On our last day in Thailand, Jules and I set out to find Wat Traimit, the Temple of the Golden Buddha which holds a nearly ten-foot tall Buddha made of solid gold – 5.5 tons to be exact – and valued at more than $18 million.
The Buddha was, at first glance, nothing more than, well, shiny. But somewhere in the midst of my circling path around it, it gave me an unexpected moment of revelation. Its impact came not from its looks, but from what it revealed about the Thai people.
Thailand is a country that while having its share of extreme wealth – someone must be buying those $2.2 million riverfront condos in Bangkok – is predominantly working poor. While we were in Thailand a minimum wage law was about to be enacted. This new law, which many decried as being the inevitable downfall of the Thai labor market, was 300 Baht – a mere ten U.S. dollars per day. And while the cost of living is low, the cheapest meals we found were still in the $2.50-$5.00 range per meal (presumably cooking at home would be a bit less).
And yet, this is a culture that despite having little to no government social safety net, takes care of its elders, feeds the large population of Buddhist monks daily, usually sends one of the family sons to be a monk for a period of at least a few years – to increase the son’s and the parents’ good karma – and lavishly and regularly supports its temples. And while a casual traveler could never see into the heart of the strangers she meets, the people on the whole seemed to lack that perpetual dissatisfaction many Americans, even successful ones, radiate.
Is it the Buddhist teachings? Or is it a value passed down through the generations? And what can we learn from this to become more content with our own lives?