My last trip I had the luck to stay at Wat Tepagron in Thonburi for several days with the teacher of my friend and Thai teacher Phramaha Anurak.
My host, Ajahn Pilom, would rise quitely every morning and go on his alms rounds leaving me to arise my lazy farang carcass as I saw fit. A couple of hours later he would return loaded down with all sorts of wonderful food and usually with someone in tow who could speak a little English. While the monks would eat I would engage the days inteperter in conversation. Well maybe conversation is a strech, most often they were wonderful exchanges of broken English and Thai with each side assuring the other that we spoke Thai or English very well!
After a few days Ajahn Pilom invited me to go out and go on alms round with him so I could see a Buddhist and Thai tradition first hand. I eagerly agreed as I was now getting over my jet lag and more accoustmed to his time schedule. The next morning I arose with Ajahn and went down to the first floor to shower. He smiled at me and tapped his forehead, as he did every time I went to the bathroom, to remind me not to bang my head on the low door transom. Alas the warning was to no avail as the large hollow thud of my forgetfulness rang throughout the Wat Once again.
It was beautiful morning as we left the Wat and began our walk. The sun was still down and I was very aware of the river in the air, embracing me with a comfortable coolness and tickling my nostrils with her perfume. The morning birds were singing and the dogs, which seemed to bark all night long, must now all be napping.
As we started out we were part of a small unorganized procession of monks all seeming to be on their own program heading out from the Wat towards the main streets of the area. People on their way to work or way home from work would pass us, and the site of the monk being followed by the large blonde farang carrying his bag would always warrant a second look. In a few minutes we got to the area where people were beginning to set up their days shops or were already set up and serving their morning clientele. But we weren’t stopping for alms!? Ok, we did stop once, but I was starting to wonder where all the food I seen before came from.
We walked out onto and down the main street and then took a turn down a narrow hard to see alley way and began an absolutely fascinating journey. For the next 2 hours we walked all over Bkk it seemed. We passed by the homes of people well to do, with expensive cars and opulent gardens, glimpsed through walled enclosures. Past the homes that people had built with an amazing variety of discarded materials. Shortcuts through fields, over klongs and through hallways in apartment buildings. Always stopping to receive alms, give a blessing and have the presence of the farang explained.
At, I guess, several prearranged spots, we would be met by Ajahn’s regular lay attendant and he would bicycle off with the alms I would transfer to him.This was an outstanding morning for me. In one sense I felt a little on display, after all how often does a monk come around with a farang temple boy in tow, particularly one almost as old as the monk! On the other hand, every one I met from all walks of life, seemed as happy as they could be that a farang would be following a monk around.
As I have reflected on this experience as the months have passed, what strikes me is the feeling of bonding I had with these people I met on the alms round. Even though I was from half way around the world and raised in a different culture we have, at a very deep level, a very common bond. I have never felt that same feeling here. Funny where you find things.