An Aggressive Chinese Guy and Holding Onto Piece of Plastic

Today I set my alarm for 2:45 because yesterday I was up at 3 and got the sala slightly after every one was already there and getting started. I go through the motions slowly and then still get to the sala before everyone else. Since there are no lay people today, the chanting is partially in English, so I get to appreciate the meaning of what we’re saying. I don’t make it all the way through the sitting meditation because I’m scared of wearing out my back, so I continue with walking meditation in the back of the room. Then, we go off to sweep. I’m getting a bit frustrated because the other lay guests (for now on I’ll call the ones staying here, like me guests, and then the thai people who come from outside as the lay people) are sweeping as fast as they possibly can to get the job done. I think that’s totally missing the point of the exercise. We’re supposed to be mindful of the motion of sweeping and the impermanence of the path being clean as often times leaves will fall in the same place a few minutes later.

One of the Chinese guys from Beijing is very much apart of that very aggressive Chinese culture that really no one in the word understands except for them. He calls my name and then as I’m walking over to him he’s walking away, leading me somewhere. I wish he would just have waited and then told me instead of playing this power game. I catch up and he tells me to finish the sweeping in the new area as the other lay guests go out on alms round with the monks. That’s fine with me, I don’t mind helping out while they’re out of the monastery. I go on with my usual sweeping, but I can feel the tension as they’re sitting there, maybe 10 feet away, watching me sweep. Then the Chinese guy gets up again and with the fakest smile I’ve ever seen and says “you don’t know how to sweep, do you?” He takes the broom and tells me that he’ll show me. My initial reaction is to get angry, but I just take a deep breath and watch him. He’s not doing anything differently, but he’s just doing it in a faster way. He’s also not being mindful at all because he’s sweeping one side of the leaves into a flower bed, with a sign that says don’t not sweep the leaves into the flower beds. I take the broom back and realize that I should have shown more gratefulness toward him at that point, especially because the other lay guests are watching all of this happen and maybe I could have inspired them. After all, even though he’s doing things in a not so friendly way, I could have been bigger than that and truly just appreciated his attempt to help. At least he wasn’t just sitting with the others and talking about how I don’t know how to sweep, without helping. I finish the rest of the job at the same exact speed I went before and then move on.

I go over to sweep the rest and find two pieces of plastic. I pick them up and go to put them in my pocket, but forget I switched pants and don’t have pockets anymore. I continue to sweep, with them clasped between my hand and the broom handle. Every time I go to move my hand and adjust the broom I have to remember about the plastic or I will drop it again. I think this is an analogy with what I and many other want with their mindfulness. I think that with each new step of mindfulness it is widely understood that it’s passed by like a checkpoint along the path of spiritual awareness. However, I think it’s more like the plastic, where we need to take these lessons and continue to hold on to them and be mindful, even as we pass onto deeper levels of our practice. If we get a part of the foundation and then put it into our pocket, it’s only encouraging us to go back to the less mindful way we were before. Each new lesson or level of practice has to be imbedded into our daily lives and habits before we can really focus on the next step with our whole selves. One of the biggest goals that is mentioned all across the Buddhist world is that one of the larger goals is to be mindful in every moment of the day. That’s why some use pain, rules for every part of their life, fear, or some stimulant to force themselves to keep that mindfulness. I think what those things are doing though, is creating a “pocket for those skills”. It’s using something outside ourselves to keep the skill with us, I suppose until it becomes a habit. I’m not sure, but to me it makes sense to work the skills into our being and not have it attached to something else outside of ourselves. I wouldn’t know how to do this, but I had an inspiration just now sweeping, that I need to take my spiritual path down a different direction, where it goes deeper then just beating rules repetition into myself until I get used to something. It will be interesting to see how this idea will develop and change as I get more understanding. At breakfast I get a little more than I would eat at an average meal, but afterward still feel like I’ve over eaten again. I guess I don’t use as much energy here.

After breakfast, I ask the Guest Monk if I can leave and go across the street to the internet café to see if I can try to push my flight back, now that I have some more time with my visa. Since I booked on small airline, the only way would be to contact them directly and that would take too many times leaving and coming back to the monastery. It’s not worth it, I’ll just accept the few extra days I got and be happy with that. Also, I’m only a few days in, so who knows if I’ll be totally sick of this place by the time I get to 16 days. Even though, that’s hard to imagine with this quite and peaceful atmosphere everyday.

It’s New Year here in Thailand and I think it aligns with some kind of Buddhist New Year as well. They have a ceremony where the lay people come and throw buckets of water over a privacy wall and get the monks wet as some people will literally scrub them and give them a bath. I think it’s the same idea as washing the hands at the other monastery.

After I go to the outside sala, which is much smaller and off in the woods than the main one we have group session in everyday. It’s largely unsuccessful, although I do feel better immediately after for a short time. I’m doing something right, but I’m also frustrated because I’m not pushing myself where I know I can go.

Back by the main sala the Vietnamese guy tells me it’s tea time, so we help the packow’s bring the things over to the tea area. There’s a new lay guest today, so I’m not the last one anymore. Hierarchy here is based on time spent in your position, not necessarily on attainment. I can see the point with that because then it might cause competition and miss the point of individual practice. However, I can also see it creating a group of senior monks who haven’t practiced well and bring a bad reputation. The new guy is Thai and barely speaks English, so I use Lao to help explain things to him when he’s confused. I drank much less this time, more of what I might drink if I wanted tea on a random afternoon.

Back at the dorm after tea I brush my teeth, because we won’t eat again until tomorrow, and get the mat and mosquito net ready for when I go to bed, so I won’t have to bother with anything after it gets dark. Then I go to the main sala, but it’s pitch black dark there. I feel around and end up sitting square in the middle of the hall. Weirdly I don’t feel scared or anything and I give the nightly, pre-bed meditation another go. I go back to the dorm and get some lying meditation in before falling asleep.


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