As I’ve mentioned Chiang Mai is full of temples and I read in the lonely planet before arriving in Chiang Mai that one of the temples holds regular evening sessions which include a chance to speak to monks and afterwards an introduction to meditation and as this is something I have recently read into and been interested in it was another thing I really wanted to do.
It was held at the temple ‘Wat Sri Suphan’ which is the temple covered in silver that I went to the previous day.
I was quite tired after my visit to the Elephant Nature Park that day but I knew I would regret not going and would still be wondering what it was about if I didn’t go.
I headed there alone and did feel quite intimidated even though I was going to sit with monks who are some of the people you should be least worried about meeting and seeing them round the cities is very common so it’s not like I was seeing something I’ve never seen before!
When I arrived there were 2 tables with a monk sat at each along with 2 girls at each so I was invited to sit down at one with 2 lovely German girls. At first I couldn’t think of anything to ask, my mind just went blank. I didn’t want to ask the stupid questions on why they wear orange ect so I asked something that crossed my mind the other day ‘where are all the women monks? Do they have other temples that they live in?’ His reply was that there are very few women monks and the women monks that do exist in North Thailand live in one temple and they aren’t in the cities just because there’s not enough of them. He said one of the problems women have to devoting themselves as monks is shaving their hair and although I see this point surely if you wanted to devote your life to Buddhism this wouldn’t be your biggest issue? But anyway that’s what he said.
It got a little awkward as none of us knew what to say but we learnt that he was from Southern Vietnam where there aren’t many monks, his family encouraged him to become a monk but it was also his decision and his decision to move to Chiang Mai 8 years ago which he prefers to Vietnam. Later on I asked him if he thought he would continue to be a monk for the rest of his life which after I asked I thought might be a bit offensive as I thought he might say of course he would but actually he replied saying that in a years time he would go from a practising monk to an actual monk and that his parents are getting old and he thinks he will go home as so far he hasn’t helped his parents out, he has just become a monk learning about Buddhism and teaching others but he feels he needs to start providing for his parents.
This seemed quite sad. He is 26 years old and I see his point that a lot of boys from a country village would have been working for a number of years by that age and supporting the family but his family did encourage him to do what he does. I wanted to say this to him and although his English was extremely good after teaching himself for 8 years I thought he might not quite understand my point so I left it.
After the chat we headed into a room to start meditation. He explained 2 types of mediation. He was extremely quietly and softly spoken so it was hard to catch exactly what he was saying but I managed to get most of it (unlike the German girls who later told me they barely understood any of it).
We started with a 15 minute meditation sitting down and told to focus on one thing and let the rest of our mind go which was a lot harder than it sounds. I got pins and needles in my legs after about 5 minutes which is all I could concentrate on plus thinking about the elephants and what I was going to do tomorrow ect ect!
Next we stood up which was a nice relief for my legs and did a 15 minute mediation standing but this time focusing on each body part and relaxing it going from our head to our toes which I found a bit easier as I’ve done this at the end of yoga classes but I also kept thinking about what food I was going to get from the markets once we were finished!
He then explained some more basics of Buddhism. How we can’t control our body, we can’t control when we get ill, when we suffer or when we die and that we shouldn’t be scared of dying. He said how when we get something new e.g a watch, we are happy and then after awhile it breaks so we get a new one and we are happy again and this is like our lives. We get one but when it ends we should be happy because we will get another one.
He also touched on the concept of Buddhism that I like best.. It’s all down to you. He said the Buddha will guide you and go ahead of you but he will not do it for you, it’s up to you to help yourself.
It was a very surreal experience sitting infront of a monk and a person who has dedicated themselves to this religion and to a very strict lifestyle and while meditating I kept opening my eyes (which shows I wasn’t actually meditating) and he was so still while sitting and standing. Monks meditate for around 5 hours a day and the aim is for enlightenment, like having a really good dream but you are still awake.
I’m really glad I went. It was experience I doubt I’ll get anywhere else. A few of the temples here have started ‘monk chats’ but the introduction to meditation isn’t as common unless you dedicate yourself to a course which I’ll maybe save for another time!