The Buddhist Channel
Wednesday, 28 July 2010
A Stay at Wat Pah Nanachat
I rose early Saturday morning, clad myself in the white long trousers and shirt a lay person traditionally dons for a temple stay and proceeded towards the monastery by motorbike taxi. Within 15 minutes or so, I was entering the monastery compound and sheepishly attempting to get someone’s attention over at the first wooden building I came upon. A lay woman kindly brought me to the guest monk Ajahn Asoka, a towering young man with warm-hearted eyes and a big grin, who then showed me my lodgings and informed me of monastery schedule/etiquette etc. He invited me to join in with the morning meal at 8am so I lay down my things, sat in meditation and awaited the bell signaling mealtime.
Shortly after the meal and formal chanting, I felt my time at the monastery had really begun. My roommate that morning was a young German kid visiting with his family on holiday though he left later that day and an 18 year old aspiring ethnomusicologist from the USA. We were to form a supportive bond throughout our stay.
At the wat, the first part of the schedule consists of chores so I wandered out with the intention of being assigned some job to do around the site. Much to my surprise, the first monk I inquired to about this suggested I go up onto the 15 metre high roof of the new vihara (Buddhist temple/wat) and paint the metal framework of the new construction. It was a very shaky affair and I was sweating copiously under the heat of the Thai sun. Nonetheless, I felt honored to be taking part in the construction of a new religious building, almost like “modern Cathedral building” to quote Ajahn Asoka. A few hours I spent there; it was surprisingly conducive to calm arising in the mind having to focus on my balance whilst seeking out unpainted under parts of the girders so I relished the opportunity to work mindfully.
The rest of the day I studied from the library of texts, spoke with my roommate Jeff and generally immersed myself in the quietude of the place; it was a welcome refuge from the high voltage atmosphere of the high school in Surin city! The nighttime brought the sound of many creatures (some in the forest some upon my very person!) along with the awkward pressures one gets from sleeping on a solid wood floor.
Rising at about 5am (the usual schedule being 3am; it was different due to the exhausting building work) we went to sweep the many pathways whilst awaiting the signal to join the monks on pindapat (alms round). What an experience! I have never witnessed such generosity from such a relatively poor community. It was such a joy to see these people on their knees, lining the village lanes with baskets of food held to their heads in anticipation of the Bhikkhus. This tradition has been going on, unbroken, for about 2600 years of Buddhist history; it really is a remarkable sight.
Bare-footed and in silence, we made our way back to the wat for the single meal of the day. Later that morning, I had the opportunity to speak with Ajahn Asoka about some of the many challenges facing the continued dissemination and practice of the Buddha-Sasana (the Buddhist religion) as well as my intentions to eventually ordain myself at some stage. It was an interesting discussion and one of the first times I felt at ease speaking about such matters openly and with someone who had first hand experience of it. I continued meditation practice in my dorm, wandered the forest for a while and was also invited into the kuti (monks individual dwelling) to speak with an elderly novice monk from Israel. He gave me such a profound teaching about monastery life; pointing out the importance of not having the view that entering the Sangha is like leaving the world but rather like learning to be a monastic within the world as it is already. His kuti was bare and unembellished, not like the monks dwellings I had seen in town wats; I new he was practicing in line with how the Buddha taught so long ago. A second night in the dorm brought with it a light rain and a sound nights sleep.
Posted by Paul Michael Burton