Life in a Thai Forest Temple, part 2: Ballot-Proof Monk-in-Training…

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Continued from previous…

There are FOREST TEMPLES and there are forest temples, relative to the degree of separation between them and all the modern conveniences and contrivances, including electronics. Music is prohibited by the Eight Precepts of Buddhism, but that would generally only apply to priests and even then—you know. This is more like a half-way temple, half-way between deep forest and Chinatown, close enough to a small city to do the morning rounds, remote enough to still get away from it all, or at least most of it…

Isn’t this always the way it is for me, straddling the edge of two dimensions and making the best I can of it, making my bed on the threshold, and walking the fine line between extremes, blinking in and out like life on the installment plan? Isn’t this implied by the Buddhist Middle Path anyway? I see my mission to somehow combine forest and technology, and leave the butt-ugly cities to the dogs and sewer rats…

IMG_0737Temples are not exempt from the growth syndrome, though, plans afoot here to expand by contracting out another building to the lowest bidder, for increased capabilities and more priests to pension. “How many priests you got there?” is the common refrain, the measure of success by local scuttle-butt being the number of priests in residence, especially since this is the Lent season to return to the home temple and be counted. Growth seems to be the patch of blue sky we all need to survive and thrive…

I guess the psychological pre-Apocalypse challenge is to create the feeling of growth and potential for expansion, without the squandering of resources. So far only one industry has ever accomplished that, the digital one, fingers optional, so it’s a shame that there seems to be something of an anti-technological bias in addition to the anti-intellectual one that seems to prevail in the Forest Tradition—my only real disappointment, so far.

IMG_0754That’s too bad, since there is a telephone signal here, if not WiFi, so a USB dongle (google it, fellow Americans) could accomplish the purpose, if insects would just read the ‘Keep Out’ signs on my laptop. The ants are relentless, and one day will likely rule the world that we have created for them and to their specs. It is a fact of evolution that the smaller more adaptable units survive, thus the ants will ultimately win this battle, dividing and conquering and ultimately emerging victorious…

But by design I didn’t want a Forest Temple that caters to Westerners, complete with English language, upgrade facilities, watered-down dogma and questionable karma, of which there are a few, though I wouldn’t rule it out for the future, just want to be sure that I know the difference between the two approaches, though any Enlightenment accrued would likely have to be self-motivated, by definition…

IMG_0760Facilities are typically divided between those for use by priests and the rest of us Yom including me, for reasons unclear, but no surprise, as a plethora of picky procedures are typically de rigueur for the hierarchies of any religion, as you gotta’ keep the riff-raff out. Most new priests and novices have a ‘big brother’ to help the transition, so mine is my stepson. This can be both good and bad, since I the novice am expected to serve him, yet he starves himself with one meal a day and I have an all-you-can-eat buffet…

There are some ‘hacks’ and shortcuts available to the clever priest, though, so while a second meal is proscribed, eating some nuts or seeds or a tiny non-filling snack is okay…and caffeine is rampant in the ranks of the brotherhood, Arabic medium-roast espresso the preferred imbibement. That one meal per day can be a big one, too, so no guarantee of weight loss. I rather like the idea of a little fast every day, as it reduces unnecessary stuffing—and definitely gives new meaning to the term ‘break fast’…

IMG_0768Afternoons are mostly occupied by sweeping the ground—both singular and plural, as that involves moving leaves around on dirt, probably the Thai equivalent to blowing them around with a leaf-blower, as is common in the West, America at least. That and sweeping and mopping the sala where all ceremonies are held are the main activity after the morning round of alms and subsequent breakfast feeding frenzy—joking.

It’s all quite quiet, really, and the only complaint about me was for noisiness (and I’m super quiet by Western standards). Interestingly the priests tend to mix all their food together in their one large begging bowl–hmmm. But the day begins and ends with the most most important activity—prayers, conducted in the ancient Buddhist canonical language of Pali, as transcribed into the Thai alphabet, along with bits of commentary in the Thai language itself.

I can read Thai, in addition to speaking it, but still the transcriptions into Pali are a challenge, with its distinct liturgical rhythms, and the head priest’s habit of jumping around quite a bit from page to page. Still I made a lot of progress over the course of a week. It’s either too hot or it’s raining, but I’m not complaining. At best the heat is mitigated by the almost-constant clouds; if not, then the rain pitter-pattering on canvas and tin will lull you into submission.

Most importantly, I feel like I’m where I should be. It was either this or drink ayahuasca in the Peruvian Amazon along with fried brains, so I think I made the right decision. In fact, I rather think I’ve been preparing for this very act my entire life. All of sudden my life starts to make sense, something that has largely been lacking until now. Stay tuned…

To be conttinued…

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