Thursday, May 21, 2009

Morning With The Monks

The weather has changed and I guess that we are now officially in the rainy season.

Last Friday we spent a very rainy day in Bangkok dealing with American bureaucracy - not that American bureaucracy is any worse than any other but when it involves your own country it is much more difficult to tolerate if not to accept.

On our bus trips between Udonthani and Bangkok, the seasonal weather change was most apparent the further south that we were. The rains have flooded many of the rice paddies and it is amazing what a difference a little water makes. The flooded fields that a month ago were desolate and barren are now bursting with bright green rice shoots. Farmers were busy in the fields preparing the land for planting. Earlier this month, on May 11th, Thailand celebrated "Royal Ploughing Day". The festivities which were telecast over national television, involve royal officials plowing the earth outside of the Grand Palace in Bangkok using a team of oxen. The ceremony in conjunction with religious observations is an offering for a good harvest and is an indicator if it will be a good harvest. After the oxen have finished plowing they are offered plates of grass, corn, rice, beans, sesame, liquor, and water. The Royal Soothsayer observes what the oxen choose to eat and makes his prediction for this year's crops.

This year the oxen ate corn and grass. The Royal Soothsayer has predicted a good year with abundant rains and healthy crops. It is too early to determine the accuracy of the crop prediction, but we have been getting plenty of rain - so far.

Today we went into Udonthani to celebrate Duang's brother's new home. He has bought a home on the street next to Wat Matchimiwat where many of the Luuk Thung performers live. He had rented a place there but his landlord needed money, so she sold him a place for 40,000 baht ($1,143 USD).

We arrived early at his home and work was still going on getting it prepared. His place is directly across the street from the Wat so I grabbed one of my cameras as well as the video camera and walked over to the Wat. There always seems to be something going on at a Wat in Thailand. Even when there is nothing exciting going on at a Wat, they are refuges from the din and chaos of the city or village life. Wats always have many trees and plants on their grounds. The trees and flowers on the Wat's grounds provide a very peaceful as well as tranquil respite from the world - including dealing with bureaucracy! This morning was no exception. The restful noises of the chirping birds was joined by the rhythmic sweeping of coarse brooms on the concrete and tile paving. The Monks of the Wat were busy cleaning the grounds. There were 30 Monks busily sweeping up dirt, debris and leaves. The Monks were mostly young boys and young men. Two older Monks were obviously in charge but they also swept along with the boys.

The Monks toiled mostly in silence. Being young boys, despite being Monks, the workers were quite amused and giddy about being photographed. Their smiling and curiosity did not interfere with their duties. Fortunately they were able to complete the cleanup prior to the onset of today's rains. I ended up finding shelter beneath an exterior stairwell of one of the Wat's buildings. Our rains are not day long events. Although it may rain most days, the actual duration for the rain is around 2 hours. Today the rain although heavy at times was over in twenty minutes.

When the rain had completely stopped, a small procession entered the Wat grounds and circled the assembly hall three times. A young man dressed in white lead the procession. He was going to be ordained as a Monk today. His family and friends were with him to witness this major milestone in a Thai man's life.

I joined the witnesses and spent the entire ceremony photographing and filming the ritual. Although I had witnessed the ordination ritual several times, each time that I do I understand more and develop a greater appreciation for the tradition and devotion associated with the ceremony. I am also amazed at how free and open the Thai people are towards "outsiders". Photographing and filming of Buddhist ceremonies is not an issue. Interjecting yourself into a family's celebration is not resisted or resented. In fact at the end of the ceremony, a representative of the family invited me to join them for dinner. As best as I could I thanked them and explained to them that I was having dinner with my brother-in-law across the street as part of his house warming celebration
I returned to my brother-in-law's home and observed the preparations for the arrival of the Monks. Around 10:45 A. M. five Monks arrived from the Wat. The Monks sat atop the elevated concrete structures that had been built in the front part of the house. Sahts were placed on the tile floor for everyone else to sit. Plastic chairs were also placed outside on the sidewalk for guests to sit. There was a ceremony lead by a Brahman with the Monks supplementing the ritual. After the ceremony, the Monks were given offerings of food. There was a great quantity and variety of food given to the Monks. When they completed eating their meal, the leftover food was taken outside of the house and the neighbors, and other guests ate it as part of their meal.

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