My bedroom window overlooks the impressive statue of Big Buddha. Waking up, my first view is that of a smiling Buddha, the morning light reflecting on his golden skin, almost creating its own sunrise to compete with the golden globe rising out of the bay. There is something quite calming about this first-light view; a feel-good way to start the day.
You don’t have to be Buddhist to appreciate the positive energy surrounding Big Buddha. Walking up the ornate stairs towards the 15m high, cross-legged figure serenely smiling down at you, and you can’t help but feel a sense of tranquillity. Perhaps it is the positive energy generated by the resident monks and the worshippers paying their respects, or perhaps it is the spectacular view of the sea, fishing boats, yachts and neighbouring islands from the upper platform, but whatever it is, a true sense of serenity is present.
I am trying very hard to understand the ways of the new culture that I have been immersed into. When do I wai, when don’t I, and who should wai who first? When it comes to meeting a monk, so many rules apply that it is sometimes easier to just look away and pretend you haven’t seen them, rather than do the wrong thing and offend. The thing that I admire most about the Buddhist religion and its culture is the fact that it encourages its followers to be tolerant of others. It is this practice of tolerance that makes me not avoid the monks even though I may do something inappropriate, and these encounters have led to several interesting conversations. For some reason, the monks seem drawn to my 7-year old daughter, and always approach her, presenting her with ‘blessings bracelets’. Maybe it is her blue eyes amongst a nation of brown-eyed children. Whatever the reason, she enthusiastically wears these bracelets with respect and understanding beyond her seven years, refusing to take them off.
Messages and prayers for loved ones can be written on clay roof tiles at Big Buddha for a small donation, the idea being that these tiles are used to repair roofs of temples and ‘Wats’ on the island – the message then permanently set in a spiritual place. The idea, in principle, is lovely. However, a few people have their reservations, and I overheard some tourists commenting on the fact that they thought it was ‘...just a money-making scheme to get donations, and that the tiles are probably dumped or used at landfill...’ I am pleased to inform that this is most certainly NOT the case, and that the tiles are in fact used as they are intended. On a recent visit to Wat Plai Laem, I saw a wheelbarrow of roof tiles, with personalised messages lovingly written on them, being used to repair the roof of the entrance gate, after the November storms. With photo as evidence, I longed to bump into the cynical tourists again, saying ‘See, you were wrong! They do use them!’
Big Buddha is one of the first sights that tourists see when flying in to Samui, guarding their final descent to the runway. He is also one of their last spectacular views as they leave the island, bidding them farewell and a safe journey home.
Taking my cue from Buddhist teachings, I try to be tolerant of all – including cynical tourists. I am reminded of a story I heard of a Buddhist priest explaining the concept of blessing EVERYONE you come in contact with. ‘However’, he said, ‘There are times you come into contact with some people that you just CANNOT think of a blessing. So I give to you, my emergency blessing for such circumstances - At least his/her exhalation feeds the plants.’ Love it!