Inthisan, born in northeast Thailand, became a Buddhist monk at age 14. He came to the United States in 1992 and now leads nine other missionary monks at Wat Thai Washington, D.C. in Silver Spring. The temple that serves about 2,000 families of both Thai and non-Thai origin.
What's distinctive about Thai Buddhism?
Thai Buddhism is Theravada Buddhism. In Thailand, 95 percent of people are Buddhists and Theravada Buddhists. When Buddhism spread into the United States, we started serving as the Buddhist missionary monks, trying to preserve the Thai tradition and culture of Theravada Buddhism in the United States.
Describe a day in the life of a Thai monk.
We wake up early in the morning, about 5 a.m. We get together in the Buddha Hall and have meditation and then chanting at 6 o'clock. And we take about 45 minutes chanting in Pali language --that's the old language that was used in the time of Buddha. And after that, we have breakfast together, served by the people. That is offered to us because it's the rule that a Theravada monk cannot cook. And if you live in Thailand, in the morning the monk has to carry a bowl to receive food from the village, from the people. That's our tradition.
After breakfast, the monks go do work as their duty. They publish books, do individual studies, help the people, sometimes perform ceremonies. Then we have lunch at 11 o'clock. And Theravada monks are very strict about this rule: We only have two meals a day, and you have to finish lunch before noon. Because of the rule, we cannot eat solid food after noon until the morning. We don't have dinner.
After lunch we take a break for one hour, then from 1 p.m., monks are working outside to take care of the temple, to take care of the people. Then we go back to the Buddha Hall at 5:30 in the evening and get ready for chanting at 6. We finish about 7. After that we have different schedules in each day. Sometimes we have Thai language and tradition class for adults. Sometime we have class for yoga and meditation.
Do you think practicing Thai Buddhism in America makes you appreciate it more? Or does it make you homesick?
I appreciate it, because people are interested in the new thing in their life. They want to learn, they want to know. In Thailand, the local people know already; they practice as a routine. But here, the people don't know anything. They come, and they want to know. So you have a good chance to explain to them about the teaching, or things like that.
At your core, what is one of your defining beliefs?
I believe in the practice of Buddhism. In Buddhism, we believe in karma. "Karma" means "action." If you do good, you'll get good. If you do bad, you'll get bad in return. That's the heart of the teaching: not to do any evil, to do good and to purify the mind. You can reach the final goal one day if you practice.