Photo du Jour: A Red Hibiscus in Buddha’s Hand – Ubud, Bali

Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.
-Hans Christian Anderson

At our home away from home in Bali, Indonesia, this Buddha statue greeted us daily with a splendid flower in hand. The flowers — quite often hibiscuses or frangipanis — had been carefully selected and placed by the homestay’s hostess, Ayu. Like the practice of making canang sari, Ayu’s ritual is another example of the spiritual offerings regularly performed by residents of this gentle island. Continue reading “Photo du Jour: A Red Hibiscus in Buddha’s Hand – Ubud, Bali”

Photo du Jour: ‘Monk Beds’ in Luang Prabang, Laos

In Buddhism, it’s believed that followers can get good results by giving merit. One approach is by offering alms, either through a Tak Bat ceremony or by donating items to those who are leading a monastic lifestyle.

In Luang Prabang’s Wat Xieng Thong temple courtyard, we happened upon this recently-donated stash of goods. There was everything from orange bunk beds and bedding to toiletries, fans and pillows.

Novice monks mingled out in the courtyard. Some read books or toyed with their iPods or mobile phones while others interacted with tourists who were eager to show them photographs they had snapped.

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Wat Xieng Thong: Waiting in the Wings During the Golden Hour

It’s the sort of environment that could hold my attention for hours. In a heavily-carved and gilded structure that’s tucked away on the grounds of the Wat Xieng Thong temple complex in Luang Prabang, Laos, are stored a fleet of Buddha statues, crackling wooden devotional panels, nagas, and the Lao king’s cremation chariot. Adorned with cobwebs and dressed in dust, they are waiting in the wings for a regal parade.

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Sculpting Buddha – A Meditative Exercise in Laos

On a shady street on which we regularly strolled during our stay in Luang Prabang, Laos, we watched a sculptor as he gradually turned rustic concrete into the smooth likeness of Buddha. I wonder what the man pondered on those quiet afternoons – as he was overlooked by other Buddhist figures in progress – in a sun-kissed courtyard garden. Perhaps he took lessons from the Buddha himself, whose quotes are featured so prominently on objects for sale in boutiques in the vicinity of the quiet lane.

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Vignettes From Phnom Penh’s Riverside

Carrying salmon and ivory-colored lotus blossom offerings, the Buddhist worshippers entered the crowded courtyard in front of a small temple along Phnom Penh’s riverside. Once inside, they left their spiritual contributions.

The green, pink and white pile of offerings inside was apparently growing so vast that officials periodically tossed the decorated green coconuts and buds through an open window – landing into a receptacle outside the tiny temple.

I wondered where the spiritual buds in the growing pile would next journey having had such short-lived residency inside the temple?

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A Morning Almsgiving or Tak Bat Ceremony in Phonsavan, Laos

In Laos, as in other Theravada Buddhist countries, it is customary for monks to go on early morning alms runs, known as Tak Bat. They do so with almsbowls in hand, donning their traditional saffron robes and pounding the pavement or dirt roads with bare feet. Devotees place food – such as balls of sticky rice or bananas – into the monks’ bowls. Afterward, the monks chant a prayer for them.

In tourist mecca, Luang Prabang, visitors flock in droves to witness the morning almsgiving run. These images were snapped in Phonsavan – a more remote environment in northeastern Laos. Though the setting is less-picturesque than that of Luang Prabang, the scene is more authentic than that which we witnessed in Luang Prabang. Unfortunately the spiritual component there has been overshadowed by commercial ventures and aggressive tourists.

Buddhism maintains that the more one gives – and the more one gives without seeking something in return – the wealthier he or she will become. The almsgiving ritual then, allows Buddhist followers to take one of the requisite steps towards achieving Nirvana.

Photo du Jour: A Kaleidoscope of Incense – Hué, Vietnam

The roadside stands just outside of Vietnam’s former imperial city, Hué, overflow with bundles of incense. When viewed en masse, these harlequin sticks resemble a textured kaleidoscope. The resulting cinnamon and sandalwood scent that wafts through the air is intoxicating.

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