Which is your Buddha? (Thai Buddhist traditions)

I was told, in Thailand, that Buddha spent seven days following his enlightenment thinking about the suffering of all living creatures, and Thai people now believe that their day of birth reflects their life.

Seven Buddha images show each day of those days, except Wednesday which has two, morning and afternoon-evening.

So, one year, while in Thailand, I bought Buddha’s that matched that day for each of my immediate family as their Christmas gifts. You may like to check your day of birth and which Buddha is associated with you.

Here are photos that show the various postures for that days – I need to point out that some temples had different poses for some days!

left Sunday, middle Monday. right Tuesday


Left Thursday (my day) middle Friday, right Saturday

These photos are not good as were taken through scratched glass but stay as my reference for the various poses and days as that was when I first heard about them – during a bike ride out from Bangkok.

Thailand also has lucky and unlucky colours for days of the week; the lucky ones are:

  • Sunday: red
  • Monday: yellow
  • Tuesday: pink
  • Wednesday: day Green / night grey
  • Thursday: orange
  • Friday: light blue
  • Saturday: purple sleep

I hope you are happy with your colour and Buddha stance!

Where do writers get their ideas from?

WEBjournals 2
My drawer of travel notes

Where do writers get their ideas for stories?

People ask this frequently, but for me, I only have to open my writing desk drawer, pull out a journal and there are many tales. Looking at photo files provides the same bounty as memory prompts.

This little post came about after talking about Buddhism, Thailand, colours and the significance of the date you were born. That will be my next post.

I used this journal in 2006
I used this journal in 2006

None of the  info, such as old phone details, or when I need to take malaria tablets on the cover of this journal are valid! Only my name and the year are truthful now 🙂 – and of course, the 3 post-it papers that mark the information I’ll use in the story which will be published in 3.5 days. ( ie #TT Travel Tuesday)

PS. even the scarf has a tale to tell … I bought it in Istanbul – from a  woman sitting outside the beautiful Blue Mosque.

every page has a tale to tell, a reminder the the tastes, colours, sounds and smells of places
every page has a tale to tell, a reminder the the tastes, colours, sounds and smells of places






Buddhist Hell in Thailand

Buddhism is usually thought of as a peaceful religion, although it’s not really a religion. Last year I revisited Wat Muang, home of Thailand’s biggest buddha to see the Thai version of a buddhist hell – not so gentle or peaceful! Misbehave and there is a particular punishment awaiting you: examples are – adultery means you will have to climb the cactus-like tree while birds attack from above and men with spears attack from below. Tell lies or gossip and you tongue will be cut out. You have been warned!

Buddhist Sand Mandala

One of my favourite travel books is Lonely Planet’s Happy: Secrets to Happiness from the Cultures of the World – and I have just quoted from it again in a  blog about Taiamai Tours … a Maori cultural tourism activity that enables travellers to learn how to be part of a waka tau (war canoe) commemoration of New Zealand’s’ national day  – Waitangi Day 6th February.

Here is another quote from the book


Secret: Accept and celebrate the transience of life

Tradition: Buddhist sand mandalas

Date: Any time

Celebrated in: Tibet

I took these mandala  photos at WOMAD – New Plymouth NZ

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“No matter what we do, no matter what we leave behind, time sweeps on: one day we’ll all be dust.

Tibetan Buddhists illustrate this inescapable truism in a particularly lovely way, by making incredibly intricate, brightly glowing mandalas from grains of sand.

Yet when the mandala is finished, the whole fabulous creation is swept into an urn. Half of the sand is distributed among the audience, to disperse its healing through the room; the other half is fed to the nearest river, to carry its healing throughout the world.

Celebrating transience is strangely comforting. Spend an afternoon drawing chalk pictures on your front path, then watch them be worn away by time or rain. Lie on the grass with a friend making outlandish creatures from the clouds, observing as they change from dragons into ducks. Make a sand castle. Accept the inevitable truth that nothing lasts – and savour the peace that comes with it.”

These are edited extracts from Happy: Secrets to Happiness from the Cultures of the World © Lonely Planet 2011. RRP: $25. lonelyplanet.com.

Photographic exhibition: ‘Searching for Buddha’ by the kiwitravelwriter

Somehow the angst in Thailand doesn’t seem to fit in the ‘land of smiles’ and one of the biggest centres of Buddhism: although I can understand the anger of the red-shirts.

Searching for Buddha
Searching for Buddha photographic exhibition
Cloisters Gallery, Christchurch Arts Centre, New Zealand

Read a story about me spending time at a Buddhist meditation retreat in Thailand here

Monks, music, momo, and chilli

Colourful Gyoto Monks
Colourful Gyoto Monks

It’s not all music alone at WOMAD: Taste the World is a special part of the programme where artists share something of their homeland and showing us some of their favourite recipes … what is especially great about this section is that the musicians do it for no charge, just for the love of their food, country, and for their fans!

In this session I went to the Gyoto monks shared some of their food … albeit they don’t eat meat and some of these had meat in them. As well as this cooking event, they were also chanting, creating a daily sand Mandela and of course leading meditation sessions.

As someone who knows a little of Theravada Buddhism, I find it strange that these monks main driver seems to be a ‘return to Tibet’ – this political stance seems to go directly against one of the buddhist precepts which I thought was ‘non-attachment’; to accept things as they are. This seems to be ‘upadana’ holding on to something, being attached. but as I’m not a serious scholar perhaps I’m missing something.

Overhead screens help us see up close details

You have to get here early for a good seat
You have to get here early for a good seat
Just like this
Just like this

Listen here on utube to the monks and their humming, droning type of chanting … it’s very different!

Here is the recipe for MOMO AND GYUTO CHILLI – something which the translator says is a ‘Tantric taste sensation – instant happiness and satisfaction’

Continue reading “Monks, music, momo, and chilli”

Meditatating in Thailand – the lotus and me!

At 5am the train arrives in the southern village of Chaiya, Thailand,  and an hour later I’m at Wat Suan Mokkhabalarama, for ten days I will be learning to meditate, total immersion in the original Buddhism – Theravada.

I stay at the forest temple until the retreat starts: the mosquitoes are fierce, roosters and dogs wake me early, and on a damp spot in my room, a frog lives. Three days later I walk five hundred metres to the Dharma Centre where I’m assigned a room and daily task.

We’re warned: ‘Retreats are a challenging exercise. The conditions are the same as the rigorous lifestyles followed by monks and nuns. Talking will stop when the Venerable Ajahn Poh welcomes you this evening’.

Now, two days into the retreat, I’m wondering why I’m inflicting such pain on myself. I do not believe the monks when they say that all, pain included, is impermanent and that this too will pass. Perhaps my body is built differently to those who are sitting so calmly, straight backs, perfect lotus, hands resting on their knees, eyes half-closed and gazing downwards, just as Buddha images do.

My legs are going to snap. I have lifted, pushed, and shoved my left ankle onto my right thigh and now struggle with the other. It’s not possible. My hip will dislocate if I move another millimetre. The lotus position and I are destined to remain strangers – my body is too old, too unfit, too used-up by years of a self-indulgent, dissolute life.

The bell rings and I carefully unwind my legs, massage the joints, and with circulation returning, slowly walk to the dining room.

They also said food is merely fuel to support our bodies. We eat twice daily and it’s more than just energy for me: I ‘m attached to the nutty brown rice, aromatic curries, leafy vegetables, banana, and papaya, despite the Buddhist goal of non-attachment.

Although I agreed to obey the precept of Noble Silence I long to tell someone I’ve moved up two levels in my walking meditation, However, I’m also aware the conversations I wish to indulge in are ego-driven and trivial: “Isn’t the sunrise amazing?” “The pond beautiful.” “The food yummy.”

The other precepts, the basic rules that trainee Thai Monks and Nuns follow, seem possible: not to kill any living thing, not to take that which is not freely given, not to have sex, not to harm others by speech, and to have no intoxicating substances. OK – can do.

However as well as silence, we’ve also committed to ‘no eating after midday, no jewellery or perfumes, and no sleeping in an over-comfortable bed’.

Meal over, it’s hot, I hope for a snooze, but first have my task to attend to and approach the scorpion bucket with trepidation. Will it contain a dangerous creature for me to bless and return to the forest, or not? The orange bucket, with its slippery sides, is where they go when we find one in our rooms. This time nothing’s there, so climb under the mosquito net and collapse on the bed – a raised concrete slab; the mattress is a flax mat, the pillow a brick-sized block of wood with a bite out of it.

An hour later I wake for today’s third bucket-bath at the outdoor concrete tub. The water’s unbelievably cold on my sticky body and minutes later, I’m back in the meditation hall – coconut-palm grove on one side, bayan tree the other, and reflecting pool in the front. When Ajahn Poh, arrives he gracefully moves into a lotus, re-arranges his orange robes then taps a brass bell three times.

“Good afternoon good dharma friends”

He talks about vipassana- to see clearly, the way to end suffering. It seems impossible that my suffering will end as my voluptuous body finds boney bits – making it hard to concentrate. While the monks sit motionless, I stretch one leg, scratch a shoulder, arch my lower back, and surreptitiously observe others from half-closed eyes. A barrage of thoughts run through my mind: wonderful, witty words for my journal rise up, or I rush into the future or relive the past – a monkey-mind with ideas jumping and swinging from branch to branch in my head.

Struggling with the concept that all is impermanent, that anything I’m attached to will cause me pain I try to stop thinking as they also tell me that mindfulness is not thinking but being fully present, aware of what’s happening right now.

With yoga each morning my hips seem more forgiving and tonight sit, albeit briefly, in a full lotus position, but we will never be good friends.

Ajan Poh said ‘Completing the course, like life, is rather like swimming across a river. It’s good to get to the other side.’ It was.

© Heather Campbell Hapeta (first published in the NZ Listener)

At a meditation retreat in southern Thailand, just sitting down can be a challenge – or,  me and the lotus!

peaceful travel, with an open mind & a gentle heart

John Godley, standing on his plinth – complete with a sea gull on his head – didn’t appear to bat an eyelid as he watched Buddha celebrating his 2546th birthday a couple of years ago. But what would this British founding father have said could they have seen such a Buddhist spectacle in front of their Anglican Cathedral over 150 years later?

Godly and a busker in Cathedral Square
Godly and a busker in Cathedral Square

One of the great things about travel, it is not just us who travel to places, but people from ‘other places’ who travel here too – and they stay, bringing new religions, different cultural traditions and food to us.

This is a  real bonus to the armchair traveller who can’t get to visit exotic places while for people like me, it’s a reminder of places, sounds and tastes I have seen before, or places I want to get a visa for real soon.

And so it was in Christchurch’s  (NZ) Cathedral Square one day in May. Buddhists from all over the city came to celebrate the birthday of Prince Siddhattha – the personal name of Buddha.

Monks and Nuns from different Asian countries led the celebration and we all, the Mayor included, took turns in offering gifts of incense, flowers and fruit to Buddha, then washed the statue – to wash away “the dust of defilement”.

Prayers of peace followed and the cathedral bells, ringing their usual peels, seemed to join in.

It seems so long ago since I took part  in such a celebration and it was great to be able to see the colours, hear the sounds and taste the food of Asia all at the same time.

Our city is fortunate to have the wealth of such traditions being shared with us. I have no doubt that these events have been happening behind closed doors in New Zealand for sometime. However I’m happy that our fellow citizens feel secure enough in their new land to share their traditions and celebrations with us. Of course many other Kiwi also practise one of the many forms of Buddhism and religions that are not so well known or understood by many of us.

One of the advantages of being a slow-traveller is the time I can take in each place to absorb, and sometimes study, the culture and religion of various places.

I have been able to listen to Jewish lectures within the old city walls of Jerusalem, hear the Pope speak in Vatican City, be taught about Islam in America, Malaysia and Egypt, and as a freethinker, have taken what I liked and left the rest behind. It also means that with understanding I have become more tolerant of the differences between us all but am still bemused at the violence that people of religion become involved with.

Israel, Palestine, Ireland, Somalia, Afghanistan,  – to name just a few- perhaps the world cannot live without an enemy. No cold war, so let’s have a religious war – not that the Middle East is arguing about regions but about land – however as the two sides have, mostly, different religions, many observers seem to be taking sides along those lines.

I hope those prayers  to Buddha in the centre of Christchurch, for peace and understanding are heard and that all who practice regions, and all those who are agnostic or atheist will one day live in a world free of violence.

Have you heard the creed of the peaceful traveller.

Grateful for the opportunity to travel and experience the world and because peace begins with the individual, I affirm my personal responsibility and commitment to:

·     Journey with an open mind and gentle heart

·     Accept with grace and gratitude the diversity I encounter

·     Revere and protect the natural environment which sustains life

·     Appreciate all cultures I discover

·     Respect and thank my hosts for their welcome

·     Offer my hand in friendship to everyone I meet

·     Support travel services that share these views and act upon them and,

·     By my spirit, words and actions, encourage others to travel the world in peace

most bombed country in the world

Most Bombed Country in the World

Pausing for a photo, we then walk under an archway that tells us ‘Welcome to Indo China.’

Polly and I met on a beach in Malaysia two months ago. Hearing travellers extolling the beauty, the friendliness and non-tourist-like qualities of Laos, we succumb to the temptation to visit ‘the most bombed country in the world’ and two days ago we met as arranged in northern Thailand. We’re about to cross into a country that neither of us knows about except those good reports.

A borrowed guidebook has given me a few facts: during the late sixties and early seventies, American B-52s dropped some 6000 tonnes of bombs on this narrow country in an attempt to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Special guerrilla units, trained by the CIA, caused such havoc that locals planted and harvested their rice at night and 300,000 people fled to refuge camps in Thailand: it’s the heaviest bombing any country has ever encountered. Although one of the poorest nations in the world and with a life expectancy of only 52 years, these five million, mainly Buddhist people, remain resilient.

‘Can I take my gun?’ I ask the guard. Crossing borders can be fraught with problems but I smile and hope all will be well as she holds out her hands and I hand it over. Solemnly taking it, she looks at her fellow officer, lines the barrel with his chest and fires!

web laos polly and iWe laugh; his uniform is covered with water. For the first time I witness humour from customs officials but in spite of our shared laughter I’m not allowed to take a photo of them having fun. Nevertheless I can take my new, bright-green, double-barrelled, pump action water pistol with me: Polly takes her red and yellow one.

Read more in Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad by Heather Hapeta

bad karma when travelling?

In Buddhist and Hindu philosophy, a person’s destiny in his next incarnation is determined by his actions. Everything he does will influence his future lives or reincarnations. Conscious actions carry more weight than the unconscious ones.

According to Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda, we create karma in four ways.

  • through thoughts
  • through words
  • through actions that we perform ourselves
  • through actions others do under our instructions

While I don’t know whether incarnations or past lives exist, I do believe in karma. All actions have effects, positive or negative, instant, gradual or delayed. Broadly named the universal law of cause and effect, Karma essentially means that good things will happen to you if you do good things, and bad things will happen to you if you do bad things. Nothing complicated. What you contribute to the world and the lives of others comes back to you in some way.

Words and actions

I have said incredibly mean and hurtful things to people close to me, especially as a teenager, but I’ve learnt as I’ve matured to act more respectful and less selfish. No one’s perfect and I’m pretty sure most of us have said or done things we’re not especially proud of. While I’ve never had any problems with saying exactly what I think, I am incapable of lying. If I realize I’ve said something not entirely true I need to correct myself afterwards.

When it comes to not paying for something, I’ve failed once — in London in 2007. Afterwards I got such bad conscience that I promised myself to return the next time I visited London to pay. If I recall correctly I had spent the day in Chelsea and was heading towards Victoria Station. As I walked along Elizabeth Street in Belgravia I caught sight of The Chocolate Society and couldn’t resist the temptation. After ten minutes and one chocolate smoothie I glanced at the bill in front of me. £3.95. I looked around. Crowded. Almost ten people waiting in line. Only one employee. I can just walk out of here and leave the unpaid bill on the table and no one will notice. And that’s exactly what I did. I don’t know why I did it, but I know two things for sure: I’ll never do it again, and when I next travel to London I won’t leave without having stopped by The Chocolate Society. READ MORE OF THIS ARTICLE HERE

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