Sites are more than a means to an end
published : 4 Jan 2013 at 00:00
newspaper section: News
One of the most popular ways to welcome the New Year was Wai Phra Kao Wat, Wai Kasat Kao Phra Ong (the making merit at nine temples, paying respect to nine kings campaign).
The campaign is the brainchild of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
The TAT launched the Wai Phra Kao Wat campaign in 2010, as a way to boost visits to nine particular temples in Bangkok. Visitors are encouraged to seek particular blessings at each temple, each with its own unique sanctity, according to the TAT.
At Wat Chanasongkram, for instance, visitors can seek a blessing to overcome personal obstacles; the temple's name means "win wars".
Those who make merit at Wat Rakangkositaram, meaning "resounding bell" are said to become famous.
The campaign has proven to be a success for the TAT as visits to the nine temples have become a must-do weekend activity for many locals.
The Bangkok Mass Transit Authority has pitched in by organising special buses on weekends to transport the worshippers.
The TAT has also created a web page where Buddhists can pay online homage to the sacred Buddha images at the nine temples.
In addition to the nine-temple visit campaign, the TAT last month launched Wai Kasat Kao Phra Ong, to persuade people to pay respect to the statues of nine late kings of Siam.
The TAT called the tour a good activity to make merit for the New Year.
The nine statues are of King Taksin and King Rama I through to King Rama VIII.
When honouring the late kings, tourists are advised to ask for specific blessings as the kings were competent in their own unique way.
TAT has published a 40-page guidebook to make sure visitors ask for the correct blessings.
King Taksin, for example, was a great warrior who won many wars. The guide suggests asking him to bless you with a brave heart and strength to overcome all obstacles.
King Rama III was a wise trader. Ask him for wealth and good business sense.
King Rama IV was a prominent scientist. Ask him for success in science and technology-related works.
King Rama VIII sacrificed his youth to become the king at a young age. Young people who worship him are said to enjoy high intelligence.
It is clear why the TAT's nine-temple visit and the nine-king worshipping campaigns have become popular.
Most Thais like seeking help from supernatural powers to bring success, wealth, and popularity, instead of relying solely on their wisdom and hard work.
In terms of attracting tourists, both campaigns work well because they quench that thirst for spiritual support that Thais have.
There is nothing wrong, in theory, with seeking spiritual support from sacred Buddha images or late kings. Thais have been doing this for hundreds years.
The campaigns, however, will temper intellectual development in our society as they draw people away from a very basic principle of success: hard work.
The TAT needs to be careful not to promise too much when promoting the campaigns _ especially to young people who can be easily misled.
It would be damaging for the country's youth to assume the road to a good life and personal success is paved by making merit via a group of sacred temples and statues of kings from eras past.
The statues of our late kings will soon be surrounded by worshippers and offerings. Science students will pay respect to King Rama IV at Saranrom Palace and ask him to help them pass university admission exams.
Parents will bring their children to worship King Rama VIII statue to make them clever, and business operators will flock to King Rama III statue to ask for huge profits.
Thais should pay respect to our late kings, but not solely to achieve wealth, success or fame.
Buddhists should regularly visit the temples to learn about Lord Buddha's teachings, and to honour the sacred Buddha images.
The TAT may argue the campaigns are "tricks" to lure Buddhists to visit the temples and an introduction point for Thais to learn about the heroic acts of our late kings.
But if the TAT continues to promote the campaign this way, they will reduce the spiritual and educational value of Buddhist temples and the late king's statues.
Kultida Samabuddhi is Deputy News Editor, Bangkok Post.