Never a strong point, numbers. Mathematics just did not add up for me. Looking back it is rather odd as my ability to speak several languages in later life would seem to contradict the notion of the closeness between Mathematics and Language.
I have just returned from Chiangmai, the second largest City in Thailand, located in the far North. It was my first visit in over 7 years and it was where I began my 10 year journey living in the Land of Smiles. It was thirteen years ago that I arrived with two suitcases and not the slightest clue what I was going to do there at age 55. I had made two visits in less than a year and was totally ‘bitten by the bug’, a phrase used among the ex patriate community. The Kingdom was attractive due to the Buddhist Culture essentially.
I had been educated by the Christian Brothers at Secondary School which then led me to enter a Religious Order of Priests and Brothers at age 16. The Congregation to which I belonged for the next 5 years was known as The Congregation of The Most Holy Redeemer, or in ecclesial parlance, The Redemptorist. It was founded in the 17th Century by an Italian Nobleman, Alphonsus Ligouri, and had a broad pastoral role as Missionaries. These men arrived in Australia from Ireland like many Catholic Religious Orders in Australia. And it was only in the late 1960’s that the female branch of the Order, The Redemptoristines, established a monastery in New South Wales. Catholocism was long behind me by the time I reached Thailand.
I trained as a Primary Teacher in Melbourne and was retired at 40 due to ill health. Within 3 weeks of arriving in Chiangmai and had resumed a career in teaching and was a staff member at Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University where I remained for the next 4 years. I was teaching in the Faculty of Education where young, poor, rural Thai men were able to graduate with a Degree in Education, Arts and Buddhism. It was like putting on an old pair of Gucci Loafers, totally comfortable and without any of the stress I had experienced in my former teaching days in some of Melbournes most difficult inner urban primary schools.
This wonderful University became my second home and to this day many of the staff, both monks and laymen, are still my friends. After teaching for 4 years I retired from teaching for the second time but always kept in contact while living in other parts of Thailand. Whenever I visited Chiangmai I was always made welcome by the staff and would take the odd class. It was a month ago that I revisited and once again became Ajarn for the day. This is a thai term of respect akin to Professor.
I had a close association with Dr Samran, an ex monk, who was now vice rector of Academic Studies. We both share the same birth date and he considers me his elder brother, Pee Chai, and I consider he to be my younger brother, Nong Chai. It is one of those special friendships that one is fortunate to make on ones travels. He arranged for me to take his class of fourth year students who were a polyglot of Thai, Bangladeshi, Cambodian, Burmese and Lao monks.
My practise of the Buddhist Precepts is poor but there are many aspects that I have found comforting over the years. Meditation being the principal one. As for enlightenment, I am far from such a state. The concept of ‘Sati’ or mindfulness greatly attracts me and I do make the effort which seems much easier in a culture such as Thailand where Buddhism is inextricably linked to the culture. Being aware is necessary in such a tropical climate, the slow pace allows one to reflect more often.
I was interviewed on the University Buddhist Radio Program about my experience with cancer and it was quite amusing as Dr Samran and myself flowed back and forth in both English and Thai. What the listeners made of it I am yet to find out.
I had some buddhist prayer beads that I wanted to get blessed so I asked Dr Samran. “Are there any holy monks left in the Temple?” He gave that inimitable smile. ‘Yes Ajarn Lloyd, Phra Lung Boonmay” ‘We will need to go to his room to see if he is awake?” This was 1 p.m. Why would he be sleeping at this time I thought. Dr Samran quickly explained, “Ajarn he is 91 and ill” We stood outside his wire doored entrance waiting for signs of life. Finally we heard sounds. I was ushered into a small room where this Venerable monk lay on his bed, fully robed, toothless and smiling. It was explained I wished to receive a blessing. ‘Ajarn Lloyd is from Australia and was a member of our staff here Phra Lung” I could not understand his Thai but I knew that he was blessing me and my beads. The tears rolled down my cheeks as I knelt on the cool tiles of his small ‘kruti’ or cell.
I am sure you understand my attachment to Thailand.