Golden Ratios and The Sublime: Mathematical Musings and the Golden Triangle, Thailand (Part 1)

Seated golden Buddha against a gray sky

Golden Buddha ~ Golden Triangle (2005)

We are currently having renovations done in our ‘new’ home. Every time I watch the builders calculate the square meterage of a floor or wall, I’m reminded how many of us, back in those dim-distant school days, complained about studying maths, and claimed that we “would never need it in real life.” If you talk to a mathematician, however, mathematics is life. At least since the time of the early Greeks, and probably earlier, people have been using numbers to describe the patterns found in nature, and have used the resulting formulae to argue for beauty – and even to ‘predict’ divine intentions.

No surprise, then, that when you google “Golden Triangle”, one of the entries that pops up relates to Euclidean geometry and the golden ratio that forms the hypotenuse of the golden (or sublime) triangle: that magical isosceles triangle that is in “Divine Proportion” and is the basis for perfect pentagrams and logarithmic spirals…

More maths, right?

The Golden Triangle I was looking for is that 950,000 square kilometres of mountains that, until the early 21st century, was responsible for most of the world’s heroin production. The somewhat contradictory “divine” heart of this region is a golden Buddha, sitting at the at confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers and at the intersection of three countries: Thailand, Myanmar and Laos.

The first time I visited this giant Buddha, I remarked on how the imposing image sits serenely, looking over the Thai lands below, apparently oblivious to the gambling casinos across the waters behind it. (Gambling, of course, is one of the least of the issues challenging the wild, border regions of the Triangle.)

On our recent visit, it was the seeming-contradictions within the shrine area itself that struck us. For while there is ample opportunity to pray and/or pay respects, there is also noise and glitz; an almost carnival atmosphere entreating you to spend money.

Golden Buddha amid signage, umbrellas, and other images

Toilets, trinkets, icons and a golden Buddha. (2011)

Seated Golden Buddha against a blue sky with white clouds.

Overlooking the Thai countryside, the Golden Buddha at the centre of the Golden Triangle.

Close-up: the hand and head of the giant golden Buddha against a blue sky.

Tiny lizard under the protection of the giant Buddha.

Blue Buddha image and Thai King

In the shadow of the golden Buddha: a blue Buddha image and the royal emblem of the Thai king.

Golden figurines (Mae Nang Kwak) in celephane

Buy some good luck for your business: Mae Nang Kwak for sale.

White figure of Phra Sangkajai, looking like the laughing Buddha

Toss your coins at the belly of Phra Sangkajai! Although he looks like Budai, the laughing Buddha, the sign says this is Phra Sangkajai, a respected teacher of the dhamma.

Three terracotta coloured buddhist images against a blue sky.

Three more divinities.

View: Golden Buddha sitting above the Mekong River, the Mountains of Myanmar behind.

A commanding presence over the mighty Mekong River, the Golden Buddha sits in front of the mountains of Myanmar.

Mekong view: mountains and mists , with the golden Buddha in the distance

View from our room: Morning mists on the Mekong: Thailand on the left. laos on the right and Myanmar straight ahead.

I actually think this Buddha is more impressive from a distance, where it commands attention from the surrounding hills and all along this section of river.

It was our point of reference as we explored the temples and markets of today’s Golden Triangle.

More about that some other time. In the meantime, happy travels!

  • gabe - February 26, 2012 - 5:17 am

    Chaotic scene and a lovely weekend.ReplyCancel

  • Signe Westerberg - February 28, 2012 - 12:56 am

    sounds fabulous…I too think the Buddha looks more impressive from a distance where the trimmings aren’t as obvious and the commercialism out of sight. Such a fabulous array of pictures and memories,ReplyCancel

  • […] (Two Artists: Contrasting Visions), to Golden Buddhas with their backs to casinos and drug trade (Golden Ratios and the Sublime); I’ve said before that Thai temples are not all the same (e.g.: Temples and […]ReplyCancel

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