POSTCARD 145: Bangkok: The front cover of the Matichon newspaper weekly supplement shows pictures of the Erawan Shrine with the headline: ‘why’, ทำไม (tham mai). Whoever is responsible for the bomb would have been aware of the damage to relationships with China, and aware of the damage to the Thai government for failing to protect the public. Seems strange to me that even though it’s a four-headed Hindu, Brahmin shrine, worshippers are mostly Chinese Thais and it’s popular with Chinese tourists from Hong Kong, Singapore, and the new wealth of mainland China, group-tours of families and young people mostly. Maybe it’s not political, an act of madness – the shrine has a curious history. Inevitable, though, that everyone assumes it’s political; the small cartoon character in the lower right appears in every edition of the Matichon weekly. In this one the character wears a black armband and is saying: “So now we have finally come to this!” A provocative statement – a comment about anti-government groups, trying to harm the Thai economy.
It’s a mystery. I visited the shrine yesterday, most of the barriers are moved away now, some repairs still to be done to the roof where the explosion blew off roof tiles. The pedestrian bridge is cordoned off with tape to stop people leaning over to take photos. The same great cloud of incence hangs in the air above a continuing throng of hundreds of people visiting throughout the day and night with their offerings and countless bowings of head and hands, burning incence sticks held in hands, and palms together as if in prayer (anjali). I’m amazed by the passion of the ritual, there’s always been some intensity of thought here – not an open free mind, it’s not meditative… it’s something ‘willed’. There’s an undercurrent of some sort of unknown energy, people cling to the idea of it, the deity can save us if we believe in Him; we worship somebody else ‘doing it’ on our behalf – we are subject to that.
Strange to see this, because Thailand is a Buddhist country and Buddhism is about not engaging with the ‘story’, it’s about understanding the constructed nature of what has been handed down to us and stepping outside of that to see the non-duality between ourselves and the world. Like the original Jesus Teachings, you simply ‘see’ the Truth of it; the reality that surrounds us all the time; like the Hindu Brahman, the Oneness, the God-state that’s here and now.
The people who visit here every day must be sincerely involved in mindfully finding their way through the busyness of their lives. Others may visit when they have an extreme situation they’re worrying about, they come for help; a desperate prayer for what ‘I’ want, what I think I need. I can’t imagine what they receive from this, only more of a focus on situations that are absent of that thing that is desired. Why? What can I learn from this? Is there a Teaching here? Or maybe there’s something wrong with the question. It could be superstition, misguided intentions, living in illusion; ‘the futile pursuit of happiness’ it’s always disatisying because it doesn’t do enough, I want more of it – the fleeting happiness found in consumerism doesn’t hit the spot.
Traffic noise echoes off the concrete structures all around. Heat and incence smoke rising…
‘The ego’s attachment to power of any kind is linked inextricably to the fear of losing that power and thus becomes a source of suffering.” (Ramdas)