I have visited the Big Buddha and the famous Chalong Temple several times, both are spiritually stimulating places and I participated in as many of the rituals as possible. Both of these Temples are visited by many tourists along with locals. I am moved more and more by the Buddhist faith, both intellectually and by the heart. I am also moved by the devotion of the people I have met. It is a peaceful personal devotion, it centers in the person’s heart. No one has tried to convert me, judge me or sell their faith. Fact is I find it hard to learn of the faith. I have read several books on Buddhism, even the “Buddhist for Dummies” book, more and more I find it fits me.
So when I ran into two friends from Chalong who were headed to the temple I jumped at the chance to join them. My good friend Chris is here from Seattle so he came too. We piled on the motorbikes, riding three to a bike is common here, and off we went.
This is a relatively new Temple still under construction. This is a Temple for locals and we were the only farang there. The artwork and detail of the buildings are amazing but the interior is stark and unadorned. The girls showed us what to do, some was familiar to me but I told Chris, just do what they do. First we bought bottled water at an outdoor stand then we added the water to a tray which contained our offerings to the monks. The offerings are simple things like toothpaste and umbrellas, things the monks have forgone in their simple lives. With the practical offerings we added flowers, a small figurine of our personal Buddha’s. This is determined by the day of the week in which you are born, I know mine and Chris had to guess. Iphone has an app for figuring this out, of course, hahaha. With the offerings we placed a “blessing note” listing family members we wanted to give special blessings to. I added the crew of Furthur to my list.
Next we kneeled in front of the Monk and placed our trays in front of us. The kneeling part is hard on my old bones so I cheated a bit making sure my feet did not face the monk. At each juncture we kneeled lower with hands in prayer position and touched them to the ground three times. A monk sat amongst us and at one point everyone in the room connected by hand to each other and then to the monk, I could feel the energy passing through me and a glowing smile came over me.
After a session of chanting, all of which everyone but us seemed to know; we each took our offerings to the monk. He must of asked my friend Dia where we were from as I heard her say America. The monk said “good luck to you” in English to me and I said thank you in Thai.
We left the building after giving a “small money” donation. Outside we bought some food to feed the Temple dogs. It is hard to describe the feeling I have after such encounters. Seeing my friends glow with happiness is wonderful and I am sure I was glowing too. A blanket of calm comes over me enshrouding me in peace.
As I have been seeking religious experience most of my life and certainly on this voyage one is drawn to comparisons. My experiences with churches in the South Pacific were rejuvenating. All along the path I found people happy to share but not push their personal faith. As with this visit to the Buddhist Temple, I have been the only white person (or persons with me) at many a communion, always greeted with warmth but not as a target. The people of the Pacific and SE Asia have a profound peace about their faith, willing to share the experience but now their personal beliefs. I think they rely on the experience to teach and it certainly has for me. I have left many a Christian and Buddhist experience “knowing” but not having been told.
Our hosts at this pilgrimage were not the high end of the social ladder, they might not even be welcome in many churches back home, and they certainly would have been judged. Both Buddha and Christ surrounded themselves with people of all walks of life. Christ would have been very much at home with my hosts yet his modern followers would judge and scorn them. Whenever I read the history of Christianity and Islam or see the modern atrocities committed by organized religion I picture Christ and Mohammad sitting on a cloud shooting the breeze then seeing what their followers are doing in horror. I see Jesus looking down and exclaiming “where did they get that! I did not say that!” at the Inquisition, the KKK, witch hunts, child abuse and slavery all supported by their followers.
I am sure the history of Asia has its horror stories but it would seem that Buddha has passed his message of peace on well. I hope all of you can find the peace I have found giving toothpaste to a shaved head monk.