Bangkok bound

I’m on a journey to Bangkok. And even though I don’t leave until Thursday, (Oct. 2) I have an itch to begin today. Ostensibly, I go to represent Hope Mission at a board of directors meeting with Project LIFE, a kind of "sister" mission that works in the slums of Bangkok.

I’m interested to see the work that Project LIFE does with women and children–and am prepared–although apparently it’s never possible to prepare–to see the madly wretched conditions that Bangkok’s poorest of the poor live in. Does one worry about multibillion dollar bailouts when visiting such slums?

Having been given a week in Bangkok my hope is to absorb as much of the city as I can, without vexing about seeing it all. It worked for me in New York. I simply wandered around Manhattan for several days and picked up the energy of the place. Well, Bangkok is not New York, and that’s good, but whether I can "wander," I won’t know until I get there. Of course, guided tours to start.

First stop will be Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the adjoining Grand Palace. I’m interested in Thai Buddhism, that is, Theravada Buddhism. It is generally regarded as the oldest, and "purest," form of Buddhism, and I’m hoping to soak up what I can.

So I expect to visit any number of wats. A wat, I learn from the glossary of Thomas Merton’s Asian Journal, comes from the Sanskrit word "Vata," meaning "enclosed ground,"  and is a monastery or temple in Thailand. 

mertondalailama-300x212I thought that no better preparation for the trip would be to reread Merton’s Asian journal.

Incidentally, on October 17 it will be exactly 40 years since Merton landed in Bangkok to begin his fateful journey. Two months later, having visited India, the Himalayas, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), he arrived back in Bangkok for a conference of Asian monastic orders. On December 10, 1968, after giving his talk and retiring to his room, he somehow received a fatal shock from an electric fan. He was 53 years old (my age) when he died. His last words, given at his address, were, "And now I shall disappear."

The above photo was taken in Dharmasala, India by the secretary of the Dalai Lama, a month before Merton’s death. The Dalai Lama is 33 years old here.


  1. Stephen,

    I had the privilege of working there three years. Merton came alive for me there. In my last year I read Merton’s Contemplation In A World Of Action and Contemplative Prayer every morning on my veranda in NE Thailand next door to our local Wat . (NE Thailand is where most of the prostitutes in Bangkok come from – being sold as children into indentured sex slavery I can hardly call them sex-trade workers.) It’s where God went from ‘stirring’ my life to putting it into a kitchen blender. May you be so unsettled…

  2. Hey, did not know you were going. That’s great! Typing this from the condo in Kauai… listening to the waves break on the reef below. Fred is reading up on the language. Well, do take care, and I hope you will find additional insights through Eastern perspectives.

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