Saturday, February 04, 2006

Religion…a subject about as touchy as politics or right-to-life issues nowadays. This touchy topic has confused and eluded me over the years, if not left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

I had religion crammed down my throat as a kid and being raised a Baptist, grew to learn the crooked ways and misleading tithes of the church. We all watched Jimmy Bakker and his mascara-laden wife Tammy Faye go down in flames for screwing their religious followers out of their pocket money and savings. Jimmy Swaggart wasn’t far behind with his lewd lifestyle and hypocritical exploits.

All these antics aside, I was thoroughly convinced that religion wasn’t for me after my mother’s death. She had donated her home and all its contents to the local Baptist church, which was okay with me since she and I had been estranged for many years. But, when I arrived in El Paso to conclude the burial arrangements, I sat in horror as I listened to the church pastor suggest a pine box covered in felt for my mother’s burial casket. All this, after she had given the church her $90,000 dollar home!

I listened to an argument once, about the fact that politicians and religious leaders were human. Although true, these ‘humans’ took on service positions that are based on peoples trust in them. So, when that trust is betrayed, the infraction takes on a more powerful aftereffect.

Presently, my wonderment of religion is based on why people feel the need to believe in anything other than their selves and life in general? I understand the need to believe in something other than oneself, but for some reason, belief in something intangible evades me.

This brings me to the subject of my life mate’s chosen belief in Buddhism. I’m not going to attempt to even hint at the fact that I understand Buddhism, because, like other “religions” I don’t have any reason, nor interest to study it. But, that’s not to say I’m not a bit intrigued about the practice.

Here in southern Thailand, the predominant beliefs are Muslim, Taoist, Buddhism or, although not a ‘belief’ per se, Atheism. Catholicism has its place, but is certainly dominated by the above-mentioned faiths. Aside from a passing appraisal, I really didn’t take much note of the goings on of these religious practices until it was right underneath my nose.

My first sign was the incense.

Lots and lots of incense. Asia must have an edge on the incense market, that’s for sure. They burn it in front of Buddha images and any other place imaginable. Mam and I have a little Buddha image upstairs, outside our bedroom, poised on a wooden pedestal attached to the wall, about six feet off the ground. Mam adorns this pedestal with little vases of flowers, candles and food offerings now and then, and frequently burns incense to ward off “spirits,” worship Buddha and all the above.

When I say “spirits,” I’m talking about ghosts. Yep, ghosts. Mam says to me the other day, “You believe in ghost?”

“No, I don’t,” I reply.

“I know you don’t believe, but I do,” she says.

“That’s fine,” I remark, not really knowing what else to say.

But the real clincher occurred over the past few days…

As I’ve previously blogged, I suffer from the annoying malady of bronchitis. I am afflicted with it every year, sometimes several times a year, and sometimes it lasts two or three months. This encompasses a slowly increasing difficulty in breathing, typically at night, along with severe coughing fits and the production of industrial amounts of phlegm.

Mam was witness to this malady over the past few days and it scared her something awful. She kept prodding me to go to the hospital, which I refused, choosing to wait it out and subsist on cough remedies and antibiotics.

After a particularly rough night of coughing and wheezing, Mam got on the phone to her mother in Chum Phae and proceeded to spout out a plethora of animated Lao and Isaan dialect, peppered with the occasional, “Jeeem blah, blah, blah.” This phone call was soon followed by an incense burning session out on our back porch, and some whispered “prayers.”

When I asked her what was going on, she informed me she had asked her mother to visit a local Shaman in her village of Wang Hu Gwang, and speak to him about her series of recurring headaches and my breathing problem.

This necromancer, upon being approached by Mam’s mother, soon informed her that he was fully aware of our maladies and had been silently awaiting contact from the family. He “prescribed” a few incense burning sessions, followed by prayers and food offerings, stating that he needed to “eat” with us. I have no doubt that there was much more to this whole shebang, but upon further questioning, Mam simply said to me, “Ah! I don’t know how to say in English!”

That afternoon I returned home to find all of our shoes placed in a different spot on our porch. In their usual place was a huge “offering” complete with a fully cooked chicken, large bowl of rice with spoon, sweet treats, incense, fruit and some liquid for the “spirit entity” to wash it all down with.

My faithful readers would be proud at how I managed to appear serious and truly interested in these practices and going’s on and tried very successfully to appear grateful.

Oh, and did I mention that my bronchitis promptly got better? Ha! Chalk it up to those antibiotics, I say!



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