Friday, March 26, 2010

"What the Buddha Never Taught"

Author Tim Ward (reviewed by Linda Morgan, Whole Earth Review)

WAT PAH NANACHAT, Thailand - "A while back I divested myself of all furniture and 90 percent of everything else I owned to move to a new life. It was one of my most intense therapeutic acts and amazingly easy to accomplish, once I discovered that detachment is the happy companion of spiritual freedom."

The act of letting go is a central theme in this combination travelogue and spiritual odyssey -- that of cutting loose the physical world and the ego to get to the essence of human existence. The author, a Canadian journalist and accomplished student of Eastern meditation, had already experienced this on a certain level when he ventured through the gates of a Thai Buddhist monastery, largely populated by Western Caucasians. In this jungle community he lived a season in poverty and service, and when he left he took with him a different and somewhat unexpected vision of enlightenment -- hence the title.

Through the texture of a beautiful essay enriched with dialogue, we eavesdrop on the inner sanctum of the monks' environment and vicariously experience their world, bound by (or, depending on one's perspective, liberated by) stringent rules of behavior, long hours of meditation, and the nourishment of only one [substantial] meal a day. Consequently, we see the monks as human beings grappling with their own emotional baggage, just like us.

"The first morning Jim and I go on bindabhat [Pali, pindapat, the monastic custom of going on alms round for food] is the first time I notice that monks don't wear sandals on the ninety-minute walk over gravel roads and paddy dykes. Each morning they travel in groups of three or four to the clusters of nearby villages....

"Leather-looted Sun Tin and Nimalo wait for me again at the entrance to our first village. Following their example, I slip the bowl strap from my left shoulder and neck onto my right, Nimalo reminds me to keep my left hand on the lid, supporting the rim of the bowl with my right, arms still as I walk, head reverently bent. Throughout the walk we are to say nothing and never look into the eyes of the villagers....

"Devotees give to the [symbol of the Sangha, the saffron] robe, not to the wearer. They believe it is a ritual for the making of merit, for a better rebirth. If a monk thanks the giver, then by treating it as a personal favour, [great] merit is not gained....

"The ritual is a humbling one, repeated fifty or sixty times that morning until my bowl is heavy with rice, mangos, bananas, dried meat, fishes, and sticky sweets wrapped in leaves. Do these villagers know where we have come from, our lands of swimming pool suburbs, aeroplanes, and revolving restaurants, to walk through their rice paddies and pathways strewn with scraps of lumber, cardboard, and buffalo dung?

"On Wai Phra evening the Ajahn [teacher] gave permission for laymen and pahkows [non-monk residents of the monastery who obey certain precepts] to come to his kuti [meditation hut] for a Dhamma talk [Buddhist sermon]..." More>>

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