Oct 28, 2014
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The hippie who found happiness as a monk

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Written by Majorie Chiew

An ex-junkie found his direction in life when he met the Dalai Lama 10 years ago.
Wandering monk: Nanadhaja Bhikku walks barefooted in Fang, a district in northern part of Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand, two years ago.

Wandering monk: Nanadhaja Bhikku walks barefooted in Fang, a district in northern part of Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand, two years ago.
LOOKING into Venerable Nanadhaja Bhikku’s kindly eyes, it is hard to imagine him as a junkie who got embroiled in gang fights. But Nanadhaja was, by his own admission, a bad boy who fled his homeland as a teenager to escape the wrath of rival gangs.
“It got completely out of hand and people were trying to kill me,” says the 54-year-old monk from the Thai Theravada tradition. “So at 19, I left New Zealand with NZ$10 in my pocket. I became a hippie. People associate the hippie lifestyle with drugs, women and parties.”
Nanadhaja was in Australia for a year. He stayed and travelled with friends and found work picking fruits.
“After Australia, I headed to California to visit friends for six months,” he says. Next, he made his way to Europe where he travelled for a year. Then he was off to England.
Nanadhaja found that he could earn enough money to travel the rest of the year, just by picking fruits for four to five months.
He kept waist-length hair which he was very proud of.
AprayerofthanksbeforelunchatBuddhistMahaViharainBrickfields,KualaLumpur.

A prayer of thanks before lunch at Buddhist Maha Vihara in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur.
In 2000, he decided to travel to Asia and revisited India. He had been to India several times to meet like-minded people and chill out. He felt most at home in Goa on India’s west coast. There were many hippies there, and Nanadhaja would sit by the beach to eat, drink and be merry.
Nanadhaja was in Delhi in 2004 when someone suggested that he visit McLeod Ganj (a suburb of Dharamshala) where the Dalai Lama lives.
“I arrived by bus just before the Tibetan new year and the Dalai Lama was in town for public teachings,” he says.
“I wanted to see if the Dalai Lama was as happy in real life; he looked happy on TV. Well, he had that same smiley face,” he says.
Karma
The Tibetan spiritual leader talked about karma and rebirth.
“I started to explore Buddhism which I understood to be a peaceful religion,” says Nanadhaja. “Impressed, I found myself spending more time in temples.”
One day, it dawned on him that although he was happy, all the things he enjoyed were fleeting. He felt something missing in his life and Buddha’s teachings filled the void in his heart. Eventually, he realised his calling and was ordained as a monk in 2010.
Nanadhajadoesnotworrywherehisnextmealiscomingfrom.

Nanadhaja does not worry where his next meal is coming from.
A monk with tattoos will naturally invite curious queries, so Nanadhaja is often asked about the tattoos he spots. On his right arm is a tattoo of a Native American dreamcatcher with an eagle in the centre.
“The dreamcatcher is supposed to filter bad dreams and allow good dreams. The eagle soars high and has great vision,” explains Nanadhaja of his tattoo which was done years before he entered monkhood.
At 14, he had his then girlfriend’s name and a heart tattooed on his left arm.
“About 15 years ago, I had a Polynesian band tattooed over her name,” he says. He did not fancy explaining to other girls about the name.
He quips: “I also had requests, ‘Why don’t you put my name?’ Well, if so, my whole body would be covered with girls’ names!”
Nanadhaja hails from an upper middle-class family. His father was a merchant seaman and his mother worked in the advertising industry.
NanadhajainFang,northernThailand,twoyearsago.

Nanadhaja in Fang, northern Thailand, two years ago.
The young Nanadhaja did not see much of his parents as they were always busy.
“My father would be at sea for almost six weeks at a stretch. My mother was often too tired or busy watching TV commercials. She would flick the channels to see if the ads were on the right spot, at the right time,” he recollects.
He learnt to be independent early on in life. At the age of 13, he packed groceries part-time at the supermarket. After school on Friday, he would stay over at friends’ place and returned on Sunday night.
“We would hang out in the city,” says Nanadhaja whose home was in North Shore, 10km from Auckland. “We walked up and down the streets looking cool.”
His dress code was platform shoes, flared jeans and blue satin shirt. Plus a top hat. “People knew me as the bloke with the brown top hat.”
In high school, he enjoyed being with the bad boys. “Bad boys got the girls. Good boys got beaten up by other (bad) boys,” he says.
ThewanderingmonktakesarestbytheroadsideinFang,northernThailand.

The wandering monk takes a rest by the roadside in Fang, northern Thailand.
He was involved in street gang fights in his neighbourhood. His group would not allow other boys to walk down their street without a fight. They would also fight with students from other schools.
“I would end up with swollen eyes, a bloodied nose but never anything too serious,” Nanadhaja reminisces.
At 17, he was shot at a couple of times but he did not report the matter to the police.
He reasons: “You don’t go to the police. It was an unwritten rule. The police was the enemy.”
But he ambushed the perpetrator and beat him up to teach him a lesson.
Smoking pot
Besides gangs, Nanadhaja was also into drugs. He blamed peer pressure for smoking marijuana in school.
One day, a friend turned up in school with marijuana.
“I didn’t like it at first. It hurt my throat. After a smoke, I felt very drowsy and drained of energy,” he says. But that did not stop him from trying again, and again.
“By the age of 21, I was hooked on heroin. That was a low point in my life.”
NanadhajasharingphotosofhistravelswithShanrefugeekidswhichhemetattheThai-Myanmarbordertwoyearsago.

Nanadhaja sharing photos of his travels with Shan refugee kids whom he met at the Thai-Myanmar border two years ago.
Nanadhaja has no regrets donning the robe.
“Now I don’t have to look over my shoulder to see who is coming after me. I have not harmed anyone and don’t have to worry about people chasing after me for having wronged them. I can sleep easier too at night.”
As a wandering monk, Nanadhaja goes from temple to temple, with Asia as his focal point. Here is one monk who keeps up with the times through social media.
On his Facebook, he posted that he has been offered a place at the Waikato Compassion Meditation Centre in Hamilton in North Island, New Zealand. And he is planning to return to his homeland by end of this month.
In future, he hopes to set up a place of his own to teach dhamma (Buddha’s teachings) and meditation in New Zealand, without the cultural baggage often associated with Buddhism.
For now, Nanadhaja wants to travel a fair bit and would like to return to Malaysia in the not-too-distant future.
“It’s a wonderful country and the people are so friendly and open,” adds Nanadhaja.
Colourful encounters
A few teens had mistaken Venerable Nanadhaja Bhikku for a Hare Krishna follower back home in Auckland, New Zealand. They politely informed him that they were going to beat him up as they disliked Hare Krishna devotees.
Nanadhaja explained to the boys, aged about 14 or 15, that he was not a Hare Krishna devotee but a Buddhist monk.
“I heard the word kungfu mentioned as the boys chatted among themselves. They then decided not beat me up after all. Thank God for TV shows which featured Buddhist monks kicking the living daylights out of people,” says Nanadhaja laughing, amused by the incident.
The encounter reminded him of his youth, when Hare Krishna followers were his targets.
“Hare Krishna members would sing and dance, and beat their drums and cymbals during rush hour. Once a devotee gave me a book and asked for a small donation,” he relates.
When he refused to donate, he was asked to return the book. “I threw it into the traffic,” says Nanadhaja, then a street gang member.
When he first returned to New Zealand after becoming a monk, Nanadhaja admits feeling strange to be in monk’s robe.
“You don’t see monks walking in the streets of Auckland. Some curious people came up to me and asked questions,” he says.
In 2010, on a flight from Penang to Bangkok, he had a middle seat next to a young Caucasian woman who took the window seat. A Thai woman was supposed to take the aisle seat next to him but she did not want to sit next to a monk. The cabin attendants had to arrange for the two women to sit elsewhere, leaving Nanadhaja seated alone.
In 2012, he was upgraded from economy to first class on Thai Airways on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok. It was his first trip to Thailand after he became a monk.
The cabin attendants were on their knees when they served him orange juice.
“I’d never experienced anything like that in my entire life,” he relates.
And then a stewardess asked him: “Do you have any CDs (of his dhamma talks)?”
He apologised as he did not have any. He was rather perplexed until she asked if he was (Luang Por) Ajahn Sumedho. It dawned on him that she had mistaken him for a famous monk from the Thai forest tradition.
As they got off the aircraft to a waiting bus, Nanadhaja was given a seat next to the driver.
At the immigration checkpoint, an Englishman, impressed with the Thais’ reverence for Buddhist monks, joked with him: “Don’t they have a monks’ line at Immigration?”
“Soon after, a woman came up to me and said, ‘Would you and your friend come with me?’ She took us to the diplomat’s line (to expedite clearance at Immigration) and the Englishman could hardly believe what happened.”

In Thailand, Nanadhaja says women cannot directly give things to monks for fear of physical contact. A woman would place her offering on one end of the cloth, on the table. The monk would pull the cloth towards him and retrieve the offering, says Nanadhaja. :
credit- world news report.

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বৌদ্ধদের আরো তথ্য ও সংবাদ পেতে হলে আমাদের ফেসবুক ফ্যান পেইজে লাইক দিয়ে সংযুক্ত থাকুন।: www.facebook.com/buddhisttimes

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এখানে।
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দি বুড্ডিস্ট টাইমস.কম একটি স্বতন্ত্র ইন্টারনেট মিডিয়া। এখানে বৌদ্ধদের দৈনন্দিন জীবনের বিষয়গুলোকেই তুলে আনার চেষ্টা করা হয়। পাশাপাশি যে কেহ লিখতে পারেন দি বুড্ডিস্ট টাইমস এ।

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