voluntary simplicity | one month monkhood.

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:

  1. Dukkha – There is suffering
  2. Samudahya – There are sources of suffering
  3. Nirodha – There is cessation of suffering
  4. 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.”

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consuming alms

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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…
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
img_20160707_192342
Thin sheet on a wooden bed.

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?

  1. I don’t need a lot of things I use to think I need.
  2. Everything I use to think I need is because of my ego.
  3. Letting go of my ego is not easy, but has led me to feeling more free.
  4. 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.
  5. I could voluntarily use less and be more.

What’s so environmental about all of that anyway?

Use less.

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.

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Phuket, Thailand

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

Yours,
Putter
My website and blog can be found via this link.

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14 thoughts on “voluntary simplicity | one month monkhood.

  1. maggjones

    Putter,

    I have been interested in Buddhism, and recently visited a temple to practice and learn the meditation style. It is so helpful! It reminds me of Jesuits. Only use what is helpful. I found that, though a small taste, it gave me a greater mindfulness and situational awareness especially in respect to the environment. Even though I enjoy going to mass on Sundays, Catholicism is still rather anthropocentric and the Buddhist meditations ask for grace from all beings (which I took to be those I find intrinsically valuable). I’m so glad you are taking the chance to learn to live simply and dive into your spirituality. Blessings for your journey and I am excited for you!!

    Cheers,
    Maggie

    Like

  2. Taylor Wood

    Thank you for sharing. I have always heard about Buddhism but have never done much research on it. Some of the mantras remind me of things I have heard in yoga and mediation practice. I am especially interested in concept of mindfulness. I hope that I too can tell myself ” I already have enough” when I find myself wanting things. The connection when spirituality and simplicity is something I too hope to improve on in my life. Currently I am experimenting with vegetarianism, and using public transportation. Being more mindful has allowed me to take baby-steps in my means to live a more environmentally conscious life.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brian Grob

    I think most Americans, including myself, do not fully understand or have this uneducated view of what Buddhism is. It was educational and interesting reading through what the Buddhist practices look like. The most striking aspect of what you shared had to be the mental power Buddhists exhibit. Letting go of one’s ego and assuring yourself that you have enough is no easy task and it is without a doubt the problem that the world faces with respect to the environment. I strive to have that sort of mental strength, but old habits die hard. I commend you on this journey you are on and thank you for the lesson.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Savanah Van Citters

    I really enjoyed reading about Buddhism and the idea of living simply. I think, if anything, this is something we can all take away from this religion. What I have found is that many of us struggle with consumerism and how it drives our society. I think that being more mindful about what we actually need from what we want could help everyone’s wallet and peace of mind. What I have noticed is that western culture has rooted in our heads that the more stuff we have, the more happiness we should also have, but as most of us know, this is certainly not the case. Also, in reading your post, I thought about how easy it is to get caught up in my own ego and that it is easy to conform to what is normal, but if I want to help the planet, I cannot just go through the motions and I have to make sacrifices that people don’t always understand.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Alex G

    This is great. It is so easy to get caught up in the materialism that exists in the United States. Everything tells us that we need more to achieve the “American Dream” but I wonder if that is more of the american nightmare. I cannot imagine what living such a simple life must have done, and how that shaped your worldview. When all the comforts of life are stripped away, it is incredible how little we need to be happy, and what can bring true joy.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kelen Ahearn

    There’s a documentary called Minimalism found on Netflix and probably some other movie viewing sites. It’s been pretty popular on Netflix, which is cool, because in the production two men discuss and encourage living minimally. They each donated or got rid of all but 30-50 items that belong to them, and in the end, found that they didn’t need much to keep on living. Putter, as you touch on this idea of setting aside one’s ego to be present with the self and the soul, I can’t help but relate the simplicity of things to the movement of Minmalism in the US. As Alex touched on above, it is quite some nightmare of a statement “more is better”, when as you have experienced and those in Minimalism have too, less seems to be whole-heartedly better to our existence and humans and organisms on Earth. Thank you for inspiring many with your words.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Putter T.

      Kelen,
      Thank you for your response. I have seen Minimalism and in many ways I think the ideology is similar similar. The only difference is in the way the message is spread. The two fellows in the documentary did a great job at marketing the idea, but at the same time they themselves become wrapped us with this “brand” of minimalism, another form of ego. I just wanted to show you how difficult it is to let go of your ego.
      I certainly think that more experience can be better 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Rebecca Croy

        Hi Putter!

        Sorry to intrude on your thread, but I really liked your comment about minimalism becoming another form of the ego. This concept is really interesting to me as I myself have been somewhat of a minimalist for the past ten years or so and to be honest– I’ve felt pretty good about the life I live, but your comment makes me wonder if I’m feeding my ego/becoming egotistical or simply proud of who I’ve become. (Side question, do Buddhists believe it is wrong to be proud? Is this bad for the ego? I’m not talking prideful–just proud of who you are/feeling positive about your actions.)

        When I first started living this minimalistic lifestyle I was somewhere around 15 and I wasn’t even aware of the term “minimalism”. That being said, I recognize this term has gained a lot of popularity in the last few years and the lifestyle may indeed be categorized as a “brand”. I hardly know anything about Buddhism so I’m really curious, is the very nature of branding yourself inherently bad? For example, I’m an avid reader and hiker so I strongly relate to those who also identify as readers/hikers as we can both bond over good books and beautiful areas as well as recommend new books/areas to each other. Does this categorize/brand me as a reader? I believe it does. According to the Buddhist faith, is this labeling bad? And if so, can you explain how/why? (I realize “bad” is probably not the term used in the buddha religion but I’m not really sure the correct terminology–feel free to correct!)

        What’s more, living in voluntary simplicity makes me happy in so many ways. I feel proud of myself every time I choose to rebel against the run-of-the-mill consumeristic lifestyle, I feel more efficient when I only own 3 pairs of pants instead of 8, I feel self-secure in my image when I resist fashion trends and stick to the items I already own, and I feel like I’m doing my part to make the world just a little bit better by reducing my carbon footprint. Lastly, when I do choose to indulge in x thing, I enjoy it that much more because I feel I have “earned” it and I can fully enjoy said indulgence without feeling guilty, bad, or selfish/self serving.

        Last year I lived in small basement apartment with my boyfriend and when friends visited and saw that we had no bed, tv, microwave, toaster, table, chairs, dresser, bookcase (you get the idea)… they would be shocked. When asked if I was a minimalist–I didn’t shy away from the question. I would say “yeah” or “not as much as I used to be, but, for the most part…yes.” Now, we live in a van so not too many people ask the question anymore–they just automatically assume that we are minimalists. Anyways, I’m curious to know, given your background and knowledge in Buddhism, do you think calling myself/believing myself to be minimalistic is feeding the ego?

        Last question! In your comment you stated that the fellows in the documentary essentially feed their egos when they became “wrapped up” with the brand of minimalism. I have to ask, is becoming too passionate/excited about something really a bad thing as long as the consequences of the action are good? If so, it almost seems as though you could make the same argument about someone getting excited about anything…even buddhism!

        Thanks again for your article and comments. I look forward to your response! 🙂

        Best,

        Rebecca

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Putter T.

        Hi Rebecca!

        It’s nice to hear from you and really appreciate you sharing your stories. Please note that what I’m about to say does not reflect the views of all Buddhists.

        I notice that my comment can sound a little blunt when read and this is the result of my limited ability to translate my Thai ideas into English. Additionally, the term “ego” has a more negative connotation compared to the Pali word “Upādāna,” which means clinging to self. To answer your question, what Buddhists (as people) think or view others is arbitrary and subject to their cultural backgrounds.

        Is this bad for the ego to be proud comes down to answering “is it causing you suffering?” Were there times when being a “minimalist” cause you dissatisfaction? Are you becoming attach to your identity?

        I think becoming passionate about something is not inherently bad. However, I am cautious about consequentialism because you can never be certain if the consequences will be “good” and your actions may cause you and other unnecessary suffering. Again, is being passionate about something causing you and others dissatisfaction in the moment and adds to your self-clinging? Buddhist tend to focus on the present and hope for the best in the future. The end of suffering is not easy and many Buddhists are long way away from losing their Upādāna. Here are my closing thoughts: 1) It shouldn’t matter what people or religion thinks about your minimalism because you are using of the planets resource! 2) Examine your minimalism and see if that starts to be something you cling on to and causes you dissatisfaction.

        I hope I have responded adequately to your question, if not, you know how to get in touch!

        -Putter

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Rebecca Croy

        Hi Putter!

        Thanks for taking so much time to answer my questions!

        Would you mind explaining the problem with becoming attached to something? Is it frowned upon to become attached to anything and everything or just inanimate things? For example, is it okay for me to be attached to a dog or family member?

        Also, I’m really interested in Buddhism, but have no idea where to start in terms of learning more! Do you have any books or documentaries you recommend?

        Thanks!

        Like

      4. Putter T.

        Hi Rebecca, attachment all of that. Personally I don’t think there is anything to frown upon about attachment. I view Buddhist guiding principles about attachment as a testable hypothesis that only you can experience. This way, there is no one judging what you choose to be attached to.

        For a start, I heard books by Thích Nhất Hạnh are very accessible and are written in comprehensive language. However, I’ve never read one from cover to cover. I suggestion is to pay attention to the philosophy. I think that everything else about the religion is there to “trick” (termed “upaya”) people in going back to the main teaching about how things are constantly changing and attachment to those things is the cause of suffering.


        Putter

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Abby Folchi

    Putter,
    First off, Wow. What an incredible, life-altering opportunity you got to experience. I am truly humbled and inspired from your story. I think its great you were able to follow this passion/ goal you had set since your Junior year. I have to ask, what brought you to make this decision about becoming a monk in your junior year? I am currently a Junior biology major here at GU and wanting a bit more from life than an endless education then a career, but perhaps this wanting is in vain.
    Buddhism has always appealed to me for its simplicity and fluidity. From my experience, it really seems to connects people to their soul rather than physical materials. While you were there did you have any wants/desires, or did you feel completely satiated? Did you feel completely happy, compared to happiness you previously experienced? Or did you feel deprived at times? I think many would argue that deprivation is suffering and think happiness is in stability/ comfort. How did the fulfillment you experienced during this monkhood compare to the satisfaction you feel now or even before?
    To end suffering is most definitely the key to happiness, and I am so glad Buddhism acknowledges that. Christianity seems to idolize suffering servants and surrogacy, and I believe that has lead to some false ideals in the western world.
    You said, “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 truly do agree with this, but also thought that this could be manipulated to become an argument against the planet. If our bodies are not permanent and we eventually leave this planet, why should we take care of it. This isn’t my stance of course, but was just curious on your thoughts.
    Thanks for sharing your story with us all!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Putter T.

      Abby,
      Thank you for your kind response and question. I sent you an email with all my responses. However, I’d like to answer ones question on this public post:
      If our bodies are not permanent and we eventually leave this planet, why should we take care of it

      That is a very good point and I did not include my reasoning for taking care of the planet because it goes deeper into Buddhist cosmology (Karma and the samsara) that would require a lot of explanation. In that cosmology, even if your body is gone, your “soul” continues and all the actions have reactions in the future manifestation of your soul. Now I sometimes have a hard time convincing myself that this is true because I do not remember experiencing it and I don’t expect any of you to believe it until you can prove it.

      However, I’d like to take care of the planet because it is a way to ensure others will be able to live in it. When you think or do something for others, you may reduce little bit of your ego, which brings you closer to the end of suffering.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Emma H

    Thank you for sharing this incredible experience. It was very interesting for me to read as I took a religions of Asia class last semester. We talked quite a lot about Buddhism and so I understood most of the concepts you were discussing. On a less extreme level it makes me think of when I go camping. When I am camping I do not use all the items I would if I were in the comfort of my own home. It always feels very refreshing to reconnect with myself deeper, with the people I am with and the environment. Then when I get back I find myself using all these items I didn’t use for the past few days. I always wonder if I could just give up those things someday. Unfortunately, I am unable to give up a lot of technology at this time considering I am a student. I hope one day I will have an experience as big as yours with being off the grid for a significant amount of time and able to just get by with a few essential items. Very enlightening and inspiring, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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