Barge environmental educator, Niwat (Thee), took leave from the Barge Program during the rainy season, in order to spend three months living and studying as a monk. Here he reflects on his experiences.
Buddhism - More than I know
As a lay person, fulfilling my duties of being a good citizen in my daily life has always been my intention. Yet sometimes, somehow, I feel a bit lacking when it comes to inner duties. Recently, the call from within requested me to literally travel further than all that I already knew about being a good person. It landed me in Pichit Province where I spent the Buddhist Lent period having my thoughts and deeds observed as a monk, while studying the kind teaching words of Gautama Buddha.
There, I appeared before myself, head and brow shaved, tucked tightly in bright-saffron garments. I was enrobed as a Bhikkhu with 227 precepts to manage my thoughts, speech and actions. We, Sangha, repeated the rhythm of each day as follows:
0330 We awoke and started our day singing out morning chants until 0600, then we trailed our way to the village to get alms, given by the local villagers about 3 km away.
0730 We returned to the monastery where we ate from the bowel - only one sitting per day.
0830-1100 We cleaned everything: our bowels, the temple grounds, resting quarters, restrooms, laundered robes and had a bit of down time.
1100 -1300 We had a session studying Dharma scriptures to prepare for the Buddhism Examination in October. This included Gautema Buddha’s biography, the etiquette for a monk and about performing religious ceremonies. This exam will allow me to obtain a certificate of Elementary Buddhism Study from the Ministry of Education. (If I pass, it will also mean I am a bit more confident that I have the right knowledge to talk about Buddhism in future classes with Barge students!)
1330-1830 Meditation sessions. Each session comprised of one hour of slow gaiting, paired with one hour of cross-legged meditation.
1900-2100 Evening prayers, chanting and meditation.
2100 Resting time until the next day comes.
For the first of the three months, I found the practice to be most torturous as both my mental and physical state was ill prepared for shifting from city life to astute living. My body complained of not having meals in the evening, not getting enough sleep time, a burning sensation from sitting too long in one posture and my mind simply gave up hope of developing, when comparing myself to the austere Buddha.
After the initial adjusting period, thirty days waned into month two. Now the days began to be a soft and tender treatment, I noticed waking up before anybody in the village left me more quiet time, the weight that I shed helped me to experience less pain compared to when I was bigger, while sitting down for any length of time; the foreign language of Pali/Sanskrit seemed actually about truth of life as one gone through different stages of life, the duality of pain/pleasure, the mere perception of oneself, and my mind seemed to be less frantic about how I should behave around the temple.
Month three, the Head monk was not as strict. He would allow free practices outside of the temple hall under the shade of tree shades and by the paddies. It was here that I found Buddhism has to do less with the Buddha image and chanting sounds. As nature drew closer to my mind, as I heard more crickets, and observed green paddies as far as the horizon, as I saw everything bathed in the glorious sunshine appearing through cloud blobs, so it occurred to me, that maybe this is the healing Dharma that I was longing for.
By becoming a monk, despite its brief period, I have confirmed that it cements what I have already set my mind to, through mindful living and being on the right track with mind and body in-sync with nature; that I am part of a natural system and the Dharma I learnt is part of that system as well. To observe my deeds strictly by ways of Dharma is a triumphant effort to realign myself with the natural world without forceful duties imposed by anyone else except my freewill volition. Yet, for one to be alienated from the other is inconsiderate and definitely unpeaceful.
Now, I am back at work with the Barge Program, this great, amazing program that approaches cycles of nature and environment through education, by voluntary engagement which attempts to promote a sustainability mind. Who shall say whether one is achieving it or not by what metrics. Regardless of the outcomes it is the essence of what I believe is in our goals and mission that keeps me going strong in this direction. So Thank you Bargies staff, people from Arjarn Lynda, Khun Stan, and everybody in the Program for your support, and I thank myself too for making the right decision to be mindful in my spirit and for this great learning opportunity I have experienced as a monk.