Thai Silk: It's the Best for a Reason

Bridget Connors
When you brush a piece of Thai silk against your face, your senses will purr with the softness of this most unique and popular fabric. Some silk producers rely on heavy machinery and an assembly line to produce the silk products you see today. In Thailand, the tradition of silk production is marked by many years of hard-earned pride, skill and style. Hand woven silk products offer a quality that is much better and of a higher standard to items created through machines.

Silk: The Legend

Legend has it that the Empress Si Ling Chi of China was the first to discover silk. It is said that while she sipped a cup of tea underneath a mulberry tree, a cocoon fell from above and into her teacup. As she tried to extract the cocoon from her cup, a very fine thread began to unravel from the pod. Soon, silk was regarded as a status symbol and kept a secret for many years. It was also a crime to even pass on silkworm eggs or cocoons for fear that their treasured thread would be revealed. Although evidence supports silk cloth production during the ancient times of Thailand, it is still a little hazy on how it came to be.

Thai Silk

The most respected reputation in silk production has been earned by Thailand, which is known for producing the finest silk in the world. Although other countries, such as Italy and China also produce silk, Thai silk is rather distinct and highly impressive. The hand woven silk from Thailand feels fine to the touch, yet still retains an earthy quality. Throughout the years, Thais have perfected a number of weaving techniques and processes, which produce a variety of weights, patterns and designs.

Silk Production Process

The process of hand woven silk production is one that requires patience. A weaver usually has the capacity to create close to only four meters of material in one day of work. With that piece of information, you should definitely value your authentic silk products even more! First, the raw silk yarn is extracted from the silk cocoon. It is then prepared for a dye job. The yarn is then treated, boiled and eventually dyed. Once dying is complete, the silk yarn is then dried before it is spun on wooden spindles. The weaving of the silk yarn is the final step. Depending on where the silk was produced, you will encounter a wide-range of styles and colors, such as the iridescent variety from Korat or Surin.

The Many Uses For Thai Silk

Although silk is often connected to clothing, there are many different uses for Thai silk you probably weren’t even aware of. For starters, it is highly unlikely that you’ve ever tied the material to the clothing worn by astronauts. It is also used to produce carpets, sewing thread, typewriter ribbons, as well as fishing lines. Let’s not forget all of the wonderful places you will encounter silk on the home front. Silk table sheets for the dining room add softness to the room. Many bedrooms display a silk bed spread, blanket, sheets or matching pillows. Silk curtains and other home accessories can really add flair to any room in the home.

How to Care For Your Silk Products

When you want to ensure the life of your silk product, you should know how to properly take care of this type of material. To clean your silk products, they should be hand washed. For a colorful cloth, it is suggested to soak in salt water for the first cleaning. When ironing, the setting should be warm.

Interesting Facts About Silk Production

1) Did you know that the silkworm isn’t really a worm at all, but is actually a caterpillar?
2) Did you know that one cocoon holds a single fiber measuring 500 meters long?
3) Did you know that the natural color of the silk fiber from Thailand silkworms is gold?

Thai silk is something that can be enjoyed by all and if taken care of, it can last more than a hundred years. There's a reason why: its the only silk still hand pressed and its beauty and texture is recognized for this reason.

Where to Take a Padi Open Water Scuba Diving Course in Thailand

Andy Burrows
Ever wonder what it would be like to jump into the water and look around 40m below the surface? The underwater world is mysterious and yet inviting, the experience of diving it provides and addictive sense of zen. There’s no better place to have your first dive experience than Thailand – with good conditions year round.

Most dive shops in Thailand offer PADI certification but it’s also possible to find a few offering NAUI and SSI certifications. Beginners may be more comfortable diving in the calmer and shallower waters off the east coast of Thailand, with destinations such as Koh Tao, Koh Samui, Pattaya, Koh Samet or Koh Chang being the most popular on that side.

More advanced divers and those beginners who are confident in their abilities will have a better time diving around Phuket and the Similan Islands. Hotspots for diving around here include Phuket, Phi Phi and Khao Lak.

Phuket has the most upscale dive operations but if you are watching your budget, you might be more comfortable taking a course at Phi Phi or Khao Lak. Phi Phi is quite popular among the younger crowd but there are hotels catering to older couples and families, which also offer scuba diving courses. Khao Lak offers an excellent choice of dive shops and also has a good range of accommodation to suit most tastes. It is also the closest jumping off point to the Similan Islands.

The Similan Islands, technically located in Phang Nga province, provide some of the best dive sites in the world. Protected within a marine national park, the nine islands are still pristine and rich with wildlife above and below the water. Most dive operators will take you ashore at one of the islands, where you can enjoy the powder-white beaches and see exotic birds and monkeys.

Under the waves, the colourful reefs and boulder formations are teeming with coral and a variety of marine life. Sometimes whale sharks are even spotted in the waters, as well as rays and other sharks. Visibility is good, varying from 30-50m. The best way to see the Similans is by liveaboard, and most dive operators will allow you to do your Open Water dives from the boat if you’ve completed the paper and pool work ashore beforehand.

Much like Phi Phi, Koh Tao is a fun place for backpackers to learn how to scuba dive. This may well be the most affordable place in Thailand to take a PADI Open Water course and to build up your dive log. Unfortunately it’s not the best diving in Thailand – but it’s not yet the worst either. Koh Tao used to offer frequent whale shark sightings but they are relatively rare these days. It’s also conveniently close (2 hours by speed boat) to Samui. In fact you can do diving courses on Samui too.

The number of dive boats on a site is not restricted, so you may find there is too much company around peak dive times. You may find yourself surrounded by 50 to 100 divers at a time, with most of them being Open Water students or day trippers from Samui.

Needless to say, Koh Tao might be great for learning and for progressing to instructor – but it’s not all that great for just recreational diving. Many people come here specifically to advance through courses and proceed with PADI Advanced, Rescue Diver, Dive Master/Master Scuba Diver and Instructor courses.

There are so many choices on Koh Tao that you should look carefully at each dive shop and make sure they offer you the best value for money.

Not all dive instructors are the same, and some are downright scary. Likewise, equipment standards can vary, and you’ll want to make sure any shop you choose has quality equipment and maintains it properly and hygienically. You should also check into the insurance policy of the dive shop and enquire as to if you should purchase your own dive insurance for the hyperbaric chamber if you have an accident.

Most the dive operations in Thailand are run by foreigners, which is just as well since Thais have a rather different approach to safety and responsibility, but you’ll find yourself diving with plenty of Thai staff who are their usual friendly easy-going selves.


The tropical beaches of Phuket

by George
The Beaches of Phuket

Phuket is a tropical Thai holiday island and is one of the premier travel destinations in the world. The beaches of Phuket are well known for their white sandy beaches lined with gracious palm and coconut trees.

Most tourists staying on Phuket during their holiday unfortunately only visit the Phuket beach located closest to their hotel. It is a shame as there are so many beautiful Phuket beaches which the tourists could visit. The best way to see all the beautiful beaches of Phuket is by renting a motorbike or jeep and by simply driving up and down the coast line of Phuket as travelers will encounter countless beautiful and deserted Phuket beaches.

Some of the nicest beaches of Phuket are the Phuket beaches mentioned below.

Bang Tao Beach

The beautiful Bang Tao beach is located next to the upscale Phuket Laguna complex where a number of excellent 5 star Phuket hotels are located.

Kamala Beach

Kamala beach is one of the most popular of Phuket beaches and is located only a few minutes drive from Patong beach. Travelers looking for a Phuket beach area which offers a peaceful surrounding should consider booking a Phuket hotel or resort in the Phuket beach resort area of Kamala.

Karon Beach

The most popular of Phuket beaches after Patong beach is Karon beach and is located just south of Patong. Karon has a long beach and numerous resorts line this Phuket beach. Tourists visiting Phuket with children often prefer the somewhat laidback atmosphere that Karon beach has to offer.

Patong Beach

Patong beach is the busiest of all the beaches of Phuket. The vast majority of entertainment and business venues are located in Patong beach. If travelers are looking for a Phuket beach resort area where they can party until the early hours of the morning then Patong beach is the ideal choice for them.

Surin Beach

One of the most upscale Phuket beach areas is the area around Surin beach. If tourists do visit Surin beach then they should definitely try the excellent and inexpensive seafood which is served at the Surin beach side restaurants.


Life in a Thai Monastery (Part 7 of 7)

One evening, after a meeting, the abbot invited me to join him in his kuti. As I climbed the steps, I noticed the glossy handrails and the huge, gleaming floor of the veranda, both energetically polished with coconut husks until the coconut oil buffed the wood to a deep luster. This was a work of love by his monks, out of respect, and as a soon-to-be-ordained novice monk, I would become skilled at polishing the abbot’s veranda - on my hands and knees!

The interior of his kuti was much smaller than I had expected, with the standard two shuttered windows, now open, and bare walls. His outer robe hung on a rack. A water jug, cup, and alms bowl sat near the door, with a candle and some incense on a table toward the back. Except for a few incidentals - a razor, sandals, mosquito net, umbrella, some writing materials - this was the extent of the abbot’s worldly possessions.

We entered the tiny hut to the flurry of two geckos scurrying off the back wall, and as the abbot lit a candle and invited me to sit, the muffled sound of thunder in the distance reminded me that I was in the presence of a special being. He offered a cup of water, after which we sat in silence. I felt a profound peacefulness in this man’s presence, and already a deep admiration had formed, even though I had only known him for a short time. I could have silently sat with him in this little hut forever.

The locusts and cicadas were beginning their evening serenade, beckoning to the pair of geckos that circumspectly made their way to the door to embark on their nocturnal hunt. In the distance could be heard the “gecko, gecko!” of their kinsmen, as soft rain began pattering on nearby leaves - the vapors of the ocean falling upon the forest to begin the journey back to their Source.

The abbot continued sitting quietly without speaking, and I, out of respect, sat silently as well. This man’s quiet, sincere demeanor touched me deeply, and no words were needed in this atmosphere of complete confidence and ease. Silence is so powerful.

He presently asked how I was doing. I said fine. We talked a little about my practice, the visions I had been having, but then all too soon, I knew it was time to go. I stood up, put my hands together at my forehead and bowed, feeling an overwhelming respect and appreciation for this gentle being of few words who accepted me so unconditionally, and who had given up everything to dedicate his entire life to helping others find their way out of confusion.

The rain that had begun as barely a trickle was now a torrent. The vast heavens again opening their floodgates to unleash angry clouds and storms that drove across menacing, slate-gray skies, and with crashing thunder and blinding lightening as my solitary companions, I returned to my hut.

I felt such a profound gratefulness, an appreciation not only for this abbot, but for the entire group of monks and nuns who willingly gave up the security and comforts of home and family to risk their lives in pursuit of this elusive truth; this unfathomable mystery that held the secret to mankind’s only hope. If it wasn’t for them, and all the other monks and nuns before them that paved the way, how would Janet and I have ever stumbled across meditation?

Traveling to Southeast Asia answered many questions for us; one of them being whether journeying to a distant or magical place to acquire our answers was necessary at all. And we determined that it was . . . and yet, it wasn’t. The wisdom of eternity rested nowhere but here, within us; where else could it be? It has always been right here in our hearts, but we had always been too busy and full of ourselves to see it, and because this wisdom is within us, who could teach us but ourselves? We must truly be our own teachers, for no teacher can uncover this wisdom for us. But this place . . . I don’t know, it seemed . . . magical. Maybe the constant danger, knowing that one’s life could be snuffed out in a moment, helped us go deeper. We had always found deep concentration illusive whenever we were safe.

We inherently knew that there are those who might point us in the right direction, perhaps help us move out of our own shadows so that this wisdom of eternity has an opportunity to surface, but we also knew that we must eventually travel the path ourselves. And when that wisdom did surface, we knew it would forever change our destiny. We are the ones who must make the effort to change, and only through our own efforts can we accomplish this transformation.

We had never run across many people who genuinely thirsted for this cursed freedom that costs it’s seekers everything, and we were beginning to understand why only a handful of each generation attempts it, because it’s just too difficult. But once you’re cursed, you’re cursed, and there is no going back. Your “bridges of security” have all been burned.

The experiences we were having in Thailand already confirmed that we didn’t know anything of value, and a few days later, some things happened that we probably would have been satisfied never knowing.


Life in a Thai Monastery (Part 6 of 7)

By E. Raymond Rock
At that time in 1981, Thai families could lose as many as half their malnourished children to diseases such as malaria, typhoid fever, dengue fever, hepatitis, rabies, dysentery, cholera, malaria, hepatitis, Japanese Encephalitis, and snakebites as well. The cremation fires remained busy. The first entire cremation I actually witnessed involved a small girl, six years old perhaps, so beautiful, her long, black hair combed so carefully with a pink ribbon tied on the side. She looked as if she were only sleeping.

The dramatic memory of the episode remained with me for weeks, as the monks warned it would, and it was some time before the skulls that appeared on my kuti wall every evening in the candle light, departed.

I vividly recall the fire becoming extremely hot once the branches were lit, and in only moments, her shiny black hair sizzled, and then was gone. Next, the skin on her face blistered, and was gone as well, exposing the white skull underneath. The little body blackened quickly, its limbs curling up into a fetal position, and then it began cooking.

In those days, the cremation pits consisted of nothing more than four long stakes pounded into the ground with the space between filled with stacks of dry limbs and twigs. The parents would place the body of their child on top of the heap, after which they would stand stoically by to watch it burn. The mother would throw candy into the air, and the father, sitting on his heels, would smoke cigarettes. Expressing emotion was not considered appropriate etiquette by the Thais, and yet at times I caught glimpses of mothers off by themselves crying quietly. It wasn’t considered proper to make a spectacle of yourself.

The villagers appeared to accept these tragedies calmly, while Westerners like Janet and I were horrified. The villagers believed that one’s karma predestines the length of her or his physical life, and that little could be done to change things, a detached attitude that didn’t make sense to our logical western minds with a pill for everything. Let’s face it; our well-trained senses were all that we could rely on at the time, and we believed nothing existed beyond these limited senses. But then, where did my past-life recalls at Shasta Abbey come from, and my other meditation experiences, how did they all fit into this logical picture?

Deep in my heart, I had inklings that this universe involved much more than was obvious, and now I wondered what was keeping me from seeing this “more.” Was my strong logic blinding me from seeing extraordinary things that possibly exist outside the range of my limited vision? Perhaps my search for freedom at some point would take me far beyond a limiting world that ensnared me so. Perhaps someday the expansive worlds alluded to by these monks and nuns would be revealed. I was learning that this freedom could not be endowed by something else; a greater power for instance, I had to work toward it agonizingly by myself. Well, almost myself - Janet was with me every step of the way.

Evenings were a blessed relief in Thailand; warm, but without the smothering heat of the day that gratefully always surrendered to the night’s relative coolness. If we weren’t in the sala at dusk, chanting, we would be sitting out in the jungle meditating (hoping to high heaven that a snake wouldn’t crawl in our laps, or a mad dog take a bite out of us).

At other times, we would be found gathered under the abbot’s kuti. His kuti was fancy, with a profusion of tropical plants and flowers on all sides. The kuti itself was small, but because it was built in the middle of a large, ornate, elevated veranda supported by high, elaborate pillars instead of the ordinary four by four stilts that propped up our huts, the whole structure had an appearance of a massive building. The living quarters inside the hut were about the same size as ours; but because it was built on a large platform, the entire structure was large enough for the entire community to sit underneath.

The abbot would be perched on a high seat, being fanned slowly with giant banana leaves by one or two senior monks, and except for fierce mosquitoes buzzing around and preparing to feast on us (and hopefully not carrying a bad strain of malaria), all was deadly quiet, as the monks would continue to fan their abbot. The humidity was tangible; the still air heavy and laden with moisture with a storm usually brewing during the rainy season. Nobody spoke or moved after we all filed in and found a seat on the concrete floor; it was perfectly silent, a powerful silence with these monks and nuns sitting peacefully together, not making a sound.

One evening, I was sitting there, serene, watching Janet with the nuns across the way and wondering how she was doing, when I noticed a small brown scorpion crawling up my leg and onto my lap. It was as if I attracted scorpions; some kind of scorpion karma maybe. But I just sat there, trusting it wouldn’t bite me as long as I didn’t move . . . (Hah!).

The devious arachnid scurried sideways over to my wrist, and with smiling, beady eyes, stung the hell out of me! The pain was interesting, like ten bee stings at once accompanied by unbearable pins and needles running the entire length of my arm. I tried to concentrate on my solar plexus to ease the throbbing, and all the while the little terrorist just sat there, tail in the air, looking up at me as if to say, “Had enough?” Actually . . . I did, and eventually it scurried off, leaving me sitting there with thirty minutes of pain contemplation. Another of my many teachers!

Occasionally, the abbot would give a talk. When I attended his first talk, I expected it to be deep, very moving. I imagined him saying something in the order of . . . “You will never find the Source in your “self.” You can analyze yourself forever and not find it, but when that self, the one who is looking, is put under the pressure of intense meditation for a long time, ahh, . . . the self disappears, and there is the Source! Can you imagine yourselves beyond consciousness? Can you envision timelessness? Can you grasp the immensity of eternity? Some things you will fully experience with meditation, but never be able to utter a word about them to anyone. There are no words to express them. You are the Source; you are Reality here and now. There is no such thing as progress toward the Source, only a steady realization that you are presently blind to this fact. Each moment is eternal in itself, time being but an illusion of consciousness that creates previous and future moments. Everything happens now. Without insight, your past will be your tomorrows and your tomorrows will be but a phantasm of yesterday, as your dreams and the dreams of all beings intermingle. The barrier of consciousness will keep you from these truths for as long as you cling to the fantasy of individual experience. Look forward to the day when experiencing ends. May you find truth. . . .”

But in actuality, of course, his talks were much more practical and targeted, centered around our simple struggles to overcome the kilesas - our greed, hatred and delusions - which are fueled by our insatiable desires. And I didn’t have to go very far to find them. First things first I suppose.

Life in a Thai Monastery (Part 5 of 7)

By E. Raymond Rock
The contact with the monks at the Zen monastery in California, our experiences with the monks and nuns here in Thailand, and our deepening meditation all had an incredible impact on this phase of our spiritual lives. Our observation of life expanded into a wonderful perspective, as our worldly appetites fell away, and our spiritual faculties began to flower. This created a radical difference in the way we experienced everything, and although we were circling around life again, it was from a different, more refined vantage point.

My false center or “self” - that part of us we fabricate and call individuality - was also gradually fading, and although this idea of a personality still clung to me like sweat, it was definitely weakening. I originally thought that when this false personality weakened, I would become a doormat, a wet noodle, but I was surprised when the opposite occurred. A certain, inexplicable wisdom and contentment clicked in, enabling me to make decisions without the constant static of “me” in my head that so often led me down proverbial Shangri-La’s that quickly turned into hells.

Long ago, I gave up the idea of one religion or another being the ultimate answer, and no longer could I tolerate somebody else telling me what to think or believe; I had to find out for myself. Now I knew that the answers were nowhere but inside.

I could see, even back then, that any religion’s attempt to organize the Truth, or organize the Freedoms we were discovering, only created and supported a “self”’ rather than dismantle it. And it was becoming painfully apparent to us that through the actions of this fabricated “self,” our destinies were created.

Furthermore, only through insight would our destinies and our false “selves” be resolved; it was up to us. Laying back and waiting for some all-powerful God to zap us into sainthood was not working at all. It seemed as if the Freedoms we were searching for could not be endowed upon us from an outside source; we were stuck with the task of discovering them for ourselves. And this involved sacrificing everything we had ever believed in.

My previous faith closed its ears to any mention of inquiry into one’s soul. I know this for a fact because I asked a priest once. He said that meditation was an invitation to the devil. Interesting. He insisted I follow the Catholic Church exclusively and leave everything in God’s hands, and not worry about understanding anything; we were not meant to understand, only to worship, only to believe - “God is the authority.” (All reminiscent of Dostoyevsky’s premise that if Christ returned to earth today to teach true, disciplined righteousness, the Church would not be happy)!

So the Church was no help at all to someone like me who relentlessly questioned all authority, and only years later did I understand what the root problem had always been - “me” - that strong self-identity that the church said was supposed to not question authority! This “me” was what eventually had to be dismantled, but I didn’t know how to do that and the Church either wasn’t aware of the “self,’ or chose to ignore it. Therefore, I could only take one step at a time. The three freedoms we had stumbled across had helped immensely, but we urgently needed that fourth one.

One day, shortly after arriving at the wat I noticed the abbot standing near the smoldering cremation pit. When he saw me, he waived me over. As I approached, I again noticed that his eyes seemed strange. I had thought before that his eyes were different, but now this was confirmed; they were curiously empty, yet very alive, as if they were looking through me and focusing on the forest behind.

He asked if I would help him with something, pointing to a black, tarry lump lying not too far away in the leaves. I didn’t know what he was pointing at, but I nodded in agreement and followed his lead as we collected a good bit of dry wood, which we placed on the embers of the almost burned out fire in the cremation pit. After the fire got roaring again, we gathered some large, dead leaves to protect our hands and carefully picked up the infant’s hot, small, half-cremated torso, and placed it back on the fire.

I couldn’t help but think about the wide chasm that existed between Thai and American culture, and how mentally tough the Thais must be to live under these third world conditions. I felt sorry for these destitute villagers when I first arrived, but soon learned that happiness had little to do with wealth, or comfort, or security; it had to do with unconditional love - not a clinging love, or what might be called attachment, but real, unqualified love.

After we placed the baby’s tiny body back on top of the fire, the abbot looked at me for a moment, and then said, quietly, "You are here now, therefore, you are permitted to be a complete failure in the eyes of the world. You can stop fighting life.”

What an incredible, emotional statement. Tears streamed down my face as if a dam had burst. I didn’t know whether placing the baby’s body back on the fire triggered them, or relief in knowing that I would no longer have to live up to the expectations of a competitive world. Whatever triggered them, it was liberating. Where exactly was I? Where had I been all my life?


Life in a Thai Monastery (Part 4 of 7)

These monks at Nanachat had a mystique about them . . . unmistakable, but difficult to explain. They were hardly noticed, so unassuming and restrained, childlike in many ways, and our hearts couldn’t help but go out to them. This was not Bangkok, where city monks took on the robes only to gain merit for relatives, or for reasons other than dedicating their lives to meditation and enlightenment. This was the real-deal at Wat Pah Nanachat, and I wondered if the stories of narrow escapes with death at these wats were exaggerated. I had a funny feeling we were about to find out.

The next morning I ran across a villager and a monk, chatting and busily working on a carcass. It was lying on a bamboo table in the shade of some banana trees near the sala, and appeared to be an animal, or something. They seemed to be skinning it. Mmmm. I didn’t think monks did that? So I moved closer, and discovered what it was that they were working on - a human skeleton! “Whoa,” I thought, recalling my cherished autopsy picture, “maybe I should round up Janet and head back to good ol’ Colorado right now!” This was really ghoulish - they were actually scraping dried flesh off the dead, gray bones.

Later that day, overcome with curiosity and a sense of the macabre, I asked around about the skeleton. What I pieced together was that it apparently had been curing in a sealed box under one of the kuties for two years, a necessary process so that the flesh could be more easily removed without damaging the bones. The two years had now expired, and it was time to scrape off the flesh before shipping the clean bones to Bangkok for pinning and bleaching.

During the years that the body was being stored, many monks inhabited the kuti in order to overcome their fear of ghosts, and, as could be expected, had unusual meditation experiences. The skeleton’s ghost was believed to roam about the monastery grounds every night looking for its children.

The remains were that of a young woman from the local village. She and her husband (the villager who was scraping the bones) would visit the monastery regularly to offer food and listen to dhamma talks, or sermons. The couple had a beautiful, healthy little boy and another child on the way. They were very much in love, and looked forward to an uncomplicated life in the village, raising their children and growing old together.

It was obvious that this couple wasn’t asking for much . . . were they? They were happy with the simplest of things; farming, raising kids, and then dying in the same village where they were born. This was 1981, just before Thailand became westernized to the extent it is now, and the humbleness and humility of these people overwhelmed us time and again.

The story of the skeleton continued: After their daughter was born, the woman began experiencing pain that steadily worsened. It became so intense and unrelenting that she could only lay curled up in bed all day. With no money available for treatments in Bangkok, village remedies and aspirin were her only option, and the pain finally became unbearable. One night she asked her husband to bring their children into the room and just hold her. She was saying goodbye.

Her soft crying was not so much from the pain now, but from what she was about to ask her husband to do. She wanted to die, the pain was too much, and yet how she could abandon her young children? What would become of them, and her husband? Her dreams were shattered. She asked her husband to leave his gun on the table.

He refused! How could he do this? He felt ashamed and unworthy, that he could not make her well. He would take his gun and rob somebody, and get money to take her to Bangkok, but there was nobody to rob; the monks had no money, and neither did the poor villagers.

The woman he loved was in pain, and he was helpless to do anything about it - except help her to kill herself. How could he live with such a thing; he would have to kill her himself and spare her the horror of pulling the trigger. Then he would kill himself . . . but what about the children?

He couldn’t do it; all he could do was place the revolver on her table and quietly walk out of the room, unable to look into her eyes. A few moments later, a gunshot rang out.

It was a sad story, and I couldn’t help wonder who really pulled the trigger. If she did, was it wrong for her to take her own life? Yes, according to the monks, it was, but I reserved judgment myself. How could I know what she was going through unless I stood in her shoes?

I would watch the monk and villager chatting and working on the skeleton from a vantage point across the courtyard, and occasionally I would notice the small, gentle villager with stooped shoulders put his knife down and become silent, looking off into the forest. His lined face and weak smile revealed the pain of a poor villager’s life that had come undone, and now he was doing the only thing left to do, fulfill a promise to the woman he loved for almost his entire life.

Her dying wish was that her skeleton be displayed in the main hall for all the monks to contemplate every day, reminding them that death can come at any time, and that death was always painful, and therefore they must not tarry in their efforts to find freedom in their hearts and hopefully not experience death too many more lifetimes.

The poignant story and the actual experience of seeing this skeleton with a bullet hole in its skull affected me deeply, much deeper than any lecture about us being merely “bubbles in a stream which could burst at any moment.” I was actually living the Buddha’s words now.