From Laos, with Faith

The only item on my itinerary read: Witness the almsgiving (or tak bat) procession.

I’ve booked my trip to Laos somewhat on impulse; merely because I needed a break somewhere (anywhere), and the new direct flight from Singapore to Vientiane was a convenient excuse. Having read about how rows of monks decked in orange robes would walk down the street at dawn to collect food offerings from believers, I  wanted to see it for myself.

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Living up to her name as the spiritual capital of Laos, Luang Prabang is populated with Wats (temples) at every corner. At about six every morning, monks would walk along the streets, lined in single-file and arranged in descending seniority, to collect alms (I’ve read that it was supposed to be done in meditation). Almsgivers kneeling along the pavements would then methodologically place clumps of sticky rice into each monk’s silver container. Everything was done in silence, as if surrounded by a sacred aura, mixed in the fresh morning air.

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On my last morning in Luang Prabang, I ventured a little further away from the main touristy area (read: where inconsiderate tourists either stood too close for comfort, or flashed cameras directly at the monks) to a more hidden alley for the tak bat. There, a row of about twenty local men and women gathered. This tak bat was different from the usual tak bat I’ve watched in the past week. After the group  of monks collected their alms, they deviated from the routine and stood in front of the locals, chanting some prayers collectively with the almsgivers.

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At that moment, I was strangely touched. It felt almost magical. Laos is not a rich country, if you judge richness (or the lack of it) by the number of people who continue to struggle with an income of less than US$2 a day. It was amazing to see how faith could provide so much subsistence, so much richness for the financially-poor.

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Maybe all we need is a little more faith, not necessarily in the religious sense, but a belief that true happiness need not come from monetary means.We just need to start looking within.

-Lu

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