When leaving northern Thailand’s Golden Triangle region we really didn’t know where we wanted to head or what we hoped to experience. Having just parted ways early from a voluntourism gig that ended quicker than we hoped, it was time to reconsider if that was the path for us still. Something we had long talked about doing was finding a place to settle down and build a treehouse, so you might imagine our stoke when we stumbled onto such a place right down the road, so to speak, from where we were at the moment!
Mid-way between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai exists a resort where we could check this piece of our quest off the bucket list, and so we jumped at the chance. In so many ways it turned out to be everything we needed: a break from city noise, an authentic Thai experience outside of the backpacker scene, and a monk who reminded us to laugh like children while we pursue our inner adventures. We found, beyond all doubt, a reincarnation of the fat, jovial Buddha, totally by coincidence. Or was it?
If there’s one thing that we both absolutely know, it’s that a spiritual path does not have to equate to stoicism, though we haven’t been the best at putting that knowledge to practice over the past few months. A little background about that: our separate Awakenings have brought months of painful reminiscing over our lives to date, which haven’t really been the parts of our individual lives that we’ve cherished and loved. We will write a separate post about remembering to have fun.
Imagine our delight, then, when this tree-house resort said that one of the many things they wished to expose us to was their neighborhood monk! How Ritchitit (it sounds something like that, anyway) “met” us was at first via a phone call that our hostess put us on the spot with. All we could hear on the other end of the phone was “Thailand will come to you!”…or most probably, “Thailand welcome to you!”, followed by enormous laughter straight from the depths of this man’s soul. It was right out of Carlos Castaneda’s recollections of his own teacher’s all-knowing laughter; a Mexican shaman named don Juan.
A couple days later we were boarding a bench on wheels with a lawnmower engine and driven the thirty minutes or so to the foothills behind our current casa, where Mister Ritchitit resided in total tranquility. Within three minutes our monk host was offering us coffee in front of his large Buddha statue and altar, blessing us with wrist-ropes, and showing us his bamboo tattoo collection which put Wind’s to the test. Mixed in with this all? The funniest laughter either of us has been around since very likely our youngest all-night slumber parties. Until this moment we had seen many, many monks in this Buddhist country, and only on occasion had we seen a small glimmer of a smile. We were starting to wonder if even the monks had forgotten how much laughter is great medicine.
He showed us around his farm, where he fed fish in a pond and then ended the tour with bringing us to chickens in a small cage…do monks eat meat? Hmm, we weren’t quite sure what the chickens were for. Before we left, Ritchitit sat quietly in contemplation and then said that we needed to go to a certain Wat the next day for some sort of festival. It turned out to be that our primary hostess was doing a traditional ceremony and that we would experience things that would continue to challenge our senses.
As it so happened, Ritchitit rode with us to this Wat and performed quite an opening blessing for the day’s events…in front of two fully skinned pigs in the Wat. This was a bit hard to imagine for us, but not quite as stunning as when our monk friend also ate of the meat later! It’s weird how we can generalize everything in this world, to include what a monk should or shouldn’t do, eat, or express. Ritchitit broke a few of these ideologies for us that day, and it would be fair to say that it’s relieving to know that monks, like the rest of us, are quite human. Kinda like when you share a few cocktails with your local Catholic priest, it really snaps you out of the naïve beliefs we can all share.
One of those preconceived concepts our “teacher” broke for us was how when he went to the major Thai party spot of Phuket, he looked around at all the farang (as the Thais graciously call us foreigners) and observed all the skimpy bikinis (which aren’t worn by Thais – they all, male and female, swim fully clothed), and said to himself “no problem”. Can you imagine the breaking of stereotypes, should this spread to all the world?
Much of our communication was through our horrible Thai, his much better English, and even more charades. Oh, and so much whole-hearted laughter that our guts were promising to hurt for a couple of days. This beautiful human showed us that Enlightenment, which he had clearly reached some time ago, didn’t need to be full of dogma nor of “keep my Light to myself”.
Ever since that day we have seen more monks smoking, drinking Coca-Cola, and spending extensive time on iPhones, iPads, Kindles, and other modern-day pleasures. Yet, they all still emanate a very mindful and loving light. Maybe we do have room for all these pleasures, if we can learn to use them as additions to our lives, and not as replacements for life. We will never, ever forget our jovial teacher. He is probably the main inspiration for our motto: “Have a good time. Travel well. Grow much.” He inserted a new love in our hearts that we will always have in the front of our thoughts. That sounds like a true Master, wouldn’t you say?
Have any great stories about beautiful teachers who’ve reshaped your own life? Share them with us below!