LIU Global Students Learn Surprising Lessons About Thai Culture from Monastery Novices
Marcia Harrington, M.F.A.,Director of Public Relations
LIU Global students in the Comparative Religion and Culture Program (CRC) visited Plik Wiwek monastery in Wieng Haeng, Thailand, in November. Situated on the border, Plik Wiwek is a social action project as much as it is a temple. The monastery takes in young boys orphaned by war or the break up of families resulting from longstanding ethnic conflicts in neighboring Burma.
Unlike the experience at most monasteries, Plik Wiwek novices are taught the practical skills they would typically learn through village life: rice cultivation, potato farming, and brick making. They also learn Thai, some English, and Buddhist scripture, ritual, and meditation.
During their three-day stay, students participated in many activities and helped the novices gain confidence in talking with people of a different background. This experience broadened students’ understanding of Buddhism as more than a philosophical discipline since the monastery community has become a surrogate family for the young novices.
Students had their preconceptions further challenged when novices told them they wanted to become soldiers or police officers when they grew up so they could look sharp. Such aspirations conflicted with students’ concept of the Buddhist value of compassion. Also surprising to the students, the monastery’s founder, Phra Ajaan Thanee Jongjen, gave up a lucrative career to become a rural abbot. As one student, Alexandra “Sasha” High wrote, “It isn’t my job to judge, it’s my job to learn from the new cultures, understand why judgments are born, and see if I can break down those judgments with my actions and education.”
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