Sunday, February 15, 2015

Talismans


Back in 1994 my wife gave me a buddha amulet she bought at Phsar Thmei, which I've worn ever since. A Buddha of black wood in a silver setting.

In early 1995 I was traveling National Route 4 regularly. It wasn't particularly dangerous, but there was some KR presence and banditry on that road, so my Khmer maid advised me to have the amulet blessed to help protect me in my travels, "especially against bullets," she added. Such was not an uncommon practice in Cambodia at the time, often used by soldiers to try to ward off harm, (magical tattoos as well.) Figuring that at worst having the amulet blessed couldn't hurt, and rather interested in the potential cultural experience, I spent a day with my Khmer teacher learning the language and gestures necessary to go to the pagoda and ask for my buddha to be blessed. The following week I went up to Wat Leu in Sihanoukville, where I first talked to an aja (a lay assistant), who took me to the head monk, Ok Om (now deceased.) I explained myself in the couple of sentences I learned and he agreed to help me.

We sat in the vihear, both on the floor, facing each other, the amulet lay between us. It was about a 30 minute affair of the old monk praying and chanting and sprinkling water on me and the buddha. I put my buddha back around my neck, there was a bit more sprinkling and conclusive sounding chanting, and we were done.

The aja helped me up, my legs asleep from sitting cross-legged for 30 minutes. The old monk stood and turned toward the door, gesturing for me to follow. We went outside and sat on a rock under a tree where he told me a story and gave some advice, a young monk helping translate for us.

He began that such amulets can help alleviate fear and give one courage, and even provide protection, but that they must not be played with. Then he told me the story of a Khmer army officer who had bought a buddha amulet not unlike mine. The officer brought it to the pagoda to be blessed to protect him from bullets. Afterward, back in the field, he decided to test it. He took his amulet and hung it from a tree, pulled his sidearm and squeezed off several shots at it. Upon examination he found the amulet to be completely unscathed and the tree barely scratched by his bullets. So he hung the buddha back around his neck, turned the gun on himself and shot himself in the chest, dying on the spot. (In fact I had read the same story in the newspaper around that time.)

The old monk warned me again that such things were serious business and not to be tested - that maybe it only works once, or maybe you needed to have faith which testing betrayed, that we could not fully understand the ways of the gods, but above all, do not test it, be careful when I traveled the road, be generous with the soldiers I met, even KR, don't travel alone or after dark, and to have faith. I took all of his advice, save having faith, which is not a matter of choice. And I've never been shot, touch buddha.

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