Halfway through our conversation I sat back and admired the rust colored robe that adorned his body. I knew better than to stare at a monk, but I couldn’t help it. The words that were coming out of his mouth had touched me so deeply; it was if they arrived to my ears at a different frequency. My entire world had been turned upside down in the matter of 2 hours and I knew immediately that I would never be the same.
Chiang Mai, Thailand was many things- It was adventurous, delicious, and friendly. I spent the week rafting through jungles, motorbiking up and down mountains and indulging in the best curry I have ever had. But more than all of this, Chiang Mai was renewing. I left this delightful little city feeling completely at ease with all that I am and all that I will become.
I’ve been trying to write this post for a month now. But I just can’t seem to click “publish”. I wrote an entire post about the logistics of the experience- you know, like how to get there, what questions to ask and how to dress. But that seemed a little too contrived and simply just skimmed the surface of how special this moment actually was. So, here I am again. Writing this from my heart, rather than my head.
So let’s get started, shall we?
Wat Suan Dok is a temple that offers an amazing opportunity for tourist to come by and speak with monks. They call it Monk Chat and have kept it going for more than a decade to help the young monks practice english while creating an open dialogue for those interested in Buddhism. I read about it online and knew instantly that I
wanted needed to partake.
I grew up with quite a bit of exposure to the church, both Christian and Catholic. I participated in youth group with my friends, shut my eyes to pray at family dinners and even attended mass for the year that I went to Catholic high school. But to be honest, I was just going through the motions. Maybe I was looking for answers or maybe I was just trying to fit in. Whatever it was, I knew in my heart that it wasn’t for me.
However, as an adult I began acknowledging the importance of having something to believe in, something to give you hope and inspiration. I desperately wanted to feel connected to something bigger than myself. This wasn’t coming to me in the form of traditional religion, so I took interest in more spiritual philosophies. Buddhism quickly became a front runner and my decision to travel to Thailand was greatly influenced by my desire to learn more about this ancient practice.
Five days into my stay in Chiang Mai I decided it was time. I invited my new friend Shanna to join me and together we made our way to the temple with no idea of how radically our lives were about to change. We entered the building, signed in and were immediately shown to a table. My heart began beating out of my chest as we were joined by 3 monks. I think we were all a bit nervous, to be honest. The young monks were nervous to practice their english and we were nervous to act “right” in front of them. But after a short introduction and a few forced “where are you from” questions, we got down to business. Shanna and I took turns asking questions and sat in pure bliss as we listened to their seemingly simple responses. A lot of our questions revolved around buddhist tradition, like the reasoning behind monks shaving their heads, meditation practices and dietary discipline. I gained a tremendous amount of insight on the foundations of their beliefs and began to fall in love with everything that Buddhism stood for. As the night sky grew darker, two of the monks said their goodbyes and we were left with the oldest monk, who lucky for us, spoke the best english. This is where our discussion really began to blossom.
One of the things that resonated most with me was the emphasis on mind health. I’m a serial over thinker and often times put way too much pressure on myself about things that are out of my control. Buddhism tackles this by utilizing daily mediation as a means to refocus and allow yourself to be in the present moment. Along these same lines, they also work towards the ability to disassociate or un-attach yourself from negative emotions such as low self-esteem, fear or anger. You will undoubtedly experience these feelings, but they do not define you and you don’t need to hold on to them. I’ve introduced meditation into my life and have already seen its remarkable healing powers!
I could write for hours about the profound words that danced from the monks’ mouth, but I’m not here to preach Buddhist ideals. If you are interested, you need to be there. In that room. In that moment. The best way I can explain it is that everything just clicked. All of the sudden my morals and ideals were given life under this new label; Buddhism. Giving definition to my values opened up a new realm of connectedness and purpose- which is exactly what I had been seeking. I wouldn’t go as far as calling myself a Buddhist because I still have a lot of research and learning to do, but I’m certainly bringing a lot of their core beliefs and values into my everyday life.
So what types of questions do you ask a monk? You can ask them about pretty much anything and they will find a way to answer it. You can use them as a therapist, a friend or simply just a teacher. My only advice is to be open-minded, because they can give some seriously good insight on life no matter what religion you follow.
Here are a few of my favorite responses I received during our discussion:
Question: What do Buddhists believe about the beginning of mankind? How were humans created?
Answer: (giggling) Oh, well we don’t really care much about that. It doesn’t affect us right now and thinking too much about it doesn’t do us any good. We might not ever know exactly how it happened and that’s okay.
Question: What’s your relationship with nature?
Answer: It gives us life. It shows us beauty and wildness and connects us all, so we respect it.
Question: So enlightenment is the main goal of a buddhist monk?
Answer: Well yes, but in the meantime I just want to be a good person and to inspire others to be good also. Being loving and present is part of the path to enlightenment, so that is most important to me now.
Question: I struggle a lot with the fear of dying, how do you deal with this?
Answer: Death is inevitable, it will happen wether or not you are prepared for it. But it is not happening right now, you are living right now. So that’s what you have to put all your energy towards…living.
I’m going to end this post at that, something to ponder on. Are you really LIVING?! Find what gives you life and put everything you’ve got into it!
I guess you’d like some logistics now, huh?
Where: Wat Suan Dok temple (on the west side, just outside of old city)
When: Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday 5:00 – 7:00 pm
Dress: Conservative- Knees and shoulders covered. No cleavage ladies!!
Cost: FREE!! Although donations are greatly appreciated 🙂
What types of spiritual/ religious experiences have you had while abroad? Did they change your views?