The bellowing echoes of chanting monks blare across the Cambodian countryside, reminding me of a warped 8-track tape attempting to meet modern-day audio standards while playing the oldies but goodies.
Holding tight to my motor-bike driver, I bounce along the dirt road and winding hills staring at nothing but rice fields and open land through slivers of light that aren’t covered by dust on my sunglasses. It am truly in the middle of nowhere.
Something catches my eye –some kind of glare off in the distance. Simultaneously, the calming, almost hypnotic chants of monks in the wind are getting louder. Eventually, I become almost blinded by reflections as the enormous golden roof of a Cambodian temple comes into view.
We pull in the dirt driveway of the Temple that has both Buddhist and Hindu influences. Children are playing out front and giggling as they play “kick the flip-flop” –the Cambodian version of America’s vintage “kick the can” game. My guide tells me this is a special day, and a rare treat for any outsider who is lucky enough to witness the celebrations and ceremonies on this “8th day” and Full Moon. Not only did I witness this day in it’s most authentic form, but I was invited to go behind the gates for a glimpse at the monks and locals interacting.
The monks are gracious. They are peaceful and gentle. Many of them are very young boys. I stand by a tree near the temple and just observe the sea of orange robes walking the grounds. They all seem to be heading somewhere, but I don’t see anything in particular happening. One monk pulls out a cell phone, which amazed me since 1) getting reception would need divine intervention in this very remote place and 2) given that monks generally live void of materialistic items, I was surprised to see this. Nonetheless, it was an interesting observation as the boys mingled behind the temple.
As I stroll closer to the temple, I see a lot of activity. I come upon a communal gathering area inside of the temple where dozens of monks are engaged in prayer with people who have brought them offerings. One monk may be praying with 10 or 12 people at a time. These prayer groups are scattered throughout the floor of the temple fully engaged in their moment.
I actually have to tip-toe over people to get photographs, which they didn’t mind. They carried on as if I wasn’t even there. I wondered what kinds of prayers were coming from these several hundred people. It was a reminder that each human carries their own struggles, wishes, desires and hope.
Throughout the year there are several public holidays that commemorate Buddhism. The almost festival appearance of this day inside this temple introduces me to the devout beliefs of the Cambodian people who have suffered so much under the Khmer Rouge. To see them moving forward and living and believing and pulling together to rebuild is inspirational. There is no doubt their religion played a part in their survival and more importantly, their journey forward.
While prayers are taking place inside the temple, there is a bevy of activity outside where children are playing, monks are meditating and this foreign visitor makes her way back to the gates.
To witness this day of celebration in its most authentic form was indeed something rare. I exit through the large iron gates leaving this tender and beautiful experience exactly the way I found it: in progress. It’s like I was never even there.
The blaring, mumbled sound of monks chanting over the loud speaker serenade as my driver and I head off into the countryside.