Life in a Thai Monastery (Part 7 of 7)
One evening, after a meeting, the abbot invited me to join him in his kuti. As I climbed the steps, I noticed the glossy handrails and the huge, gleaming floor of the veranda, both energetically polished with coconut husks until the coconut oil buffed the wood to a deep luster. This was a work of love by his monks, out of respect, and as a soon-to-be-ordained novice monk, I would become skilled at polishing the abbot’s veranda – on my hands and knees!
The interior of his kuti was much smaller than I had expected, with the standard two shuttered windows, now open, and bare walls. His outer robe hung on a rack. A water jug, cup, and alms bowl sat near the door, with a candle and some incense on a table toward the back. Except for a few incidentals – a razor, sandals, mosquito net, umbrella, some writing materials – this was the extent of the abbot’s worldly possessions.
We entered the tiny hut to the flurry of two geckos scurrying off the back wall, and as the abbot lit a candle and invited me to sit, the muffled sound of thunder in the distance reminded me that I was in the presence of a special being. He offered a cup of water, after which we sat in silence. I felt a profound peacefulness in this man’s presence, and already a deep admiration had formed, even though I had only known him for a short time. I could have silently sat with him in this little hut forever.
The locusts and cicadas were beginning their evening serenade, beckoning to the pair of geckos that circumspectly made their way to the door to embark on their nocturnal hunt. In the distance could be heard the “gecko, gecko!” of their kinsmen, as soft rain began pattering on nearby leaves – the vapors of the ocean falling upon the forest to begin the journey back to their Source.
The abbot continued sitting quietly without speaking, and I, out of respect, sat silently as well. This man’s quiet, sincere demeanor touched me deeply, and no words were needed in this atmosphere of complete confidence and ease. Silence is so powerful.
He presently asked how I was doing. I said fine. We talked a little about my practice, the visions I had been having, but then all too soon, I knew it was time to go. I stood up, put my hands together at my forehead and bowed, feeling an overwhelming respect and appreciation for this gentle being of few words who accepted me so unconditionally, and who had given up everything to dedicate his entire life to helping others find their way out of confusion.
The rain that had begun as barely a trickle was now a torrent. The vast heavens again opening their floodgates to unleash angry clouds and storms that drove across menacing, slate-gray skies, and with crashing thunder and blinding lightening as my solitary companions, I returned to my hut.
I felt such a profound gratefulness, an appreciation not only for this abbot, but for the entire group of monks and nuns who willingly gave up the security and comforts of home and family to risk their lives in pursuit of this elusive truth; this unfathomable mystery that held the secret to mankind’s only hope. If it wasn’t for them, and all the other monks and nuns before them that paved the way, how would Janet and I have ever stumbled across meditation?
Traveling to Southeast Asia answered many questions for us; one of them being whether journeying to a distant or magical place to acquire our answers was necessary at all. And we determined that it was . . . and yet, it wasn’t. The wisdom of eternity rested nowhere but here, within us; where else could it be? It has always been right here in our hearts, but we had always been too busy and full of ourselves to see it, and because this wisdom is within us, who could teach us but ourselves? We must truly be our own teachers, for no teacher can uncover this wisdom for us. But this place . . . I don’t know, it seemed . . . magical. Maybe the constant danger, knowing that one’s life could be snuffed out in a moment, helped us go deeper. We had always found deep concentration illusive whenever we were safe.
We inherently knew that there are those who might point us in the right direction, perhaps help us move out of our own shadows so that this wisdom of eternity has an opportunity to surface, but we also knew that we must eventually travel the path ourselves. And when that wisdom did surface, we knew it would forever change our destiny. We are the ones who must make the effort to change, and only through our own efforts can we accomplish this transformation.
We had never run across many people who genuinely thirsted for this cursed freedom that costs it’s seekers everything, and we were beginning to understand why only a handful of each generation attempts it, because it’s just too difficult. But once you’re cursed, you’re cursed, and there is no going back. Your “bridges of security” have all been burned.
The experiences we were having in Thailand already confirmed that we didn’t know anything of value, and a few days later, some things happened that we probably would have been satisfied never knowing.