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Courage and virtue through Phra Jinaraj

January 5, 2001

PHITSANULOK - Pilgrims travelling to this northern province during the New Year festival to pay homage to Phra Jinaraj hardly had any peace of mind. All along the highway from Bangkok to Phitsanulok, for a distance of 377 kilometres, they were distracted by the eyesore posters of Chuan Leekpai and Thaksin Shinawatra.

            Both candidates were heading into a full-scale dogfight for the premiership. The political campaign trail created a worldly parallel to the journey of religious devotion of the thousands of pilgrims who had Wat Phrasri Rattana Mahathat as their final destination.

            Wat Phrasri Rattana Mahathat is an elegant temple, built during the reign of Phra Maha Thamma Raja (Phraya Lithai) in 1357. The temple overlooks the Nan River, which makes its way down south to form - together with the Ping, Wang and Yom - the Chao Phya River at Pak Nam Pho, Nakhon Sawan.

            Wat Phrasri Rattana Mahathat is home to Phra Jinaraj, unquestionably the Kingdom's most beautiful Buddha image through a perfect combination of size and proportion. The local people call the temple by its simple name of Wat Yai, or "Big Temple". They also give Phra Jinaraj a more intimate name of luang por ("father"). Most Buddha images are called luang por or luang pu (grandfather) because they do not age generation after generation.

            In the local people's consciousness, Phra Jinaraj is always there, giving moral guidance for courage and virtue. All the Siamese kings, as a royal tradition, have made a pilgrimage to Phra Jinaraj. You fulfil your devotion as a Thai Buddhist by paying homage to Phra Jinaraj at least once in your lifetime to realise the transcendental experience and to appreciate the perfection of impermanence.

            King Naresuan the Great (1590-1605) grew up with Phra Jinaraj, originally a bronze statue. A prince by birth, he was born and raised in Phitsanulok, then a northern outpost of Ayutthaya. Phra Jinaraj was definitely his mentor. Ekathotsarot, his younger brother, was said to have coated Phra Jinaraj with some of his gold regalia, using his own hands, until the Buddha image shone totally in gold. The effect is striking, adding to the glamour and the unworldliness of Phra Jinaraj.

            Phra Jinaraj is cast in a posture of the Buddha Subduing the Mara. Legend has it that the Buddha was sitting under a tree when he was suddenly surrounded by thousands of heavenly beings. Then came the Mara, or the Devil, with his army, which aimed to prevail over virtue with vice. But the Buddha's absolute power conquered the Mara, hence giving rise to one of his most famous postures in the making of Buddha images. It is also a sign of the victory of virtue over vice.

            Inside Wat Yai, hundreds of pilgrims flock to pay tribute to Phra Jinaraj. There are Buddha amulets of Phra Jinaraj on the front and King Naresuan, Prince Ekathosarot and Princess Suphan Kalaya on the back. The three siblings are now immortalised as heroes who sacrificed their lives for the cause of Thai independence.

            It was with the guiding spirit of Phra Jinaraj that King Naresuan fought his victorious wars against the Burmese and other enemies. Opposite the township of Phitsanulok, there is a shrine dedicated to King Naresuan. His statue is in a sitting posture and he is pouring lustral water from a golden container to declare Ayutthaya's independence from the Burmese. In this age, where genuine heroes cannot be found, it is necessary to go back to King Naresuan as a source of heroism and an inspiration of courage and virtue.

            Having fulfilled their pilgrimage, the thousands of Thais who visited the temple went home to resume their daily lives with the image of Phra Jinaraj and King Naresuan in the forefront of their consciousness. This blessing made the politics of the general election and the politicians undertaking to lead Thailand look absurd and unreal.


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