At the temple …

The head monk and other notables

Yesterday, I was talking with the head monk at the local Buddhist temple. The head monk is a youngish man, wearing a vivid orange robe. We sat on a bench in the complex where the Buddhist temple is located.

Unlike a church or synagogue, a Buddhist temple is not a lone structure. It is typically a very elaborately decorated building located near the center of the complex, and it is surrounded by a collection of equally elaborate sacred buildings–some gilded, some carved stone, some painted in vibrant single shades. It is not uncommon to see one of these ornate sacred complexes plunked in the middle of a row of shacks when riding in rural areas.

“Okay, is this a temple?” I asked the head monk. “No, no,” he said. “This temple,”and he pointed to the beautiful white building near which we were sitting. “Well, then what is that?” I asked him, pointing at the original structure. “This is _____,” he said, using a Khmer word that is not currently in my vocabulary. What all the other structures were in the compound I didn’t ask, but the head monk of the local temple was the head of them all. He indicated the kitchen, where the monks cooked all the meals. He indicated the school, where the children were peeking over the fence at us.

As we talked, Calvin students and Handong students were bustling everywhere in the complex, picking up trash. It was part of an event by the Genesis Community of Transformation (headed by Navy Chann), to raise awareness of cleaning up the environment.

The head monk was gratified that the community would make such an effort. So was Gil Suh, the director of Christian Reformed World Missions in Cambodia. “‘How great is it that we’re in a temple–to bless,” he said of the event. “It’s like ”A Beautiful Day,'” (referring to the practice in the U.S. church of setting aside one Sunday a month to do service projects.)

The temple

The head monk and I finished our conversation, and I stuck out my hand to shake his. “No, no, I can’t,” he said. “It’s against my order.” “Oh man. I’m sorry,”I told him and went away exceedingly glad I hadn’t tried to hug him.

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