Friday, February 12, 2010

City of Wats

The predominant faith in Laos is Buddhism and the city of Luang Prabang plays host to over 40 temples known as wats. The wats house hundreds of novice monks who journey to Luang Prabang to learn pillars of the Buddhist faith from wise and peaceful elder leaders. Each morning the monks make a pilgrimage through the city center humbly accepting alms of food and money from lines of local citizens and a scattering of tourists. The monks gratefully accept each offering in a small bronze basket that they wear around their necks as they wind around from sidewalk to sidewalk. The food they collect serves as their only meal for the day and the money is contributed to a fund used for their future education. Monks are deeply revered by members of the Buddhist faith, so it is important to follow a few simple rules when in their presence. People generally try to remain physically lower than the monks, so it is polite to bow slightly as they pass by. In addition, monks are unmarried and celibate, so contact with women is strictly forbidden. A slight touch from Mariana would result in a ritualistic bathing that would last for days for the unfortunate man who was involved in the contact. Interestingly enough, many novice monks seek out westerners to practice speaking English and they are generally very curious about life outside of the temples. I guess this just goes to show that no amount of Dogma, no matter what the source, can completely repress human desires that are inherent in each one of us.

The temples themselves are visually stunning as they are filled with handcrafted treasures ranging from the architectural designs of the buildings to the intricate artwork that is held within each structure. A collection of historical and religous events are illuminated through a variety of mediums ranging from exotic wood carvings to glass mosaics. Endless images of Buddha are cast in gold, silver, and bronze alongside artistic depictions of mythical creatures and sacred beasts of worship. The adornments of the temples seem artistically bold and extravagant, but they leave each foreign visitor with a humbling sense of self-reflection.

As a man who does not consider himself to hold loyalties to any specific religion, I feel like I can objectively say that the attributes of honesty, kindness, and humility are readily available to those who seek refuge in the peaceful settings of the Luang Prabang wats.

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