Around 20 years ago, during a meeting of villagers at an abandoned, rural temple, Chalermchai Kositpipat declared his intention to build a magnificent new temple there – a place that tourists would come in droves to visit.
The proposal was met with boos and jeers: people at the meeting thought that he was just a boastful dreamer. But Chalermchai Kositpipat’s words on that day became true. On that land in Chiang Rai Province now stands Wat Rong Khun, a beautiful white temple and a top tourist attraction.
"It was no fluke. I already knew I was going to create something great for the nation and the world,” said the 2011 National Artist.
He recalls how his travels around the world helped him realize that art is such a valuable thing for this planet. The initial inspiration behind the Rong Khun Temple came from having the opportunity to dedicate himself to working at the Buddhapadipa Temple in London. Afterwards, he returned to Thailand filled with so much inspiration and faith in Thai art that he had to create his own temple. His creative desire was as great as that of Michelangelo, who created works of art in 3 disciplines: architecture, sculpture and painting,
Chalermchai explained that he built the temple with his own money. Unlike temple builders of former times, he was not hired by anyone. He intended to create a temple that was a great piece of art for the world.
"After I depart this life, the world will remember me as Chalermchai Kositpipat, an artist who dedicated his life to art until the day he perished, who built and dedicated this valuable piece of art (Wat Rong Khun) to the world, and who was then cremated in this same temple. I want to be like Antoni Gaudí, who built the Sagrada Família in Barcelona," said the artist bluntly and confidently, qualities for which he is well known.
"Those who understand finer aesthetic beauty shall travel to see the great arts that Thailand has to offer. I wish to see a contemporary art revolution among all Buddhist arts in this world so they are refined to their own unique identity, not influenced by any particular era. I am hoping that we can create a genre of arts that would be known as Thai works from the reign of King Rama IX. "
Part of the success of the Wat Rong Khun story comes from the artist’s Buddhist way of life. A practising Buddhist for more than 20 years, he rises before dawn to practice meditation and start working before the first light of day. Without being too assertive, forceful or overbearing to his subordinates, he sets a good example by his behaviour. One of the things he routinely does is walk around the temple grounds, picking up litter.
As for people management, he believes in transferring his extensive knowledge to his disciples, to broaden their skills. He uses his understanding of human psychology to deal with people. He likes to improve the lives of those who face poverty, with little education or from unfortunate backgrounds, by training them. He also tries to rehabilitate delinquents and other social misfits. He is, however, reluctant to recruit those more privileged, like university graduates, as they could be show-offs. He will only hire these people if they are as humble as someone who has only a primary school level of education.
"A human being will only thrive when they revolutionize themselves. They must not adhere or hold on to the idea of their own self but keep adjusting it to be in line with the characteristics of a great person, someone who knows their flaws and keeps correcting them, at all times,” he opined.
Responding to the global renown of Wat Rong Khun, Chalermchai emphasized that there was never a need to do any PR. “Not a penny was spent on advertising or any media publication.” Creating the best work of art is what brought success. He believes that quality works of art, even if hidden in the middle of a forest, will always find their audience.
Chiang Rai’s foremost artist summarizes that his working ethic consists of motivation, faith, and self-respect. We also need to constantly ask ourself whether we lack any skills or other qualities. Why were we only able to give 80 per cent when we should have given a hundred? What is lacking there? You must learn from that and work harder to become a human being who is extraordinary.”
Travel to experience this unique work of art at Wat Rong Khun, Phahonyothin Road, Pa O Don Chai Sub District, Mueang District, Chiang Rai Province. The temple is 13km from the city centre, by public bus or taxi
Thai Smile Airways flies to Chiang Rai International Airport from Suvarnabhumi Airport. Visit www.thaismileair.com