20 March 2012

A monk walks in the temple

There is something very right and special about seeing Buddhist monks walking in the Angkor temples. They are tourists, too -- often from Thailand -- come to experience these ancient sacred spaces. I frequently tried to photograph them.

Mr. Thy, our guide, told us that the monks are quite comfortable with being photographed. As this monk walked away, I was wishing I had got a better shot. So I asked Mr. Thy if he could request a photo for me. The monk agreed and I took my picture.

Then Mr. Thy told me to stand with the monk for another photo, telling me to take care not to touch the monk's robes. We stood for my picture, then the monk handed Mr. Thy his camera for his own souvenir shot with me.  Many young men enter a monastery for a period of time, perhaps two or three years, to study the Buddha teachings. To me it seemed like a way of deciding what they wanted to do in life. Some stay and become monks, but many return to lay life, get married and pursue a livelihood. In a country where education is expensive and good paying employment is not easy to find, the monastic life attracts many.

 Below, young monks work on a well at the monastic teaching centre of Vipassana Dhura we visited before coming to Siem Reap to see Angkor. I loved their engaged faces as they worked together in the late afternoon sun. Their robes are almost the same color as the iron-rich earth.

Again, at Angkor Wat, a monk walks on the stones by the reflecting pool. On the road to wisdom, a traveller may consider the words of the Buddha: "It is better to travel well than to arrive."

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