Thailand’s Real Full Moon Party (My Brilliant Career as Designated Driver)

img_0953No, my friends are not all drunkards and reprobates, though a few certainly are. But the group I drive for now is quite different. They only like the orange stuff—and yellow. No, not Lucy in the Sky with Diamond sunshine, or even ‘mellow yellow’–and certainly not Donald Trump. No, these guys are hooked on Buddha, and the Dharma, and the Sangha, the Buddhist brotherhood…

Every traveler knows about Koh Pha Ngan’s legendary full moon bacchanalian orgies of drugs, sex, and alcohol, right? But how many know about the Thai Buddhist ‘rains retreat’ ‘Pansaa’ season that lasts for three months, and during which every monk returns to his original home temple of ordination for the duration of this Buddhist ‘Lent’ season, with the implication that this is not a frivolous matter to take or leave. It is an obligation…

img_0980And many other novices ordain for the first time during this period with the same obligations, to stick it out for the entire season, so not for the faint of heart, as many week and two-week short-time monks certainly are, trying to impress their friends or appease their parents, or even evade the law in the worst-case scenario. But that’s not me. I’m here for the Dharma…

So, when I found out that my stepson was going to ordain for the rainy season this year upon graduating university, this sounded like a good opportunity for me, too, especially after reading up on the Thai ‘forest temples’. So before you know it, we were going to ordain together, until I starting reading the fine print. Yeow! This is a big deal! Well, I decided that I wasn’t ready to ordain yet, especially when I found out that one can ‘practice the Dharma’ anywhere any time, at any temple that has time and space for you to stay—bingo! I’m in.

So now my once problematic stepson is my guide to Thai Buddhism, if not spirituality in general, and one of the worst times of my life can suddenly become one of my best, learning Buddhism the technique and Buddhism the religion, if not Buddhism the philosophy and Buddhism the psychology, which I already know well, and which I have held in high esteem for most of my life, once I realized that all I really want is peace of mind, not a piece of tail, and not a piece of the earth…

img_0991So I settle into my summer job as temple boy in general, and designated driver in particular (priests can’t drive), part of the team at Forest Temple Mae Chan in northern Thailand, where the food is spicy and the women are beautiful, and the onion-skin layers that define personalities self-heal and regenerate instantly upon peeling. But that has nothing to do with Buddhism, except in realizing the emptiness of it all…

Thus a typical day probably consists more of meditation than any other one single thing, except possibly the morning alms trek, starting well before daybreak, and why not? For once your nutritional sustenance is secured, requiring far less than a day’s work for anyone anywhere in the world, is there really anything more important than silence and contemplation? Oh, right, there’s the need to reproduce the species, and aggrandize the ego, at the same time. I almost forgot. I guess I better go meditate some more…

On rainy days, the offerings are less, or almost non-existent, as if it’s our fault that the rains came, as if it’s our fault that the ‘take’ for merchants is likely to be less, also, and yet it seems on those days we waste more then ever, sympathetic magic to re-kindle the fires of empathetic consumption, I suppose, as much a physical part of our insatiable appetites as any theory propounded by Adam Smith or negated by Karl Marx…

img_0994This is simply what we are in the world of lust and other kilesas—monkeys with machines, with appetites for waste and destruction. But monks and priests should be better than that, and are, in fact, at least for the most part, and certainly in my perfect vision of the perfect temple in the perfect bucolic setting. But you wanted to know about the Awk Pansaa celebration, right? Well, this  is the closing celebration that is almost exactly three months after the opening Kao Pansaa rites, both on the full moon–get it?

Well I assume there are rites to be had  at this time at any temple in Thailand, but the one we attended was at probably the largest forest temple in Chiang Rai province up north, Wat (Temple) Aranyawiwek, a night and a morning of prayers and ritual and free food, if you can find your way there. And there are many other forest temples in Chiang Rai also. That will be an upcoming post—please stay tuned…

 

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