During my trip to Chiang Mai, in addition to preparing and helping with English Camps at schools and temples ATMA SEVA works with, I have also been working to spread and strengthen the monk chat program. Monk chats are an excellent learning/teaching tool in which students sitting anywhere around the world can talk and ask questions to Thai monks in Chiang Mai through video skype calls. Students can ask the monks questions about Buddhism, their monastic life, and virtually anything the students would like to know or talk about.
So far, monk chats have been useful in classes such as cultural anthropology, global problem solving, and world religions.
The concept of monk chats was born in 2010. After coming to Thailand to work with monks for English education, David Poppe (ATMA SEVA’s Programs Director) thought that communicating and learning from the monks was unique and extremely interesting. David really wanted to find a way to share this opportunity with people back in the US. The idea of using skype to talk to the monks was then conceived. Since then, many groups have utilized monk chats. Among these include four different schools, a boys and girls club, and other various groups. The ATMA SEVA team and I are now working on bringing monk chats to as many schools as possible so the maximum number of students can benefit from this opportunity.
Monk chats were created with several goals in mind. First of all, they are seen as excellent teaching tools. Instead of learning about topics such as Buddhism from old textbooks, students will get an opportunity to learn first hand from someone who lives their life in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings. On the other side of the call, the monks get a chance to practice their English and gain exposure to people from around the world. Initially, the monk chats had a fee of $10 per person in order to raise money for ATMA SEVA’s scholarship program that supports the educational needs of novice monks and monks. Now, the fee is no longer required but donations are highly encouraged and all money still goes towards these scholarships.
In my personal experience, I have been a part of five monk chats. Whenever I am in a monk chat, whether I am participating or moderating, I always learn so much from the interesting question-and-answer back and forth. One of the most memorable moments was a question about how to incorporate Buddhist ideals of detachment in our daily lives without becoming a monk. I’ll let you find out the answer during your next monk chat! Just talking to a monk, about whom we barely know anything, is an experience in itself let alone learning about them and their culture. Most people are amazed at the responses they get and are excited about their one of a kind experience!
I am really excited to continue working with the schools and other organizations on monk chats! If you or anyone you know is interested, please contact ATMA SEVA via email. If groups or schools want to know what the experience is like beforehand, we would be happy to host a “practice” monk chat for you. For further information about the program, you can visit www.atmaseva.org/Page-74/Monk-chats.php. Thank you for reading and looking forward to (monk) chatting soon!
Written by: Raghav Agarwal