Thonburi on the west side of the Chao Phraya River is the true birthplace of Bangkok. When the palace moved onto the east side of the river to eventually form Rattanakosin Island, Thonburi’s development slowed and today is often known for its slower pace and retains more features of old Bangkok. Some locations are dated from the Ayutthaya period, including Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen established in 1610. This temple is old but it certainly does not look it. The original features are mostly gone, but what has replaced it is a modern and grand structure that puts people in awe. And all this development was made possible by a famous abbot who pushed the envelope on spreading meditation and Buddhism far and wide.
Luang Pu Sodh Candasaro was installed as an abbot in Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen in 1916, when the temple was neglected and had only 13 monks. Through extraordinary leadership and planning, he turned the temple around. His many milestones include growing the number of monks into the hundreds, establishing a school for Buddhist studies, creating a free primary school, building a kitchen that also provided charity, accepting nuns to practice Buddhism, and more. But his most lasting legacy is his teachings on Dhammakāya meditation. That was his central purpose and he turned the temple into a meditation center that drew people from far and wide, including monks of high standing from China and Japan. His influence is so enduring that his teachings are still being passed on by Japanese Shingon Buddhists who practiced at the temple.
Because of the solid foundations laid by Luang Pu Sodh Candasaro, Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen developed into a prosperous temple, supported by many of its well-off followers and community. The temple built a grand stupa that mixes modern design with ancient styles. Inside the five-storey structure is a number of intriguing features: a meditation center, a museum that collects a myriad number of second hand artifacts (including vintage cars), and a Buddhism relics room. The standout room is the top floor containing an emerald color sculpture of a smaller stupa with a beautifully painted dome ceiling that stretches a depiction of the Buddhist cosmos across the space. The color combination, intricacy, and detailed patterns are sure to make one sit and appreciate the stunning visuals for a time.