The Monk’s Bowl
Wat Phrasi Mahatat, a major Buddhist temple, is located in the north of Bangkok. A working temple, it is used for everyday religious
rites including weekly sabbath rites, meditation classes, and ordinations. People also come here everyday from 6 A.M. to 8 A.M, to make merit for this life and the next.
among white buildings
the tall, thin smokestack
of a crematorium
The most common way to make merit is to give food to the monks. Another way is to feed the animals that live there. Supplicants also “buy” creatures to release into the pond. There used to be birds for setting free, sparrows, but I don’t see any today. People often come to make merit on their birthdays and when they are having a string of bad luck and are trying to turn that around. On Sundays, they may make merit in another way.
a man rubs gold leaf
on the Buddha’s arm
A policeman at the temple gate uses a whistle and hand and arm signals to direct the flow of vehicles in and out of the temple grounds.
a food vendor directs
traffic with her tray
Past the parking lot, there is a line of perhaps 10 vendors with their four-wheeled carts on the right side of the road leading to the main
temple. Here the people who don’t bring gifts from home can buy food. For the monks, curries, stir-fried vegetables, white rice, fruits and desserts, bottled water; bread crusts and vegetable pellets for the animals. The food is stored in clear plastic bags sealed with a rubber band. Beyond the food vendors, there are others squatting or sitting on small stools next to plastic tubs of fish, squirming eels, cockles, and turtles. Flower garlands are also on sale here, for offering to the monks. I wonder if I buy one of the pretty garlands to take home, instead of giving it to a monk, how big a sin that would be.
a vendor shouts,
“Want to buy some food?”
There is a reception line waiting for the monks, small children to gray-haired adults. Three or four barefoot monks with shaven heads, wearing drab orange robes, move slowly down the line. After an offering is put into the monk’s bowl, sometimes the person kneels, and the monk chants a short blessing before moving on. When the black metal bowl is nearly full, a temple boy puts the little plastic bags of food into an orange pail. When the pail is full, the boy carries it to the kitchen, while the monk continues down the line.
Hundreds of pigeons and many dogs cover a nearby grass field. A child and an old nun dressed in white and with her head shaved feed vegetable pellets to the birds. My eyes seem to fix on the one
completely white pigeon in the whole flock.
a man sells
This temple, like others in Thailand, doubles as a pound; people “donate” unwanted dogs. Sometimes other animals are donated, such as chickens, cows, goats and water buffalo. Deeper inside the grounds are many more mange-ridden dogs.
nose in the air—
a woman carries
Beyond the field is a pond with a strong stench. People stand on a bridge leading to an island in the middle. Children are throwing bread crusts into the water. Edging closer, I see the open mouths of big catfish as they jostle for the crusts. Pigeons line the rails. Because poor people will eat just about any bird larger than a sparrow in Thailand, I was in awe that these pigeons would let us get so close to them. A few people walk to the island to kneel and release creatures into the pond after praying. I wonder how many times some of the larger turtles have been given their “freedom” over the years.
the neck of a beer bottle
bobs on the surface