FAQs about the monk’s life of LP John Paramai
By LP John Paramai Dhanissaro
This list is the Frequently Asked Questions that people ask me while I travel to teach meditation around the world. Many people don’t know much about Buddhism. Some don’t know anything about the monk’s life at all.
What was your life before becoming a Buddhist monk?
I was a Ph.D. student in Telematics at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway. I had been studying computer engineering for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well.
What is your definition of being a Buddhist monk?
For me, it’s about the direction of finding happiness. Most people look for joy in people, things, or places around them. However, monks will learn to search for happiness from within.
Why did you choose to become a monk?
We have a tradition in Thailand that once in our lives, Buddhist men must become monks once in their life. While I respected the culture, I never wanted to become one when I reached the minimum age requirement of 20 years old as I felt it would be a waste of time. I kept postponing my mom when she asked whether I would spend a month or two becoming a monk. When I was doing my bachelor’s degree, and she asked me the question, I said I wanted to finish the bachelor’s degree first. Then I went on to study for my master’s degree. When I was doing my master’s degree, and she asked the question again, I said I wanted to finish the master’s degree first. Then I went on to study for my Ph.D. When I was about to finish my Ph.D., I was afraid she would ask again, and I had to do it. I decided to join an ordination program for about two months. However, those two months have already become 15 years in 2022.
Is being a monk hard?
It was hard since the first day because I came from a different world. They took my phone and everything upon entering the program, so I was worried about not being able to connect with anyone. I remember sharing the bedroom with 30 guys on the first night. I was never used to sharing my space with so many people. It was mid-summer in Thailand, so the room was hot, and I was sweating the whole sleep. I never knew how to use a mosquito net, so I fell out of it, and many mosquitos bit me in the middle of the night. I was trying to sleep again, and I could not because people snored. I questioned if my two months would do any good and whether I should quit the next day.
How did you handle such obstacles?
While I was thinking about quitting right on the first day, I saw many people smiling the next morning. Then I thought, “was I the only one who struggled?” What if I face more enormous obstacles in the future? Will I be able to handle them? I’m also a man of my own words. So, I decided to stay for two months until the end of the program. I handle the obstacles by ignoring them at first.
What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned from your monk’s life?
I’ve found a new way to be happy. The revelation came when I was on a meditation retreat in Chiang Mai, a northern Thai province. I was with one hundred monks. I did not have much belonging. All we did was meditate many times a day, and somehow, I was joyful about discovering the most powerful lesson in my life; the journey to finding true peace is learning how to let go. I had forgotten how to forget many painful pasts. But with the power of meditation, I could disconnect from those bad memories and reconnect with my inner self.
Do you miss anything from your previous life?
At first, I missed everything. But there were three main things that I had to work on to let them go. First is playing piano. Before the ordination, I had been playing piano for so many years. At some point, I also was a piano instructor. To imagine that I would never be able to play piano again made me feel that it was a heavy sacrifice. Second, I loved taking professional photos. Before the ordination, I always carried a big bag of professional camera gear with many lenses to take and edit pictures of my travels. Thinking that I could not touch those things again made me sad. Last but not least, I would miss hugging my mom. The rule of not being able to touch ladies, including my mother, physically also became a reluctant thought.
Will you remain a monk for the rest of your life?
My master once told me that we should become a monk one day at a time. Today I’m a monk, and tomorrow I’ll still be a monk, and that’s it.