I love living in a place like Chiang Mai, Thailand because you never know exactly what the day will bring. One morning, a few months ago, I was just waking up in my apartment when I heard far away chanting. In Thailand it isn’t unusual to hear Buddhists reciting mantras or saying prayers but this was different. Many voices, accompanied by bells and drums, were so filling in the air you could almost feel it. Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I got out of bed and went out to my 15th floor balcony to see what all the fuss was.
Between the buildings a few blocks away I could just make out a constant stream of saffron robed monks in procession down one of the city’s main streets, alms bowls in hand, marching to some unknown destination. Since I am always on the lookout for photographic opportunities I had to go investigate. So, I threw on some clothes, grabbed my camera and rushed out to see what was going on.
A crowd had gathered along the street and police had begun directing traffic to allow the procession to pass. The sidewalk was covered with yellow flower pedals and locals, all dressed in white, were kneeling along the route in order to be blessed and give offerings. Since I had come late to the proceedings most of the monks had passed but I wanted to move ahead so I could position myself for better photographs. A very old man, sensing my desire to move to the front, asked one of the monks to let me pass through the line so I could move up the opposite side of the street where there was less congestion. I was able to find some great vantage points and was able to make some pretty good images.
What I had stumbled upon was a procession of 500 Dhutanga monks who were carrying relics of the Buddha through town, in a tradition that goes back millennia, when Chiang Mai was suffering from an outbreak of cholera and “an epidemic of devils.” For such a large and beautiful undertaking there is remarkably little information, in English anyway, that describes the event. I am specifically writing about this because back in December, there was another event called “The Gathering of 10,000 Monks” that the city just seems to take in stride and I want to remind myself of how special things like this are and not to take these spectacles for granted.
A little over three years ago, at the age of 50, I took early retirement, sold most of my stuff, and decided to live a life of adventure instead of one of comfort and possession. I am all too familiar with the trap that we can all fall into where we get comfortable and don’t challenge ourselves or conversely allow the beauty of life to become boring and routine. Even though I have chosen a path different than most people, I still occasionally have to remind myself to see the beauty that happens around me. I have learned through experience how easy it is to miss the wonderful things that happen every day and I don’t want to do that: Even if it is something as routine as 500 monks carrying relics of the Buddha through the city.