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I Am A Monk, Hear Me Whimper?

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Steve Faber

November 5, 2007

Buddhism Movie Paper

I am a monk: Hear me whimper?

What is it to be a monk? Are monks holier than the lay people who surround them? Do they possess a special spark that makes them inclined to be monks? Neither of the latter is true for the Buddhist faith doctrine. In Buddhist philosophy, it is available for anyone to become a monk, and to stay for as long as one wishes. However, once entered into the sangha, or collective of monks, there is a certain calmness that may pull the person in to stay for fruition of his quest.

The film, I am a Monk, directed by the University of Wisconsin, is a docu-drama presentation of what being an American monk who lives in Thailand is like. It is very harsh in its description of what the main character feels when going to his home in New England. He feels as though New England is dead and is cold. While this is physically true, the emotional state of the people anywhere in America is the thing that keeps them going through the winter. He feels like there is a quaint charm about it, but had never really felt as though he was a part of the American dreamscape. So tired was this man of his existence as an American Buddhist, that his thought had to be cleared by travelling to Thailand for 3 years, and living amongst the monks there. He felt alone in his own country, and could not look inwardly to find his path to nirvana. This is sometimes a problem for Americans, because in the crazy world of indulgence we live in, there is little time to look at oneself and say, "This is who I am, and this is what I am about." In class, however, it was discussed that anywhere can be a solace for any man, as long as he is willing to try to go the distance himself.

Another aspect of the movie that was intriguing and a little disturbing was the fact that although the main character was trying to remove himself from a society with a stratified social life, when he is in Thailand, he is supported by a staff of servants that take care of his business for him. This seems to me to not coalesce with the way a Buddhist should run a society. In another light, however, the boys who are his servants share his meals at an equal table, and attend school at the monastery, so in some respects they are just paying back what has been given to them. I still cannot imagine, though, that another person could go from being in America, where having servants and large, cold empty houses perfect for introspection is an available life plan, and moving to Thailand to find introspection in another country that is striving to be like the one he just left. Perhaps it is just me, but I would have liked to save up the dollars and built a school for American Buddhists.

The main character's move from home undoubtedly caused some strain on his relationships with his family and friends. In the very beginning, he remarks that his parents think that he is nothing more than a simple "beggar". They feel as though his way of life is less satisfying than what it should be, and that touching money, which a monk is forbidden to do, is a small sacrifice to pay in order to enjoy a fulfilled existence. In this case, I agree with the monk: It isn't simply that he wants to lead a fulfilled life, but he wants to live a life free from desire and its consequences. He also doesn't beg in the sense that we think of a beggar. Sure, he is encouraged to accept food from others, but he is not allowed to say anything to provoke their giving of a meal. Also, the meager food he does receive is to be shared between him and his servants.

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