Tales From The Village (Wat) 6
I’m still a monk after 2 months and it looks like I might be for a while.
– Jao Aawaat
Last time I wrote I mentioned that the ol’ fella at the Wat was about 60. I was going to say 65 – 70 but when I asked the father-in-law how old the monk was he said that he thought him younger than himself. Well we asked him his age the other day and he’s 51. With all the crap the doctors have done to me I’ve aged 20 years in the last 3, but still only look 52 rather than my real age of 53. But with his grey hair, the long ear lobes of the old, and his battered face Ajarn (monks use teaching titles) looks so much older than me.
Until he strips down to his under-skirt and vest to do some work. Not an ounce of fat on him and muscles everywhere. And then he smiles. No, it’s not an old face, just one that’s been tenderised over the years by too many punches. He used to be a professional boxer (Muay Thai) and was very highly rated, having many of his fights broadcast on TV. He still wears a lead weighted training belt and is really in top shape. After his boxing career finished he decided to be a monk for 15 days; liked it so much he’s been here 14 years so far.
My Thai language skills are pretty mediocre, but with most people I can pick out enough words to know what’s being talked about, and to recognise and respond to questions. Even if my first response is to ask them to repeat the question. Unfortunately Ajarn doesn’t annunciate individual words, but like many country folk sings the whole sentence in one burst. I can’t understand anything he says. And his English skills are zero. So we use the phone quite a bit to ring the wife and she provides a translation service.
But before using the phone he’ll always try to get though to me using his sign language. Which involves wild gesticulations of his arms. Of course I understand his arms even less than his language. In fact I think his arms might be dyslexic.
But all up he’s a really great bloke, straight as a die with no political bullshit. I’m really lucky that with all that was working against me (language skills, my cancer, etc) he still accepted me to stay at his Wat. And even though he only comes up to my shoulder, he is, in my opinion, a Big
* Jao Aawaat is usually, if clumsily, translated as ‘Abbot’.
– Morning Alms
Each morning (6 days a week) we walk around the village collecting alms. The village people feed us and in turn, we do some chanting for them to help them attain merit.
We carry our alms bowl in a sling and a bag over shoulder. The people put rice into the bowl and all other food goes into the bag. It’s all packaged in little plastic bags.
At present there are only 2 of us at the Wat, but we eat really well. There’s usually a selection of 30-40 bags of food to choose from. And the choice ranges from gaeng (curries), soups, eggs and vegetables to fruit and khanom (sweets).
Most Thai food has NO chillies in it. You add the chilli mixture (gaeng or sauce) to your food depending on how hot you want it. For instance, this morning out of 25 plates of food only 7 contained chilli.
We eat 2 decent meals a day – breakfast and lunch. Although lunch is a bit early as we should be finished eating by 12. Many Thai monks only have 1 meal a day – breakfast. But this is a personal choice and is not a requirement. For the rest of the day consumption can only consist of drinks. If an energy boost is needed in the evening then something like ‘Milo’ is commonly used.
I find that 2 meals a day is ample and I never feel hungry. And for the first time in 10 years I’m down to my recommended weight. It’s a good healthy lifestyle.
One day each week we don’t go walking, instead the villagers bring food to the Wat and many stay to have breakfast. This occurs every ‘Wan Phra’ or monks day. I suspect it’s run from a lunar calendar as I haven’t been able to fathom any reasoning behind which day each week becomes a Monk Day.
The other time we don’t walk is when people invite us home for breakfast. And there are many reasons to invite the monks around for a meal. So we go along to someone’s house, they provide a delicious meal, and they pay us to eat it. That’s right, they pay us to eat it. It’s a great system.
They have a big pigeon problem in Bangkok, as in most major cities. The city administration couldn’t do anything as direct as order a cull, after all it’s a Buddhist country and to order mass slaughter of lots of birds would be political suicide. So they came up with the brilliant idea of catching the pigeons and releasing them up-country.
A few months ago I noticed a pickup truck out the back of my garden, with a bloke busy releasing lots of pigeons. I had thought at the time that you don’t normally associate pigeon racing with the Thais. But as I watched it was obvious that many of the birds were really stressed, and certainly not racing pigeons. Yip, they were releasing Bangkok's flying rats in our backyard. When I got home later the dogs were playing with several pigeon carcasses.
So now as well as a pigeon problem in Bangkok, we also have a pigeon problem in nearly every Wat. But country people aren’t as wishy-washy as Bangkok politicians, and their response to the pigeon invasion is to shoot the little buggers. So last week a team of guys arrives and start to settle the pigeon problem. The peace of the Wat was disturbed for the full day as they popped off the birds with their big home-made air rifle. With lots of running around chasing wounded pigeons.
Everyday between about 5 and 6 we spend an hour chanting in the Bort, or Ordination Chapel. This day as we were leaving the Bort and walking past the bell tower a shot rang out and a pigeon came skidding off the tower roof to land dead at our feet. I thought it a really good example of the pragmatism of the basic Thai culture.
I was at a large funeral the other day – over 100 monks, including some very high level ones. Was sitting with the top monk (unheard of for a 1 month monk to sit with the top fellas) and he said that if I bring any other farang monks can he have one at his Wat (temple).
They are very impressed that a farang would want to be a monk, and would really like to use our skills – specially in English and to a lesser extent in computers. Mainly English. They have their own monks course in English but they don’t have English speakers to practise with.
So if anyone is interested in becoming a monk in Thailand for a while there is an excellent opportunity at present. You can decide how long you wish to be a monk for, but to be useful to yourself, and to others, a reasonable term should be considered (3, 6. 12 months).
I would be happy to have anyone who is interested to stay with me in our village Wat for a month to get used to the way of life. A sort of orientation. I can provide a few lessons in meditation, language and culture. Then after 1 month you could move to another Wat.
The Thai people are very welcoming, and are extremely respectful of monks. You are guaranteed an experience that is totally outside of anything you have previously known. There are no hidden traps, and at any time (except during the Rains Retreat) you can decide to leave the monkshood, which involves a simple ½ hour ceremony.
So if you are at a place in your life where a bit of quiet time, a bit of meditation, and a bit of helping others sounds attractive then drop me an email and we’ll see what can be organised. My Thai family here would be happy to help with all non-monk arrangements.
Continuation of an excellent series.