“Compounds are subject to dissolution.”

“Compounds are subject to dissolution.”

Meet Michael. I spent the afternoon with him, by chance, and learned a good deal about this Buddha fellow I’ve been photographing.

After returning to my guest house from the historical park with the remainder of the afternoon at my disposal, I decided to carry on with plans I had for the following day: a visit to Wat Thawet’s Dream Garden. The grounds of Wat Thawet contain yet another scuplture garden, the vision of yet another eccentric spiritualist. Again, the backstory is half the beauty of the garden. Whilst sleeping under Banyan tree (Much like the story of Buddha’s enlightenment {or Siddhartha’s enlightenment, as he was known as pre-enlightenment}), a monk had a vivid dream of the tale of Buddha’s life. It became his creative obsession to recreate the images of this dream, of Buddha’s life and lessons, on the grounds of Wat Thawet. He completed each work of art completely on his own, caring for the Dream Garden til the day he died. His son then took over restoring the works of art.

Michael, who lives across the street from the temple and has worked there for the past 20 years, happened to see my tuk-tuk pull up and accompanied me through the sculpture garden explaining what would have been a confusing spiral of concrete. He is originally from Germany but lives here in Thailand for 2 months out of the year; 4 of the other months he is cycling around other parts of Asia and the remaining 6, cycling around Europe. He has put 50,000 miles on his bike and 30,000 on his previous bike. I had read about him in a brochure at my guest house. He offers off-road bike tours (Cycle With Michael) of the village and rice & tobacco farms that surround Wat Thawet, concluding with a guided tour of the temple’s grounds and Dream Garden. It was my luck that I arrived within the two months he is here in Thailand and that he was gracious enough to tour the grounds with me for no charge. Buddhism is his passion and his life’s quest. He has been studying it for over 30 years. Between the cartoonish works of art, we chatted about the complexities of enlightenment, the elusivity of nirvana and hell on Earth.

So, to the best of my ability, I will retell the dream of the eccentric monk, the legend of Buddha’s life.

Here is Siddhartha’s mom. The tale says he was born so large (the picture of the young boy standing in front of his mom is *newborn* eventual-Buddha) he had to be cut from her side. He was able to walk immediately, and did so, upon lotus flowers. She died soon after the birth.

So, Siddhartha was a rich boy.. a sheltered little prince. He lead an extravagant life, pictured below are his 3 sexy mistresses. Notice the stretched ears: that’s from too much bling-bling. And notice the pony tail: another sign of his wealth. But chop! goes his pony tail when he sets off into the world determined to find the true meaning of life.

Enter his time of spiritual development. He followed the word of gurus and prayed and meditated excessively to their doctrines, to the point of asceticism. See the rails of ribs: that’s abstinence from everything. The image of the guitar player is a symbol. When a guitar’s strings are too tight, they break; too loose, sounds off. His life had become one of extremes: extreme wealth and privilege, mistresses, etc and then abstinence.

Not being satisfied in the other extreme either, he continued his quest… which lead him to the tree and eventual enlightenment. But then, the most important part, the sharing of his philosophy with inquiring spiritualists, monks, who wished to learn the meaning of life.

Here he is a old man on his deathbed. He died from a tainted meat offering he accepted.

The park then had many sculptures of his lessons. Most interesting were the hellish birth defects you enter your next life with if you live this one poorly. As Buddha is not a redeemer (like God is thought to be), the consequences of the way you choose to live your life affects your future lives (and in turn, your chance of ever attaining nirvana). In order: Abort your baby, you reincarnate as a worm. Steal? In your next life: huge hands. Abuse an animal? Be born that animal. Drink too much alcohol? Some man with a red bandanna spoon-feeds you hot liquids that burn your insides. Didn’t get to ask about the alligator but here is the picture anyway.

The informative afternoon ended with Michael describing his own quest towards enlightenment. Given a bad bicycle accident, it took him over ten years just to position his body in the double lotus for meditation… and that is the easy part. (As I type this out at my guest house, I am in the double lotus.) The hard part is shutting off your mind to filter out all the distractions of the physical world to discover what truly matters… what it all means. (dot dot dot) The day ended with him running after my tuk-tuk to zealously recommend I read Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. As I sputtered away I heard in the distance “He met the Buddha!”