Mark Van Ogtrop

Director, Beacon Sky Hospitality
Aged 59, The Netherlands

My dearest children,

I promised that I would share a little bit of my journey of the past month, which was indeed a life-changing experience. I am very grateful that I was invited to join this programme. I now realise that I should have done this much earlier in my life, as it was so impactful, but as the saying goes: it’s never too late. Allow me to explain then the two journeys: the physical and materialistic one and the mental/spiritual one.

So we were invited by a senior monk who has a foundation. His objective is to develop an ordination programme for foreigners and set up retreats to facilitate this and meditation centres. So we were a group of seven new monks to be trained and ordained.

Physical Journey

We started in a tented camp in the middle of a pine forest outside Chiang Mai. Here we were trained to be a monk and live a monk’s life: following the eight main precepts and attempting to follow the other 226 precepts created by the Buddha. Each one has a deep meaning and purpose, explaining why one needs to practise it.

We then moved to a temple, where we went through various ordination ceremonies. These ceremonies included getting your hair clipped (mine by Eli) and then your head and eyebrows shaved by a monk. We also had a robe offering ceremony, a forgiveness ceremony from your loved ones, and then the main ceremony to become a monk in your new robes with a large group of monks in the temple. The following day was the ceremony to start the morning alms rounds.

Doing the alms rounds early morning at 6 am with your monk bowl is very emotional. You go to the poorest people in the village, who barely have food themselves, but they get up at 5 am to make rice and food for the monks coming by their home, so they can give merit and obtain good Karma. It makes you feel so small.

After that we continued to Sukothai, the old capital and visited the oldest temples. We ended in Khoa Yai in a luxurious meditation retreat developed by the same monk. The organisation was special, we were only seven men, but at all times during the programme, we had 8-10 senior monks with us that trained us and taught us meditation and the Dhamma (Buddha’s teachings). Plus, they all spoke English; this alone was a true treat. We were blessed to receive such wisdom from so many highly educated monks. Usually, you are lucky to have one monk at the temple to help you when you become a monk. In addition, we had more than eight laypeople constantly with us to help with the organisation, food, logistics, and transportation. Frankly, it was humbling and, at times embarrassing to witness such dedication of people who want to support and assist us by giving their true love and kindness.

So you can imagine , merely the physical journey alone was already quite an experience. Overall what we got to learn was threefold: firstly, to learn and train how to meditate, secondly be able to learn and experience how to live a monk’s life and have senior monks as an example of how to walk, talk, eat, act, think, reflect (they live in a different world, and we can be so jealous of how they live) and thirdly to learn from the scriptures of the Buddha and try to understand part of his teachings, which are so profound and deep.

Mental Journey
Meditation is a truly powerful tool. Although I already meditated for a while, I did not realize what the real benefits are of meditating. It clears your mind and cleans your mental thinking. Through that you get a clear view of things with calmness. In addition for the senior monks, you can clearly see what extra wisdom meditation gives to experienced monks. Purely because with a pure mind they can tap to inner wisdom, something I never understood before. I now know that I am truly an early beginner and that I have so much more to get out of meditation. I try now to do one hour per day .

The main purpose of meditation is to obtain the highest level of happiness and contentment. hrough this journey, I have learned so much; you learn to accept and to surrender, which I didn’t before. You learn not to get agitated, simply LET IT GO, give more respect, not judge others, and not criticise others, things we usually do so often. You are taught how not to live life carelessly. But, most importantly, do everything with mindfulness and live and act consciously.

Of course, the big obstacle is your ego, so you are taught to understand that happiness is created by wanting less and not by achieving or getting more! This holds true because one thing we get to understand is impermanence. Everything in this world changes; nothing stays the same. Be it any material belongings, status, job, relationship, savings, anything you have, all those will and can change, so Buddha says: don’t get attached to it. Attachment causes pain, not happiness.

The basics of meditation are to put out the three dangerous wildfires that we all have in our minds: Greed, Anger and Delusion. These three viruses rule our mind, and if we can train to dimmish these, you create a calm mind and, consequently, happiness. Greed – we constantly have cravings, and we have a thirst for more which plays with our minds, so we try to eliminate these cravings to be happy. Anger – we often get angry, but for what purpose? Accept, forgive and reflect first before reacting; count till three before responding.

In general a monk rule is to “think first before you speak”. Delusion is a mind game we have to diminish.Think about it , if you don’t have any of these three occupying your mind , then you have happiness! What else do we need?

Lastly, the Dhamma teaching is so profound, learning about Karma, giving merit, the four noble truths, etc.
I thought that I was a relatively good husband, father, brother, and friend, but the mirror in which I looked this past month has made me realise that I have so much to learn and improve; what a beauty that is by itself! I said I wish I had done this earlier, and I can only recommend doing this once in your lifetime.

I am glad to share this with you and sorry for being a bit sentimental (is your dad going soft now?), but It is good for you to understand how important such a journey is. I hope that you may be able to experience the power of meditation one day. Also, as you were all raised in beautiful Thailand, I hope you may have the opportunity to get more out of Buddhism in your lives.

Love and kisses
Your Dad
Ven. Thamma Phalo (this was my monk name)

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