Since watching parts of the Live Earth concert last week I’ve been
more aware of my more profligate uses of energy. I’ve been more
conscientious about switching off fans and lights when leaving a room
– though the large number of failed light bulbs in the house is more a
consequence of my apathy than of my green warrior credentials. (My
sitting room alone has 27 light bulbs, so a few dead ones doesn’t
leave me sitting in gloom.) However, I’m left with a serious
environmental question …
A friend of mine, G., from Bangkok wanted to make merit for his late
father. That is, he wanted to give goods and a little money to a
local temple. Some people put together their own collection of items,
but most people buy a ready made present in the form of an orange,
plastic bucket full of things useful to monks.
I picked up G. on the back of my motorbike and went looking for a shop
selling such buckets. I knew that Tesco-Lotus had a whole aisle
devoted to such gifts, but that seemed a long way to go. I rode
around town until G. spotted a small textile shop. Outside was an
woman selling lottery tickets – and there were three orange buckets in
different sizes (and at different costs).
My friend bought a bucket containing toothpaste and brush, a tin of
pilchards, some candles and incense sticks, a bar of soap, and other
essentials of monastic life – all wrapped in cellophane.
We went to a local temple, Wat Maheyong. It was my choice; I respect
it because it attracts a large number of laity because of the quality
of its meditation teaching. I felt a bit bad, because my friend
wanted to donate to a smaller temple, and the place was much larger
and busier than I had remembered. Still, he was gracious and said it
was the gift that mattered, not where it was given.
The temple is a pleasant place, with groves of trees and tranquil
ponds. Today there were many 8-precept followers dressed in white
robes wandering about, and a handful of monks in saffron.
I held back as G. approached a monk sitting inside an artificial cave.
The monk spent a few moments adjusting his saffron robe, with much
rolling of fabric and tucking of ends. It was a much more elaborate
process than I’d assumed. The monk ready, G. then handed over his
basket and put the envelope on a nearby tray. The monk then chanted
something in Sanskrit or Pali (I wasn’t close enough to hear clearly).
Then there was a brief conversation – mostly G. asking what kind of
gifts were most appreciated. Apparently there are to many candles –
these are very traditional, but now that the temples are lit by
electricity a cash donation to pay the electric bill would be more
helpful. And for this temple, there was a particular problem
associated with the large number of lay residents: whilst monks make
daily alms rounds, the guests don’t, and the monks don’t collect
enough food for the whole community. Donations of basic foodstuffs
were therefore particularly appreciated.
But the environmental question I’m left with is: what do they do with
all those orange buckets?