Adventure Date: January 11th, 2012
My plane burped down onto the short runway at Chiang Rai International Airport (CEI) in the northwestern part of Thailand and as I looked out the window I wondered what the next few days would have in store. I was here for two reasons… not the usual temple hunting expeditions of the past few months but to pay my respects to a new friend who, with some simple wisdom, has seen through the thick blanket I usually wear around my soul and made me laugh just by making me see how ridiculous I sometimes am :). The second reason to share a simple act of kindness with some people I have never met… from where this post get’s its title.
My friend Koi, the owner of the super awesome Paragon Inn, introduced me a year ago to a young Buddhist monk named Kruba Ariyachat. Roughly as old as me he is wildly popular in Thailand and amongst the world’s Buddhists very well known. Why? From an early age he had an incredible knack for meditation. You know, plop down on a squishy rug, close your eyes, follow your breath in… follow it out… repeat… As thoughts intrude, gently push them out… repeat…
His fame came from taking this extreme iPhone deprivation to extreme lengths, meditating continuously for nine days. No food, no water, no sleep, WOW! He says that he just “leaves his body”… a unique experience I can only imagine. For me the best I can muster is 10 or 15 minutes… and even then the thoughts intrude like they just don’t see the Do Not Disturb sign! Any who… this was his last time. Nine days takes a terrible toll on the human body and he is no less imune than the rest of us. So this was a special chance to welcome him when he finished and share in a bit of the mega bund (good fortune) he has to share just after he finishes. If nothing else I saw this as an awesome opportunity to show my appreciation for the little guidance he has shared with me. He and I can’t communicate but through translation we chat about life… why he wonders do I look unsettled… why do my father and I fight… why do I worry about my mum & sister? Maybe obvious questions to ask but spooky nonetheless :). He blessed the new tattoo I got a month ago with gold leaf and prayers… and took my head in his hands and rested his against mine… quietly sharing with me (in a language I can’t understand) the magic of his tranquility (this is a huge deal… buddhist monks don’t usually touch you).
It was a true weekend affair. Thousands of people flocked to his little temple (Wat Sang Kaew Phothiyan) in the north of Thailand to celebrate for him. People donated in droves, populating little money trees with as much as they could. And you know… that always surprised me… how the Buddhists donate so much, when often they have so little. At first I thought maybe the temples and monks were asking for it but in fact it is the other way around. A buddhist believes that they can give now to ensure a better next life. People with little or nothing to give would give most of what they have now… for a better life next time… wow!
As I looked around I was solidly the only Westerner. It’s a strange thing to have people stare at you, eyes asking “what is he doing here?”, but not an angry one amongst them. They also quickly noticed the little red bracelets on my wrist and asked if I had received them from Kruba. Kruba gives a red bracelet with five little white beads on them to those he likes. They are supposed to keep you safe from harm and so given I fly so frequently I have never turned him down when he offers :). I now have nine! I call it insurance :)! A year ago you couldn’t have put a watch on me and now I have a watch and some beads… go figure!
When Kruba emerged from his little meditation hut everyone was a buzz to see him. A few strong lads picked him up in a chair and carried him around so everyone could give their well wishes. He held a fan and patted people on the head and I watched as his little carriage wandered off around the templet complex. Here is a guy, about as old as me… who took a completely different path in life. Now, while there is little fear I will become a monk it is interesting to sit and chat with him. West meets East and culture bumps into culture. He asks me about who I am and in our chats I am forced to explain with words what it means to be American/English… not an easy task when you have only have a few crayons to paint a picture :).
We said our goodbyes and ventured off for our second task of the day. Piled high in the back of our van were 60 simple blankets. Although toasty warm for me the northern part of Thailand is down right cold for those that are used to the heat. So we headed to Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Rai where we were due to donate our blankets. Here we found a 700 year old Chedi (the pointy bit) next to nice little Wat (temple). We asked the local monk a good place to donate the blankets and he summoned the grounds keeper who dutifully hoped in our van and drove us to a nearby village. Our van pulled up outside a dusty little town down a forgotten road and he introduced us to some locals. He explained why we were there and in a frenzy of excitement they rushed off to tell their friends to come. Our driver helped me open up the boxes and then, one by one, I handed blankets to the families that lined up in front of me.
Young mothers holding their babies…
Excited little boys and girls propably more excited to see a funny Westerner…
Old ladies so humble I felt ashamed to being standing so tall…
They all smiled, thanked me in the most polite way they knew how and even jumped at the chance to smile with big toothy grins when a picture was taken. Everyone received a blanket and everyone said thank you. And you know… as I handed them out… I coulnd’t really figure out who was more appreciative. Were they for receiving a new toasty warm blanket… or was I… for making me feel like, in the simplest of ways, that the best thing I could have done that month was to visit them and lend a little hand?
Back to the madness of the day, the rush to collect toys and plan for retirement I often forget that right here and now life is happening all around me. Tomorrow is a lifetime away and today the very real needs of the world are not waiting for interest payments to collect or emails to be responded to. Right now in a little town just beyond the view of an impressive old Chedi is a little village that today was excited just for a blanket.
In the end I spent 48 hours a million miles away from anything I am used to. As I climbed back on my flight to Bangkok I reflected that I had shared in the celebration of a young monk quietly making his way in the world and somehow becoming famous for it. I walked by little trees stuffed with Thai Baht notes donated from the very people that had the least to give and then watched them smile, genuinely smile, when I gave them something back. In the end while I left 60 blankets behind… I think I took more back with me… I felt warm and cozy for giving more in 48 hours than I took for myself. Now… there is a worthy goal, if everyone gave 48 hours to someone else… then maybe none of us would ever have to be cold :).