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How to Become a Thai Monk: First Impressions and Daily Schedule, part 2 Posted by on Nov 29, 2013 in Beginner, Culture

 [This article is a continuation of a series of articles on becoming a Thai Buddhist monk.]

 

Reading Books

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 . . .

 

Meditating

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 . . .

 

Chores

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.

 

Memorizing chants

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!

 

Strangeness

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.

 

Conclusion

For now this concludes my series of articles on monkhood. Feel free to ask questions in the comment box below!

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Comments:

  1. Peter:

    I did not quite figure all of this out. In part 1 you show your typical daily schedule. I note that you get breakfast and lunch.

    So where did the food come from, you do not appear to go out at first light for alms.

    If I am right, a Monk can only eat what is collected that day, they cannot save any. Anything not needed is given to others. Was the food cooked? Who cooked it?

    A Monk cannot have money. So where did the food come from?

    Sorry to be so curious … I am just so used to seeing Monks out at first light that your description made me think that something was missing. (some Monks wear slippers in collecting alms here, others are bare footed).

  2. palmisano:

    Peter, good questions.

    In the US, no one knows what a Thai monk is. And fewer even are Buddhist. If you walk around for alms you’ll only get blank stares.

    Instead, there is a kitchen at the temple and Thais cook for monks twice a day. Usually someone sponsors it, for their birthday or opening of a new restaurant, etc. What is left the Thais there that day finish it off.

  3. Peter:

    Yes, I guess you have a very different environment. I am not sure what a Thai monk is in the States relative to my understanding of a monk. In Thailand a monk really is an integrated foundation of society. When you are asked where you live it is common to be asked which is your local Wat since that is easier / clearer to understand than an address.

    Perhaps that also tells more since it is the local community who build and support the Wat so knowing a Wat reflects the status and in turn the community.

    I imagine a Thai monk in the States in some respects is about as understood as say the Christian missionaries in Thailand. It is quite a challenge.

  4. anonymous:

    Hi palmisano,

    I started to grow interest in monkhood in Thailand, but I’m Southeast Asia-ners. I’m wondering some questions :
    1. how long were you in your monkhood ?
    2. you were a Christian before, did you have to convert or take any Buddhism courses for some months or years before ordaining ? or do you have any other mandatory ceremonies before ?
    3. if possible, where did you ordain ?
    4. do you have any advice for people who have interest in monkhood life ?
    thanks in advance 🙂

  5. Marco:

    Hey mate, I mean, it will be a stupid question so sorry for that, but what do the monks thing of the modern day technology and do you guys use it? Phones, internet, heating, and so on? And could you write a small tutorial explaining on where one could do the first steps in becoming a monk? Some good literature for reading? Thanks 🙂

  6. Brian:

    Do you recommend a farang wanting to be a monk find a US wat vs. going to Thailand to find a wat?

    I missed your first article; did you serve as a short teem monk or stay a monk?

    Thank you in advance.