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IN THE TEMPLE
AFTER the children had watched the procession of white elephants, Chin said:
"Let us go to the temple, Chie Lo. It will be a pleasant walk. And, besides, father said we ought to go to-day. He gave me these coins to carry there." Chin held up two pieces of silver. "One of them is for you, Chie Lo, and the other is for me."
The place where the temple stood had been set apart from the rest of the city. It was divided up into large fields surrounded by walls. In each of these fields there was at least one large temple, and several small ones, besides the buildings where the priests lived with their pupils. Such a place is called a wat.
As Chin and his sister drew near one of these wats, they found many little stands from which men were busily selling gold-leaf to those who were on their- way to the temples.
What would the people do with this gold-leaf, you wonder.
They would use it to cover any bare spots on their favourite images. It would "make merit" for them, as they would say; or, in other words, they would at some time be rewarded for the act of goodness.
It is in this way that the images are kept richly gilded, and many of them are fairly loaded with the precious stuff.
"We can't buy any to-day," said Chin, "we haven't money enough. But I wish I could get one of those rings that man is selling. They are made of hairs out of the manes and tails of the sacred horses. It would bring good fortune, I'm sure."
Poor ignorant Chin! As though anything but his own honest little heart and good deeds would bring him happiness and success.
And now the children passed through the gateway and into the beautiful grounds. Stately trees grew on every side, and flowering plants were to be seen in every direction. Here and there stood large stone statues. They were ugly-looking figures, but were supposed to be the guardians of this holy place.
"After we come out, let's have a game of hide-and-seek with those children," said Chin.
He pointed to some boys and girls playing among the trees and statues, and having a merry time.
As the children turned toward the buildings, they passed -under some trees from whose branches hung pieces of wood, stone, and porcelain.
"People hung those offerings there because they are going to build a home," said Chin.
"Or perhaps they are just married, and are beginning housekeeping."
"I know that, of course," answered Chie Lo.
As the boy and girl entered the temple, they stopped at the cistern of water near the door. Wooden dippers were handed to them, which they were to fill. They must wash their hands and rinse their mouths before they dared to draw near the statue of the holy Buddha or knelt in prayer. They must do it as a symbol that their tongues were pure.
After this was done, they threw their coins into a large money-box, and passed into the main part of the temple. There were no seats, but the worshippers sat together on the floor in little circles.
The altar was beautifully carved, and built up in the shape of a pyramid. Many offerings could be seen lying upon it. There were lovely flowers, luscious fruits, and piles of snow-white rice. These had all been brought here to-day by those who had come to worship and to pray. Behind the altar were high panels on which the life of Buddha was pictured.
Chin and his sister loved to study these pictures and dream of the Holy One in whom they believed.
Their mother had taught them that long ago a great being lived in this world. He was born in a palace, and was the son of a king. He knew only joy and comfort until one day, when he met a poor old man. His heart went out in pity to him, and he said to himself:
"I will not live in comfort any longer if others in the world suffer and are poor."
He went out from the palace and spent the rest of his life teaching and giving help.
Chin and his sister did not stop to look at the pictures now. They joined one of the groups sitting cross-legged upon the floor. A moment afterward their heads were bent, and their small hands were pressed together in prayer.
From time to time, one of the worshippers rose and stepped over to a big bronze bell, and rung it violently. This was because he felt that his prayers were not heard, and he wished to call attention.
Listen! A priest is reading from a palm-leaf book; and now he chants a prayer with his face hidden behind a big fan. He keeps time by striking a bell, or beating on a block of wood. The people rise upon their knees and bow to the ground as he chants. There is no music in the strange service.
As Chin got up to go away, he turned to Chie Lo and whispered:
"I love to look at the bronze elephants carved on the walls. They look very wise and strong. They are the symbols of the Buddha, who taught men to be patient and faithful."
"I always love to look at the flag of our country, too," answered Chie Lo. "The great white elephant pictured on the red cloth makes me think of the same thing."
"I believe I shall like it when I am old enough to come here to study with the priests," her brother went on. "I shall like to serve them, and they will teach me many good things. But I don't believe I shall ever be a priest myself."
It is the custom of Chin's country for all the boys to live awhile in the wats, as soon as they are old enough to have their heads shaved. They help the priests in the temples, and serve them in different ways. They are also taught to write and cipher. After they have stayed a certain time, they may choose for themselves what they will do. They may study to become priests themselves, or they may go back to their homes and choose some kind of work.
As for Chie Lo, what would she do when Chin went away from home? Her parents were too poor to send her to a school for girls. She would sell fruits and vegetables in her little boat until she was old enough to get married.
Poor little child! She turned to her brother as they left the temple, and said:
"I wish, Chin, that I could go to school and be able to recite poems and stories."
For in that strange country of Siam, few girls learn either to read or write, even if they are able to go to school.
Their teacher recites some lines and the pupils repeat them after him until the whole piece is learned. Then another is taken up in the same way, and still another. But every child must be sure of one thing: she must know an odd number of pieces when she has finished.
You remember the Siamese seem to be afraid of even numbers in anything whatsoever.
As for geography, or history, or any other pleasant study, such as you have, very few of the children of that country have even heard of them. I doubt if Chin and his sister know anything about the great, beautiful country on the other side of the world, where their American cousins are living.
But Siam is slowly changing, and, as I have already said, the king who now rules is wiser than those before him. He will help his people to become wiser, too.
As the children went on their way home, they fell to talking about their ruler. They spoke of him as "The Lord of the Celestial Elephant," and other queer titles.
"He worships in the temple of the Emerald Buddha," Chin told his sister. He had heard others describe the beautiful place.
"It seems as though I could almost see it," the boy declared. "It must be wonderful. Just think, Chie Lo, the floor is paved with bricks of brass, and the walls are covered with paintings. The altar is several times as high as our house. It is loaded with images from the bottom to the very top. They are covered with gold, except the Emerald Buddha itself, which is above all the rest.
"Its hair is made of solid gold, in which are diamonds and rubies and many other kinds of precious gems. I wish I could look at it just once, although it is so high up, a person can hardly see it as he stands on the floor."
"Mother said nobody made that statue," said Chie Lo when her brother had finished. "It was a miracle, and suddenly appeared in the world after a visit of Buddha."
"Mother and father know a great deal," replied Chin. "When we get home to-night, let's ask them to tell us the story of how gold and silver came to be in the world."