Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Phra Mae Thorani

Phra Mae Thorani
One of the fascinating benefits of living in this region is having all the opportunities to experience and learn just how different your new reality can become as you develop greater perspectives and interpretation for everything beyond your first perception.  Your reality from your old world is reborn as you learn that some things are not what they first appear and that it is acceptable for things to not be the way they are supposed to be especially if that way that you thought was the only way they should be.

Life for me is never boring here because there is so much to learn and experience from a culture that is so different from the previous 57 years of my life.  A very great component of the culture in my new life here in Isan is the religious beliefs and practices.  My wife is very religious so I am exposed to many different rituals and celebrations seated in Animism, Brahmanism, and Buddhism.

Just as with the ancient cultures of Western Civilization, Animism, Brahmanism, and Buddhism have rich pantheons, legends, and myths.

One of my favorite legends is about Buddha and the Earth goddess, Phra Mae Thorani.

Buddha did not become enlightened over night.  He had many life cycles, some not even human (123 as an animal), before attaining enlightenment or liberation. In one of the stories, some people say myths but for me the term has too much of a negative connotation), Buddha was a Bodhisattva (a being whose goal is to attain enlightenment, a previous life of Buddha) who was meditating under a Bodhi tree (ficus religiosa). He vowed to remain meditating under the tree until he became enlightened.  After seven years, his body was ravaged.

Mara, The Evil One (the Buddhist Devil) apparently out of jealousy, wanted to prevent Buddha from attaining liberation.  Mara represents temptation, sin and death.   He is the King of the Heaven of sensual delight - the quenching of the thirst for pleasure, power, and existence.  Mara first tried to convince and reason with the Buddha to stop and give up his seat under the tree thus giving up on his quest for enlightenment.  When that did not work, Mara showed up with his army, his daughters, and wild animals to drive away the Bodhisattva from his throne - one way or another.  The gods that were watching over Buddha tried to stop Mara's army but when they could not, they fled leaving Buddha alone to resist Mara, alone and physically weakened after seven years of meditation.

Phra Mae Thorani - Private Residence in Kumphawapi

Mara called upon his army to witness his power and what he planned to do next.  Buddha had no one to witness for his good deeds.  He stretched out his right hand and touched the Earth to call forth the earth deity.

Phra Mae Thorani - Huay Xai, Lao

From underneath Buddha's throne, Phra Mae Thorani, the Earth Goddess, in the form of a beautiful young woman rose to bear witness of the Bodhisattva's good deeds. Phra Mae Thorani affirmed Buddha's right to remain on his throne under the tree.  As she twisted her long hair, torrents of water which had been accumulated over the ages from Buddha's libations (pouring of water in rituals to the gods) caused a great flood which washed away Mara and his army.  Buddha was thus freed to continue his path to enlightenment.

The Earth deity - Phra Mae Thorani, Vat Jom Khao Manilet, Lao

For me, this is a great story as well as an inspiring story.  I plan on taking a series of photographs based upon the symbolism and imagery of Phra Mae Thorani.  As it turns out, for me, classical sculpture and posing is not just limited to Greek or Roman culture.

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