It was the stairs that struck me. Were they so worn away because of the material of the steps? Or was it a result of the feet of countless visitors?
The stairs were steep and treacherous. One had to step very carefully, especially while travelling down. They were narrow and edged. I could feel the troughs and peaks under my sandals. I remember those stairs.
It’s as though I am still there.
In Buddhism monks, nuns and visitors are encouraged to practice what is called walking meditation. The meditation is meant to help an individual observe mindfulness. In walking meditation the idea is to slow down the act of walking and be aware of it. The walker considers and focuses on each step—drawing them out.
I think I experienced the purest form of mindfulness I’ve ever had in my lifetime at Wat Yai Chai Mongkol in the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya.
Wat means temple in Thai. The one I was visiting was a monastery built by a King named U-Thong. It was dedicated to monks who had studied practical Buddhism in Ceylon. In time the monks of that monastery became popular and the king appointed the head of the sect the Somdet Phra Wannarat or the Supreme Patriarch (which is basically the top position in Buddhism in Thailand).
You may have heard of the Supreme Patriarch passing away in late October. Thailand went into mourning for a month. The title Supreme Patriarch is granted by the King of Thailand and is reserved for monks who excelled in Vipassana meditation. The last time this title was granted was 150 years ago!
But, back to Wat Yai Chai Mongkol, the temple was later rebuilt in memory of King Naresuan the Great, a king known for his victory over the Burmese in 1591. King Naresuan is responsible for the modern name of the temple, which he called Chai Mongkol or Auspicious Victory.
Really it was a pretty clever move on his part to place a monument to his victory within a popular temple. He ensured a continuance of his memory because the temple would continue to be tended far into the future.
The stairs I mentioned at the beginning lead up to the largest stupa in the wat—the Stupa of Great Victory. Stupa means heap and it’s a mound-like structure that contains Buddhist relics—often the ashes of Buddhist monks. So essentially, stupas are often tombs.
It’s a great place to be put to rest when you think about it.
Buddha statues serenely survey the yard from every corner. The grounds are peaceful and quiet. Knots of laughing and gawking visitors pass through the entrance. Some individuals stroll slowly along the paths absorbing the sights and tranquility.
Some are at the reclining buddha statue’s feet trying to stick coins to his soles. It is rumoured that those who succeed will draw good luck in the future.
I succeeded in getting a coin to stick!
And it turns out the luck hasn’t stopped coming!
Then again it could just be a matter of directing my perspective on life. Either way, life is good.