We’re in Bangkok on the first leg of our trip. Twelve of us are traveling with a guide, a native Thailander from a village near the river Kwai. He tells us it’s winter, but it’s hot, in the upper 80’s. Luckily, the little bus we travel in is air-conditioned.
Yesterday morning on my way to the bus I smelled incense. Looking for its origin, I saw a young man standing in a tree-shaded area beside the road. He was placing a marble urn holding several red incense sticks he had just lit onto a pedestaled table. As I watched he gave a little bow then turned to a young woman standing nearby. She handed him two beautiful arrangements of fresh flowers which he solemnly placed beside the incense. I was witnessing a sacred ritual.
The setting was a tiny outdoor chapel, maybe eight feet wide by twelve feet long The walls were trees and plants; the roof was the sky; the floor was a platform of black marble laid over raw earth. The table was an altar. His offerings sat beside small clay jars of water, candle holders, two marble urns filled with sprays of purple orchids, and an intricately patterned tray holding a bunch of small bananas, a coconut with a straw protruding from under its lid, and a pineapple.
A few steps beyond and above the altar, framed in an open-sided ark inlaid with multicolored glass mosaics, was a gilded, four-armed god sitting serenely on a lotus flower. Draped in a thick garland of marigolds, he was flanked by items of worship. Above his head hovered a giant, hooded, seven-headed cobra. I was charmed and intrigued. What was this place? Why was it here? Who was the god? Why were these people bringing flowers and incense to him? Our guide, Ole’, (yes, pronounced like the Spanish accolades for bullfighters), provided the answers.
This place is a spirit house. You can find them all over Thailand. Based on the Hindu belief in the sacredness in everything, they are outdoor chapels where people can honor the spirit of the land and those who have lived there by invoking the blessing of the creator god, Brahma. Usually they are located on the northeast corner of the property where they will not be in shadow. Perhaps the young man used to live on this land where now there is a large, modern hotel. Maybe he came to honor the birthday of an ancestor. Or maybe he and the woman are caretakers of this particular spirit house and come every morning to honor the god with their gifts.
I’ll never know the identity of this couple or the reason for their devotion. But I won’t soon forget their attitude of sincere reverence. It was obvious they were living a myth that informed and infused their lives. They had taken a few moments to enter the presence of the sacred, knowing they were known by something beyond themselves, believing their sincere actions and generous offerings were appreciated and worthy.
It doesn’t matter what your myth is or what gods you worship or how you invoke their presence. What matters is that you have a religious attitude toward the miracle of your life and the people, places, and symbols dear to you: that you practice awareness of the Mystery, approach it with reverence and a sincere desire to honor it, make efforts to connect with it, and derive purpose and meaning from it. What matters is how you are living your myth. All day I’ve been asking myself, “How am I living my myth?
Ego and God-Image: Part VII
Intellectually the Self is no more than a psychological concept, a construct that serves to express an unknowable essence which we cannot grasp as such,
dear and divine jean….. great traditional
country you are in…..
all rituals have a scientific research
put in a language of rituals which the
person get silently benefited ….imagine
a prayer…..how one can get sensitive..
as there are physical exercise to keep
body healthy…so are spiritual exercises
to keep soul healthy … and health of
soul is sensitiveness…. as one become
more and more sensitive… one become
precious for cosmic energy…. so a simple
way to make a ordinary person without knowing
extraordinary….in all eastern prayers….
one decorates the statue of God…that is
for eyes for beauty sensitiveness…
incense for smell sensitiveness…..
and flower for touch sensitiveness…
and every atom is god for oneness…
so it is like a workout …for soul….
as soul gets sensitive…..feminine intelligence
get more active and creativity comes in
every day art….
that is the one of the reason one find
graceful poor…in east…with very little
complaints to life or god…and more peace…
good travel in the very fine countries you are
Thank you for your beautiful explanation of the benefits of spiritual exercises and the reason for decorating the statues of god. I have never thought in terms of the health of the soul as being sensitiveness, and I believe this is a very important truth. With increased sensitivity comes increased awareness or consciousness, and to me, expanding consciousness, combined with benevolent feeling, is what the spiritual journey is all about, regardless of religion.
As for the graceful poor, we have met many of them already on our trip and I have been very impressed by their peacefulness, gracious hospitality, and sensitivity to beauty. We are in Vientiane today and I have been delighted to see small but lovely spirit houses on the corners of several pieces of property, including those that appear to be inhabited by the very poor.
Laos is, indeed, a very fine country, as well as a very beautiful one. Thanks again for your very thoughtful observations.
Love and blessings,
Best wishes on your journey into the sacredness of everything. I imagine that your many experiences there will unlock many doors and windows into the collective unconscious, awakening ancient dreams that you will spend the next few years interpreting and integrating into your own myth.
I am so glad for you, that you get to take this adventure! What a lovely land and magnificent people! I know you will return with an even richer mind and fuller heart!!
What a lovely blessing, William. Thank you. We are in Laos now and stunned by the primitive beauty. Took a long boat ride down the Mekong river yesterday; both shores are jungle-covered mountains. A cave high in one of them held 1,000 Buddhas of various sizes and shapes. The night market in Luang Prabang is rich with local textiles, silver jewelry, and decorative antique opium pots. Today we drove through an exquisite mountain range and visited a village of the ancient Hmong tribe, originially from Manchuria. Afterwards we stopped at a group of them dancing to the sound of recorded American music. It was a wedding reception; the bride was 18, the bridegroom 20. We were welcomed with much enthusiasm and grace, and offered seats and beer. A young man invited me to dance and so I did. We felt so honored, and they acted as if they were so honored; a lovely experience all around.
You are right. I will be sifting through these memories and feelings for some time, and something new is sure to be born from it.