Talk With a Disrobed Monk (no he’s not naked), Ideas for What’s Next, and a Good Belly Laugh

Today is Monday, day 10. Last night I went to bed a bit early and set in my mind not to sleep too much, so I also got up a bit early at 2. I go to the sala and just turn on the dimmer light over the Buddha statue. I sit back somewhere near the middle in darkness. When I get sick of sitting meditation I get up and go immediately to walking meditation, trying not to give my mind a break at all. Before I even know it, people are coming into to clean because it’s 5:30. I needed that especially after seeing how it got to me yesterday when I didn’t do my own practice in the morning. I don’t go out on alms round because a journalist from Mumbai is here for one day and want to see what the alms round is like.

At the food preparation I saw one of the monks who I got to talk to a bit before he disrobed and went back to the States, or apparently not yet. I didn’t write about him because our interactions were really short, but he seemed like a great guy. He’s half Thai and half American and because of his Thai side, he is allowed to come and ordain as a full monk right away. They make this rule for Thai people because otherwise I guess they think that less of the men would come to spend time at the monastery. It’s a custom in Thai and Lao culture for the men to spend at least a few weeks at a monastery, generally after they graduate from school or before getting married. It’s seen as paying respect to their parents and giving back to society. I think there’s also something about making merit, but I ignore that part of the lesson because that’s the part of religion I’m not interested in following. I’ve seen something similar to that with other religions, when I played baseball, and even when some of my friends would drive. It’s basically something someone does that creates confidence in themselves because they think they now have more luck than they did before. I think luck is important, but it’s something that comes after the hard work and preparation and something that I believe shouldn’t be counted on. I never did any of the superstitious things on my baseball team, steered away from the religions that prayed to some higher being in their life for small favors, or even how some people would touch the roof of their car if they were passing through an intersection with a yellow light. For me, I get confidence by putting in the effort before hand and then relying on my self to get something done and not asking for it from some higher power. Okay, that rant is out of my system now, thank you. Anyway, this guy is now back helping to set up the food, but now in his lay clothes. I haven’t seen him since I shaved my head, but I sit next to him to help sort the stuff from the giant bowl in front of him. He recognizes me instantly and we start talking away. We start to talk about the benefits and possible reasons not to stay here. He tells me that even though he only had a temporary or short ordination it really helped direct things in his life. He told me that if he had the opportunity he wouldn’t ordain here in the long run and I shared my change of heart about that as well. We both agreed that we could do better if we learned different things on our own and then stayed in the outside world to touch more people, especially those people in the West who might be looking for it, but not as open as the Thai people. We kept talking about things we loved about Ajahn Chah and how it wasn’t reinforced here. I told him to look up the Dharma talks from Ajahn Chah at forestsanghapublications.org. They have audio talks and books, listed by teacher and I think the only ones that are worth it are from Chah. We split up and do some other things and then he comes back across the room to keep talking to me. I think he’s enjoying getting his thoughts out with someone who understands, especially before he goes back home and then probably won’t be able to talk about them with many people. He tells me that he feels like he didn’t learn anything here that he couldn’t have learned going to retreats and living a normal working life. I still only partially agree with that, but I see where he’s going. I still have been trying to do this with a job or school for about 3 years now and these past 10 days, while I might have grumbled and ranted about a bit so far, I felt have enabled me to make the most progress I’ve ever made in my own spiritual growth. I think his feeling also comes from being at a place where everyone is studying a spiritual path together all from the same perspective, with no strong leadership to steer everyone. I think that’s also the problem for me in general with becoming a monk. This path might have worked for the Buddha and his followers 6,000 years ago, but I’m living in the 21st century, so I think I need to take the foundations of his teachings and find other ways to go down the same path without sitting in terribly uncomfortable positions all day. Something like that will help a few people and then maybe they will inspire some more, but my passion is to find a way for the masses to be able to go down and enjoy a spiritual path where they also feel like they are able to make good progress. Again, I think this is so personal and that requires someone who is more experienced to then apply a different spiritual “prescription” for each individual person. We wish each other luck and then separate for meal time.

I go down and get a little more and some small dessert. I still think one of the hardest conditions to bare here is the amazing food and not being able to take a spoonful of everything that looks good down the line. It’s really gotten me to think about my relationship with food in a different way.

After the meal I go back and help them chop some more, to help finish up the batch and make sure they have enough for all the dying. The Ajahn with the glasses from Australia, who gave the terribly long Dharma talk is there also chopping wood. He’s quite nice for the first bit while we’re there. There’s nothing wrong with him, I just think I judge him a little bit harder since he’s one of the teachers. The guest monk comes over and asks why the fire for the dye has been started and the Ajahn with the glasses starts to argue with him. The guest monk says that is something that should have been discussed with the other monks because now everyone needs to be on a strict schedule for the next 3-4 days, including all night. Again, two of the highest ranked teachers here are discussing something they shouldn’t be in public and can’t even get basic cooperation down. They continue to argue in circles and it’s mind numbing to follow, so I tune it out and concentrate on chipping.

Now, after two days of making the wood chips, I’m too worn out to continue, so I call it and head back to my kuti. The vibration from hitting the wood so many times has made it difficult to close my hand, which will probably be a good object for my meditation.

At tea time I chat with some of the other lay guests about this retreat center in Burma, which seems to be like the hot topic at this monastery. I remember the young guy who had just disrobed mentioned that also. I think that’s something that I’d like to give a try, after I do some more research on the web. I think between that one and the one in Vientiane, which ever one speaks to me more, I will go stay at for a few months after my contract is up in September. I talk to a half Thai, half British lay guest about Buddhism and compare different types. I’m also developing a better relationship with the packows, so their dropping their guards and “monk faces” when we see each other around the monastery. Lately, I’ve been trying to break that culture a bit. I’ve been greeting almost everyone or at least giving them a smile when I see them. I think the packows like this break in their very rigid demeanor. I guess they all want to impress the monks and get ordained quickly. Makes sense to me. One of the packows, Steven from Philly, and I get along really well and greet and sometime have a few words whenever we see each other. It feels so much more natural when we communicate compared to some of the other packows and most of the monks. At the end of the tea time I but in on one of the conversations amongst the packows after I hear them say something about someone losing their head. Steven turns around and we lean in so he can fill me in on the conversation. At that moment, one of the packows is crossing between us and a huge bug zips down and lands on the ground literally directly under his foot as he’s half way through his step. He crushes the bug with an audible squish. We see the guts of the bug on the ground and all look at each other for a second before bursting out in laughter. One of the precepts is not to kill anything, so that just fuels me to laugh even harder, especially since these guys are trying so hard to ordain. It feels really good to be a bit louder than normal and get a really good belly laugh in with a group of good guys.  It’s nice especially since that doesn’t happen very often here.

After tea time everyone passes around a sheet to sign up for times to watch the dye batch. I’m the last one to get the paper and I see the time from 12 AM – 3 AM is left empty. I decide to take it and help out these guys a little bit, especially those packows who are so busy getting ready for their ordination. They have to sow their own robes and because of that can barely get their routine chores done. We’ve even stopped the morning and evening chanting for the next few days because everyone is too busy. Back at my Kuti I try to practice a bit before falling asleep very early to get atleast a few hours of sleep in before my shift at 12AM.

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