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Posts Tagged ‘monk for a month’

31st July 2009

This blog is dedicated to all aspects of life in Thailand (although it may seem as though we primarily write about Thai legal issues). Bill Reyland is an author and student of religion in Thailand. The following is a brief essay about just one of his many experiences in the Kingdom:

Sticky rice, glutinous heat, spicy food and hot women, this is Thailand to the many who journey here in search of eastern sensuality. There is however one more very distinct and crucial element to this unique society, which makes this very Buddhist Kingdom truly extraordinary.

I first came to Thailand in 2003. I didn’t come here for any of the aforementioned possibilities. I came here to be monk. I did see the women on the way in though and yes, it gave me pause, sort of like being trapped between two magnets, a battle between the fluctuating pulse of morality and the more immediate electricity of pure sex. It was sobering.

Once in the temple, I quickly forgot all that and tried instead to get a more immediate grip on what century I was living in and what exactly was the proper way to sit, talk, walk, eat and go to the bathroom without offending anyone. In time, most of the cultural mysteries were either solved or the case closed for the benefit of all, but I did manage to find my place in a rural Isan Buddhist temple very far from my home and any conceivable experience I could have ever imagined.

What I experienced, was a culture that is firmly rooted in both tradition and religious ritual, but somehow manages in the midst of what some might even say is a primitive view of the world, to have such complete tolerance of other religions. Unlike any other country, including the conflict in the southern provinces, which is primarily politically and ethnically motivated, Thailand is one of the few places with true religious tolerance.

Categorically, most of us fall into three distinct areas of religious tolerance. The ex-clusivist has no patience for you or your heathen ways. YOU CAN BE SAVED, but only through their faith. The inclusivist recognizes your faith as a possible vehicle for everlasting salvation, but at the end of the day still thinks your ignorant, still he’s not going to burn a cross in your yard, or tell your kids their going to hell. The best of these three and this is Thailand, is the pluralist view. In this view, everybody can worship whomever or whatever they choose. You can dress how ever you like, bow to whatever you like and even eat non Thai food and it’s perfectly alright with them. Ask the lady-boy the next time you get your haircut.

At my University, a Catholic University, the head of our religious department is a Muslim, the dean of students is a Thai Christian and at least one of my professors is openly Atheist. In class, I have a Burmese nun on my right, a Buddhist nun on my left and all around me are Thai Buddhists, Taiwanese Christians and people of all denominations and nationalities. On the campus during any Buddhist holiday, there are just as many garlands around Mother Mary as Siddhartha. I once caught Sister Emily, a classmate of mine, bowing down to my Buddhist professor. This can only happen here.

When people here ask me why I decided to come to Thailand to study Religion, I just smile and point in every direction, because religion is everywhere here and to the Thais it’s all the same, same, same. Isn’t that beautiful?

Bill Reyland

WC 6007

[email protected]

The Author

Bill Reyland currently attends Assumption University’s School of Religious Philosophy

and is the author of Sons of Isan a memoir chronicling his insanely fantastic year in a rural Thai temple, as a laymen and temporarily ordained monk.

A book site with excerpts and other short stories please see: Bill Reyland

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