Issue Contents :: Feature :: Being A Monk :: Page [ 1 2 3 4 ]

Do you ever listen to classical music?
It's against the rules. When I go home, Dad has it on all the time, so I hear it then. Occasionally Brahms or Mahler goes through my head. But it gets so that you don't miss it.

What was the last movie you saw?
I saw the first Lord of the Rings on a flight to Thailand, but I didn't hear it. There's a rule against watching shows; you're supposed to be turning inward.

Are you allowed recreation of any sort?
For us, recreation is going out into the wilderness. Sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon and meditating, opening our eyes every now and then, looking at the Grand Canyon, and meditating some more. We do a lot of walking meditation; it's really emphasized in this tradition. When I get a chance, or when I've had enough of the monastery, I go out and hike around awhile.

What else do monks do for exercise?
A lot of sweeping up. Some Western monks and modern Thai monks do yoga in their rooms.

But you can't say, "Hey, I've meditated all day, I just want to toss around a football."

Are you allowed to read for pleasure?
You get so that you're not interested in fiction. The only fiction that I read nowadays is by my friend Jeanne Larsen [Class of 1971, the author of three historical novels set in China] and Harry Potter.

Why Harry Potter?
I thought the books taught good lessons about loyalty, integrity, and such things.

So Harry Potter's okay, Robert Ludlam's not okay?
I have to use my judgment. Is what I'm reading getting in the way of my meditation? If I find myself closing my eyes and seeing visions that are not helping me at all, then it's obviously something I should be not be reading.

Do you keep up with the world?
Only in the last year or two. I get The Nation and The Guardian Weekly. I really liked all those years in Thailand when I didn't get any news. For my first eight years, the only international news that came out to the monastery was "Elvis Presley died" and "Skylab is falling."

Did it take a long time to adjust to a celibate lifestyle?
The first hurdle you face is not wanting to take care of it, the attractiveness of lust itself. But after a while I began to realize that I was suffering because of this. But if I focused on the lust itself, rather than the object of the lust, I began to realize lust was not that good a thing to have in my mind.

Do you ever feel lustful?

You have meditation to take care of it. As soon as lust comes into the mind, you've got to take care of it.

You sound so pragmatic.
It's very pragmatic. That was one of the lessons I got from Ajaan Fuang: Get over the drama and sit down and do the work. I remember the first time he said to me, "Okay, we're going to meditate all night." I said, "My God, I can't do that! I've been working hard all day!" He said, "Is it going to kill you?" No. "Then you can do it."

What about the simple desire for touch? Can non-monks touch you?
Women can't. With men, it depends on how they're going to touch me. No lustful touching.

Some people assume monks have transcended human feelings and never have "negative" feelings such as anger and greed. Do you ever get pissed off?
Occasionally there are irritations. A woman I taught became convinced I was sending her subliminal messages. She thought I wanted to leave the monastery and marry her. I tried to make it clear I wouldn't, but she kept insisting I was giving her subliminal messages. I said, "Look, you're not my student anymore. I'm sorry, this is not working out." She thought I just said that because there were other people around. So she started coming back. I must admit I was irritated. But she finally got it.

What about the lesser frailties. Do you have any vanity? Do you ever find yourself spending too much time getting your robe to look just right?
The robe is pretty cut-and-dried. There's not much I can do about it.

A little bit. I was editing my Dhamma talks, and every now and then I'd come across a phrase and think, "that was pretty cool."

Do you have fears?
I'd hate to die before this place got established.

Do you ever have sleepless nights?
The last sleepless night I had was when one of my monks disrobed. I kept thinking, "What did I do wrong?" I thought about it lying down for a while, and then I'd get up and walk around for a while. Then I sat down for a while.
There was a point in which I realized, "This is ridiculous. I'm not getting any answers. So I might as well stop the questioning for the time being." That's one of the skills you learn during meditation. If you're asking questions, and there are no answers coming, just stop asking. It's not time for the answer yet.

Do you ever feel guilt?

Was that a difficult emotion to get rid of?
Yeah, that was probably a big one. But in Thailand, there is no guilt. It's totally a shame culture ("Don't do that; it embarrasses us in front of the neighbors"), but not a guilt culture ("Don't do that; it hurts me when you do that"). Guilty feelings started feeling really, really dumb. People function well and live perfectly normal lives without it.

Did you pick up shame as a replacement?
If I do something I really know I shouldn't have done, then I feel ashamed.

How do you deal with the shame when you feel it?
Ajaan Fuang taught us that we can't just sit around and stew. The idea is: you've noticed you've made your mistake; don't repeat it. That's the best that can be asked of a human being.

Do you also believe in atoning?
You ask forgiveness of the person you've wronged.

In the Thai language, monks are referred to not as people, but as "sacred objects." Do you view yourself as a sacred object?

How do you view yourself?
As a person. Despite this weird outfit, there's a human being in here.

Are there aspects of Buddhism that are still mysteries to you?
I'd like to know what full enlightenment is like.

Do you ever, ever think about disrobing?
Bea Camp [Class of 1972] came to visit me one time in Thailand. She and her husband David Summers [Class of 1971] were working for the U.S. Foreign Service in Bangkok. They filled me up with all the news of our old mutual friends–
careers that didn't turn out the way people had planned, divorces, separations, disappointments. David asked me, "Have you ever regretted being a monk?"

And I said, "Well, the thought never crossed my mind, and certainly not now."

One final question. When you were in Thailand, was there a "Eureka!" moment when you thought, "I've got it"?
Monks can't talk about their attainments.

What if I say "please"?

Playwright Rich Orloff lives in New York.

Many of Than Geoff's writings and translations are available at