The Right of Rituals

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I moved north from Vientiane to beautiful Luang Prabang. In recent years, the city has become known as the gateway to the eco-tourism explosion in northern Laos….trekking, biking, kayaking, etc. It is at the intersection of the Namtha and Mekong rivers and for centuries was the seat of the monarchy - before the rise of communism, and the religious capital of Laos.

Despite, their adoption of a communist government in 1975, Buddhism is an integral part of their society. This small town has no less than 15 temples and monasteries, is home to the famous Luang Prabang golden Buddha, and hundreds of monks young and old. Many Laotians still send their sons to a monastery for few few years to be educated.

Each morning the drums sound from the temples, and the barefoot monks, clad in bright orange robes, leave their homes to walk single file through the streets to receive alms of rice from the locals. Men and women kneel or sit on low stools on the edge of the road with large steaming baskets of sticky rice, placing a small handful in each monks basket as he passes by. There are no words exchanged, in fact, there is no eye contact. In this simple act of daily charity, there is unspoken respect for the life they have chosen and of course, tradition. The procession lasts for about 20 minutes on each street, and then people get back to their day, but this happens every day, every year and has for centuries. 

I’m not sure why I find this comforting. Personally I’m not interested in organized religion, but in a world where religion so often comes in the form of extremism, evangelism, and unfortunately hate, it was reassuring to see this rite of daily compassion.

I spent the rest of the day wandering the streets and temples. I walked along the Mekong River, visited the national palace, and climbed a mountain (really a big hill, but that’s what they call it) to view a golden stupa and get some amazing views of the city. As I came home from dinner, I passed a monastery, just finishing their evening payers, lit up, covered in pink bougainvillea, and the orange robed monks closing the doors for the night. I have to say I did feel some of the peace they are always talking about and quietly thanked them for caring for this special place, and the work they do.

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