Friday, September 23, 2011

Bruised and Battered Buddhas

I was bruised and battered, and I couldn't tell what I felt, I was unrecognizable to myself, I saw my reflection in a window I didn't know my own face, Oh brother are you gonna leave me wastin' away, on the streets of Luang Prabang...
Not a Buddha, but looking a little bruised and battered himself.
(Must have been all that Lion King from the night before).

When the Buddha statues that adorn temples, wats and shrines throughout the many villages surrounding Luang Prabang start to look a little worse for the wear, they aren't thrown away, or recycled, or melted down to create new Buddhas.  Instead, they are sent to a retirement community of sorts.
Riverside retirement community.
In Florida this would be valuable real estate (except for all those steps).
For centuries, villagers have brought their broken Buddhas to live in the Pak Ou Caves, a two-hour boat ride up the Mekong River from Luang Prabang.
Pak Ou Caves: not especially cozy.
This is the lower cave.
The upper cave.
The lower cave is brightly-lit and jam-packed with Buddhas of all sizes, arranged in clusters.  Sitting Buddhas, standing Buddhas, reclining Buddhas, metal, stone and gold Buddhas.  Buddhas are lined up along the top of rock formations and tucked away into nooks.  Buddhas are everywhere.


But it's the upper cave that is more dramatic.  If the lower cave is an every-man'sbuddha's cave, then the upper cave is the VIPB cave.  This cave is larger, deeper and much, much darker.  As your eyes adjust, a row of large, human-sized Buddhas slowly reveal themselves along one side of the cavern wall.  An alter contains ashes of recently burned incense.  These Buddhas may be broken, but they haven't been abandoned.

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