Tag: Buddhism

Wats and Monks

Chiang Mai is known for its hundreds of different wats. Wats are Buddhist temples and are incredibly impressive both outside and in. We had a great time motoring around on our little scooter in Chiang Mai and popping into various wats that struck our fancy. Each wat is a little different, but what they all have in common is a lot of love for Buddha. Sometimes Buddha is covered in gold, sometimes he is reclining. Sometimes Buddha is short and fat with a big belly, sometimes he is tall, skinny and regal. Sometimes he has his eyes closed and sometimes he has them open. But regardless of what Buddha is doing, he is the man. Or the god. Whatever.

Reclining Buddha

Fat Buddha

Wat Chedi Luang

Wat U Mong Klang Wiang

Sarah admires the many Buddhas

Wat Phra Singh

Wat Phra Singh

And where there is a wat, there will be dozens of monks in their distinctive orange robes. Some men have dedicated their lives to Buddhism and Buddha’s teachings, however, some monks are only in robe on a temporary basis. Though perhaps outdated in the cities, in many parts of Thailand every male is expected to become a monk for part of his life. Often this commitment is little more than three months, however, it is of great honor to the family when a son “takes robe and bowl”. Other families opt to send their young sons off to be monks because they’ll be exposed to greater educational opportunities than their small village could provide. Regardless of the reason, Thailand has a lot of monks – young and old – and you get used to seeing them everywhere!


Young monks

More monks!

One of the most memorable wats we visited in Chiang Mai had a sign that advertised the opportunity to attend a monk chat. Though we didn’t attend one, I kinda wish we did. It is a pretty unique experience to have access to a Buddhist monk and ask him any question you can think of about religion, life and even afterlife. Apparently it is also an opportunity for monks to practice their English. A win-win for both parties!

Advertised in English!

A Foray into Buddhism

Though the majority of Nepalese are Hindus, Buddhism has a strong presence in Nepal too – many of them being Tibetans who have fled their homeland across the Himalaya. Buddhism is definitely the dominate religion in the mountains where we were hiking – everyday we passed a myriad of prayer flags, prayer wheels, prayer rocks and various stupas. We were quite intrigued and inspired by all of this and decided to dive in head first and enroll in a 3-day Buddhist meditation retreat upon returning to Pokhara.

Buddhist prayer wheels

Very large prayer wheels

Prayer rocks

Prayer flags


A very new thing for both of us, we looked forward to learning meditation techniques as well as exploring more about Buddhism – from a monk. Would you believe, our monk was not the Tibetan Buddhist we were imaging but a rather sarcastic American monk from Pennsylvania with quite a domineering personality. Oh, the irony. To his credit, he had been a monk and teacher for over 30 years so he definitely knew his stuff. And as he explained, as a Westerner he was able to convey difficult concepts to us by using examples that we could understand and relate to.

Yeshi, our American monk and teacher

Lessons in Buddhism

Of course another side benefit was that his English was excellent. As we touched on complex topics, we were very thankful to have his full vocabulary and our full understanding in hopes of wrapping our heads around these deep ideas and concepts. Questions like, “What is happiness?” and “Who are you?” seem simple enough on the surface, but when they get subjugated to the monk’s Socratic Method of questioning, we were thankful that we shared his language when we needed to understand his reasoning and defend our thoughts.

Between our classes with the monk, we had guided meditation and yoga classes, both in the morning and in the evening. Meals consisted of vegetarian goodness and we slept on site at the retreat in simple but comfortable rooms.

A peaceful environment

Gathering at the prayer wheel

All in all, the retreat was a unique experience that I’m very happy we did. Of course, it is impossible to do anything but scratch the surface of Buddhism in a three day retreat, but it was still eye-opening and rewarding nonetheless. One of the most appealing parts of Buddhism is the idea that you can incorporate parts of the Buddha’s teachings into your own life without sacrificing your own religious beliefs and philosophical views. They are not mutually exclusive. And though I do like and respect many Buddhist beliefs (karma, for example) I’m not completely sold on others (i.e. reincarnation). Whether sold on the concepts or not, it was a treat to learn about Buddhism in heart of a Buddhist community in one of the most beautiful settings we’ve seen to date!

Our class

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