How Many Bones Does A 7 Year Old Boy Have Life in a Thai Monastery (Part 4 of 7)

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Life in a Thai Monastery (Part 4 of 7)

These monks at Nanachat had a mystique about them. . . unmistakable, but difficult to explain. They were barely noticeable, so modest and restrained, childish in many ways, and our hearts could not help but welcome them. This was not Bangkok, where the city’s monks dressed only to gain merit for their relatives or for reasons other than devoting their lives to meditation and enlightenment. This was the real thing at Wat Pah Nanachat and I wondered if the stories of narrow escapes with death in those wats were exaggerated. I had a weird feeling we were going to find out.

The next morning I came across a peasant and a monk, who were talking and busily working on the carcass. It was lying on a bamboo table in the shade of the banana trees near the hall and it appeared to be an animal or something. He seemed to be being peeled. Hmmm. I didn’t think monks did that? So I got closer and discovered what they were working on – a human skeleton! “Wow,” I thought, recalling my dear autopsy picture, “maybe I should get Janet together and go right back to good old Colorado!” This was really creepy – they were actually scraping the dried flesh off the dead, gray bones.

Later that day, overcome with curiosity and a sense of the uncanny, I inquired about the skeleton. What I pieced together is that it had apparently been drying in a sealed box under one of the boxes for two years, a necessary process so that the meat could be removed more easily without damaging the bones. The two years were now up and it was time to scrape off the flesh before the clean bones were sent to Bangkok to be fixed and bleached.

During the years of embalming, many monks inhabited the boxes to overcome their fear of ghosts and, as might be expected, to experience unusual meditation experiences. It was believed that the ghost of a skeleton roams the monastery property every night looking for its children.

The remains belonged to a young woman from a local village. She and her husband (a villager who scraped bones) would visit the monastery regularly to offer food and listen to dhamma lectures or sermons. The couple had a beautiful, healthy baby boy and another child on the way. They were very much in love and looked forward to a simple life in the country, raising children and growing old together.

It was obvious that this couple wasn’t asking for much. . . were they? They were happy with the simplest things; they farm, raise children, and then die in the same village where they were born. This was in 1981, just before Thailand became westernized to the extent it is now, and we were constantly won over by the humbleness and humility of these people.

The story of the skeleton continued: after the birth of their daughter, the woman began to feel pains that got worse and worse. It became so intense and unrelenting that she could only lie curled up in bed all day. With no money for treatment in Bangkok, village medicine and aspirin were her only options, and the pain finally became unbearable. One night she asked her husband to bring their children into the room and just hug her. She said goodbye.

Her soft cry now was not so much of pain but of what she was about to ask her husband to do. She wanted to die, the pain was too great, yet how could she abandon her little children? What would become of them and her husband? Her dreams were shattered. She asked her husband to leave his gun on the table.

He refused! How could he do this? He felt ashamed and unworthy, because he could not heal her. He would take his gun and rob someone, and get money to take her to Bangkok, but there was no one to rob; the monks had no money, and neither did the poor villagers.

The woman he loved was in pain, and he was helpless to do anything about it—except help her kill herself. How could he live with such a thing; he will have to kill her himself and spare her the horror of pulling the trigger. Then he would kill himself. . . but what about the children?

He could not do it; all he could do was place the revolver on her desk and quietly leave the room, unable to look her in the eye. A few moments later, a shot rang out.

It was a sad story and I couldn’t help but wonder who actually pulled the trigger. If so, was it wrong for her to take her own life? Yes, according to the monk, there was, but I refrained from judging. How could I know what she was going through if I hadn’t stood in her shoes?

I would watch the monk and the villager talk and work on the skeleton from a vantage point across the courtyard, and occasionally I would notice a small, gentle villager with hunched shoulders put down his knife and remain silent, looking out into the forest. His furrowed face and weak smile revealed the pain of a poor villager’s life that had come undone, and now he was doing the only thing left for him, to fulfill his promise to the woman he had loved for most of his life.

Her dying wish was that her skeleton be displayed in the main hall for all the monks to view every day, reminding them that death could come at any time and that death was always painful, and therefore they must not procrastinate in their efforts to is to find freedom in their hearts and hopefully they will not experience death for too many more lives.

The moving story and the actual experience of seeing this skeleton with a bullet hole in its skull had a profound effect on me, much more deeply than any lecture about us being just “bubbles in a stream that could burst at any moment.” Now I was actually living the Buddha’s words.

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