Mindfulness, happiness, loving-kindness. These attributes can be attained by practicing Buddhist meditation. So I learned from the monks at Wat Thai Buddhist Temple in North Hollywood.
I’d passed the huge Asian-style structure at the intersection of Coldwater Canyon and Roscoe Boulevards once before. The second time I saw it, I just veered off my route, parked on a side street and ventured into the courtyard of the compound. I’m the Faith and Charity columnist here, why didn’t I know about this place? (And why hadn’t I seen the stories that had already appeared on North Hollywood Patch about ?)
Shy at first, I wandered around, took some pics and then stopped in at the office, even though I had to take off my shoes. (I sometimes break a toe when I have to take off my shoes.) There, I met, Michael Mannil, a 25-year old construction manager from Denver, Colorado, who had been temporarily ordained as a monk just a couple of days earlier.
It was news to me but ordination is traditional for Thai men over 20 and the ceremony is the same whether they remain in the monkhood permanently or they leave in a week, like Mannil. His head and eyebrows were shaved, he exchanged his street clothes for orange robes, and divested himself of any jewelry or treasure he had on him. The two-hour long ceremony, conducted by the monks of the temple, was witnessed by his family and community.
During his time at the Wat, he lived like all the other monks, rising at 6 a.m., chanting prayers three times a day, eating only two meals a day (nothing after noon), and learning about his Thai heritage and Buddhist culture.
Mannil invited me into the temple to interview him. Before sitting down he brought me a cup of tea, then pulled up a chair about four feet away from me, maintaining a modest distance. People came in to make offerings and pray while we talked but no one seemed to mind the camera. The temple is open to anyone all the time and monks are always available.
In the slanted light of the setting sun, inside the fuscia carpted sanctuary, Mannil’s teacher, missionary monk Phra Maha Dusit Sawaengwong, talked me through the chanting service I was filming. He explained, like the experienced teacher he is, about the five precepts of Buddhism and the practice of giving. Sawaengwong entered the religious life at age 12 as a novice. In his 20s, he said, he was “upgraded to become a monk.” I received a Buddhist teaching in answer to the first question I put to him in the video.
I returned to the Wat a few days later to re-interview teacher and pupil near the end of Mannil’s week. He called the experience “life changing.” Watch the video to see what the monks have to say about healing one's life and the world with mindfulness meditation.
*Wat Thai is the oldest Thai Buddhist temple in the U.S. It was built in 1972 to serve a city that has been referred to as Thailand's 78th province. With 80,000 Thais, Los Angeles has the largest Thai population outside of Thailand.
More than a house of worship, the temple is a culture center for the community, celebrating Thai holidays, providing classes in language, culture and music, fruit carving, Thai classical dance and much more. The Thai New Year, Songkran, will be celebrated there on April 14 and 15, with music, dancing and Thai food. Check back on the Patch events calendar for more details.
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