Our story about spiritual life in Thailand started in one of the most beautiful temples in Bangkok. They were already awash with colour in preperation for the for big event: The Visakha Bucha day, which marks the birth, enlightenment and the passing of Buddha and they all fall on the same month and date, the Vesak full moon day.
Beautiful dresses at the Visakha Bucha festival
This year the festival is even bigger as devoted Buddhists will celebrate the 2,600th anniversary of Buddha’s enlightenment and thousands of monks will come from all over the world to worship together.
Ajahn Jayasaro receiving alms
We also visited a meditation retreat centre in Pakchong, around 170 kilometres southeast of Bangkok. There we had the chance to meet the world-renowned British monk Ajahn Jayasaro. Followers who spent the day spent time chanting and meditation, then listened to a Dharma talk, which outlines Buddha’s teachings and way of life. Everyone listened attentively, even the little children. Jayasaro told us that he discovered his love for Buddhism at the age of 16, when he was asking himself a lot of questions like: “why do so many people suffer?” And: “Why does everyone want to be happy but very few seem to achieve any kind of happiness in life?” He found the answers to his questions in Buddhist teachings and decided to give up his old life and become a monk. What I really foud interesting was that as a woman, you don’t have the right to shake hands or even give something to a monk. When I gave him my business card, I had to pass it first to my cameraman who then gave it to the monk.
Chantri Srivichai and her family waiting at her table with offerings for the monks
But the most personal encounter for me was with a woman and her family who we followed throughout the Visakha Bucha preparations. Chantri Srivichai is a vendor who lives with her son, her sister, her brother in law and their daughter… all under the same roof. She is very devoted to Buddhism and although the house is quite small they have a big Buddhist shrine and a meditation room upstairs. We visited the market with her where she bought food for alms to the monks and also to offer to poor people on Visakha Bucha day. We met again at 5.00am on the day of the festival. She had already been to the market three hours before and was busy frying chicken wings, (which we were lucky enough to sample and they were delivious!) After that she took some time to meditate in front of the television and chanted mantras and you could really feel her inner peace. Then, it suddenly got really busy and before I knew it, we were on our way to the temple Wat Saket, where Chantri stayed for the rest of day.
Monks coming down from the Golden Mountain
The alms really were impressive. There was so much food on offer, the monks weren’t able to carry it all, so they had assistants who put them in big plastic bags. We also climbed to the Golden Mountain where you could take in the beautiful Bangkok views. One of the highlights is “Wien Tien”. Each person lights a candle, a trio of incense sticks and carries a lotus flower. They then walk around the main sanctuary three times and meditate. It’s an electrifying atmosphere and really shouldn’t be missed.
Wien Tien procession at the Wat Saket Temple