Dhammakamo shared on how he went from living a life of sleaze and violence, to becoming an ordained Buddhist monk, and now returning to lay life to teach mindfulness.
Tell me about what you currently do.
I am currently a meditation teacher in The Hermitage, a centre I set up to teach mindfulness meditation. These practices originated from authentic Theravada traditions and are learnt during my 5 years as an ordained monk. However, mindfulness practices are ultimately secular in nature and can be applied by people of all faiths and religions. During the 5 years, I spent most of my time practicing in the Thai Forest Tradition and Plum Village Zen Monastery in France as well as attending retreats in Dharamsala and Australia with Ajahn Brahm. I have also published 2 books ‘Garden of Mangala’ and ‘Daydreams of a Millennial Monk’.
Were you already into mindfulness as a kid?
Not at all. In fact, I was a problem child. The eldest of 3 children in a well-to-do family, I was pampered too much. I was naughty, stubborn and think only for myself. I was only 10 years old when I beat up my mother. I was 14 when I assaulted my father and nearly killed him. By the time I was 21, I had gotten 3 girls pregnant and each of them went through an abortion because I was not ready for parenthood.
Wow, that’s extreme. So what caused your change?
I graduated with a diploma in business and started working for my father as a project coordinator in an oil and gas company. Sure, I was indulging in pleasures, but deep down, I was very unhappy.
In 2010, I decided to quit my job and went backpacking in Europe but I was only interested in getting drunk and laid. Shortly after coming back to Singapore, I quarreled with my parents and became so angry I nearly set their bed on fire. Fortunately, the bed failed to ignite. My parents stopped talking to me thereafter.
A year later after reaching rock bottom, I went to Thailand to stay in Wat Mongkolpipatsamathi and took up temporary ordination as a novice for a month. I knew nothing about Buddhism, but was curious about meditation and the true meaning of life. I met my first teacher there, Venerable Dr. Mahavichit Thitadhammo. After one month, I reconciled with my parents and decided to stay on to understand why I was in so much pain and anger.
And what did you find out about this pain?
It’s ultimately to do with the mind. Six months into my practice in Thailand, I was overwhelmed with guilt and remorse. This sense of self-punishment continued for the next five months. It was constant mental torture as scenes upon scenes of my past misdeeds surfaced during meditation. After deep contemplation, I finally managed to forgive myself.
What happened next?
After 16 months of practice in Thailand, Australia and India, I decided to disrobe and returned home to fulfill my filial duties. I went back to helping my father out for 6 months, followed by a stint in an events company and an elderly day-care centre as their minivan driver. During that period, I was also introduced to Venerable Dr. Seck Kong Hian Mahaviro of Wat Buddhaguna, who would become my main teacher.
Eventually, I got acquainted with a psychologist who ran a holistic psychology studio that focused on personal development and early childhood education. I became a meditation instructor in that studio, focusing on Samatha meditation, stress-relief, empathy and forgiveness. But I could not bring myself to charge for my services at that point of time.
Feeling the futility of worldly achievements, I decided to return to monkhood in 2013. In 2014, I returned to Thailand and paid respects to my first teacher. I received higher ordination and was given the Pāli name Dhammakamo.
Why did you choose to return to lay life after that?
I decided to return to lay life after 5 years of being a monk and travelling to learn from various teachers and traditions. Although I felt perfectly at ease living in the countryside, I felt compelled to share my insights with others after my moments of awakening.
I set up an urban centre that serves as a refuge sanctuary for city dwellers. I feel that it is more convenient to be a layperson to reach a wider audience in the city. Drawing from my experience from monkhood, I am certain the sanctuary will also be a place for healers to heal.
So explain why meditation is so important.
Peace cannot be attained by chasing after worldly pursuits. We attach to the identities we have created in our daily lives. When these identities are threatened, we feel stressed and fear. Worldly achievements tied to these unreal identities eventually can only lead to suffering. These achievements should be seen as responsibilities to fulfill and not who we really are. Meditation allows us to realise and transcend all of those. Hence, it is imperative to have an urban sanctuary to ground and deepen our practice.
Dhammakamo’s centre is The Hermitage situated at 19A Joo Chiat Place (2nd level) Singapore 427748. He can be reached on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thehermitagezen
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