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re: Angkor Wat

Jan 25, 1998 04:55 PM
by jim meier

RE: the Cambodian temple complex of Angkor Wat, Mark wrote

(clip)...  I think I read somewhere (Joesph
>Campbell?) that the sculptures are only found on the outside of the
>temple walls and a little bit inside. As the worshipper progresses
>inward, they gradually dissappear until in the central inner chamber,
>there is nothing at all. From ecstatic forms of love to the formless.
>What abeautiful idea. {If there isn't a temple like that, someone should
>build one.}

Angkor is a large complex of temples and buildings, and the largest of
these is commonly called Angkor Wat.  It was the capital of the ancient
Khmer empire and later the seat of Theravada Buddhism in SE Asia.   It is
presently occupied by armed temple robbers and is located in NW Cambodia,
an area heavily mined in the recent conflicts there.  This is one of the
biggest tragedies in recent times, and local papers carry stories of
tourists sniped there every now and again.  Contemporary pictures of Angkor
when compared with the 1940's photos show that most of it has been

There *is* a temple more like what you described -- Borobudor in central
Java.  It is (likely) the archetype for Angkor, and was built around the
year 800.  It is the largest Buddhist monument, and one of the largest
structures of any kind in the world.  It is a mountain of large volcanic
stones, arranged in a plith (multi-level staircases) and from the air forms
a giant mandala.  It is designed so that pilgrims walk around each of the
five levels, and the life and stories of the Buddha are carved in the
meter-high stones that make up the walls and every inch is part of the
murals.  After the fifth level, there are three concentric circles, the
first two with 72 minor stupas containing statues of the Buddha; the third
is a solid stupa crowning the mountain.  The stupas are made with "windows"
showing the statues inside, and these are diamond- shaped on the lower
level and block openings on the middle level -- representing that adeptship
has "levels of stability," and it is possible to stumble from the path in
the early stages (diamonds can be tipped over), less likely to stumble at
later stages (one can tip over a square, but it takes more effort) and the
final, crowning stupa is solid with no openings at all.  Full enlightenment
is complete.

Buddhism was replaced by Hinduism in Java sometime after the 11th century,
and Borobudur was mostly abandoned (as was Angkor).  This is the part I
find so fascinating -- Borobudur was not only abandoned and overgrown, it
was partially buried by volcanos and only excavated early this century (and
this is a BIG monument, on top of it's own hill - "pilgrim's walk" around
the levels is about 2km in length).  To me, the excavation of Borobudur is
symbolic of the work we each have to do to reveal that which exists but has
been forgotten.


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