceptions of them.

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