In Thailand the ubiquitous phrase “mai pen rai” is well known to foreigners who have visited the Kingdom. Used in a variety of situations, mai pen rai is often translated as “never mind” or “it’s no big deal” in guidebooks, but a more accurate, albeit wordy, translation would be “this matter is so insignificant, let us not give it another thought.” Mai pen rai encapsulates much of what is admirable in the Thai character, and it is a phrase that one expects Jesus would have used liberally had it been available to him.
Mai pen rai1 is perhaps most commonly used as a substitute for “you’re welcome,” a phrase which basically has no equivalent in the Thai language. You’re welcome is also a phrase that we never see Jesus using in the Gospels. The reason for this is that you’re welcome is really a command. You are welcome to do what? You’re welcome to return my kindness some day; that’s what. In other words, you’re welcome carries with it the feeling of “you owe me”.
That is not how Jesus (or Buddha) taught us to perform kindness and charity. Instead the prophet taught us to act kindly with no expectation of anything in return. We are to behave kindly because that is what we are expected to do as Sons and Daughters of God. Kindness is part of our divine natures, thus when acting kindly and generously we are tapping into that divinity.
It is for similar reasons that Thais never developed an equivalent phrase for you’re welcome. Behaving with kindness and generosity is expected of you because that is the way good people behave, and you are expected to be a good person. Mai pen rai is thus the perfect response to those who thank us. It takes the ego out of our charity and kindness, erasing the idea that there is anything special about it, and casting away any notion that we desire something in return.
Mai pen rai is ultimately an SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious) term, and one which all Westerners (especially Progressive Christians) could benefit by using daily.
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- Also spelled mai pehn rai, mai ben rai, and mai bpen rai [↩]