A Crystal Child ลูก แก้า is a metaphorical, honorific title for a child going to be ordained as a Buddhist novice. He is fulfilling a traditional transition from being a prince into being a humble mendicant, which is a much higher role. To symbolize this change the child is adorned as splendidly as possible and then travels to the temple on the back of a horse. The Prince Gautama left his palatial home and family and rode his fabled horse, Kanthaka, across the mystical frontier (symbolized by a river) into the forest, on the night he renuoned his heritage and then began his search for enlightenment. In North Thailand the custom is to dress the boy in pure white or elaborately in bright colors to reiterate that journey.
What, then, is being symbolized when (as in the case of the girl in our pictures) the child is not going to be ordained, and indeed there is no ordination ceremony at all?
On the day this child rode to the temple the event was a katin, a celebration to make merit at the end of the rainy season by taking new sets of robes to the monks at a temple so they might be fittingly attired as they end their retreat and emerge into the wider world again. All katin ceremonies have two things in common, in Thai Buddhism. They are as festive as possible and they bring major resources to a temple. The point is to make merit through the donation of gifts. Merit is in direct proportion to the effort expended in making the donation. Traveling a long distance makes more merit than a short distance. Making a large donation makes more merit than a small donation. Contributing to an effort to expand the benefits of enlightenment to others makes more merit than other forms of human improvement.
When the Crystal Child rode her “dancing pony” at the head of the procession to bring robes and donations to the temple she was a symbol that the sponsors of the katin were doing more than helping build an assembly hall for a new temple in a small village. The sponsors were saying that they were giving spiritual, financial, and moral support to the village for its entire mission. They intended the festival to be as splendid as possible, but they were concerned for the future and were investing in it.
The future belongs to children. How often we need to be reminded of that.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.