New video – Custom Travel

Check out our latest video!! It is about our most recent custom trip from Northern Thailand! Included in the trip were educational tours, English camps, and monk chats!!!

For more information about our custom travel options, click here.

*Video shot and edited by Antoine Gratian and Raghav Agarwal*

ATMA SEVA team

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

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The monk chat experience

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.

monk chat from West Hartford

A monk chat with a high school Human Rights class in Connecticut

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.

One of the very first monk chats!

One of the very first monk chats!

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.

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The monks answering questions from Wat Doi Saket

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!

Me in Thailand during a monk chat I scheduled!

Me in Thailand during a monk chat I scheduled!

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

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Many Monk Misconceptions

Before I came to Thailand, I had never met a Buddhist monk in person. Sure, I’d seen pictures, maybe a clip or two on tv, but I’d never actually sat down and had a conversation with a monk. In my head, monks were shy, quiet people who dedicated their lives to meditation.  I’m not quite sure where I got this idea, but it is a stereotype that I’m sure I wasn’t alone in believing.

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See, monks can use cameras and cell phones too!

After arriving in Thailand and spending a week in Chiang Mai, I had the opportunity to live at Wat Doi Saket, a temple located about thirty minutes outside of the city and the hub of ATMA SEVA’s volunteer program.  My time at the temple was my first exposure to monks.  Despite my expectations, some of them were actually quite outgoing, approaching me and greeting me in English! I quickly realized that most of my ideas about monks were wrong, or at best were a gross generalization.

Men enter the monastic community for a variety of reasons: to continue their education, to learn more about Buddhism, or to make merit. Some stay for a week, some for a year, and some for a lifetime. You can become a monk, disrobe, and then decide to join again at some later date. There is no expectation of a lifelong commitment. Many men will become a monk for a few weeks or months during Buddhist lent or during summer holidays as a way to “make merit”.  Often times the motivation to “make merit” is for family members, their mothers, or because of a recent death in the family.

The majority of novice monks (boys under the age of 20) join the monastic community because they lack the financial resources to finish their education.  Becoming a novice monk is free and a way for these young men to complete their high school degree.

Another misconception I had about monks is their lifestyle. I envisioned meek, quiet souls who spoke little and spent most of their day meditating. The reality? I saw monks talking on cell phones and watching movies! It’s easy to forget that underneath the shaved head and saffron robe, the novices are just teenage boys.  As novices, they certainly live with more rules and restrictions than the average teen, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t still teenagers at heart.

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Novice monk enjoying some good old homemade waffles!

I’m glad that I had the chance to meet a variety of monks in person and see where my preconceptions were not a complete picture. For those who aren’t able to drop everything and travel to Thailand tomorrow, a Skype based “monk chat” is an excellent way to get to learn about the life of a Buddhist monk.  ATMA SEVA offers monk chats with some of the monks from Wat Doi Saket for only $10 a person, money that goes directly towards a scholarship fund for the monks.  These chats are a great chance to ask any questions about Buddhism, what it’s like to live as a monk, and more.

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Recent monk chat at Wat Doi Saket between two resident monks and students from a high school in Connecticut, USA!

Please contact us at info@atmaseva.org or leave a comment below if you or someone you know might be interested in an ATMA SEVA monk chat!

Jamie Shannon, On-site Intern

jamie@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

ATMA SEVA in the News – Mission.tv

ATMA SEVA was recently featured on mission.tv which “is a digital platform about making a difference in the world. We are a dynamic website about social action and travel for a purpose, home to videos, blogs, photo galleries and more. We are a social network, a collaborative community of activists, travelers and creative contributors, all of us humanitarians.”

The featured blog post is about our unique monk chat program! Click here to read the entry.

Thanks Mission TV and we are looking forward to many more successful monk chats!!!

PS) Check out Mission TV on Facebook

www.atmaseva.org

Wat Doi Saket project – ‘The Cause of Love from a Buddhist Perspective’ by Phra Maha Rit

ATMA SEVA would like to introduce Phra Maha Narongrit (nick name Rit). He will be contributing to our blog on a constant basis.  He is from Ba Pae village and has been in the monastic community for eight years.  Phra Maha Rit has been helping with the ‘Wat Doi Saket project‘ and also has been part of our ‘monk chats‘.  He has lot’s of knowledge and wisdom about Buddhism and is excited to share with everyone.  Thank you very much Phra Maha Rit for all your hard work and efforts!

The Cause of Love from a Buddhist Perspective

Where does love come from?

Why could you be indifferent or remain calm when you are talking to a deadly attractive person? Why doesn’t his/her appearance romanticize you? Why does your heart say:  “This person is not Mr. / Ms. Right for me.” Why is it that all you want from him/her is just being friends, why not a romantic relationship?

On the contrary, why do you have a very strong feeling towards somebody, even though he/she is not that good looking? And it is quite often that you have romantic feelings for him/her at the very first sight. Sometimes, you could be indifferent to your mate at first, but when time passes your feeling for him /her changes positively.

Say, you are a dropped dead gorgeous person, but why does the boy or girl that you want to grow a tree of love with not seem to share your interest? Instead, he/she admires somebody else? WHY?

There are many people who want to know the answers of the mentioned questions. Here is what the Buddha said about it.

Pali:

“PUBBHE VA SANNIVASENA              PUCCUPPANNAHITENA VA

EVANTAM CAYATE PEMAM              UPALAM VA YADHOTHAGE.”

Meaning:

“LOVE IS ORIGINATED FROM TWO CAUSES. ONE IS RELATIONSHIP IN THE PAST, AND THE OTHER IS FRIENDLINESS IN THE PRESENT. JUST LIKE LOTUS COMES FROM WATER AND MIRE.”

Artist Thit Buaphan’s mural painting in Wat Phumin, Nan province. It is named ‘The Whispering’.

Regarding the first cause of love, Buddhists believe that they have past lives and hereafter lives (rebirth). If you had a relationship with somebody in the past, it is likely that you could have a relationship with him or her again in this life time, or in the next lives. It would be easy for you and your past mate to fall in love again in this lifetime if you get to see each other once more, since you two have lived together in the past. For the second cause of love; there is also a chance for you and the person you admire to fall in love even though you and him/her have not met each other before, either in this lifetime or in past lives; this can happen if the two of you have things in common, share the same interests, and, most important of all, have feelings toward each other.

Considering the Buddha’s teaching, this is the root of love. It provides the clearest answer for all love obstacles.

Why does the person you do not adore keep coming around? And why does the person whom you want by your side keep going away from you?

Look at the Buddha’s teaching, and you will know why.

Phra Maha Rit

www.atmaseva.org

ATMA SEVA in the news!!!

Recently ATMA SEVA received some publicity from a local newspaper, The Valley Press.  This weekly newspaper reaches six towns within Connecticut.  The article touches on our work in Northern Thailand and specifically our monk chat program and also the Wat Doi Saket project.

Check out the article below;

‘Monk Chats’ 1

‘Monk Chats’ 2

 

 

 

 

You can check out The Valley Press below with its website and also its Facebook page.

The Valley Press

The Valley Press is on Facebook

Thank you so much for the very nice article.

Wat Doi Saket project – Monk Chats

Monk chats were created for three reasons.  First, it is a way for the monks to practice and improve their English.  Specifically, improving their vocabulary surrounding Buddhist subjects.  Second, it is a wonderful learning opportunity for both the monks and the groups participating.  It is an exchange of information about religion and culture through the power of video conferencing.  Third, it is a fundraising tool for our scholarship program, which supports the educational needs of the novice monks and monks in Wat Doi Saket and other affiliated Wats in Chiang Mai province, Northern Thailand.  The fee for an hour-long conversation with the monks is $10 per person and all of the money goes directly towards our scholarships.

We invite you to join in this wonderful learning activity and expand your horizons.

Click the links below for more information.

Monk Chats

Scholarships

Wat Doi Saket project

www.atmaseva.org