A Lesson in Simplicity

Thanks to Derek Platt for this gem.   This is a stirring reminder of life's richness and potential when we set off on a journey with an open heart:     

A number of years ago, I embarked on a solo bicycle trip crossing Sumatra through Indonesia to Bali and then from Singapore to northern Thailand. During the Thai leg of my journey, I stayed in Buddhist monasteries whenever possible, partly because I found them unbelievably friendly and accepting, but also because they had beautiful compounds with Buddhist gardens that allowed me a base to camp.  

At the apex of my journey in Thailand and the Golden Triangle in a town called Chiang Dao, I stayed at one of these monasteries. As had become standard, these gentle souls in their saffron robes welcomed me into their world and showed me to the Buddhist garden in which I could camp. All this verbal communication happened through the only English speaker among them, a monk named Thanongsak. Every utterance from this humble man was accompanied by a large smile. He wore heavy rimmed glasses, and I discovered very quickly they had no lenses—merely rims. My thought was that he had been there for quite a while in relative isolation and had become a bit, shall we say, “eccentric.” 

My plan at this apex of my trip was to stay there for several days which would allow me time to climb Mount Chiang Dao and then head back to my then current home in Taiwan. 

Each morning, as I awoke, I would hear the laughing of the small novices who were learning to become monks, and over their carrying on, I could hear Thanongsak saying, “Mr. Derek, coffee, coffee!” And down the hill he would come to my tent as I stuck my sleepy head out to see him in the small sea of grinning novices, holding high a Thai pewter cup filled with coffee. This was nothing I had asked for, mind you, and I knew that they got up at the crack of dawn and had responsibilities to circulate in the community to gather alms to support their monastery. Still, he had thought to get some coffee for me as well. 

On the second day of my stay, I climbed to the top of Mount Chiang Dao, surviving untold assaults by clouds of insects. On the third day, it was time for me to depart. Thanongsak mentioned he would like to present me with a Buddhist string talisman of sorts and would tie it on my wrist for me with the lucky knot. As he smiled and tied it on to my wrist, I just had to ask him about those glasses, “Thanongsak, I just have to ask you about your glasses—they have no lenses.” 

He beamed at me, raised his hands up and out from his sides and said, “Oh yes, I know, but you know, when I wear these, I am happy!” 

Two revelatory thoughts occurred to me then. One was humbling in that I realized I was bringing my own judgmental view toward anyone that would wear glasses like that; a Western view that perhaps he was a little loopy. The other thought was that if something so simple worked for him, what was wrong with that? And damn, I wanted a pair of those glasses!