Thursday, April 11, 2013

Being Blessed By Buddha

On Wednesday afternoon, all of the volunteers in our villa came back home for a special event.  Three Buddhist monks came over to bless the villa, which is a tradition in advance of the Khmer New Year.  It was a fascinating experience.

The monks were as hot as the rest of us in the stifling heat
Even the Buddhist shrine in our living room dressed up for the occasion

In addition to the monks clad in saffron robes, there was an older man in a homemade white robe.  He was an integral part of the ceremony.  He apparently lives in the neighborhood, and was invited over to the ceremony along with several other neighbors. He was almost as thin as Mohandas Gandhi, had a wizened, expressive face, and was quite a character.

We don't think he was an official monk, but he stole the show

The proceedings began with the monks sitting stoically in front of the audience.  The group was mostly comprised of the volunteers and the extended Projects Abroad staff, including our regular on-call tuk tuk drivers.

On the side of the room, the man in the white robe prepared several items for the ceremony.  This included various leaves, flower petals, incense, bowls of mixed fruit, rice, bowls of heated water and a few other items.  Samea and Sokhum, our cook and cleaning lady, assisted with this process.

Sokhum and Samea helped out, and seemed to have fun doing it

Once the three monks had all of their accessories, the chanting began.  One monk seemed to have the role of lead chanter, with occasional help from the other two.  At times he exchanged chanting banter with White Robe Man.

We would have loved to have known exactly what White Robe Man was chanting, because the tuk tuk drivers in the back row were cracking up regularly.  We asked Bunroen and Pises Mao, Bunroen's boss who visiting from Phnom Penh, about it later.  But apparently it was the kind of thing that gets lost in translation, because they said they couldn't really explain it.

We needed some Khmer/English translation headphones for this funny guy

During all of this time, everyone was seated in a somewhat awkward position.  In Khmer culture, the lotus position, crossing your legs otherwise, and pointing your feet directly at others are all considered rude and arrogant.  So we sat with our legs behind us and to one side, with the top half of our bodies vertical.

At times, we needed to lean forward slightly, clasp our hands together in front of our face and pray along with the monks.  This combination of activities was definitely not comfortable, at least not at the fifty-something stage of flexibility.  There was a lot of fidgeting, and luckily we weren't the only ones.  The next time we attend a house blessing for Khmer New Year, we're going to take yoga classes for a month beforehand.

The main fidgeter is taking the photo

In the meantime, with prior permission from Bunroen regarding the cultural norms, John got up frequently to take photos of the proceedings.  It was a good excuse to stretch.  Two members of the Projects Abroad staff did the same thing.

In the middle of one of these mini photo sessions from the rear of the room, John looked up and noticed that he was being pelted by several small, hard flower petals.  Oh no, the monks are finally getting their revenge!  But it turned out to be part of the standard blessing routine.  The monks were actually a lot more laid back about protocol than the rest of us assumed they would be.  And they definitely enjoyed firing the flowers around the room.

John is forgiven for his camera sins, and dons the red string of good luck

Several of the staff and neighbors had failed to turn off their cell phones, and the monks weren't even annoyed by that.  One local lady answered her cell phone in the middle of the ceremony, and chatted for a while.  The monks have definitely achieved Zen to not be bothered in the least.

The ceremony took a little less than an hour, although it seemed longer than that due to the contortionist requirements.  Afterwards, the monks patiently waited through a series of posed photos.  They left us with good fortune for the following year.  Or for at least as long as we are in the villa.

The monk in the middle looks like former Redskin Brian Mitchell
Projects Abroad volunteers join Monk Mania in our front courtyard

There were no monks named Art, Adrian or Thelonius.

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