Monday, January 15, 2007
Today was my last day that the monastery and I am now awaiting my bus to Bangkok. It was a really nice ten days, very peaceful. I really enjoyed the simplicity of life. Everyday we woke up at 3:30 AM and then we had chanting at 4:00 for half an hour. The chanting was in Pali, but some of the other monks helped me find the texts in a romanized script so I was able to chant with them. Directly after chanting we meditated for half an hour. Then at 5:30 we went to "gather alms" with our bowls. We would walk into the city (as Wat Umong is in the forest) and as we would walk people would stop us with a bowing gesture and offer us food neatly packaged in little plastic bags. Everyday we would get so much food that it all wouldn't be able to fit in our fairly large bowls so we would also carry a shopping bag with us for the extra food. We would walk back and then separate the food into what we were going to eat that day and what we would give to the temple. Then at 7:30 I would eat my first and only full meal of the day; I could eat until 12:00 in the afternoon and then after that I could only consume liquids. I thought I would get a lot more hungry, but you just eat a huge breakfast and then in the afternoon drink milk and it wasn't so bad. After breakfast we would sweep leaves around the property for two hours. Then it was free time until 1:00 when there was teaching. If it was a VCD with subtitles I would go watch it, otherwise I would read because the teacher didn't speak any English. The library at the monastery had a whole floor of English books which was great for me, but I have a feeling that floor is a little underused as hardly anyone there can speak the language, especially not well enough to read a book of Buddhist philosophy in it. Then at 4:00 there was chanting and meditation again and finally teaching again at 7:00. I really learned a lot about Buddhism, not to mention how to chant and tie a robe. This Buddhism was a lot simpler than what I found in Dharamsala and Ladakh, but I was surprised to find a statue of Avolokiteshwara (the Bodhisattva of compassion of whom the Dalai Lama is an avatar of) outside of the library. The main difference between Mahayana (what was in Dharamsala) and the Theravadan (Thai and other nations) schools is the lack of the Bodhisattva in Theravada. But I guess there are bits and pieces of every type everywhere; the divisions are never as clear cut as they seem on paper. But in the end, I had a really nice time and also broadened my understanding of Thai culture and Buddhism. It's not something I want to spend my life doing, but it was a great experience. Oh, and some people have been asking if they thought it was weird that I was staying for such a short time. Not at all, actually in Thai culture it is expected that every male be a monk at some point in his life. So, there are those monks that devote their life, yet many only stay for one or two weeks. There is an entire building for housing these short term monks while the ones who stay longer have their own residences at the monastery. I made a lot a good friends with my fellow monks there and made plans the visit them later when their back at their jobs.