Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Forest Monk

Forest Monk Performing Merit Making Ritual

Yesterday, we picked up two of Duang's friends from Udonthani and drove out into the countryside to pay a visit to a special Monk.

We drove out deep into the countryside much of it along a heavily potholed dirt road bordered on both sides by flooded rice paddies, wood lots, and rubber plantations.  Widely scattered about the countryside were solitary humble houses.

Our journey was to visit a special Monk.  Here in Isaan there are Monks renowned for their ability to heal people, to for tell the future, to determine auspicious days for life events such as getting marred or moving into a new home, and to exorcise evil spirits.  Some of the Monks are often consulted regarding selecting numbers for the various lotteries.

The Monk  that we were going to see had helped the woman that we were taking with us.  She is an old Mor Lam entertainer,  She used to perform in shows with Duang's father and care for Duang when Duang was a child. At one point she had mental problems and did not have a home.  She visited the Monk and made merit.  She is now cured and has a home.

The Monk lives out in very rural location in the Thai Forest Tradition.  The Thai Forest Tradition is part of Thai Theravada Buddhism where practitioners live in remote areas that serve as spiritual practice and training grounds.  Apart from the distractions of modern society, the Monks are better situated to meditate.

Theravada Buddhism in Thailand is comprised of two main orders:  Maha Nikaya and Dhammayuttika Nikaya.  Maha Nikaya is the largest as well as the oldest monastic order.

Dhammayuttika Nikaya was founded in 1833 by HRH Prince Mongkut, who later became Rama IV one of Thailand's most revered Kings.  The Dhammayuttika Nikaya is more strict in adherence to the Vinya, rules orally passed down from Buddha to his disciples.

Adherents of Dhammayuttika practice Buddhism and work to have a lifestyle like Buddha and his early disciples.  The Monks are referred to as "Forest Monks" because they live in forests just as the historical Buddha who often lived in the forests both during his spiritual quest and later.

I have written about the "Inside" and "Outside" Wats in Tahsang Village.  The difference between the two temples is that the "Inside" Wat is Maha Nikaya whereas the "Outside" Wat is Dhammayuttika Nikaya.  Duang prefers the Dhammayuttika Nikaya practice so we attend most of the events at the "outside" Wat but she is not adverse to attending rituals at the "Inside" Wat - another example of tolerance in Thailand and a demonstration of her adherence to the tenets of Buddhism.

Shrine to Elders of the Forest Monk Tradition
A very important aspect of the Forest Tradition is veneration for older Monks.  In the primitive sala of this Wat, the left shrine consisted of several photographs of elder Monks rather the typical large statue of Buddha in Maha Nikaya Wats.

Woman Offering Sticky Rice to Monk For His Single Daily Meal

Man Preparing to Offer More Sticky Rice to Monk
We arrived at the primitive Wat at 10:00 A.M., in time for the daily merit making ritual of offering food to the Monk for his single meal of the day which had to be consumed by Noon.

Monk Selecting the Food that He Will Eat

The sala where a majority of the merit making rituals are performed was very simple.  It was comprised of a concrete slab floor on which sahts (woven reed mats) were rolled out on for participants.  An elevated simple concrete platform was at one end of the sala. 

Monk Performing Ritual Associated With Accepting Food Offerings

The Monk sat on the raised platform to ensure that, in recognition of his higher status in this life, he was situated above the laypeople.  Three sides of the elevated platform were wrapped with stiff plastic nursery cloth - not the soft fabric that would be used in a baby's bedroom but the coarse woven plastic fabric used to shield plants from bright sunlight or to protect plants and their fruits from birds.  The partial enclosure offered some protection from winds.  Off to one side on the platform was a shrine.

At the other end of the sala, there was a simple table where rolled up sahts were stored. A breadbox sized heavy metal bell was suspended from the rafter at that same far end.

The paved area of the sala was covered with a bamboo pole and thatched paneled roof supported by six inch diameter (16 cm) wood columns cut from the surrounding forest.  To ensure more protection from the monsoonal rains, part of the roof was covered with a heavy vinyl  billboard poster - I believe from a previous election campaign.

Outside of the sala there were three spirit houses adorned with floral and food offerings.  There was also a large sheltered Seated Buddha statue.  There was also a very basic hut where the Monk slept.

Monk Showing Respect At Outdoor Shrine

In addition to participating in the merit making ritual of offering food to the forest Monk, Duang participated in a special merit making ritual along with the two other women ... but that will the subject of another blog; another day.

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