Thai Culture

In the course of last year, one of our international meetings took place in Thailand.  As part of our immersion into the culture and religion of Thailand we were given the privilege of visiting the Sathira Dhammasthan, a Buddhist monastery in the heart of Bangkok. This monastery is unique in the sense that it was founded by a woman, Venerable Mae Chee Sansanee Sthirasuta and that the kind of life the Buddhist nuns live there is different from the traditional life form. The Centre under her leadership aims to heal people, to show them how they can live peaceful lives, how differences can be respected and accepted.   We were welcomed by a gracious guide who is one of the many volunteers who live in or around the Monastery grounds.  With her was a small group of children, all in white, with their heads shaved. The first surprise was to find this oasis just off a busy street - we crossed a threshold from one world into a totally other in a few short steps.  We were invited to take off our shoes and to walk in silence through the green space, crossing a series of little bridges, listening to the sound of water trickling from several small steaming water falls, surrounded by large ferns and tropical plants. We were led to the first sacred space that enshrines a relic of Buddha. Here people come to pray. We learned that the grounds surrounding the monastery are places of welcome and hospitality.  From there we walked into an open garden of fresh green trees and grass, polished stone seats, natural wooden benches.

Our guide invited us to listen to the sounds of nature around us, to be alert to the birds and lizards and especially to notice the trees. We soon became aware that the protection of nature is central to the way of life of this monastic community. In fact this now beautifully green peaceful space was once just a piece of wasteland in the heart of Bangkok. Some of the trees had even been transplanted from a place where they were in danger of being cut down to make room for a new road. Since its foundation, in 1987, the monastery has gradually expanded the garden, responding to needs as they became aware of them. There are now several buildings and monuments in the garden. One, a large ball, represents the "king” or "father”, another, a large arching structure, represents the "queen” or "mother”. These invite us to give and nourish life wherever we are, to create societies where people can live calm and contented lives free from unnecessary suffering. Visitors who come here are encouraged to deepen their own faith tradition and to live more deeply and mindfully. The newer buildings have a feminine feel to them; being constructed in such a way that there are no corners, and even the channels that collect the rainwater curve their way like rivers. There is a "cave” used for meetings, built by the volunteers, with its own natural air cooling and lighting, and sound exclusion systems. The living plants are irrigated by water purified and recycled within the compound and even the trees that die are given a new life when they are used in a different way making natural tables, chairs and other furniture. The motto: "go with nature…watch and protect nature” is part of the wisdom offered here. Many times we were asked to reflect on what we want to do with our unique lives and what we want to leave to future generations.

 

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