Student News

Living as a Monk – Update #2

Inthat Boonpongmanee – September 6, 2018

I received a grant from the CSGC to continue my public speaking to local youth. My presentations are centered around failure, discipline, and personal agency, illustrated through my own experiences. This summer, I investigated my relationship with technology when I ordained as a Buddhist monk.

Full Buddhist monks are expected to adhere to a set of 227 rules. As a novice, I had ten big ones, mostly centered around proper conduct towards laymen. The monastic tradition depends on good relationships with the surrounding communities; monks rely entirely on alms for their one meal of the day. In return for the community’s generosity, the temple serves as a peaceful retreat and monks as spiritual counselors. One of these rules discourages partaking in entertainment. I was prohibited from listening to music, singing, or watching TV. I thought this was a unique opportunity to stop using my phone.

Our daily schedule consisted of meditation, chores, and sleeping. We started our hour-long morning meditation at 6. Sitting for that long could be intensely boring, but only if I made it so. If I made an effort, it wasn’t hard to take my mind off what I was thinking. Absorption in the breath left no room for complaints about boredom or comfort. It felt like sleeping, except I was awake.

Although my schedule was largely empty, it was surprisingly uncertain. I had few responsibilities but I often had to wait for my instructor to finish speaking with laypeople. Visits could range from 10 minutes to several hours. Normally, I’d pull out my phone to entertain myself, but without it, I just sat and waited. It was frustrating at first, but eventually I accepted that boredom can be good. By withstanding boredom, I trained my ability to focus and be disciplined.

Without my phone, I was surprised by how much time I gained every day. Instead of spending time on my phone in the morning, I enjoyed taking walks in the woods and sitting quietly.

I’m convinced that mindfulness has had positive effects on my relationship with technology. I felt more focused and energetic. I was also surprised by how little time meditation took; the amount hardly matters when compared to the quality.

I’m not a Luddite. Digital technology is useful and to stop using it entirely wouldn’t be realistic. However, technology use can be dangerous, especially when it becomes mindless. It took a conscious effort to stop carrying my phone with me but I found it to be really liberating. I gained a surprising amount of time and an increased ability to focus.