An interesting way to spend a weekend

My time as a monk

This pendant of Buddha is worn to represent what you believe in, the way a Catholic might wear a cross. It’s also for good luck, Cambodian families usually have mini golden statues of Buddha for good luck or a good omen.

Aaron Gravelle

This pendant of Buddha is worn to represent what you believe in, the way a Catholic might wear a cross. It’s also for good luck, Cambodian families usually have mini golden statues of Buddha for good luck or a good omen.

On Wednesday, May 26 I arrived at the Wat Sangkhikaram Buddhist Temple in Lynn, Mass. with my brother, uncle, and cousin.

When we got there, we were greeted by two older monks. They told us what we were going to be doing for the next three days. We would be fasting every day.

Right before we got started, they told us that we had to shave our heads and all facial hair.

Once we got done cleaning up from shaving off all our hair, we got dressed in orange robes that we had to stay in until the three days were over. Once in our robes, we were sworn in as monks. This is how I became a monk for three days.

There were four monks in total that stayed in and lived at the temple. My brother, uncle, cousins and I hung around them. The monks taught us some chants and they showed us what they do daily.

First, they wake up around 5-5:30 in the morning. Then, they start eating until noon. After noontime, none of the monks can eat. And they chant all day.

Pullquote Photo

I also felt like everything was going right, but at the same time everything was also so upside down.”

— Aaron Gravelle

During the day I would see monks drinking coffee, especially at night. Before bed, they would drink a cup of coffee. My cousins and I did too, and cramped our appetites so we were not as hungry.

Most of the time it was just my brother, cousin, uncle, and I who would be together during the day, talking about almost everything, anything we could to pass the time.

At night we slept, separate from the monks, in one big room with tons of huge carpets on the ground. We would have blankets and pillows.

Being in the temple messes with your time because you could sit there and talk for almost three hours, but have it feel like only 10 minutes. It was good not to be aware of time to feel a different pace of life. Everyone is always worried about time and doing things fast. But in the temple you slow down enough to really think about things. I had a good time slowing down.

However, some days were becoming boring, doing the same thing over and over. Eating before noon, chanting for hours until 9:30 or 10:00 p.m., and sleeping until 5:30 a.m. That is how it went on for the whole time I was there.

When not eating, chanting, or sleeping, we had an hour or two of free time apart from everyone else. My brother, cousins, an uncle just talked to each other. I learned so much about my family, including more of my family’s language of Khmer. Through their stories, I also learned what was going on when I was still a baby.

On the Sunday when we left, it was pouring rain. It was also the day of the de-monking. De-monking is a practice where first they had us eat a huge meal and we took a bite from everything on our plate. For example, there were fruits and different side foods like chicken and fries and a whole ton of Cambodian desserts. Even if you did not like the particular food, you still had to take a bite out of it.

After we finished eating, we did some more chanting and then the head monk (the one who had been at the temple the longest) separated us from everyone else and he had us pray while he chanted over us. He asked if we wanted to stay monks, but we said no, so he de-monked us, allowing us to go home.

The temple is an hour away from my house, so on the drive home I felt like a completely different person. I felt so open. I also felt like everything was going right, but at the same time everything was also so upside down.

In my tradition, we only do this when a family member passes, and my grandmother had. So in conclusion, I wouldn’t want to do this again, but at the same the time I experienced something that was one of a kind and I will forever have respect for the people who go through this process.

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