As I understand it (and please correct me if you know I'm wrong!), Buddhism isn't strictly a religion - its philosophy doesn't contain or promote a belief in an external God. Nor does it insist on replacing existing religious beliefs. Following the precepts of Buddhist philosophy is an add-on to whatever current belief system one has. Buddhism provides a profound way of viewing and coping with life events in order to increase our chances for happiness in this lifetime. In fact, many SE Asians adhere to several philosophies, rituals and practices depending on the life situation.
A Buddhist temple is a place of contemplation and learning.
Right: Wat Jedi Luang (The Monastery of the Great Stupa) was the Lanna Kingdom's largest structure. It was built to hold the ashes of King Kue Na (1327-1388) a devout Buddhist. His other claims to fame were a keen interest in science and the temerity to stand up to the Chinese and refuse to pay tribute.
In 1468, the peripatetic Emerald Buddha was brought here from Chiang Rai where it had been 'discovered' (after mysteriously disappearing from Cambodia after the Khmer Empire fell). However, it only made it to Chiang Mai after a detour. According to legend, on three separate occasions, the elephant carrying the Buddha insisted on going to Lampang. So the Buddha stayed there from 1434-1468.
Sadly the wat was badly damaged in a massive earthquake in 1545 and the top thirty metres toppled to the ground.
Buddhism is built on the Four Noble Truths, the first of which is 'Life can suck and not accepting that reality makes it worse.' I try to remember this one when I get down in the weeds (as one does) and stamp my feet saying 'It's not fair! It should be different!'
Left: The lovely and elegant Wat Phra Singh is the most visited temple in Chaing Mai. It is an outstanding example of Lanna architecture and boasts a fine collection of Lanna art, as well.
Probably it's most important piece is the city's most revered Buddhist statue, the Phra Singh or Lion Buddha. This Buddha is considered by many to be one of the best known examples of Lanna art. It's features and upswept topknot are more human-like than most Buddhist statues. It has resided here since the mid-fourteenth century and is the focus of religious ceremony at the annual Songkran festival. This is the traditional Thai New Year's day, celebrated from April 13-15.
Pali is the religious language of Thailand and Buddhism in general. These ancient scriptures are written in the old Lanna script on bamboo strips. They are kept in Wat Prasingh and the monks use them as the foundation of talks.
The Second Noble Truth is that we have control over how much we suffer particular life events. If we aren't attached to what people think of us, how much we have, or whatever else we may desire, we won't feel so bad if life doesn't live up to our expectations.
"That because the monks take any stray dog in that is brought to them, or any dog that someone can no longer care for. Here they are safe and protected."
The Third Noble Truth is that you can end suffering by breaking the attachments that you have to things of the ego. If you are able to do this, you will lose the boundaries of your mind and experience one-ness with all things. This selflessness generates a compassion for all living things. The monks are walking the talk.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, one of the most magnificent temple complexes in Thailand and all because of a white elephant.
The Legend of the White Elephant: Once there was a monk from Sukhothai called Sunamathera. One night, Sumanathera had a dream that he must go to Pang Cha and look for a relic. When he woke he set out and at Pang Cha he found a bone and not just any only bone – it was Buddha’s shoulder bone. This relic had magical powers, it glowed, it could vanish and reappear. It could move on its own and replicate itself.
The King was thrilled and made a big fuss when Sumanathera arrived, but the bone refused to do anything special at all. The King, doubtful and disappointed told Sumanathera to keep his old bone.
But, another King heard of this marvelous relic. King Nu Naone, of the Lanna Kingdom asked Sumanathera to bring the bone to him. Here the bone split in two and the smaller piece was enshrined in Suandok.
The larger piece was placed on the back of a white elephant which was then released into the jungle. The elephant climbed up Doi Suthep, trumpeted three times and died at the site. On that auspicious sign, King Nu Naone built the temple known as Doi Suthep.