Wednesday, 20 September 2017

6th Week: Buddhism

Sawadii ka, everyone!


This week I participated in the Buddhism week. I've always been quite interested in this religion and therefore was really excited for this program. I've heard from volunteers who've already done it, that's it's extremely exhausting but at the same time sometimes boring since you have lots of free time. I still wanted to give it a try and now, after I've done it, I don't regret it a bit. Let me just tell you about it.



Monday


On Monday morning our journey to Nakhon Ratchasima, which is a province a little in the east, began.
We left Twinhouse at 9:30 and had to drop other participants off at the train station for a different program. The drive there took about 5 hours in total but we had an "in-between-stop". 



Eek, our coordinator for this week, drove us three volunteers to the Chet Sao Noi Waterfall National Park. It looked amazing and we could even swim in the waterfall. The water was incredibly cold and you couldn't see anything because it was so unclear. Nevertheless it was quite refreshing and a really fun experience, especially for me, since I've never swam in a waterfall before. 





Lunch was served at a large restaurant near the waterfall and after that, we continued the ride to our accommodation for the next two days. Two hours before we arrived, it suddenly started to rain heavily. In Singburi we were used to rainfalls every few days but only in the evening and here it was only 2 o'clock. We tried to keep our luggage from getting completely wet but the cars are, as I've already mentioned in another post, not as water resistant as they should be.




Luckily the rain stopped after a few minutes and we finally arrived at the Greenway Forest View Resort. It doesn't have its name for no reason. The view from the terrace and also from our rooms was amazing. 


Speaking of rooms; since I was the only girl this week (two German boys were travelling with me) I had a room all for myself!
I don't hate sharing a room but after 5 weeks with other people around me all the time, I really enjoyed having no roommates for once. I had my own schedule and didn't have to compromise with other girls when it comes to, for example, taking a shower. 




 
After unpacking and writing a bit in my travel diary, Me, another coordinator, brought us to a view point. The streets on the mountain/hill are badly made and have holes in them every few metres so the drive was quite bumpy. We survived, though, and arrived at the view point.
Once again, seeing the forests in Thailand was amazing. They really reminded me of home because, when we're hiking in my region, it looks like that as well. There were even binoculars at the venue, which we even could see gaurs (Indian bisons) with. 

Back at the resort we had dinner and then went back to our rooms. In the evening there was a pretty heavy thunderstorm, which blew all the plants outside my room against the walls, making it seem like there was someone out there. Apparently, sleeping alone also had disadvantages. I was pretty scared the whole night, to be honest, but managed to sleep anyways, so in the end, it wasn't all that bad.



Tuesday 

After breakfast we visited the temple, where we were going to stay from Wednesday to Friday, for the first time.
It was quite different from the temples we've seen in the culture week, for example, since it wasn't that fancy looking and had rather a simple design. The property was quite big, though, and had lots and lots of different buildings for different causes.



We got to see the breakfast hall, the chanting and meditation hall, the house where the master monk's staying and the little houses where participants live during their stay.
Our guide explained our program for the next three days and then took us back to the Forest View Resort.


There we watched a documentary about the beginning and formation of Buddhism.
Source: Wikimedia
From what I've understood, Buddhism "started" about 600 years before christ. There was a warrior named Siddhartha Gautama who lived a quite normal life. He got married as a teenager, became father to a son and was just like everyone else. On one point in his life he thought about all the suffering, humans have to endure with out being able to stop it.
Source: Wikimedia
So he left his family and went into the woods for several days and tried to fast. He soon realised that extreme fasting, or in his case,  actually starving,  makes everything even worse. Siddhartha then sat under a tree and started to meditate. The next morning he attended Nirvana (Enlightenment) where he finally got his answers for the questions about suffering. He then began, as Buddha (the Enlightened), to teach the others the true meaning of happiness and the true meaning of life.


Eek, our coordinator later showed us the basics of praying, chanting and meditation while the puppy from the resort stole our shoes and bit our arms.


After lunch we wanted to go to the local market at 3pm but there was a thunderstorm again.
We waited approximately an hour until the rain has stopped and went to said market. There the ground was extremely muddy from the rain but the locals weren't bothered at all so why should I've been?



There were lots of stands with raw fish and meat and it all reminded me of the reason why I don't want to eat meat here. The pieces were all laying around in the heat, without any covers for the flies and it all just smelled really bad.
One of the sellers noticed my "interest" and posed for me with a pigs head. Yum. Also, lots of the animals they were selling there were still alive. Even turtles, toads, eels and fish.



I walked the market up and down a few times and even bought one kilo of rambutans and a big cup of coconut water for only 1,50€ all together. Our coordinator gave me some lotus seeds to try and they were really good.
The taste kind of reminded me of edible chestnuts. On the way back we stopped at a few shops because the owner of the resort had to do a bulk purchase of food for us.


After dinner we had to pack for the next day, since we were going to leave at 5:30 in the morning to start our experience of living in a buddhist temple.



Wednesday 

Today we had to leave at 5:30am to go to the temple.
We first got to the breakfast hall where we just brought our big luggage to and then drove to a specific place on the streets where the monks get their breakfast everyday. There we got to have some hot chocolate and toast whilst waiting for the monks to arrive.



One monk started the ritual by blessing everyone. During that blessing we had to take off our shoes and kneel down. After he's finished we said "Sa tu" which basically it the buddhist version of "Amen".


Then all the monks stood in a line with their huge bowls and everyone who's there, to give them their breakfast, had one plate full of rice.
We had to empty our plate by giving every monk one spoon of the rice. Other (thai) people, who were doing this program as well and also locals were there to give them self-made baked goods or store-bought juices and cakes.


There was also one white monk between all those thai monks. He asked us where we're from and we soon found or that his name's Tilo and that he's from germany! He told us to come to the masters house in the evening so we could have a chat about Buddhism in general and his personal journey to becoming a monk.


Back at the Temple we had free time until 8:30am, when we attended our first chanting and meditation session of the day.
Meditating was actually quite exhausting, especially for my back since I tried to sit up straight all the time, but sitting like that for an hour just hurts the whole body.


At 9:30h we could finally get breakfast. On Wednesday we were still planning on getting dinner (no lunch, though), since we just wanted to fast completely on our only full day at the temple, which was Thursday.
In the breakfast hall was a huge buffet where the monks could choose their breakfast at first and then all the other person who were living in the temple could follow.







Although we knew we'd at least get dinner that day, we made our bowls pretty full. The main component was rice, obviously, but we could also pick fruits, main meals, muffins or bisquits!



We had free time from after breakfast to 4pm. In that time I moved into my room, which I had for myself, again. I expected the room to be quite uncomfortable but it was actually really nice.
The mattresses and pillows weren't that great but I've definitely seen and slept on worse. After I've unpacked, I took a much needed nap until 4 o'clock, when we got dinner at a large roadside restaurant.


Later at the temple, we met up with Tilo for the first time where he told us about the reasons why he's become a monk. Apparently he drank a lot in his 30s, went to parties and even got his drivers license taken from him because of speeding.


At one point  he didn't want to live like that anymore and researched what he could do to calm himself down and live a, both physically and mentally, healthy life. He then came across meditation and started practising it. After finding out the connection between meditating and Buddhism, his interest for this asian religion became stronger. Later on he decided to visit various countries, where you could practise Buddhism seriously, and decided to stay in Thailand. He's been there for four years now and in this exact temple for one.


Tilo also told us a lot about the five main rules in Buddhism (harming living things, taking what is not given, sexual misconduct, lying or gossip, taking intoxicating substances) and the term mindfulness.



At 7pm the master monk Gunha (we, for some reason, called him Lumpur) arrived at the building and the two boys, I was doing the buddhism week with, had the honor of washing his feet. I obviously couldn't because women aren't allowed to touch a monk but I was actually quite happy about it. Feet are gross.


We accompanied Lumpur to his chair where the talking and helping sessions took place in front of.
There were already people who had some problems and therefore wanted to ask Lumpur for help.



First, Lumpur blessed everyone by hitting our heads with a bamboo stick and then threw special sweets, bananas and juice boxes at us. Apparently they give you Lumpurs energy if you consume them.


After solving a women's problem by making a few business phone calls, he finally had time for us. He told us about mindfulness as well and how important it is to be one with your mind and not let it decide and tell you what exactly to do.
"Rule your mind, or it will rule you" -Buddha. Lumpur also mentioned, that he really likes Germans since they are really intelligent and always on time. He likes them much better than Americans or British. During that talk, the boys could massage his feet, which apparently was an honor as well.


From 9 to 10 we talked with Tilo again, mostly about Lumpur and how great and wise he is, and then went back to our rooms to sleep, since we weren't going to have much time for that this night.



Thursday 

On Thursdays we got up at 3am to be ready for the chanting and meditation session at 3:30am. The session seemed endless and was, once again, quite painful for my back. We got through it until the end, which was at 5am, and then got back to our rooms to rest a bit until 6am.


At six o'clock, we went to this one street place again to hand out breakfast for the monks. The ritual was the same as yesterday. One monk blessed us,  we could wish for something, the other monks came along and we gave each one one spoon of rice.


This day we didn't go back to "our" temple right away but visited another temple. This one was more like the other traditional temples, there weren't as many monks and volunteers, though.
One extremely special feature was, that the master monk was European! He doesn't have as much power and wisdom as Lumpur (Lumpur is one of the four most important monks in Thailand) but at least he is a master monk, right? We joined this temple at their morning session as well, but, thankfully, it only lasted about 20 minutes. During that session the master monk talked a lot with us about our countries of origin, told me about how much he loves Vienna and blessed us.




  After this short session, we went back to the other temple and had half an hour of free time before the second morning session of chanting and meditation started.


 

For breakfast I loaded my bowl with lots of food again, since this day, we weren't allowed to eat anything else after breakfast. Challenge excepted. 


Later we had free time again where I tried to catch up on sleep, ignored my growling stomach and watched Netflix.
At 3pm we went outside our houses to sweep the path and clear it from leaves. We did that for an hour straight and freshened up our karma again by doing this.


In the evening we talked with Tilo again and he told us about the hospital that Lumpur's building. The hospitals in Thailand are really bad, too large and understaffed so Lumpur wants to change that with a brand new hospital. The german monk also gave us each a picture of Lumpur so we could always remember him and his energy.


Then Lumpur arrived and we all sat down in front of his seat again. He bascally did the same as yesterday. He blessed everyone, threw food at us and helped with problems. This day we offered him food, which he accepted, which means that we get even more good karma.


After helping a few large groups of people with various problems, it was our turn again. The boys could massage is feet again while Lumpur told us about the mind and spririt once again and that we should be able to control it. He also added that, although Germans have much discipline and intelligence, they can't rule their mind and spirit because they are too obsessed with their daily lives. 


The master monk blessed us again and started feeding us chocolate, cheese and candy.
That didn't count as cheating, though, because it's a present from the master monk and one should never decline a present from the master monk, since it's blessed and therefore very special. He even gave us all an amulet with a picture of himself and a piece of his robe in it.


At 9pm, Lumpur went to bed and we had a conversation with Tilo one last time. We thanked him for spending his free time with us, teaching us about Buddhism and getting us to know the life in a temple, first hand. Finally, he told me that I already have a very strong mind and should consider practising meditation more often, since it purifies the spirit. And that's coming from a monk! #flattered.



Friday

Friday we got up at 3:30h. We initially didn't want to attend the early morning session this day, just because it's so tiring but we could find enough motivation in the end. I mean, how often does someone get the oppirtunity to live in a temple and witness such things? It, of course, was exhausting and painful again but it was so worth the experience!




At 6 we served breakfast again and this time there was a charity event for the hospital, so many doctors were at the street, handing out food for the monks as well.
Since it's not everyday that there are white people in Thailand, let alone in a buddhist temple, they all wanted to talk to us and take pictures with us. On of the doctors told me, that he's already been to Vienna and Salzburg and that he loved both of these cities. #flattered 2.0


Tilo came by with a car, since he was attending some other charity event with Lumpur and said his final goodbyes and we thanked him again for everything.




After giving the monks their food, we went back to our rooms and started packing again, because we were going back to the mountain view resort.


At the breakfast we luckily didn't have to stuff ourselves anymore since we'd get dinner on Friday.  We then went back to the Greenway resort and had free time until 3pm.







In the afternoon we went to a huge golden Buddha statue where there were two large markets near it. We just looked at it and took a few pictures and then went to a mushroom farm.



There we could see how they were breeding their mushrooms in a big hall and what products they're making out of them. Eek drove us to one last view point where you could see lots of mountains and fields.


After dinner at the resort, we had free time in which I packed again, wrote in my travel diary and worked on this blog.



Saturday 



On Saturday nothing really interesting happened. After breakfast we started our way back to Twinhouse.

We had lunch in a food court hall thingy and Eek bought some sweet buns with a green coconut sauce and gave us some to try. They tasted delicious and if I wouldn't have been so full from lunch, I would've bought some myself.


Shortly before we arrived at Twinhouse, it began to pour again but luckily we were almost there anyways so nothing got too wet.



After dinner, I had to pack for the next week, since we were leaving the next morning. In the evening we played cards again and also went to the bar to get a few drinks.





Sunday 

On Sunday, Trunk to the south, the next weeks program, started.
After packing my remaining stuff, bringing a few things in the storage room and eating breakfast, we left Twinhouse again to go to our first stop, Bangkok. From there we took a minivan to the accommodation, I lived in in my first Hua Hin Beach Combi week.





We only slept there, so we wouldn't have to travel all night but we started the "real" journey on Monday morning.
This time we stayed in quite fancy houses. They looked really cute from the outside and even had air-conditioning. Whohoo.


After dinner, I skyped with my best friend a bit and then got ready for bed.

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