The temple of Reclining Buddha, formally known as Wat Pho, was the first stop on President Barack Obama’s Asian tour in 2013. Obama arrived at the temple, one of Bangkok’s most famous tourist sites, straight from the airport after landing in Bangkok on Sunday November 18, 2013. Followed by visit to see the king and the Thai Prime minister.
Observing traditional custom, Obama took off his shoes as a saffron-robed monk led him and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton inside the Vihara of Reclining Buddha and through the 18 Century temple’s stone paved compound of multi-colored spires and chapels with hundreds of gilded Buddha images.
Why Wat Pho?
Right next to the equally famous Grand Palace, Wat Pho’s main attraction is the reclining Buddha statue. The sole 46-meter-long statue’s feet are inlaid with mother-of-pearl depicting of 108 auspicious sign of the Buddha, while the statue itself is covered in gold leaf. Wat Pho is also home to a highly respected massage school, where Thai masseuse has trained since 1955. Visitors can drop in for a full traditional Thai massage or enroll in short or long-term courses. Unfortunately, neither Obama nor Clinton received a rubdown.
Clinton asked the monk why there was a Reclining Buddha Statue and she was told that it was a symbol of peace and success. The monk confirmed her believes and told Obama that if he would to be re-elected for the third term, he would win the election because he has paid homage to the reclining Buddha. Obama said he did not want to be re-elected for another term, as he want to take care of his family and pointed to Mrs. Clinton and said she would be the next president. All burst out in laughter.
After that both were introduced to the 96-year-old abbot of the temple, Phra Thammapanyabodi. Obama smile when he was told that he would live longer than 100 years because he had a chance to “wai”, a traditional way for Thai people to greet each other, a senior man with extra longevity like the abbot. The US president smiled even broader when the assistant abbot told him that he was like Bodhisattva as he was not just President of The United State but to the whole world.
Obama noted that he was interested in Buddhism and asked the assistant abbot why he had ordained to be a monk. The monk told The President it was not compulsory but in the last 50 years ago, children did not have a lot of opportunity to get a proper education and the only chance was to study while being a monk.
The temple tour marked by humour, respect, interest in Buddhism and before his departure, he gave three glasses in a box as a gift from the White House to the temple and signed a guest book at the temple.