PhD in Buddhism

How incredible an experience when it is first hand. We entered class in a new location and met a Buddhist monk who is high in rank. In fact, he has a PhD in Buddhism and teaches other monks. The experience seemed unreal. How on earth am I able  to learn about Buddhism directly from a Buddhist monk. I listened intently as he explained Buddhism as a whole and the ultimate goal of Buddhism. As I listened I could see the reasoning behind what he was saying and how following Buddha is deeply rooted in Thai culture. Even people who live around temples do not necessarily know where their practices came from, but for centuries their families have been following Buddhism. I asked a couple questions about the temples and the bigger Buddha versus the smaller Buddha. The bigger Buddha with the big belly was the main Buddha’s follower. The skinny Buddha was the actual Buddha and the different positions of it are aspects of the story of Buddha’s life. It was interesting to learn the teachings and the levels one has to reach to be enlightened. Karma is also an important aspect of Buddhism which effects Thai culture and everyday family living. We had to dress very conservative and act according to Thai culture. I had to make sure my feet were tucked in and not pointing at anyone and to remember not to touch the bottoms of my feet. I watched closely how other people interacted with the high up Buddhist monk. They bowed and greeting him formally and presented themselves as a lower rank. Being here I am already a high rank because I am American. But in comparison to a monk, I am a women of low status. I am still wrapping my mind around the concept of discrimination that is deeply rooted in the culture.

We ate lunch at the vegetarian restaurant at the monastery and then went to class at Payap. In class I could feel the weight of the subject matter. The class focuses on the exclusion and exploitation of people, so I knew it would be hard. We watched a couple videos about the violence and issues that people groups in Burma face. It was heartbreaking and it took energy to hold back the tears that wanted to burst from inside. People are being displaced, killed, raped, and burned just for the purpose of control. There were several villagers that explained that the Burmese Army comes through and forces them to run from their homeland. Many children are sick and dying because people cannot even get to a clinic for medical help. The man who filmed the documentary witnessed the Burmese army killing eleven people, including children. He was bitter and angry and wanted to kill any Burmese soldier he saw, but he then realized that they are his brothers too. The Burmese soldiers are also suffering and many join because they have no means of eating. The devastation brought from human destruction is heartbreaking. One story struck me the hardest. A little girl had a growth on her neck that had been growing for a year. The Free Range Burma team helped the father and his daughter cross the border to receive medical attention. You could see the devotion, the sadness, and the willingness to do anything for his daughter. His eyes were solemn, but he whispered to his daughter as he carried her across miles. The clinic however could do nothing. It was cancer and had spread too far, she died two weeks later. Burma is only a few hours away from where I am. Being in the area makes the issues more personal. It is no longer something I am reading about, it is something I am seeing with my own eyes. I cannot go back from what I have seen. I cannot hold onto it either. The situation has gotten better and there are children growing up who do not know the burden of moving around in fear. It seems hopeful, and I hope the people are hopeful that their country will improve and recognize them as citizens. I know the things I will learn this semester will break and reshape my heart. The professor said something that I had not heard before in a prayer towards the end of class. She said, “Lord open our hearts to the things you want us to see, and close our eyes to the things you do not want us to see”. I had not thought before that perhaps God does not want me to see some things. I am trusting that he will show what he wants to for the purpose of understanding.

After class we rode the sung tou back to Doi Saket. I went on a bike ride with other adventure mates and we stopped to get cey yen and chatted about class. Being able to get out and see the joy of the world helps balance the heartbreaking things I am exposed to.

Thank you everyone for your support in my experience here. It already is life changing and I find myself thinking more deeply than I ever have about issues that I have not been presented with before.


Bethany Jane

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