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2007/11/06

Life in a Thai Monastery (Part 3 of 7)

by E. RAYMOND ROCK
What a friendly, carefree monk! We felt at home already, but he wasted no time in getting down to business. He asked me to remain in the courtyard for a moment while he and the other monk escorted Janet to the nun’s section. Before they left with her, the British monk asked if I wanted to say goodbye. . . . Hmm. Why should I say good-bye? Janet and I were staying at the same monastery, weren’t we? But I did as he suggested and said good bye. (You should never second-guess a British monk).

As I watched her disappear into the trees, which, by the way, happened to be my last personal contact with her for months, I thought back to the train ride, and how apprehensive she was when she noticed the small, thrown together shelters in the rice fields that farmers used as protection from the monsoons. She was certain that we would end up living in one of these flimsy huts that afforded zero protection from snakes and creepy things, and I was right, she was scared to death.

But not to fear; her first kuti (hut), although older, was substantial, made of timbers with a tin roof and perched on stilts for protection against her anticipated despicable critters. Her fear however was not entirely without foundation; an active family of seven geckos claimed the hut as well, causing her to lay awake the entire first night curled up in a rigid, fetal position being careful not to touch the mosquito net that hung from the ceiling and which she tucked firmly under her little bamboo mat . . . while imagining things crawling all over her.

Eventually, the nuns gave her a nicer kuti with only two geckos, and then finally a new and beautiful one with only a single lizard . . . but it was a big one.

Although Janet and I would see each other at a distance while attending community meetings, meals and so forth, we weren’t permitted to speak with each other without a monk present. Those were the rules; established so that no misunderstandings would arise with villagers who supported these monks, a support that relied upon mutual trust. The villagers would take care of the monks and nuns necessities, and the monks and nuns would devote their lives to nothing other than conquering their kileses (greed, hatred and delusion), and finding enlightenment. The monks and nuns were the villagers’ ideals.

The British monk returned after getting Janet settled in and handed me the traditional small, rolled-up bamboo mat that would serve as my sleeping and meditation rug, along with an old, dinged aluminum teapot that was my water kettle. After a brief stop to fill the kettle at the water barrels, he began escorting me to the far side of the monastery.

As we were walking along, a mangy dog with a missing ear and absent clumps of fur ran into the forest not far ahead. The monk pointed and issued a stern warning to stay away from stray dogs that might wander about the monastery looking for food, adding casually that a monk and nun were both presently taking anti-rabies shots after being attacked on the porch of the sala! Well . . . I was relieved to hear that rabies shots were available, but not too thrilled about rabid dogs running loose all over the place.

We continued about a hundred yards on a narrow trail through a green cave of dense foliage with tropical flowers spilling out of bamboo thickets; which seemed to be welcoming me, and then, suddenly, there it was - my personal little kuti! I had been picturing it in my mind for months, and it looked simply wonderful; quiet, peaceful, just the thing for an itinerate loner like me.

By Western standards, it was tiny, only six feet by seven feet, but more than enough room to stretch out. It was made of sturdy timbers and perched on stilts seven feet high to keep out snakes and ants, with ten steps leading to a small porch. Inside were a few pictures tacked to the wall, apparently from a previous occupant - an autopsy photo of some poor chap cut from top to bottom, (a monk's aid for contemplating the body), a picture of a Buddha image, and a picture of a lotus blossom. There was also a small, cut-in-half tin can that I later used to heat a few tablespoons of water over a candle to shave with every morning. Probably what the prior tenant used it for. I mentally thanked him.

My kuti came complete with two shuttered windows, to keep out the rain, a mosquito net tied to a ceiling beam, and some candles, matches and incense sitting on an exposed two by four. Small pans of kerosene were fashioned around the bottoms of the exterior stilts to discourage ants, scorpions and termites, and the roof was covered with tin, a beautiful tin, the sound of rain upon which will remain with me the rest of my life. My little kuti was perfect!

Living at a monastery in Thailand costs nothing, as long as you follow the rules - one meal a day, etc., and of course you must be on your best behavior. Besides the rules, we had to quickly learn a wealth of cultural things, for example; exposing the sole of one’s foot is akin to exhibiting one’s middle finger, so I soon learned to sit puppy-up, or flat on the concrete floor of the sala with my feet curled demurely underneath - no furniture or pillows to sit on at Wat Pah Nanachat! Just wood, concrete, and the jungle floor.

The regional police station would subsequently hold our passports, which we cheerfully surrendered upon arrival. We couldn’t have cared less; our intention was to stay forever in this paradise that offered such a rare opportunity to meditate with little disruption.

The smiling British monk wished me luck, then turned and disappeared down the trail. I waved, while at the same time glancing nervously in all directions for signs of snakes, scorpions, or mad dogs, and then made myself at home in my little kuti, that to me was more beautiful than a mansion with gold-plated faucets.
http://www.amazines.com/article_detail.cfm/330948?articleid=330948

1 comment:

Jduke_7 said...

Where is it that you stayed I would like to go there.