It’s the freakin’ weekend, baby, I’m about to pray with some monks….

by Tabitha Kidwell

I had one of the most incredible weekends in recent memory. It was one of those perfect couple of days where good things come one right after another. I had heard that you could pray with the monks at the Buddhist Monastery that is next to the ninth century Candi Mendut (Mendut Temple). It isn’t too far away from where I live, so I knew I wanted to get down there sometime this year. When a student mentioned to me that she lived in Magelang and was going home this weekend, I asked if I could ride the bus with her to see how to get there. So Lulu and I boarded a bus together on Saturday afternoon. We got to town with plenty of time left for me to get down to the monastery before evening prayers, so her uncle picked us up and we went to her house, where her mother had a huge dinner waiting for me, even though it was only 4:30. So Lulu and I ate up, then her uncle took me down to the monastery.

I got there about an hour early, and walked around a little. I went over to Mendut Temple, which is notable because it contains one of the only states of the Buddha where he is sitting in a chair, western-style, rather than cross-legged. It was after dark by this time, and the temple was closed, but the guard asked if I wanted to go in. Apparently “Java Heat,” an action film starring Kellen Lutz and Mickey Rourke, was being filmed in town, and one of the actresses had hired a guide who had bribed the officials to let her in to meditate. So they were willing to let me sneak in after her. I waited a few minutes until she was done, scoped out the actress (who I didn’t recognize), and climbed up to the temple entrance. I didn’t fully realize how incredible it was to be in there alone until the next day when I went back and had to fight the crowds of picture-snapping tourists and incense-burning Buddhists. It was just me and the Buddha in his giant chair. I tried to quiet my mind and meditate, but I was so excited to be there that it was a little tricky. After centuries of prayers had been said in that little chamber, it was an incredible and holy feeling to just sit there alone and soak up the presence of the Divine. I didn’t want to leave, but the guard was lingering outside, waiting for me to wrap up, and anyways I had real live monks to go pray with, so I reluctantly said good-bye to the western-sitting Buddha.

I arrived I the meditation room just a little before the monks, and saw that my actress friend had also come. We waited in silence for the monks to file in. Then there was more silence. And then they started their chanting, which was incredible. I’m sure everyone has heard monks chanting on CDs or on TV or whatever, but this was the first time I had heard it in person, and it was truly moving. They stopped chanting and had silent meditation, then filed back out. One stayed behind to chat with the visitors and to invite us to a ceremony they were having the next day at noon. I didn’t pick up why they were having a Buddhist ceremony, but I felt like if a monk lets me come to his chanting and then invites me to a ceremony, I should probably go.

So then I left the temple and met up with my friend Ken, who lives in Magelang and also teaches English. We headed to dinner but got distracted by a random dance performance in a field. Why were they having a random dance performance in a field? That remains unclear, but it was very cool!

The next morning, I got up at sunrise and ran by Candi Mendut and it’s neighbors 3 km away, Candi Pawon, and the incredible Candi Borobudur. Mendut and Pawon are tiny and can be run around fairly quickly (even by a slowpoke like me), but Borodubur is massive and surrounded by a giant complex. It wasn’t open yet, and you have to pay an admission fee, but the guards just smiled at me when I ran in the entrance that seemed to be for all the employees. So I was able to run around the temple, alone, at dawn. I couldn’t get up to the actual temple area, but it was really wonderful to run around it and feel like I had the place to myself. It was one of those runs you just don’t want to end.

I headed over to the monastery at noon for the ceremony, and was squeezed myself in along with the thousands of people in the tiny monastery. I still didn’t really understand what the ceremony was for, but there was more chanting and more silence, made all the more incredible by the giant crowd’s participation. Then there was a speech by a monk that still did not explain the purpose of the ceremony, but surprised me because I was probably able to understand 70% of what I heard! Maybe monks, having chosen a life of simplicity, also choose simple vocabulary words? I don’t know, but it felt great to be able to follow the speech.

So then I headed home. It dragged into a 3-hour long hot, dusty and uncomfortable bus ride, so I arrived back in Salatiga a little less Zen than I was when I left the monks, but it was still a weekend and an experience to remember.

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2 Comments to “It’s the freakin’ weekend, baby, I’m about to pray with some monks….”

  1. How awesome and inspiring! I feel a little more zen by just reading this, so I can only imagine how amazing it all was to experience in person. You truly are having some once in a lifetime experiences! Miss and love you lots 🙂

  2. Wow, Tabitha! Nice work – it’s amazing what you can experience by just asking around, right?

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