Candlelight at Wat Phra Dhammakaya

There are over 40,000 temples spread across Thailand. Many have a similar style though some are very unique. For many foreign tourists the colourful Thai temples are often a highlight of their holiday in Thailand. The Phra Dhammakaya Temple in Pathum Thani Province might not be your typical Thai temple. The main building resembles a UFO more than traditional Thai architecture. However, it is just the vastness of the place that impresses you the most.

I have seen pictures of this place before, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I was lucky enough to go and visit for the first time. To say that the place is massive is really an understatement. When it was first established back in 1970 it covered an area of 80 acres. This has since increased to over 1,000 acres. It took me about half an hour of driving around before I found the main building. Luckily I had aimed to arrive early. But, even still, when I arrived there were already thousands of monks and an estimated 60,000 female Buddhists all seated and waiting for the start.

This is a closer picture showing the dome of the main building. As you get closer you can see that it isn’t a smooth dome. In fact, it is covered with 300,000 Buddha images made from silicon bronze. Each image is 15 by 15 centimetres with a base of 18 centimetres. The formula for the concrete of the main building and the bronze in the Buddha images were designed specifically so that the whole place will last more than 1,000 years. Inside there are apparently even more Buddha images with the final aim to have 1 million of them in total. The steps below the dome are for the monks. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to go and take a closer look here. Maybe next time.

The Dhammakaya Cetiya covers an area of one square kilometer. It is split into four zones. The first three zones are the dome itself and the area where the monks sit. The biggest area is Zone 4 which completely encircles the dome. During the event that I attended there was an estimated 60,000 female Buddhist lay people all dressed in white and each with their own candle. Although this is a large number, they were on only one side of the dome. It is reckoned that the area that completely encircles the dome has enough room for one million to sit and meditate together.

These lay people were here as part of a 7 day course to learn Dhamma and meditation techniques. During this time they had to wear white and strictly keep the 8 precepts. They didn’t all do this at Wat Phra Dhammakaya, but everyone came together on the last day of the course to meditate and pray and also to receive a certificate. I have been impressed by many different kinds of events in Thailand but this certainly was in my top ten. Just the scale of the event is really amazing. So many people coming together with the same aim and purpose. I believe that they have a mass ordination in July and hopefully I will be able to attend this as well to take pictures.

Wat Phra Dhammakaya has experienced its share of controversy. According to an article in Wikipedia, in 1999 and again in 2002 the temple’s abbot, was accused of charges ranging from fraud and embezzlement to corruption. Julian Gearing of Asiaweek commented that Widespread negative media coverage at this time was symptomatic of Wat Phra Dhammakaya being made a scapegoat for commercial malpractice in the Thai Buddhist temple community in the wake of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Apologies to Wat Phra Dhammakaya were published in full after the Thai newspapers and TV channels concerned were successfully sued for slander.

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There are a number of events organized by Wat Phra Dhammakaya during the year. It is not the kind of place that you can go as a tourist to take pictures. However, you are welcome as a Buddhist. When I was there last night I spotted a few foreigners dressed in white. I drove there from Samut Prakan via the Outer Ring road in just 45 minutes. From Central Bangkok it might take you a little longer to reach the temple. They have free bus services from Sanam Luang on Sundays and Buddhists holidays (from the main gate of Thammasart University) from 7-8 a.m. You can also take buses 3, 4, 10, 13, 29 and 39. The map above shows the location of Wat Phra Dhammakaya.

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