FULL MOON DAY

One candle is a light unto itself.
One hundred candles
illuminate a room.
In a room,
one candle is
a light unto itself.

Uposatha Day at Wat Krathum,
seven old ladies and one old man
taking eight precepts for a day
to keep the fires of Hell at bay.
“I undertake to observe the precept
to refrain from killing living beings.
I undertake to observe the precept
to refrain from taking things not given.
I undertake………”

An old monk gives a sermon;
“Articulate Sariputta is blamed.
Ānanda’s economy of speech is blamed.
Silent Buddhas are blamed.
Criticising others
burns the heart
wards off wholesome
states of mind.”

A new and lofty concrete sala hall
is being built to house a replica
of a famous Buddha image
in which, they say, Luang Por Sothorn *
floated along the river Bang Pakhong,
against the current, to Chachoengsao
after the sacking of Ayudhaya,
a city of a million souls.

Eleven o’clock,
a bell sounds.
Seven monks follow their abbot
past a rabble of dogs with mange,
sabbe sangkhārā dukkhā, **
to Jai Hieng’s house
on the anniversary
of Jai Hieng’s father’s death,
sabbe sangkhārā aniccā. ***

Off the road,
concrete lintels laid end to end
make a causeway.
To the left a lake
once watered orchards.
The lake remains,
abandoned to monsoon and sun
and the struggle to survive.
The orchards are long since gone
to make way for a ramshackle prison,
an intensive chicken farm;
a hundred yards
of crude, wooden Auschwitz.

Deserted now,
last week’s screams
and cackles and sudden death
are an uneasy silence
this hot afternoon.
By government decree,
the chickens have gone.
A thousand and more,
stuffed alive into bags,
thrown into a pit,
a powdering of white lime
on freshly dug earth,
flattened where the tractor has been.

A mass grave
to protect humans
from chicken flu.

In Jai Hieng’s house
the monks sit
on coloured rattan mats,
along adjacent walls.

Fans are trained on them.
A white string links them,
hand to hand,
from abbot’s hand
to Ting Lee’s urn
in the adjoining room.
They chant
of suffering, impermanence
and insubstantiality.

Two old ladies and one foreigner
listen to the chanting of Pali words
spoken by Buddha himself
over two and a half thousand years ago,
a chant which vibrates
the heart chakra
like a lute string.

No-one else listens.
Food is prepared.
Everyone shouts commands
(and counter-commands).
Plates clatter.
Cutlery rattles.
Monks chant.

They do not need to listen
to a language
which, like the liturgies
of medieval Christendom,
is recognised,
revered,
but, by the laity,
not understood.

It is enough that the monks are here,
large and loud,
like a massive, virtual reality
Television Screen.

Afterwards, lunch.
We sit and watch the monks eat,
as in Bangkok
the rich used to pay
to watch the king dine.
Curries, rice, shrimps,
asparagus, carrots, peas,
tofu, sticky rice, dom yam,
lotus seeds, luk deui,
makaam thets, jackfruit, mangoes.

(But no chicken.)

* A famous monk who after the fall of Ayudhaya is believed to have rejected Nibbāna and entered a Buddha image for the benefit of others. His cult, widespread in Thailand, is centered on Chachoengsao where it has created an economic boom based on the pilgrim trade there reminiscent of Lourdes and Canterbury in the Middle Ages in Europe. Amulets with his image sell for up to 40,000 baht each.
**All conditioned things are suffering.
*** All conditioned things are impermanent.

.

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