Thai Buddhists believe, whenever ground is broken for a new structure, the spirits residing on the site are distributed. A new home and gifts must be provided to make up for the disruption. If not, the often mischievous and finicky spirits are capable of disastrous interferences, even dooming the project.
Throughout Thailand (and much of Buddhist Southeast Asia) almost every building – high-rise banks to humble bungalows – has a spirit house prominently displayed outside or near the front door. There may also be spirit houses in the lobbies of hotels and office buildings. These houses are usually miniatures of traditional Thai temples. They are displayed on pillars high enough to show respect but to still allow offerings to be made. They cannot be placed in the shadow of the building.
The spirit house may be permanent or temporary, made of wood, concrete or brick. At certain times the spirits are invited down only for special occasions: temporary spirit houses are then built.
The houses are furnished with statues, small figures, or symbols. In the New Life Foundation spirit house, we have the typical Grandma and Grandpa and two horses for their transportation. There is also a very auspicious elephant along with four dancer fairies representing happiness and joy. Like most spirit houses, ours has dollhouse size stairs so the spirits can get up to the food.
Three sticks of incense are burned – one for Buddha (enlightenment), another for Dharma (truth) and a third for Sangha (holy order.) Fresh candles and garlands of flowers (fresh and plastic) are placed inside the house, as well as gifts of food and drink. Traditionally, the food and drink are small parcels of rice and meat, fresh water and tea, but almost anything can be given. In Thailand, it’s not uncommon to see brightly colored bottles of Fanta cola as offerings. Spirit houses are cleaned and maintained daily.
Lindsay worked building mud bricks for the meditation hall. “I was part of disturbing the land so I wanted to help in restoring the spirits to peace and harmony,” she says. Lindsay believes the traditional wood houses are more attractive than the concrete ones. She shopped all over Chiang Rai to find just the right one. Turns out the one she bought was handmade and not too far down the highway from the turn off to New Life.
Thanks, Lindsay. We’re glad our spirits have been been returned to harmony.