Uncover your head. Remove your shoes and place them in the provided bag. Now, as your soles touch the cool marble floor, look up and be amazed at the pure size of the thing.
The reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok is 105 feet long and 50 feet high. It fills the entire building – from end to end and from floor to ceiling, with narrow a passageway on either side so you can make your way around it, admiring the satiny gold plating, the liquid lines, the huge feet.
Painted pillars give the impression of a cage, as if the Buddha were a specimen in a zoo. But he doesn’t seem to mind. He smiles serenely, right hand propping up his head. That right hand, I’ve since learned, means this isn’t an the Buddha on his death bed, as I’d thought. It’s the Buddha encountering the giant Asurindarahu. When the giant refused to bow to the Buddha, the Buddha made himself appear enormous, and then showed the giant the enormity of the heavens. Asurindarahu was duly humbled, as is the visitor to Wat Pho.
But it’s not just the scale that moves you. There’s a stillness here, and a coolness. Especially after the heat and hubbub outside. And soon you become aware of an ethereal music. Metallic percussion. Bells, maybe. Some notes are higher, some lower, some louder, some softer. But there’s no discernible melody. The rhythm is irregular, but each note has the same tone. It’s the way stars might sound, if you could hear them flickering.
Fill your ears with the sound as you make your way around the Buddha’s tall feet (undergoing restoration during our visit, a sign regrets to inform us). Start up the far side of the temple, and you discover the source of the music. And realize it’s not music at all. At least, not intentional music. Lining the wall behind the Buddha are identical metal bowls. One hundred eight — one for each of the auspicious characteristics depicted in mother of pearl on the soles of the feet we can’t see. For 20 Thai Baht, or about 70 U.S. cents, you can buy a dish holding 108 metal tokens, one to drop into each bowl.
I paid my 20 Baht, and contributed to the music, making myself, for the time that it took to return to the Buddha’s head, a part of the sacred architecture.