There is more than one way to make merit, but in Thailand the most common way is to donate to a temple. Putting some money into a donation box is easy. Putting some money into an envelope and handing it to a monk is easy, too. Many people do one and/or the other frequently. But there are other ways to make merit by donating. In my last post, I wrote about people in the village of Ban Noen That donating land and money for the good of the community. And on our visit to Kalasin earlier this year, we came across a common form of donation: donating one's skill and labour.
We had called at Ban Sema village on our way to the provincial capital of Kalasin Province. Ban Sema is part of an ancient settlement known as Muang Fadaet Songyang, and the village gets its name from the large number of sandstone boundary markers (sema) found in Wat Pho Chai Semaram. The women in the picture above were weaving mats. The women on the right were doing the 'finishing' and were also in charge of sales.
The materials seen here were almost certainly provided by people who purchased them for donation, but perhaps did not have the time or skill to make the mats. The materials are sourced locally and the skill is one which local people will have practised for a very long time. It's not a skill that is found uniquely here, of course, but often a village would supply mats or whatever within a limited area, perhaps exchanging their product for something produced in another nearby village. It is this tradition that OTOP (One Tambon One Product) is based on, although the success of OTOP relies on making products available to a wider market.
The mats are made for sale and the proceeds are ear-marked to pay for this structure where meditation practice will take place. Around the perimeter you can see sema in place. These are of plain sandstone. There are other larger ones with bas relief but those are kept in a covered space. Apparently people walk around where these plain ones are, practicing walking meditation I think, and the path gets very muddy in the rainy season. And so the concrete will make it easier to walk here at any time of year.
This man is one of several who have also donated their labour and skill to building the structure. A monk invited me to donate a can of krating daeng to keep this man going. In the meantime, Pensri was demonstrating her bargaining skills. The mats were offered to her at 300 Baht each, so she took six for 2,000 Baht.
As I said, there is more than one way to make merit.
I think that sweeping leaves must be a major way to make merit for monks. If you visit almost any monastery in Isan there will be at least one monk sweeping the leaves. Morning or afternoon. I sometimes wonder whether the task is allocated as a penance. It is certainly an excellent reminder of the impermanence of any state.
You can read more about Wat Po Chai Semaram HERE on my other site, Isan Traveller.