Thursday, December 16, 2010

Untravelling

Spending the day untravelling, back in Sri Lanka. My address here, btw, is:

Sri Sambodhi Viharaya
Gregory's Road
Colombo 7
Sri Lanka

One-week trip to Thailand over. Looking back, it's startling how much gets packed into seven days when you aren't particularly trying to do anything more than recover lost luggage.

First day, deserted in the BKK airport; 15 baht for the train downtown (15 more baht than I have), so I ask how much monks pay. The answer is surprising: 15 baht. The bus turns out to be more bum-friendly, and they take me to Sanam Luang for free. First night in Wat Mahadhatu, section 25, uneventful, except for a revelation that Venerable Bhaddhanta Asabha Mahathera passed away last month. I met him once on our way to India, I think he was already on the way out then. He turned and looked straight at me, smiled a big smile, said something no one understood, then turned back to stare into space again. Paid respect to his coffin. Met some students and friends, arranged to go for lunch the next day. Talked with a friend about the future of Thailand - doesn't sound good.

Day two, lunch by a pond with Ajaan Supath from section 5 and some students and acquaintances. Spent the rest of the afternoon looking for toothpaste. Night in section 5 with Ajaan Supath. More from him on the dismal future in store for the kingdom.

Day three, early morning trip to the airport, breakfast in the car, flight to Chiang Mai. Arrive at the airport, unable to contact my uncle; will find out later he's in Bodh Gaya. POI about Chiang Mai airport - no water fountains in the main area. Ask the information counter why that is. Answer: because they're all inside the passenger area. Makes sense.

Walk barefoot several km, am invited for lunch, decline - ask for water instead. Am given a ride past Hang Dong. Walk a few more km, feet are starting to complain. Am given a ride to Tung Siao. Walk to the meditation centre just off the main road. Talk with the monks there - Luang Po Sanguan passed away this February. Go to see the Mai Chi who cooks, cleans and teaches meditation (what are the monks doing?). She helps me get a ride to Chom Tong.

As I walk into the big hotel-like building that is my teacher's residence, his secretary catches me and starts detailing my future at Wat Tam Bua Tong and how to ensure possession since the mean old head monk died a few days ago. I stop him short with a "คือ" - one of those untranslatable Thai-isms that basically means, "the things is..." And the thing was I had decided not to live in Thailand after all. He was surprised by this, as was Ajaan Tong. Night on the fifth floor.

Next day lunch with a newly promoted monk and all of our mutual friends and associates, then off with Ajaan to Wat Monrusii (Hermit Pillow Monastery), and I'm hoodwinked into leading an opening ceremony for six hundred monks in Thai. Memory serves me, mostly. Then off to the funeral, taking me back down memory lane to Wat Tam Bua Tong. I drag a friend along from Wat Monrusii who is helping with the Parivaasa there.

We arrive after dark, but they're waiting for Ajaan anyway, so I guess that means we're on time. Leave Ajaan and the others to begin the ceremony, take Phra Joe off to see the mud hut we built two years ago. All the kutis are still in good shape; I was even pleasantly surprised to see that the 1000 or so mud bricks left over are still stacked in the storage hall. The mud hut looks to be in bad shape, but the path has been closed in by shrubbery and such, so we don't go close. The "Reporting Room" sign still hangs above the front door.

On the way back, notice that the kitchen is full of villagers; coming back later I'll notice they are drinking whiskey and beer, in the monastery, with the village headmen and police officers to boot. And I'm supposed to turn this into a meditation centre? That and the three different groups fighting over the place is enough to settle any lingering doubts about the matter - Sri Lanka or bust.

Day five, mostly harmless. Phra Joe came back to stay at Chom Tong, he leaves early. I go on alms through the village, one of the highlights of life at Chom Tong. Food is sufficient, if not fulfilling. Visited by a German bhikkhuni and a Chinese nun. Have some fun debating with the Chinese nun about whether there is anything special about Avalokiteshvara's pure land over, say, Jesus' heaven. I can't get my head around the ideas that have come out of that school of Buddhism, but that's another story.

Evening, attempt to give a talk on my experiences abroad, using Northern Thai. I think the oddness of travel got in the way, but am pretty sure I at least got the point across that what I learned abroad is that Buddhism is still alive and well, except that it no longer accords with the borders of polity. We have to think in terms of practitioner and non-practitioner, rather than Thai and non-Thai, etc.

Next day, farewell to Ajaan, van to Chiang Mai, lunch at a supporter's house. Receive a lecture on how I can't just go walking barefoot when there are people willing to drive me places. Off to Wat Rampoeng for the night. Ajaan Suphan is receptive, to the point of suggesting I stay and stand in for him the next four days while he goes off to Phitsanulok. I try to change my ticket, to no avail.

Morning, talk with Ajaan Suphan, I'll try to invite him to the ceremony here in May, he wants to take me to Mexico in June when he goes to teach. Lunch at supporter's house, after a fairly unsuccessful almsround in Wat Rampoeng.

Evening, plane to Bangkok, upped to business class, sit with a monk who stays in Pathum Thani with an associate teacher of Ajaan Tong. Am invited to help teach at his monastery if Sri Lanka doesn't work out. Backup plans [Like].

Get to Suvanabhumi in plenty of time, bags are checked through to Colombo, wait for the rest of the gang to return from their vacation to Dhammakayaland, and back to the Island of the Lion Killer People.

Today I'm untravelling. Tomorrow I've to give a talk for the TV again. Sunday probably Second Life. Need to prepare. Sleep first. Peace to all :)