More travels with a God-man

(posted by Mike, in response to Melodrama)

Two posts below, Melodrama describes an encounter with a Hindu “God-man” (viewers of the popular Asian-British comedy series Goodness Gracious Me probably have some idea of the type of person she describes), and reminds me that I might once have met a Thai Buddhist equivalent.

We were changing planes at a smallish airport, on the way back from Koh Samui to Bangkok. The God-man entered the departure area with an entourage of maybe twenty or so acolytes, his entrance met by a general fluttering of awed recognition from all the other passengers and airport staff.

He was dressed in the orange robes of a Buddhist monk – except that these immaculately arranged robes were clearly of a far superior quality than the norm. I placed him in his mid-to-late forties – quite possibly a decade older, but carefully preserved. His hair was neatly groomed; his facial features were dark and pronounced, exquisitely chiselled, softly masculine, old-school matinee-idol handsome, and curiously untypical for a Thai. His one facial expression – a sort of beatific half-smile – never wavered for a second. His whole demeanour was one of calm, authoritative wisdom, of the sort that required no further outward manifestation; it was tacitly assumed. Without saying or doing anything, his whole being radiated the most extraordinary charisma. True star quality. I had no idea who he was, but I could feel it just as strongly as everyone else around me.

Oh-so-humbly, the God-man eschewed the dangerously materialistic luxuries of airport seating, placing himself instead on the floor, against a wall, facing out towards a large open section of the building. His acolytes immediately arranged themselves around him, in a semi-circular clump, all facing towards him. Gradually, more and more passengers added themselves to the outside of the group, which fanned itself further and further out into the hall. Nobody seemed to be doing anything much. They simply looked at him – or at the ground in front of him – in a suitably supplicating fashion, and he smiled back. This seemed to be enough for all concerned. To my secular European eyes, the scene was intriguing, mystifying, baffling. Who was this guy, anyway?

A year or two later, as I was browsing a copy of Esquire magazine (yeah, me neither), I came across a long article on a recent series of sex scandals involving various highly regarded Thai monks, who had been systematically abusing their power and influence over some of their female followers. Apparently, these discoveries were rocking the foundations of the religious establishment over there. (Does this sound at all familiar?) A lengthy mention was made of one particularly well-known tarnished guru, and his spectacular fall from grace. A small photo accompanied the relevant paragraphs.

It was him.

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