For over 2,500 years the Thudong or Wandering way of life has been lived by Buddhist monks in many different lands. There isn’t much of a record of their lives, since those that undertake this way of life are not usually writers or artists, instead choosing the seclusion that comes with the practice of a wandering thudong monk.
The Buddha himself choose this way of life and spent his 40 years teaching, wandering from place to place. Only when the monsoon rains of the Indian sub continent started, would he take shelter for the three months they lasted, this is now known as the rains retreat and practiced by all Theravada Buddhist monks still to this day.
Traditionally this way of life is practiced only after a period of training has been undertaken, usually a period between 5-7 years studying the Buddhist texts, learning the monastic code and a firm foundation in meditation training. Only after a proficiency has been established is the monk allowed to wander unsupervised.
For millennia this tradition has been practiced by Buddhist monks from many different lands. Today the practice of the thudong monk is observed but in most cases our monks will seek now the monastery environment for sleeping at night.
It is becoming rarer to find the thudong monk practicing the traditional way, during the communist turmoil of the 1960’s and 1970’s thudong monks were forced to come out of their secluded retreats and return to cities or they were seen as communist supporters. The thudong monks attempted to teach others from town and city Monastery’s about the binding link between humans and their natural world, it seemed to fall on death ears and they were unable to stop the tremendous forces of modernisation. The destruction of around 80 percent of Thailand’s forests have left very little in way of seclusion for the monk. People in contemporary town and city societies seemed basically insensitive to the larger meaning and value of themselves and their environment.
It is possible to see the thudong monk wandering and from personal experience have met many true ascetic monks, mostly in Myanmar but also within Lao, Cambodia and Thailand, in some very rare cases it is even possible to see the practice of thudong monks in Europe.
A Thudong monk only carries with him what he needs, his set of 3 robes, his alms bowl, a small sewing kit, toiletries, a krot or mosquito net, a water filter, and medicine. The monk will search out places of solitude and seclusion, wether forest or mountain cave, the search is for the practice of and development of meditation.
Reflecting on the three facts of existence through an established and strong Samadhi Meditation our thudong monk practices diligently with a determined, one pointed attention until realisation of those three facts of existence become firmly established. Impermanence, suffering and Non self.
For the thudong monks, the remote wilderness was a sanctuary in which they could train their minds. When they chose, they could withdraw deep into the forests where no one would be able to find them. The forest was home to wandering monks, it was their school, their training ground and their sanctuary. Life in the forests was a safe place provided the monks were mindful.
I am a practicing Buddhist Thudong Monk, and have wandered through Thailand and through the Shan State within Myanmar, then after I was offered a plane ticket back to my home country of England, have now wandered across Europe visiting such wonderful Meditation Masters as Thich Nhat Hanh in France, finally finding my way, presently on the South Coast of Portugal.
This way of life, wandering across Europe, is a different experience than that of Asia but the generosity of Europeans is exactly the same as the Thais or Burmese, where the Thais and Burmese understand the needs of a monk the Europeans are lacking, however their kindness, generosity and general enthusiasm always makes up for this and each and every day I am humbled by everyone’s kindness.
Over the course of my wanderings I have found a companion in a street dog I’ve now officially adopted and affectionately call Marley Moo, he came and cuddled into me while I was meditating one day, and has never left. How magically wonderful life is.
Our thudong life is a 21st century experience, and the solitude of remote forests, that would have been common place in Europe, are now hard too come by, a reminder that everything is impermanence in action. The very monk name given to me on ordination means, Dharma hermit free from dust, but the seclusion to be able to be a hermit is limiting, although by 21st century lifestyles, I am just that.
Possessions are limited just as the thudong monks of old, I have just three robes, a small set of toiletries, a drying towel, a sewing kit, a mosquito net, a small amount of medication, a woolly hat, some warm socks, a sleeping bag and blanket, a 1.5 litre water bottle, a tent, a sleeping mat that doubles as a meditation mat, a small ground sheet and a mobile phone. The last few items are of course extras, the mobile phone was given to me by my parents so as they could feel secure knowing I was contactable. The tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and blanket have proved invaluable during times of the cold and damp weather associated with Northern Europe and I’m so thankful for their donations.
I have slightly adapted the original thudong life to suit the needs of the European people and to also become more in line with the 21st century, this includes running and writing this website, having a bank account as well as having PayPal which allows for monetary Donations, this has caused opinions from plenty on the matter, and as such have now lost my connection with my monastery, receiving no more support from them.
I have been a practicing Buddhist monk for a long time and dedicate this life to discovering the realities within my own mind, I’m not about to stop because of a little controversy. The journey towards enlightenment has become my life, there is no better quest than the one I am on, and it would be wonderful if you could join us.