Wat Phra That Khao Noi, Nan, Thailand

Temple titleThere is something mysterious and alluring about a human figure forever captured in a forward motion. It’s the ultimate symbol for so many things humanity upholds.

Progression. Preservation. Hope. Strength. Compassion. Protection. I mean, isn’t it easy to imagine these figures are ever prepared to step forth to protect the people of the area?

A statue caught in mid-stride frames these ideas within the grace of movement.

I mean, while a standing statue casually gazing forward is a remarkable sight in its own right, there is something extra special about a statue stepping out into the world.

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Maybe it’s so attractive because it’s familiar. I think we are more used to seeing people walking around than seeing them standing still. In fact, walking is so familiar most of us take it for granted.

But it’s actually an extremely fine-tuned art.

Knowing this, I’ll often be walking along, gazing down at my feet—either while I’m navigating a particularly uneven section of ground or lost in my own world—then, as my legs swing back and forth across my vision, I’ll marvel at the sheer mechanic intricacies needed for me to complete this feat.

For example to illustrate this, have you ever seen any of the videos discussing walking robots (If you are unnerved by those ones meet HRP-4C, who’s more public friendly. She even dances!) and advanced prosthetic limbs?

Walking looks easy, but it’s a complex opera of balance, energy, structure and timing!

We still haven’t fully managed to duplicate it artificially. And even then, we might’ve figured out how to make robots walk but they’re far from inheriting our biological grace and dexterity.

Of course now I’m getting off topic.

Back to Wat Phra That Khao Noi in Nan, Thailand.

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If you take a look around online this temple is famous for the picturesque view it offers. The land opens up before a golden image of a Buddha forever watching over the town.

I went and looked up the hand gesture, mudra, this Buddha image is using after I realized that the Buddha images are constantly portrayed in different poses.

I remembered a woman telling me the various statues represent the different things I may wish for in my life—such as meditation, intellect, safety etc—when I visited a temple during the Chinese New Year.

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This Buddha’s mudra is called Vitarka. It is meant to invoke the energy of intellectual discussion, debate and teaching. The index finger touching the thumb represents a continuous cycle of information and energy.

Huh, I ended up talking about robots, science and prosthetic limb advancements—maybe there is something to this!

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This temple also has a dark corner tucked in its backyard (it’s all downhill from here).

On the hillside below the temple there are a series of statues depicting what appears to be scenes from the buddhist hell.

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This was my first encounter with such scenes and I was totally caught off guard. Buddhism has a hell? I hadn’t even known that. I thought reincarnation meant there was no need for a hell. I thought Earth was supposed to be a hell to be elevated from… Or maybe I’m getting my religions mixed up now.

Within this disturbing collection of the damned, I found myself captivated by the human forms before me.

This figure seems solemn and entreating as it stands before two half-sunken people praying or pleading for assistance. Why am I reading this from the figure’s back?

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It’s neat, thinking about how artists must, in a way, be scientists. They learn how limbs move so they can portray them correctly. They must learn which muscles bulge or slacken from each movement. They learn bone structures and basic anatomy so they create correct proportions.

Maybe this inherent observation skill explains why I can tell these figures are in pain despite their basic appearances.

Other questions bubbled to the surface. Who are the figures paying respect to the monk or Buddha image? Why are they there?

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Unfortunately, despite being able to read body language, the depths of human reasoning continued to baffle me in that forest scene. These statues held their secrets from me.

Chatter from the visitors wandering around the temple on the hilltop ebbed into whispers. The leaves in the trees shivered in the grasp of a weak breeze, cutting into the sunbeams drifting down. Their dead brethren, littering the forest floor, crunched beneath my weight, but the statues were still. Despite all the noise, everything was still.

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