Got chatting to this monk the other day. Didn’t catch his name, so for the sake of the story we’ll call him Harry. The conversation* went something like this.
Rooky: Being a monk must take a lot of self-control – no booze, no sex. So what makes virile young men (like yourself) pass up SE Asia’s most accommodating crumpet, and opt for a life of navel-gazing instead?
Harry: The answer’s simple – we measure happiness in a different way. You’re looking at happiness from a physical point view, for us it’s mental. To attain happiness we use meditation – by constantly monitoring our thoughts and actions our minds can live in the present, and that’s what true happiness is. Eventually we may reach enlightenment (but not always).
R: But that’s not the only reason people become monks though is it? …I heard there was a push to ordain the jobless, to keep ’em out of trouble.
H: People get into this for different reasons. Some come for a free ride (a monks education is sponsored by the king), others want kudos for their Buddhist families. And yeah you’re right, we were asked to ordain unemployed men and teach them the path to inner peace.
R: If Buddhists are taught not to be attached to material objects. Why have I seen monks on their mobile blowers and iPads? …I even saw one sucking a cancer stick!
H: Buddhism doesn’t force it’s teachings on people. We believe that attachment is the cause of all suffering, so we try to avoid it. But we’re all at different stages of the journey, and for some it can be a struggle. We live in a modern world too and certain amount of technology is inevitable.
R: Where I come from we’ve got this idea, that our ancestors are congregating in another dimension (looking down on us), and we’ll join them when we eventually kick the bucket ourselves. What happens when it’s curtains for a monk?
H: We believe in rebirth (but don’t confuse that with reincarnation). You are not your body, you are not your mind, and you don’t have a soul. So we don’t believe there is an afterlife. The person is made up of thoughts, feelings and perceptions interacting with the body in a dynamic and constantly changing way. At death this stream of mental energy is re-established in a new body.
R: That’s a bold statement.
H: So’s that heaven and hell cobblers.
This trip’s taken me to a lot of temples, so it was nice of Harry to give me the lowdown. However, his lifestyle seems a bit over the top – up at 5am meditating, no food after midday. That sort of thing’s not practical for a bloke like me. Why take life so seriously. It’s not an extreme sport.
In some ways though, it’s good they think that way… With so many [celibate] monks (& lady-boys) about, it’s rich pickings for the rest of us. If only I’d known about Thailand when I was a single man.
…Me Nan said to me, “Ali, you must have balls the size of oranges”. I said you know Nan, I do. But luckily, me know a lot of woman, who like the taste, of orange juice. Aiiiiiiii.
– Ali G
Harry doesn’t mind, if he doesn’t, make the scene. He’s got a daytime job, he’s doing alright.
– Mark Knopfler
The things you own end up owning you.
– Tyler Durden (Fight Club)
I’ve as much chance of being reincarnated as an olive.
– Boris Johnson (on taking over at No.10)
*Most of the temples in Chiang Mai run an initiative called Monk Chat (www.monkchat.net), so it’s easy to ask questions. We also attended a meditation workshop at the Wat Mahahat (Bangkok) and spent 2 days at the Wat Suan Dok Meditation Centre (near Chiang Mai)… The price of having a wife into mediation.