Life Under The Saffron Robe - Part 2
At 8:00am on Saturday November 22, Ward and I hit the road to Chicago. It was a decent day, some flurries but not too cold. We had breakfast at the Norske Nook in Osseo, Wisconsin where their pies are very popular. Then we continued driving to Chicago and meet Ward’s younger brother, Chris. He lives 10 minutes away from downtown Chicago and fairly close to the Wat.
At 4:00pm Ward drove while Chris was navigated to the temple. My heart was pounding, as I had no idea what to expect. Then we arrived at the destination – Wat Phrasriratanamahadhatu. I got out of the car and looked around to see whether the house number was the right address, I was stunned! “Is this the temple that I decided to stay for a week?” I said to myself... but no words came out of my mouth. The temple seemed to be just regular house, kinda old and abandoned looking with a few leafless trees. There was no distinction between this temple and the surrounding residential housing along the street except the fairly prominent wooden-sign in the front yard that read “Wat Phrasriratanamahadhatu” in English and Thai.
I went to the front door and looked through the window. I couldn’t see anything except the curtain. It was dark inside. There was a small note posted on the wall that directed visitors to go to the back door. Still a bit taken aback, I asked Chris and Ward to wait for me while I walked to the back of the temple. Unlike the front of the temple, the back had a big parking space that could hold up to 10 cars. I came back around and asked Ward to park in this private parking area. Then I notices across the alley from the back of this house, there was a separate building with sinage in Thai, a large hall (in Thai called “Sa-la”) that could accomodate up to 200 people easily. So the Wat consisted of several buildings.
Ward parked and we all three opened the back door to the house and were looking around. It was as quiet as the cabin in Minaki where I used to stay with Wards family up in Canada, except no loons. The entire floor was made of wood that creaked every time we walked. We sat down in a dining area near a small Buddha room to the left side. We could see dim light shining from the big Buddha room in front of us. “Hi”- greeted an elderly monk – Maha-Sunthorn. He grinned mischeviously and talked to us. I talked to him about the purpose of my trip. He knew who I was since he remembered my phone call almost a month ago. However, he couldn’t make any decision nor give me any further information about what I supposed to do. I asked him whether I could ordain tomorrow but he could not give me an answer, he smiled. He asked me to come back at 6:30pm as the abbot was not in at the moment. My nervous feelings returned and I started to wonder as to whether or not my journey to the Buddhist world would succeed. My thoughts turned inward and I started asking myself several “what-if” questions. “What if he said I can’t ordain tomorrow due to bad date? What if the abbot forgot about my ordination and was not prepared? What if he said I can’t return to lay life the Sunday after next as I had planned?” “What if … and what if…”
To pass the time until the abbot returned, Ward and Chris took me to the dinner nearby. Knowing that I would not be able to have dinner during my monkhood, we all went to a nice sushi place. During dinner, my what-if questions were still lingering on and off. “What kind of test does Buddha want to give me?” I feel this way whenever something strange happens to me.
It was 6:30pm and I needed to see the abbot to find out whether or not my ordination was OK for the next day. I rushed out of the sushi restaurant to the temple. The back door was closed and the light was off. “Was I late? Should I ring the bell again?” - I was afraid of waking the monks up.
“DING!”... one minute later, the abbot- Venerable Ajarn Ratana, came to the door. He looked vigorously, wisely, yet calm. He asked me a few questions. I was tense. He was aware of my journey, the challenge of my life. He still didn’t answer whether or not it was OK to ordain the next day. He also didn’t reply whether the next Sunday I could disrobe to be a layperson again. He looked through his book for a short moment and finally accepted my request formally. My worries were taken away and my body was light as if I was a piece of cotton. My mind was cleared. Ward & Chris then returned from the restaurant, after a few beers. The abbot gave us all a talk in English about Buddhist philosophy and life. This man was seriously amazing to meet and very wise. Their alcohol level from dinner immediately dropped down to zero.
Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, conclusion.