In Ban Pho,
fifty years ago,
Ah Koh Lai the widow
filled her heart
and saved five thousand baht.
Pressing her hands together in salutation,
she resolved to make a donation
for the benefit of all
to Wat Krathum Uposatha Hall. *

She sent her granddaughter
to Saochingcha where,
by the giant Brahmin Swing,
she bought a giltwood Dhamma Chair.

Wrapped in paper padding;
squeezed into a taxi shaking;
pushed into a bus bumping
(but sideways and at the back).
Fifty miles on tarmac jolting
to Ta Tua Bridge
to the shop
to the jetty
to a boat.

to the Uposatha Hall
at Wat Krathum.
Red lacquer, carved giltwood
and teardrop decoration.
From it, sermons given
on morality
and monks ordained and tested
on the 227 precepts
at the Patimokha Recitation.

and outlasted
several constitutional reviews,
three democracies,
five dictators
and approximately seven coups.

until Sunday at three in the morning
when, without warning,
and despite the howling of twenty dogs
and the steel of three padlocks,
burglars clambered
over the wall
and cut their way into the Uposatha Hall.

The Abbot struck the bronze bell.
Each monk came out from his cell
to see what was being done.

Someone had had a vision;
Buddhism is a profitable religion
in more ways than one.
the Dhamma Chair,
a brass Buddha image
of Luang Por Sothorn,
a vacuum cleaner
(and three damaged padlocks).

Ah Koh Lai’s granddaughter
remembered a story the monk had taught her.
The millionaire Sumangala
built a vihāra
for the Buddha
near his palace.
The Brahmin Gamabhojaka
burned it down out of malice.
Sumangala expressed his appreciation
to the unknown arsonist for the conflagration;
“This good man,” he reflected,
“has given me
a wondrous opportunity
to have another vihāra erected
and make more merit!”
Ah Koh Lai’s granddaughter was elated.
“These bad men,” she stated,
“have given us, I see,
a wondrous opportunity
to have a new Dhamma Chair donated.

And make more merit!

*  Uposatha: literally “fasting”. In Buddhism, Uposatha days are the lunar quarter days set aside for religious observances by both monks and lay people. The Uposatha Hall is the Ordination Hall.


(from BAMBOO LEAVES – Poetry in Thailand)

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