Friday, August 29, 2008

Holy Comb!

Is nothing sacred in Bangkok? The idea of holiness in Thailand is sometimes different from Western culture's idea of holy. Here, it's not blasphemous to hang up a sacred image with yellow electrical tape. In a way, the Thai attitude is better; the religion is more integrated into normal life. And, anyway, where else would the taxi driver keep his red plastic comb?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Blissful Beads

Buddhist prayer beads, or Malas, are a meditative tool similar to rosaries. Traditionally, the beads are made from the wood of the sacred Bodhi tree and have 108 beads to represent Buddha's walk toward enlightenment. The Malas are intended to help drive away evil and are supposed to bring peace and happiness. I'm not sure if it was the beads, the smiling Buddha statues, or the jazzy music on the radio, but the other evening I felt extremely blissful on my ride home in the taxi.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

About the Bodhi

The heart-shaped image of a leaf from a Bodhi tree in the taxi is an important Buddhist symbol. Buddha achieved enlightenment under this sacred fig tree in India over 2500 years ago. The direct descendent from the original species still grows at the sacred site in India, and today the tree is one of the most important holy places for Buddhists.

Today, my taxi driver asked me if I knew about the Bodhi tree. I told him I knew a little, but that I wanted to learn more. Then, he told me I should visit a temple with a Bodhi tree, and he recommended some places to buy my own version of the leaf with a picture of a monk. I thanked him for the information and decided to plan a visit to take a another look at a Bodhi tree. However, I think I'll pass on a plastic-coated leaf with bells.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Little Great Grandfather

Bangkok has some of the largest Buddhist statues in Asia, including the 46 meter long reclining Buddha at Wat Po, but today I saw one of the smallest Buddhist statues I've seen in a long time. In a taxi there was a tiny brass figurine of Luang Poo Tuat หลวงปู่ทวด, one of the most revered Buddhist monks in Thailand. "Poo Tuat" means great grandfather, and considering that he lived over four hundred and fifty years ago, we should call him great great great great grandfather. Luang Poo Tuat is known for the miraculous act of turning seawater into freshwater, and today Thais believe he protects against accidents, fire, and other disasters. It's amazing to think that this miniature monk charm has so much magical power.

Safety Cloth

Hanging on the ceiling of many Bangkok taxis are incantation cloths which contain chart-like yantra. The cloths are used for earthly wishes and for protection against harm, and each yantra has its own unique "recipe" and way it's used. You can find examples of Thai yantra drawn on cloth, paper, metal, and on skin in the form of tattoos. The idea originates from India, and the Thai yantra contain ancient Khmer writings and symbols, along with representations of various personifications or aspects of the divine.

I asked my taxi driver about his yantra and he told me it's for safety in his cab. The way some Bangkok cabbies drive, I think I'll carry my own incantation cloth and get some yantra tattoos while I'm at it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Botanical Spirit

Alongside images of Buddha in Bangkok cabs, you can often find bundles of dried herbs or piles of roots. Taxi drivers keep the sacred botanicals for protection against evil spirits. Many Thai people believe in the medicinal and spiritual power of plants, and it's common to see dried leaves, stems, and roots for sale in traditional markets. Even the herbs in Thai cooking are believed to have medicinal properties. I have to admit, I haven't tried using any of the dried stems or roots. But I've eaten enough Thai food with holy basil to give me spiritual prowess to last a lifetime.

To order Thai herbs or to learn more, visit The Mango Grove at

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Shiny Taxi Cushion

Every Bangkok taxi has a silver cushion. Well, not every taxi, but I would guess that over half of the cabs in this city have these fancy traditional Thai metallic cloth pillows in the back window. Who makes these things? Is there a factory in the North of Thailand that produces these pleated fluffs? They look like something the King of Siam would have used about one-hundred years ago. They'd fit perfectly in a Thai palace, but I can't decide if the style is right for the back of a cab.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Monk Sticker

One of the most well-known Buddhist monks in Thailand is Luang Por Koon. He's famous for his wisdom, and many people believe he possesses magical power. In the past, he's received as many as 10,000 visitors a day. You can find his image on amulets, in the form of small statues, and even on stickers in taxis. You know you've made it as a monk if your picture makes it onto stickers.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Little Giant

Yesterday in a taxi there was a pink and white charm with an image of a Yaksha, a giant guard demon from the Thai Ramakien stories. The most famous image in Thailand of the demon character is at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. At the temple, the giant demon stands guard over the southwest gate in the form of a gigantic sculpture. The enormous figure helps to give the feeling of Yaksha's strength and power. Somehow, the small pink pendant just doesn't have the same intimidating effect.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

It's All Good

The red and gold sign on the ceiling of the taxi is a little bit like one of those motivational posters you see in corporate offices. On the sign, the big letters spell out "dee" ดี, which means "good" when translated into English. I asked the taxi driver about his sign and he told me it was a reminder to himself and to his customers to be good. I'm assuming the sign is related to the idea of Karma, the Buddhist philosophy that when you do good deeds, good things will happen to you in return.  Of course, the opposite is true, too, but a big "bad" sign wouldn't be nearly as nice.  

Friday, August 1, 2008

Money Monks

No, the money with the monks on it is not some kind of special commemorative collector's edition one-thousand baht bank note. The images of the monks have been Photoshopped to look like they really belong on Thai money, and it's being used as a way to pray for cold hard cash. I don't have much of a problem with taxi drivers who pray for money, but this is taking it a bit too far, don't you think?