Sawasdee krup (hello in Thai!) Today I went to Wat Chedi Luang for my second day in a row. Many of the Wats in Chiang Mai offer things called ‘monk chats’ where anyone can come along and sit with a monk to talk about his personal experiences living in the Wat. We had heard from some other traveling families that this was an interesting thing to do, and we had a lot of questions after visiting the wats yesterday.
The monk that my family and I spoke to was named Cho (at least I think that’s how you spell it). While Cho did not tell us his age, he did say that he has been living in a Wat nearby for five years now and he hopes to stay for another three years. He told us he was still a novice and not yet a monk. He also told us that he goes to the university which is on the same grounds with Wat Chedi Luang and that he studies not only about Buddhism but also about chemistry, math, economics, philosophy and history. Most of the students wore typical Thai university uniforms while the monks wore their robes. He told us that he likes doing the monk chats because he is proud that he can give visitors information about the messages of Buddha but also because he gets to practice his English as well as his Chinese. He told us that he grew up in a very small village out in the province so coming to Chiang Mai was a move to the city.
I learned a couple interesting things from him. Did you know that the orange color of a monk’s robe varies if he is Burmese, Laotian, Cambodian, or Thai? Some are very dark orange and some are lighter. Many monks are here from those countries which is sort of cool. Or that a monk’s average sleeping schedule is from 10:00 PM to 4:00 or 5:00 AM? Well, I suppose you probably don’t know all of these things, so I’ll stop telling them as questions.
Whenever a man or boy goes to a Wat, he has to spend at least one day as a novice before he can actually become a monk. Monks have to be at least 20 years old whereas younger monks remain as novice until they turn 20 (‘yee sip’ in Thai.) So, when you do the math you can conclude that Cho left home to live at the Wat when he was just 15 years old (‘sip haa’ in Thai.)
Monks, when they pray with people who give them alms in the morning don’t speak in Thai, but rather in Pali, the Buddhist language. You may remember when I posted before and talked about monks who go out for alms in the mornings. Monks carry around silver bowls in the morning and people give them something that they have; usually money or food. When the monk returns to his Wat, he mixes all of the random foods together so when he and the other monks eat the food it has a more bland taste. Buddhism is all about detaching from material things and desires which bring us stress and worry including things such as taste. Also, by mixing the different foods, not one food can be more valued for its taste over the others.
We asked him all kinds of questions including how it could be possible to see so many monks walking around Thailand using their mobile phones. After all, they are supposed to be detaching from material things! He said that each monk can choose the degree to which they follow Buddha’s teachings. He said in many cases, monks are using the phones to read Buddhist literature and he uses his phone to call his family. In the very old days, young monks went to the Wat and had no contact with their families at all. I also see many monks getting coffee at coffee stalls around the city – I guess they need their caffeine too! Cho said they can drink coffee, but they cannot drink alcohol.
He did say that Thai families are usually very proud and supportive of sons who go to be a monk, if even for one month. He said that a long time ago, all boys were required to be a novice or monk for at least one month and he said that this was so that all men in Thai society could learn about the teachings of Buddha which are very important to the society and so that they could understand about what it was like to sacrifice in pursuit of reaching what monks call enlightenment which is something I really cannot explain.
He told me that if I wanted to be a monk for a while, I could go to almost any Wat and they would welcome me though I would have to do the typical chores required of monks living in the Wat and I would also have to cut my hair! My precious, beautiful, flowing hair. That would be the only disgraceful part for me about becoming a monk😡. When I spend time in a Wat here, I feel like I could sit and stare at Buddha all day and it makes me feel very relaxed and peaceful.
At the end of our talk, he wished us well and let me put a pin on the map of the world to show where I was from. So folks in Massachusetts, you are represented at Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
By the way, the Europe part of the map was full of pins.
Here is a picture of me with Cho after our chat:
HEY also to the 6th Graders at Taos Integrated School of the Arts, I know you guys have been wondering Wat a Thai STOP sign l👀ks like, so here you go. I finally saw one written in Thai.