Humans have lived with the earth, water, wind and fire since the time of our ancestors. The ancients knew how to live happily with the surrounding environment. Anywhere where there was fresh water, rice, fish, and food in a plentiful amount; anywhere where there was a flat plain, there, villages and cities would be built. A society would be born. Living with the land and water is something that we humans have done for a long, long time now.
But since the day that the world opened up and allowed us to exchange cultures and customs with other nations, our culture has changed immensely. Food culture. Clothing culture. Language culture. Learning that has no end. It’s developed so much so fast that sometimes it’s difficult to identify one culture from the other. So, it’s no surprise that now days the method of building a home has also borrowed much from different cultures and nations. This exchange of ideas has made changes, both great and small, to the old Thai wisdom. Forgetting the culture and customs of our ancestors has brought about both good and bad developments. The worst part of it was easy to see at the end of last year, when the building of a large estate in the way of flowing water brought about a flood the magnitude of which Thais rarely ever see.
The old Issan wisdom of house building is exceedingly genius in it’s own right due to the importance that a residence is given. It’s your dwelling. It’s your home. The center posts, the corner posts, the beams, the rafters and, most importantly, the sao haek, the “first post”. (The sao haek holds significance alike to the cornerstone of a brick home.) The supporting post. It must be hewn from a tree without blemish. The leaves of it shouldn’t be all tangled and messy. It should have an attractive shape to it, like a monk standing beneath an open umbrella. The branches shouldn’t be dried-up, it shouldn’t have animals living in it, and trees with an abundance of ants (black or red) living in it should not be used. A tree that meets these requirements should be the type used in making the first post. It’s seen as a favorable sign. It’s said that the owner of a home made with such a post will have an abundance of all the necessities of life.
The sao kwan (the “heart post” or “mother post”) is the second most important post from the sao haek. It should be hewn from the wood of a tree that has grown from a tall mound of earth that slopes down evenly on all sides. The trunk of this tree should be taller than the other surrounding trees. The branches supple and full of life. When the wind blows, the leaves should hold fast and not fly and fall all over the place. It’s believed that the owner of a home with a sao kwan such as this will be stable and progress to great riches and wealth.
There are certain types of wood and trees that the ancients forbid in the use of building a house. These are…
1. Wood cut during the rainy season
2. Wood from trees that grew on an anthill or animal burrow
3. Wood that was buried under the earth
4. Wood from the water
5. Wood that was struck by lightening
6. Logs that fell on their own
7. Wood with holes/cavities
8. Wood with thorns
9. Wood with vines or creepers, or trees that are constantly pollenating
10. Trees growing close to rooms or close to farmland
If necessary, it is possible to use trees of this sort of wood in the building of monastery cells, chapels or pavilions but it will bring about a punishment for the local authorities and leaders.
If used to build a bridge, it will bring about a punishment on the owner of the home. The home will fall into decline. (From the book Thamma Sawn Lohk– Dharma to Instruct the World.)
If you choose unwisely you may bring about obstacles and adversities. However, these days finding suitable trees to use is certainly quite difficult. Before setting out to choose a tree, the ancients suggest that one should have a roll of betel with him and pray to the spirits of the wood. If you are looking for something good with pure intentions, you need only to ask them for guidance. If you conduct yourself in this manner you’ll be able to live out a happy and comfortable life.
Trees should be felled in certain favorable months. The first through fourth months of the year are favorable but the fifth through twelfth months are unfavorable. Don’t cut during this time!
The fortune of felling trees, according to the ancients:
Falls to the east Good
Falls to the southeast There will be a fire or an argument
Falls to the south The owner of the home will die
Falls to the southwest A thief will come stealing
Falls to the west The owner of the home will die
Falls to the northwest There will be an argument
Falls to the north A thief will come stealing
Falls to the northeast You will have riches, wealth and many servants
From choosing the wood to make posts and so on, there’s a rite and ritual for everything in building a house according to the ancients. Every part of the process is filled with old wisdom. But a great part of wether or not your home is happy will depend on the people living in it. Importance should be given to how we live with one another.
The ancient processes and instructions of the elders were perhaps a good strategy for making the owner of the home feel at ease, warn him to use discernment, to seek tranquility and act with caution. It’s how you think that will determine how at peace of mind you are. Like a stream of water. Not conducting oneself heedlessly as if without consequence but being mindful of the people and creatures around us. The ultimate result of this mindset is self preservation.
Even though now days, man is not able to choose the wood he uses to build his house, he is, however, able to use discretion with his surroundings. Peace of mind and heart do not spring from carelessness and mindless actions. If a happy life is our goal, let us be determined to live with caution, not worrying needlessly, but seeking what is good and prudent for both ourselves and all the living things around us.