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Thứ Sáu, tháng 11 03, 2006

No.1212 (Minh Chau dich)
In pictures: Monks in commercial Bangkok

Buddhism v commercialism
Wat Pathum Wanaram was originally built as a quiet Buddhist retreat on the outskirts of Bangkok.

But the temple is now sandwiched between the city's newest shopping centre, Siam Paragon, and the construction site of another huge complex, Central World. In front of it, cars and buses fume down a six-lane highway, underneath the city's main rail link.

Here assistant abbot Phra Kru Sri Wisankun describes how the monks live, renouncing worldly values yet living next to Gucci and Starbucks.

Original landscape
"When I first came here as a novice 30 years ago, this area was peaceful and quiet. It was called the forest temple, and people came here to relax and practice meditation," said Phra Kru Sri Wisankun.

"It was built by King Rama IV almost 150 years ago, near the site of the old palace. There were no other buildings - it was surrounded by rice fields. At first people would come here by boat along the canal."

Busy world
"Since construction started 20 years, many things have changed.

"We still get up at about 5am for alms-giving, but the shops don't close until 10pm and there is always a lot of traffic, so the noise goes on until late into the night. We have to rest when we can.

"Especially at the beginning, some of the novices were interested in things going on outside the temple. It's hard for them, in this environment. But I always encourage them not to focus on material things."

Popular destination
"There are some positive aspects to all these new buildings, as well, though.

"This temple is now very well-known, and many more people come to visit before or after shopping. We usually get more than 500 visitors a day.

"We've also had more donations so we can improve our buildings."

Good advice
"It's like we're doctors giving out medicine. We ask the visitors about the suffering in their lives, and try to help them.

"We teach people the things that are important. Modern life is very active and competitive. Sometimes people have no rest and their minds never relax. You cannot live like this all the time."

Subsiding Buddhas
"When they first started the construction, there was a lot of pollution, and the monks suffered from inhaling the dirt.

"There were also a lot of problems with the temple buildings, as a result of all the digging. The floor subsided right under these Buddhist statues. Another time, our toilet system completely collapsed.

"But the construction companies have been very nice to us. They've always offered to repair any damages."

God of snakes
"During the construction of Central World (a new complex which has yet to be finished) quite a few workers had serious accidents.

"In order to build the mall, they had to cover up a pond which was full of snakes and fish. So the construction company asked us to build this for the god of snakes, so they could finish the project safely."

Shopping paradise
"I think these shops and entertainment complexes do make people happy for a while, but not permanently.

"People may have money, but they'll always want more. Real life is not about money - even millionaires are still suffering."

No regrets
"You have to enjoy life with what you've got - all you need is food, shelter, clothing and medicine.

"I just have these robes, I don't eat much and I do a lot of meditation.

"I like being a monk. I wouldn't want to live like other people I see going past. I'll be a monk forever."

Interview by Kate McGeown