Kanchanaburi: Meditating with Monks

walking up wat ban tham

One of the biggest differences in culture between the UK and Thailand is the innate faith of the nation. Thailand is principally a Buddhist nation, although there are also many Muslims. Whilst we were in Kanchanaburi, we spent a day visiting the nearby temples of worship. (PIC) The first was Wat Ban Tham or The Temple of Caves.

wat ban tham dragon

This was my favourite temple that we visited (and we visited a lot!). The gaping mouth of a vibrant red and blue dragon looms out of the mountain-side, offering an entrance to a steep staircase leading the visitor up through the dragon’s neck and into the caves at the very top where an enormous Buddha sits in the cavern. We also stopped briefly at Wat Tum Seu, yet another innate and decadent work of art. (Although I have to admit my astonishment and awe had been used up at our previous stop!)

char wat ban tham

Our final stop was at a monastery, where we were to try the art of walking meditation. This, we learned, was a practice in which you must speak the action that you are performing, as you perform it. In this way, you cannot think of anything else but your own body and movements and must exist peacefully in the moment. Thus, all twenty four of us followed the monk’s lead in walking slowly up and down the length of the temple with slow chants of ‘WAAAAALKING’, ‘STOPPINNNNG’ AND ‘TURNING’. Whilst this did spark cries of ‘HAAAANGING’ later in the week, it was an enjoyable experience and a chance for us to better understand the culture of the monks. I had not realised that many young Buddhist men come to the monastery to be a monk for just a few years. A tee-total gap yah of celibacy with a very limited and VERY ORANGE wardrobe.

Monks must abstain from temptation and addiction, and therefore do not drink or have sex. They are also not allowed to make any physical contact with women whatsoever in order to avoid any sexual, and would be very upset if they did. It’s important to bear this in mind and remember to dress conservatively around monks: shoulders and knees covered is the general rule. The fact that we walked past two monks smoking roll-ups as we pulled away in the taxi did make me a smile a little. Smoking is apparently ok?!

Having lived in the secularity of the UK for my entire life, the Thai culture was fascinating to me. At home, if you are devoutly Christian, you will likely attend church on a Sunday to listen to a sermon. We asked our guide Noinah, a Buddhist, if there was an equivalent gathering in the temples of Thailand. She replied that organised events are not really something Buddhists do – the temples are more about personally coming to sit in front of the Buddha with your own thoughts. There is something so simple and unembellished about Buddhism that I greatly respect. If I was to err towards one faith in particular, it may well be this one.

My upbringing bestowed upon me a strong sense of right and wrong, of compassion and of faith in humanity, but whilst myself and my siblings were all christened, we were also for all intents and purposes atheists. Interestingly, as I have gotten older the conviction of my atheism has dwindled into agnosticism; not because I think that God is any more likely, but simply because I can also see that the existence of our scientific world is a miracle that is equally beyond contemplation. For me, living and loving those around me is enough. The rest of it, I guess I’ll figure out when I have to.

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