The story goes like this:
One day, a Buddhist monk was sitting in his office and the telephone rang. On the other end of the phone was a stressed out, suburban mother who had a real crisis on her hands.
Her call was unusual these days but hardly unheard of – she was calling for an exorcism.
Alarmed, the monk quickly made his way to the house which was some distance from his temple.
He was greeted upon arrival by the woman who had called, as well as her children. They were all very visibly tired, irritable and frustrated. Apparently, this ghost had done a real number on them.
The monk asked for more information and soon learned that the family had only recently purchased the house.
They had no idea, of course, that it was haunted by a malevolent ghost. They went onto explain that this monk was not the first religious authority that they had called.
No, no, no. They had called the Catholics and, when they failed, they called the Lutherans, then the Jews, then the Mormons and so on.
In the meantime, the ghost continued to terrorize the family and they just couldn’t take it anymore. Desperate, they told the monk that failure was not an option.
Now realizing the importance of this, and with the utmost of diplomacy, the monk gently asked what horrors this evil spirit had inflicted upon the family.
Now braced for the worst, he got his answer: The ghost didn’t like the television shows that his new owners watched and kept changing the channel.
Stunned, and probably rather amused, the monk thought for a few seconds, and responded with a question.
“Well, why don’t you just buy another TV?” Then, after moment of awkward silence, the monk left.
Today, the family watches a new television set and the ghost watches the other set. Everyone lived happily ever after.
I found this story to be very amusing but I also found that it has an obvious moral that we can all adapt for our daily lives.
The obvious moral of the story is that most of us have a tendency to generate all of this stress whenever we encounter a problem that could be solved by simply sort of letting it go, as we Buddhists like to say.
However, the less obvious moral of the story is that stressing out under needless circumstances is bad karma, and bad karma begets nothing but more bad karma.
Not only does everyone stress out around us like the kids in the story, but the bad we create hangs in the air around us and becomes something of an aura.
Much like a light bulb in the forest on a lonely summer night, this attracts nothing but the worst of pests and problems into our lives.
Most Westerners have a general idea of what karma is. Basically, as we say in the West, what goes around comes around.
Karma, of course, is the sum-total of all of the good, or all too often, the bad that we have done in our lives.
Westerners seem to be somewhat aware that it follows you throughout your life but, what you may not know is that Buddhism teaches that it follows you into your next life, too.
You see, Buddhists believe that life is not a one-shot deal. They believe that the good or bad you do follows you and, upon the moment of death, it basically directs you into your next existence.
For example, a good man who was kind to people in this life may be reborn into a wonderful life free of most health and financial problems with a happy family.
A bad man might be reborn into an unpleasant life besot with ill-health, squalor and unhappiness.
Yet, all is not lost. We may not be able to amend the karma of our past lives but we certainly do control the karma of our present one.
It is never too late to change your ways as long as the desire to change sincerely exists in your heart. (That’s the part that most people never get to… step one, if you will.)
You might wonder what impact karma has over here in Thailand. Sadly, here in Thailand, karma does not stop people from being careless.
Visitors to Thailand quickly notice that Thai people are not exactly very safety-oriented.
When people live in Thailand for a while, sometimes they might start to think that Thai people are reckless because they think that Thai people believe that past karma dictates if they will have bad luck, like an accident.
There’s a little truth to that but, in reality, Thai culture is unusually interested in making everything easy and fun.
That’s why Thailand is so tolerant and such a nice place to be in. Alas, the downside of that is carefree people tend to be unaware of safety risks.
So, they don’t often wear seat belts, a motorcycle helmet, drive on the correct side of the road, or anything that is an added burden.
The mai pen rai (no problem) culture makes them a little lax on safety. Sadly, terrible accidents occasionally happen because of it.
This “street version” of Buddhism leans a little towards superstition but it also results in many beautiful things.
Any visitor to Thailand will immediately notice all of the beautiful spirit houses outside most homes and businesses.
Thai people believe that these little spirit houses help ward off bad spirits and bad karma. Some of these Thai spirit houses can actually be quite large. The one outside of my building is nearly six feet tall.
Visitors to Thailand will see people trying to build good karma by making offerings of coconut, mango, fried rice, rambutan and exotic flowers – as they realize that nature has its own karma.
What we do causes an effect in nature, which causes yet another effect and so on and so on.
A saan phra phum spirit house has only one pillar. The pillar represents Mount Sumeru, the cosmic realm of the Gods, and visitors to Thailand will see a resident angel inside who is of Hindu-Vishnu origin.
This angel is named Pra Chai Monkol. She came to Thailand through the Khmer Empire.
The Thai view of karma is unique because it is based on a very ancient style of Buddhism.
The concepts are understood somewhat differently than in more modern settings.
To be continued: More about the Thai flavour of karma next month.
All About Buddhism is a monthly column in The Phuket News where I take readers on my exotic journey into Thai Buddhism and debunk a number of myths about Buddhism. If you have any specific queries, or ideas for articles, please let us know. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will do our best to accommodate your interests.