Thais and Buddhism.
I just finished reading a wee volume about the principles of Buddhism, written by a famous Monk. It is this: Don't cling to anything. Lose suffering by realizing emptiness. Find emptiness by stopping the chain reaction from senses (taste, smell, touch, hear) to subsequent feelings of satisfaction or dissatisfaction about the sensory contact, to craving for more or for it to go away. So basically we should strive to be empty in our minds of all positive and negative because they are illusions anyway, and they can bring us joy and happiness but also suffering. You must give up both for the enlightened peace. A happiness beyond that normally felt. It is true that if the entire world did this there would be no war.
After much thought, I'll give up the negative but don't think I can ditch the joy :-). I read about this right before shopping and had second thoughts. I told the store owner, an Indian Sikh, that maybe I shouldn't buy anything pretty for my house so I could be happier like a Buddhist. He replied: don't worry, no one reaches that high level of enlightenment.
I'm going to visit and meditate at the Wat (temple) where this Monk lived and see if I can overcome my shopping desires...
I also read an interesting article about the Thai cycle of life. When a child is born the nearest revered Monk consults astrology charts and after quite a bit of thought picks a name for the baby. The parents use this, plus a nickname they pick themselves based on the baby's behavior in the first few days. I asked a pregnant woman if this was all true and she said, yes, for baby boys but not so much for girls because they are not as important here.
Speaking of Monks, every boy becomes one for a month to a few years, and some stay forever. This helps them study and learn to be a good Buddhist. Every morning the monks go around right before sunrise to ask the neighbors for food - which they gladly give. Monks eat before noon and then not again until the next morning - but they can drink water. This is to remind them of the difference between need and want: that you don't need food more than once a day, but you do need water.
Anyway, back to Thai cycle of life, when the baby reaches a month old, he/she is pretty sure to live, so they have a "fire-hair-shaving" ceremony. They shave the baby's hair and float it away down a river on a banana leaf. this is for luck and longevity. Then they tie cotton strings on the baby's wrists and ankles and all pray and give blessings.
Next is marriage with its rituals. Astrologers help pick the big date. Chanting by monks starts it off, and a flower chain joins the couple's hands. The most senior person in a village leads the proceedings and soaks the couple's hands in water poured from a conch shell. Blessings include monetary gifts that help cover the cost of the event. The more power one has, the more money they must give.
Finally, death. A wake is held for 5 nights and monks oversee it. The remains are cremated and there is a feast and chanting. According to the book I read, reincarnation is not one of the original Buddha's teachings. It is not an official part of Buddhism. The monk said that even if you haven't been able to live an enlightened life, you can do it in your dying moments by emptying your mind of all craving to stay on earth, and let emptiness and peace enter.
There is lots more, but this is a wonderful religion because although the Buddha is revered and his teachings important, spirituality is a very individual practice. The monks serve as models, but not as "god's" mediators, as in most other religions. It is very simple: don't cling to anything, and empty your mind of all craving, good or bad.
Maybe in my next life. For now I'm just glad to experience and learn more about this religion that is so appealing.