Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Camping Out

My ambition and goal is to show extraordinary people doing ordinary things.  In so doing, I wish to show how different people can appear, to provide a glimpse of other cultures, to celebrate the diversity of mankind, and to demonstrate that despite our appearances we are so much alike.

Living here in Northeast Thailand and being married to an ethnic Lao Loum  woman, I am fortunate to have many opportunities to accomplish my goal.

I have mentioned to friends that photography is a great deal like life itself; you have to make the best and most of the opportunities that are presented to you.  You have to have the capability and mindset to adapt and take advantage of unexpected situations and conditions.

In the environment that I now live in there are many cultural events, religious rituals, religious events, and many normal daily activities of the local peoples which provide opportunities to witness, photograph, and strive to meet my photography goal.

The Ubiquitous - "Monks Participating in Tak Bat Ritual" Photograph

Many of my photographs involve Theravada Buddhist Monks, quite often Samanens, Novice Monks.  I am intrigued by the juxtaposition of Buddhist Monks albeit novices and quite often these young "holy" men behaving like the young boys that they also are.

Samanen Joking

Samanens of Tahsang Village Making Pop Guns
I try to observe, understand share the different aspects of monastic life of the Theravada Monks.  Being a Monk involves a great deal more than walking around each morning to get your one meal of the day and meditating.  Just as with life outside of the Wat - things are not always what they first appear to be; there are the ways that things are supposed to be and there is the way that things are.  I like to show how and what things are in my world.

The Monks are people's fathers, brothers, sons, and friends.  They are ordinary people who have chosen an extraordinary way for their path to enlightenment and liberation. 

The past week was a special ritual out at Luang Por Pohm Likit's Wat outside of Udonthani in Ban Maet.  For awhile a new sala, worship hall, has been under construction.  It has been completed now with tiled floors, corrugated metal roofing, and religious murals painted on the one full wall of the structure.  However, the sala does not have a Buddha statue for the raised area where the Monks sit to participate in rituals and to eat their one meal of each day.

On February 1, 2558 BE (2015 AD) there was a ritual to cast a 500 KG Buddha statue for the new sala.  The previous day was a day of intense preparation for the actual pouring of metal the next day.  Besides local officials who were to participate in the ritual, there were many visiting Monks, some from as far away as Chiang Mai - at least an eight hour drive from Ban Maet.  To participate in the ritual the Monks arrived early.

Luang Por Pohm Likit has a vey small and humble structure where he sleeps with no room for guests.  On the Wat grounds there are two very primitive huts for Monks who maybe studying or visiting - room for two Monks but not sufficient for the approximately 12 visiting Monks.

What to do?  There are no accommodations in Ban Maet.  There is no Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Motel 6, or Motel 8 in Udonthani but plenty of other hotels.  Not that it matters - in general Monks do not stay in hotels.  They stay at local Wats when traveling.

No problem - the visiting Monks brought their own sleeping accommodations to stay out in the forest with Luang  Por Pohm Likit - they brought their own tents.

Monk Tent City
There were actually quite a few tents set up at the Wat.  One area set up for the Monks was isolated by a fence constructed by suspending plastic green nursery cloth from bamboo poles, bamboo stalks (I can't bring myself to call a grass a tree), teak trees, and other trees.  Another area, near the bathroom/wash facilities of the Wat was filled with small single person tents for the women who were participating in the two night religious retreat and rituals conducted with the Monks. The final area off to the edge of the grounds was occupied by the 10 person statue casting crew.

A Bhikkhu Walks Over to His Encampment
The younger Monks, the Novices, set up their tents closest to the wash facilities and next to the hut that the young samanen from the nearby family uses.  The more senior Monks, Bhikkhus, had their tents located further into the bamboo thicket and away from the younger Monks.

Young Monk's Camp - Washed Robes Drying Out

After eating their one meal of the day, the younger Monks retreated to their tents - one would think that they would seek the solitude of their tent to either study or to meditate.  I am not sure if that is the way that things are supposed to be or not - the reality is that they were inside playing video games on their cellphones.  Boys being boys once again and perhaps the reason the older Monks sought more isolated areas for their tents.

Samanens After Eating Their One Meal of the Day

After Duang had completed her meal with the other lay people, we returned to our home for awhile to rest before returning in the late afternoon.

It had been an interesting visit out to the Wat and I had seen something that I had not expected or imagined - Monks camping out.  Reflecting back, it makes absolute sense but too often we do not allow ourselves to think or imagine what we are not familiar with.  I was fortunate to experience first hand another aspect of life as a Theravada Buddhist Monk.

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