81. It’s a Small World After All

It’s A Small World After All: On our first day in Bangkok I met Vinnie. Vinnie the Italian Catholic from Long Island turned Buddhist Monk in Thailand. It was the first Sunday of the month and according to my bible guidebook that meant a day of English language meditation and Buddhist study classes at a grand temple several kilometers outside of the center. Sloan wanted to play explorer on the subway while I toyed with spiritual exploration. After a long and expensive cab ride out there, I found out my guidebook was all wrong and I’d missed the afternoon class, the next one wasn’t for 4 hours and it was going to be held in Thai. Great. Now what? I found myself a place to sit in the garden and I watched as hoards of people came in and out with their offerings for Buddha. This temple, Wat Pak Nam, does not send their monks out in the early mornings to collect alms from the public so instead, the faithful must come to the temple to deliver them. In return they get some quality time with monks who personally accept their offerings, bless the visitors, and sing a few beautiful chants just for them. I met this wonderful woman who has been volunteering as a lay person for the last 30 years following in the tradition of her own mother who has been a respected lay person at this temple for the last 60 years. She teaches English at a university and since she could communicate with the lost western girl in the garden, she decided to be my guide for the afternoon and I’m very grateful for it.

Suddenly I had a back stage pass to the inner workings of this temple’s tightly knit community of monks, nuns, lay people and worshippers. I met all the monks at the temple who spoke any English and as a good teacher she refused to translate for them and insisted they talk to me directly and “use their English.” I told her I had come to the temple to learn a few things about Buddhism and I was interested in meditation. She chuckled (at me) and calmly said, “For meditation, all you do is stop the brain and open the heart.” To which I thought out loud, “Oh really, is that all?” She gave me a book written by their late Abbott in case I possibly needed more instruction than that. We sat and chatted for a while before the uber-shrine to the Abbott which consisted of his body in his coffin behind a eery life sized wax statue next to a poster-sized framed photo of him. This shrine meant business. That’s when she took out her cell phone to call one last English-speaking monk to meet with me. (Note: I don’t have a cell phone but all the monks do.) When Vinnie walked in I nearly blew a fuse with interest in what the F this W was doing all the way out here in Thailand, bald and dressed in nothing but some orange robes. Then he spoke and I just about lost my mind. Granted I have an ear for the various east coast accents but I’m pretty sure the deaf could hear this guy was an Italian from Long Island. There are very specific codes of conduct that must occur between women and monks and I’ve been in Buddhist countries long enough to know that you never touch a monk but at the sound of his dropped R’s I found my elbow swing right into his gut and I asked, “Dude, what the heck are you doing here?”

We all found a place to sit and talk and I asked Vinnie everything I could think of (except if I could take his picture, which Sloan called a rookie move.) I found out that he was raised catholic, baptism to confirmation, and when he was old enough to drive and venture out on his own he found himself at a Buddhist temple in eastern Long Island. He started attending regularly, studying, practicing, and soon made the decision to become a monk and move to Thailand. Just like that. I wish I were a fly on the wall when Vinnie came home and shared that news with mom and dad. I can hear the plates flying now.

 

  1. furey says:

    great story…
    what happened to Sloan during his “subway exploration.”