Siam in-between: Merit across religions

A bell chimed. I just realized that it must have been struck on several occasions while I was on temple grounds, but the sound fit in so well it never actively caught my attention before. We were about to pour the content of a small shiny cup on a tree of my choice and conclude a series of acts to commemorate my Grandmom who recently passed away. Our way to say goodbye in-between Buddhist, Animist, Catholic and Atheist philosophies.


One day earlier we had started the process by buying a series of small live fish close to Phimai’s Banyan tree. Setting one kind free would restore peace to the family, another would help release Grandmom’s spirit and two turtles would bring good fortune. A week earlier my girlfriend sat me down after our nightly drive home from dinner. She had seen two elderly people standing by the road, who vanished upon second glance. Two days later, she found me sleep walking and talking to my Grandmom. I am an Atheist and do not read into such things, but Buddhists believe that spirits of the deceased wander our world, visiting locations and people they hold dear. After seven days they realize their earthly lives have ended and they return to their homes, waiting to be released.

dsc05097We took the fish to the Chakatarat river and released them, after Khwantippa said a prayer. All of them quickly vanished into the murky water, except for one turtle who suddenly reappeared. As we saw a fisherman approaching with a net, we took the turtle with us to our neighborhood temple. When we got out of the car, a prayer could be heard coming from all directions, on deserted temple grounds. Obviously a sound system must have been present, but I chose not to find out, not this time.

dsc05144I gently placed the turtle by the side of the temple’s pond and joined Khwantippa in feeding the fish from the pier, another way to make merit. The water remained completely quiet until the food pellets hit the surface and a frenzy of hungry fish made it come alive. Bigger waves suggested that seriously big fish kept out of sight. When the abbot joined us and threw in banana-halves, they were immediately engorged by surprisingly big mouths. On walking out, we saw the turtle still swimming around the same location.

The next morning, Khwantippa started cooking up a storm. Her aunt had arranged for a merit-making ceremony for Grandmom at the same temple we had visited the day before, which implied offering food to the monks. She prepared three dishes and we had bought 12 bottles of water, a medical kit and fruit. Upon arrival we were brought in front of the same abbot we met earlier. Grandmom’s pictures were placed on the altar and we were invited to follow his prayer in Sanskrit. The ceremony was concluded by pouring water from a shiny flask into a cup. This cup needed to be emptied on a tree, outside. The bell was struck again, at an uneven interval.

dsc05194After the ceremony, the Abbot walked us around the grounds. We noticed the turtle still swimming around the location we released it at.

dsc05154You did well releasing the turtle here, the Abbot said. It will hang around the water’s edge, between water and dry land. Sometimes going for a swim, other times returning to the bank .

Somehow I found peace in that.

Rest in peace, Bobonne. You will be missed dearly. Please don’t stray too far from the shore.



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