A Spiritual Journey
This submission is going to be quite unique for this site. I believe I've read most of the submissions over the years and I can't recall a similar story I'm about to relate to your readers. This is a story of a spiritual awakening for a woman who I'm proud to have as a wife for the past 16 years and our marriage is rock solid.
First of all let me say that one of the attractions for me when considering a Thai woman for marriage was the fact that she is a Buddhist. I'm not a religious person even though I believe in God but don't practice through organised religion / faith. When I first went to Thailand, many moons ago, I became very interested in Buddhism and did a fair bit of research in to it. I was attracted to the Middle Way, whereby everything should be done in moderation and I looked at it from the cultural aspect more so than as an organised religion. I even went to the trouble of spending a couple of weeks in a mountaintop temple, looking across to Burma, living a basic life in a hut with monks and learning meditation. I admired Thai people for their devotion to the monkhood and their charitable actions to cater for them. At the time I believed that the Thais are devout Buddhists and their actions reflect a spiritual attachment to this belief system. I have to say that as time passed and I experienced more and more interaction both with monks and the lay people my ideas about Thai Buddhism, as practiced in Thailand, changed somewhat.
Disillusionment is a way to describe what I eventually felt, not so much for Buddhism itself but how some Thais used it for personal gain, superstition and plainly going through the motion without a spiritual journey. I guess this applies to most religions as they get hijacked by mere humans for materialistic purposes, physical enjoyment, manipulating others, etc, etc.
At the time I met my present wife I was still quite keen on Buddhism and used to frequent temples on special occasions. My wife was a very young woman at the time and her actions in temples were what I would describe as perfunctory. In fact I knew a lot more about her supposed religion than she did. I remember one time we were in the vicinity of a large temple in behind the Central World shopping centre whereby I suggested to her around 11 AM that we should go to visit the temple. (I knew we could eat lunch there after the monks were finished with their daily meal). Sure enough, we, as quite a few other people who were there at the time, had partaken in a nice lunch which was of course “gratis”. (Well, you put a donation in a box as you would when you go to a temple anyway, but that's voluntary.) My girlfriend, as she was at the time, was quite surprised and shy about eating for free. I'm just telling this little anecdote to demonstrate how little she knew about the religion she was supposed to be born into.
The fact is that a lot of Thai people go through the motions, the rituals, the “respect” bit without really understanding the tenets of their own faith. Maybe because the prayers (chants) in temples are done in Pali and most Thais just repeat them with the monks without actually knowing what is being recited. As a matter of fact I hazard to say that a lot of monks don't know the meaning and they learnt them parrot fashion.
But I digress. It is not about monks and other strangers to me, it's about my wife and her enlightenment. You see her enlightenment is not about the Buddha's variety. It's been 9 years since she arrived to our shores, a western country where she lives contently with me and our child and thoroughly satisfied with her new life and her material situation. She met a number of other Thai expats here and sometimes socialises with them but not exclusively. On some Thai festivals or Buddhist special days she would go to a local Thai temple to meet people as a cultural activity. Did she go for Buddhist spiritual reasons? Not on your life. That was something that she didn't realise existed. I'm not saying that some others do not get a spiritual benefit, I've met a few. Not that many though. Mostly what I've seen is a thoughtless, ritualistic exercise to be part of a mob mentality. Some of it is quite robotic. Am I expecting too much? Well, it doesn't matter, I am not a devout anything and don't want to be. I don't need it but accept that many people do, whatever their religion is.
No, this essay is not about me, it's about my wife, about her needs, her spiritual equilibrium, her well-being.
So what happened was this; she met this other Thai lady who leaves nearby and is married with 2 kids. This lady actually came from a Christian Chinese / Thai family, was sent to the UK for her university education, met a half Chinese / Western man who was Christian and married him. They are the nicest people who introduced my wife to their church congregation and my wife suddenly felt something unique she never experienced before. The spiritual awakening I'm seeing is quite astounding. My wife was always a happy and contented person but now she has an extra dimension to it. She feels uplifted and finally at peace with herself. She found the one thing she was missing in Thailand.
So what do I think of it, having said before that marrying a Thai Buddhist was one of the pluses of my marriage?
She discussed it with me when she started on her journey. I told her it's her decision and if she feels comfortable with it I encourage it. The way I figure it, she is the same person but even better, now she is more fulfilled. And that's good for us, her family, too. She's been going to bible classes once a week and in about six weeks she'll be baptised. She is very much looking forward to it.
So just to round off this little story, I told her the other day quite earnestly (but really in jest) that the usual custom is that after baptism she must abstain from sex for a year. She said no, I don't believe it! I said it's true, check with your bible teacher. So she goes to her bible classes (the teacher might have thought that I tried to put her off) and comes back telling me that they all had a good laugh about it and told her I'm a practical joker. I guess if she believed me the laugh would have been on me!