Today was a mix of bright sunshine and dark stormy skies as we made our way to two significant Wat’s (temples) today. We headed to Wat Trimit first, where you can find a 3 metre, 5.5 ton solid gold Buddha. What is especially interesting about this Buddha, is that it was once completely covered in stucco, to hide its value, likely during one of Burma’s invasions. When the Buddha was being moved in the 1960’s, the covering fell off to reveal this treasure. This Wat is now known as the Temple of the Golden Buddha.
As I was sitting in this temple, I was struck by an amazing thought about how blessed I am. The incredible thing is that this same thought hit me several times in the past year. Christmas Eve of last year, I felt the same wonder in the world as Jacques and I walked through Notre Dame in Paris. We were admiring all the candles, architecture, and light, while inhaling incense and listening to the beautiful choir. Notre Dame has an impressive organ, and it was bellowing its tune for all to hear. I could not believe how blessed I was to be in such a place at that moment in time. I thought about my family and friends, how fortunate I was to have my health and the love of so many wonderful people, and how I prayed that everyone I knew would feel as blessed as I did at that moment.
In May, I was walking through St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome with my brother Stephen. It was the first time as adults that we had ever travelled together. As I looked upon the alter, and then looked down the nave, we were suddenly surrounded by pilgrims who were following a priest and singing hymns. The relics of history surrounded us. The fervent beliefs of millions were within this particular edifice. I looked at my brother and thought it was such a fantastic experience to be there with him. We later spent the evening, practically in solitude in the vast St. Peter’s Square. The sun was setting and the incredible architecture was throwing shadows and light.
Last month, Jacques and I visited the Temple of Angkor in Cambodia. Frankly, it was not a place on our list to visit, but on the urging of local friends, it was evident we could not miss this special place. Angkor was the ancient capital of the Khmer empire. In the 9th and 13th centuries, Cambodians built the largest religious building in the world, Angkor Wat. When London was 50,000 inhabitants, Angkor was 1 million. Ancient faces 20 metres high look down on you. We climbed to the highest point of 55 metres to look down on this divine city. I was awestruck at the sheer size, and the labour and artistry that created this place. Monks in saffron robes could be seen everywhere. Buddhas appeared both ancient and new in small alcoves as the devoted lit incense, gave coins and frangipani flowers, and prayed.
Today, we were at the Temple of the Golden Buddha. That feeling came over me again. I decided to approach the monk to receive a blessing and commemorate that feeling. As I knelt in front of him, he took water and murmured words that I did not understand over me. I thought about my family and friends, and how linked we are in the world by one another’s thoughts and hearts. I held out my left wrist and watched as the monk tied 9 strands of string around my wrist, with a triple knot, continuing to speak a blessing over me. He then clipped the extra ends, which will then be burned and blessed again, with all the other devotees who received a blessing that day.
As I sat in the Temple, I thought about how the 5.5 tonne Buddha once had a covering. When it had to be moved, that covering revealed its beauty and value at a time when it was safe and would be cherished. I thought about how my covering has been changing over the past few years, and how this journey I am on is one of discovery and appreciation. I am in the land of many smiles. It is fitting that my journey has led me here. I smile as I think of each of you, and how you have made a contribution to my life. I will wear this string according to custom, until it falls off. It will remain on my wrist as a reminder of how blessed I truly am.