Good will is a two-way road. These little Thai novices know the flow.
Schools are closed here for the hot season. A percentage of young boys will spend a month as novices. One of their opportunities after being ordained is to make the morning rounds, which gives people the chance to make merit by providing them with gifts of food and snacks. Inevitably, the process is that the merit-makers present their offerings and the fellows in saffron robes chant a blessing. The blessings go both directions.
As the fellows are initiated into their month in the temple one of the most poignant moments is when the boys, recently shorn of the hair on their heads and eyebrows, are reminded by a village elder of how much they owe to their mothers for her nurture…literally for her mother’s milk. Then the merit they make from entering the temple is transferred to their mother. Of course, the merit is infinite and so they also accrue merit as well as important lessons during their month. But in the morning they take off their shoes and sling their brass bowl over their shoulder and walk solemnly through the roadways where a couple of days ago they were riding their bicycles recklessly and carefree.
Everyone in Thailand knows this scenario by heart. Why half a million people said they “like” this Facebook posting may take a word or two for the rest of us. What the picture captures is a very unusual role reversal and expression of good will (nam jai). Beside the road was a woman who, by appearances, is a street wanderer without visible means of support. A few of the guys emptied out their bowls for her.
The boys will surely learn important lessons they will never forget this month, but some of them already know one of the Lord Buddha’s basic precepts about good will and compassion.
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Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.