Big, amazing and – weired
Simply fabulous: The Wat Ban Den is the largest and also the most magnificent temple that I have seen in Thailand so far. And one of the strangest too. We went there in the morning of Khao Phansa day. The beginning of the monks‘ three-month rainy season retreat, during which they are not to leave their temples and contemplate the Buddha’s teachings.
It was the day on which the believers traditionally bring gifts to the monks at the beginning of their „lent“ and hope for the blessing of the recipients. But in Wat Ban Den we didn’t see a single monk. Not the tip of a robe in saffron, ocher yellow or orange. A local visitor told us that the abbot and his monks preferred less public contacts with well-to-do visitors from Bangkok than exchanges with the ordinary guests.
Maybe we find an explanation in the history of the temple. Its abbot, known as Kru Ba Tuang, took over the wat in a deplorable state in 1988. But he quickly raised millions of baht in donations so he could renovate the temple. The flow of donations continues; the money comes from people living in the districts around the temple and from wealthy Buddhists across the country.
Many followers of the Buddha believe that donations to religious institutions improve the prospect of a higher level of existence in the next life. Some of the 37,000 temples in Thailand live very well on this assumption.
From what I’ve heard from Buddha’s teachings, the level of the next life has a lot to do with behavior in the present and little to do with money, although donations are considered to be good deeds of course. On the other hand, as I understand Lord Buddha, monks should live a humble life free from needs of any kind. As one may occasionally learn from the Thai media, some monks see things differently.
Why should Buddhism be any different from Christianity or Islam? It`s the ground staff that determines the quality of the teaching.
One thing is certain: with the donations given to him Abbot Kru Ba Tang, he created a fantastic facility. More than 15 buildings, some in Lanna style, exquisitely carved in teak, an area full of mythical figures, with lions and tigers and the serpentine Nagas as guardians.
People in the North of Thailand believe that the spirits of the deceased come to rest in the chedi of their zodiac sign. So Kru Ba Tuang built twelve chedis (also: stupas), one for each sign of the zodiac.
The Wat Ban Den is definitely worth a visit. You find this impressive temple in Mae Taeng, about 40 km north of Chiang Mai, just an hour’s drive away.
At the end of our visit we happened to see some special monks in Wat Ban Den: the preserved and revered dead, who sometimes seem frighteningly alive.