I was visiting a wat outside of Sangklaburi, Thailand. I came across a monk and spent some time of rough conversation about the temple, the meditation poses of the Buddha, and my trip through the town. Before I left, he gave me a small pendant with the image of a monk on both sides. I've tried to do some research on the meaning behind such a gift, but can't seem to find anything. I'm not too well versed in Buddhism, so maybe this question has an obvious answer. Was I supposed to reciprocate with an offering? Is it appropriate to wear? Why would a monk hand out pendants?
I often see pendants for sale in the markets that look similar to the one I was given.
Also, I'm female if that makes any difference.
Thanks for any insight!
#1 justjess has been a member since 6/8/2009. Posts: 8
Think can probably give better insight here, but from my own admitedly limited experience, this is a way a monk usually shows appreciation to someone. The pendant is basically a good luck charm, although some are focussed on certain specific things (there's one an American SF medic friend of mine got that prevents a wound from anything other than by knife - and he swears by it). My wifes says you should never wear it when having sex and you should never put it in your pants pocket. It should be stored someplace high, preferably above head height.
picture would speak a thousand words ;)
sounds like an amulet. they can have images of Buddha, Hindu gods (most popular = four-faced Brahma), other deities, famous monks or 'reusii' (hermits).
+Was I supposed to reciprocate with an offering?+
not necessarily. Thais do request them from monks, & in such a case they would give an offering in return. but monks also give them out as gifts, for protection, & even as commemorative souvenirs (to both other monks as well as laypeople) at temple events. a monk friend always has plenty to give away as he often has to accompany a senior monk to such events around Thailand & the collection simply piles up.
Thais do buy (although they term it 'rent') them from temples & amulet markets, & there's a huge trade in them & speculation, with collectors' magazines, websites & online auctions. you'll see glass display cabinets with amulets & price tags at many Thai temples, in a few temples i've even seen this inside the 'viharn'.
+Is it appropriate to wear? +
yes, although it's usually Thai men who wear them, cos traditionally only men ventured far from home & were more exposed to danger. you'll find some soldiers & policemen weighed down by quite a few. among the women i know, we only wear a small one if at all.
there are shops/stalls that will encase it in plastic, & jewellers that will set it in gold/silver so that it can be worn as a pendant. have been given a few that were made as brooches complete with pin.
if you wear it, bear in mind how Thais venerate such items (especially amulets of Buddha & monks) e.g. don't place it on the floor, near underwear, etc. some Thais also wear small pendants bearing the faces/images of previous Kings.
+Why would a monk hand out pendants?+
Thai 'brand' of Buddhism? Buddhism with animist influence? depends on who you ask. many Thais believe that amulets confer protection from danger, bring luck, help you overcome your enemies, etc. to the point that the Thai traffic police handed out amulets & pictures of a famous monk to motorists as a way to reduce traffic accidents (go figure). you'll find such amulets hanging from the rearview mirror in vehicles. there are also types that are associated with 'black magic' (can't think of better English translation right now) & 'spells'.
something to consider:
while still alive, Buddha didn't allow people to make images of him, cos Buddhism is about his teachings (Dhamma), not the worship of a person/god. that's why early Buddhist art represented him indirectly using symbols like a footprint (all those 'Buddha footprints' that look nothing like a human footprint) or an empty throne. only after his passing did people start making statues & amulets of his likeness.
a few of my monk & laymen friends don't believe in this amulet business. but too difficult for junior monks to not follow the practice of whichever temple they are resident at, & they have to join in ceremonies for making & blessing amulets. when other monks or relatives give us (yet another) amulet, we just see it as an expression of their kindness & concern for our wellbeing :)
You have come across good fortune, and you should feel honored. When handed down from one to another, pendants, or more often called 'amulets' like these are important symbols of respect, appreciation and protective/supernatural power in Thailand. Whether you're interested in Buddhism or not, it shows that the monk you met must have felt that you, in any number of ways, are worthy of respect. It's a great gift to receive, especially from a monk.
Some people spend tens of thousands of baht in Thailand for amulets, particularly if they contain something like a hair of an enlightened monk. It is believed they can possess all different kinds of powers and protections. There are amulet cults that obsess about these things, and put them through all kinds of extremes, like at the bottom of the sea for 9 years or flying around the world for 3 years, all to heighten the amulets level of strength. Plenty of people are out to hawk these things, but if you receive one from a monk, well, that is just good luck for you (although probably based on karma) - it means that the transference was highly genuine.
Be good to the amulet; it is a bit of a responsibility. Like Mac says, take it off if you're doing anything "impure", and always keep it high above the ground. The whole thing is based on superstition, but in Thailand that superstition is embedded in the culture.
Does it say anything in Thai? What does the monk look like? What temple were you at? There is a highly respected monk named Ajahn Yantra, who is abbot of Sunnataram Monastery near Sangklaburi. It is possible that is the monk pictured in your amulet, though it could very well be someone else too.
I've had a few of these (still have one), each of them gifts, and each have ended up in perfect accord with the superstition they invoke. One was lost inexplicably, right off of my neck, when I was being stupid, another I gave to a friend after having the best year of my life (he then proceeded to have the best year of his life), and the last I'm wearing right now over my heart (so far so good).
Good luck with it, and remember - take it selflessly, give it selflessly.
Thanks to everyone that replied. You gave me some great insight! It was definitely a moment of my travels that I value deeply.
Here is a photo of one side of the pendant/amulet. I can post the opposite side when I stumble upon a computer here that will read my memory card (both sides are very similar). It's small...about the size of 1 baht:
I forgot to write down the name of the wat. It was right before entering into town, up on a hill. The giant golden reclining buddha, along with 5 other large meditating buddhas is there.
#8 justjess has been a member since 6/8/2009. Posts: 8
words on the pendant are a bit small, but looks like 'Luang Phor Uttama' to me...maybe this well-known monk who passed away a few years ago:
could Google his name for more a lot more info.
guess it depends on our individual circle of relatives & friends, who we mix with :) the female Thais i know who wear them all the time are mostly kids, adults who are based away from home (e.g. in other provinces), & a few who work in hospitals. rest of them either don't, or do so only when elders insist - putting it whenever one needs to call upon its powers to stop the nagging for not wearing it :P
reminds me of that special chartered flight for monks to make Jatukham Ramathep amulets in the sky while circling above Nakhon Sri Thammarat!
i believe Ajarn Yantra has not been there for quite some time already? so much has happened.
madmac and wanderingcat
Guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one.
I asked my wife who is Thai, and she said that it's common.
In the UK I can always tell the Filipinas from the Thai women 'cause the Filipinas wear a cross and the Thais a Buddha, usually in a gold setting.
I'll conceed my 'survey' was done in the UK.
I'll be back in Thailand in 2 weeks so It'll be an excuse to eye the Thai women.
On this theme of amulets.
I know some Thai men wear a phallus on a cord around their waists (obviously for gamlang in that department!) but why do some women (in Thailand, Vietnam and in Cambodia)wear a cord around their waists?
I'm in Thailand at the moment and we went to visit my wife's brother who lives near Pattaya.We were there a couple of weeks back and we went out to give the Monk's their Alms early in the morning as we always do when there.It so happens that I've known one of the Monks for quite a few years,even before he entered the Monkhood. Used to drink together.Later that day he sent a pendant to me via his father who lives nearby.I showed it to another Thai friend who said it is quite valuable-whether in the financial sense or spirtual sense I have no idea.Does'nt really matter as I shall keep it safe.
Sorry for the late reply.
Others who have replied that it is correctly called an amulet are correct.
They are actually used by most monks as a way to bring income into the monastery.
If you knew the name of the monk I could help you further.
When a monk other than monks of the forest tradition become when known, the lay people expect them to have developed magic powers and abilities through mediatation, and some thai's, not all value them grealty and pay fortunes to have one blessed by the monk.
A man onced asked Ajahn Chah to bless and give him an amulet said to stop bullets. Ajahn Chah looked at him and said OK, you can take the main buddha statue from the hall (which was 50 feet tall) and put around your neck LOL So you can see many forests monks are very much against giving the locals false hope, which is what they believe they do.
If indeed the amulet was a gift and not payed for, than I would hold it in higher regard as it was probably used in its 2nd purpose, which is a way a passing along a token of faith. Sort of like a christian priest giving you a cross to wear without saying " You must convert "
You obviously made an impression on him and saw you as sincere.
If you remember the name of the monk I may actually be able to put you in contact with him to say thank you, These days even the most remote monasteries have email and computers that the novices use quite often.
Also I should add that in Bangkok there has been a large number of people who while wearing amulets had them snatched right off there necks by thieves. The thieves seem to know what ones are worth a lot of baht. This seems to be a bangkok only phenomonon, as I've never heard of it anywhere else.
I guess my point is there considered expensive jewelery if there a valuable one and shouldn't be worn anywhere.
Its kinda sad that I can even write this, but just giving you a heads up.
Re my earlier post about Thai women wearing pendants. I am now in Thailand and have had a good long look today.I would say approx 30 percent have one from what I have seen. I am looking across at the two receptionists at my hotel and one has got a large gold Buddha around her neck and the other has nothing.So in this hotel it's 50 percent.By the way I am in Surin.