South East Asia :: March - June 1995

Subject: WHOOPS!
Date: May 8, 1995 18:11

1:16 Saswasdee House; Bangkok-Thailand :: 21 APR 95

A couple clarifications of earlier writings.

The Great King Taksin was the predecessor of Rama I. Though Taksin was of Chinese lineage, the Chakri dynasty is ethnically Thai. Taksin rescued the Thais from Burmese occupation and received the honour of kingship in return. Before his death, Taksin appointed his successor (whose given name escapes me) who became known as Rama I, the first king of the Chakri dynasty.

The colour of monk's robes indicates the preference of the monk, or perhaps the preference of the benefactor who presented the robes to the monk, not in any way his status within the monastic order.

Nearly every Thai man becomes a monk at some point during his life, even if only for a day. A man who has never become a monk is referred to by the Thai as 'dip', meaning 'unfinished' with the implication of being immature.

Monks are not permanently bound to their vows and can 'defrock' at any time they please. Having once defrocked they are not excluded from being ordained again at some future date. There is no written limit to the number of times a man may don the robes of a monk in his lifetime, though more than three times is frowned upon.

Monks are the most important people alive and killing one, whether accidentally or with malice, is the worst thing you can possibly do on earth. In 1973 there was a revolution and during a fire-fight in Bangkok a group of monks drove down a street through the cross-fire between revolutionary students and the police. They emerged unscathed.

In the West, we are in year 1995 because it's been (approximately) 1,995 years since Christ died. In Thailand we are in year 2538 (I think, approximately) because it has been that many years since Siddhartha Gotama, The Enlightened One, Buddha, died at the age of 80. He died on the same day of the year he was born, and the same day of the year in which he had sat under the bodha tree where he meditated for the first time and achieved enlightenment.

For 600 years after his death, and in deference to his teachings against the worship of images, there were no images of Buddha. That has since changed and today images of Buddha are even ranked as to their significance. The most significant in Thailand are the Emerald Buddha found in the Wat at the Grand Palace and the Gold Buddha at the National Museum. There's also a 40+ meter bronze reclining Buddha found at Wat Pho. In fact, there are Buddha images everywhere, many Wats displaying dozens or even hundreds within their walls (there are more than 400 Wats in Bangkok alone).

15:29 Bangkok Express train; Chiang Mai->Bangkok-Thailand :: 30 APR 95

Thailand hangover inducement juice is called Sang Thip, not Sang Hip as I've written it numerous times [but already corrected in this edition].

16:47 Bangkok Express train; Chiang Mai->Bangkok-Thailand :: 30 APR 95

Way back upon first entering Thailand I talked about what I thought were shrines. Well, in a sense they are but they're referred to here as spirit houses. The Thais believe in spirits of all kind and are particularly wary of the more malevolent varieties. Spirit houses provide sort of a decoy to the mean-spirited by providing a comfortable place for them to reside. A place other than the home of the person who erected the spirit house. Alms are given regularly to the spirits who live in the spirit house to keep them placated. Spirit houses are rarely, if ever, destroyed. Who'd want to have to deal with a pack of angry spirits dispossessed of their home? On the other side of the same coin, hardly any construction occurs in Thailand without first consulting a Buddhist monk as to the appropriate place to erect the spirit house. This is true even of modern sky-scrapers along Silom Rd., in the most westrernised section of Bangkok, which have grand and ornate marble spirit houses right beside their grand and ornate matching marble entrances.

The spire-like things I was talking about are stupa. The spirit of the Buddha is said to be present inside every one of them. There are all kinds of Stupa but the most out-of-the-ordinary example had to be the one in a Chiang Mai Wat wrapped in bronze sheet metal.

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --

How can one person stuck in the mud
pull out another also stuck in the mud?
  graphical element Siddhartha Gothama, Buddha
Responding to the charge that, because it teaches an individual's chief pursuit should be the attainment of their own enlightenment, Buddhism is a selfish religion.