Tag Archives: buddhist

A Diagram of Enlightenment: Borobudur, Indonesia

Borobudur, located in central Java, Indonesia, is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and one of the oldest and most important Buddhist structures. Lost to the jungles and the earth until the mid-19th century, it was first completed around 825 CE, when Java and much of modern-day Indonesia was predominantly Buddhist and Hindu. By the 14th century, the Hindu and Buddhist dynasties declined, giving rise to Islam in the archipelago.

Today, Borobudur and its nearby Hindu companion, Prambanan, are sources of cultural pride for the predominantly Muslim country of Indonesia. Much like Angkor Wat of Cambodia, Borobudur and Prambanan connect to a mighty and mysterious past when traders from India, the Arabic world, and East Asia converged in the region to form great dynasties.

The monument is meant to portray a sort of “diagram” of Enlightenment. From above, Borobudur represents a Buddhist mandala or map of the universe, and this is noticed when climbing the monument. As the pilgrim ascends the monument, one sees bas reliefs of different stages of  Gautama Buddha’s life as well as the law of karma. In addition, statues of the Buddha represent certain meanings with mudras, or the positions of Gautama’s hands. These seating positions take place inside and out of stupas, or places for meditation which resemble cages. As a result, the top of this monument leads to the Buddhas being commonly referred to as the “caged Buddhas” of Indonesia.

Above: Tour groups, mostly from Indonesia, descend on Indonesia’s most-visited tourist attraction. Notice the school group at bottom right. Western tourists can expect to be asked to be included in quite a few of the locals’ photos!

Above: Buddhas sit in their stupas along the exterior of the temple. Notice the missing heads of some Buddhas. As with Angkor Wat in Cambodia, many heads are missing due to treasure hunters.

Above: One of the more complete statues which has survived the elements and treasure hunters.

Above: These two shots show the extensive bas reliefs along the sides of the temple. Stories of teaching, enlightenment, and the results of karma are told. Many of these reliefs are being slowly torn apart by the elements, including the harsh monsoon rains.



Above: A Buddha sits in a half-open stupa near the top of the temple. On a clear day, Mt. Merapi, an active volcano, is present. We seemed to have had too much haze to see it clearly.

Above: Caged stupas near the top.


In addition to Borobudur, there are two other temples in the area. The larger and more impressive of the two is Mendut, which also consists of a Buddhist monastery. Actually older than Borobudur, it is a starting point in a yearly religious pilgrimage for local Buddhists. It is geographically located in a straight line connecting Borobudur on one end, Pawon in the middle, and Mendut on the other side.

Above: Mendut temple.

Above: Main statue in Mendut Temple.

Above: The adjacent Mendut Buddhist Monastery. Notice the Javanese architecture in the main building to the left.

Further Reading: Borobudur Wikipedia Article and Mendut Wikipedia Article


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Pu Zhao Temple, Jhudong

These are from around Jhudong (竹東), the city where I teach. First is the exterior of Pu-Zhao Temple, a Buddhist monastery…

…and its big Buddha who overlooks my school:

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Single Shot: Mountain Temple

OK, so I haven’t been taking any photos or posting much of anything. This post is an attempt to get back to taking photos and posting again. Life’s been busy, but I hate that I’ve neglected this blog.

Anyway, little to say about this shot. It’s a mountain Buddhist temple at Lion’s Head Mountain, Miaoli County. I’ll stick to this single shot today and hopefully there will be more to come soon!

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More from the Big Buddha of Baguashan (八卦山)

On Monday, I posted about the Big Buddha of Baguashan (八卦山), a large Buddhist monument near Changhua City (彰化巿) which sits atop a small mountain overlooking the city. Here are some more shots from that trip:

Above: A visit to this statue includes a beautiful panoramic view of Changhua City. I didn’t even try to capture it all – but the viewing platform gives a good view of about 180 degrees.

Inside the statue is a large amount of varied Buddhist art, which is narrated in English and Chinese by conveniently-located plaques near each display. While the bottom floor is a temple proper, the upper levels include areas to learn about the stages in Buddha’s life and important moments in Chinese Buddhist history.




Above right: behind the statue is a large temple dedicated to Confucius (孔夫子) and Guan Gong (關公), the Chinese god of war. I’m not sure what was on the top level as I didn’t have time to look, but you can certainly see a melting of Buddhist and Chinese culture in this temple complex.


On the way up to the temple is a line of about 50 Chinese gods. They make for some interesting photography as each has a different personality, expression, and look.


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Bangkok’s Wat Arun II

This is a second post featuring Bangkok’s Wat Arun Temple. The “Temple of the Dawn” is the tallest temple in Bangkok and is situated on the Chao Phraya River. Some of the best possible shots of the temple across the river need to be made on a moving boat due to the congestion of people and buildings on the shore. Check out my first post about Wat Arun for more.

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Jhubei Tibet Festival: Golden Dancers

These dancers, which took some stylistic inspiration from the Buddhist “1,000 Hands Dance” – a mostly Chinese phenomenon – recently performed at a Tibetan Culture Festival here in Jhubei. While this dance is not Tibetan, it was the first time I saw such a performance.

For the posed shots, the 35mm f/1.8 was great. I mixed it with an upward-pointing SB-600 to get a sort of glow and kept it from being used directly. The 70-300 without the flash was useful for the actual dance.




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More Golden Buddhas at Bangkok’s Wat Pho

While I’ve posted about Wat Pho before, I wanted to share some more of these golden Buddhas at the temple. I actually took a second chance to visit the temple and take photos as the complex itself is huge. The second time, I played around with depth of field and took my time in the hallways which connect the main buildings.



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Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn

Wat Arun, known as the Temple of Dawn, is located across the Chao Phraya River from Wat Pho. It is the tallest temple in Bangkok, and visitors can climb to the top of the very high central tower for 50 baht, about $1.65 USD.

You’ll have to take a ferry to get to Maharaj Pier and then another to cross the river. The cost? 15 baht to the first pier, a whole 3 baht to the Wat Arun pier. Not bad at all, but it is a bit time consuming waiting for boats to come in.






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Bangkok: Wat Pho

Wat Pho, one of the most important Buddhist sites in Thailand if not the world, is a temple dedicated to the “Reclining Buddha,” a retelling of the last moments of Siddhartha Gautama’s life before he entered nirvana. While this is not the largest standing or reclining buddha in the world, it is an important part of the Bangkok experience and a main tourist attraction, being next to the Grand Palace.



Above Left: Bowls used for “wishing coins” given to visitors line up along a side of the temple interior. Right: A gold-plated buddha. The gold flakes on the statue are left by the faithful – this is a very common practice in Thai Buddhism.


Notice the tophat on this statue. This statue as well as the one to the above right were given by the Chinese as gifts and placed here by the Thai monarchy.




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Apsara Dancers, Siem Reap

Apsara, the traditional Cambodian ballet which dates back thousands of years, is a dance form which is a bit of a mainstay of southeast Asian culture. Many people associate the dance form with Thailand, but Cambodia and Thailand probably share this form as a result of their Hindu-influenced strains of Buddhism.

We saw this performance in a pretty luxurious hotel (which we didn’t stay at) which offered a dance and a dinner for about $25 – a fortune for a meal in Cambodia. Also included was a form of Cambodian folk dance.

While we were seated near the front and I soon noticed photos were OK, I had trouble with the stage lights being unpredictable, not wanting to use flash (though others did), and the movement of the dancers being much quicker than I had realized.



Left: I included this image from Angkor Wat to show you how similar these dancers are. They could be apsaras or devatas, and I’m am not 100% certain.

Above: a representation of the killing of a demon. I believe this relates to the Hindu story of the Ramayana, detailing the stealing away of an Indian princess named Sita and the rescue of her by Rama, an avatar of Vishnu.


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