Luang Prabang, Laos (Buddhist art)

We are walking around Luang Prabang, Laos. I photograph various scenes and murals painted on the outside walls of two Buddhist temples.


In the market we try an economical buffet.

Karen walks across a bamboo bridge.


We visit the Utopia Bar — where people hang out by the river.

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Here you can experience the wanting mind and the alcohol mind, but beware of the karmic costs! Maybe I should do some ritual magic for you so that you can find true love.


We walk past food stands — more wanting mind.

We visit the Wat Hosian Voravihane. It is up the road from were we live.

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The Wat Hosian Voravihane (Buddhist monistary) has an entrance with silver naga balustrades. Nagas are spiritual serpents that guard the temple.

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The naga mouth spews out smaller nagas.

I look at the paintings on the front of the temple.

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This is a Buddhist hell where people go after death to pay for their sins. They stay in the hell until their next reincarnation. Each hell has characteristics that fit the person’s major sins. This hell is for people who harm or kill animals. An effective deterrent, right?
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I ask people about this hellish image but they were unsure about the exact sins associated with having the rocks fall on you — perhaps killing someone. “You can see that it is very hot there,” a monk said to me.

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This is the hell for murder — you get sawed in half. It seems that you stay alive as half a person.

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This is the adultery hell — you have to climb the spiked tree trunk while dogs bite you and other bad things happen.
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This hell is for liars — you get your tongue cut off.

Next, we visit the Wat Phonxay Sanasongkham (Buddhist monastery).
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There is artwork on the front and on both sides.

I look at the artwork on the front panels.

I photograph specific panels.
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Here are six images of the Buddha. In the top center he is being enlightened. In a lower images, he is teaching his wife, relative, and friend.
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This is the alcohol hell. They pour some type of molten substance down your throat.

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Here is another image of the murderers’ hell where they cut you in half. The images are standardized among the temples.

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Here is a Lao family scene — regular life.

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A hermit is meditating.
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Here are six images. The top three show (1) the Buddha’s mother having a dream of an elephant — this indicates that she will be the mother of the Buddha (2) she conceives the Buddha, (3) the Buddha is born. He stands and says he is special. According to some traditions, he says, “I am the world’s most honored one.”

This folklore story is not accepted by all Buddhist traditions.

A Zen master once said to me, “If he had said those words to me, I would have hit him with my stick!”

The bottom three images show the Buddha when he was a prince.
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The future Buddha sees a dead man and a sick man and comes face-to-face with human suffering. Later, he sees a monk and gets the idea to go meditate in the forest.
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The Buddha walks in a procession with his monks.

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The Buddha communicates with animals.

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The Buddha has cosmic visions.

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The Buddha teaches.

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Images of human rebirth during various calendar years — each year has a special animal.

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The Buddha administers the rebirth process.

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These images have to do with infidelity, divorce, and perhaps a woman having a child with someone other than her husband. A woman told me, “They get divorced and must pay money to the temple.”

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A guy sleeps beneath the artwork.

This artwork introduces you to ideas that came mostly from China. Buddhism was shaped by China’s structured bureaucratic government and, as a result, heaven and hell, acquired departmental characteristics. Buddhism became firmly established in Laos in the 16th century.

I am interested in art because it is a manifestation of the Divine process — something springing forth magically from within. These heaven-hell images are like a collective dream that became standardized over time.

I feel no need to preach about morality; I only want the best for you. It turns out that following certain training principles will help you do better in life. Don’t drink too much and don’t get married to someone who drinks too much. Then extend this line of thought to include other activities that can be addictive. Following basic moral norms can save you from falling into a world of trouble. If you have questions, seek advice.

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