Friday, March 17, 2017

SPIRITUAL QUESTS....A SEEKERS JOURNEY PART 2

Our spiritual quest continues as we visit sacred places in Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, India, Bali, Java, China, & Viet Nam. The wonderous, Wat Buppharam, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is a showcase for Buddhist as well as Hindu architectural iconography. The long snake-like figures on the side of the roof are Nagas. The large curving elements at the top of each roof are called, Chofa.

A golden Buddha sits serenely at Wat Bupparam in Chiang Mai. The gold chedi reaches for the sky.

Beautiful Laos should be on all "seekers" bucket lists! Wat Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang, built in 1559, is amazingly interesting and colorful. The large Buddha sculpture on the right displays the "Abhaya Mudra".  Mudras are symbolic hand gestures used in Buddhist & Hindu statues.

A young monk dressed in vibrant orange robes outside his living quarters at a monastery in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Ayutthaya is located 50 miles north of Bangkok and has many incredible temples and sculptures. Worshipers wave sticks of incense as they pray in front of a reclining Buddha at Wat Yai Chaya Mongkol. 

We watched a lively ordination procession for a man becoming a monk at Wat Chong-Lom Pier in Ayutthaya. They even had battery powered loudspeakers with blaring music and many women dancing.

Monks gather for a ceremony at Wat Chong-Lom in Ayutthaya.

A Buddha sculpture is covered in small pieces of gold leaf, a common practice by Buddhist worshipers in Thailand to make merit. Strips of paper prayers are placed nearby.

Bayon Temple in Angkor, near Siem Reap Cambodia, stands out as one of the most amazing places I have ever visited in a life of exotic travel. The day we visited in 1997 we were the only tourists outside of local monks as it was on the U.S. State Department "Do Not Travel" list. Today it is crowded with tourists from around the world. This is one of the temples in Angkor, the Khmer Capital from the 9th to the 15th century.

Pomaia is a small medieval town in the hills of Tuscany. While on a cycling trip in the area I stopped to visit the "Instituto Lama Tzong Khapa", a Buddhist Tibetan monastery. This beautiful and serene monastery is often visited by the Dalai Lama. Richard Gere owns a home nearby and worships here when he is in the area.

The majestic "Shwedagon Pagoda" in Yangon Myanmar, is on my top five list of most amazing iconic places!  I was lucky to be present for an auspicious day when many young boys became monks in novitiate ceremonies. The gold clad Pagoda stands 325' high and is said to contain strands of Buddha's hair. 

Worshipers line up with offerings to present in the Shwedagon Pagoda. The gold container is called a "Hsun ok" and is used to carry food offerings to the temple or monastery.

Worshipers pray at the Shwedagon Pagoda.

The man dressed in dark blue on this busy road in New Delhi is from the Brahmin caste, the highest level in the Indian caste system. Many in this caste become Hindu priests and scholars. 


While visiting India we were invited by a business associate to attend a "Holi Festival" party in Delhi. This is one of India's happiest spring festivals with colored powders and water to signify the victory of good over evil. The home even had a pond with mud and almost everyone got a bit crazy. I've never seen anything like it!

The magical isle of Bali is a truly amazing spiritual destination. Though Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, most in Bali worship Bali Hindu, which includes animism, ancestor worship, and reverence for Buddhist saints. I've never seen a more religious place anywhere. It is common to see family temples, village temples, and regional temples. There are local religious processions happening weekly.

I took this shot at a small village temple during a religious festival.

While taking a bike ride in the Bali highlands I saw a small village gathering and stopped to look. I was able to take this of a Bali priest.

The Ogoh-ogoh parades take place throughout Bali on the eve of Nyepi, the Balinese New Year. I have been blessed to have attended three visits during Nyepi. The Ogoh-ogoh is a mythological being, often representing an evil spirit. The statues are paraded through towns with much excitement and mesmerizing sound of gongs and drums. After the parades, they are burnt in a cemetery to symbolize purification. The island shuts down at midnight (including the airport and all transportation) with 24 hours of silence and fasting following. 

Borobudur in Magelang, Java, in Indonesia, is the world's largest Buddhist temple and was built in 750AD. We climbed up to the top in the early morning and the view was fantastic.


Modern China is such a study in contrasts. People wave sticks of incense and say prayers at Shanghai's Temple of the City Gods.

Our last stop on this spiritual quest is to Hanoi in Viet Nam. The Temple of Literature was built in 1076 and is dedicated to Confucius and his disciples.

Our world is made up of so many fascinating and often complex religions. 
I hope you have enjoyed Part 1 and Part 2.

IMAGES: Dick Gentry


Friday, March 10, 2017

SPIRITUAL QUESTS...A SEEKERS JOURNEY PART 1

I have always been a seeker and somewhat of  a spiritual tourist. World religions and the spiritual path have fascinated me for as long as I remember. I attended numerous denominations of Christian churches when I was young and even went to a Methodist college, The University Of The Pacific. I was totally awakened after taking a class on Oriental philosophy. My world view expanded after learning about Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Everything changed for me! 

 We seek enlightenment, inner truths, and the divine, in many ways. It may be in personal meditation, quiet reflection, or in a traditional church or temple. Marla opens up to an "Energy Vortex" at Bell Rock in Sedona.

 Even if one is not a Catholic there is something spiritually majestic when visiting iconic religious buildings like Notre Dame in Paris. There is a mysterious power which emanates from these places. Notre Dame began construction in 1145 and was completed in 1345.

 I attended a wedding at the Abbey of Saint-Remi in Reims, France. It was built in the Romanesque style in 1049. It made me marvel at what man is capable of creatively. 

 Pilgrims and non-believers alike have flocked to the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi for centuries. I was on a bike tour of Umbria and Tuscany and stopped to visit this amazing spiritual place. Saint Francis founded the Franciscan religious order in 1208.

 On almost every visit to San Francisco we go to a Sunday service at the Glide Memorial Church.   Located in the Tenderloin District, the "Glide" is unique among all the Christian churches I have visited. On any given Sunday you may be sitting next to a billionaire from Nob Hill or a crackhead from the streets nearby. I always come away with what a church is, or should be about,...serving all humankind.



 The "Glide Ensemble" is world famous and always leaves me joyous, often in tears, and very happy. Their song "Do Not Pass Me By" is my favorite!





 Whether grand or simple, churches have always been a focal point in every European city or village.  Marla and I once hosted a group of interior designers to Italy's Amalfi Coast. The Amalfi Cathedral was a favorite of our group. First built in the 9th century it has been remodeled numerous times, adding Romanesque, Byzantine, Gothic, and Baroque elements.


 While cycling through Umbria I stopped to visit "Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore" in the picturesque town of Spello. Wonderful frescos lined the walls. The nuns above were visiting from a nearby convent. 

 This Romanesque chapel in Villefranche Sur Mer is dedicated to Saint Peter, patron saint of fisherman. It was completely restored and decorated by Jean Cocteau in 1957.

 This is one of my recent religious pilgrimages. I cycled up the very steep climb out of Lake Como to visit the "cyclist' church" of the Madonna del Ghisallo. Cyclists from around the world pay their respects to famous Italian bike racers in this tiny chapel.

 Chapels come in every size and shape. I found this one in a tiny village in a hill town near Bolgheri Italy.


 Shrines and chapels are found throughout the countryside in Europe, especially in Italy and France.

The oldest formerly Christian church I have visited is the Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul Turkey. It was an amazing experience to enter this unique place of worship. It began as a Greek Orthodox Christian basilica and later became an Imperial Mosque. It is now a museum. Construction began in 537 AD and was completed in 1453.

The Hagia Sofia takes your breath away with it's majesty! You will see Christian frescoes along side sayings from the Koran. 

Our spiritual journey takes us to the famous Sultan Ahmed Mosque, commonly known as the "Blue Mosque" in Istanbul. This is "Grand entrance gate" to the mosque.

The interior is amazingly beautiful and is truly a holy place of worship.

Our last stop on this spiritual journey is actually a lesson in the serendipitous joy of being completely lost while navigating the souks in Marrakech.  Sometimes wonderful things happen when you explore on your own without a guide. We passed this very small mosque on our journey.

I hope you enjoyed this spiritual quest. Next we'll explore religious sites and rituals as we visit Thailand, Burma, Laos, India, China, and Bali. 

Images: Dick Gentry, Top image by Gary Gentry