Westerner follows in Buddha's footsteps

US anthropology student joins monks on their morning alms round to learn about religion first-hand in Bangkok

Residents of Phraeng Nara community in the old Rattanakosin area of Bangkok are used to seeing temple boys carrying food for monks during their morning alms round. But a couple of weeks ago, they were taken by surprise when a young American man started doing the job.

bangkok-buddhist-alms-monkCharles Adams, a 24-year-old student at North Carolina State University, accompanies monks as they make their morning alms round at Phraeng Nara community in the old Rattanakosin area. PHOTOS BY APICHART JINAKUL

The Westerner helps carry the food given to the monks, walks calmly after them and performs a Wai when the monks bless the alms offerers.
"During the first few days, the residents looked very surprised to see me. They asked me lots of questions _ what's my name, what am I doing here and where I come from," said Charles Adams, a 24-year-old student at North Carolina State University.

His majors are culture, anthropology and religious studies, and he felt he needed real experience to better understand these subjects.
Mr. Adams also has strong determination to learn about Buddhism from masters outside of the classroom. So he applied and was chosen for the five-month student-exchange project under the Thai studies programme at Thammasat University's Pridi Banomyong International College.

As the university is located near Wat Mahathat, Mr. Adams decided to go to the temple compound one day, hoping to find someone who would be able to clear his doubts about Buddhist principles.
"I spoke to a novice, but he didn't understand what I said. So he took me to the living quarters of Phra Maha Charan Rajawong, a senior monk who was kind enough to answer my questions and accept me as his disciple," Mr. Adams said of his first day at the temple.
After that, the American visited the temple twice a week.
He arrived early in the morning to join the monks' morning alms round, which starts at 6am.
His daily route covers about three kilometres, starting from Wat Mahathat and then moving to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the Ministry of Defence, Klong Lot, Phraeng Nara community, City Hall, the Hindu shrine and returning to the temple.
He sometimes asks his friends to accompany him.


Mr. Adams said that before he came to Bangkok some people told him Thais no longer offer food to the monks in the morning.
But the practice still exists and the amount of food given to the monks was amazingly substantial, he said.
He also learned that offering food is a way to learn about selflessness.
Mr. Adams said he believed the Thai characteristics of kindness and forgiveness came mainly from Buddhist principles.

Apart from being a temple boy, the American said he was practising basic meditation.
"Meditation is good for you, whether you are Buddhist or not.
"Although I am a Christian, I love to learn meditation, which is totally different from other religious practices. It focuses on self-learning practices, not a belief," he said.

Phra Maha Charan Rajawong said the American was a good student who was full of energy to learn.
He is welcome at the temple as a new student.
"He helps clean up the temple's compound and volunteers to do other work in exchange for our teachings," he said.
Mr Adams's strong determination to learn about Lord Buddha's teachings should serve as an example and inspiration to Buddhists who have neglected their religion, the monk said.

columnistWriter: Apinya Wipatayotin
Position: Reporter
From: Bangkok Post

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