'Wonderful' he replied. 'We went to that famous temple in Kanchanaburi and saw those women who can levitate.'
Now of course I'm never surprised by anything I hear about Thailand, especially if it concerns Buddhism, or what passes for Buddhism in that country. You know, the Phra Arahan who can blow smoke out of his ears, the other one who stands on your passport and can see all your former lives, the one who can see all your future lives without standing on your passport and the temple full of tigers. Then of course there is the beloved old Lung Po somewhere in Ubon whose aphrodisiacal potions have even been investigated by the Viagra company, or so the story goes.
'The women who can levitate?'
'Yes Bhante. They are mai chis and they levitate in water.'
'Do you mean float?'
'That’s it Bhante. They float.'
I was silent for a minute while I tried to think what interest or significance there could be in floating. Human fat is lighter than water and the Dhamma is…No. Air-filled lungs are lighter than water so one-pointedness of mind is…Nope. No connection there either. Now this place is a temple and in temples monks do…Nothing there. Finally I gave up.
'Well, they use the supernormal powers they have developed through meditation to float in a swimming pool-like thing.'
'Eh, um. Well, um, I suppose to show how highly developed they are.'
'Why would they want to display such powers? I would have thought that a highly developed meditator would want to avoid celebrity, crowds and self-promotion. Let me guess. Do you have to pay to see these floating ladies?'
'Yes, lots of people come. There are seats around the swimming pool. You have to pay extra to video it.'
By this time I remembered that I had better things to do like tidy the kitchen or something and I drew the conversation to a close. That evening he rung me and told me that the floating women of Wat Tham Mungkornthong are on YouTube. As I happened to be on line at the time I had a look at it. Its called Floating Buddhist Monk Woman of Kanchanaburi, Thailand. If you have nothing better to do, have a look at it. But believe me, you do have something better to do - like reading this passage from the Tipitaka.
"Now it happened that a rich merchant of Rajagaha got a block of expensive, quality sandalwood and he thought, 'Why don’t I have a bowl carved out of this sandalwood. I can keep the off-cuts for myself and the bowl I can give to someone else'. And this is exactly what he did. Then he had a string tied around the bowl and hung it from the top of a long bamboo pole. Having done that he made an announcement, 'Any monk or brahmin, perfected in psychic powers, who can take down this bowl can have it.' Purana Kassapa, Makkhali Gosala, Ajita Kesakambala, Pakudha Kaccayana Sanjaya Belatthiputta and Nigantha Nataputta all tried to get the bowl but none were unable to. Now it so happened that Maha Moggallana and Pindola Bharadvija had gone to Rajagaha and heard about the sandalwood bowl on the top of the pole and Pindola said to Moggallana, 'You are enlightened and you have psychic powers. Get the bowl and it is yours.' But Moggallana replied, 'Pindola, you are enlightened and you have psychic powers. You get the bowl and you can have it.' So Pindola rose off the ground, took the bowl and then circled Rajagaha three times in the air. Now the rich merchant happened to be standing on the roof of his house with his wife and children (and seeing Pindola) he joined his hands towards him in salutation and said, 'Please land here in my house Venerable Pindola Bharadvaja.' and this Pindola did. The merchant took the bowl from his hands, filled it with expensive food, returned it to him and them Pindola went back to his monastery. Now people heard about what had happened and noisy excited crowds began following him around. And hearing all this noise the Lord asked what it was about and Ananda told him. Then the Lord convened all the monks, questioned Pindola in front of them, and having been given the details said, 'It is not appropriate, it is not becoming, it is not worthy of a true monk and it should not be done. How could you, Pindola Bharadvaja, in front of householders, display the achievements of spiritually accomplished people for the sake of a miserable wooden bowl? You, Bharadvaja, are like a tart who lifts her dress for the sake of a miserable coin' "(Vin.II,110-11).