My first entry due to computor difficulties and now I have so many things to write about!
I feel lucky that this is my second time to Thailand and as a result I am that much more settled with the pace and atmosphere here. We arrived in Bangkok on the 6th and began our experience by taking some language classes. Our teacher was very patient and knowing some Thai has helped a lot already, even though we are only able to talk about certain topics like fruit and introductions. All of the people that we have run into have been very understanding and while they laugh I think they appreciate the effort.
At the moment we are south of Bangkok and have just completed an orientation to Engaged Buddhism at Webster University. We were taught by the director of religious studies, and given a overview of some of the basic concepts and ideas, along with some bits of history and a few social issues that have arised in Thai society. Our teacher is an amazing man who has such an extensive understaning of not only the movement but also of a great deal of historical events that have influenced people's intrests and desires for an alternative Buddhist practice. As part of our orientation we were taken to an Asok community and to the wat of Dhammananda. At the Asok community we were able to not only share a meal with the students and adults but also talk with one of the monks. The monk spoke passionatly about the aim of the community, expressing their desire to develop individuals that would be able to not only live anywhere happily but also have an impact on their society by following right dhamma. At the community everything is voluntary, creating a sense of willingness to work and a culivation of values that he saw as being important to socital interaction. Even though the community is isolated in many ways they enrich their program through cultural field trips that help the children to appricate other people's views and practices, or as he put it, one must notice the differences but not seperate your belife from others, allowing the students to think of the other points of view as simply different not opposing.
Dhammananda was another amazing person that we met not fifteen mins. from leaving the Asok community. She is the first ordained nun in Thailand. She talked with us about the history of nuns in Buddhism and particularly Thailand, while giving us some insight into her struggle to reassert their order and gain aceptance. She talked about little steps and being able to see the positive aspects of a situation. She said that when people say bad or untrue things about her she no longer is upset because the person they are describing is not her, and she feels sorry for them because they have to resort to such measures. She talked about where the movement was going, and about the support and growth that is taking place in Sri Lanka, and about the support she is recieving from other monks. Despite the uphill battle that she is enduring, all of her explainations were told with a smile and a contagious joyfulness. She was very inspiring to all of us and so kind to have taken the time to speak to our group.
Tomorrow morning I am going off on my individual project. I am traveling 10 hours to the north to stay at an sustainable farm which is close to a forest monestary which is the home to a monk who is very involved with the Engaged Buddhist movement. My stay will be for two weeks and I am really excited. I feel that this will give me an oppertunity to see this way of life in action, talk with people, and help them with their gardens and child care. It will be exciting to get out to the countryside and see a community that is relatively new and full of ideas. If I am lucky perhaps I will get an oppertunity to talk with some of the monks about their views and hopes, any conversation will no doubt be valuable to me and my research. My next entry will be from there and hopefully I will have tons and tons to share about it! If anyone is reading this blog and has any questions that they would like me to answer, please just ask!
Sawadee ka for now!