Pure present moment joy. Once you leave Bangkok and travel northeast into the jungles and rice fields of Issan province this is what you’ll find: A way of life called, “sanook,” in Thai – it means to find the joy in whatever you do.
When I left investment banking and became a Buddhist monk this was where the first forest temple (Wat) I lived in was – and the experience inalterably changed my life for the better. Living in Thailand shined a stark light on what has become an obvious and evident truth – that true joy comes from the inside – and exudes and shines its way out through expression, speech and action.
When I first arrived in this rural area near the Laotian border I thought everyone – all of these happy people were impoverished. It didn’t take long to discover that it was me who was lacking. Poor and desolate. That with all of this money, education and ambition that I was so incredibly vacant, so uninformed and pathetically poor – immersed in what I have come to understand and termed as, “poverty mentality”. Poverty mentality is in opposition to joy, it is falsely seen through the eyes of consumerism and materialism as something to cultivate and even admire. The attitude and stance that nothing is ever enough: To always want and need more – to never be satisfied. Insatiable craving and thirsting for more and more. In retrospect I don’t know how I didn’t see it.
There is no real sanook in consumerism – just temporary and fleeting gratification from mundane pleasures that are mistaken for happiness, but far from well-being. There’s nothing wrong with material things as long as you know their actual worth: that all things actually have no inherent value beyond the conditioned mind that assigns and attributes a price to their perceived function.
The first day as a monk I begged (Buddhist monastic tradition) for food from a young woman with two infants who lived nearby in a small corrugated tin shanty. I’ll never know her name. She fed me in the rice field that I was walking through that day – she simply placed rice and vegetables in my bowl and offered prayers. There are fewer humbling experiences than begging for alms. How to accept food from someone who has less than you? Only to quickly realize she had so much more. Sitting outside on a thin rice mat smiling with her children and hands in prayer. She was so rich and so filled with the joy of generosity.
I never felt so poor as that moment. In that time and space it occurred to me almost instantly that my ambitious values and constant craving were at odds with harmony, contentedness, peace and love – even for myself. Right there in the middle of that rice field thousands of miles from home my knees buckled and I wept and wept. That was the day I gave up, let go and truly started to give in. That was the day I found my good heart and began to discover the joy in the easy naked simplicity of just being. Sanook.
May you be happy, may you be well, truly peaceful and at ease 🙏❤️🌷😊
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