Thursday, July 18, 2013

Buddhist Temple

When our middle daughter Leah graduated from college in 2007, she taught at Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand for one year for a year.   That same year, 2007, our oldest daughter, Julia, moved to Jerusalem for one year, having been admitted to Hebrew Union College and begun the first of five years of education leading toward ordination as a cantor in the Jewish faith.  So there was our family in 2007, with one daughter in Thailand, the other in Israel, and the youngest, Lucia, at home here in West Hartford, in her sophomore year at Hall High School.

As Christmas school vacation approached, we knew what we had to do:  take advantage of the vacation to visit Israel and Thailand.

It was our most unusual Christmas ever.

When we visited Leah in Chiang Mai that December, we learned that on her walks around the city, she'd wandered into the precincts of a temple, Wat Sirisoda, where she met a friendly young monk, her own age, Ankhan Jirapornkanda, who called himself Tony.  We visited Tony at the temple where he lived, and there, he explained to the family the four noble truths and the eightfold path, which are principles underlying the Buddhist religion.  I'm still in touch with Tony via Facebook, if you can believe that.  Last time I heard from him, he said he was "deeply happy."  He calls me Mom.

Here's the family in Chiang Mai, Thailand, visiting our monk friend, Ankhan Jirapornkanda, who is of Karen descent, and goes by the name Tony.

In addition to visiting Tony at Wat Sirisoda in Chiang Mai, we also visited one of Chiang Mai's most revered sites, a hilltop temple called Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep.

Doi Suthep is the name of the hill where the temple is located.  Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is the name of the temple itself, which dates back to 1383.  It's thought to enshrine a shoulder bone of the Buddha, and is therefore a pilgrimage destination for devout Buddhists.  It's reached by a 309-step staircase, bordered, on each side, where stair railings would otherwise be, by sculptural images of undulating dragons, worked in gold and enamel. These dragons, called naga, are thought to protect the site.  The stairs ascend through verdant vegetation to the sacred precincts of the temple itself.
Dragon staircase leading to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

There was a palpable sense of the sacred on that hilltop, created not only by the exquisite architecture itself, but also by the feeling of reverence in the pilgrims stepping unshod in its courtyards.  Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep caught my breath and captured my imagination.

That sense of the holy inspired the creation of not one, but two art quilts showing the temple, the staircase, and the verdant hillside.

Buddhist Temple I--2008.  The section at the bottom of this quilt states the Buddhist eightfold path:  right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

Buddhist Temple II--2010.  The steps iterate the four noble truths, followed by the eightfold path.  The four noble truths are 1) that suffering or dissatisfaction are endemic to the human condition, 2). that suffering originates in craving, 3) that it is possible for suffering to cease, and 4) that the eightfold path forms a way out of suffering.
Both quilts were juried into Images 2012, a venue of the Lowell Quilt Festival in Lowell, Massachusetts, in the summer of 2012.  And now, as a way of advertising the 2013 festival, the Lowell Chamber of Commerce,  in its publication Lowell Today, has used the image of Buddhist Temple I, next to the caption, "World's Finest Quilts."

I'm humbly and gratefully awed.

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