Visit to Buddhist MonasteryApril 8, 2018 in Cambodia ⋅ 🌬 6 °C
Being on a cruise ship has been a mixed bag for me.
On the downside: The trip is completely curated, so everything that you see is carefully selected and packaged. The passengers are incredibly homogenous — all white, affluent, and over the age of 50. The staff, which is all Vietnamese or Cambodian, waits on us hand and foot, which I find extraordinarily uncomfortable.
On the upside: The guides are fantastic, and are incredibly gracious about discussing the good, bad and ugly parts of life in their countries. The candor that we’ve experienced in our discussions with Phiem and Sophea is incredible and has given me a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the places that I’ve visited than I could ever have expected. The people with whom we are traveling are extremely nice, very well traveled and quite interesting. And, there are some experiences that we’ve had which we could never have replicated on our own.
Our visit to Wat Hanchey, a monastery located on the Mekong River, is one of those unique experiences that we never would have experienced if we had been traveling on our own.
Wat Hanchey was first built in the 7th century, and has been re-built and renovated several times since then. It is an active monastery, housing almost 100 monks, many of whom are young novices (under the age of 18). We docked at the shore, and walked up to the monastery. As it was early in the morning, pilgrims were only just beginning to arrive and the temple complex was very quiet. Our tour had arranged for us to participate in a Buddhist blessing, in which the dharma would be chanted by two monks, after which we could receive individual blessings from the monks if we so choose. We went to the temple, and shed our shoes and hats before entering. Sophea introduced our group to the two monks — one of whom was 13 (which could be 12 or 11 by our system of calculating age) and the other who was 37. We then sat on the mats in front of the monks, and they chanted the dharma. I used all of the meditation skills taught to me by Emily Doskow to clear my mind and be present in the moment. I found the experience to be very moving. Receiving a blessing from one the monks, as he tied a red string around my wrist, left me feeling elated.
After the chanting, we had an chance to ask questions of the young monk. He told us that he had been at the monastery for 3 years, and joined so that he could get a good eduction. He said that he has secular classes 5 hours a day, and that his favorite subject is math. He told us that it was very hard to follow all of the rules when he first joined, and he didn’t know if he’d stay a monk forever. He was incredibly composed for a young kid. And, while smiling is discouraged by the rules, as he talked to us there was a slight grin at the corners of his mouth.Read more