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The day Buddhism came into my life, part 2

July 1, 2010

I almost forgot, Happy Canada Day everyone!  Being over here for such an amount of time I can say one thing with utmost certainty – Canada is great and beautiful country with room for improvement but that’s where we come in.  Wave the flag proud, drink a cold beer and wish someone HCD.  I wouldn’t want to wind up anywhere else.  (New Zealand sounds pretty sweet though. . . )

And so we pick up where we left off. . .

I awoke at my now standard 5:30 am to find students already milling about, getting started with their day.  Soon afterwards we were being ushered outside for intentions I had yet to discover but hopefully breakfast wasn’t far from top.  The temple, Wat Khao Sukim was enormous with many passages and pathways leading to different parts of the grounds.  All the while I’m snapping shots furiously as we come to an open cafeteria for breakfast of rice gruel.  Afterwards I’m going with the main current of students as we make our way to a tall buddha statue surround by four pillars and covered by a dome.  I’m standing watching students pray, while moments later my arm is being tugged as I’m encouraged to participate.  I make a donation and take a small bouquet of flowers and light three joss sticks.  Holding everything together between my palms I pray as I was taught and then step down from the statue’s gaze.
I follow the students to a new set of stairs and once inside at the top of the landing, I can tell this is something important.  Statues, vases, furniture, artifacts of all manner, shapes and sizes fill a room wall-to-wall no less the size of a school gymnasium.  Wow.  I feel my pulse up a notch as my finger twitches towards my camera.  I’m just about to get started when I look to a table and there in the unmistakable saffron and crimson robes is a monk speaking to me, asking me to kneel before him.  It takes a moment for my brain to demand my legs forward but once I do, I’m on the floor with my hand out stretched to the monk as he speaks to me both in Thai and surprisingly good English.
“Do you speak Thai?”
“Nit noy, kap” (A little – with respect)
He recognizes me as a teacher and then ties a small, braided white bracelet around my wrist and presents me with a  rolled up sheet of paper as if I just convocated.  I can’t think of anything to say but to give thanks while he invites me to take many pictures.  Ignorantly, I ask if I may take one of him.  He silently shakes his head.  A little embarrassed, I thank him once more and get busy with my camera.  The room unsurprisingly was a museum and featured hundreds of Thai and Buddhist artifacts covering hundreds of years.  Many artifacts relating to the King and Royal Family were also on display. 
A staircase going up led me to an open roof-top terrace with a couple smaller buildings open for viewing.  The view from up there was stunning – you could see for miles across to adjacent peaks and down into the thick valley below.  I wandered into a  little building and was marvelling over the pieces when I caught a glimpse of another disciplined looking monk sitting in a chair, quite silently.   Caught off guard and worried that I might break his meditation, I spun 180* and made for the opposite side of the room.  Peering over at the monk, he still hadn’t batted an eyelash, much less move or fidget.  “I have got to learn focus like that”, I thought to myself.  I edge closer and closer and the man is like some kind of statue, staring complacently into the wall on the other side.  I literally walk right up to him, regard the faded tatoo on his right arm and wave my hand in front of his face.  “What the . . .   Jeezus Kriest!!  He’s Wax!!” (A resin epoxy of some nature, but whatever).  I laugh in spite of myself and immediately take a photo.  That’s when I notice the English, water damaged sign hidden behind plastic leaves that reads “Please Don’t Touch”.  Right.  I walk back outside still grinning over the personal bit of drama I just went through when a student appears and informs me it’s soon time to head back to the bus.  “Nooooooooooo!  I’m not ready, there’s still so much to look at!”  Grudgingly, I start making my way back the way I came but before I exit the museum I see another seated monk (this one definitely real and much elder) speaking softly into a microphone.  To his left is a large urn, filled undoubtably with holy water, and resting next to it is a brush with long, stiff bristles.  On his right is a small collection of religious looking papers and trinkets.  Kneeled in front of him are six Thai people all bent over in prayer.  The monk speaks to them through the mic while he dips the brush into the urn.  The brush dripping, he flicks it over the heads of the worshipers while he speaks his blessing.  Once finished the Thai people stand, give thanks, some give donations and go about their way.  I make eye contact with this monk and from that point I’m the Millenium Falcon caught in the tractor beam.  Except this time it has nothing to do with an Inter-galactic axis of evil.  The next moment I’m kneeled down directly in front of him along with a few other Thai  who have joined.  I bow forward in deep prayer and the monk begins his sermon once again.  I feel the drops of water soak into my sweaty scalp and shirt and for a moment, I feel relaxed as my mind clears.  A moment passes and I start to look upwards when I feel round two of the water shaking.  Whoop.  After the  blessing, I’m beckoned by one of the non-monks to give a  donation.  I would have anyway and so I reach into my pocket, pull out a note and slip it into the box.  Before I walk away, the elder monk calls me forward, reaches under a scarf sitting next to him and from a bowl, he hands me a colourful braided bracelet.  It’s adjustable, but even so my hand is too large for it.  Looking down at it, I think this must be the most sacred adornments I’ve ever received.  Now I need to figure out where I can put it.  I thank the monk as graciously as I can and make for the exit.

It’s only 9 am but I’m already heading back down the great flight of stairs as other visitors are just arriving.  I wish I could have spent more time there and I wish I understood more about Buddhism.  That Intro to Religions in the East I took in first year has not aged well but thanks to Wikipedia I was fast refreshing myself back in town.
When I was walking down those stairs I was thinking about my first intense non-christian experience.  When I was in Pakistan immediately after high school with my good friend, Kareem, I remember being taken to a large mosque somewhere in Karachi.  Not realizing what was happening at the time, I remember suddenly finding myself in a long line of Muslim men about to commence prayer .  Thoughts like “sacrilegious”, “inappropriate” and “oh, shit” all came to mind but ‘when in Rome. . .’

And so I prayed like a Muslim and it felt really good.

There, on top of that mountain in such a holy place I prayed like a Buddhist and it felt really good.  It’s helped give some new insight towards how I feel about religion but I won’t get into that here.  Once those entirely unholy buses came into view my mind returned to more depressing and immediate matters.  The ride back needless to say was terrible to the point of me contemplating hitching or perhaps sabotage, but I made it back nevertheless.  Thank god I’m getting to know Thailand.


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