Friday, December 02, 2005

Finding Buddha in the Garden

I've made reference to my vacation in Thailand, so here's a post that talks about a small part of that trip. It was our last full day, and we had made arrangements to hire a 4WD vehicle and drive up to the hill tribe area, known as Doi Tung. This part of northern Thailand is known as the Golden Triangle, right on the border with Burma and Laos. This is where they used to grow poppies for opium production, and for many years, this led to an unhappy life for many Thais, and of course other countries that were the recipients of that export. In the late 1980s, there was a development project begun by the Princess Mother (Thailand is a monarchy) to eliminate opium production, and replace it with craftsmanship and revegitate the land that had been cleared using slash and burn tactics for growing poppies.

Materially "poor", but happier than I've seen in "wealthy" areas

Chickens everywhere ... bird flu anyone?

Drying coffee beans on porch rooftops

This is on the side of the mountain pass (1500 meters high) that divides Thailand and Burma, and there are military outposts along the road. Along this drive, we came to an Arboretum. What we had stumbled upon was nothing short of an enchanted garden.

Both Thai and Burmese military outposts just down the road

Magical paths lead from one vista to the next

Beautiful flowers of many types adorn the hillside

Here, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and in this quite poor rural location, we found manicured gardens and beautiful stone paths that go on and on, with hundreds of gardeners keeping the grounds immaculate. Oh yeah, and we appear to be the only people in this arboretum; just Dan, me, and 100 of our closest Thai gardener friends.

A mountainside arboretum in the middle of nowhere

More mysterious paths enclosed by ferns

I was simply awestruck and mesmerized

Indeed, after being awed by garden after garden, we found a sign that led to a tunnel. That tunnel, cleverly curved so that you walk out of bright equatorial sun into total darkness, and then round a curve to see the light again, takes you to the other side of the mountain pass, where an entirely different garden experience awaits. It was here, that we met (though could not directly communicate with) what turned out to be our gardener guide. After asking to take his picture, and trying to express how fascinated we were with this magical place, he insisted in giving us a "tour", pointing out things that were off the beaten path, but special to him. It was quite a remarkable time.

More paths, more steps, overlooking the mountainside

Our rightfully proud, and peacefully happy, Thai gardener guide

Pine tree forest on the other side

Before the Doi Tung Development Project started, this mountain site was barren of trees, and covered with one of the largest opium fields in Thai territory. Now it is a magnificent arboretum, and my pictures don't do it justice, as it was a rather hazy day. But I feel safe in speaking for both Dan and me that we were awestruck with the beauty and mystical nature of this garden. Also check out a related post on my Reflections of Beauty blog, Finding God in the Park post.


Anonymous said...

This is really nice.

Mohamed said...

Forest,flowers and the path pics are excellent.

Steven Crisp said...


Thanks for the visit (I assume a random stop) and the comment. I hope you checked out my other blogs for other pictures (try if you like).

I did a quick perusal of your blogs as well. I enjoyed your pictures too. As for the religious discussion, I truly find it fascinating. And would love to have some extensive discussions with you, but perhaps it would be frustrating because I believe true dialog can only occur when people have an open mind. If one already “knows the answer”, and is only trying to persuade, it really isn’t a dialog — it is either a debate, or it’s proselytizing.

I come from a Christian background, and really like some of the teachings of Christ. But in my opinion the church got in the way. I couldn’t accept the principles of holy war, crusades, or the inquisition. I have similar problems with Islam and Judaism, and frankly, any religion that requires “blind faith” in a holy book. Because it removes the possibility of real dialog. “Mine is right and yours is wrong” is how wars begin. (You can check out Sam Harris’ book “The End of Faith” for a grim recounting of atrocities committed in the name of a people’s faith.)

So I have moved away from “religion” and toward “spirituality”. As you say on your blog, there are truths to be found in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. You accept that, it seems, because of what is written in the Koran. I suspect therefore that you will have problems with teachings of Buddha, Krishna, etc. or anything not from the Abrahamic religions. That is too bad, because I believe those sages had a glimpse into the ineffable as well, and we can learn a lot from them as well.

The interesting thing about Buddhism (Buddha’s teachings, rather than the subsequent religions dogma) is that it is inherently experiential. He implored his followers not to believe it because it is passed down from him, but to try it and experience it for themselves. If it works, great. If not, that’s OK to. You’ve perhaps heard the expression “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

So anyways, just wanted to say “hi”, and thanks for the visit.