I told Paul I wanted to meet a monk in Thailand, and he responded that it was unlikely there was a Monk Chat tour. Maybe Karma will arrange a meeting, I sniffed. Sure, he said. Go for it…
Well…on the last leg of our inbound flight to Bangkok, I saw a monk, swathed in a voluminous, tangerine-colored sheet with a wool hat pulled over his ears, enter the plane and walk down our aisle. I offered to trade him my window seat for his middle seat, and he said yes. It felt odd to sit between my husband and a monk, but when I glanced at Paul with a bemused smile on my face, I did not know that Karma dislikes smugness.
“Would you mind if I asked you about being a monk?” He nodded in agreement and I pondered my opening. In the back of my brain I remembered my feet had to point away from him, I couldn’t step on his shadow, and, with a thrill, I recalled there could be no skin to skin contact with a woman (even his mother and sisters) because females have a corrupting influence on monks. I raised the armrest between Paul and myself and mentally measured the distance between the monk and me. It appeared to be ample. Karma also does not appreciate superciliousness.
“How long have you been a monk?”
“Since I was seven years old,,” he replied looking at me over the top of his glasses. “My parents sent me to the temple so I could get an education. I was a novice until I was twenty and then I accepted the robes for life.”
“Did your parents come visit you?”
“Yes, but only once a year on my birthday. Chang Rai is very far from Bangkok,” he said pulling his robe tighter and settling into the gap between the seat and the window.
“Could they bring a birthday cake?”
“No, monks can only eat what they are offered each morning.”
I raised my eyebrows. Karma does not like doubt.
“Monks take bowls out each morning and people who follow Buddha put money and food in the bowls. It’s called alms.” His sheet pulled away from his shoulder, and for a moment I saw a section of his smooth, hairless chest and bare arm. They looked delicate, unlined, and, I have to say it…naked.
“What do you do as a monk?” Karma does not like rudeness.
“I pray, chant, and meditate.”
“I can’t meditate,” I rushed in. “There are so many thoughts in my head, I can’t stop them.” Next to me I felt Paul’s back shake with laughter. Karma does’t like interruptions.
“Yes, you can. You can learn to meditate.” He pointed to my water bottle. “Look at it. See how it is shaped? The color? The amount of water? Focus on it.”
I tilted the bottle back and forth like a snow globe. “What does meditating do?” Karma does not like impatience.
“When you are a monk you can meditate alone or with others. It is about stilling your thoughts, carving a hole inside you, and letting it fill itself. I teach the novices to meditate using the full moon as their object.”
We chatted for a while longer, and then he put his headphones on and turned away to watch a movie. I stared at my water bottle and tried to do as he suggested. Still my thoughts, carve a hole, let it fill itself. I looked at the water through the blue plastic. Maybe I could smell the water. Karma does not like disbelief.
I flipped open the top of the bottle and leaned in to smell. The bottle was filled to the edge, and I didn’t notice growing bubbles roiling and building in the bottom. Before I could figure out what was happening, the straw bulged and water surged to the top. The combination of the change in air pressure in the plane and my shaking the bottle during my monk chat had created a geyser of pressurized water. It shot out the bottle and straight into the ceiling above our heads. It rained all over the monk, Paul and me, and when the bottle was empty, drips from the ceiling rolled down the sides of our faces. The front of my shirt was soaked, and the monk’s robes were so water-logged, he could have wrung them out. Paul jumped up to get towels, and I held the empty water bottle in my hand. Karma got even.
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered. “I was meditating. Trying to.”
He took his glasses off and used a section of his cloth to rub his lenses dry.
“That’s good,” he said placing his glasses back on. “perhaps if you focus on a full moon, it is unlikely it will rain.”
I have never believed in Karma. I may have to rethink my position.