I was a Buddhist Monk in Thailand in the early 1990s. Being from the U.S. I was known as Phrat Farung, or “the foreign monk”. My teacher loved to tell the locals stories of my strange behaviors. One story in particular was his favorite. In fact, villagers who came to visit would often ask to hear the story again. Sometimes they would bring someone new along, as if it were a night out at the local comedy club.
The story revolves around an early walking meditation lesson.
One evening, around 7pm my teacher called me down to the spot in front of his elevated hut where he had been teaching me walking meditation. After about twenty minutes of walking he had me stop, and explained how walking meditation and sitting meditation go hand in hand, “Walking prepares the mind, and sitting exposes it.” He went on to explain how the mind follows the body, just as the body follows the mind. Walking faster invigorates a dull mind, while walking slower and more deliberately slows the mind down so that it’s movements can be seen.
The technique consisted of performing walking meditation until my mind was calm, yet very alert. Then I was to switch over to my normal sitting meditation practice. Whenever I noticed I was having trouble maintaining my concentration, instead of trying to force myself to concentrate harder, I was to get up and resume walking until I was alert and calm again.
Now, if you aren’t familiar with a monk’s robes, the bottom is open like a skirt and you don’t wear underpants. As I continued the cycle of walking and sitting, I wondered a few feet off my original path and sat to meditate. Suddenly it felt like my bottom side was on fire, which rapidly engulfed other private areas. I jumped to my feet and began jumping up and down while shaking my skirt-like bottom robe. I had unknowingly sat on a fire ant nest! My teacher laughed hysterically as I scrambled to shake, gently brush, and carefully pluck the ants off my private parts. What made it so incredibly funny was my determination to be the “perfect” monk, so causing harm to any creature, including these ants, was out of the question. My teacher watched on thoroughly enjoying my self inflicted dilemma. It was THE classic lesson. Not only had I created my own suffering by not paying attention to where I was sitting, but I insisted on holding onto my own views of perfection…prolonging my agony instead of just removing the biting ants any way I could.