over the last few weeks tookta and i have become good friends. she came with her husband tony to watch me skydive and this past weekend she took me to her temple. a buddhist monastery in east warburton.
it was such an experience. i was one of maybe 8 aussies, everyone else was thai or srilanken. everyone bought food offerings. so much food. tookta, as well as many other people, bought at least 5 different dishes.
we started in the kitchen. everyone with their shoes off preparing an assortment of meals, no one caring who bought what or who used this and should have washed this, it was perfect harmony. i stood back and observed because there wasn't much more for me to do after i cut up the cake.
then we all walked to the sides of the road holding plates of rice. before long 5 monks walked silently by us all while we placed spoon fulls of rice in their bowls. tookta told me to be careful not to touch the bowl when i placed the rice.
we followed the rice ceremony with a walk to the prayer room where we all took our shoes off and sat on the floor. the monks walked in one by one and sat at the front and then the prayers began. most of the prayers were spoken in the monks language (i asked tookta on the way home if it was thai and she told me that monks have their own language). it was all very calming, whatever it was they were saying, the little bit of english that was spoken was encouragement for a happy life. it made me feel relaxed, not unlike i'd had a massage or done some meditation.
the feast was next. the food offerings to buddha. with a mix of australians, thais, srilankens and i'm sure several others you can only imagine the choices. there were indian dishes and thai dishes, probably 8 varieties of rice, vegetables and meat cooked with all sorts of sauces and herbs and spices. 6 tables deep of mains and 4 of desserts. and once again there was no "you didn't bring anything so you can't have anything", or "i didn't get any of so and so" behaviour. just a rich mix of people and cultures trying a rich mix of food. we sat on the floor and ate. i tried a bit of most things. sticky rice is nice - in small doses, thai prawn salad is delicious and bamboo tastes like a mouth full of chemicals.
after lunch (tony joked that he thinks the feast is really what people go for - not the religion!) everyone works off the meal with a wander around the grounds. the bodhivana monastery sits on 500 beautiful acres with amazing views. apparently the land was donated in a kind gesture to the monks. we walked up to the temple, where later in the afternoon people meditate and have a chance to listen to the teachings on the monks. we didn't have time to stay but we took some gorgeous photos of my new friends, tooktas friends and the mountain views.
i know nothing about buddhism, (obviously - i don't really know if it's called a rice ceremony, or a prayer room for that matter) i know very little about religion in general really, but it seemed to me that buddhism was a welcoming religion. there were lots of signs with words like "all are welcome" written upon them. it didn't seem judgmental (which is my naive view of most religions) but more encouraging. and i have to say that i was blown away by the harmony in which everyone worked. there was no one saying "come here now" or "do this now" it was all just known. and followed.
it was a really beautiful experience, and one that i probably would have never experienced without meeting tookta.