[At the "Bodies" exhibit]

Monk business

If a Buddhist blesses an exhibit and nobody comes, did it happen?

Illustration: Ryan Olbrysh

Dressed in monks’ robes, with appropriately shaved heads, the half-dozen men acted more like tourists than religious figures about to perform a sacred ceremony. Or, as the press release described the occasion, with much fanfare:

“Buddhist monks from all over the Las Vegas Valley will come together to perform an ancient blessing on the 13 whole-body specimens inside the brand-new Bodies: The Exhibition at Luxor.”

But the monks at the Luxor were not focused on blessings. They had digital and video cameras and were crowding around the bodies in Bodies with utter fascination while talking among themselves and taking pictures.

Meanwhile, the publicists were disappointed that none of the local television stations had shown up for the occasion. Standing next to the publicists was the entirety of the poor media turnout: myself and two photographers. Of course, the monks were unconcerned by the media’s presence or absence, or even by the slight dejection the publicist could not help but show.


Beyond the Weekly
Bodies: The exhibition

Only one of the monks, Banport Saisombrat, spoke English. I asked about the blessing. But Saisombrat knew nothing about a blessing. He and the other monks were exactly as they seemed: on-hand to be tourists at Bodies.

“It is an honor to be able to see Bodies,” he said. He explained that though he lives in Vegas, this was the first time he had ever set foot in a casino. And he was there for only one purpose: “As a Buddhist monk I am very excited to see inside a body. I think I will get a real understanding from seeing the body’s art especially as a monk.”

Eventually some translating was done by a woman connected to a local temple, and the monks understood that they were to say a prayer for me and the cameras. But the prayer, in fact, had nothing to do specifically with the “13 whole-body specimens” directly in front of them. In fact, Saisombrat explained that the blessing was for all people everywhere and a blessing done frequently at the monastery. There was no special purpose to doing it in front of the bodies. But the monks were happy to do it. In fact, Saisombrat explained (and, I should say again that his English was imperfect and heavily accented) that the blessing was so powerful that even spirits in the midst of reincarnation benefit from it. The prayer was good for the living, the dead and even the in-between.

The reference to reincarnation got my interest: “If someone comes here and it turns out that they are a reincarnation of one of the bodies on display, would they recognize themselves?”

Some translation assistance was required to get my question across. Saisombrat gave me a look that seemed to suggest true pity for how far I was from the path.

“No,” he said.


Richard Abowitz

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