Say Hello to a Monk
By Annabelle A. Udo-O’Malley
If you see a monk at this year’s Asian Heritage Street Celebration, just say “hello.” With the intention of infusing fairgoers and followers with Tam Boon, or merit-making, monks from Thai temple Wat Buddhapradeep in San Bruno will perform a 30-minute blessing to kick off the festivities at 10 a.m. on the main stage. An age-old Buddhist tradition, “merit” is about practicing good deeds today for an even more pure tomorrow (a.k.a. “karma). For anyone who isn’t familiar with this oldest surviving school of Buddhism known as Theravada, literally “the Teaching of the Elders” or “the ancient teachings,” monks will be on hand throughout the day for anyone who wants more knowledge about this particular school.
For festival visitors, Wat Buddhapradeep offers the following primer when trying to build a conversation with monks:
- Monks can be addressed by their first name.
- The head is considered the most sacred part of the body, and it is unacceptable to touch a monk on the head.
- The feet are the least sacred part of the body, so when sitting on the floor, the feet should not point at or poke a monk. Rather, sit with feet tucked under one’s body.
- Alcohol should not be given to monks.
- With the exception of medical treatments or life-saving acts, monks are forbidden to touch a woman. Restrictions do not apply to men.
- The left hand is considered unclean and should not be used to eat, receive gifts or shake hands.
- In Thai Buddhism, women cannot be ordained as monks. However, laywomen can choose to practice and follow strict practices of the teachings in order to achieve Nirvana, or enlightenment. They can reside wherever they choose and practice within their own jurisdiction. Although not mandatory, these women can be identified by their all-white clothing.