Since I’ve given the structure of the day already, for the rest of these stories I’m just going to highlight anything I did that stood out and then cover the spiritual aspect, leaving out what I did from day-to-day.
Tuesday April 14th: I was helping the lay people as usual to prepare and offer the food to the monks. This was still one of the best practices for me because of how much I love food and after not eating for 24 hours it really got me to think about my eating habits. I wouldn’t be hungry, but when I saw some delicious food, my body would have the yearning as if I had to eat it to stay alive. After offering the food I asked one of the monks still hanging around before the pre-meal chanting if I could help him. He said absolutely I can’t because it’s already been offered and if I touch the food they would have to reoffer that food and maybe even the whole table again. They lay people brought over another few bowls, so I got down on my shins, like the Japanese style of sitting and the position for chanting here and offered one to him. I sat there waiting to offer the second one as he was poking around at the set up on the table. My mind at this point is going crazy and I’ve totally lost my patience, I think because of a combination of my legs hurting in this position, the smell of the amazing food mixed with my falsely yearning stomach, and that he’s taking forever to come back over. I just take a deep breath and note why I’m being impatient and how ridiculous my reasons actually are. Then, he comes over and takes the food. We chat for a bit about how long I’ll be staying here and some things about Buddhism. He tells me about a guy who practiced in Thailand for a while and eventually settled in San Diego who has a nice short-to-the-point delivery. I’ve seen this monk before and have wanted to talk with him since then. Some of the monks look angry all the time, some don’t talk to me or the other lay guests, and others are just really strange. I think this guy is on the opposite spectrum with seeming like he’s a really normal guy who’s completely open to talking to anyone. He also tells me about how he’s traveled to different parts of he world to try different spiritual practices. I didn’t find out his actual name until the day I was leaving, but I will refer to him as Luis for the rest of these stories in order to make it easy to refer to him.
I still feel very impatient at the meal time, so I take even less food, little fruit, and only one fruit juice drink. At the end I still feel quite full, but not uncomfortable. After the meal I show the Thai lay guest the order of how we do things and explain things again to him using Lao. I’m not sure why he’s not in the Thai monastery if his English is so bad, but I know how it is to be around a bunch of people speaking a language you can barely understand, so I’m more than happy to help him around. Hey, it also gets me to practice my Lao a bit.
It’s the fourth day I’ve been here, so I’m able to talk with the Guest Monk about whether I’m able to extend or not and if so, get my kuti. A kuti is a basic room on raised stilts that is very common in the Thai forest tradition. He doesn’t even consider it for a second and says of course I can stay as long as I’d like. I collect my things and he points out on the monastery map where my Kuti is and gives me the rule break down.
Everyday I have to make sure to sweep the path leading to my Kuti and back behind to the walking meditation path. It’s in the middle of the woods and difficult to see the other kuti around me. It feels like I’m really isolated in the woods. I sweep the path back to the walking meditation spot and it looks like it hasn’t been done in a while because it’s almost impossible to find. I thought I didn’t have one at first.
I go over to help carry things for teatime. They’re not ready yet, so I talk to one of the lay guests and a monk, both from Vietnam. I guess the lay guest is the monk’s “assistant”, meaning he carries the monk’s money and buys things for him because he’s technically not supposed to own anything as a monk, except for his robes and bowl. Wait, that sounds like he’s bending the rules quite a bit. I guess even monks try to find loop holes in the rules. It just shows how some people follow rules without asking or knowing about their meaning. I’m the opposite, if someone tells me not to do something, the first thing I ask is “Why?” Mostly because I’m an obnoxious and arrogant American, but also because I really want to understand the principle behind a rule. I want to know why it’s I place so that way, if I think it’s also a good idea, I can apply it in other situations. Anyway I think there’s quite a good reason that monks shouldn’t have money or buy things and I think using someone to do that is completely missing out on the essence of that rule. I think either become a monk and follow that or don’t become a monk.
Anyway, now that I’m done ranting, for now… I talk with the monk and he asks me what my plans are for the future. I tell him I will probably come back in September and stay here for at least a year. He then tells me I shouldn’t ordain here because it’s not the complete practice given by the Buddha. He tells me that I should follow them to a big meditation center in Burma where over 1,000 people stay and practice a more laid out path to meditation, instead of Ajahn Chah’s very simple way of following the breath, at least for the beginning part. He then, just says to keep going deeper and not to attach to anything that comes up. Even though I disagree with the monk, I still take the website and intend to check out the place he’s talking about. He also mentions something to me about the lack of leadership here. I let everything he says sink in and honestly feel a bit defensive of this type of Buddhism that I’ve come to love so much.
The drink time is disappointing because the monks, especially the Ajahns who are supposed to be setting the example, are talking about silly things, like all the languages they know. The lay guests have a very rough version of all the rules that the monks have to follow. Ours are like the foundation of the monks list, which goes into much more detail. One of our rules is to limit our talking, especially about worldly things. It’s basically limited to necessary questions and things about Buddhism. Ajahn Chah would talk about this as a way to watch how you want to speak so much and really pay attention to the content of which you want to get out. He was very much for going against initial tendencies and analyzing them to see if they would help you along your spiritual path and if they don’t then to just let them go the same way they came into your head. Well, it seems like the monks can’t even get that basic part of the precepts correct and their sitting among all the lay guests and junior monks, who are still so impressionable with the way they all practice. I was hoping more for a big debate between the senior monks on one style of meditation versus another.
Rest of the day goes smoothly, nothing to report. 4 days down.