I can’t exactly tell you where this Buddha Wat was; my buddies and I were a couple of drinks past maps. I know for a wet fact we’d taken a mid-afternoon dip in the Andaman Sea, (it being our day off from diving); we were heading up Souvenir Street, just off the beach. Ah, got it! Patong Beach, on the island of Phuket! Anyhow, we turned right on Soi Bangla . Ordinarily I would have stopped for a couple of drinks with the bar girls who greeted us, but my companions were keen on walking the town. Shame, cause I wear a magic amulet that makes all the bar girls of Thailand buy me drinks. At Banglas’ end we turned left onto Ratuthit Road, then right, uphill out of town. At the roads’ first turn we came upon a large Buddhist temple behind closed iron gates. Closed, not locked. The three of us went in.
The place was filled with animals. Dogs, cats, roosters, chickens, a misplaced squirrel or two, you name it. But, no people. A tail wagging dog pack followed us as we explored. The complex was as nice as any I’d seen in Bangkok. Ornate buildings and courtyards in the old Thai style; lots of impressive Buddha statues in the main shrine area. A smaller shrine held a very large, gold-leaf covered Buddha. Every moment we kept expecting to be welcomed or chased away, but no one ever came. No loudspeaker chanting, no voices but our own. Couldn’t hear the traffic. The dogs never barked. Pretty darn quiet. When I sat down to adjust my camera the dogs jumped all over me. That was pretty nice, if messy; I’d lost my own dog to old age and had barely patted one on the head since. I thought we were all becoming best friends but suddenly, (as though they’d gotten a clear whiff of me) the dogs ran off.
We headed back towards the gate, intending to visit the large open air shrine on our way back to the road. Cats walked everywhere, their flowing movements on the long wide driveway reminding me, oddly, of small sharks I’d seen gliding over coral reefs. The barkless, motorless, voiceless, rooster-crowing-less quiet did seem somehow to have the quality of underwater silence.
The dog pack was in the shrine room, living it up. Without a doubt somebody would show up now, and blame this on us! I watched one dog grab an offering from the altar, then trot away as though he were one more satisfied supplicant. His bliss probably vanished when his pack buddies started tussling with him for it. Creating a fine mess! But I relaxed a little, figuring that the marvelous lack of animal feces in the complex argued for the animals being given refuge here on a daily basis. I stretched out on the blessedly clean floor to get a dogs’ eye photo of the main statue. As I rose to my feet I felt an overwhelming wave of compassion for all the animals of the temple. For just a moment I knew the loving kindness that had given them refuge here from a world far too complex and cruel. Then the experience was gone. But… if I could tap into that compassion by only mechanically prostrating myself before the statues for a photo, then what were these dogs, with their simpler, purer feelings, experiencing?
My friends wanted to leave. I lit an incense stick, offering the smoke and flame to the silence. Then we headed out, past the gates, up into a different world.
Published on 12/2/06