Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Carry the Water
In the states we come together to "worship", and of course the litmus test of any political candidate is his or her professed belief in God. This, when you think of it, is so highly comic and nonsensical that one's head should explode at the very notion. I know it is based on the idea that if a person attends a Christian church and professes a belief in a supernatural being they are therefore more likely to be a person of sound morals and character, but aside from the simple historical rogues gallery of pious perverts and liars, from Bill Clinton through Richard Nixon straight back through the roster of early popes and so on, there is the simple irony of positing that "the person best suited to fairly and impartially lead needs, above all, above intellect, or experience, or background, or training, a devotion to a supernatural and mystical set of unprovable suppositions." Hmmmm. Well, while we gather on a regular basis at a set time to follow rituals, the Thais here tend to "practice" their faith individually or as a family. there is much "making merit" which means doing good deeds by helping monks, the temple, or the less fortunate either directly or through the temple. This is often a food or money gift. Unlike in a church, they see a direct connection between "giving" and "getting". You give and you receive good luck in return. We would pooh pooh this as mere superstition, thinking ourselves far beyond this, which is perhaps why the passing of the plate in a Christian church is so fraught with conflicting emotions and thoughts: "How much should I put in? How much is everyone else putting in? What am I doing this for? I only put in X dollars, now I feel cheap. I put in X dollars, am I just showing off? etc." The second event which led to my consideration of these public/private belief issues was a trip to a "fundraising ceremony" at a local Wat to which my friend Rambo took me.
The large turnout was due to the head monk, seated in the center below. After so much hubub, I was taken aback by his youth. Rambo explained that he had risen quickly and also told me that he had passed the very highest exams, which took me aback as well. As in Christian churches, a temple's fate often follows the charisma of its leader. This young man had been acknowledged by the king himself with a gift of some of the king's clothing, which imparted a resounding endorsement in the eyes of the locals.
So am I ready to "convert" to Buddhism? I certainly have no idea. I know that living here I can really look at people like Jes, my field director and a long time, deeply reflective Buddhist, with nothing less than respect and admiration, just as I do all reflective and honestly seeking Christians, trying their best to chart the waters of life. I tried my best to explain to my older students, in a completely non-proselytizing manner, the origins of the celebration of Christmas. I put it this way; Most of you are Buddhists, yes? So you know the story of Buddha, how he left his home and went into the wilderness and he became aware of how things really are? Well in Christianity there is also a story, and it is about a boy who was born in a special way and Christians believe he was really the son of god and he came to tell people how things really are. And so Christians celebrate the day that boy named Jesus was born. Fortunately I had Boom who went to a Christian primary school, though she is a Buddhist, there at NYS to translate it for me, and I had Leudee at Thai Samakee, who is a practicing Catholic to translate there. Who knows what they got? They looked at me pretty seriously while I was talking, but that might have been because it was one of the few times I have not been antic and goofy, and they were worried I might be dying or something. Anyhoo, then we did vocabulary like sleigh and star and I showed them pictures of my boys from long ago with snowmen which made me lonesome for a handful of the stuff and made me realize that 99% of the faces I was facing would live and die without ever seeing what I was describing.
So we made our own snowflakes, which is the ulitimate, ultimate Thai kids project with their love of detail and projects, and we listened to Jingle Bell Rock, which, if we're lucky, they will know by Christmas.
I extend to all my family, friends, and the strangers who do and do not read this blog, believers and non-believers and seekers such as myself, all of you carrying the water this Christmas, my love and wishes for peace.