The New Monk of the Tiger-Temple

Tau sat down to have lunch with his new master, the abbot, Phra Acham Phuis (Chan) of the Temple he was now a member of. They sat on a fallen log in the fresh air. Tau was being taught the ways of the monastery by his new master and during the break for lunch, as a welcome, the abbot allowed him to eat outside. The young monk had just arrived the day before, having dreamt of wanting to join a monastery although he knew the sacrifices he had to make, such as the giving up the pleasures of everyday life. He also shaved his head and wore traditional robes like the other monks. It was the first time he was living away from his parents at the age of 19. It was his desire to live life by himself. He was perhaps the eldest person to enrol to become a monk since the normal age for doing so was normally 6 or 7.


He was studying for a degree in Biology because he was passionate about animals and their way of life. His favourite animal was the tiger and he hoped to work with these big cats at some point in his career. He belonged to a deeply religious family and had been taught the Buddhist scriptures in detail. Even though he was good at academics and was expecting to have a successful career, there was a deep yearning within his soul to delve further into the Buddhist way of life. He knew that the only way he could achieve this was by joining a monastery.


He seized this opportunity when he learnt of a famous monastery seeking trainee monks. He had always dreamt of joining a monastery as this was the only way he could fulfil his spiritual path. He realized that his academics would not allow him to commit himself to spritual practice. Becoming a monk would not only allow him to follow his spiritual calling but also enable him to help others in the same process. When he found out that the place was known as ‘Tiger Temple’, he knew that this was truly meant for him.


He discussed this with his parents, reminding them that it was something he wanted to do since he was very young. His parents told him “It is a very difficult path to follow. It seems very noble from the outside but it is life of abstinence and sacrifice. You will not be able to live a life where you can have the simple pleasures of having a family and enjoying social relationships. We do not want to dissuade you, however you need to remember that it is no easy life”. Tau showed how determined he was to join, saying “You know we are religious people ourselves and I have always dreamt of joining a monastery. I have visited so many myself and I am familiar with their customs and practices”.


He informed his professors and friends of his decision and left to join the monastery. His parents contacted the abbot,and told him of their son’s interest. One Sunday night, his parents took him to the monastery where he met the abbot.  After being given a little tour around the premises, he was asked him to spend sometime in the monastery before deciding to become a trainee. Following a week there he was again asked “Are you sure about this?” Tau replied confidently “I am ready for this, I have always wanted to do it”.


The next morning, he was introduced to the other monks at the monastery as the new trainee and began his first lessons. Tau knew that each monastery, apart from its practice of Buddhism had also its own ‘speciality’ for which it was known and he was instantly keen to involve himself in that. He asked “Abbot sir…….. “No need for sir my son” came the interrupted response “Just Abbot will do or you can call me by my name. Continue”. “Is there anything special about this place?” asked Tau “You know something which brings people here. I have realized that the monastery is known as ‘Tiger Temple’ why is that?”. “Listen” said the abbot anonymously. Tau confusingly did as he was told and heard a deep-throated grunt “That is what is special about this place my son and that is why this monastery bears its name. My tigers; it is time to feed them” he said and he took a piece of meat from a nearby tray and got up, following the sound. Tau was shocked and partly surprised to see a full grown tiger approaching. The abbot fearlessly went up to the tiger and tossed the meat on the ground, saying to the tiger as he ate, “What a good boy you are, well done, you recognize my student?”. “Do you mean me?” asked a nervous Tau. “There’s no need to fear Tau. All of the tigers here are very friendly”. The tiger walked up to Tau and rubbed his head against him. A terrified Tau jumped back in alarm, causing the tiger to grunt. “They are just like dogs” said the abbot rushing up to calm the about-to-be stirred tiger “If you run from them, so will they and follow you. I am told you like animals so why are you scared?” “I never expected them to be so close. I always thought they were kept in some form of enclosure”. “Tied up they are but not completely and they are never in cages” came the reply “The tiger is a citizen of the monastery as we are” Tau got up and backed away slowly “May I go to the bathroom?”


For the rest of the day, Tau spent praying or meditating. Beginning from that day, he mainly chose to base most of his new life around the two. He contributed to nearly all of the monastery’s activities but he always found a way out of feeding or being with the tigers of the monastery. Yet he realized that without them, the monastery would not live up to its reputation. By the end of the year, it was tourist season and he decided to be a part of taking visitors around the monastery. However, his work of it was rather ‘clumsy’ or not well organized for once he had shown the tourists the first parts of the monastery and it was time for them to see the tigers, he would turn over his job to another monk. The abbot noticed this and grew concerned for not only the well-being of the monastery and its reputation and status but also for Tau himself


One day, prior to meeting visitors, the abbot met with Tau, saying that he wanted to speak to him in private. Tau agreed and followed his master. When they were alone, Tau was asked “Why are you scared of tigers when you like them?” The young monk replied “Of course I like tigers but it’s rather overwhelming to see them so close and I suspected that even if you had tigers, you would only keep them until they are old enough to look after themselves”. “Let me tell you a story my boy” said the abbot. “This monastery was founded over 20 years ago not just as a tribute to Buddhism but also as a sanctuary. We have kept monkeys deer, buffalo and camels as well as wild pigs before tigers. We received our first tiger cub, one that had been found by villagers; sadly it died soon after due to hunger and malnutrition. Later, on several tiger cubs were given to our temple. Naturally when tiger mothers are killed by poachers, their cubs are left behind and that was exactly the fate of those tigers cubs that came here. All the tigers you see at the monastery are those who have lost their mothers. They are not pets for us. If they can learn to feed themselves and survive on their own, then we take them back to the jungle”


Tau, on hearing this shocking story turned to see that he was only five meters away from the same tiger who he encountered on his first day at the monastery. The cat began to make a chuffling noise, that is a deep-throated moaning form of greeting in contentment. “This tiger’s name is Cha and he was born here, that is why, he is so familiar with people like you and people like me. He is hardly excited that is why he does not bound in excitement toward visitors unlike a few other tigers. He is one of our gentlest tigers” said the abbot. He then took Tau gently by the arm and told him to stand next to the tiger. “Touch his back” said the abbot. Tau did as he was told and began to rub his hand up and down the tiger’s back. The animal then slunk to the ground and lay where he was in contentment. “He likes that” came the response. Tau smiled but was still not sure if he could fit in with tiger work at the monastery. The abbot said “I want you to get involved with helping tigers and providing for them. You may take a break today and resume your lessons with the others but tomorrow begins your training to get used to the tiger”


The next day, after a long morning’s work in the afternoon, Tau was taken by the Abbot to see a female tiger called Kai. This tiger was smaller than Cha himself but still made Tau nervous. The tiger was on a leash and grunted as the abbot approached her with Tau. “If you are scared, use this” said the abbot and gave a long walking stick, similar to his one, to Tau. The young monk approached Kai very slowly and took deep strong breaths. “Hello girl” said Tau when he was close enough. The tigress inquisitively sniffed his hands and began licking them. The abbot smiled as Tau then stroked her on her head. “Look what I brought for you” said the young monk as he pulled out a piece of fish and held it out in front of her. She consumed it in one nibbling and a single gulp. The abbot meanwhile, slipped away with a smile on his face, leaving Tau to be completely in focus of the tiger he was tending to. After a while, Tau realized that he had been left by himself and that the abbot was gone. He began to sweat a bit and got up to leave in search of the abbot but Kai grunted for him to stay. He backed away slowly, believing that she was angry with him just because he left her and he was afraid that if he did go back to her, she would become aggressive towards him. He began to pick up his pace as he nervously walked away. He heard Kai moaning crossly behind him.


Tau was becoming more and more anxious on his way back to the abbot. All around him, as he was on his way back, were tigers of all sizes. They were chained to trees but some of them snarled or even roared on seeing him. By the time he reached the abbot he was shaking in fright. “You’re back; but why do you look so worried? You did well!”. “Why did you leave me?!” cried Tau. “That’s just the point, isn’t it my son?” came the seemingly amused reply “My intention in leaving you by yourself with Kai was for you to realize and know that you are fine without my presence”. On hearing this, Tau felt better and managed a weak smile, realizing that his master was right. However, if he had to pass through that area again for a certain task, he could not help but shudder at the tiger’s roars but he did not like doing that. This happened everyday; he was going nowhere with tiger experience, all while being a frustrated member of this monastery. Despite his seeming achievement in his training to be around tigers, he somehow still ‘feared’ them or was wary of them. He was afraid to feed them and would not do so without assistance. Even when he finally tried to involve himself in taking tourists to see them, he sought assistance. This infuriated other monks because it interrupted their work. The abbot however, being the person he was, was determined to see that Tau got more comfortable around tigers and did not stop his training.


One day, during lunch at the temple, Tau saw that many young tigers were brought in front of the monks as well as the people who visited. He almost felt that the tiger was being worshipped as a God. He felt compassion for the animals for they were treated like people here. That night, as Tau slept, he heard the roars of some of the tigers and thought to himself This monastery is as much a home to these tigers as it is to me. I left my family to become a member of this place and it is not only these monks who are family but these tigers are too. If I am grateful for all my family has done for me, the same goes for all members of this monastery, monk and tiger alike
It never occurred to him that the next day, it was his own self-confidence that helped him interact with the tigers of his own free will and they went on to like him as much as he liked them or any other monk at the temple
The End

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