So I took a trip! To visit a buddy, and to the Buddharam Buddhist temple in Boden, for a three day session of meditation and finding myself.
It was interesting, and the people were generous, but my expectations clashed a bit with the reality of it all. I left feeling grateful, and focused, and calm, but also uncertain. Not with any definitive new insights or sense of enlightenment. Not with the notion that I'd actually had the opportunity to disconnect and truly reassert myself.
There was much social media, little meditation, and the monks were not as humble as I thought they'd be. At least not all of them.
They had their own table as well. They ate before everyone else - who prepared all food for them, and served them, and made their table.
You bow to them, and do as they say. They're revered.
At least from an outsider's view it seemed they were seen more as masters than servants, even though they're living at the expense of the people they're said to serve - and supposed to serve, and I felt like the hierarchy of society was reflected in them too in a way I didn't expect it to be. I thought they'd be free from such systems, and shackles, and dogmas of authority and distinction.
But then if they truly are masters of course they deserve to be revered.
I do appreciate the culture behind these rituals, in appreciating those who dedicate their life to Buddha, but are they truly such sages they're worth this level of adornment? If they're still here they haven't reached nirvana yet, have they? And will they, before their next life? Or will the people who serve them, and give them food, and treat them as superior, be the ones who build up the required karma instead?
It felt odd. But if the people who serve them truly do ascend in reincarnative stature and wisdom in their next life, then maybe that's how the monks return the favor.
They're revered so that those who revere them may further themselves in turn. So that maybe in the next life the servants can become monks, and be revered by those who were monks in the former, and so they trade places and live in a cycle with no end...
Could that really be what Buddha intended?
Unfortunately the monks spoke little English or Swedish, so we didn't get into the philosophical aspects of any of this, and oftentimes they were on their phones, or speaking amongst themselves or Thai groups that had paid to be there. But we did have a long and interesting discussion with a man from London - a trustee at a temple there, who among many other things mentioned that Buddha taught us to question. Even him. To not follow his path blindly, but to find our own, and I hope my contemplations hereof are a sign more so of my being open-minded and questioning than of my being unappreciative of their hospitality.
They definitely were hospitable. And two of three humble as well.
I am calm, after this visit, and thankful, grateful for housing and food, though more to the Thai people who were there with me than to the masters, who I'd hoped I could speak to, and learn from.
I learned from others instead, and followed the monks in meditation.
But I was distracted by the monk who ran around and filmed the morning rites while Long Paa (not sure how you spell that - it's a title of reverence for the 'old one') kept it going. And a little uncomfortable when the young one asked I kneel by his sofa for a social media photo.
What master asks a disciple to be submissive? Isn't that up to the disciple, to show respect to those he is in admiration of and wants to learn from?
Especially if the master gives little in return, but relies on those who care for him to care for me too, asking other attendees to teach us of Buddha as he walks around with my phone and films our conversation.
Nevertheless I am thankful to him. I hope it doesn't seem otherwise.
I am thankful I was allowed to stay there, and given this glimpse into their culture, and that they acted as a channel of communication and arrangement between me and other guests.
The temple just didn't come across as pure and untarnished by the commercial; modern world as I had hoped, and I'm a little disappointed by their mannerisms, the obvious hierarchy, and misunderstandings in regard to the booking, and the meditation session we'd hoped to attend.
Here's a comparison between the intended schedule and the real one.
And btw they had no dinners. Fortunately they had fruits, and I snacks.
On the first day, after we'd been led to our room and eaten lunch, the larger group of visitors and the monk who knew Swedish and English hopped in a minivan and headed off to the ice hotel in Finland, and came back around 2 AM. We didn't realize they didn't know why we were there, or which schedule we were expecting to follow, though it was on their site, and we both filled in forms there, and emailed, and called in to make sure they'd received our reservations.
We went through the schedule with the younger monk the next morning, and he explained they unfortunately had to cater to the other groups that were there - paying customers, but would try to fit together our schedule with theirs. Which worked so so.
We spent a lot of our time just walking around outside, which you could say was meditation in itself. It was a nice place, old four-story military barracks in stone, with peaceful and snowy surroundings. Great weather too.
And maybe it was a blessing that the schedule we'd expected didn't really exist. Maybe a fiercer pace would've made for all the worse meditation, at the times we really could partake in it.
Maybe this turned into the vacation I really needed but didn't know I'd get, perfectly paced, in a beautiful milieu with good people and no pressure to participate in anything.
Long Paa seemed at peace too. I would have liked to learn more from him. And Sun Tee was kind and undemanding, albeit still in very early stages of learning both English and Swedish. Maybe he'll learn, and we can have a thorough conversation in the future.
The barrier of language might be possible to overcome, but I think there's also a cultural divide that's not so easy to, and maybe it's not so strange there aren't more Buddhist Swedes. If they do give the faith a chance, and this is the first impression they receive.
Has Buddhism itself maybe become more of a cultural element, a societal ritual and element of coping and good, than a true path of enlightenment and peace? Was my experience here representative of the faith as a whole, or just these particular individuals, and their interpretation of the roles they've dedicated their lives to?
How would it be to meditate with for example the Shaolin?
It's unfortunate it wasn't all I expected. But I am glad. It was a nice temple. The meditation was calming. I slept well. I ate good. I could come and go as I liked - no demands - though a few requests at the end. A couple ladies seemed intent either on having me join their family or their faith, I'm not sure. Cultural/lingual differences. I received a bottle of eucalyptus lotion and a big bag of chips, and helped a lady carry a suitcase down the temple stairs. I wonder if she'll read this. It was nice to meet you Sarah.
I haven't given up on Buddhism, it still seems like the one big religion - if it technically even classes as a religion - that focuses solely on good - and doesn't attempt to sell itself in any way.
I would love to visit Thailand and the temples there, and I've a newfound appreciation for their food - the breakfast rice porridge with fish and spices was both delicious and nutritious - and their generosity. Such a stark contrast from us cold and calculating Swedes.
Well not really calculating or cold when you get to know us... but we take a while to warm up. And if we give something we usually do expect something in return... we can learn much from other cultures after all.
I wish to be as selfless as they all seemed to be here. Kind and inclusive, even though it was hard not to feel a little out of place regardless. In the end I was the only real Swede there.
Maybe I will visit Buddharam again. Only Buddha knows I suppose. I hope to meditate more regardless, and some day find my way.
Thanks for this all you awesome people. It was a treat.
Next time - if there is a next time: it shall be a re:treat.