Big Buddha Day

Body and head of the Chauktatgyi reclining Buddha.

When I say "big," I mean it in the physical sense ... I saw what I believe is the second largest reclining Buddha in Myanmar. I also saw the "Five Storey" seated Buddha, who isn't as large as the "Ten Storey" Buddha in Pyay (which I haven't seen). "Mine is bigger than yours." Interestingly, size DOES matter to Buddhists, at least when it comes to Buddha images and Pagodas. Why? Because you need to "make merit" to be reincarnated as a higher life form in your next life. There are many ways to make merit, but the logic of the hierarchy fails me: I only repeat it as I understand it. Obviously, having good karma (right thought, right actions, etc.) is important. But, like Christianity, there's a certain ability to buy your way into a better state. You make merit by giving money (or food, or whatever) to monks. You make merit by giving stuff to nuns, but you make less merit. I asked why, and was told that it's because the nuns have so many fewer precepts to uphold: only about ten compared to the 228 or so of the monks. Clearly the monks are more righteous (my word). This means there are less nuns, and they have more trouble getting donations. You make merit by giving to beggars, but clearly they are upholding no precepts at all, so it isn't too much merit. I think both Buddha and Jesus would have disliked this logic. And ... you make merit by building pagodas. The bigger, the better. Many kings, and even Ne (pronounced "nay") Win, the previous general in charge of this country, have had a crack at this. Look at the incredible number of pagodas at Bagan (around 2500, depending on who you ask).

Head of the Chauktatgyi reclining Buddha.

The eyes of this Buddha are particularly disconcerting (sorry, it doesn't show well in the picture). I would hesitate to call them "realistic," but they're disconcerting and mesmerizing. They're three foot pieces of glass made by the local Na-Gar Glass Factory which I visited the last time I was in Yangon. Na-Gar is a very low tech place, producing some rather simple but nice products. The owner seems to always be happy to give tours - he doesn't advertise locally, but his factory is in just about every tourist guidebook there is. He's proud of the eyes and likes to talk about them: they were difficult, and required dozens of attempts to finally produce a product to stare you down.

The image is inside a very large and rather unattractive metal shed. For a very interesting comparison of styles, take a look as well at the Wat Pho Reclining Buddha in Bangkok.