Last night after dinner Ketsara told me we would be leaving the hotel this morning around 5am. This did not make me happy. We have been moving around so much that I feel like it’s been a month since I’ve gotten a decent night’s sleep.
“Kuhn Ketsara! Why?” I said.
“We go to Doi Suthep to feed the monks.”
“Can’t we go later?”
She shook her head. “Must be early in the morning.”
I whined a bit more and then she squinted at me, as she does when she’s getting inpatient, and said, “Remember I tell you it is hard for you to gain enlightenment?”
“This help. This give you merit.”
“Fine,” I said.
So at 5am, having had no breakfast myself, I went to feed Buddha.
We drove to the base of Doi Suthep-Doi Pui National Park, a thickly-forested mountain with an elevation of 5,250-feet about 45 minutes outside of Chiang Mai. It was cold and the sky, which looked like it might rain at any moment, was mud gray. When we got to where the monastery was there were a bunch of stands selling food to give to the monks and flowers—mostly marigolds and lotus flowers—for the shrines and temple. The monks hadn’t appeared yet.
Ketsara encouraged me to buy some food. You could buy individual items like bags of rice or a whole small fried fish or trays that contained an assortment of things: buns, candied fruit, pickled vegetables, fruit juice. The monks aren’t supposed to care what they get (and when they beg for food in more rural areas, it’s usually all mixed up in their alms pot so you might put a pudding on top of a curry and pickled eggplant with a sweet roll since, as Buddha said, it’s only meant for sustenance, not pleasure, and your stomach mixes it all up anyway).
Ketsara could see I was having a hard time with the whole thing. “First goal of enlightenment and most important is to be generous,” she said.
“I know,” I said, “but it just doesn’t feel right. I feel like a fraud.”
Ketsara sighed. “This why it so difficult for you to reach enlightenment.”
She was right, of course. I needed to let go and just do it. Buy some fish-in-a-bag and some sticky buns and feed the Buddha. Gain my merits. Find enlightenment. But I just wasn’t feeling it.