Thursday, September 16, 2010

Good luck, money come

Even if you don't know very much about Buddhism you will have undoubtedly heard about karma. Buddhists believe that we all deserve whatever happens to us whether it be good or bad. We create good karma for ourselves by doing good things and,of course, the converse is true for creating bad karma. I think that a religion that advocates everyone going around doing good things has got to be positive by it's practice. Unfortunately, if you start to dig deeper,then, like most religions, there are more questions than answers. OK, I accept that if we do bad things then bad karma is the result. But what i don't accept,digging a little deeper, is the tariff applied to bad karma........  A couple of weeks ago one of my students was involved in an accident. A drunk driver ploughed into her and her family leaving her mother and father both dead. She was taken to hospital with her life hanging in the balance. Just for good measure the family dog was also killed. She won her fight for life but sustained massive brain damage and multiple injuries.    This is where it all falls down.  What could a fun loving, mild mannered, 9 year old child possibly have done to deserve such horrific bad karma?       I'm sure you will all have your own interpretations of good and bad karma and i welcome your views in the form of comment.  

the lucky log

      There seems to be a definite pattern in Thailand.  Good karma = good luck = money. Nowhere does this take more definite form than in the national lottery. Although gambling is illegal in Thailand and goes against Buddhist precepts, the government run lottery plays a big part in Thai society. Some people go to extraordinary lengths to predict the lucky numbers for the next draw.
              We used to have a tabby cat and Laong would subject her to daily inspections. She would work her way around the unfortunate feline in the hope that irregular patterns in her fur would throw up something that looked like a number.   Indeed, there are lucky trees and lucky rocks in various places all over Thailand. People flock to these sites hoping to see a lucky number emerge from the patterns in the bark or the cracks and grains of the rocks. These sites are revered and have taken on a religious/spiritual guise. They are usually festooned with brightly coloured ribbon and garlands. Devotees light candles and burn incense. They leave offerings in the form of fresh fruit and soft drinks.
                                    Last Monday, in pursuit of the elusive lucky number, we made the journey to Wat Punoy in Nong Muang, Lopburi. This temple complex is given over, almost entirely, to the pursuit of the lucky number. On the run up to a lottery draw it is visited by literally thousands of people. The main attraction is the lucky log.
                                        This is a 30 foot long section of tree trunk laid on supporting trestles. It is suitably decked out in the usual ribbons and garlands. The method here is to part the ribbons, exposing a small section of the trunk. Then, talcum powder is lightly sprinkled on the wood. The powder is then worked into the grain with circular motions of an index finger. The hope is that the patterns in the grain will throw up a shape that can be interpreted as a number. As a testament to the popularity of this method the entire length of the trunk has been worn quite smooth by years of devoted rubbing.   Laong spent 20 minutes or so prospecting a few different sections of the trunk. The log was unwilling to give up any secrets so we moved on. However, before leaving i observed a woman of senior years working furiously at her own section of the log. She was obviously semi-professional in the method as she had brought with her a 750g container of talc and a bag of back up containers. She was still beavering away at the same spot when we passed her on the way out nearly 2 hours later.  
                  We spent the next couple of hours ringing bells, banging gongs, burning incense, and rubbing gold leaf onto every conceivable surface of Buddhist deities.  If gold leaf poisoning exists as an ailment then Laong gave herself every chance of contracting the condition. She was covered in flecks of gold. It was in her hair and all over her hands, arms and face.  I spent a short while staring at an enormous gold leaf covered ball from lots of different angles. I narrowed and widened my gaze and squinted with each eye shut in turn. Still , no numbers revealed themselves.         There was a lengthy Que at the lucky water. This was a large earthenware stone pot three quarters full with a mixture of stagnant water, gold leaf, congealed candle wax and a generous helping of dead insects. Laong sprinkled us both with a small amount amid a mumbled incantation. I noticed that some people were keen enough believers to dunk silver cups into the pot and actually drink the stuff.        
                                       After a tasty and inexpensive lunch we decided to call it a day. Laong thought she had seen a "5" on the log and maybe a "4"  in the pattern of the congealed wax in the lucky water but nothing really concrete. I was considering one last look at the golden ball when i noticed that Laong had fallen into conversation with a monk at the entrance to the car park. By the time i joined them she was scribbling furiously on the small notepad that she always keeps in her bag for just such an occasion. A few seconds later she was back in the central courtyard scouring the rows of tickets for sale by the dozens of vendors that had set up their trestles at every turn. After a detailed search, a ticket ending in the digits 782 could not be found. Undeterred, Laong spent the next 45 minutes on the phone in conversation with her various lottery contacts and managed to secure a ticket.   She hedged her bets with a few of her standard numbers ( birthdays, car reg, etc ) and after yesterdays draw came out 2,400 Baht in front.  It's hardly a life changing windfall but it's better than the proverbial poke in the eye and it might just cover the cost of the talcum powder and gold leaf !           


  1. Hi Tom Yam, I think the problem is that there are so many different explanations as to how karma works – simple explanations and more complex explanations. Traditionally Buddhism has provided both these teachings depending on the audience. The average person in a Buddhist country seems to have a far more simplistic view of karma than what the Buddha advocated (or what we know of his teachings).

    The Buddha discussed many types of cause and effect with only one type of karma being something that we control. Things happen because of the intermingling of all the different types of karma; this makes it almost impossible for people to say what exactly caused what. Buddha seems to have provided two teachings; one to help people escape the discomfort of life and another to help them deal better with life. One teaching is about personal liberation while the other (what I like to call Buddhist Lite) is like a type of self-help. The second teaching is a more watered down version of the teaching but this seems to be the most popular here in Thailand – in my view. Of course, all interpreations of Buddhism could be accused of watering down.

  2. Hi Paul,
    Many thanks for your explanation and insight. Your comment will make very interesting reading for visitors to the blog.
    Tom Yam....

  3. Thanks Tom Yam, I'm no expert but it is something that I'm interested in. I think Buddhism is probably the only philosophy/religion where most followers don't want to reach the goal - liberation from the idea of a 'self'. The attitude seems to be 'make me better but not now' :-)

  4. I must admit I am uncomfortable with those monks that extend their philosophical teachings to include sooth-saying and astrology (and lucky numbers) in return for suitable recompense of course. I think that abuses their reverential position within the country.

    I am also surprised that normally sensible and intelligent Thais lose all their short term memory when advocating some monk, usually the other side of the country, who 'always' gives you the winning numbers in the lottery. I am only glad to say that their enormous win does not seem to have gone to their head judging by the car and house they own!

    I am glad to say Ploy hasn't done the lottery for some time now.

  5. Interesting and amusing story! That Wat is on my list of places to visit, just for the curiosity factor! Thanks for the write up.

  6. Hi Camille,
    Thanks for checking in. This Wat is well worth trying to find. You will need to speak fairly fluent Thai to ask for directions as it's in an isolated rural location.

  7. A classic story, I know the temple to Lopburi too though we haven't been there - thankfully my missus isn't too much of a lottery addict though I know plenty who are and will go to all kinds of lengths/see all kinds of 'visions' to help get those lotto numbers.

    Maybe, your story proves there is something of substance to it after all?!

  8. This is a great write-up from a farang or guava :) ....

    My mom used to have this dictionary of numbers that associate items / events / whatever to a 3-digit number! Muahahaha! So, if she dreams of a snake, so will go look for pictorial "snake" and refer to the 3-digit no. and make her way to the nearest betting center!

    So sorry to hear about the little girl and her family (+ dog). Karma do not expire. It goes on and on even to the next life ... practice kindness whenever and wherever possible!

  9. Hi Lupie,
    You won't be surprised to learn that Laong has a numbers dictionary and all sorts of other dream interpretation publications....We live in hope!!

  10. I think I need to borrow Laong's number dictionary...or remember to buy a lotto ticket!

    Karma, there is a lot to be said for the principle, no matter what your beliefs are. We raised our girls by it and try and stick to it ourselves. How wrong can it be? Be nice and get nice back :)

  11. Hi Snap,
    As a testament to the powers of Laongs number dictionary, i'm still working as a poorly paid teacher 6 days a week. Read into that what you will.
    Doing nice things and having nice things happen in return is a great idea. My problems begin when doing nice things gets you shit in return.
    You guys must be in serious countdown mode now. Hope it's all coming together for you.
    Tom Yam..