LIFE FOR A FALANG AT THE MONESTERY

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This is a story with a difference.  Our contributor has offered a first-hand account of his decision to live the life of a monk at the temple on Khao Takiab.  These are his own words and experiences.

“Sun and sand, peace and tranquility are the promises of the ‘Land of Smiles’ and yet there is so much more a traveler can find in Thailand.

As a westerner living here, Thailand has been good to me. Possibly a little younger than many of my expatriates, I came here for work more than a decade ago. Others were making it a home for their retirement with their working days behind them. My job was good and provided for me and my significant other with friends coming and going.  Life in this tropical paradise seemed grand.

A change in the business, a turn in the economy peppered by more than one ill-fated decision would bring all of that to an end. While the job ended abruptly other things like my relationship with a wonderful young Thai woman carried on for some time always offering hope that things would turn for the better. Sadly they did not and my partner had to make a decision for her future, which meant leaving me.

I made the decision to convert to Buddhism years ago and feeling down on my luck and life in general, I decided to let my spirituality and beliefs guide me forward.

That was how I found myself on the doorstep of Wat Khao Takiap speaking with a monk and several Thai friends about the future.  A plan was forged whereby I would do some tasks around the temple and the monks would provide me with room and board while I studied Buddhism and learned the ways of the Order.

The first task was to clean out a small room that was to become my home at the temple.  For those who are familiar with Wat Khao Takiap, you’ve probably also heard of it referred to offhandedly as ‘The Monkey Wat’.  It is home to a sizable population of monkeys that act as a draw card for local and foreign tourists. The temple itself is a highly regarded place of religious worship and carved into mountainside of Khao Takiap, has breathtaking views of Hua Hin and the ocean.

These elements make for a much greater challenge in preparing my new place home. The mountainous terrain makes for backbreaking labor moving even small items.  In addition fifty or more monkeys had made it their business to tear open, inspect, topple and then otherwise destroy any packages or furnishings that we brought out to clean and organise. The final challenge was that the room already had numerous residents of the rodent and insect variety.

The two young ladies who helped me prepare my new accommodation also happened to be nurses at local hospitals.  They kept a running tally of shots and vaccinations that they would be giving me at the end of the day. Rabies injections were already high on the list after a monkey decided to take an exploratory gnaw on one of my arms.  I also heard one girl say to the other, ‘Hi tet-neese do-aye ka’, (tetanus as well) as she watched me move wood full of rusty nails.  This only garnered exhausted laughs at that point.

The aged monk sat outside watching progress with mild amusement and with his trusty ‘weapon’.  This was a small wooden slingshot and stones to fend off the simian interlopers when he could.  His advice was not lost on me when he commented, “They don’t like that”, referring to my efforts to keep a couple monkeys at bay with a bamboo pole. “Thanks”, I answered simply as I tried to get back to work.

At the day’s end the sun was setting over the mountain top to abate the scorching heat. The ladies called me into ‘my new home’, and showed off their fine work.  They had arranged for me a small, thin mattress common to monks, a table, chair sidled by stacks of boxes, bookcases and many Buddhist and Thai images. It was amazing what they had accomplished and while it was a world away from where I ever thought I would find myself, it was home.

Since then my daily work has included dividing up and passing out the alms collected.  Starting my mornings early at 5 am the day stretches surprisingly long until evening prayers. I am now an unorthodox but welcomed member of the fraternity, a student of Buddhist and Thai teachings.  For the first time I feel that I am giving something back to a community that has given, and continues to give me so much.

Sitting on the mountainside after the overnight rains with the first light of the day ahead I like watching the fishing boats come back to harbour with their catches.  I can enjoy the cool breeze of early morning with the light shimmering off the surf below. The monks emerge from their houses for morning prayers and to collect alms.  One stopped alongside me taking in the view before starting off on his morning climb saying only, “It is a simple life”.

“Yes it is Prae”, I agreed.  It certainly is a simple life of untold experiences and beauty in ‘Amazing Thailand’.”

A Day of Life at the Wat

“The average day for me has meant waking up quite early at 4-5 am and making basic preparations for the day and getting ready.  Still in darkness, monks begin their travels for rounds at the local markets such as the one familiar to foreigners as the ‘Night-market’ area in downtown Hua Hin.  At this early hour each day the market resembles more of a food and produce market with a clear emphasis on alms for the monks.

Some of the monks will walk a round or two through the marketplace stopping to accept alms and pray with the devotees who call upon them.  Other monks choose to sit in one place and to receive from the faithful their alms and prayers as they come by.

We arrived in darkness just before 6 am, but commerce was notably coming into full swing.  Three hours later we were making our exit. By now business is at the fever pitch you’d expect for a Thai market and the monks have all but disappeared.  The sun above is now pushing up the temperature to a low boil.

Escaping the market and now back at the temple, the monks and I sort through the alms dividing them into three basic categories:  1.) Perishable; 2.) Non-perishable; 3.) Buddhist/Temple goods like flowers, decorations, amulets, statues, etc.  All the plastic bagged wrapped perishable items are put on a table to be eaten or handed over to other members of clergy, devoted Buddhist visitors or those in need. Dry goods are usually passed off for the same intent.  If a fellow monk needs something, the local hospitals or others, the items are passed on.

Now it is ‘lunch time’ or breakfast; depending on your view.   I choose a few of the food items provided by the faithful and we eat.

Midday into early afternoon is often used for prayer, meditation; teaching/learning that might simply consist of a meaningful discussion with one of more of the monks, or attending to chores.

By early evening as the sun is setting a sort of ‘pot-luck’ dinnertime meal is served to residents of the temple ion an informal way. People just come and go at their leisure over the next hour or so, sometimes gathering to talk.

Evening prayers begin around 7 pm when people from the community gather and the well-known Balinese chanting of Buddhist prayer by the monks can be heard far and wide throughout the temple grounds and beyond.

Everything draws to a close usually well before 9 pm when the temple grounds have once again grown quiet and still, resting before the new day.”

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