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Places of Worship or Reflection

March 22, 2019

Some years in the past a prominent French businessman and close business associate departed to meet his maker. The author chartered a small jet to take a few of us from London over to Paris for the funeral service. It was a stormy day in December and the plane did everything but fly upside down. However, we arrived and entered a huge and very cold gothic cathedral to the sounds of sobbing young ladies while our friend’s wife was very well composed.  Apparently, our departed friend was quite popular in some circles. As the international media once ran a headline story that he had hired a hit man to visit his wife’s lover, it was reasonably clear that all had not been well on the home front for some time. In any event, as we sat in this somber place to pay our respects to a famous adventurer, the atmosphere in the cathedral was one of fear and depression rather than enlightenment and compassion.

An article in a recent issue of the Bangkok Post on Buddhist temples in the Phrae Province of Thailand provides a different slant on spiritual settings. There are several small Buddhist temples in the Golden Triangle where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar connect that typify the very nature of and spirit of Thai Buddhist temples. It is a gathering place for ceremonies, a home to Buddhist scriptures, and a comfortable place to be to come to grips with the reality of life. People are always welcome to come and stay in search of peace and enlightenment. In the small town of Sung Men, Wat Sung Men sits along the road. Interestingly, the Thai word “men” means porcupine and, as you might suspect, the gateway to the temple has statues of porcupines at the main entrance. The Buddhist monk is leading a procession of novices as they are about to enter the porcupine gateway to the temple. The message here is do not take yourself too seriously.

Elephants play a major role in the festivals of Wat Sung Men as they are deeply revered in Buddhist culture. There are very few somber faces at the event shown below.

The small Wat Sung Men happens to contain the largest collection of palm-leaf books of the teachings of Lord Buddha that date back as much as one hundred years. Every year the Tak Tham ceremony is held to clean the manuscripts, dry them and change the wrapping cloth that has deteriorated over the preceding year. Villagers join in the task of preserving the manuscripts to pass the process down to succeeding generations. One can see palm leaf manuscripts by prior arrangement in the Texas Hill Country town of Comfort which sounds inviting in its own right.

Further along in Phrae Province is Wat Phra Luang That Noeng that has a leaning pagoda that dates back many centuries as well. There are a number of works of art such as the monk seat that provides a bit of history as well. 

There is a belief that six centuries ago a king of Sukhothai travelled past what is now Ban Kwang of Sung Men district. One of his favorite elephants died so he had a temple constructed in remembrance of the elephant. Wat Kunchon Nimit is visited by people who come to pray and crawl underneath the elephant for good luck. It seems to have worked by the looks of the smile on the face of the young lady below. The murals on the wall depict Lord Buddha in his teachings.

One conclusion is that religious and spiritual practices can be enlightening and enjoyable. Obviously, different settings and teachings work for different people. On the other hand, smiling faces define the very essence of spirituality and care for fellow man rather than somber faces in a dark, dreary environment. Hey, whatever works for you but Welcome to Thailand, the Land of Smiles.

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