It has been a while since the last time I set my foot in a Wat (Thai Buddhist temple). Even though there is a Wat, Wat Buddharangsee, just around the corner where I live in Sydney, I only visit them once or twice. I often see a monk sweeping footpath and walking around the street. Thai take-away shop in the neighbour always offers them food as a merit making in Thai tradition. It is actually a very decent community.
In the past life back in Bangkok, I hardly went to monastery. I tagged along with my family when I was little, traditionally made merit for my birthday once a year and hunted for a fine astrologer occasionally. Nevertheless, I still tick the Buddhist box in the religion question if anyone asks. Its core philosophy makes sense when I question about life. It is not easy to find the single answer fits all. Buddhism does not necessarily give any solid solution that but surely gets you some perspectives. It is important for individuals to find their own paths to reach their achievements.
Anyway, a new book from Aukana Trust, a Buddhist charity organisation in UK, which uses one of my photographs as the cover, is out now. The Purpose of Life: The Essential Teaching of a Buddhist Master by Jacqui James, co-founder of Aukana Trust, is a compilation of his lectures.
Between these covers you will find a vivid and frank account of spirituality. This book is grounded in Jacqui James’s experience of searching for and realising enlightenment, and subsequently teaching the Buddha’s way.
In straightforward language Jacqui explains what genuine spirituality means, and in the process explodes many myths. There is a searching examination of Buddhism, asking: what is essential in the journey to enlightenment, and what is just tradition and folklore?
The emphasis throughout is on how modern women and men can apply the essence of the Buddha’s teachings. Jacqui shows how this can improve life beyond measure, how it leads onward towards enlightenment, and why this is the purpose of life.
It can be ordered online through Wisdom Books. I cannot wait for the book to be posted; not only to see how the photograph is like on paperback cover but also to re-explore the thoughts of that guy who named himself the awaken one, Buddha.
Grandparents, the Housekeepers
There are always rooms for gods no matter how crowded Bangkok is. Habitats of gods and spirits can be anywhere in any forms: elaborate shrines, old spirits houses, or even temporary set ups. They show how people spiritually relate to the lands and the offerings reflect the strong bonds between the both worlds, convenient ways to comfort their souls.
Thais are very connected to spiritual worlds. Gods and guardians are placed everywhere to make sure that there is something to hold on and look forward to. The divine powers may grant their wishes, give them strengths or, at least, ease their minds. The people are very good at making sense of this tangible world by referring to the beyond.
There are many ways to get in touch with those in the unknown territories. Burning joss sticks seems to be a symbol of making contacts and a tool for the communication. Spots where incense are burnt and stuck indicates the spiritual significances of the areas and the relationships of the people and their lands.
In the network of alleys in Bangkok’s Old City, not too far from the Grand Palace, there is a cluster of Buddha image business. This is the place they supply the physical body before those statues are put on in the middle of temples for worship so that the Buddhists can fill hearts and souls into them.
We go to this particular place, Hongsa Pathumawas Temple (à¸§à¸±à¸”à¸«à¸‡à¸©à¹Œà¸›à¸—à¸¸à¸¡à¸²à¸§à¸²à¸ª), for my birthday merit for another reason. It locates on Chao Phraya River bank in Pratumthani Province, 20 minutes drive from the northern outskirts of Bangkok. The riverside scene not only has less traffic and is more peaceful than the popular tourist spots in the city, the main attraction of this temple is fish. Actually, its nickname is Wang Pla Wat Hongsa(à¸§à¸±à¸‡à¸›à¸¥à¸²à¸§à¸±à¸”à¸«à¸‡à¸©à¹Œ – Swan Temple, Fish Palace) because people come here to feed fish as another way to make a merit.
There is always a triangular relationship among animals, human and religions in one way or another. We have been using animals as the medium to the spiritual world since the ancient time. In general, in Thailand, activities that could harm animals including fishing are not allow in Buddhist temples. Hence, they become sanctuaries for all sorts of creatures. Usually, stray dogs and cats are the most common to be found walking around without a hassle. Some places are famous for a particular wildlife such as monkeys, tigers and birds.
Wat Hongsa offers a row of piers for the merit makers to easily feed the fish and they can buy fish food there. Once the food is tossed into the river, the thousands of fish surface and strive for it. To be honest, it is more fun to watch them than anything else.
Moreover, there will also be a mass merit making this afternoon. They are preparing fish and food for, presumably, a corporate group along side with the monks to free and feed them. Those lucky fish, obtained from markets, will not be anyone’s dinner if they still hang around here.