Buddhism & Catholicism

I’ve been in the Catholic religion my whole life. In fact, every single person in my immediate and extended family is catholic. Because of this, I am very familiar with catholicism and very unfamiliar with pretty much every other religion out there. This was just one reason why I was interested in learning more about Buddhism from our monk chat a few days ago.
The thing that I found most interesting was the fact that a lot of men become monks for a period of time. This period of time may be a short one or a long one. There is no mandatory time commitment for them. I was under the impression that becoming a monk was a lifetime commitment. This probably came from my background in the Catholic church. The priests in the Catholic religion often commit their whole life to God. They are unable to marry and very few of them ever decide to leave priesthood. In contrast, a man can decide to become a monk for a few months to study the Buddhist ways. In fact, as we learned from the monk chat, men are often encouraged to become a monk for a period of time before marriage. It’s also possible for a man to become a monk after he is married as long as he gets permission from his wife. I’m wondering if becoming a priest in the Catholic church was less of a commitment time wise, or if there was more flexibility, then maybe there wouldn’t be such a shortage of priests. Just looking around it was very apparent to me that there were a lot of monks around. I’ve only seen 5 priests maximum at a time at church and that was for confession. I know that the Catholic Church really struggles getting enough men to take the vow and I just wonder if there is a way to improve that. I’m not saying adopting the exact rules as the monks is the answer, I just think it’s interesting to think about.
I also find the variable of gender interesting in religion. In one way, Buddhists are ahead of Catholics. The monk explained that now women are being allowed to become monks. In the past, women were only allowed to become nuns. I found this ground breaking because in the Catholic faith women are only allowed to be nuns. While their commitment is just as serious as a priests, they are not allowed the same privileges and there is no way for them to gain those privileges. I wonder if women who do decide to become monks are awarded the same treatment as male monks. I also have a hard time grasping the fact that women can become monks and yet there are signs to keep women out of temples. Something just seems wrong about that. How can they move forward in one aspect and not move forward in another?  The monk said that in some instances it is the abbot monks decision whether or not to allow women into the temple. I would be interested to see if in 10 years or more this will be change as the monks studying now become the abbot monks. Maybe there will be more acceptance? It’s hard to say.
Finally, one of my favorite things the monk said about Buddhism was about treating everyone the same because everyone feels hunger the same way, regardless of religion. I would like to find out if this is really the case. I’m not saying I’m completely skeptical, but I am in the dark and I don’t want to assume anything. I hope it’s true. I think many religions may preach this, but it’s very hard to carry out. I think in some instances, some catholics can be intolerant of other beliefs. I don’t think any priest would admit to that happening in the Catholic church, but in my opinion it does happen. Hopefully I can learn more about this in the scope of Buddhism.

“All of these efforts are one effort.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

A few days ago my daughter and I went to a concert at Bedlam Theater in Minneapolis. A friend of mine worked with the Women’s Foundation to put it on; all of the money raised goes to the MN Girls Are Not For Sale campaign, which is working to fight human trafficking in Minnesota.  We loved the local bands and have been listening to the CD “Voice” in the car. Hip-hop, folk, gospel–each song is voice only and shot through with hope.  The musicians donated their time and effort and all of the proceeds go to fighting trafficking of young men and women in our backyard.  My daughter is the age of many of the adolescents who are trafficked.
The other evening my husband, our two daughters and I attended a senior Dance Show at the UM, where Magnolia Yang Sao Yia performed a dance she choreographed, “20 Years Strong.” With the use of audio, wearing a traditional skirt over jeans and t-shirt, and through precise movements of her hands, her hair, and the rest of her body, Yang expressed the history of the Hmong people fleeing from the Viet Cong, living in refugee camps, migrating to the United States, and navigating the obstacles to thriving in the U.S. Magnolia wrote that “20 Years Strong” is “dedicated to all of the strong, beautiful, and inspirational Hmong women in my life who have gifted me with love, resilience and courage. We will not be silenced.”  In our Learning Abroad seminar, half of our 20 students are Hmong, and most are women.
The night before I flew out I ate pizza and watched Selma with my family, because my daughters really wanted us to watch it, and I see why.  It is a potent movie at any time in history, but especially so as the ripple effect of Black Lives Matter continues to build in momentum and reveal our institutional racism throughout our country.
And in between these events, I walked through the meadows on our land to the Rum River, and into the woods, marveling at the wildflowers and the riot of green. As I stood on the banks of the river and watched the light glint off of the water, I pictured the mighty Mekong River that I will be fortunate to see again in a few days.
Human Trafficking, cultural resilience of Hill Tribe members and African Americans, and the ecological integrity of rivers and other natural places. To borrow a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. in one of his speeches in Selma, “All of these efforts are one effort.”  And stories—through music, dance, and film–are used to not only express struggles, beauty, and hope, but to take part in creating our understanding of and engagement with these issues.
This learning abroad that my colleague Cathy Solheim and I created springs out of our mutual interest in the power of stories to reveal culture and family, and the intricate relationship between people and the land: the Mississippi, the Mekong, and all other natural places.  Cathy had wanted to further explore the connection between families, communities and the natural environment from the family social science lens, and I am researching the role of the arts to both reveal and shape the ways communities are navigating the impacts of climate change and globalization. I want to better understand how communities nurture their cultural traditions and the integrity of their collective in the face of decreasing access to natural resources along with the impact of commerce conducted by large transnational corporations.  Our students are asking similar questions, and understand that they will shoulder the responsibilities of dealing with the impact of globalization and complex natural resource issues as they move into their futures.
I know “these efforts are one effort,” but I need Cathy, with her cultural understanding of and experience in Thailand as well as her Family Social Science framework, and these 20 students we’re fortunate to be traveling with, and especially our Thai friends, villagers, and educators, to help me better understand the issues and to articulate how these efforts are one effort. Within the collective we will learn and share our visions and hopes for our communities, our students, and the communities we are engaging with in northern Thailand.

My “Mediator’s Initiation”

Wat Thai of Minnesota– “the religious purpose of the establishment” is:

  1. To continue the teachings of the Buddha as a World Heritage Site.
  2. To be center of spiritual followers, for Buddhists from Thailand in Minnesota or anyone else from any background who are interested in Buddhism.
  3. To be a center of cultural heritage for Thais in Minnesota, including those who are of newer generations of Thai descendants in Minnesota.

I glanced away from my phone and looked up at the structure to which their website was referring. It was a two-story brown dwelling with a long shelter near by. It was far from the traditional Thai architecture in photos I had marveled at. As we approached the door, I slipped off my shoes and felt a little smug. I had thoroughly read our article, “A Mediator’s Initiation” and felt reassured in how to carry myself in front of the Abbot, or head monk. I made my way up the stairs and as soon as we eyes met, I became transparent and felt very out of place. My head was higher than his? Aren’t our knees supposed to be touching the ground? I shouldn’t stare too long… DO NOT TOUCH HIM! My mind flooded with questions and reminders and I soon became overwhelmed. I sat on the floor and my knee length skirt came to my thighs. I grew hot. I clandestinely looked around me and noticed that everyone else wore leggings or pants and I felt embarrassed and even somewhat ashamed. I positioned myself behind another classmate.

(Picture by Acharn Cathy)

We listened as he spoke about his journey to becoming a monk and the practice of Buddhism and I found myself becoming at ease. He shared how to properly greet someone and how your hands should be partly rounded like a lotus flower. The position of your hands also showed a great deal of respect and differed depending on the age and respect of the individual being greeted. I was also intrigued about the role of women in Buddhism and how most forms did not allow women to become monks and that we were not to come close or touch the Abbot. Because the Buddhism way of life is so engrained in the Thai culture, I want to know more about how gender roles weaves its way into other aspects of Thai life.

After the session of chanting and overview of the five precepts, I urged my deeply sleeping legs awake and proceeded to eat the delicious cuisine followed by participating in the look-over of the study abroad itinerary. I left feeling both enlightened but slightly nervous for my impending first trip to another country.

One of my goals of study abroad is that I become more culturally responsive through global engagement. I want to grow as a person by exposing myself to knowledge, concepts, and/or experiences that reflect a different cultural frame of reference. I hope to increase my self-awareness, understanding, confidence, and self-reliance during this experience in such a way that it continues into my later experiences, both as a student at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities and post-graduation. To do this, I need to not be afraid of asking questions and actively participating in my surroundings– to remind myself that it is okay not to fully understand everything and know that my initiation will be a journey supported by the people I travel with and those I meet along the way.

My Mediator’s Initiation

1) What I found interesting from the reading is how difficult meditating can be especially for Westerners. Individuals from western countries are often taught to be productive and to always plan for the future. We seldom take the time to be present and fully enjoy the moment. What surprised me is that I see this trait in myself as well. My mind is usually cluttered with thoughts. I’m constantly thinking about the tasks I need to complete or the people and things I am surrounded by. However, this reading taught me the importance of slowing down, taking some time within my day to be mindful, and to be comfortable in silence. I believe that developing this skill will be beneficial for physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Rather than becoming lost by the day-to-day tasks and rituals, it is important to take in my surroundings and embrace it all.

2) A learning goal is to venture outside of my comfort zone and keep an open heart and mind while I am abroad. I want to start where the community is from rather than where I am from. I want to learn and expand my mind through making observations, interacting with the community members, and by making meaningful connections with the culture of Thailand.

First Blog Post: Orientation for Thailand/Pre-Departure

An ocean apart; a world away . . . In less than a week, I will be embarking on a three-week long study abroad journey to a country I have never stepped foot on before. The land of smiles, as that is what Thailand is known as, will be the first ever foreign country I will be traveling to – and it will also be the first time I will be riding on a plane.

On Saturday, April 18th, I attended orientation at Wat Temple located in Elk River. Although I have never seen a temple before in person, through photos i have seen, I initially expected to see a big building with stone pillars and a scenic location. I was surprised to see how different the temple looked like compared with the photos I saw. Reflecting on my experience at the Wat Temple, the entire orientation session helped me become familiar with Thai culture. From listening to the monk speak about the etiquette for temples to learning that there are 13 smiles in Thailand culture and having Acharn Cathy explain further into detail more information about Thailand and it’s culture has all contributed to me becoming familiar with Thai culture.

Growing up, I have always dreamed of traveling the world and immersing myself into learning about a world other than my own. To learn how the world functions and how different life is outside of my own bubble, one learning goal I have for myself in regards to this study abroad opportunity is to educate myself about the culture of Thailand. I am ecstatic to embark on this exciting journey.

Wat Temple Reflection

Wat Temple Reflection
My experiences at Wat temple was an eye-opening experience.  I thought I knew more about Thailand because I lived in Thailand from the day I was born until I was 10 years of age.  It turns out that I didn’t know as much about Thailand as I thought I did. 
I thought that the Wat temple would look more like those that I saw when I was in Thailand, but it looked more like a house.  It was when I entered the Wat temple that I realized the appearances of the Wat temple doesn’t matter, it is what is inside that mattered and the inside felt just like the temples that I went to in Thailand.
I went to Thai school for three years and “wai” (greet) all the time and didn’t realized that I’ve been it improperly.  Although speaking and understanding Thai was not an challenge for me, there are two important lessons I learned about Thai culture which I never knew before.  I learned that when “wai” others, my hands are not suppose to pressed flat on one another, they are supposed to spread apart in the middle to form a “lotus” like flower.  When I went to school in Thailand, I’ve always “wai” (greet) my teachers with my hands pressed flat together and no one have ever corrected me.  Something else that I learned is that females are not suppose to sit close to and or touch the Buddha, only males can do so! This was shocking to me, I’ve never heard of it.  I’ve always thought that male or female could sit and touch the Buddha.  This was truly an eye opening experience for me because I learned valuable lessons about the Thai culture and this is one of my favorite part about the Wat temple experience.

Another of my favorite part of the Wat temple experience would have to be the food that we ate.  The food was as good as I remembered having them in Thailand.  The chicken “kang” or curry with eggs is my favorite dish and the sweet sticky rice with mango and coconut cream on top was the best Thai dessert for me!  I love this mango sticky rice dessert.  I’ve tried to make it multiple times at home, but I can never find the right mango to go with it, the mango is either not ripe enough or not as sweet as it should be.  I had two to three dish of this dessert! 
Although it is true that I lived in Thailand for ten years, I’ve never felt as “free” as this.  When I was in Thailand, I lived as a refugee in a refugee camp which was strictly controlled as of where I can and can’t go.  I am looking forward to my experiences in Thailand and can not wait for the day to come!  I look forward to the different places that I will go and the many different food that I will eat again as well as new food that I have not eaten before.  My learning goal that I have is to compare my experiences of Thailand as a ‘refugee child’ to my experiences as an ‘adult tourist’ and learn from them.  I hope to be more open-minded than I am now with the new insights that I will gain from Thailand.  This is going to be an life changing experience as well as a reminder of where I came from.  THAILAND, HERE I COME!

Reflection about the Wat Temple

My experience at the temple was phenomenal. I didn’t know what to exactly expect when I went to the temple. I honestly thought that the temple would look like the temples I saw from the Thai movies and pictures, but it was very different. I thought the temple looked more like a normal house. However, in the inside of the temple it was quite different from a normal house because it had no technology and very open.

Being at the Wat temple I learned a lot about the Thai culture. Previously, I only heard and watch movies about the Thai culture, but experiencing it in real life helped me gained a better perspective.  Being at the Wat temple I learned many new things from how to sit correctly to how to give merit to our love ones. Learning how to chant was probably the most interesting part to me. Although, I couldn’t

understand what the monk was saying in Thai I tried to be in sync with them as best as I could. It was a good feeling to chant about peace and wanting only peace without any sacrifices. Then at the end of the chanting we had to pour the water bottle into the cup, while thinking about who we want to give merit to. I felt great knowing that I was able to give blessings to my love ones. Also, knowing that any person from any culture and race could come to the temple amused me because the Thai culture is so welcoming. Thus, one learning goal I hope to gain from Thailand is to learn how to integrate myself in their culture from eating their food to living their lifestyle. I believe that once I’m able to integrate myself into the Thai culture it would help me see the world in a better point of view and grow into a well-round person.

Ready, set, THAILAND.

Hello, hello!

I alwaysssssssss start off blogs with an introduction, so here goes: my name is Elaine and I am a going-to-be-junior in the Youth Studies department, and maybe minoring in Asian American Studies and Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies. As a daughter of Hmong refugees, it has always been a dream of mine to visit Thailand and Laos and to visit the places that my parents often reminisce

and dream about – and here I am, going off to Thailand and even getting the opportunity to visit Hmong villages.

Before our orientation I didn’t really know what to expect. When I heard “temple,” I imagined something huge like what you would see in movies and online. When I got to the Wat Temple I was definitely surprised to see it looked like a regular house. I think that this is something that I want to keep with me throughout the trip things aren’t always going to be what I expect, and it’s important to go into things with an open mind. Even though orientation was pretty laid back, it was really packed with a lot of information that would help me before our departure. For example, we got to know more about the different customs that the Thai people have, such as the different levels of bowing and how we are supposed to sit and act while we’re in a temple. It was also amazing experiencing the hospitality of everyone that we met there and learning more about Buddhism.

With this seminar, I’m worried that I’ll get carried away with the “tourist” things that I’ll want to do and forget or push away what I really want to get out of the trip. One learning goal I have for myself would be to be able to think critically about globalization and their effects and to be able to point it out on my own if/when I see it.

Orientation Thoughts

            Heading to the temple for our orientation, I had no idea what to expect. What does a Buddhist temple look like? How would one in Elk River look, and who would be there?
                It took me some time to find the correct location, as I was sure it would look different from the surrounding houses. However, we met in a large house similar to the others, and gathered on the living room floor. I was immediately impressed by the calm, friendly yet authoritative presence of the monk sitting above and in front of us. Bald with a friendly face and traditional orange robes, he silently observed us all as we filtered in. After a few others and I had sat down, Acharn Cathy asked us to introduce ourselves. I did not know how to do this in the Thai culture, especially to a monk. I watched others and saw them bring their hands together before saying their name, so I did the same. Acharn Cathy motioned for me to bow as well. I did so, flustered, hoping I had not offended the monk. He simply looked amused and moved his gaze to the next person. We later learned about the different hand positions when greeting, saying thank you and other situations, which helped me to become more familiar with the customs. I am very happy to have had the experience of learning things like how to greet others, where to sit in presence of a monk, language basics and a little bit about Buddhist rituals in such a friendly environment. This experience helped me to feel more comfortable about immersing myself in Thai culture.

                One learning goal I have for myself is to simply learn more about the way other people view themselves and the world. I get such a narrow picture of it here, and I really only know how I see the world. I’m excited to see how different groups of Thai people live, what’s important to them, and how they go about their daily lives. Within that, I look forward to learning about how global societal and environmental change are impacting the people of Thailand specifically, and hope to use this information to broaden my perspective as an individual and become an active agent of change. 

My Experience at Wat Temple

So much was going through mind as I walked up the stairs, 20 minutes late to the meeting. “Oh my gosh, how utterly rude can a person be?” As I got to the top, I couldn’t ask for a better greeting, a smile. That moment was how I knew that my experience at the Wat Temple would be special, and it was. And why was it special? The absolute elegancy and sophistication of the Thai culture. We were taught different gestures and phrases, like how Thai people greet or thank one another. We also learned about the importance of giving in the Thai culture and some teaching of Buddhism. It was an absolute honor to be taught these minor things from a monk which was what made it that much more special. Another special/amazing thing was the food. That was my very first time tasting authentic Thai food. Everything was delicious and unique. I especially love the mango rice! Of course, this experience was as it is due to the hospitality of everyone there.

One learning goal for myself is to broaden my views in life. We are going to learn about the global change that is occurring in Thailand. These are some very serious issues and through this learning abroad experience, I hope to come back with a little enlightenment and better my understanding of this to better myself in the future.