An intimate look into the unique experience of entering the Buddhist monkhood in Thailand.
Phansa is a common tradition in Thailand: Young Buddhist men are ordained for a monthslong retreat in a monastery during the country’s rainy season, only to disrobe at the end and return to their lives as laymen. A successful, married writer with two young children and a steady job in Bangkok at the Metropolitan Waterworks Authority, Limpichart undertook this task in 1974, later in life than some, spurred by his own intense sense of duty and pragmatic spirit. Titled Khon Nai Phaa Leuang in the original Thai, Limpichart’s memoir documents his early preparation and ordination, along with his time spent at the temple of Wat Prathat Doi Kong Mu, located not far from the country now widely called Myanmar. His account here is not strictly of the lessons gleaned from Dhamma or the teachings of the Buddha but rather his experiences while studying it, as he learned to adapt to a more contemplative existence, free from distractions. Landau’s translation is approachable, never sacrificing the author’s subdued wit or thoughtful knack for descriptions. English readers unfamiliar with Thailand will find the fogs over Mae Hong Son, along with many other settings, vividly described. And while many of Limpichart’s own ruminations focus on the physical—stiff toes from meditating, the wet air of the monsoon season, chafed thighs and cut feet from taking alms—there are also explorations of surprisingly familiar emotional struggles not unique to the monkhood, such as loneliness and the importance of humility, whether concerning faith or just completing day-to-day tasks. The lone flaw in the book’s presentation is a lack of context; those unfamiliar with Thai or Buddhist culture will no doubt find some attitudes and social mores jarring, even alien, and a more comprehensive primer about customs in this part of the world could have easily remedied this, much in the same way the remarkable photos of Limpichart’s ordination help illustrate a ceremony few have experienced firsthand.
Remarkably candid; a deeply fascinating account of Thailand and Buddhism.