I took this photo on one of the best days of my life.
I had dreamed of visiting Thailand for years. At university, for one of my degrees, I specialized in Buddhism. I wrote paper after paper on Southeast Asian Buddhism (Theravadan) and spent countless hours at the library, peering through books and searching online. One of my biggest research papers was about rainy season ordination of monks as a ritual in Thai culture.
Yet, until the day of this photo, I had really seen Thai Buddhism.
My papers were based on research.
And my dreams were based on photos and imagination.
Until I went to the wats to see the Buddhist monks in Bangkok.
One of my best friends took me to this temple, with his girlfriend. They instructed me on the important principles of temple visiting – covered shoulders, covered knees, no flipflops, no cleavage. Take your shoes off before entering. Don’t step on the door frame.
The experience of Buddhism in person taught me the limitations of research.
Nothing prepared me for the deep emotions and the beauty. Watching real people practicing, learning the intricacies of tradition and culture, cannot be taught in a book. Some things need to be experienced, and felt, and can’t be replicated.
The last temple I went to on that life changing day, the monks came in to chant. It was breathtaking.
And again, I’m sorry, but my words on a web page, the same as those in a book, can’t begin to encompass all of the sounds, smells, sights, feelings. The energy of the people in the room, the devotion, the reverence, as people of different cultures and ages and earnings tuck their feet behind them, press their palms in a “prayer” and touch their foreheads to the ground. As thousands of people have done before them and thousands will after.
I loved it.
And a few short days later, I canceled my ticket back to the US and started the journey that would become my life.