It is described as enjoying the perfect location for its purpose: a serene and beautiful, if unremarkable, rural environment, yet with excellent transport links to rest of the country and beyond. The small Staffordshire settlement of Kings Bromley is the unlikely home of an important Thai Buddhist Temple.
The temple now has a new name, the Wat Mahathat, in honour of the temple in Bangkok where the Abbot, Dr Phramaha Laaowa Panyarsiri, first studied. His is a remarkable story. Born into an extremely poor family on the North-East of Thailand, he arrived as a missionary in the UK knowing little English, but gained an M.A. from the S.A.O.S., London University, a doctorate in Theology from Birmingham University,and has been the friendly, wise, and much loved leader of this religious community for some years.
Yesterday, the monks hosted a colourful ceremony and festival to commemorate this, and four other causes for celebration: the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth; the 80th birthday of Queen Sirikit of Thailand; the 2600th anniversary of the enlightenment of the Buddha; and the bestowal of a title in the personal gift of the Thai King to the Abbot. Thrilling traditional dancing, and speeches from dignitaries of various sorts, entertained some gloriously attired members of the Thai community who had come from far and wide for the event, along with some local guests. A fabulous banquet of delicious Thai food, presented exquisitely, ensured that no-one went hungry. When the invitation was read out at the Kings Bromley WI committee meeting, my big paw went up straight away to volunteer to attend!
Back at school in Aldridge in the 1970s, a shambling, russet bearded master, (nickname of Synagogue Sam) taught a syllabus that included a cursory glance at world faiths in what was then called “Religious Studies”. That was my first intriguing introduction to the “Four Noble Truths” the “Eightfold Path” and the concept of Karma.
Yesterday, the Buddhists who addressed us spoke of human fellowship, respect for others and their beliefs, and praised the example of faith and devotion to duty set by both the venerable queens whose life-size portraits crowned the stage. Gifts were exchanged, and a dozen flower arrangements ceremonially set down, to the tunes of “Land of Hope and Glory”, (twice), the melodious Thai National Anthem, and “God Save the Queen” – including that awkward second verse. A representative of the Hindu religion found it easy to pay respect to the common ground between his faith and theirs, and the words of the Anglican priest, the Welsh Methodist, and even the Irish Catholic woman spoke in a similar vein. The Imams very emphatic formal statement of his Moslem faith, a precursor to a few short words about the need for the world to be responsible and “disciplined” at this time more than any other, was discomfitingly at odds with the ethos of the day. I saw a Rabbi earlier in the proceedings. He wasn’t even present at speech time. I came away with my warm feelings for both Buddhism and anglophone Christianity intact..
Eastfields House, was built as a Victorian gentleman’s residence. Along with the old vicarage, and Kings Bromley Hall, (demolished between the wars), it was one of the largest domestic buildings in the village, and, no doubt, enjoyed as a comfortable and elegant home, or an essential source of employment, by its former occupants. Emphasised by constant repetition was the gratitude felt by the Thai people who spoke, of the hospitality shown to them by the United Kingdom as a country and Kings Bromley in particular. Eastfields House is appreciated, loved, and well used to the benefit of all. Classes in English are held to learn about the Buddhist faith and the art of meditation.