Sawasdee ka! (Hello in Thai) It’s Maddie! Previously known as Big-Sis on this blog, I’ve decided to put out my real name. My full name is Madeline, but I go by Maddie.
I learned a lot about Buddhism, monk life, and meditation during the two months we spent in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There are two experiences that I got most of my information from. The monk chat at Wat Chedi Luang, and the meditation retreat associated with Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya (MCU) University. (I prefer to call it MCU) I think that Buddhism is a really complicated but fascinating subject, and I know I still have more to learn about it. Meditation and being calm has helped me in ways, like if something hurts or is uncomfortable, I can notice it and tell myself it will go away on its own. I’ve also noticed how Buddhism and meditation is making its way into the USA. I think it’s good that western people are practicing meditation. Meditation is a path to World Peace!
My dad, Bro and I went to a monk chat at Wat Chedi Luang. I learned most about monk life at the monk chat because we were talking one on one with a Buddhist monk. The monk’s name was Noppadon, and he looked around 30 years old.
We had questions ready, and took turns asking them. When I ran out of questions, I just asked whatever came into my head about Buddhism or monk life. I enjoyed being able to let out all of the questions about monks and Buddhism that I’ve been holding in, because I’ve seen so many Wats (Buddhist temples) and monks and wondered so many things about them. Some questions even my dad can’t answer! I love getting new information to store in my head, and since Buddhism is such a big subject I was ready to learn as much as I could. I was surprised by some of the answers I got. Some of them were what I’d expected. I think that the monk chat is the best way to learn about Buddhism and spend 1 on 1 time with a Buddhist monk.
I learned that women can be monks, but it is very hard because you have to go to another country to study. In my opinion, women should be able to become a monk in their own country, and they should be at least almost equal. A novice monk is a monk under the age of 20. Novice monks only have 10 rules/regulations, but monks have around 220! Noppadon became a monk when he was 13. I think children being monks is a bit hard on their childhood, and there should be a rule that you have to be a certain age to become a monk.
One thing I found interesting is that monks are not allowed to tell anyone if they achieve Nirvana, they have to keep it to themselves. Nirvana is the conquering of yourself, being able to feel nothing but peace and happiness. When you achieve Nirvana, you see everything as it truly is, and you pass into another kind of existence. Huh. Complicated, right? I didn’t get it at first either. I’ve been wondering what the different colors of the monk robes mean, and Noppadon said bright orange means a city monk, and brown is a forest monk. Red is either. This doesn’t apply to all monks, only some. A monk can quit being a monk anytime he/she wants. You just have to tell your teacher you would like to quit. That surprised me a lot.
Another thing I learned from talking with Noppadon is what monks can and can’t do. They can’t
- Play music or sing
- Eat after lunch
- Play sports
- Wear anything but their robes
- Touch women except for family ( this isn’t as hard as it seems as Thais generally don’t touch each other anyway)
- Drink after lunch
- Listen to music
- Use electronics
I’ve heard a lot of monks chanting when I’m in Wats, and wondered what language the chanting is in. The language is called Pali, and it’s an ancient Indian Hindu language. The monks are chanting to the triple gem: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Singha. That’s who the Buddhist people bow down to in the temples. First Buddha, then Dharma, and if you have time, the Sangha. Some monk terms:
Jowawa = temple leader
Ajan = teacher
Phra = monk
In Noppadon’s opinion, being a monk can be challenging because of things you can’t do. But, monks are very important figures, and having a monk in the family is considered a great honor in for Buddhist cultures. Men who have been monks are considered better husbands. One other kind of challenging thing about being a monk is the schedule. Here is Noppadon’s daily schedule:
5:15-Clean around temple
Long day, right? And tiring, too. I know I definitely wouldn’t be able to do that for more than a day, and that’s true because I did do it for a day. At a meditation retreat.
My dad and I went to a two day meditation retreat! It was hard at times, but really peaceful and calming. I was the youngest one at the retreat, but I enjoyed it all the same. Meditation is a great remedy to agitation, anxiety, and anger. The 3 A’s. I’ve been experiencing plenty of the 3 A’s on this trip, so the meditation retreat felt really good.
First, the Buddhist monk who was going to be with us at the retreat gave a way too long, but very informative talk about Buddhism. (It was so long that some people fell asleep!) I sure learned plenty about Buddhism from that talk.
After the way too long but very informative talk, we left for the retreat. The retreat couldn’t have been more beautiful. It was full of nice gardens, trees, and statues of the Buddha. Twice in the retreat we had free meditation, which was doing any kind of meditation we want in the gardens. It felt wonderful to sit in such a calm atmosphere and meditate.
After we got settled in, the monk told us that from this point forward, there will be no talking, except if you need something. I wondered how that was going to go. It ended up being really interesting. I wasn’t used to complete silence. Soon after that, we went to the meditation room, which had glass walls so you can see outside. We learned about the 4 kinds of meditation, and got to practice them. Sitting meditation, standing meditation, lying down meditation, and walking meditation. As you’re practicing walking, sitting, lying down, or standing meditation, you have to be mindful of what you’re doing. I think that my favorite kind of meditation is sitting down meditation, because in my opinion it’s more relaxing. We practiced meditation for a while, and I felt really peaceful and calm. Every bad feeling I’ve been feeling was washed away.
We also learned how to pray to the triple gem, which I talked about in the Monk Chat part of this post. The language is Pali, but I don’t know what it means. I don’t remember how all of the chanting goes, just this:
Before we ate we said the “Contemplation of food” which was basically saying things that prepare us to eat only for nutrition and preventing hunger. It was strange to be eating without talking. After dinner, it was more meditation. The last meditation we did before bed was lying down meditation, and I was almost positive that everyone except for me and the monk fell asleep. The period lasted for about an hour! When bedtime came, I was so tired that I fell asleep pretty quickly. The next day after breakfast and meditation, we had a really good discussion about any questions we had with our monk. All too soon, it was time to leave. The monk said his words of goodbye, and I was a little sad that I would have to leave this peaceful place and go back to our house in Chiang Mai with my sister and brother where it isn’t quite so peaceful.
The meditation retreat was a very interesting experience. It was different than anything I’ve ever experienced before. I learned a ton about meditation, and Buddhism, and I got a little taste of how monks live. Remember, meditation is the perfect remedy for the 3 A’s!
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