I see a woman kneeling on the ground, eyes closed with her palms pressed tightly together. A young monk sits before her on a slightly raised platform in deep concentration. His body is completely still except for the movement of his lips as he chants a prayer. The monk reaches to a bowl next to him, dips a brush inside, and gently sprays her with fat beads of water.
Just the day before, I was trekking north of Chiang Mai in Thailand to visit and spend an evening in the village of the Karen People. I had spent the night in a traditional raised hut, toasted my morning bread over an open fire, and drank homemade rice wine. While looking at the stars above me, I thought about how everyone on the planet shared the same night sky. We were so close at this very moment, yet just weeks and even days before, I had not thought about the people who lived in the Karen Village. I hadn’t met the little girls I had spent the afternoon with, holding my hands, insisting on piggy back rides, and creating mini bouquets out of wild flowers.
Outside of Wat Chedi Luang, massive elephants carved with life ensconced the main temple. Bits of greenery blossomed with energy in the cracks, growing denser at the very top of the wat. Wat Chedi Luang was built over the span of the 14th and 15th century and had recently undergone construction in the 1990’s. While it was clear there is still more work to be done, I found great beauty in the older pieces of the structure. As I entered the main wat, I stopped to stare at the colorful banners hanging above my head. It felt good to seek refuge from the growing heat that had begun to amass outside.
At the time, I didn’t quite understand the full meaning of why the monk had sprayed the kneeling woman with water and then tied a white string bracelet around her wrist. What I did know, was there was a link between his incantation and that piece of string. I now know that the bracelet is made of sacred white thread, also known as Sai Sin thread. It plays an important role in Buddhism and Thai culture and is blessed by monks for good karma and fortune. Sai Sin threads are also tied during major life events such as the celebration of a new home, marriage, or even as a gesture of goodwill from an elder.
Before the Sai Sin thread is cut into smaller pieces to be used as bracelets, it partakes in a special blessing ceremony. During this ritual, the rope is wrapped around the Buddha statue, passes through the hands of the chanting monks, and even wraps around the heads and hands of those that are present to pray. As you can imagine, the original rope can be quite long. After the blessing ceremony, the rope is cut into portions and eventually makes its way to people from all over.
I summoned the courage to gently bow in front of the monk and silently ask if he might honor me in this special ceremony. He gestured for me to kneel down, and began to pray quietly with my eyes squeezed closed. My heart was beating wildly; I consciously instructed myself to take deep breaths to calm myself down. As my breathing became steady, I felt the splashes of water on my forehead, head, and shoulders. When I opened my eyes, he motioned for me to come forward and present my left wrist. With steady hands, he tied the Sai Sin thread to create an infinite loop. It is believed that when the rope is tied into a circle, the powers of protection become stronger without a beginning or an end.
Women have their bracelets tied on their left wrists, while men have theirs tied to the right. Upon receiving a Sai Sin bracelet, one should keep it on for at least three days to receive the full protective powers of the thread. If taken off, it should be untied and stored for safe keeping instead of being cut (which would diminish its protective purpose). It’s also important to note that you do not have to be Buddhist to receive a Sai Sin thread– it can be thought of as a symbol of compassion. Buddhism an inclusive religion, and welcomes any and all kinds of people.
After my Sai Sin thread was tied on my wrist, I gave the monk a small donation of 20฿ in an envelope that I had gotten at the entrance of the wat. My bracelet is beautiful; it has been braided in the center with just the right touch of simplistic beauty. Even after all of these months, I look upon my white threads (now turned a grayish hue) and think about Wat Chedi Luang. I remember how cool the tiles felt against my bare feet and how the slightest breeze made the banners above my head rustle. The thread is a calming presence in my life; reminding me to appreciate the present, have gratitude for good health, and encourage the thought of connectivity on the other side of the world.
The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There’s only one moment for you to live. – Buddha