Vipassana & irresistible Thailand

* May 15: Just came out of Vipassana, a ten day long period of meditation and silence. I’m glad to use my cellphone again. I have some news to share. Give me some time to finish work. Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

A deeply religious Thai Buddhist family, the Boontummas, gave me a lift in their vehicle. Poon Poonyaporn  was my Thai-English interpretor. I had dinner with them at 6.30pm (5 pm in India). They found it tough to cook vegetarian food for me, so I had mangoes, papayas and a watermelon. A neighbour brought ready-to-eat food for breakfast the next morning.

I have arrived at Phitsanulok, a capital of the north province of Thailand. The 10 day meditation course cleared my mind. I met a new person within me who is fearless and adventurous. The course instilled huge confidence in me and took away the fear of loss and death hidden in the recesses of my heart.
The good news is that over half a dozen friends, working with the state and central government, have deposited money into my bank account. They want their identities to be kept confidential. Thanks to them, I can travel for a few more days. A friend texted me that she has been selected for Public Service. Something good has happened to yet another friend who is looking after my parents in my absence.

I’m pouring through my Atlas to look for another country which has good relations with India and where I can head next. Thank you all for sharing and liking my posts.

* May 16: Spent some time with kids at the hostel. Distributed goodies and spoke about Hindu mythology.

* May 17: They may wear western outfits and ride large SUVs, but Thai people are deeply religious and charitable. Unlike my Indian friends, Buddhists in north Thailand do not garland Buddha idols nor burn incense sticks nor chant ‘Buddham Sharnam Gachhami’ for hours. They have a very different practice of worship.

I happened to witness some in the past three days. One of the practices is meditating with the entire family for an hour in the morning and for another hour in the evening, if possible. Kids, parents and grandparents all sit together for mediation. This was very unusual for me. I don’t remember standing before my father, except to touch his feet while going for an exam or while leaving town.

Almost every morning, women prepare meals and pack tiffin boxes that are taken to the nearest temple. Dozens of people bring variety of food cooked at home and put the dishes on a table for monks. They also bring thin gold papers or gold chips to offer at temples. The chief monk offers prayers and accepts the offerings of people. He sits down for a meal while people pour water into a holy pot and pray till he is done. After the prayers, the holy water is poured in the garden for plants. While watering plants, people pray to environment for protection, food and shelter.

Once the monk finishes his food, he goes into the temple. The leftovers are distributed among the poor and aged. People take home a small piece of the food as ‘prasad’. No one goes hungry in Thailand and those who feed others have no ego.

* May 17: Two weeks ago, I was travelling to a remote part of north Thailand to go to a Vipassana centre. These centres are normally located away from crowded places. Someone told me it’s about 3kms away. A tuk tuk driver said he would charge 120 Bahts (Rs 240). I refused and started to walk with two bags each weighing more than 6 kgs. After an hour of walking, I realised I had lost my way. I was in deserted fields and had had no lunch. It was evening. I was sweating and dehydrated.

Luckily, I spotted a mango tree full of ripe fruits. It is adviced to not have mangoes on a hot day. As I was hungry, I had 4 to 5 pieces. I started to feel sleepy and dozed off. After a long time, I was woken up by a two-wheeler honking.  The rider asked me who I was and where I wanted to go. I showed him in a note written in Thai. I don’t even remember how he looked as I was half asleep. He asked me to get on his two-wheeler. We travelled for some time and I was still sleepy. He asked me to get off and check a sign board to confirm if it was my destination. I checked the board. It was the correct address. When I turned around, he had disappeared. I was terrified and sat down on my bags for a few minutes. I still did not know who the guy was. The good part was that I was safe and had reached my destination.

I made a mental note to add to my rules of travelling: never to walk for a long time on a hot day and to never compromise on meals.

* May 18: I got another free ride, this time on board a luxurious open SUV in north Thailand with a new friend, Gwendolyn Fah from Switzerland. She is free and frank but sometimes too philosophical to understand. Had a great time. Thanks Poon for the ride.

* May 20: Buddha in Making

Buddha in the making: On the occasion of Buddha Pournima, I happened to be in Phitsanulok city. Thousands of people have donated the precious yellow metal which was melted to create a statue of Buddha. My host is deeply religious. His entire family gathered in the temple and waited till midnight till the hour of Buddha’s birth.

* May 21:
Creating a Buddha statue: Yesterday, I went to a Buddha temple with my host’s family. On the birth anniversary of Buddha, a statue of Buddha was created with gold donated by the public. It was for the first time that I had seen such a large amount gold lying in an open ground without any security. Thai people are great donors. More than their wealth, their attitude of charity won me over.
* May 22:

It was an honour to be a guest of the Booontumma family in Phitsanulok city. For five days, I felt at home. It felt like I was staying with relatives in some part of my India. Phitsanulok has a lot of influence of Indian culture from the 12th century. The city is named after the Hindu deity, Vishnu’,and there are several statues of Ganesha.
Thai archaeological reports read, “During the Ayutthaya period, the city was named Muang Chainat. The name stuck till the reign of King Boromatrailokant. After turning the crown over to his son at Ayutthaya, the king removed himself to this city and changed its name to Mang Phitsanulok which means the adobe of Narai (Narayan or Vishnu). The renaming obviously reflected the Hindu influenced belief that the king is an avatar of the Narai or Vishnu.”
Except a few people, most couldn’t pronounce my name in this city. They would call me ‘Phisanoo’ which bears close resemblance to the name of the city itself.
Vegetarian food is like a foreign concept here. Everyone, including monks, eat chicken and pork. This morning, I had bread-butter and a variety of fruits. Once, there was a worm in a litchi that I was about to have. People around me shouted, ‘That’s protein!’ For lunch, I there were vegetables and rice.
Two things became a part of my routine: As soon as breakfast was done, head to the temple by 9.20 am and donate food for the poor and secondly, meditate in a group.
The best part of course was rides around the city. Thank you Pan, Poon and Puie for the rides. The three of them are educated in Denmark, Norway and India respectively. They are incredible drivers. Puie doesn’t talk while driving. I can confidently sleep when she is behind he wheel. Pan is always in a hurry and rides fast, using the brakes too often. Poon is relatively cool; she uses the steering more than the brakes.
I used to hate cats till Gwendo (Gwendolyn Fah) taught me how to handle them. Gwendo and I used to have philosophical talks. She taught me something new, “If you don’t have a head, you have a leg.”
On the eve of Buddha Pournima, the entire family went to a local temple for worship. I did not wish to leave Phitsanulok.






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