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Suan Mokkh #3

December 31, 2001 - January 10, 2002


About Thailand
About the Trip
Scenic Wallpaper
Thai Language
Links and Books
About the Author
Getting there
Ubon Ratchathani
Ko Chang
Surat Thani
Suan Mokkh #1
Suan Mokkh #2
Suan Mokkh #3
Suan Mokkh #4
Chiang Mai #1
Western Laos
Vang Vieng
Lake Nam Ngum
Nong Khai
Khon Kaen
Chiang Mai #2
Chiang Mai #3
Chiang Mai #4
Chiang Mai #5
Mae Sariang
Mae Hong Son
Tham Lot
Chiang Mai #6
Nan & Phrae
Um Phang
Mae Sot
Bang Pa-in
Udon Thani
Sakhon Nakhon
That Phanom
Nakhon Phanom
Sri Racha
Going Home

Here's the third email I sent home about Suan Mokkh:

Okay, I'm going to try to wrap up my description of the hermitage in this one:

Men's hot springs

After lunch there was another break time. Followed by meditation instruction for an hour, more sitting/walking meditation for an hour and a half and then an hour of Pali chanting. By the end of chanting it would be 6pm and there would be another break during which tea was served in the dining hall and people were allowed the use of the hot springs that were on the grounds.

Men's dormitory

At 7:30 there would be another Dhamma talk and more meditation until 9:00 when we were dismissed. Dormitory gates were locked at 9:30 (meaning you had to be inside them before that) and dormitory power was shutdown at 10:00.

Climb under your mosquito net, rest your head on the wooden pillow, sleep 6 hours and then repeat.

There are many rules to be followed while staying at the hermitage. There is a vow of silence that states you will not speak unless absolutely necessary. Communication with your fellow hermits is considered a distraction and as such you are also supposed to avoid eye contact at all times.

A path on the grounds

Personally I found the silence to be wonderful. I've never before experienced a sense of peaceful solitude while surrounded by people, and found it to be a very novel experience.

The rule I found the most difficult was to never injure/kill a living creature. That's all well and good on paper, but the hermitage isn't owned by the people who made that rule. The hermitage is owned by ants. Although they came in both red and black colors and all manner of sizes, I quickly learned that there are really only two kinds of ants in this world. The kind that crawl all over you, but don't bite and the kind that crawl all over you and bite as hard as they can.

After a few days I learned enough self-control to stop crushing ants just for walking on me and towards the end I didn't even bother brushing off the non-biting ones (why bother, there will always be more). But by then I had a new temptation to break the no-killing rule... Each day that we stayed there, the mosquitos seemed to double in strength. By around day 4 using the bathrooms had become a real challenge. When you opened a toilet stall you immediately heard the humming. I wore pants the whole time since shorts were against the rules also, and when I was peeing I'd sway erratically from side to side so the mosquitos couldn't land on my arms or head. But that still left my ankles available and they were one solid mass of bites by the last day.

And then came day 9...

On the evening of day 9, I awoke around midnight. I could hear some kind of crunching/crackling noise. Sitting up, I opened my eyes but of course it was pitch black inside my room. I began fumbling around for my flashlight when I realized the noise was coming from my right ear. From inside my ear.

I suddenly remembered all the tiny little red, non-biting ants that lived on my concrete bed. The ones I always found all over myself when I woke up from naps during the day. I shook my head around a little, but the crunching noises continued. Taking a couple of deep breaths I sat still and tried to rationalize that I wasn't actually feeling any pain so it probably wasn't doing any damage.

The noise it was making was probably just the grinding of mandibles as it gorged itself on my ear wax. The noise stopped. If the noise starts again, I thought to myself, I'll go wake the dorm manager and they can drive me to the hospital in Chaiya if they think it necessary. It's only a ten minute drive. I pondered how much this sucked and tried to decide whether I should get dressed. The crunching noise started again. I got dressed.

I woke the dorm manager, who was a guy named Jimmy from Toronto. He groggily told me to give him a few minutes to put some clothes on. I went back to my room and threw a few things into a backpack in case we needed to go for a drive. The crunching in my ear continued the whole time.

When I went back to see Jimmy he showed me a little squeezer with a spout that he said he used to clean salt residue out of his ears after diving. He gave me a cup of water and I filled the squeezer up and started squirting water into my ear. I refilled the squeezer and flushed my ear out about a dozen times. Besides earning myself a wicked sense of vertigo I also managed to achieve some blessed silence.

Being midnight there was no power in the dormitory, so I was doing this by candlelight. Which made it far too dark to actually check the puddle at my feet for signs of a drowned ant. I went back to my room, telling Jimmy I'd come get him if I heard anything more inside my ear. I moved my pillow to the opposite end of my bed where there was less ants. But I didn't get to sleep again until around 15 minutes before the 4:00am bell starting ringing for us to get up.

I guess that about wraps up all the hermitage anecdotes that I have to share. It was a very educational experience for me. For one thing I no longer believe Thai monks have an easy life. Just because people feed them and they don't have to do anything but follow their rules, doesn't mean it's easy.


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