It’s been a while since I ventured to a Bangkok cultural site so I thought I’d take a bike ride towards khlong Krung Kasem, this time turning left towards thanon Luang and then to Romaaneenat public park. I stopped at Wat Suthat – but that’s not the topic of this blog as I have done a few Wats now and they have a common architecture and ambiance which I’ve discussed in previous blogs. My destination was Loha Prasat, a building in the grounds of Wat Ratchanatda. This is located between the Monks’ Bowl Village below the Golden Mount and the Parisian-inspired boulevard that runs past the Democracy Monument up to Sanam Luan Park.
Open from 9-5, this Wat is located where the Pan Fah bridge crosses a khlong (Lot Wat Thepthida) that marks the meeting of the old and new city moats. The khlong was built in the reign of Rama I. As usual it has that peculiarly Bangkok-style avenue of what I call “limpet homes”. Wooden and corrugated shanties that cling both precariously and grimly to the sides of the waterways. Clean, yet faded, these are the real homes of Bangkok’s aqua population. A scant few metres past the bridge is the Wat and Loha Prasat.
The building of the latter was commenced in 1846; it has 37 black spires, 106 steps from ground to viewing point and the spires are crowned with a hti – an umbrella-esque ‘roof’; their purpose to depict the virtues of Buddhist Enlightenment. I walked my bike respectfully around the building as I was inside the Wat environs, seeking a place to chain up. There was a lot of construction of the surrounding buildings. Piles of the endless red tiles that so dominate the roofs of this part of the world. Here and there, the durable plastic woven blue sacking that is used to haul construction goods like tiles and sand had been reshaped, slung between two opportune scaffolding bamboo poles and contained a slumbering Thai worker in his makeshift hammock.
Having found a place for my bike, I ventured into the grounds and headed for Loha Prasat. The building is considered a Thai Buddhist masterpiece – the only one remaining of its kind. The Loha Prasat was intended as the living quarters for the monks who practiced the Dhamma Teachings. This metal-roofed building (which is what Loha Prasat means) had two predecessors – one in the city of Sawatthi, India; the other in Anurathpura, Sri Lanka. Both became ruins centuries ago. This extant Loha’s 37 spires represent the Bodiphukkhiyacham – the seven courses of the Dhamma one must walk to gain Enlightenment.
Entering the Loha was akin to entering a labyrinth. Narrow, high ceiling corridors with perpendicular intersections. Impossible to get lost, but not easy to know which compass point you were facing. The Loha has two exhibitions – the first to the building of the temple, the second is a route to the Buddha relic via the four levels. Inspired by the descriptions of the faded Sri Lankan Loha, the Ratchanatdaram Wat buildings comprise the ubosoth, vihara, sermon hall, monk’s quarters, and the Loha. The Sri Lankan Loha was constructed around 151B.C., located near a bodhi tree (the tree under which Buddha gained Enlightenment), decorated with murals and precious stones; rebuilt after fire damage, the renewed Loha is now also a ruin, with around 1600 stone pillars remaining, should you ever be that way in Sri Lanka.
I wandered up the stairs, sweat towel from yet another hot Bangkok day to hand, heading for the top level in the belief it would be prudent to burn my energy on the climb, safe in having a breath-catching lazy descent, namely by stopping at each level. I made it to the top, having started with three steps-at-a-time bounds, hauling myself over the last step by my torn fingernails. Unfortunately, my 360 panorama of Bangkok was somewhat obscured by the scaffolding where repairs were occurring. It was still a great view over the Bangkok plains topped off by this shot of the sacred bell that crowns Loha Prasat.
I even managed to zoom in on a building sited toward the Old City with the enormous red Garuda.
Descending I stopped first at the monks’ area. Monks reach spiritual perfection through the attainment of sila (moral conduct), samadhi (concentration), and panna (wisdom). They are grouped according to their abilities to resist impurity; resulting in coarse, moderate or fine appellations. According to doctrine there are ten samyojana (or fetters) that bind mankind and cause suffering. These three types of monks are:
Sotapanna – this is a person who has attained the first stage of holiness and is able to resist three fetters – sakkayadithi (a false view of self), vivikiccha (doubt), and silabbataparamasa (adherence to rules and beliefs)
Anagami – this is one who will not return to the world after dying, but will be reborn as Brahma in the heavens of Suddhavasa where they will attain nirvana. This person has broken the two fetters of kamaraga (desire for sensual pleasures of the eye, tongue, nose, and ear) and patigha (grudges, irritations, frustration, arrogance, moodiness caused by distress)
Arahant – this is a person who has distanced themselves from impurity, has broken the volition of the Wheel of Rebirth and is thus venerated. They are able to resist five fetters – ruparaga (carnal desire), aruparaga (attachment to the abstract – such as joy or happiness), mana (conceit or pride), uddhacca (mental unrest or distraction), and avijja (ignorance)
There is a last type – Sakadagami – one who can be reborn having reached nirvana. This is someone who is truly enlightened, someone who is so cleansed that even the thought of sin cannot exist in them. A fascinating lesson in Buddhism for me. This level (and the one below) were used by monks for meditation, the first for sitting, the second for walking. The former is the mediation posture you see in Western Yoga class posters. The concept of the samadhi attitude, with its very specific pose, thoughts of bud and dho. The latter is concerned with straight paths, pacing back and forth to gain control of the present in silence and thence to understand the best course of the future.
On the last level (above the ground floor) was the library. On the many walls were plaques detailing the meanings of various Buddhist precepts, far too many to replicate here. I found myself in a photo competition with a fervent Belgian and his high powered camera lens. It was almost a case of Theseus and the Minotaur as we skirted round the corridors trying to get to another plaque ahead of the other. All good fun before heading out to the heat of Bangkok and the joy of cycling through the traffic.
Of course, I took some photos of the place, here they are:
Is this what diplomacy is all about?