Life in a Thai Monastery (Part 2 of 7)

We caught the 600-kilometer, overnight milk run into the sparse, destitute countryside of the northeast, making uncountable stops and heading for who knows where. The ancient train clicked and clacked grudgingly through Bangkok’s innards; miles of dilapidated buildings leaning toward the rickety tracks, populated with on-the-edge people surviving on next to nothing, with many of the old and infirm sitting hopelessly beside their makeshift dwellings, waiting . . .for what? Death perhaps?

It caused me to pause, as I reflected on the fate of all beings, rich or poor, good or bad. This is our destiny; death, and it comes to every one of us, whether it comes easy and sudden or slow and painful, and I hoped with all my heart that Janet and I would not have to go through the uncertainty of a physical existence too many more lifetimes.

Finally, we chugged past the squalor that was Bangkok and headed toward the Cambodian border, and found ourselves gazing out grimy windows at countless rice fields, their magnificence painted across the endless South Asian landscape. We saw great plains dotted with tiny villages, framed against a night filled with endless stars, red streaked morning skies, and a yellow-white day. Eventually these plains gave way to occasional patches of forest, and soon, we could see tangled thickets of jungle ahead. Suddenly, I feared for Janet.

The monastery was supposed to be a dozen kilometers from the train station in Ubon, but none of the cabbies or moto drivers had ever heard of it. Maybe it was the way we were pronouncing it? Finally, a slim, young Thai on a tiny motor scooter indicated that he knew where it was and offered to take us there for a reasonable fee. Great!

Now this was a small bike, and Janet and I, complete with stuffed backpacks, must have weighed in at a good 350 pounds, but the driver, undaunted, somehow squeezed everything on, and with almost flat tires, a little luck, and a lot of smoke, we soon found ourselves in the forest surrounded by the deafening chatter of tropical, hooked-beaked birds. We paid our driver thirty baht (about a dollar), and made our way on foot into the dense, damp foliage following a path under a canopy of seemingly infinite trees. This was the entrance to Wat Pah Nanachat, a Buddhist monastery or wat.

This was just what we were looking for! Living in the forest deepens meditation they say - something we confirmed at a Zen monastery in California, and the jungle, the animals, and the natural world seemed connected at the hip to the Source of all things or that mysterious Reality that some may refer to as God. We felt safe and comfortable here, in contrast to the cities that are man-made, here we were closer to the freedoms we sought, and closer to what we actually were; elements of the earth that would return to the earth.

It was odd how the Freedoms began revealing themselves to us. We vowed to find truth in this lifetime, but we didn’t realize at the time that this truth involved a number of freedoms. We had already found three; three so powerful that we were propelled headlong into this far-flung adventure where our lives would be at risk every moment. We knew in our hearts that there were more freedoms, but how many more? This whole thing was a mystery to us, and we had no inkling of the outcome. It was baffling.

All we wanted to do right now was to live in the forest meditating silently and quietly, and Thailand supported this. The Thais understood the value of meditators; and how the Thaïs’ day-to-day lives were positively affected by monks who meditated. Unfortunately, meditation back home was still a lark, a New Age marketing tool which at worst became a moneymaking enterprise of unscrupulous meditation teachers, and at best, nothing more than a therapy or relaxation technique of some kind, Few understood or cared about its deeper aspects.

Not many places in the West offered free room and board just to promote the unique consciousness that positively develops from still minds. Intellectualism rules the West, and although it has produced technological and societal milestones, the people are not happy, at least not as happy as the third world Thaïs we met out in this countryside. Technological advances take their toll - on people’s hearts.

There was no movement in the open courtyard as we approached. A large wooden structure, the sala or meditation hall, loomed ominously ahead surrounded by water barrels strategically placed to catch rainwater from its tin roof; no running water or electricity out here. A bell platform with six steps stood a little way from the sala, and alongside the platform was a cremation area. There were windows; or openings in the sala walls, so large that it appeared as though walls didn’t exist; you could look straight through the building as if it wasn’t even there. It created an incredible illusion of airiness.

The setting was peaceful, but not necessarily quiet. The animal chatter is unending in the forest, changing every hour, as the different animals go about their routines. They say that forest monks can accurately tell time by listening to the noises of the jungle; I can attest to that; and I even got pretty good at it myself!

As we continued walking toward the sala, two monks approached; one smiling broadly, undoubtedly aware of who we were since we had corresponded ahead of time, making the proper arrangements. (A little diversion from flying by the seat of our pants).

“Greetings,” he announced, his delightful British accent bouncing off the forest. “The Rocks I presume?”

No comments: