Twin festivals this month take to cinemas and malls to celebrate Lord Buddha and carry his message to the masses

Prayers in Paragon Hall. New iPad apps on meditation centres. A haunted house in which earthly desires stalk you like inexorable ghosts. A “dharma boy band” of singers interpreting their tunes through the spiritual looking glass. Then monks as film programmers picking movies that discuss virtues and vices in diverse voices. In short, Buddhism in a new setting: Buddhism in a mall.
Some ask why. Or others ask: why not? As part of the Sumbuddha Jayanti celebration to mark the 2,600th anniversary of Lord Buddha’s enlightenment, Buddhadasa Indapanno Archives together with city of Bangkok will host two major events with the aim to bring the prophet’s teachings close to the urban environment and throwing open the door to the study of the religion.
Tomorrow the “Lan Bodhi Festival: Temple in the Clouds” opens at Royal Paragon Hall and runs until Sunday, May 20. In early June, the first International Buddhist Film Festival opens at SF Cinema at CentralWorld, where 30 films with Buddhist-related themes will be shown, including a section of movies curated by respected monks (see sidebar on page 6).
Minus only the ferris wheel, the Lan Bodhi Fair is designed to be a colourful rendition of Buddhist-related activities, with the motif of transporting a temple fair into Bangkok’s biggest shopping centre. There will be praying sessions, traditional ngan wat games (dunks, for instance, in which players throw balls at symbolic, wordly vices), lectures, concerts, and booths promoting Buddhist activities. More than 100 Buddhist organisations will come together to enliven the fair, and the underlying concept is clearly to make the thought of Buddhism less boring, more in tune with the pace of urban life, and bringing the religion closer to the people.
The Lan Bodhi Fair _ the title signifies the tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment _ and the International Buddhist Film Festival were initiated by Buddhadasa Indapanno Archives, an organisation set up mainly to preserve the writing of revered abbot Buddhadasa Bhikku and to promote the learning of Buddhism. Run by laypeople, the archives have sought guidance from several monks in coming up with the two events. In trying to bring Buddhism into the new playing surroundings, in this case a luxurious mall, the organisers aren’t just taking a proactive step in re-adjusting the image of the religion, but also asking devouts to have an open-mind to the new and provocative way that Buddhism might be accessed and appreciated.
Admired by many as a strict and forward-looking cleric, Jayasaro Bhikku is one of the consultants. He told us in an email about the challenge of bringing a big Buddhist event to the unlikely venue of a downtown mall: ”This project is not aimed at promoting or preserving the essence of Buddhism. It is meant to be an open door into the Buddhist world, a portal. It might also be compared to an artistic provocation _ The Paragon Provocation.”
Jayasaro Bhikku is actually the one who initiated the idea of a film festival as a means to promote Buddhism. ”Speaking as someone who considers Shakespeare and Ken Loach amongst his earliest teachers,” he said, ” I believe in the power of drama to deal with topics like meaning and meaninglessness, love and hate, kindness and cruelty, selfishness and selflessness, justice and injustice, revenge and forgiveness, heroism and cowardice, wisdom and foolishness in stories that engage the emotions and provide memories that last a lifetime.”
At the fair this weekend, at least three new iPad apps will be launched. One of them is a nationwide guide to Buddhist retreats and meditation centres; another is an interactive e-book of the famous Kalanukrom, a timeline history of Buddhism told in paralell with world history, written by Phra Payut Payuto.
Shifting into a more exciting gear, Pod Moderndog, Arak ‘Pe’ Amornsupasiri and Tul Waitoonkiat are three headline rockers who will perform at the fair. It’s not clear how loud they would be allowed to be, but Santi Opaspakornkij, one of the event’s publicists, says that the musicians will show the audience how to interpret their songs along the line of spiritualism. Even a love song, for instance, can lead to the lesson of impermanence.
”Buddhism doesn’t have to be dull,” says the publicist. ”This way we hope to reduce the prejudice that some people may still have with learning the religion. We simply try move closer to everyone.”

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