Letter 7 from Eric Arnow Arnow Letter Index
Eric Arnow has his own web site now. For years I've been putting his letters from Asia here. From now on they'll go on his site, the Bumble Buddhist which also now has all the previous ones from cuke and photos more. - dc
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2005
I am back in Chiang Mai after a brief stint in the Thai outback.
While at Wat Tam Wua, a 30 year old monk visiting there invited me to his temple about an hour or two east of Phitsanoluk, which is a 7 hour bus ride east of Chiang Mai. Wat Tam Wua is a 7 hour ride NW of Chiang Mai.
In fact it took about 14 hours to get from the door of my hotel to the temple, and 15 hours to get from the temple back to my hotel. Almost as long as the plane ride from San Francisco to Bangkok. There must be some teaching in Einstein's Law of Relativity but I am not sure what it is.
I had to go to Chiang Mai to get my visa taken care of. While there, I got my medical exam for the visa, and an annual physical. It appeared that I was in virtually perfect health, but they advised a colonoscopy, since I had some evidence of GI trouble that needed to be checked out. So I waited a couple of days to see if my intestinal flu symptoms went away (they pretty much did) and went to see the temple in the outback.
Basically this place is the total opposite of the razzle dazzle city temples with their glamorous temples and gold spires. Just a simple open space Sala--open air meeting, meditation space, and a few primitive meditation huts. No frills there, no electricity in the huts, and a generator that runs just at dark for a few hours.
The monk is supported by just 7 families, including a fellow named Koson.
Koson is really something else. Former body guard to the Queen of Thailand. Pure muscle, moves like a panther (his regiment was called the Panthers). He offered to train me to be a Thai kick boxer, which offer I politely side stepped, but he also gave me a special herb that is supposed to cure my perpetually sore knees, can cure cancer, etc. Probably a very powerful anti oxidant in a jungle vine.
He took us out one day on the contraption pictured. It is a sort of giant motor cycle/chopper, that steers like a chopper, but has a buckboard/truck bed in the back. He rides in front, just like on a buck board or a stage coach, except instead of horses, it's the big engine in front that does the pulling. The monk, the soon to be Novice, Newi (who happened to be there at the time) and I got in the back. Riding over the very rough unpaved roads with no suspension was an experience of some concern, since a good bump might have knocked any of us off. We held on pretty tightly to whatever we could. But with every bump, we'd land on our butts with such force that my spine would scrunch into my brain. So think of it as a roller coaster ride without the coasting.
Anyway, we went walking in the Thai forest, big trees, vines everywhere. The monk tells me that the forest has many mountain yogis like the cave monk I wrote about before. But we didn't see any animals or yogis. There were fruit trees that had been planted by Communist guerrillas 30+ years ago. But with no care or cultivation, the fruit wasn't much good.
But Koson did get several banana flowers, which are a Thai delicacy. He also chopped down the wild banana trees, and cut out the heart of the trunk, which is very moist and slightly sweet. He grated the flowers like cabbage the next day, and fried them up with eggs and rice. Scrumptious. He also climbed vines like Tarzan. Apparently, he was mistreated by his father, and grew up to --it seems--prove himself.
So it's Newi, the Novice to be, who had no father growing up. Komon the monk, whose father deserted his family, Koson, who was mistreated by his father, and me, whose father died.
All staying at a temple. Kind of like gang members seeking the light side, not the dark side.
I have met several other monks whose father died as well, when they were young.
A pattern. What do you think? Looks like it to me.
Anyway, Komon and Koson were incredibly gracious and generous, they refused to take money, but Koson has asked to give a plug for him as a forest guide. IF you come to Thailand, for a trek you won't forget, get Koson to take you. Contact me for contact details if you are interested.
Meanwhile, I told him that he should make his special tea so that it can be made instantly.
It sells as the vine wood for $10/kilo or about $5 a pound. But if he processed it, he would make a lot more money. Trouble is , most Thais don't have that type of business sense, so I don't know if he'll take my advice.
They urged me to visit again and stay awhile. Which I may do at some point.
To finish off, I went to the Hospital to get my guts checked. Did the usual prep of taking some meds to clean out my intestines, and lay down on a gurney hooked up to an IV. I was trying to maintain my mindfulness, and they asked how I was doing. The next thing I knew, I got a nudge, it was two hours later. The procedure over, with everything checking out OK but for some slight irritation in part of the intestine, but nothing to be concerned about.
So here I am. 56 years old. Blood pressure 100/60. Cholesterol 165, good/bad cholesterol an amazing 1.1ratio. Everything else checking out right in the middle of target range. So I am about as healthy as one can be but for my sore knees from too much cross-legged sitting for too many years.
I am really lucky to be so healthy, and in light of news of friends who have serious health problems, I know I have to both enjoy life and at the same time stay focused on practice.
At the end of every day of Zen retreats, words of admonition--in Thailand, they re said to be the last words of the Buddha himself are spoken.
"Carefully listen everyone--all things pass away--each of you must stay alert, never neglectful or indulgent."
So, taking these words to heart, I went out, had a delicious salmon dinner, with mango juice (I passed up the beer) fresh salad and home made apple pie and ice cream. All for $10.
All eaten with great mindfulness, in front of a TV showing rock and roll videos.
Well there is always tomorrow........
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