Dianne Kynaston visits South-East Asia

Visit to South-East Asia

During July I took a 9-day journey to South-East Asia, with fellow TS member, Gerard Brennan from Sydney. The main object of the journey was to visit Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but we were able to include in our itinerary a visit to TS Lodges in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and in Singapore.

At the recent Indo-Pacific Conference held in The Philippines the smaller lodges in these regions asked if overseas visitors would take the opportunity to visit their lodges whilst on holidays in their area. Thus we not only visited these TS centres, but I was able to give TS talks at both Kuala Lumpur and Singapore Lodges.

However, the value of these visits was not so much in the giving of talks, but in connecting with the members, many of whom we had met at previous conferences, and a number of members Gerard had met at Adyar 10 years ago, so such interaction helps to strengthen the bonds of our TS Family.

This was enhanced by the friendship and hospitality of the members in taking us out to meals and showing us around their cities, especially Bro. Siva and Sister Padma in Kuala Lumpur, and Bro. Sanne, Sister Lily and Brothers Vanesh and Dave in Singapore.

In Kuala Lumpur the meeting was attended by another Australian member, Karen Shakespeare from the Sunshine Coast Lodge in Queensland. Karen was on an extensive journey around South-East Asia, and took the opportunity to call in at the TS centres wherever she could.
The second half of the journey was spent at the city of Siem Reap in northern Cambodia. In the countryside and jungle surrounding this city are scattered the remains of the Khmer civilisation which existed roughly between the 7th-13th centuries as the city of Angkor, the capital of the Khmer Empire. When the king moved the capital to Phnom Penh the old city turned to ruins and the jungle took it over. In the 19th century it was rediscovered by French explorers, and even today the remains of various temples are still being recovered from the jungle.

The Khmer civilisation was a Hindu one, and so the various temples and palaces reflect Hindu cosmology, with Brahma, Vishnu and Siva being the prominent deities, and the architecture being laid out in the form of Hindu Sacred Geometry. Most of the decorations are of scenes from the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita, with some scenes being of Khmer history, particularly in connection with its monarchs. However, one king, Jayavarman VII, became Buddhist, and so he placed Buddhist sculpture into the Hindu setting. A later king reverted back to Hinduism, but Buddhism continued to dominate the Cambodians, and is their chief religion today.

It was interesting to see how much Hindu and Buddhist thought was intertwined, an example being the Buddhist monastery we visited on Mount Kulen, about an hour’s drive north of the city. A huge reclining Buddha was carved out of the mountaintop and enclosed in a small temple, but outside there were also statues of Siva, with a sacred lingam (a representation of male/female potency) dominating the open square in front of the temple. Here local people would wash themselves in the sacred water from the lingam and then give prayers to the Buddha. Both Gerard and I followed their example.

We visited the National Museum in Siem Reap, and were overwhelmed with one room, called ‘The 1,000 Buddhas Room’ in which there were literally 1,000 statues of the Buddha, ranging from tiny statues you could hold in your hand to giant sculptures. Although these were now set up in a ‘secular display’ the sacred power in the room was quite tangible, reflecting the devotions of thousands of minds and hearts over the centuries to these artworks and the symbols that lie behind them.

However, the most memorable image of the visit was that of the huge faces carved into the temples, especially at Angkor Thom. There is some debate as to who these statues represent, some thinking they are of the king, but most consider that they are a likeness of the king presenting himself as a vehicle of the great Bodhisattva, Avalokitesvara, revered in both Hindu and Buddhist religions, and known as Latoki in Cambodian literature. The serene smile on these huge faces leaves an indelible mark on one’s heart.
Dianne K. Kynaston
Newcastle Lodge, Australia