Last December I traveled to Chiang Mai, Thailand to run the 3rd in a series of 3 half marathons. I spent the remainder of my time bicycling around the old city eating delicious food and finding peace in the various temples. One afternoon, while walking around Wat Chedi Luang, I noticed a banner hanging from a building on the grounds with an invitation to speak with Buddhist monks, titled “Monk Chat.” Curious, I walked over to check it out. I had never actually spoken to a monk before, and the idea sounded intriguing. A young monk promptly greeted me. We sat down at a table and began to chat, just as the banner had suggested.
I asked about his life as a monk. He told me his days begin early in the morning at 4am, with meditation, cleaning, and preparation, continuing with breakfast and other duties such as reading, studying, attending class, or collecting alms throughout the day. They survive on charity from people through donations of merit offerings, carrying with them few possessions. He explained anyone can be a monk for any length of time.
Originally from Laos, the young man in front of me recently became a monk, and therefore still a novice. He is a student at a Buddhist university, learning about his religion and also studying English. I told him I had just finished two years as an English teacher in Indonesia, and asked what he wanted to know about my native language. Throughout our chat, he jotted down new words and idioms, always eager to know more.
Who knows the future, but it is probable this young man will choose to leave the monk order after graduating and pursue a normal life outside. Learning English, he said, is a valuable skill for the future that could have many applications.
After an hour, I began to politely excuse myself—I didn’t want to take up too much of his time. Before I left, he asked if I had facebook and would I accept a friend request to help him practice English sometime. Of course, I told him, a little bit surprised he had facebook.
I learned a lot that day—about the practice of another religion, the life of Buddhist monks, and the aspirations of one young monk in particular—and I’m grateful there is still a way to remain connected so we can continue learning and sharing.