Every morning at Wat Nanachat Bung Wai, large numbers of laypeople show up for the meal offering. Some are villagers who come daily, some come from nearby towns and cities, some from other provinces and regions of Thailand. Within this matrix of generosity and reverence for the Buddha, his teachings, and his spiritual community, there is an atmosphere of harmony and joyfulness. On my most recent visit, I saw many of the old-timers as well as many new faces. One man in particular, a little gentleman with an antiquated hearing aid, was eager to engage westerners in conversation, though his English was limited. He had recently retired at age 60 and seemed absolutely delighted to be able to come to the monastery every day. After introducing himself and struggling to converse, he would simply say, “Have a wonderful day!” and then move along to see if there was something he could do to help out in the kitchen, or someone else to share his happiness with.
In California, of course, one frequently hears a (probably insincere) rendition of those or similar words when concluding a transaction in a bank, supermarket, or other venue, so it has become something of an empty phrase to a lot of ears, not much different from “Do you want fries with that?” And in the forest monastery, the impulse of visiting western Buddhists is often to keep a distance from people so as not to get drawn in to conversations. We have serious work to do, after all, what with the nature of existence being dukkha, and usually a limited time in which to do it. Or maybe I just habitually flash back to the days when the presence of a farang was taken as an opportunity to practice speaking English and perhaps pick up a free lesson, so I am always ready to run when Thais approach and start speaking English.
But after going through various reactions, I thought, “Why not?” The fellow’s happiness was so obvious that it was infectious, even for a stodgy type like me. And what could be better than wishing from the heart that everyone have a wonderful day? Contrary to many half-baked and poorly informed ideas, the Buddha didn’t teach about suffering in order to make us gloomy; he showed a way out of suffering, and being around those who dedicate their lives to practicing the way, and people in a culture that has practiced and revered that way for centuries, you can’t help but notice a lot of happiness. It made me reflect on the Chinese Buddhist custom of greeting each other by simply saying the name of Amitabha Buddha. Why not use our speech to elevate our minds, rather than letting it drag us into the old patterns of habit and unskillfulness? So much of what we say is at best unnecessary, so much is to our detriment and provokes turmoil and regret.
Ajahn Chah (echoing the late Tibetan master Tinley Norbu Rinpoche) said something about the process of growing food, and how a farmer could cut to the chase and just say that what he grows is earth, since that is the origin and substance of it all—it is a lot more simple and direct than explaining all the steps in growing grains and vegetables, and in the end, what does it matter what we say about it, and how many people want to listen to a detailed explanation? Similarly, instead of struggling to find something profound to say, or giving a discourse to everyone we meet, with voluminous quotations from scripture and enlightened teachers to back it up, why not just say, “Have a wonderful day” and move along? Surely the Buddha would be pleased if we could all have a wonderful day.
Have a wonderful day!