I arrived yesterday afternoon just in time for the final rehearsals, with the altar looking just as gorgeous as it did for the Buddha’s Birthday last year, if not more so. Seeing all the offerings arranged before the Buddha image, fruit and flowers, candles and boxes, and so many people busy with the final touches for their performances, you’d never have believed this is just a small overseas branch temple with just two resident sunims. The energy was intense.
At six o’clock sharp everyone settled down for a short evening ceremony of chants, containing some refrains and mantras I found familiar and lovely, and then there was, just as the lantern lights were switched on, a circumambulation in the temple grounds and everyone chanted the Buddha’s name. With a short period of meditation too, this first part of the evening contained something for every style of practice. And then the festival began.
The stage doors were pulled back and first off was a choir with all the women in gorgeous hanboks and all the men in white shirts, and English translations to some of the Dharma songs on a screen to one side. In the audience, as well as dozens of Korean families, was our small English-language Seon Club, trying not to compare our upcoming efforts with the magnificent voices on stage!
The anticipation must have effected my memory because I can’t remember the order of the acts that followed, but I remember being stunned by the drumming performance, oooing and aaahing at the wonderful magic tricks some of the kids performed, and clapping along as some younger and very cute kids danced to a song about Superman. There was a traditional Thai dance and during a Korean dance the Seon Club slipped behind the stage door ready to go on.
Daily life in Bangkok has been much disrupted over the past few weeks and two of our regular members, both with superb voices, have recently had to leave, but, as our singing coaches Jo and Mrs Nam emphasised again and again during rehearsals, the point isn’t the sound of our voices, but the expression of the Dharma. And in the end we had a respectable little group with singers from England, Australia, and Japan, and Eun Young, our extraordinarily talented and enthusiastic translator from Korea, and we sang with all our hearts.
The Seon Club is only a year old, it was at the last Buddha’s Birthday celebration that we first discussed the idea of an English-language group, and during the second verse the whole audience joined in. I looked out and saw other Seon Club members in the audience giving us the thumbs up, and all over the hall so many familiar faces from the Seonwon singing along and wishing us well, and I understood that nothing is separate here, that every single one of us is together supporting each other.
So thank you to everyone that sang last night, thank you to everyone that attended rehearsals, even if you couldn’t make it on the night, thank you to those who coached us over the weeks of preparation, to everyone who supported us and watched us and joined in with us, and to all the wonderful people from the Hanmaum Seonwon in Bangkok and in Korea and throughout the world. Thank you all!
Our song finished and we bowed and hurried back into the audience smiling and elated and watched others take their turns. There was some acting, a wild but tightly controlled performance of swordmanship, and everything was rounded off with more singing and the handing out of some small gifts. And again I was left amazed at how this little community manages to find such time and such talent. It was a fabulous way to celebrate the coming of Buddha, and a lovely example for every day of the coming year of energy and joy and togetherness. Wonderful!