Saturday, July 23, 2011

My favorite place

As a sort of farewell to Chiang Mai, we were asked by our Adjarns to visit our favorite spot in our home away from home one last time.  I’ve had some wonderful times here and seen some of the most beautiful sights of my life while living in Thailand but my favorite place in Chiang Mai is Wat Suan Dok which I visited around 15 times.

Wat Suan Dok is a beautiful temple located about 15 minutes (walking) away from our hostel.  It is home to a bell shaped chedi built in Sri Lankan style that stands approximately 48 meters high. Though Wat Suan Dok has a pretty normal temple, elaborately dressed in gold and silver, it also has something I haven’t seen at any other temple.  Outside of the temple are white washed mausoleums arranged in a beautiful garden area that house the cremated remains of the royal family of Chiang Mai.

Wat Suan Dok is also where I attend the monk chats every week. To me, there is something magical about this temple. The street it’s on is very loud and busy but when I step through the gate somehow the noise goes away and I enter into a quiet, peaceful area.  Since it is home to many of the monks studying at the University, there are always monks walking around and going to class.  Novice monks sweep the sidewalks and feed the temple dogs.  The temple dogs are always around taking afternoon naps on the steps of the temple, at the base of the chedi or under a tree. Of course, since I am a woman, the monks don’t really interact with me when I’m walking around but that all changes when I enter the monk chat building.

Over the past 5 weeks, I’ve befriended many of the monks who regularly attend monk chat.  I’m greeted with warm smiles and friendly ‘hellos’ as I sign in and find a seat.  I’ve learned so much from the monks and I tried to make it a point to speak to a different monk every time.  They all have their own unique and interesting thoughts on the world, cultures, and Buddhism.  I’ve chatted with monks from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Burma covering all sorts of topics including politics, religion, music, art, school, and animism.  Most monks are under the age of 30, full of positive energy, and eager to both teach and learn. 

I decided to spend my last monk chat conversing with my favorite monk, Kwalit (spelled phonetically, not accurately).  Kwalit is a 26 year old monk from Burma and is a 4th year student at the university here.  He started as a novice monk in Burma when he was around 10 or 12 years old and became a full monk at the age of 20.  He is very fluent in English and has a feisty and spirited personality.  When he talks he speaks passionately about subjects using heaping doses of humor and honesty.  I think my favorite thing about Kwalit is that he is always questioning everything and encourages others to do so as well.  Often when I ask him questions, for example ‘Do you think Buddhism is a religion or a way of life?’ he answers me by saying something like ‘What is it to you? I only know what it is for me. For some it is a religion, and for others a way of life. You have to look inside of yourself and ask yourself these questions and find the answer that is true for you’.  I like that he doesn’t claim to have all the answers or that Buddhism is the answer for everyone.  He is big on self reflection and has reminded me a few times that whenever you point your finger at someone or something there is only one finger pointing at them but there are 3 fingers pointing back at you.

I’ve had to keep reminding myself over the weeks that monk chat is a service learning opportunity for us as students and that I should be giving to them as well.  I can only hope that they have gotten as much out of chatting with me as I have with them but somehow I doubt it. 
the gold chedi

Wat Suan Dok at dusk

nap time for temple dogs

Chatting at Monk Chat

Kwalit (standing)

1 comment:

  1. Bethany:
    This is a wonderful tribute both to Wat Suan Dok and also to the robust intellect and compassion of Kwalit. I agree 100% with your character assessment.

    The photos are already making me feel nostalgic for the place!

    Ajarn Rob