Saturday, 24 August 2013

BIG SNAKE

Venerable Father of Seven Kings


The Venerable Luang Pu Soh
is a famous teacher of meditation.
He is eighty-seven years old.

In the second year after his ordination,
while he was sitting in his kuti,
a large golden snake, six metres long
and as thick as a house post,
entered the hut, slithered straight towards him
and lifted him up so that he was seated on its coils.
It pushed its head into his body, but he felt no pain,
and seemed to push it out again
between his shoulder blades.
When he reached up carefully with his left hand,
he could feel its head above his own,
just as it is shown
in images of the Buddha.
After a while it crawled out and away
and he could feel his bottom touch the floor again.

In his sixth year, while walking in the Temple grounds,
he heard a loud voice inside him,
“In your eighth year
your symbol will appear
through the air,
on the ninth waxing day
of the ninth lunar month.
He who has it now will come.”

When this day came,
he sat meditating as usual
in the early morning.
There was the loud rushing and roaring sound
of a great wind
which caused the branches of the trees around
to sway and beat against the ground
and a helicopter landed in front of the hut.
The pilot got out.
His clothes were green,
as was the cloth across his shoulders.
He had green armlets.
He had green skin
and carried a three-stringed violin.
The monk recognised him as Indra
and the violin as the instrument he had played
before the Buddha.
(Though he was not as beautifully arrayed
as in Temple paintings.)

Indra walked towards the kuti
and went straight underneath.

Twenty minutes later,
the monk climbed down
to look under the hut
but Indra was gone
and, when he looked, the helicopter had gone too.

After breakfast,
he was reflecting on this,
when a voice said, “It’s coming!”

At eight o’clock, a white van arrived
and a couple got out, carrying something
wrapped in a white cloth
which they presented to the monk.
It was an image fifteen inches high
of Buddha seated on the coils of seven nāgas,
their seven heads arching protectively over his.
He named it Venerable Father of Seven Kings.

The image is famous and venerated throughout the country.
Copies of it and tear-drop amulets are widely sold.
From this image the monk has received
Dhamma instruction and practical advice
by means of an inner voice.
According to the voice, the image is eight hundred years old
and the voice entered it at its casting.

When asked, “Who are you?”
The voice will not particularise.


From Bamboo Leaves by Brian Taylor

Saturday, 29 June 2013

THE DYING RACES OF MANKIND

Ah Kah Tribal Women

When the rich see the very poor
they know it is time
to buy their valuables.
Cheaply.

This ancient people
were driven out of Tibet
by the Tibetans,
out of China by the Chinese
and out of Burma
by the Burmese.

Ah Kah people are very poor
and cannot offer much resistance
to economic assistance.
They make exquisite silver jewellery
and headdresses.
Treasure hunters
have been buying them.
Cheaply.

Ah Kah people have bright shining souls.
Christian missionaries
have been buying them.
Cheaply.

Although the missionaries,
have been taught
that moth and rust doth corrupt
and thieves break in and steal,
they courageously bite the moral bullet
and seek treasures on earth as well.

Ah Kah are animists
and see all around them spirits
and the ghosts of their ancestors.
Their villages are small,
their houses bamboo
and on stilts.
They are accustomed
to having to abandon them
and move on.

Outside each village
is a ceremonial swing
on three poles.
Smaller than the Giant Brahmin Swing,
it serves the same purpose;
to gently dislodge the jiva
from the physical manipura
and reawaken the old self-knowledge.

The Headman reawakens
the old tribal-knowledge.
He can recite the names of the ancestors
back to the Beginning.

Carefully carrying
this self-knowledge
and this tribal-knowledge,
carefully preserving
this family identity,
they have wandered on
like Bronze Age tribes.

Like the Israelites,
who recited their ancestral names
in the Generation of Adam;And Adam begat Seth
and Seth begat Enos
and Enos begat Cainan
and Cainan begat Mahalaleel
and Cainan lived eight hundred and forty years
after he begat Mahalaleel…

Like the Ashokhs in Transcaucasia,
reciting the story of Gilgamesh.

All these are Inheritors.

The missionaries are bookworms
and teach the Ah Kah
not to believe in spirits
but to become Christians
and go to heaven after they are dead
(which the missionaries
do not seriously believe in
and to which they are unlikely
to be going after they are dead).

The missionaries have already bought
twenty five percent of the Ah Kah souls
in these rolling green hills.
The Spiritual Inheritance of Ah Kah
is bought with running water,
fertilizers and televisions,
radios and motorbikes,
pharmaceutical drugs and jobs
and education for the next generation.

In this village there are two brick buildings,
the priest’s house and a Church.
Despite this, the recitations still go on,
as does haruspication
from the entrails of black pigs.

Further down the valley to the east,
that large white building
is where the children eat and sleep;
and are schooled in virtues
of the neverland of western industrial society
and its sanitized philosophies.

*

From Bamboo Leaves by Brian Taylor

Sunday, 23 June 2013

BEAUTIFUL WOMEN



THAI YAI
try to make their women beautiful
by putting brass rings
around their necks
to lengthen them.
The weight
bears down and displaces
their collar bones,
so their necks appear to elevate.

It is a branch of creative aesthetics
which has its equivalent
among the Benin in Africa
and in the mutilated women’s feet
of Imperial China.

It does not make the women
more beautiful
but it does draw tourists
(as do Tracey Emin’s knickers).



ULTRA MORES 
Among the Meo,
an unmarried mother
is more desirable as a wife
than a virgin.
She has proved her fertility;
her children will be welcome workers
in the family’s fields.




NONGLAK (BEAUTIFUL WOMAN) 
She teaches English thirteen hours a week.
Who do you live with, Nonglak?
“I live with mother.”
When Nonglak was a baby,
her aunt said to her mother,
“I have no children.
Give me your baby.”
So, Nonglak’s mother gave her the baby.
She has always called her aunt “mother”.
Now her aunt is dead.

For four years,
the coffin has rested in the house
waiting for cremation.

Who do you live with, Nonglak?
“I live with mother.
I live with mother!”




BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE 
Super-talented children
play on the eternal beach,
building castles and cities
and civilisations and worlds,
anything, everything they want;
and try to keep all and each
out of everyone else’s reach.

Dancing around hand in hand,
they themselves are powdered sand.

The sun shines down
burning them brown.

The sea rolls in
ironing everything
smooth and flat and thin.




From Bamboo Leaves by Brian Taylor


Friday, 12 April 2013

TIGER CAVE TEMPLE

By the Temple Gate
macaques lie in wait.
They squabble and fight,
like chickens, for the bananas
offered by northern Europeans.
They snatch
bags and cameras
and are happy to scratch
and bite
the hands that feed them.

An enormous limestone hill
three hundred metres high
towers above the temple.

A small staircase leads
up and over the rocks,
then down into the Khiriwong valley,
lush ancient lowland forest
with giant dicterocarps and fig trees,
their flared buttressed roots
offering comfortable back rests.
It is encircled on all sides
by steep overhanging cliffs.

The mountain is riddled with caves
which penetrate to its heart.
These are used by meditating monks.
There are also small wooden kutis
clinging to the rock face,
some of them too small to lie down in,
and cleared walkways.

Thirty years ago the Venerable Chamnean
came here to meditate.
A tiger walked into the cave,
but did not interfere with him.

Because of this, a temple was erected here
and Chamnean became its Abbot.
Now there are over three hundred monks
and nuns and also lay people collected here.
Chamnean is a famous Meditation Teacher
and his present cave
is a large modern building
in its own compound
with air-conditioning
and stainless steel decorative metal work.

The dell is unchanged, quiet and listening.
The macaques do not come here.
Outside one of the caves
someone has painted
in red letters Snake Cave;
and on an inside wall,
in faded white Thai script,
I am Buddha, in Pali.

We asked Chamnean whether
the story of the Tiger was true.
He said it was.

There is a Guardian Deva.

There are also washing machines in the dell.
And overhead lamps on the walkways as well.



*

SURVIVORS AND INHERITORS

Caves, like palaces,
hotels, churches
(and shoes),
outlive their tenants.
Tigers came and filled the caves
with snarling and roaring.

After the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima,
more than a hundred Japanese soldiers retreated here.
Most fell on their swords in accordance with custom,
grasping the hilts with both hands,
pulling and falling into an exploding sphere of pain.
The rest cut open their stomachs
and died more slowly, but just as surely.
Their flesh was eaten by tigers and dogs,
their bones mingled with those of prehistoric men
and the residue of earlier tiger feasts.
Thirty five years later, Buddhist monks came,
Japanese, Thai and Chinese,
and chanted mantras
for the salvation and reorientation
of the Japanese spirits,
who returned to Japan.
The earthly elements they left behind
were collected by the Japanese Embassy
(who also took the swords).
The caves were cleaned.
The tigers stopped coming.

Like deserted Indian Temples,
the caves were left to monkeys,
who jabbered and squabbled
with the sounds of enraged chickens.
Dun, as a boy, came here with his friends,
when they were bored with fishing,
to fight the monkeys for their territory.

Now the worn limestone caverns
are empty, silent, echoing,
teeming with images in parallel worlds,
waiting for the next arrivals.

Tonight one old monkey
sits motionless.


From Bamboo Leaves by Brian Taylor

Monday, 25 March 2013

INTRODUCTION TO BAMBOO LEAVES

                                                                                        Floating market, Bangkok

Early morning street markets. Mists and half darkness.
Portable charcoal stoves flare up and mix their smoke
with the smells of pork and fish and sewers.
Monks carry begging bowls, blind musicians donation boxes
to lighten their darkness.
Cobblers display their boxes of tools.
A man with a treadle sewing machine mends anybody’s anything.
Stalls are piled high with fish, twenty different kinds of fruit,
sticky rice, steaming pots of vegetables.
Brooms, clothing, lottery tickets, buddha amulets, shoes, bicycles, motorbikes.
Buyers, sellers, beggars.
Policemen with revolvers at the hip. Dogs, cockroaches, rats.
A fortuneteller has spread out a brightly patterned cotton cloth, her cards neatly laid out.
Waiting. 

A multilayered world.  Disabled beggars with plastic cups,
black Ferraris and a snow-white Bugatti Veyron;
a swimming pool which is filled with ice
to celebrate every New Year's Day;
westernised nose jobs and eyelid surgery; massage parlours;
gold and silversmiths, emeralds, rubies and star sapphires;
ladyboys and budget sex changes;
ghosts and Spirit Doctors;
mediums offering lunch to the spirits that possess them;
body snatchers lurking below motorway bridges;
menus with one-day dry pig and son-in-law's testicles.

Everywhere, temples thunder their disenchanting message that all this teeming world, its glamour, excitement and misery, is impermanent, not-self and suffering.

Here, the lives of men and women are rounded not with a sleep but a silence.
There is a bareness to their lives, an ordinariness, which is itself extraordinary.
There is poetry (and humour) in everyday happenings even without poetic language.
They reveal dimensions and levels of being of which we are usually unaware.
Because we don’t believe in them.

We believe what we see.
But we tend to see what we believe.

There is poetry in Thai, Pali and Chinese names,
in their meanings
and the music of their sounds.
The people and incidents are recorded as they were.
The perspective and tone varies.




BAMBOO LEAVES (opening poem)

From the sun’s fierce heat,
the bamboo grove offers much relief.
Each leaf is uniquely made
and all are quite the same.
The whole provides a living shade;
why give each leaf
its individual name?

The mind is such
a lonely, fragile thing,
so easily afraid
of what it can’t believe in.
Yet every time we make-believe,
belief is truly made.

Brian Taylor


BAMBOO LEAVES (closing poem)

Their leaves of grass* emerge and fade;
with windblown rustling tongues converse.
The grove has grown throughout the universe,
spreads everywhere its pleasant living shade;
creating north south east and west
(the fierce, unending struggle to be best);
relentlessly growing.
The variety is unimaginable,
the sameness unknowing
and unknowable.

The grove is all its roots and culms and leaves,
yet every leaf contains the whole,
every living thing that breathes
and all its universes, as well.
All things are perfect
in their subatomic details
and reach out blindly to direct
networks of rhyzomes and roots 
carrying new, all different, identical shoots
to every part of infinite space
until the chain of being fails.

And every leaf has a human face,
and every culm is a human heart.

At the end of a kalpa,
the grove gathers its energy
in an explosion of mass flowering;
an outward showering
of fruit and seed.
The clones wither and die,
the culms dry
and disintegrate
and crumble into food
to fulfill the eternal need
as a new regeneration germinates
and the whole grove reincarnates.


* Bamboos are part of the Poaceae, The Grass Family.

Brian Taylor


Thursday, 29 November 2012

FLOWERS OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT

Bangkok Royal Temple Guard



A woman looks up
from her place
among the dirt and pollution
of Silom Road and joins
her palms together in salutation.

Someone has put two one-baht coins
in her plastic cup
(without looking at her face).

One hundred yards away,
The British Club is going to cool
their swimming pool
with ice for a Polar Swim
at 11.00 a.m. on New Year’s Day.
“Free of Charge. Free hot mulled wine.”
(There is a double crash barrier
with uniformed security guards
to protect would-be polar swimmers.)

At the Bangkok Motor Show,
an as-white-as-snow
Bugatti Veyron is à la carte,
escorted by swirling girls
in white satin evening gowns.
253 mph top speed,
turbocharged, all souped-up.
To squeeze out
all its growling sounds,
you will need
to take 165 million baht

out of your plastic cup.



From Bamboo Leaves by Brian Taylor

DANCE OF THE SPIRITS

Thai Temple Guard


The invitation is in elegant sepia Siamese script
on very pale pink card with embossed borders.
“All disciples and honourable guests
are invited to join
in paying respects
to the Teachers.”
The teachers are unusual though:
Great Teacher Rishi
Grandfather Wealth
His Royal Highness Love Flower
Chao Poh Dhamthamin
Chao Poh the Black and Ruthless
Chao Mère Golden Champa.
All of them are dead
but they will be there
for they are spirits.
His Royal Highness is a son
of King Chulalongkorn
who drowned, when he was ten,
in the sea near Bangsaen.
These spirits are devoted to helping people.

Pranom’s mother had been their medium.
When she died, they moved to Pranom instead.
On Sunday, at the House by the Temple Wall,
breakfast for the monks is at seven,
respects to the Teachers at nine,
lunch at twelve.

Downstairs, under the house,
fifty people are waiting
and excitedly talking.
Are you going up?
“Oh, no. Oh no!”
They laugh.

Upstairs, fourteen mediums,
including Pranom (The Conciliator)
are changing into costumes.
There are six musicians,
with a ranard, two big drums,
one small drum and brass chings.

Along one wall are shelves.
On the top shelf is a large effigy
of Great Teacher Rishi,
hair tied up, long grey beard,
wearing a tiger skin robe.
Under him, tiers of images, mostly male
with some small children.
These are all tutelary spirits
who possess the bodies of the mediums.
The lowest shelf has an elaborate decoration
of banana leaves and flowers.
On the floor, a big smouldering,
clay joss stick holder.
Behind it kong wai (offerings)
of cakes, drinks and fruit.
Along the opposite wall, the monks
have sat, eaten their breakfast,
chanted a mantra bestowing merit
on the donors and departed.
About twenty “disciples and respectable people”
are watching the mediums change.
Pranom is local, the rest from other districts.
One dresses all in red, two in gold.
An old man appears as an Ayudhaya soldier.
He speaks entirely in rhyming verse.
Most are in white, old-fashioned Thai style.
Many are plump and middle-aged.
One girl, all in red, is in her late teens.
She is the medium for Sung Thong
(The Golden Conch Shell). *

Pranom begins. She takes one joss stick
and concentrates her attention on it.
The musicians play, two of them chant
mantras which evoke spirits.
Pranom is sitting cross-legged.
She starts to sway round and round
violently and erratically
like an unbalanced top.
She stops swaying and sits erect
before jumping eighteen inches straight up
and falling back on her plump
haunches with a great thump.
She is fat and bounces,
bang, bang, bang.
Her movements get wilder
as the musicians play louder
until she flops down on her face.
Great Teacher Rishi has arrived.
She takes seven candles,
holds them tightly together and lights them.
The flames flare up like a great torch
which she plunges into her mouth.
This is the signal
for the other mediums.
They sway demonically,
bounce incredibly
high on their middle-aged haunches,
and finally flop forwards or backwards
when the spirits come.
They light candles. They swallow flames.
All the joss sticks in the clay pot are alight
and, with the candle smoke,
create a thick haze in which the mediums
dance round the room
in time to the boom-boom
of the musicians,
stopping every few steps
to pay respects to each other.
The crashing, the banging, the noise
confirm the fears of all those beneath the floor
who had not dared to come up
but could not bear to keep away.

Pranom receives the first believer,
an old man with a half-crazed look.
Great Teacher Rishi’s voice grates out,
“You cut trees down didn’t you?”
The man nods humbly.
“Don’t you know that in those trees
there were devas?
That’s why they’ve made you mad.
You saw two men standing there, didn’t you?”
“Yes.”
“Get them a spirit house.
Then you will be all right.”

A big man, from another province, is next.
“You got what you wanted, didn’t you?
Boss of the Coca Cola Company
in Rayong now, aren’t you?”
The man smiles and bows.

Suddenly, one of the mediums
calls out that the Cripple is coming.
She crouches and writhes
(and swallows fire.)
The other mediums come and pay their respects.

All the mediums are receiving devotees
But the music is so loud
it is impossible to hear what is said.

By now the Prince
has replaced the Rishi in Pranom.
she comes over and a child’s voice asks,
“When are you going back?”
I don’t know.
“You have an advantage over lots of people,
living in two countries.
May you be well, happy and rich.”

After two-and-a-half hours,
the spirits leave.
The mediums start to change
into ordinary clothes.
We go over to a warrior in red,
an attractive girl in her mid-twenties.
She is smoking
two cigarettes at once
which she is holding
between the index
and middle fingers of one hand.

How does it feel?

“That is too broad a question.
Be more specific.”

Who are you?

“Many: Brahma, Siva, Naraya.
Our purpose is giving
without expecting anything in return.
Give with the giving heart.
To do this you need
to be well established
in morality and Dhamma.
Those who drink alcohol and smoke
cigarettes are not wrong.”
Really?
No answer.

We went downstairs.
Lunch was beginning.
On our way out,
we were given five bags
of food and fruit.

At half past four,
lunch was still being eaten.
Late in the evening,
music could still be heard.
 
* In Indian Legend, a Queen gave birth to a conch shell. The king's minor wife was jealous of this and bribed the court astrologer to say it was a bad omen. It was banished by being thrown into the river. Later, a Prince emerged from it who, after many adventures, became king himself and ruled wisely and justly. The story is told in a Thai poem written by King Rama ll.

From Bamboo Leaves by Brian Taylor