There is a magnificent temple in Ladphrao, Chokchai 4, in the north of Bangkok, dedicated to the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, which is well worth a visit. At the temple’s centre is a huge pagoda containing four thousand-armed Kuan Yins, and in every hall there are an uncountable number of statues and images of Kuan Yin and of Amida Buddha.
I went back there again last December as a guest of the Sunims at the Bangkok Hanmaum Seonwon, who had been invited there with many other Bhikkunis and female laypeople to recieve special awards honoring them for their work on Women and Buddhism by the Grand Master Shi Kuang Seng, who founded the temple, the ‘Avalokitesvara’s Great Compassion Stupa of 10,000 Buddhas’, twenty one years ago.
The awards were delivered by HRH Princess of Thailand, Prof. Dr. Chulabhorn Walailak, the youngest daughter of the King of Thailand, and so we arrived in good time to take our seats. The sight of so many Bhikkunis in many different kinds of robes – Thai, Korean, Chinese, Tibetan, Japanese, orange, grey, brown, red, black – was wonderful. Sadly, due to a computer glitch, I have no photos to show you.
Dr Lee Bhikkuni, a regular visitor to the seonwon, was also there to receive an award, as well as Mae Chee Brigitte, and many others who I didn’t recognise. You can imagine the colours, the brass band playing, the fans whirring, and even the Princess herself, after presenting the awards, giving a recital of some traditional Thai music. And behind all the female monks were a thousand Bhikkus there to perform a chanting ceremony later in the day.
Spotting a few faces I recognised, I went over to the monks and learnt that Phra Pandit, organiser of the wonderful Little Bangkok Sangha, had also been there. Apparently he’d seen me wandering around with my camera and had waved furiously, but was unable to get my attention. “What sexism” he joked on the phone later that night, “taking all those photos of the Bhikkunis and ignoring the thousand Bhikkus behind you!”
The Princess left to the waves of crowds of enthusiastic Thai people in the streets outside, and we made our way back to the seonwon. Ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the temple, and to pray for the health of King Bhumibol and for World Peace, continued all month, with, on one evening, a Dharma talk from Hyaedan Sunim from the Bangkok Seonwon in Thai.
(For all us English-speakers, there’s no need to worry! We can study with Hyaedan Sunim every month at the Bangkok Seon Club! See you there!)