In a previous post, I wrote about my first experience with a Buddhist “temple” in the central part of Thailand. On our last full day in the country, our team visited a more classical form of a Buddhist temple when we traveled to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep outside of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. The story behind this temple features the legend of a white elephant carrying Buddha’s shoulder bone to the top of a mountain, trumpeting three times, and then dropping dead. Based on this omen, the story goes, a temple was immediately ordered built on the site.
The center of the temple features a gold plated “chedi,” which is a mound-like structure containing a relic which here is topped with a “chatra,” or umbrella covering. (See the picture later in this post) While this temple more closely matched what I imagined I would see, I noted that there were still influences present from other pagan religions even in this place considered to be “holy” – most significantly the presence of an idol in the form of Ganesh, a Hindu god. While we were there, we saw many forms of worship including bowing before idols and making offerings to various monks.
There were two things, however, that drew my attention and stuck with me even after I left. First, there were many places in the temple where it appeared that money was being donated for particular projects. At several of these, there was a book where donors would write their name and how much they had given so there would be a record of their contribution. As I thought about how wrong I would feel to sign a book showing I had supported the work of a false religion, I couldn’t help but think about how glad I was that my name was instead written by God in the book of life! (Revelation 20:11-15)
But if you look more closely at the picture of the “chedi” above, you will see a line of people who are walking around a pathway which surrounds it. While we were there, we saw a constant stream of people who were walking around this pathway multiple times. Some would be carrying something in their hands and we saw whole families participating in this ritual. There were instructions there about what to think or pray about each time as one walked around and I thought to myself how sad it was for these folks to expend this energy in an empty ceremony. Solomon’s words about life without God being a “chasing after the wind” came to mind. (Ecclesiastes 1:14)
This sight hit a little closer to home for me, however. I stopped and considered how much time and energy I spend in my own life on pursuits that I think will benefit me but are in fact empty. If, at the end of each day, I documented how I had spent each hour, what would it tell me about where my priorities really lie? Aren’t there too many times where I am simply walking around in circles (or in this case, squares) and not really accomplishing anything but momentary distraction from what’s important? God certainly doesn’t demand that we work ourselves to death by being on mission every second of every day but I find that most of the time its not that I’m resting, I’m burning up my energy and effort in trivial pursuits instead. This was a wake up call for me to make sure that I don’t simply chase after the wind but work for things that matter. (1 Corinthians 10:31)