I Became a Buddhist Monk — For a Week
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”
Luang Prabang, Laos
Honestly, I have been sick — I wasn’t sure I was going to get out of bed today, but I have five appointments and a lot of problems in my hotel. I’m a hotel manager.
In May, I left home and traveled to a temple in Yangon, Myanmar, to meditate. In the Burmese tradition, every 20-year-old man is supposed to do it at least once. Before the age of 20, we are expected to do it as a novice, a young apprentice monk. I did it three times as a novice, but this was my first time as a monk. I did it for six days.
I told my mom I’d do something special for her on her 60th birthday. So that was my gift to her. The owner of my hotel asked me to start on May 1, and I said, “I cannot, because I’m going to Myanmar.”
I was wearing a robe and sitting on the floor, but my mind was everywhere.
We had only one time, in the evening, to do the prayer. Every other hour we were doing meditation — one hour sitting, one hour walking, one hour sitting, one hour walking. Fom 8:00 to 9:00 a.m., the senior monk would come and ask us what we were seeing. Sometimes we felt the pain. Sometimes we saw something in our eyes. Sometimes our mind was loose and we thought about the past or thought about the future.
I was wearing a robe and sitting on the floor, but my mind was everywhere. I was here, in Laos. I was in Cambodia. I was in the U.S. I was with my mom. I was everywhere. When you realize that you are not putting your mind in your body, then you start to think. The monks teach us: You think, “I am thinking,” four times — thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking. Then you come to control your mind.
In my group of monks, we were 12. We discussed what we felt, what we saw in meditation. According to Buddhist ways, we were not allowed to talk about our kids or our wives — or our moms. This is the reason we are monks.
From noon until the next day’s dawn we were not allowed to eat anything. But we could drink fresh fruit juice. At first, I thought that would be very difficult, but in fact it wasn’t. Not even a single day was I hungry. Because I knew we were not able to eat, I cut my mind off of food; my mind controlled my body. Yet my mind was not free to react to what my body wanted.
When I was 13, I went for one month. I mean, 13 years old, right? Very young, energetic, always running around. But after, I became more calm, more peaceful.
The strange thing was, when we slept, we put our minds into our bodies. We told ourselves: “I am going to wake up tomorrow morning, at 3:30.” We said it in our minds deeply and then we started to count again — in, out, in, out. We didn’t need an alarm. We just awoke at 3:30. I can still do it.