Deepak Chopra: A Monk's Tale
This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds.
To watch the birth and death of beings
Is like looking at the movements of a dance.
A lifetime is a flash of lightning in the sky.
Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.
Over the last two decades, I have occasionally taken a week of silence to renew my spirit. A few years ago, I found out there was a tradition in Thailand where some CEOs of major businesses and politicians would take a week or two of silent retreat as ordained Buddhist monks. This was to remind them to be humble in spirit and anchor themselves in sobriety. When I recently met Joy Sopitpongstorn, who is a friend from Thailand, I asked her if it was possible for a "foreigner" to "ordain." Joy is a longtime friend of mine who has attended my courses in India. After making some inquiries, Joy informed me she had obtained permission for me to come on a "monk's journey" for two weeks.
So off I went to Thailand on June 26.
The first part of my journey was to accustom me to "hardship." For this, I went to the Forest Monastery, Wat Sunandavanaram, under the guidance of a famous, but austere, abbot of Japanese origin known as the Venerable Arjarn Mitsuo. In this monastery, I had to sleep on a wooden floor and wake up at 2 a.m. every morning to meditate with the other monks on the impermanence of life and my own physical death. We would do this until 4:30 a.m. and then practice mindfulness meditation until about 6:30 a.m.—after which we would go for "alms round." The monks walked barefoot over rough terrain through neighboring villages. Because I was not an ordained monk at this time, I was allowed to wear my sneakers and served as an assistant to the monks. The poor peasants from the villages would line up in the streets and make food offerings to the monks. If their bowls filled up, I would empty them into a large bag that I carried so they could be "refilled."
It was wonderful to see the look of reverence on the faces of the villagers as they offered their alms to the monks, who in turn silently blessed them.
We would return from the alms round at 8 a.m., after which we would have our one and only meal for the day. We all shared the food that was offered to us and ate in silence with full mindful awareness.
The rest of the day was spent in meditation. In the evening, we would meet with the Venerable Arjarn Mitsuo, who would guide us further into mindful awareness of breath, feelings, emotions and movement. We would go to sleep around 10 p.m., and then wake up again around 2 a.m. for meditation on impermanence and death.
Conditions of this monastery were very basic, with no running water and some mosquitoes to contend with.
Deepak describes being ordained as a monk