It started in the airplane. A public service announcement came on the small screens saying: For your safety, please remain seated to pray.” It was Qatar Airlines, and we were headed for a layover at Doha Qatar and then on to Bangkok, Thailand. Qatar is predominantly Muslim and Thailand predominantly Buddhist- 90% in fact.
I have been seeing religion alive in practice everywhere. There are prayer rooms at the Bangkok Zoo. There are signs in the skytrain car to “Please give this seat to monks.” I pass sidewalk vendors selling marigold wreathes and incense for the observant to take to nearby shrines. There are spirit houses on every building site with fresh offerings placed in them each morning- flowers, drinks and food. There are monks on the street in the morning with their alms bowl, getting breakfasts of rice and broth from sidewalk merchants, who gain merit from feeding them.
In fact, we are in Thailand during the rainy season which is a time that many young men are ordained as monks. It is expected, and in fact most young men over 20 years of age enter the monkhood for about three months (and of course, some stay.) The young man’s family will take the first cuts of their hair and then the rest will be shaved off, including their eyebrows, and they will put on the saffron gold-yellow robe and take up their alms bowl.
In the Queen’s Park, as I am walking laps for exercise along with many of my over 60 Thai neighbors, I see there is a banner strung up, written in both English and Thai. It invites us all to a mass ordination of monks, in the park in the morning or a near-by temple in the afternoon. The entire community will celebrate the devotion of these young men taking up poverty, chastity, reflection and study of their religion.