Friday, January 23, 2009

Floating Buddhist Monk Woman

'So how was your trip to Thailand?' I asked.

'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).


Joe Lim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Lim said...

Any teacher/performer must have a student/audience in order to tell/perform his story/gig....
so sometimes, i dun blame the teacher, but the student to be foolish enough to believe what is taught/said.
But coming back to the floating gig; assuming it's really true...but how would learning this act leads us to further understanding impermanance/unsatisfaction/non-self and "extinguishing the flame"? :)

Javen said...

Saw the floating nun video on YouTube. Was that psychic power or physic power? Looks more like physics. The water is probably dense from impurities like the sea water which makes one easier to float i.e. it’s easier to float on the dead-sea.

Sheridan said...


I do know of your opinion of Thai Buddhism. Much of it isn't unwarranted, and they do exhibit much of what the Buddha said, for example the amulet trade which is a particularly horrific, and deadly, breach of Dhamma. There are, however, lights that shine through this.

Have you read anything about the Forest tradition of Ajahn Sao (Ajan/Achaan Sao) and Ajahn Mun (Ajan/Achaan Man)? The Vinaya was a very important factor in the practice of this tradition, and it seems to have spawned some very interesting and diverse practitioners.

Do you have any reflections on the Forest tradition that didn't buy into most of the monastic depravity?

There are some sources that I could give you, Bhante, but I would be very interested in hearing your opinion.

Thank you very much!


Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Sheridan,
I take a keen interest in the Thai forest tradition. I have always thought of Achan Char as the greatest meditation master of the 20th century, and not just in Thailand. However, in my blog I try to be informative, interesting, light-hearted and look at things not usually looked at in the hope that my blog might stand out from the crowd. I also don’t mind breaking (gently I hope) a few idols sometimes either. The Thai forest tradition is very well-known in the West, to our great benefit but also to the degree that people there think that that IS Thai Buddhism. I know of several dozen web sites devoted to the forest tradition, many others highlight it and there are a good number of books on the subject too. I like looking at aspects of Buddhism (and not just Thai Buddhism, e.g. Oct.26, 2008; Nov.5, 2008) that no one else looks at or even seems to know about, or perhaps does know about but doesn't want to have a look at. Those in this last category will of course not read my blog, others may read it and end up being better informed. Reality has both uplifting and unappealing sides to it. I enjoy exploring them both. In fact, today's post was going to be quite an uplifting story about a Thai monk here in Singapore. Now I'm going to have to delay it otherwise you might think I have posted it only in response to your comments.
I would indeed be interested in some of your 'sources' although I am probably farmiliar with them but post them to me anyway.

Shih tzus Romariz said...

I can float like that nun, and I do not have any magical powers.
Nor consider myself to be diferent. or enlightened for doing this.
I´m just a regular housewife that doesnt know how to swimm, and one day I discovered that i can float without moving my feet. and i also sit in the water and float.
now :_this is consider levitating in the water?