Exclusive Interview with A Monk

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A friend of the site has recently travelled to Myanmar to have an interview with a monk. Read Ozin’s transformation from normal life to Monk life and he has managed to adapt to different way of living.

What led you to become a monk here in Myanmar?

For a long time, I had been fed up of working and really wanted to retire early.  My time working in Singapore had become boring and soul destroying, I was desperate for a change.  During my 10 year stay in Singapore, I had returned to Myanmar yearly to do a meditation retreat.  I started to become frustrated with the approach at the Vipassana Retreat, so I wanted to find another Monastery.

I found a monastery called Thabarwa, which was the perfect combination of meditation using a more natural way with volunteering to help poor people within the community.  I then decided to ”retire early” and ordain as a monk at the monastery.

So you have been here since the very start of the monastery, what was it like when it started?

Since the very start when the land donor invited me to the site to lead the first discussions and meditation sessions I’ve been here.  In the early days there was nothing here.  I had to sleep to on wood outside under the stars.  Times were very difficult as we didn’t have any running water or much food so people couldn’t stay very long.   As we got more funding, we have been able to build more facilities for people to feel comfortable when they attend retreats.

What strange rules are there in Buddhism?

There are 227 rules in total for monks but the 10 precepts are the most important ones we must obey.  Out of all of the 227 rules the worst one for me was not being able to drive!  Once I put on a disguise and drove as I needed to drive the monastery’s bus to the certain location.  Luckily nobody saw me!

Another difficult rule is that monks aren’t able to touch money.  We have assistants who are always with us, who deal with the money.

Why can’t you drive or touch money?

It comes down to attachment.  Avoiding the potential to being drawn to ”Sensual Pleasures”’  In the four noble truths, the guidelines we live our lives by, the first noble truth is attachment is suffering.  Where ever there is attachment, there is desire and where there is desire there is suffering.

Especially in the monastic community, this rule has divided monks.  Those who strictly don’t touch money will not mix with other monks who do or allow other monks in their monastery.   However the larger community can play a role when they collect donations from the community by not putting money into their hand and only into the hands of their assistant (Kipia).

If you can’t touch money, how do monks survive?

Monks and Nuns survive solely on donations.  Every morning at 4 a.m. we make our way out to the local communities (each morning it will be a different place) and beg for what ever people can give.  This could be meat, vegetables, rice or money.

Monks getting donations of the local community (Alms)

Monks getting donations of the local community (Alms)

So monks aren’t vegetarians?

Not necessarily, we eat what ever people donate.  In Myanmar we think that we cannot help all animals, then what is the point in torturing yourself in trying to.

The popular 10 day silent meditation retreats that people do are they a good idea?

I know these retreats very well.  These 10 day Vipassana retreats are all over the world, I must have attended at least 10 all across South East Asia.  For me they really didn’t work as I focused so much on sensations in my body, even if they just didn’t exist.  This was also responsible for creating tension in other areas of my body.  This attachment to the sensations was huge and meant I was blocking out any other sensations.

Another problem for me was the noble silence.  Attendees are forced to be in complete silence for the duration of the course.  In our meditation retreat we prefer to have noble speech.  Here speaking is allowed (speaking only when necessary), this is more natural and meditators are in a better place to transfer the skills they learn into their daily lives.

How is your retreat different?

Compared with the 10 day retreats where there is complete silence, we only run for seven days and we observe noble speech.  This makes it less strict.   We also vary meditation methods, for example walking, sitting and standing meditation.

People often think highly of themselves, as they are grasping to an image of themselves. The retreat is designed to detach ourselves from this.  Opening all our senses and not shutting out any thoughts alleviates tension, whilst working into not judging/labelling those thoughts no matter if they are good or bad.   The important action is to be mindful of them and let them pass naturally.

How do you know when you reach Nirvana?

Once you reach the Dhyāna state of being, your mind is transferred into the universe.   The Nibbana mind is free from cravings and delusions in your day to day life (Nirvana can be reached mortals) You would enjoy peace and a calm mind all the time.  Once you die, you are free from the cycle of Samsara (cycle of rebirth) and your energy (karma) stays in the universe.

Why is there no sense of I in Buddhism?

You need to be mindful of the impermanence of everything.  You are a result of past actions that arise and disappear constantly.  These actions are either physical or mental.

Examples of mental nature are conception (opinions and understanding) and consciousness (feelings, taste, hearing).  Your opinions are always changing from results of past actions.  Sounds you hear are always coming up and passing away and no one sound is the same.

Physical nature is made up of four elements (earth, water, fire and air).  Your body is also made up of these 4 elements. We are all the same and at the right time you body will pass away, just like everything else.

If you do lots of Meditation, will you be enlightened?

Not necessarily, you need to meditate in a mindful way.   Focusing too much on certain parts/aspects of your body such as the breathe in itself creates too much tension to manifest a peaceful mind.

Are any of your friends in Nirvana (enlightened)?

I don’t think any of my friends are in Nirvana, although they would never tell anyone.  An enlightened person would never have the craving to tell anyone.

What are the references to Love and compassion in Buddhism?

In the 10 perfections of Buddhism, two are focused on Love and compassion.  Metta says that you should love and be kind to everyone, even if you hate them.  In Buddhism there is no hate, just misunderstanding.

Secondly Dana focuses on giving.  This intimates that the other person’s needs are more important than yours.  So you must always give what you have.

What are the differences between Nuns and Monks?

The first obvious difference is the colour in the robes.  In Myanmar Nuns wear pink robes and Monks wear orange robes.    There are also rules which differ, for example Nuns are not allowed to sleep under a tree (dates back along time ago where it was dangerous for nuns to sleep alone out in the wilderness).

Monks are more privileged as they are considered to be the true sons of the Buddha and nuns are considered to not be from any formal lineage.

I heard you have to be careful of ghosts in Buddhism, is that true?

Ghosts are all around us, however normally they can’t harm us.  If you have bad karma or not a morally correct person they can potentially harm you.  They’ll enter your body and take your soul.

Alternatively if you are mindful and do good deeds for people, they can appear to you.  When you are with them, share your merits (A well known chant in Buddhism) and you can release them from the ghost realm.

 

Well thank you monk for your time, and good luck for the future and for the retreat.

 

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