Meeting a Buddhist Monk for the First Time- Monkchat

By Ally, Savvi's Growth Manager (originally from her blog SpreadSomeSun)

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To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of living in another country is learning about the religion. While there are many different religions in Asia, we have noticed Buddhism and Hinduism most. It has been so eye opening to see the different ceremonies, traditions and offerings that each respective country and religion practice. My favorite and most informative encounter with religion in Asia thus far was meeting a Buddhist Monk. 

Chiang Mai is a hub for something called "Monkchat." Monkchat is a program meant to connect monks and the community. It gives people an opportunity to talk to practicing monks about Buddhism, life as a monk, and really anything else. How is a monk chat beneficial to a monk? The monks travel from around Chiang Mai to these respective temples for Monkchat to practice their English (speaking and listening skills) and serve their community. I read about it and figured this would be the best way to answer the questions we have accumulated about Buddhism through our travels. We went into it with no expectations and left totally gratified. 

**Please note that the contents of this post are what I was taught in Chiang Mai, Thailand at Wat Chedi Luang and may or may not differ from other forms of Buddhism/Monks; Prah Charat's personal beliefs are reflected**

Upon arrival, we were happy to be matched with Prah Charat, an ordained monk from the forest (dark brown robes signify forest, light brownish/orange robes signify city). Prah Charat is a 26 year old monk who became a monk at age 20, once his grandmother gave him permission. Prah Charat was so sweet and patient and let us talk his ear off and ask as many questions as we wanted.

t's a common misconception that you're not allowed to speak to monks or you have to follow a certain protocol when doing so. What I learned from this experience is that it can be a bit stressful if you don't know what the proper behavior when having a conversation with a monk. You really just have to treat the conversation like any other- with respect, thoughtfulness and awareness of who you're talking to (and of course read the 'information for tourists' sign if there is one). This is a little of what Prah Charat taught me. It could be helpful to you if you ever find yourself talking to a Buddhist monk or if you're just curious about Buddhism!

  • Monks are seen as the model moral compass in a community
  • The foundation of Buddhism is that life is unsatisfactory because of cravings and attachments, ridding yourself of them allows you to reach enlightenment
  • One is said to have reached enlightenment when the person is free from greed, hate, lust, and any other defilements, while embodying an inner peace at all times
  • The path to enlightenment is called the Middle Way (coined from the idea of avoiding the two extremes- self-indulgence and self-torment)
  • The 5 precepts of a Buddhist (similar to the commandments in other religions) are:
    • No killing ~ respect for life
    • No stealing ~ respect for others property
    • No sexual misconduct ~ respect for our pure nature
    • No lying ~ respect for honesty
    • No intoxicants ~ respect for a clear mind
  • You're allowed to become a monk at any age (normally as young as age 7 or 8) as long as you have consent from your guardians
  • Monks age 19 and under are considered novices, while age 20 and over are considered ordained
  • As a novice monk, you are expected to follow the 5 previously mentioned precepts and 5 additional precepts
  • Once a monk turns 20, in order to become ordained, they must start practicing 227 precepts
  • The proper way to address an ordained monk is by placing Prah before his or her name
  • Women are able to become monks, but it's very challenging in Thailand because there aren't many other ordained women monks-aspiring women monks need women teachers in order to become ordained
  • Women monks have 311 precepts
  • Monks decide how long they want to remain a monk, they can stop at any point
  • You may have noticed that all monks have a shaved head- they do this to eliminate the distraction of vanity
  • The proper way to greet a monk is by placing your hands together, thumbs level with your nose, and saying 'namasakhan'
  • The word Buddha means "enlightened one"- there are many 'buddhas' (if 'the Buddha' is mentioned, it's probably in reference to Siddhartha Gautama, who founded Buddhism)

The list goes on! These are obviously just some of the basics of Buddhism, there is so much more to learn. Not having known much about Buddhism or monks, I was totally intrigued by all of the information Prah Charat was sharing. I think it is so important to learn about the religion of a country you are visiting because oftentimes religion is reflected greatly in the community and daily practices of the native people. I am grateful for Prah Charat's thoughtfulness and patience as we asked dozens of questions and were able to get a better glimpse of Thailand and one of its predominant religions.