In the realm of hope
Could that be true? Was is really a corpse lying in front of me? Four monks were covering a woman’s body with white cloth just as I entered the prayer hall of Wat Sopanaram. White is the color of death. I had the camera in hand, wanted to take some pictures of that beautiful temple not far from Chiang Mai. But the clergymen gestured curtly for me to sit down. I did as I was told but couldn`t help to think: this isn’t normal at all. But on the other hand: This was Thailand!
You will find people in every culture, who feel unhappy or even depressed, who are sick most of the time, bullied at work, arguing with their partners constantly. You will find unhappy men or women in the Land of Smiles too of course. Since the Covid 19-pandemic, mental health is an issue increasingly talked about in Thailand.
But the Thais go their own ways to get happy again. They officially change their name or play dead. So like a snake slough its old skin, women and men shed their old selves to restart their lives. Enjoying perfect health henceforth, pursued by luck, loved by everyone, even by their partners. That`s what we westerners call the principle of hope.
The monks at Wat Sopanaram murmured and chanted their prayers. Eventually they pulled the covers off. The woman got up, ready for a better future.
After the ceremony the monks told me that in buddhism everybody can die and rise from the dead, figuratively speaking. It may sound bizarre for westerners, even kind of mumbo-jumbo. I was raised a Catholic Christian, and I remember the so-called prayers of intercession, whisch meant to ask the usual saints to intercede with god. Belief is a matter of cultural imprint.
Next to the awakened woman flowers lay on the cool temple floor, envelopes and orange monk’s robes. The envelopes contained the fee for the monks, nothing is free of charge, especially in a temple. Later on the monks would put the flowers at the feet of a Buddha statue and point out the woman`s desires to the enlightened one. Subject: reboot.
I asked myself what the ceremony at Wat Sopanaram had to do with Buddha`s teachings. He teaches that only deeds (both good and bad) in this life and in previous lives determine a person’s destiny. Luck or bad luck don’t exist. Everyone is responsible for what happens in their life.
But for many people, responsibility is a burden impossible to bear. Thai people are drilled from an early age on to do exactly what their teachers, parents, bosses, officers, elders, in short: what authority figures order the kids and the young ones to do. The result is easy to see. Even when they had grown aup many Thais panic when they are forced to make decisions independently. Because decisions tend to be reasons for doing wrong, making mistakes, losing face.
And when you are scared to feel responsible for your life, higher powers come into play.
Personally I never followed absurd rituals of course or tried to borrow from the supernatural. Okay, when I was a football player I always played the song “Dance On” by the Shadows before home games. I put on the left football boot first and entered the pitch with the left foot first. That`s what enlightened westerns actually do if they want to force happiness.