01/11/2022, 17.54
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Buddhist monk walks 1,500 kilometers, revives interest in pilgrimage

by Steve Suwannarat

Luang Ta Bun Chen, a Vietnam War veteran, stops his retreat and studies for an annual pilgrimage during he shares his experiences with others. This year he went from Phuket to Nakhom Phanom. Meanwhile, the practice of “Dhammayatra” risks becoming a tourist attraction.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Despite its modernity and contrasting lifestyles, often far removed from their origins, Thailand still preserves certain traditional religious practices, like pilgrimages.

This is true for Luang Ta Bun Chen, a Buddhist monk well-known for his constant pilgrimages. He is currently nearing the end of his latest, year-long journey of 1,500 kilometres that took him from the southern island of Phuket to his native province of Nakhon Phanom, on the northeastern border with Laos.

Whilst the country's Buddhist religious tradition is included in tourist brochures for local or foreign travellers, the spiritual experiences in monasteries or travel are on decline.

Even in the “Land of Smiles”, the tradition of following in the footsteps of well-known spiritual masters, of pilgrimages (Dhammayatra), are no longer as popular as in the past, replaced by new lifestyles and the complications caused by a generally less favourable environment.

Nevertheless, pilgrimages are still viewed with great respect and, like spiritual retreats and good works towards monasteries and temples, they remain among the cornerstones in the life of most Thais who adhere to Theravada Buddhism.

Luang Ta Bun Chuen’s personal life story adds interest to the encounters he has on his journey with people seeking his blessing.

A veteran of the Vietnam War in 1969, married and father of four, he decided to give up worldly things in 2009 and retire to a monastery to devote himself to the study of Buddhist doctrine.

Every year, he takes a break from his retreat and studies to go on the road. In doing so, he has become a role model, someone who renounces material possessions in favour of a spiritual quest, experiences that he shares with the people he meets on the way in exchange for what he needs to continue his journey.

Whenever he is given extra drinking water, he shares it with schools and hospitals, which allows him to better comply with the vows and spiritual choices he made.

At the same time, he helps those he meets to acquire merits that will contribute to their liberation in accordance with Buddhist Theravada practices common in Thailand and in other countries whereby accumulating merits is essential to reach the final purpose.

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