White temple, Buddhism vs Animism


» Country? Thailand.

» In a few words, what is the idea? This monastery opens a gate to the underworld and we are curious about its meaning, which is different in the Buddhist and animist conceptions. We address this question.

» Duration? 30 minutes.

» For whom? Visitors to this temple intrigued by the disturbing underworld.

» Where? The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) in Chiang Rai.

» When? All year long.


The visit to the always surprising Wat Rong Khun or White Temple, in Chiang Rai, is an opportunity to comprise one of the fundamental differences between Animism and Buddhism, we refer to how they understand human behaviour and its consequences.

White Temple in Chiang Rai

Before you enter the main building by crossing a bridge, there is a moat whose content is truly disturbing.

What is the significance of all those imploring hands with gestures of distress?

Taking advantage of the freedom enjoyed by the viewer, once the artwork is exhibited, we can hazard a Buddhist reading in which the moat represents the realm of hungry spirits.

Wat Rong Khun or White Temple, Chiang Rai.

A place that recalls the Christian purgatory depicted at the bottom of the wheel of law, in which one suffers greatly and is reached after a life with too many immoral deeds, personal decisions made at times when one could and was free to choose. The law of Karma.

The term hungry spirits is interesting because it refers to the result of being dominated by one’s own desires, with the impossible eagerness to satisfy them indefinitely, in a spiral that leads to a hellish existence. You yourself create your own hell.

Our friend Ked offers us the Animistic interpretation.

She says they are the hands of those who have no one to care for them after death. They have no father, no mother, no children, no boyfriend, no wife, no friends to go to temples to care for their souls, so they have no other choice but to beg themselves.

The first scenario (Buddhist viewpoint) is the result of negative personal behaviour in earlier lives and in the course of successive reincarnations. Everyone will have another chance.

The second scenario (Animistic viewpoint) is the result of very unfavourable circumstances on earth, largely unrelated to the behaviour that they displayed in the world of the living and which is now projected directly in the underworld where they are located. It is a pity.

Interesting, isn’t it?

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Article Name
White temple, Buddhism vs Animism
You know that the underworld is always disturbing, no matter if it is a Buddhist or an animist, but they are not the same. The visit to the White Temple is a great opportunity to know why.
Publisher Name
Manuel Francisco Jalón

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