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A guiding light

The abbot at Wat Srinagarindravararam, Gretzenbach

(swissinfo.ch)

The abbot of the Wat Thai centre, Dr Thongsoon Rongthong, has lived in Switzerland for 14 years.

Julie Hunt caught up with him at the new Buddhist centre.

I meet him in a richly decorated prayer hall in the Buddhist centre. A formidable figure in his opulent orange silk robes, he sits cross-legged on a raised platform, like the giant Buddha statue by his side.

We are surrounded by flowers and incense. The walls are festooned with pictures of the Buddha, the floors with richly woven oriental carpets. It is a place of peace, a doorway into another world.

This tranquil, healing place seems to have worked its magic on a number of out-of-sorts visitors, according to Dr Rongthong.

"One lady from Rheinfelden was in a bad way and was advised to come here. When she saw the lovely temple she shouted out 'This is the place for me'. She and her husband have been coming back ever since and she is now well."

Blessed

Dr Rongthong says many visitors with acute or even terminal illnesses have made a full recovery after being blessed at the temple. He is often asked to bless marriages, children, and even new homes.

The abbot believes that the key to happiness is having a spiritual as well as what he calls a material life.

"The more we have, the more we want - there is no end to it. It is important to learn to be happy with what we have, rather than always seeking more. That is what I have to instruct western people to understand. In the same way that the body cannot exist without the mind, materiality - the ownership of things - must go hand in hand with spirituality."

The way to faith

I asked him whether more Swiss people were turning towards Buddhism as a release from the stresses of everyday life, or a reaction against western religions.

Dr Rongthong was unsure about the numbers, but believes it is not important which religions people practice as long as they have faith.

"Whatever religion we practice, we have the same aim - to guide people to do good and to prevent people from doing harm. You can get to Zurich by plane or train or car. In the same way you can get to religion by many different ways of transport."

Theravada Buddhism is the strictest form of the religion, with 227 rules. I asked Dr Rongthong how difficult it was to live under such a strict regime.

"It's hard if you don't like the rules. But human beings are very selfish creatures. They need to have rules to live by, otherwise there's nothing to distinguish them from animals".

swissinfo, Julie Hunt

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