How to Become a Thai Monk: First Impressions and Daily Schedule, part 2 Posted by palmisano on Nov 29, 2013 in Beginner, Culture
[This article is a continuation of a series of articles on becoming a Thai Buddhist monk.]
While it wasn’t required of me, I felt I should try to study Buddhist teachings while I’m a monk. I read various literature and watched documentaries on Youtube. The book I really recommend is “Handbook for Humanity”, or คู่มือมนุษ. It’s not a religious book, and in fact it’s against ‘magic’, traditions, worshiping, and gods and such. It explains the Buddhist philosophy as a perspective on life, and also explains how Thai culture perceives (and mis-perceives) Buddhism. The concepts in it really make you look at life and the world differently . . .
I had two meditation teachers, one for the morning and one for the evening. One monk just asked me to sit there and concentrate, while the other did quite a good job at explaining how to meditate. The whole point of meditation is to learn how not to daydream – if you daydream, you fail. Try sitting down for more than 2 minutes without daydreaming! Supposedly, and I never reached this state of mind, if you ‘clear your mind’ you will feel some state of bliss, and your newly found concentration skills will make your mind ‘sharper’ in day to day life. Imagine if students didn’t day dream in class, how fast could they learn? I just didn’t put enough time into meditation, my legs would fall asleep, my back would hurt, and after 15 minutes of trying not to daydream my brain would fight back and no longer listen to me. The brain is a naughty monkey that won’t sit still . . .
I was lucky to not have many chores to do. Sometimes I had to lift and move things around, assemble shelving, or water the plants. It’s a real challenge to keep your robes on properly while doing manual labor . . . there is a special monk vest that I saw some monks use when doing physical work.
When people came to donate, and before and after eating a meal, we monks are required to recite a few chants to give blessings. I don’t believe in chanting and chants were rather challenging to remember, but I managed to drag myself into learning one of them. The rest of the time I just sat there respectfully, or moved my lips and pretending to chant . . . as a newbie farang monk I always got a free pass!
When the Thais put plates of food on our table, us monks were required to touch the plates in a fashion that our powers would somehow transfer to the donators. Odd.
One thing that really bothered me was people bowing (graabL กราบ) to me on their hands and knees. It was usually the older ladies that did this, but they also made their children do it too. Their children are American born and didn’t believe in the bowing any more than I did, but its tradition and so we went through the motions out of respect for the others.
As for the language, monks are supposed to speak monk vocabulary to non-monks, and non-monks are supposed to speak very respectfully to monks. I generally had this down after years of learning Thai. But my confusion began when I was speaking English with my students – the English language isn’t designed for this interaction and choosing ‘proper’ words was very challenging. I decided the best model would be how people speak with Christian priests, where people used everyday language but were polite and avoided inappropriate language.
Trying to be Monk-like
Monks are supposed to be flawless, above human. We are supposed to be wise teachers, and leaders of the traditions. I always just played it safe, and went the extra mile to be ‘flawless’. For example, when talking to women (especially the cute ones), I made sure to stand like 5-10 feet away during conversation.
When there were old ladies around, they all believed they must sit lower than a monk. I quickly found that if I sat on a couch, the ladies would sit on the floor. So feeling guilty I’d have to go somewhere else so that they can sit down comfortably.
Many of these older ladies were very excited to see a Thai-speaking farang monk. They’d all come to talk with me and recommend me listening to audio recordings of teachings from such-and-such famous monk. And while I was generally interested, I had limited time per day and my Thai vocabulary wasn’t quite at the level of advanced Buddhist philosophical terminology.
For now this concludes my series of articles on monkhood. Feel free to ask questions in the comment box below!