“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them – Thomas Merton”
Not many would know, but I spent somewhere between 5-6 years of my life coming to this beautiful Temple in Wimbledon every Sunday to learn thai language and meditate with the monks before Thai School! Why? Because, I loved the culture, loved the people, loved the language and desperately wanted to live in Thailand. One of my closest friends from childhood came to the UK from Thailand and he couldn’t speak any English. Me being me, I took him under my wing at school and taught him English as best I could, helped him to understand what the teacher wanted us to do (as they hardly ever bothered to take the time!) and till this day, I can remember Miss Castro a Spanish lady who taught French! Shouting at both of us, because I had helped him do some homework one day…!
Life has a very weird way of panning out, as a result of me teaching him English, I learnt quite a bit of Thai and so I was at an advantage in Thai School because so many of the children there were from families where one parent was Thai and one was English and the child was being sent to learn more about their culture having been born in Britain…I already knew the alphabet and how to count and some of the cultural “norms”.
Having left when I was in about year 9/10 of High School, it’s been quite some time since I’ve been back to Wat Buddhapadipa, lots has occured since but I had to go for many reasons, the timing seemed right even though it was almost impossible to get to due to ‘Ride London’ road closures…! Bad timing in so many ways, the weather included, but I sighed a huge sigh of relief as soon as I reached the gates of this beautiful temple.
I wonder if there is ever a good time to go back to places which mean alot to us? On this visit, I had only three things to do…1. see the place and offer some food to the monks. 2. light some incense for Pa Da. 3. see her son who had just become a novice.
As soon as I entered the monks house, I passed my things to my mother and went to offer the food – instantly, this tiny little Thai lady came running over to me “Jarun!…is it you?! Jarun?!”(all Thai people have always called me Jarun..I don’t know why, but they never say Jarel…) it was “Nan” a lovely lady who I hadn’t seen for so long! If you’ve been to the Temple, you’ve seen Nan and probably been fed by her! She’s that kind of lady. She hugged me and *literally* didn’t stop until I left two hours later…she was shocked. I felt like a prodigal returning home and I received a welcome I never could have imagined. After *all* those years this little old lady remembered exactly who I was! “Where is mummy?” she asked…I pointed to the door, and she ran over to my Mum arms wide open! She didn’t stop hugging her either!
Of course, over time life takes its course and Nan and her son Roy told me about three monks who had died in a car crash two years ago and how that had affected the community…but also some good news, news that there was a new temple in Wales (of all places!) Sanghapadipa Temple with just one monk sent up from Wimbledon as the Abbot, who I was firmly told to go and visit as soon as I can!
The bizarre thing about this visit is that I was going primarily to pay respects to my best friends Aunty ‘Pa Da’ who had died and who was an aunty to me – but it was weird because both my best friend and I lost Aunties who were to us, Mothers, around the same time in our lives. Weirder still is that my Aunt Yvonne who died, was the one who first took me to this Temple as a young child, way before I attended school there, and the person who took me to Thailand in 2005…it was a poignant day.
To be remembered, hugged, blessed (literally drenched in Holy Water) and fed in a place I haven’t been to for years, by people who do not speak my language or belong to my faith is extremely special. There are not many churches I could go to, even as a clergyman, and receive such warmth, acceptance and love…
Maybe it is because these people truly take to heart the words of Buddha: “However many holy words we read, however many you speak, what good will they do if you do not act upon them?”
The highlight of my day though, apart from talking about Thomas Merton with one of the adult monks and being reminded by him that infact both of us belong to a geographically ‘Asian’ religion…, was to see and sit in worship with “Sharif” in so many ways my little cousin, who has become a Novice and with all the other monks. After the year he’s had, losing his mother at such a young age, I felt so proud to see him doing this positive thing, which to him and to his mother means so much. A little monk and a very young Christian cleric side by side…I could not have dreamt of a more imperfectly perfect outworking of God’s timing…
I left, as I remember always leaving as a child, feeling peaceful and blessed.Convicted, though, that our biggest mistake in the history of humanity is to consider ordinary acts of love, kindness and generosity as extra-ordinary…but more importantly, I was reminded that God really does have all things in His hands, all times, all faiths, all friendships, all emotions…everything…and bonds of love will always, *must* always sustain us and unite us.