Day 19 of 30 Days of Indie Travel Project, from BootsnAll
Prompt #19: SPIRIT
“Some places have the power to make even the most die-hard agnostic reconsider their position. Have you ever been in a place where you felt more alive or more connected to nature, the universe, or a higher power than anywhere else?”
Why I’ll never be a Buddhist
The Golden Buddha in Bangkok is the ultimate symbol of the divine behind the mundane. In its presence, I learned that I would always be a willful smart-ass, and never a Buddhist.
The story is that for centuries the Golden Buddha was, in fact, the Plaster Buddha. Everyone thought it was ugly, but they just had to live with it.
Then in 1955, a crane was moving the
Golden Plaster Buddha to a new site in the temple. The crane dropped it. The next day, the temple’s abbot came to examine the damage. Through a crack in the plaster, he saw the forgotten truth: beneath the plaster skin, the 10-foot tall statue was not plaster, but pure gold.
Nowadays, believers and tourists all come to stand before the amazing Golden Buddha of Bangkok. And I certainly was one of the lookyloos, one December day in 2003. The heat of the Thai day making me pour sweat, I stood in my t-shirt, pants and sandals, thinking about the symbolism of a plain exterior that conceals the divine beauty and worth beneath.
I pondered the divine, and my life, and the lives of those I knew and loved. I wondered if we had souls, and if so, did we have just one shot at life, as many Americans and Europeans believe? Or did we have multiple lives, as was held true in much of Asia?
And that plaster-and-gold thing… Do we cover our true worth with a plain, rough covering, to weather the difficulties and iniquities of the world? Do we forget that beneath all that worthless skin, we are golden and divine? Is our duty to crack the plaster, and let the true self shine throughout the world, its value known regardless of what may come because of its inestimable worth?
A sharp pain ripped up from my left ankle to my brain, tearing my gaze from the Buddha and the mysteries beyond, to my feet below.
A black ant, nearly an inch long and with jaws so large I could see them opening, was munching on my instep.
“Fuck that,” I said. In front of the Buddha. Without thought, instinct picked up my right foot and scraped my sandal down my instep. After knocking the ant and its saw-like mandibles from my skin and onto the stone floor, I stepped on the ant, crushing its little life beneath my Tevas.
In front of the Golden Buddha of Bangkok.
Would I die right then and there, I wondered, breathless, and be reincarnated as an ant? Would panels open in the walls, for a monk SWAT team to rush out to deliver divine justice on my ant-killing, blaspheming ass? For a moment I feared the worse.
Nothing happened. I started to breathe again.
Far as I can tell, no one even noticed. Except for the Buddha, who was looking right at me. “You could’ve just flicked it off,” he seemed to say. “You didn’t have to kill it. Would you want to be snuffed just because you were being a pain?” I guess I should’ve thought of that.
I left the temple soon after, my mind of two minds about the ant killing. On the one hand, it’s just an ant, and you could argue I acted in self-defense. On the other hand, I did take a life for no reason other than it was being a nuisance. And while I’m not religious, it was a little weird that I’d done this in front of a statue of the Buddha. Come on—if you were getting communion before a statue of Jesus, wouldn’t you think twice about swatting a bug in front of the same god who says he knows when so much as a sparrow falls?
Years later, I don’t know exactly what that ant incident means for the sort of person I am. Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.
Or maybe I’m still covered in plaster, and have forgotten that within there’s a true self, glittering, divine, priceless, and kind.
More like this: Urban Fantasy and Travel Stories from Rucksack Press »
What is the 30 days of indie travel?
Every day in November, the BootsnAll Travel Network is inviting bloggers from around the world to a daily blogging effort designed to reflect on how our travel experiences over the last year (or whenever) have shaped us and our view of the world. Bloggers can follow the prompts as strictly or loosely as we like, interpreting them in various ways and responding via text, photos or video posted on our own blogs. More information: Join the 30 Days of Indie Travel Project »