28 June, 2009

Two Worlds Meet

Today, I had coffee outside a coffee house, and a middle-aged man asked if he share my table. I said, “Of course.” So, I said chirped in, “So, how are you?” instead of being quiet and withdrawn as most people do when a stranger sits down. It started us on a conversation of sorts, I finding out he is Arab, and I American. I usually like to base a conversation on how Buddha’s ideas and particularly meditation has helped me. I make the statement that all religions had meditation in some form, and just meditating with or without being Buddhist is fine. We both agreed that Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad were all wise men who came up with similar teachings, and he said, “we as people, no matter where we are from, are more alike than not.” I learned his mother is in a coma for 8 years, and been taken to many hospitals around the world. Saying, “She is my mother, and you can not give up on your mother!” I thought this was a nice indication of where his heart is, and it did not take away from his masculinity. As we spoke further and he asked if I was ever married, and for his sake did not discuss being gay, said, “No.” He did not raise an eyebrow, and we continued taking and of course he knew I was gay. He was curious about me being a monk, and assumed it was peaceful and easy. I said the work is always in your mind and how you perceive the world and our suffering. Suffering in terms of the simple fact that sitting is painful, so you stand up and that becomes tiresome and you sit down again. If we can expand this to our tired old bodies that will get older and more painful than we have acquired some wisdom. I don’t preach my ideas, but offer them as a common bond we all share. He noted, while taking his mother to a US hospital, he saw poor homeless there and was shocked. We agreed that all the people with money should help the poor in some way, because we don’t know next where we will be. I offered that Buddha taught that we may be reincarnated as a lower form or animal, so it is best for our karma to help others. He was not buying the karma idea, but was gentlemanly still agreeing on helping others talking about South Africa where he worked at one time. The poor there live on less than 1 dollar and they will kill you if out late at night in Durban. It was overall a pleasant exchange and when he left, he said, “Nice to meet you, dear.” It was not said in a condescending way, just a subtle acknowledgement.

27 June, 2009

City of Peace

Two of photos two are on Monday when the village comes to feed the monks at the temple that I participated in twice. I will attempt to describe some of the wisdom that came out of this experience while being a novice. On the day before I left there, the abbot was walking to the sala, a big open air place with a huge white Buddha at the end, to give diplomas away to children that completed his dhamma course. He motioned to me with my camera in hand, that they needed one, and the guy who runs the dhamma radio station on the Wat’s grounds came and got it from me. Of course, it was offered freely and it made think about the whole experience there. It was really obvious that there was little or nothing that was owned by one person. Everything was community property, and one could walk into the abbot’s office and use his computer if he wasn’t using it. When they shot photos, they freely offered a disc copy to me. So, it became obvious that ownership is a source of delusions about our own perceived self-importance.

Another thing I felt coming out was that all the meditation, be it walking, praying or sitting along with the whole environment made the highs and lows of life less pronounced. It felt like a move to a more balance state of mind. Patom proved to be a good example of this as well. When I gave him my flashlight I bought and he used — he said thank you, but was not excited. And when I left he said bye, was not upset or show any emotion. All the extremes of life are nearly wiped out with all the mindfulness that was taught and existed at this Wat, nearly a small city of peace unto itself. And all this can be yours anywhere with meditation.

22 June, 2009

Hey Monk, Pick up the Phone!

I had to get ordained at another temple where the senior monk could accept my application to receive ordination from him. At least I had seen how the whole process is done, a few days before, as shown in the last photo. When I was ordained in the temple pictured here, the monk’s cell phone rang. Fine, but in the middle of me reciting of Pali, my damaged brain can not handle any other input, so it made it painfully difficult, and I was almost at the point of wanting to yell, "Stop it and answer!" It was set at least ten rings and I have the same tone on my Nokia, so I know it well. But in my confused brain, I tried desperately to address what was the task at hand: reciting Pali precepts. Obviously, the monk could care less. Needless to say I survived, a bit frazzled, but this is Thailand and can be expected. It was a beautiful day that day and the monk was nice and still present. So all it did was lead to more patience. We rode over in a pick-up truck in white and came back novices in orange. After we dressed down to underwear on the temple entry and were helped by other novices to assemble the new robes. Notes about the process:
The ordination procedure for Buddhist monks, know, as the 'Going forth', begins with the applicant's formal request (Pabbajja) to a senior monk or bhikkhu for the novice (samanera) ordination.
temple interior
Then he approaches the senior monk and pays his respects by bowing three times and hands over the robes saying a passage prescribed for the purpose. Then he formally asks the senior monk to give him the robes, and having received them he is helped by the monks to put them on. The applicant then makes a formal request for the novice ordination. The senior monk acquiescing administers the Three Refuges and the Ten Precepts or training rules.

The Prescribed Passages
When handing over the robes:
Venerable Sir, I respectfully ask you to take this set of robes in my hand and out of compassion ordain me as a novice in order that I may be free from the cycle of existence.
Asking the senior monk for the robes:
Venerable Sir, I respectfully ask you to give me the set of robes in your hand and out of compassion ordain me as a novice in order that I may be free from the cycle of existence.
Requesting the Novice Ordination:
Venerable Sir, I respectfully ask you to ordain me as a novice in order that I may be free from the cycle of existence and attain Nibbana.
The candidate then takes refuge in the Triple Gem (Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha) and undertakes the Ten Training Rules or Precepts in Pali:

Buddham saranam gacchami
Dhammam saranam gacchami
Sangham saranam gacchami
Dutiyampi ... 
Tatiyampi …

I take refuge in the Buddha
I take refuge in the Dhamma
I take refuge in the Sangha (three times)
novice helps with robes

The Ten Precepts:

1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
(I undertake to abstain from harming or taking life).

2. Adinnadanna veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
(I undertake to abstain from taking what is not given).

3. Abrahmacariya veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
(I undertake to abstain from any sexual contact).

4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
(I undertake to abstain from false speech).

5. Sura meraya majjapamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
(I undertake to abstain from the use of intoxicants).

6. Vikalabhojana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami 
(I undertake to abstain from taking food after midday).

7. Nacca gita vadita visuka dassana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami 
(I undertake to abstain from dancing, singing, music or any kind of entertainment).
Novice shaving on moon phase

8. Mala ganda vilepana dharana mandana vibhusanatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
(I undertake to abstain from the use of garlands, perfumes, make-up and adornments).

9. Uccasayana mahasayana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
(I undertake to abstain from using luxurious seats).

10. Jatarupa rajata patiggahana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
(I undertake to abstain from accepting and holding money).

Finally, as a novice, he requests the senior monk to be his Preceptor and on being accepted he receives a new name in Pali. But not done with temporary ordination.

Upajjhayo me bhante hohi. (three times)
Venerable Sir, would you kindly be my preceptor?

On receiving permission, the applicant prepares for the ceremony by acquiring a complete set of robes and getting the help of the monks in the monastery to shave his head in advance of ordination day

One Canadian, One Thai receive temporary ordination

21 June, 2009

Not Really a Conclusion

I am sitting here, in regular lay person’s clothes, and trying to pull out an impression quickly which is damn near impossible. But put it this way, I really don't want to leave. There is pervading peace here, it doesn't seem necessary to tell the whole story.
There are many posts, to go back and add in, as time was precious. It makes me happy to hear that the originator of this concept will take the robes, to get a feel for it. Hopefully, watching people change going through this made a great impression. I think it has finally hit him how lucky he is to be associated with a great wise person.
First, I have to say that the atmosphere comes from the top and that would be Dr. Aphisit who inspires all with loving kindness. He doesn’t even get firm in any way, and things get done by the novices, and it never seems to be a difficult chore. He will let them have time off to play and rest when it is too hot. My last night and I watched the novices at play, combining work with it, and no one got cross. Guiding others with wisdom, calmness and respect. He made a great example of where I am trying to head in this lifetime.

On Friday, I went to go arrange for a time to talk to him, and he said, “Quickly, go pack a small bag and take alms bowl, I think this is rare opportunity to go (in robes) to a Dhamma camp in Mae ai.” He drove us there. So, both of us went arriving before lunch, after stopping a near-by temple. We ran into a ex-german monk who made it clear to the other guy with me, it was not proper to carry money in a pouch around his neck. I was happy that I was not the critical one in this instance. It has been a work in progress just dealing with the other participant in this program and now I will have to room with him for a night and share a towel. Later, he had to wake up and turn on the light like seven times to write his dreams down and they were not really that profound. I think this all done for me to accept all that comes to me. If I am lucky I can take this difficult experience and use as a base with my old age that seems to be creeping in fast.

While there, the Dr got a call to go back to his Wat because equipment arrived to trim some trees. So his driver friend, took us up to the “camp.” Just below Wat Tha Ton, sat a lodge with great view of a river, hills, and Wats, and Buddha images nestled in a nearly Shangri La layout missing the snowy peaks. We met the monks and novices attending this event, and I have never seen so many smiles. We ate lunch, served by people in white who had take the precepts. I watched in shock when the other “farang,” jumped into his food before prayers. But no one made any notice, and this went on for the whole time we were there. These were totally accepting and non-judgmental monks, with some more wisdom that can hopefully rub off on me. We did sitting, walking and laying meditation, and learn to practice mindfulness in each with a great demonstration on prostrating very slowly. On break we walked to the top of Wat Tha Ton, marveling at our great luck.
The following day, Saturday we walked in line mindfully to the top again at dawn, to say prayers to the relics in the crystal pagoda at the top. When walking the monks lead the white clothed(in precepts), and I loved talking to a couple of novices, but forgot to get their contact to follow their progress and to inspire me.
More later.

17 June, 2009

Blossoming Novice Artist

I saw novice, Nam from Mon-pin temple the other day drawing, so I met with him and asked him what he like to have for supplies. He said he did not want to trouble me, but I told him I come from an artist family so for me it makes sense. I had not seen a completed drawing from him yet before I asked him what he needed. So I bought him what he wanted— watercolor paper, watercolor sets, brushes, pallet and watercolor pencils.

I dropped it off at his temple and first he gave me his best drawing, and later after he saw what I supplies I brought, I got two more in appreciation. I knew from the moment I met him when we went to the hot springs and lake that he had an eye. Few novices would draw rather than swim, like Nam did that day.

Teacher Appreciation Day At Temple School

One of the great things about being in orange and older, the novices tolerate me when I sit around watching them create 3-D displays as gifts for their teachers. But looking at how this may sound to someone considering this program, it is not just a photo opportunity. You can personally connect with the novice, being one and work on personal growth while on the path.
It really seems foolish to me to be interested without being on a buddhist path, you are less likely to understand it all, and so participation will be not have your heart involved leading to pure intention. And Thai's sense this, which will fall back in your face in subtle ways. Sure you will be tolerated, and never confronted. Anyway, this is just my opinion.
First, quite a few novices, go around and outside temple ground to gather flowers and leaves, and find some clay soil. No one bought any art supplies, and they use jostick bamboo sticks or thin wire for support. They have no drawings or photographs to work from and little if any supervision. The novices just do what there are good at and with few disagreements. Sure, some chirp in what or how to do things, and most are working in groups of 5 or more. Some displays are based on old Thai style that are seen in many temples from lay people wanting to earn merit. All this, while the teachers are off for the day.

15 June, 2009

Patom's Surprise

They say that a good story finds itself. Last night out of the blue while busy on the computer, Patom(said Paa-TUUM) came into my room, with a candle in alm’s pastry from Monday, singing “Happy Birthday to You!” It was a total surprise, and I know that is one easy way to commun-icate in English to me that he remembers. Any English spoken slowly and clearly in song is much easier to recall. I thought how sweet, and how ironic that after I made the start to become a monk on my birthday(which he doesn’t know), this happens. Ket has moved in once my roommate monk left, wanting to sleep under my platform as a sign of respect.

The first night on Sunday, he had an elder novice stay with him on the floor, but that novice was out of the net so he got bitten too much. We have to sleep in sarong and a one arm shirt, almost dressed inorder to keep with the precepts. So along with Patom, I see several novices for English and snacks before bed, it kind of wipes out meditation time…but when else will this ever happen?

Patom has made himself at home, grabbing a shelf locker to store his food booty for late snack and command-eering my flashlight. He uses my bathroom to wash his robes while singing Pali prayers. Here he is having warm milk, just before he crashes, saying, “Hey you, sleeping now!” to get me off the computer.

I had to snap the night shot of him under my bed, this morning, before the morning chime was sounded at 5am. Along with those photos are alms spread from this morning still warm in the bowl, and then Patom demanded we eat together before he took off to school. This does agree with what my partner said of the needs of the children everywhere for warmth, two posts below. But this also to say that there is no lack of love here at this temple, with the abott working right along side novices in a sweat digging to help build a new meditation spot along the main wihan.

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14 June, 2009

The Many Perks: Seeing Tat's Life

Saturday, a few in the village came and cooked for us in the morning, there was so much good food and plenty of it. It was again humbling to receive others merit. A few times I have walking around, maybe going to the monks dining sala and have had cooks put down their huge pot of food and prostrate once to me. This along with most experiences here can never be quite put into words, but you can be certain ...I don’t take it lightly.

After that we went a drive to a nearby new temple where novice Tat lives at. He goes to school at our temple. Picked up 4 more novices and went to swim at a hillside lake that’s source is a spring. Because we are monks, we have to swim in our sarong tied up Indian style. It was nice and refreshing, and while the rest of went swimming, Novice Nam drew.

Using our robes, we threw them over our shoulder and proceeded to a hot springs, just in time to see a geyser spout on its schedule. Tat was so proud to show us around, he was all smiles. These are novices who have next to nothing, even not all the necessary vaccinations. Let alone floss and dental care. I just saw a novice, today who came up with small pox. Just by donating to the health fund at this temple, you can make their life better. I trust the abbot intentions and the Blood Foundation link to him. You really find the great service Thai temples provide to their novices. A more complete picture of this is found in the book, Little Angels,” by Phra Peter Pannapadipo.

On the way back home we stopped at Tat’s home and met his father. A small home, he was more than happy to see us and give us water. His family was so poor he had to go the temple to be novice, and he lucky is he is close to his families home. A look at family photo’s of his ordination a year ago, and he has grown a foot in a year! When we left him at his temple, he said the day made him so very happy. The less you have the more you appreciate.

12 June, 2009

Dear Novice,

This is an email from my partner reflecting on his experience as a novice when he was a boy.

Dear Novice,

I am proud that someone like you are interested, enough to become a monk. Your pictures remind me of when I have been a chunky monkey when I was 13-14 years old. I do understand about other persons needs more than other people understand me. After I finished primary school then I have been the chunky monkey for a year. The life was troublesome then, because I have to live with many monks who came from different families and different personal natures. Then, I was a child and still need warmth from my family. I believe that the novices in the temple with you will need the same things as I did back then. They are still being children and left their families to live with many people from different places. If in the Western countries, I think that the students leave their family to stay in the school the whole semester but they will have time to spend with their families when vacation arrives. The Thai novices don't have time to leave temple to spend the time with families to get the warmth that children need. I think some novices are come from poor families, family problem, etc. So, we as adult (monks) should be understand about children’s life and nature. We should treat them as children more than use them for work whatever we want.

After I left the temple then, I felt scared to be monastic again. Now, I feel that I would not trust in monks (some) as much like before (thinking), but I also trust more in other’s monks. When I was a chunky monkey, I was a servant of the monks. My feelings were based on the fact that the monks in the temple used make work for them a lot. But my experience taught me to be patient. I know you will practice within the ten precepts of rules. That will be your merit and another way you can give your knowledge to others by English teaching that I can't do.

From my experience then, I never got an English class in school in my temple. So, I think that is not my fate and decided to leave and come back to continue high school and try to continue schooling all time when I have chance. I think I was lucky to spend life for a year in the temple to learn how to spend life with others and more patient. And more luck that I decided to leave for continuing high school and now on to my masters. I am happy with you that you are happy.

Novice Ket came to clean and organize my room of respect for me since I am a novice, too. He was not forced to, obviously with love I see around this temple. Certainly there is some curiosity about what I have in my Kuti, too. He is a joker and we often help one another with robes. And he comes over to eat an evening snack away from his superiors watchful eye. Upon finishing he promptly fell asleep on my floor. The photo at bottom is the Abbott, Dr Aphisit with the camera with novices playing with their monkey.
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Helpful Novices: Pali Blessing for Alms Round

Surely no surprise, once we ordained they really warmed up to us, and here they are helping us with Pali. We need to say this blessing correctly, to bestow blessings on those who offer food. If there is one thing everyone should do, is try this for one time. It brings both humility and honor walking in a line, barefoot and with eyes cast down and not talking. Waking at dawn, and walking as the sun rises seeing noble people wanting to make merit. We often get the best food on these rounds, still warm from cooking. We don't beg, nor ask. It offers a connection with the community, and they are used to foreigners who appreciate the commitment and life of a monk enough to become one. The alms are shared with the whole temple. I find it sets a mindful tone all day.

The prayer blessing, loosely translated says:
May you be happy and live long.
For one of respectful nature who
constantly honours the worthy,
Four qualities increase:
long life, beauty, happiness, strength

09 June, 2009

Small Bursts of Wisdom

It is 3 am, and I am laying on my firm platform bed, with a tatami mat on top, my knees on fire from the temple floor, my ankles full of bug bites And now my stomach feels hollow, not really growling and you know what all this does to you? You think, and reflect and revel in really how fortunate your life has been. The precepts are designed to make you more humble, and propel you to reflect and practice with a clean slate. They are NOT any harder than living your fears, and that I can attest to. Sure, everything is new, the robes, the kind of practice, the surrounding and the circumstances. But I have seen a lot more love and forgiveness in ten days, than a year at home in the comfort of supposed ideal conditions.

Most, if not all of these novices come from really poor backgrounds, so poor they cannot pay for school or food. Some even from the loss of parents or caretakers. The abbott at this temple does not rule with a iron fist, but instead with firm loving kindness. With the practice you have to gather respect, and that comes down to your mind and spiritual progress. It is not always easy, and the novices last night in temple were laughing with me, not at me.

We have spent the last couple of days teaching them English, on a casual informal way. The ones who want to learn come visit us, and bring their books and questions to us. It is truly amazing how they will even form the knowledge they want, and will practice with us, all they really need is some slow, concise English grammar, and lots of laughter. I would like to learn Thai this way as a child would. One student in particular, although there are many more similar, Sang was so earnest trying to get as much as he could get in the couple of hours with us..after school. His desire far outpaced his fear of losing face with natural speakers, that some kids experience.

I will use Sang as a role model, when things get difficult for myself, knowing that my desire to have wisdom and be happy far exceed my fears. I hope I can provide these kids some of the knowledge they want.

Alang on left and Sang

07 June, 2009

Border Village Photos

Us and Them - Myanmar Hilltop Guard post

Palaung woman sorting rice

"Friend" at home

06 June, 2009

First Step with Precepts

After I got my head shaved by a novice, we made a sidetrip to some local spots on Saturday before I took the eight precepts. While driving we left got caught in the rain, laughing and chilled novices with me in back. No one got angry or upset. Driving on dirt roads in the back of a pickup truck we finally found it. The monk who was there was building it as well, so it just framed up. No stucco, or window frames in the building so the crickets just echoed pleasantly. The monk, Samnuksonk Ponpa was genuinely happy and I could tell he had an accent from another province. So I asked, through a friend, if he had seen the lotus temple, Wat Pha Nam Yoi in Isan? He said I had in fact painted some of the walls there. My partner and I had been there twice and I donated money for the construction, and fond of the design. I thought what are the odds of meeting a former monk from there? I thought it would be a good idea to go and meditate with him once I get the robes next week. He had some Thai/ English dharma books.

Came back in time to put on white clothes and to meet the abbot of my temple to complete the precepts with one other man. He guided us through, and was very forgiving of any mistakes with my speech disability. He said it is most important to have the intention, because everyone will make mistakes at one time or another.

The Eight Precepts:
1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
3. Abrahmacariya veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual activity.
4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.
5. Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.
6. Vikalabhojana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from eating at the forbidden time (i.e., after noon).
7. Nacca-gita-vadita-visukkadassana mala-gandha-vilepana-dharana-mandana-vibhusanathana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from dancing, singing, music, going to see entertainments, wearing garlands, using perfumes, and beautifying the body with cosmetics.
8. Uccasayana-mahasayana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from lying on a high or luxurious sleeping place.

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