Monday, June 26, 2006

My brush with Buddhism

This past weekend I attended a traditional Cambodian wedding. Prior to this experience, the closest I ever got to Buddhist faith was reading the Dharma in my hotel room in Singapore. I have always been interested in this culture and since so much of yoga comes from this culture, I thought I would share my experience.

The worst part of this experience was that the entire 3 hour ceremony was done in Cambodian so I could not understand what was going on. I got small bits and pieces translated and being able to understand the language or not, it was fascinating. I understand that weddings would normally last 3 - 7 days back in Cambodia. I don't know if I could have lasted longer than we did. Our festivities began at 8 AM at the house of the bride's parents. The bride and groom live 2 houses down the street. We walked into the house and the first thing I see is an enormous cooked pig sitting on the kitchen floor. Not far away was a young man holding a rather large hacket. Yikes. I didn't want to be around to see what he was going to do with it. In what I assume was the dining portion of the kitchen, 6 or 7 people were sitting on the floor playing the most bizarre instruments I have ever seen. The music reminded me of yoga trance music and made me want to break out into down dog! They played this very loud music starting at 7 AM, throughout much of the ceremony and didn't get up off that floor until nearly 1 PM. How do they do that?

We, as guests of the wedding, also had to sit on the floor for a couple of hours and this was torture. It is amazing how difficult it is to sit on the floor when you are not accustomed to it. All the other Cambodian guests were far older than I was and were happily sitting there. I was fidgeting back and fourth, shifting my legs and moaning in pain the entire time. But I got through it.

The wedding was full of amazing outfits (the bride, groom and bridal party changed clothes 3 times) and fascinating ceremonial traditions. For instance, the groom had to walk with his entourage from his house to the bride's parent's house and ask for their permission to marry the daughter . . . the bride had to wash the groom's feet . . . the parents of the bride and groom had to pretend to cut their hair and spray them with cologne . . . all the guests had to tie strands of yarn to the bride and groom's wrist . . . the guests had to make enormous dishes of food and bring to the neighbor's house . . . we had to pass several burning candles around the room, over and over again . . . the bride and groom had to offer flowers to the parents . . . we had to throw flower pedals on the bride and groom . . . the bride and groom had to parade around the house carrying a special pillow.

I only wish I knew what all this stuff meant. The only part of the ceremony that was translated was the last part. This was basically the vows. The monk would explain what the bride and groom are expected to do in their new lives together. This was translated for the groom's sake (who was not Cambodian and also had no idea what was going on). These vows are what made me want to write about this experience in my blog. Let me explain . . .

The monk explained that the groom was the head of the household and was expected to support and provide for the wife. He explained how the husband has to buy the wife clothes and give her everything that she needs. He should never cheat on her and always respect her. Then he went on to say that the woman needs to be understanding when the husband comes home from work, tired and hungry. She needs to always respect him and not question his authority as the head of the house. She needs to care for him and do all the housework to make the place comfortable for her husband. HELLO!! WHAT YEAR IS IT?? I was so appalled at this in this day and age. Is it me or do others feel the same way? What happened to equal partners in the marriage? Well, I guess that culture is just not for me. I'm a happy participate in yoga and lots of other Buddhist thinking, but I just don't agree with the marriage vows.

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