About a month after receiving my B.S in Biology from Gonzaga (May 2016), I returned home to Thailand. I’ve been accepted to graduate school but I chose to postpone my start date to Spring 2017. I wanted to take some time to do things outside of school and have time to do something that interests me beyond the classroom. Most importantly, I wanted to solidify my (environmental) ethics and deepen my spirituality.
So, I decided to become a Buddhist monk. This decision was actually made a couple years ago (the beginning of my Junior year).
It is almost like a rite of passage (but not a requirement) for Thai Buddhist men to ordain for a certain amount of time at some point in their lives to learn the dharma, which is the teaching of the Buddha and to actually practice it by living simply.
First, what does Buddhism really teach? Thankfully, it is nicely summed up by the Four Noble Truth:
- Dukkha – There is suffering
- Samudahya – There are sources of suffering
- Nirodha – There is cessation of suffering
- Magga – There are methods to end suffering
For Buddhists, true happiness is the end of suffering (dissatisfaction) by learning how to cease the source of suffering.
So what does living simply mean for a Buddhist monk? Essentially, it is getting rid of the excess; material and abstract things you do not need because they are the sources of suffering. We also practiced meditation to help calm our minds and at the same time, activate it so that you can be mindful at every single moment. This is particularly helpful because we are trying to detach from things we want, if we can catch our minds wanting, we can also say to ourselves “I already have enough.”
Without going too much into details, one verse from our daily morning and night prayer/chant perfectly distill down what we need and for what reason (loose translations) and my experience.
- Clothing: We only use our three-piece of clothing to stay warm and cool, to prevent bites from insects or other biting animals. And to cover up our bodies.I had two sets of this three-piece. They are essentially bed sheets that you learn to fold and wrap around yourself.
- Alms (food): We consume not for fun, not for intoxication, not for pleasure, not for beautiful bodies.Only enough to sustain life, to prevent sickness, to help our practice.As a monk I could eat twice or once a day before noon. I did also chose not to eat for 48 hours once. In the afternoon, I was allowed to only drink water or some sugary drinks. Some monks mix all their food together (sweet and savory stuff together into one mixture to practice detaching from pleasurable taste). I tried that a couple of times, but I guess I’m still into tastes…
- Shelter and bed: We only use our shelter stay warm and cool, to prevent bites from insects or other biting animals. To avoid dangers from the weather.We slept on a very thin sheet of blanket or pad on the floor in a room. Nothing fancy. No comforter, not memory foam.
- Medicine: To help us from sickness, which is normal. To help bring us back so we could continue our practice.I didn’t get sick so I wasn’t really taking any medicine.
I returned to laity after what I would consider the best one month of my life. I learned a lot and every day I find the teaching helpful. I usually get to apply it in any situation and it generally made me more grateful for the small things in life.
What did I learn?
- I don’t need a lot of things I use to think I need.
- Everything I use to think I need is because of my ego.
- Letting go of my ego is not easy, but has led me to feeling more free.
- Nothing is permanent and nothing is certain. Don’t fret to much about your body or belongings, because in the end, you cannot take it with you.
- I could voluntarily use less and be more.
What’s so environmental about all of that anyway?
Give more back to nature and those around you. Trust me, you can do it, it’s not going to be easy, life isn’t.
Currently, I’m training to become a scuba divemaster. As I sit here writing this blog in a small village next to a beach in Phuket, Thailand, I sometimes feel like a hypocrite, there are many things I could use less of, and diving is not necessarily the most Eco-friendly activity.
But I am trying every day. Here are some examples of what I do that might inspire you:
- Including environmental awareness in my dive briefings (Project AWARE)
- Reminding divers to be careful with coral reefs and to not leave trash behind
- Biking to work
- Hosting couchsurfers (sharing my space with travelers and making new friends)
- Setting my aircon to 26C and use it sparingly
- Eating mostly vegetarian dishes. If buying meat, think about the environmental impacts
- Eating less
- Hand washing and hang drying my clothes when possible
- Driving less often
- Not having a TV
- Cooking my own simple food
My website and blog can be found via this link.