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11th September

No grasping, no clinging

Among the piles of journals on my table, I pick up a thin notebook with a purple and blue dotted cover.  It was given to me in 2016 by the director of the art institution we worked with in Bangkok, and I immediately put it to use when she took me to visit her neighbourhood temple.


I wrote how I was amused to see kitsch elements amidst the traditionally crafted red and gold pillars and screens with scenes of angels on clouds. Behind the golden Buddha statue was an aura of neon lights that flashed on and off as if it were a Las Vegas pinball machine.


In front of the statue were offerings of oranges and apples placed on silver pedestals next to bananas on fuchsia plastic plates. There were seven bottles of a cherry red soft drink with their straws all turned in the same direction like an art installation, and in front of yellowed photographs of rather dour looking monks were vases with plastic roses. In a corner stood a life size sculpture of a smiling monk in a saffron robe with round orange glasses, holding a money box on his ample belly.


We sat on an aquamarine carpet, our legs to one side being careful not to point our feet towards the Buddha statue while visitors came and left continuously. There were elaborately coiffured ladies clutching their Louis Vuitton bags, high school students in their white and blue uniforms carrying bag packs, military men with golden stars on their epaulettes, and market women with smudged aprons.


A monk sitting on a footstool chanted prayers in a sonorous voice and when I asked my friend what he was saying she explained that the holy texts urge people not to grasp, not to cling. Since all expressions of life are fleeting it’s pointless to hold on to them, she said, and added that by letting go we keep an empty and open mind.


I wondered what she meant by an empty and open mind; still, I eagerly wrote down the words in my new notebook.


Since that visit to the temple I’ve learned a bit more about Buddhism; the idea of not grasping and not clinging is part of the philosophy of letting life take its natural course, to only give a small nudge when absolutely necessary. I’ve recently started to put this into practice and I’m discovering that to determine when to act and when not can be quite a challenge.


I wonder if my writing is a way of holding on to experiences by suspending them in time.


But then again, this stylized clinging may be somewhat redeemed by the fact that I share it with the readers of my blog.

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