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Saturday, March 02, 2013

Buddhist Sacrifices in the Jungle

I don't know how it all supposedly happened. I mean, I don't recall the particular coincidences that led me to embark while only after a few days in Thailand on such a excursion, but what is emblazoned on my memory was when we, the 3 of us, went into the jungles to offer a Buddhist sacrifice on the land of a friend that I had only met the day before.
Now, the way Buddhist sacrifices go, nothing perishes. Or nothing is killed. What I mean, is with the idea of sacrifice we either think of virgins being hurled into volcanic lava pools or of the more Hebraic one of a goat having its throat slit. Perhaps, sacrifice was a wrong word....but offering is a better.
This only required for us to carry some cookies, candles, and incense into the rainforest. Why?

The speculative answer is too much for me to answer. For in ideal Buddhism, I always got the sense that such rituals were not the point. But this is further from the case, go to any Buddhist Temple in the East and you will find incense sticks being burned as much as any Eastern Orthodox Church. Except in Buddhist circles, perhaps its the brilliance of the light that the candles and incense emit rather than any propitiatory atonement being purchased.

My friend, Nina, whose land it was and who wanted to sort of bless the area, insisted that we go back and find the land and the markers from the day before. Now, our party was at a scant 3 persons. Myself, Nina, and the good friend Jeorgen, the older Danishman who was retired living in Thailand. The entourage from the day before had dwindled down.

Nina wanted for me to rent a motorbike and go zipping through the small road that the jungle was engulfing on this island. But I was hesitant for having only driven a scooter for a few days once upon a time in Bali, and concluding that while I can actually carry myself, having another person on the back, especially when she is pregnant, which Nina was, I would feel very, very uncomfortable and do not hold faith in my own ability at driving a motorbike up and down hills on a tropical island in such a meticulous fashion.
Now, the place was not far at all, but later that day, a scene bolstered my instinct at caution when some luckless hipster tourist girl had wrecked her scooter and some how had done some neat trick in getting it wedged underneath a roadside railing. She was okay. But was covered in mud and probably would pay some hefty scooter repair for attempting to drive that thing up a steep hill at the first onset of a light rain.

So Nina hired a taxi truck driver; her personal driver being on the mainland stuck at a mechanic shop, and we hauled off in the back of this truck down that narrow civilization-ending road. When we pulled up next to the end of this road, we noticed another truck or two and all these tourist crowded around huddled as though they were about to go on a scavenger hunt or something. Their trucks had a logo of “Jungle Trekking Tours” painted on their doors. There was a local guide or two with them and from the overall sense of their bearing, it seemed as though they were getting a thorough briefing and cautionary introduction into hiking in the jungles. They all had face paint smeared on their visages and a few of them had bandanas around their heads as though they were about to descend into some survival camp safari. And then we hop out of the truck. A pregnant lady, an old man, and myself and we are carrying a bag of miscellaneous items such as cookies and candles and without saying a word to them we scuttle across a dry river bed into the jungles.

When we get to the area where her land begins there is really nothing noticeable about it from the surrounding rainforest plants and trees other than the rectangular cement markers and she begins to stoop down and spread the cookies out at the base of two trees each across from each other. She had forgotten the incense sticks, had left them in the truck, and tells Jeorogen to go back and retrieve them. We stand outside while a cloud falls across the sky. I notice potato plants on the ground and pull up the little tubers.
When Jeorgen gets back, she lights the candles at the base of these trees and then the incense sticks and waves the bundle of them in a vertical fashion letting the incense waft through the jungle air. The sky had slowly darkened. There was a rain cloud and it was late afternoon, so mosquitoes descended upon us as an early evening feast. I tried standing close to the little fires thinking the incense smoke may shoo them away but to little avail. Out there in the quiet of the jungle, with both of the fires lit at the bottom of these two trees on either side of the trail and with the candles gleaning and pure yellow and orange light flickering in the shadowy rainforest it made the impression that a sort of gateway was being opened and we were standing at the brink. Nina was very fast with her prayers, fortunately for the mosquitoes were not one for fasting. And I was not one for Buddhist ideology of nonviolence, for I was swatting at the little vampiric bugs with little honor.
Before long we were headed out of there, right as the rain managed to pierce through the leafy canopy. We left the cookies and the little embers glowing before perhaps a gateway to another world, or at least, the threshold to the thick of the wilderness, which will one day, probably be inhabited if Nina has her way.  More to follow...



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