Thai temple offers spiritual rebirth (for a $5 fee)
12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, September 28, 2008
Seth Mydans, The New York Times
NAKHON NAYOK, Thailand – It is the ultimate in second chances: a Buddhist temple here offers, for a small fee, an opportunity to die, rise up again newborn and make a fresh start in life.
Nine big pink coffins dominate the grand hall of the temple, and every day hundreds of people take their turns climbing in for a few moments as monks chant a dirge. Then, at a command, the visitors clamber out again cleansed – they believe – of the past.
It is a renewal for our times, as recent economic hardship brings uncertainty and people try seeking a bailout on life. In growing numbers, they come from around Thailand to join what has become an assembly line of resurrection.
"When I went in I felt warm, and when I came out I felt released," said Nual Chaichamni, 52, a masseuse who visited recently and who said she liked the feeling so much that she had done it six times.
Buddhism in Thailand can take strange forms, embracing animist superstition, magical practices – and the entrepreneurial spirit of many senior monks. Many Thais say that the true spirit of Buddhism is being lost.
This temple, Wat Prommanee, 66 miles northeast of Bangkok, has offered its unusual daily resurrection service for more than three years.
On weekends, as many as 700 people a day pay 180 baht each, a little more than $5, for the ceremony.
Like Charlie Chaplin on an out-of-control assembly line, worshipers follow the monks' commands: into the coffin, down on their backs, eyes closed, shroud on, shroud off, up on their feet, quick prayer and scramble out into a new life.
The whole process takes a minute and a half. The next group of nine is waiting.
A cardboard sign warns visitors not to stand behind the coffins, where bad karma sucked from the "dying" devotees may still be hovering.
The people who come to be reborn here at Wat Prommanee are seeking help for many of the ailments and aspirations of life.
As the morning's ceremony ended, a long line had already formed for the afternoon shift. Among the newcomers was the entire 36-man Royal Thai Army soccer team, in bright red jerseys, preparing for a match the next day.
"We'll lie in the coffins, and then we'll go to practice," said one of the players, Nippon Khamthong, 22. Asked what he hoped his rebirth would bring him, he said, "We just want to win tomorrow."
The New York Times