Chiang Mai is scattered with temples, which creates a rich religious and spiritual experience for both visitors and citizens. While walking through the Old City, it is hard to walk more than one block without being beckoned by the beauty of a temple.
Coming to Chiang Mai and beginning to study Buddhism has opened my eyes to a religion I knew little about, and the things I thought I knew were wrong. I thought that being a monk was a lifelong commitment to a regimented lifestyle, chastity, seriousness, and orange garb. I’ve learned that monks do live regimented lives, but becoming a monk is not a life long commitment.
While sitting and chatting with two young monks at Wat Phra Singh, I learned that they had wonderful senses of humor and were very similar to other boys my age. We practiced talking in both Thai and English so that we could each teach the other more about our parts of the world. Monks attend college while practicing Buddhism, and the two boys were studying education to become teachers.
Education is highly respected in Thailand, and the majority of citizens enjoy helping to teach their culture to me and to learn about my own in return.
I asked how long they planned to stay robed. One answered, “I am happy now, If ever I become unhappy, then I will leave.”
This philosophy is one that I have come across a great deal while in Thailand. In america, happiness seems to be a thing people are constantly striving for and never fully obtaining. Here in Thailand, most people create their happiness and when they are unhappy, they work to change their situation.
A popular saying in Thai is “Mai pen rai” which means “don’t sweat it” or “it’s alright.” With the impermanent nature of life, this philosophy allows one to accept the constant state of fluctuation. I am beginning to learn that this philosophy comes from Thailand’s deep roots in Buddhism.
Since Buddhists have a deep interconnectivity with the “universe” this fluctuation and constant change is as much a part of them as it is the outside world. My Buddhism professor explained, “we are all waves, each a unique expression in time, but a wave is not separate from the rest of the ocean.”
During a chanting service in the evening, several stray dogs wandered in and out of the temple, and the monks accepted and enjoyed their presence. When one dog got antsy and started to bark, the monks continued on as if the dog was joining into the chanting himself. If a dog sat next to a monk, he would pet it and continue chanting.
Since Buddhists believe that every being is connected, they gain a greater respect for one another, as well as animals. Thai’s consider their fellow humans part of their family, and this creates a bond between strangers that I never experienced in America.
I have gotten many hugs and kisses on the cheek from Thai people, and everyone is very loving and compassionate. With a whole community willing to help and guide me through my education in Chiang Mai, the limit of opportunities and growth is endless.
I believe that the world could learn a great lesson from the Thai’s, and that the amount of kindness, patience, and acceptance found in this country would make the world a far more peaceful and happy place.