I stopped by the Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai, Thailand for Monk Chat, a thrice-weekly session offered by Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya Buddhist University (more familiarly known as MCU). Here is where monks, typically students at the university, practice their English. And we travelers get a first-hand account of the daily life of monks and their work in Thailand. It’s a superb and rare opportunity that provides incredible insight into the world of Theravada Buddhism that predominates in this region.
Each week Monk Chat runs two-day meditation retreats. At the end of the month it offers a four-day retreat, which coincided nicely with my travels there in May. I was eager to get off the tourist beat for a few days to enjoy quiet and contemplation in a rural setting far from the hustle and bustle of busy Chiang Mai. So I signed up, paid the modest 1,000-baht fee (about $30 USD) and was promptly handed a white t-shirt and baggy trousers.
Just one day after the ghastly, gruesome yet thoroughly Mexican Museo de las Momias (Mummy Museum) in Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende presented the remains of more enlightened souls in a less macabre exhibit. I learned of the Maitreya Project during today’s Unitarian-Universalist service in town, which I happily attend with my mom and Ray when visiting them.
The Maitreya Project plans to erect a 500 foot statue of the Loving Kindness Buddha where the enlightened achieved final nirvana upon his death in Kushinagar, India. The Maitreya Buddha is the successor to the historical Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, who will arrive on earth when Dharma is all but lost in our world.
The introductory video presented renditions of the site with the towering 50-story Buddha, a magnificent (and expensive at USD 195M) stupa to honor one of the most important sites in Buddhism. I was impressed with the project’s goals other than the statue: construction employs local labor and suppliers, and tourist revenue will continue long after the build is complete, contributing greatly to the local economy; the facilities will be 100% powered by renewable wind and solar energy to last “1,000 years”; the site will include a teaching hospital to train doctors in holistic and Western medical practices and to serve the local (mostly impoverished) communities for free – noble aspirations indeed.