Thursday, 15 November 2012

Money exchanges in the Temple

Chiang Mai has been brilliant, such a nice city. The Wats ( temples) are everywhere and are so ‘ Bling ‘ with Gold compared to those in Nepal.  But of course this reflects the vast difference in economies and the countries wealth- past and present.  It is interesting to note that the immediate difference between the two is the commercial aspect thrust upon you in the Thai temples. ( This is not necessarily a criticism on the Thai’s) More a call to arms for their poorer fellow buddhists. We do after all see it all the time, foreigners flocking to the temples for a ‘ photo’ opportunity.  Blindly ignoring the dress codes and thrusting past locals on their knees in prayer, they stand before the altar and turning their backs ( very disrespectful) on the huge Golden Buddha’s they delightfully pose for a photo. Then they sail out towards their next photo opportunity without leaving so much as a penny. Such a pity that they do not take a few moments to inhale the spiritual essence of these places.  Even more of a pity that unless they actually have to pay to get in, which very few Wats charge, they do not put their hands into their pockets and leave a few Baht. After all its nothing to them in exchange for a lifelong memory. Every Baht left will be used to help the community of monks, especially the novices like the one we met yesterday. He was just 16 and a middle son, from a poor hill tribe family North of Chiang Mai. Whilst his elder brother shall inherit whatever parcel of land the family has owned through generations, the middle son usually ends up a monk. This is purely down to practical and economic reasons. By joining the Monastery aged 10 he is provided with an education( which I would argue far exceeds some of our schools), is fed and clothed and learns respect and discipline. When he reaches 18 he is free to leave or he can become a Monk- I should also add that a Thai man can become a monk or cease to be one at any age with little problem. What an opportunity these Wats provide, with no real ties other than observing the rules whilst they are in the care. How generous of a belief system that it can run so well like this and take care of its own.

The whole system is fascinating, the huge amounts of offerings the congregations are required to give – in order to gain merit in the next life are vast, and an entire industry has been built up around it. Flowers are brought in and traded at a large market. Small family run shops sell supplies that can be bought and gifted to monks that include things like robes, toiletries and incense. Small stalls surround the Wats selling things from water to sacred amulets to a full meal. Artisans create beautiful artefacts which shall be bought either by tourists or used in the Temples. Everywhere you look there is a hive of activity keeping the energy and the money flowing. A complete microcosmic economy, that employs thousands across the city. And they in turn help to keep the wheel turning by giving alms back to the Wats. And  look at our churches and cathedrals, falling apart around our ears. No one goes to them unless its for a wedding or funeral. They employ the clergy and sub contract out for other work. But how many people actually depend on them for existence? What could they do if they did ? ……

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