Monk… Its personal – Ekkarat Punyatara

Ekkarat Punyatara, Thai photographer based in Bangkok. His photography is inspired by fascination in Thai culture that he was rooted since childhood by his conservative family. He got scholarships from Foundry Workshop(2012) and Angkor Photo Workshop(2013).

Thailand – I believe Buddhism or the middle way of Buddha is the personal journey of each person’s mind, observing very tiny feelings and moods for control and cognition of who we are. Therefore, no matter how the world has changed or where we have gone, everyone could realise our awareness of feeling in every moment, which is aroused by surroundings.   The idea of the personal journey intrigued me to submerge myself in New York Dhammaram Temple, Queens, USA to document a group of Thai monks choosing to live in a city where there are full of significant differences from their homeland in terms of geography, social structure, culture, language, and traditional religious beliefs, all of which are important factors in determining how they adapt their lifestyles appropriately.  

Ajarn Ong (middle) and Ajarn Joon are waiting for alms food from Taew Nilkamhang, a lay woman. Her house is the last stop of the alms route. And her husband, Charlee Nilkamhang often volunteers to give the monks a ride back to the temple. Because not many Thais and Buddhists reside in the area, appointments have to be arranged in advance for each stop, so the monks won’t have to wait too long especially in the cold weather day.

  The small details have been adapted to merge with the local lifestyles, depict the intermingling balance between modernity and spirituality. The adaptation illustrates the method of Buddhism, the middle way that you don’t be too hard or too easy on yourselves, stay in the middle, and stay simple. It is what the monks in the Western countries have to figure out, in order to join the modern world while sustaining their mind at the same time.   I grew up in Thailand, a Buddhist country. But as a Buddhist, I didn’t know what the monk is or who they are. I was blinded by an illusion of faith. It was the expectation on the holy saint, the monks supposed to be clean and calm, cut themselves out off from modernity, sustaining their purity. We have forgotten to see them as human beings. They are the students of Buddha. On the other hand, our expectation increases the distance between Buddhists and the monks little by little, till all that remains is sanctity. This is what I had been taught about my religion through them, as a human being, not as the holy saints that I had felt before.  

On the subway in downtown Manhattan, after attending the Thai artist exhibition and heading back to the temple, Ajarn Chaiwat enjoys listening to music and smiling at the onlookers who look at him with puzzled glances.

  I aim to present Buddhism but not in the form of holiness. Not even about losing. I’m talking about living. This is a journey along the middle way which is the method of Buddha in Western lands. Through it’s personal, It is my personal, maybe. It is your personal, maybe. It is somebody’s personal, maybe.   Written and Photographs by Ekkarat Punyatara

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