My encounters with some ‘holy’ men around the world
Think like a monk got me wondering about men of the cloth. I’m reading the book too slowly for the anticipation I had for it. It’s been almost two months since its release date, and I only got as far as Part One of three. It is about a third of the book. Jay does not attempt to mistify the practice of Buddhism or being a monk. He, in fact, pedestrianises it. In his attempts to make it relatable, he jogged my memory to the encounters I’ve had with holy men around the world.
A Jane Monk in New Dehli
I can no longer remember the monk’s name. What I remember is that he was young, of slight built, tall, and had a pleasant and warm smile. My friend and I walked into the Jane temple in New Delhi, somewhere between the tour of the Red Fort and shopping beautiful pashminas at the bazaar. Delhi was the first of three legs in our Golden Triangle tour, self-organised with a taxi and driver rental.
Read more about thinks I loved about India, HERE!
I immediately used my favourable bias against holy men by dismissing the fact that his eyes seemed fixed on my breasts. I smiled broader hoping to draw his attention more face-wards. Sadly, I did not succeed. So I employed other evasive manueres like walking in front of him or by his side. Never allowing him to face me squarely. Yes, being a woman is a battlefield.
He told us the brief history of the sect as we walked around looking at the architecture and symbols. The weirdness escalated when he was describing the steps involved in one ritual they partake in. At the end of this ritual, which had a fasting period, the devotees would come to the altar NAKED.
“Naked?” Our eyes were almost popping out of my sockets. He had a mischievous smile as if he got the response he was looking.
“Then, they recite a prayer and bow. Like this.” He took a bow and proceeded to invite us to mimic him.
“Now you do it.” He said, and then moved somewhat behind us.
The change in position alone rose suspicions, but he insisted. “You try.” He invited us again.
Apprehensive about offending our free tour guide, who was also a holy man, we took shallow bows with our eyes looking back to observe him. And lo behold, he was ogling our butts. We laughed off the awkwardness and made a quick dash out of the temple, after tipping of course.
Now Jay made it clear that being a monk doesn’t turn you into a saint. It now explains why our young monk slash tour guide, was so affected by the presence of two beautiful young women. And makes me wonder, should I abandon my bias that religious devotee are somewhat holier that thou?
Thai Buddhist Monks
The first time I saw a Buddhist monk in the flesh was the first time I was in South East Asia. Like all the young people, it was one of my earlier destinations. We arrived in Bangkok to a sea of tourist. I met a South African the first hour we went stepped off the hotel into buzzing Khao San. My illusion about monks was shattered almost instantly by smoking monks. I had the firm ideals of monks as groups of men or women who dedicate themselves to God and live in isolated communities or alone, living a modest lifestyle, eating simple food, praying and meditating several times a day. This was before I even knew about Wirapol Sukphol, the jet-setting monk who laundered money and slept with multiple women including a fourteen year girl. Seeing them walk the streets, eat streetfood, and smoke cigarettes completely threw me off.
Our tourguide, a Cambodian native, destroyed my illusions even further. She explained to us that being a monk wasn’t a special thing in Thailand and Cambodia (her home country). That every family usually volunteered a boy to serve as a monk. It can be for a few weeks, to several months. There are therefore different reasons and circumstances one becomes a monk. Some are honouring a tradition of a son in the family to being a monk once in their lifetime for a given period. It’s a way to continue tradition and learn prayers. Some take it as a life long calling.
Some other stories from South East Asia HERE!
I then came across a recalling of Nui Pongsiri, a dentist who spent eleven days as a monk. For his parade to ordination he was dressed in fancy clothes, beautiful make-up and sunglasses. When he asked why the outfit was so flashy he was told, “in their tradition, they believe that a man is always full of desires and defilements. The accessories and make-up reflect impurities. The sunglasses have a meaning that those desires blind his eyes and mislead his life.” I found the acknowledgement of human beings weaknesses in the middle of such a holy rite quite refreshing and sobering. Maybe that’s why the Thai monks I came across live the way they do. In full realisation that they are just regular men.
A Malawian prophet in South Africa
No religion is immune to bad men hiding behind faith and taking advantage of reverence induced by millennia of religious practices. Prophet Bushiri founded his Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) in Malawi in 2010; he was twenty-seven years old at the time. In the ten years that followed, he managed to amass a congregation in Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, the US, India, and Australia among others. He claims to have over 700000 registered members in South Africa alone. Even now, after he’s been suspected and arrested of fraud and money laundering in South Africa, his supporters seem unfazed by the charges. A recent development in his legal woes saw him escaping the country after bail of R200 000 was given to him and his wife as they await trial.
I then wonder if we can still use references to monks and other religious clergies as a symbol of morality. When one seeks guidance and inspiration when aspiring to a higher spiritual level. Where is it safe for us to look to? I think it’s truelly the notion of, “do as I say, not as I do.” Which in this case implies, following the principles of faith themselves, and not the monks, priests, or prophets.