Keeping Things In Order The Thai Way–It Ain’t Ancient Greece; Part Two

by bria4123 on November 11, 2012


It don’t look like much. Only the roosters seem impressed.

But a walk through its neighborhood in the old  town of Chiang Saen revealed one enchantment after another–and a different world than the one that Westerners are used to.

I kept finding old stupas from the 14th to the 16th century.

Most were much smaller than Wat Phra That Chedi Luang. But their forms were entrancing. The above shrine follows the 3 worlds cosmology that Thai Buddhism teaches. The bottom embodies the material world we live in. The middle section symbolizes the heavens. Its indented corners and niches show that this world’s structures are more subtle. The conical top is the formless realm.

The humble size of these shrines makes these cosmic perspectives gentle and humane. They seem to radiate peace through the neighborhood.

This one’s also in the 3 worlds form, but its outlines are very different.

Ditto for this one.

It’s two bottom worlds’ indentations and fluting are as handsome as–

the highest world’s. This shrine’s designer exquisitely used forms to elevate you into the formless world.

So every shrine that I saw was a new enchantment. But Chiang Saen’s National Museum put all of them together.

The whole town was full of these shrines, and most were built along its main roads. These streets were straight, so these little stupas were loosely arranged in lines.

But these weren’t the perfectly straight and abstract lines that ancient Greeks and their intellectual followers throughout Western history have assumed to be basic. These stupas were like batteries of spiritual energy that helped the town cohere. Their impeccable forms and cozy sizes rendered this power as friendly as your next-door neighbor.

The folks in the local market were quieter than the people in ancient Athens’ Agora often were. When I first got to Thailand, I missed the inquisitive people that I had met in Greece, and that I had just enjoyed while traveling through China–we all  had lots of great conversations. But the good folks in Chiang Saen peacefully strolled through a world full of limitless forms of beauty. No need to be too curious in traditional Thailand–the moment’s enchanting enough without mouthing off.

You can wander through more of Chiang Saen’s beauty here.


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