Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Vegetarian Paradise

Back in Pathom Asoke after a two day retreat in Hua Hin. Today was great! I guess I had been in kind of a funk. I think mostly it was just homesickness (a month and a half on the other side of the world will do that to you). I broke out of it today though, stopped watching the clock, and just enjoyed being here. Now I am back to wishing i had more time here.

I had started off today with the intention of taking a long walk past Pathom Asoke's borders and seeing where that took me. But after walking for just a minute or two I saw the tofu production in full swing and I couldn't resist. I went back to my room, put on my schoolboy blues (the uniform) and hurried back. I spent the next three hours sifting through soybeans, picking out bad ones; wrapping, cutting, moving tofu blocks; or ladling tofu substrate from a giant pot onto the finishing blocks. When the apparent supervisor left for a while, the boys I was working with quickly cut off a large slab of tofu and smothered it in a red hot-and-sour sauce. We sat together laughing, eating, and looking over our shoulders. We also drank steaming hot soy milk, fresh from the milking machine, with a little brown sugar dissolved in it. Delicious! I love fresh soy products.

After that, I retired to my room for a short sojourn to read. Erika got some very enlightening readings about Pathom Asoke community specifically. It really made a difference to read some of that, because it puts eveerything we are doing here into context. I am going to read a bit more later tonight.

If nothing else, this place is a vegetarian's paradise. Not a day has gone by without some delicious tofu or textured protien dish. We've had fake duck, fake roast beef, and I think some sort of immitation ground beef product. And it is all cooked in delicius Thai dishes and spices! SO much better than that American prepackaged Boca stuff. I am starting to get spoiled! Fresh greens, fresh tofu, fresh soy protein! That stuff is hard to come by back home. I suppose I will just have to adjust when I return. Oh well.

I'm off for now. It's almost 7 o'clock at night here. Everybody wakes up at 4 here (or 6 in my case), so the nights here are short.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Pathom Asoke

So, there has been a slight change of plan. I was so enamoured with Pathom Asoke that I decided to stay there instead of Moo Baan Dek (also a wonderful place). This is the first chance I have had to get into town and an internet café in three days since arriving at Pathom Asoke.

Pathom Asoke is a really intense place. I sleep on a straw mat on a hard tile floor on the top floor of one of the few building in the otherwise organic community setting. Behind me is a dorm of male students. At 3:30 in the morning, loud bells go off. Slow, then picking up speed and becoming fast. The dorm behind me wakes up. You can hear guitars, flutes, and one hundred young boys singing in Thai. Soon after, you hear monk chanting coming over the p.a. or just over the land. At about 4:30 all the noise reduces to a soft murmur, and you are able to fall back asleep for a short while. At 6:00, the noise begins again. More guitars and flutes and singing. More boys yelling and screaming. And, finally, it is impossible to sleep when the guy who sleeps next to you turns on one of his many teeny-bop american techno remixed tapes. Now you are up, and ready to get out.

So you leave the dorm. Soon you are greeted by one of the blue-suited students. You start working somewhere. This morning, it was the garden, digging big holes in rock-solid clay dirt soil mixture. You work for a few hours until lunch at 10. Only two meals here. Then you can break for a while until 12. After that, back to work. Weeding the garden, preparing mushroom cultivation bags, chopping cutting cooking food, etc. There is so much to do, and your assistance is always helpful. Work again until dinner at 5. After that, its your choice. You can either walk around and find some extra chores to work on, or you can retire to your room and relax. So far, I’ve been going to bed around 8 or so. By the end of the day you are so worn out, sometimes you can’t even walk. The hard floor hurts, and your sweaty body sticks to the straw mat, and you feel claustrophobic inside your mosquito net; but you are so exhausted you fall right to sleep.
I am overcoming the language barrier quickly, but not completely. The most frequent thing I say is still mai khaojai (I don’t understand). But that’s okay. Pathom Asoke is really a beautiful place, and despite all of the hardships you really feel good at the end of the day. Plus, there are thai kids of all ages, and they are so much fun and so good-natured.

Well, time to go for now. Gotta get some rest for more mindful moving meditation tomorrow.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Asok, Dhammananda Bikhuni, Thoughts on Alternative Communities

Yesterday was an incredible day. We woke up early and took a two hour bus ride to an Asoke Buddhist community. It was a wonderful little self-sustaining village. It had everything from a mushroom cultivation house, to a tofu factory, to a machine that converted plastic parts to gasoline and methane. The man who invented it was a member of the Asoke community. He only recieved two years of formal schooling. We talked to this radiant ever-smiling monk there. he told us about the community. The basic idea of the community is to follow a pure Buddhism. The monks there, while not officially ordained, practice ten precepts. The entire community is vegetarian, even the lay people. All work done there is done without pay. There is a belief in the community that doing work for pay is impure, and bad karma. The idea is that if you work for pay, you work for selfish and egotistical reasons. We were told that anybody can come live in the village, and everyone there has all they need. They all have food, shelter, clothes, and there are doctors living there as well. The village is mostly self-sustaining. They have lots of land, and grow all kinds of organic fruits and vegetables (in addition to the mushrooms and tofu). The community also produces all kinds of natural, organic, medicines, beauty products, and cleaning products. Finally, the larger Asoke community has set up a number of vegetarian restaurants around Bangkok, and other places in Thailand. This is how they make most of their revenue. However, because all work there is done voluntarily, the money can be put to good purposes such as helping out other engaged Buddhist movements, taking the community children on fieldtrips, or travelling to areas in need of help (such as southern thailand after the tsunami). After just a short time there, I decided I would split my independent research time between Bangkok and this community.

Afterwards, we visited an incredible female Thai monk named Dhammananda Bikhuni. She has gone through all sorts of struggles in becoming ordained. Yet she does not seem to have any anger about the subversive efforts the Sangha (monk community) has taken to keep her from becoming a monk. She has an incredible wealth of knowledge, and compassion. Allison, one of the group members, is going to stay with her for a couple of weeks to pursue independent research. That should be an incredible experience.

Finally, here are just a few quick notes that I want to jot down about the idea of alternative living communities. These are largely observations from just a short time at the Asoke community.
* mushroom cultivation seems incredibly intelligent, especially for a vegetarian community. Since it is a decomposer, it is not only a food, but a trash remover. Shrooms can grow on natural organic 'trash' that one would otherwise have to collect and throw away. Furthermore, they are high in protein, which is important for vegetarians.
* A functioning self-sustaining village needs a lot of land for plant cultivation. I guess this is kind of obvious.
* The asoke community had a lot of guidelines for its monks including everything from what clothes you wear (no shoes allowed, walk mindfully!), to when you wake up and go to sleep, and when you eat, etc. I have been wondering what kind of balance you strike between free willy-nilly no rules hippie land, and strict stringent monastic life. I wonder whether the people attracted by an eco-village would have a natural work ethic such that no rules would really be necessary for the village to function, or whether certain rules would need to be in place to make sure work gets done.
* The plastic to gasoline machine made me think about how important efficiency and ingenuity are to an eco-village. Try to find a use for everything on your land. No such thing as trash. If its trash now, try to find a use for it.

Thats about it for now. I'm sure after a week at Moo Baan Dek and the Asoke community I will have many more ideas about how a sustainable village can run effectively.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

at Webster University, Hua Hin

I am writing from Webster University in Hua Hin right now. We are having a couple of classes here on Engaged Buddhism with this really nice and knowledgable guy named Ted Mayer. He is an anthropologist who has a lot of experience with, and interest in, Buddhism and Thai culture. He has a really neat perspective on things. He compared Buddhism to a big mountain scape. It is really immense, and you may have a very good idea of what the picture looks like from the foothills. But then you start to climb and the landscape changes, and you see new aspects of the original thing. You continually gain new perspectives on the land. Maybe one day you finally reach the top, and you have seen all of the different perspectives, or at least many and many of them. So from the outset, we start out in Buddhism (or really anything I would contend) with certain assumptions and ideas. Then we study a subject or we experience more of it, and we see new ideas, and realize that our original way of thinking about this subject is just one small facet of it. I thought this was a really great metaphor. Sticking with the metaphor, there are infinite paths you can take from the base of a mountain to the top. This is true in the literal sense, and in the metaphorical sense here. Buddhism is very fond of this idea. There are many ways to enlightenment. We talked about how Ascetism and Engaged Buddhism are two very different paths, but they both definitely strive to reach the same point. I thought that was an interesting and important thing to point out about engaged buddhism, because at first glance it may appear more secular than ordinary Buddhism. It may seem like it is more a humanistic social path than a personal religious path. In reality it is both. This is a fact of great interest to me, and somehow feels very poignant to my own existance. I will have to think about this idea quite a bit.

Monday, June 06, 2005


first full day in bangkok. woke to sun reflecting off highrise hotel. Woke in high rise hotel. Bed, soft. Eleven hour sleep, not bad. Life of luxury for a couple days. Sauna, spa, hot tub, pool, massage, forget it. Gotta go climbing, navigate the city. Walk down Sukhumvit, don't look at the side vendors, not interested. Beautiful girls everywhere, mini skirts, belly shirts, don't look at the side vendors, not interested. Pass the lady boys, pass the bars. Up to skyway. Metro, American, like home but with Thai writing. But everything in english too. Notice that everywhere in this city is greenery. Plants, bushes, flowers, trees. Not the freshest, but air. Better than New York city, maybe the same size too. I like this, first city I have liked since toronto.

Climbing in tiny little personal size indoor cave. Routes sporadic and random. Feels good to be pulling plastic again. Called lady at the gym an hour ago. She opens door and comes outside to greet me almost before I even get off the moto-taxi. People are so friendly. Like India, but less of a demanding nature. Somewhere between sideshow interest and apathy. Pleasant. Break for a bit. Try to explain to old Thai lady vegetarianism. get out translation book. No... meat, fish, shrimp, chicken. Hungry, vegetable. She shows me eggs. Krap! Krap! Kap kum krap. I butcher the language, Yes yes, thankyou. Delicious omelette with vegetables over rice.

moto bike on the way back, pass skyway, go to highway. High speeds, fears, etc. No, No, skyway! point up. She laughs, smiles, not angry. Uturn back to station. 60. What? You said 40? She makes the sign of a Uturn. Okay, okay, 50. okay 50. Skyway, short walk back. Pass the bars, pass the sidevendors, the ladyboys, the ladys, the sex, the pirated movies, the beer wine liquor, the trees the bushes, the highrise buildings. Into my own highrise building.

Welcome to Thailand.