Thai Monks Teach Buddhism in Layton

September 6, 2008

Author: Jessica Ravitz

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune,7085,0,0,1,0

Funny how the color can confuse people. Sporting a robe-matching bright orange hoodie sweatshirt as he lugged rocks across the lawn, the man known as Tahn Nong laughed when he recounted the recurring question, an odd one for any practicing Buddhist to hear.

"Some people ask me, 'Are you a hunter?' he said, flashing a huge smile as he squinted into the midday sun. "I say, 'No, I'm a monk!'

Nong, 32, whose full name - including his religious title - is Phramaha Suphachate Yotjai, became earlier this summer the Thai Buddhist temple Wat Dhammagunaram's newest resident monk. He joined Phramaha Israt Rittiron,41, who's known as Tahn Israt, the monk who has been a constant for the past 11 years during which time the number of temple monks has fluctuated. "Tahn" is the equivalent of "Mr.," they explained, and Nong is simply the preferred nickname for the younger resident.

Together they live in the temple's adjacent "white house," while maintaining the grounds as well as the temple's and the community's well-being.

"You know when you get sick with your body, you go to the doctor? When you're sick with your mind, you go to temple," Nong said.

In Thailand, a country that's about 95 percent Buddhist, it is customary for men to take monastic vows for short periods, most commonly about three months. But for Nong and Israt, the commitment that began in their teen years has stuck, at least for now. After being trained in their home country, both were eventually sent to the United States to serve communities, "like a missionary," Nong said with a laugh. Israt arrived in Colorado 16 years ago, before being sent to Utah; Nong came to Layton by way of Las Vegas, where he landed in 2004.

The two sat down in the temple recently, hoodie sweatshirts off, to discuss their spiritual work and their day-to-day living. Each morning and evening, they step into the temple to do chants and meditations. Their weekdays are filled with teaching people about Buddhism and providing counseling on meditation. They conduct ceremonies for community members, doing everything from funerals to offering blessings for newborns and new businesses. On Saturdays they lead a meditation class, and on Sundays they conduct the weekly service for the community, which includes people from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and America, as well as other Westerners. They average about 50 people on Sundays, but can draw hundreds for festivals.

Israt said their goal is "to help the people to develop their minds, to be peaceful and to end the suffering."

Managing suffering requires acceptance, he explained, pointing to the "cycle of life" as an example. While people easily accept birth, they don't accept aging, sickness and death, and because of this, they suffer.

Another problem weighing on American society, said Israt, is materialism. Rather than focus on financial gains, he said people would be better-served if they focused on spiritual goals, before launching into Wall Street analogies.