I found Wat Chana Songkhram Ratchawora Mahawihan while exploring our neighborhood after a day of editing my book, Mindful and Intentional Living: A Path to Peace, Clarity and Freedom. It's a smaller wat off the main thoroughfare, which is always a treat, as it's less trafficked by tourists.
It was just coming up on 5:00 PM and some quiet time was just what I was wanting. I stopped in my tracks with disappointment when I saw the "Sorry!!! No Entry" signs at the openings to the to the main ubosot (ordination hall) seating area. Confused, I realized that it's not uncommon for chanting to begin at the five-o'clock hour. I noticed a few women seated on the marble floor outside the main hall and joined them. We watched as monks trickled inside.
Larger monasteries are also major tourist attractions for Buddhists and non-Buddhists. There's usually a constant flow of people filing in, taking photos of either the main Buddha image or themselves in front of the main Buddha images, and filing out. Most that come are Buddhist, make an offering, and sit for a time paying respects and praying. This was the first I'd seen where the public wasn't allowed inside during chanting. Usually we sit on the lower portion of the carpeted area next to the raised platform where the monks sit.
Outside of the disappointment of not being able to sit nearer to the monks, seeing the barrier sign at the room entrance started me thinking. These signs were intended to help protect the monks from the distractions which helps with their focus, concentration and prayers. Much like we create a silent and sacred place for our mindfulness practice, the monks do so as well.
Part of the tradition for monks is to dedicate any positiveness that is earned (merit) from the prayers, chants, meditation and other practices to the benefit of ALL beings--that they be free of suffering and know happiness and the causes of happiness. So rather than accumulating any goodness for themselves, they offer it freely to others.
As I peered through the doors, it sank in to my scattered thinking mind the profound and sincere offering this is. This is an amazing dedication by the monks and their supporting lay community. (Since monks and nuns take a vow of poverty, they depend on the lay community to support their basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing.) Monks and nuns study the teachings (Dharma or Dhamma) and practice to see for themselves the truth of how things are--all the while offering any benefits of this work for the benefit of all beings.
So, as I was busy bouncing around as the tourist, writer, and lay Buddhist practitioner (plus the many other roles I take on in life), these monks were, and are, working on my (and everyone's) behalf. That's humbling.
That is truly humbling.
I've directly experienced the benefit of wanting good things for others through the practice of loving kindness,* so I know how wonderful it can feel and I know the difference it can make for myself and others. But, as I recognized in that moment with my bag of goodies from the latest tourist shopping excursion, my practice is on top of meeting all my own needs and selfish wants. I suddenly woke up to the enormity of their gift--sharing their accumulated good with all beings--and found myself on my knees, humbled yet again.
If I weren't going to undertake the commitment of a nun or monk, the least I could do as a lay person is bring the most awareness and kindness that I can muster in any given moment. Clouded as my awareness may be through what I eat, think, say and do, any little bit I can do may also provide benefit to myself and others--even if only a teeny, tiny drop.
Awareness in any moment leads to more choice, and can lead to less harm, more kindness and goodness, if we so choose.
We can also practice dedicating our accumulated goodness (merit) to those things that matter to us.
For me recently, this is to end the suffering of sentient beings--particularly elephants--at the hands of humans for the sake of human entertainment.
If you could dedicate your accumulation of goodness, where would you want it to go?
*Download a free guided loving kindness meditation by signing up on the email list HERE.
JoAnn Saccato, MA is a mindfulness teacher, author, life coach, educator, and consultant in Northern California. She is author of Companioning the Sacred Journey and Mindful and Intentional Living: A Path to Peace, Clarity and Freedom