I’m not sure how I thought a Buddhist monk would act, but Lo Sung definitely didn’t fit my pre-conceived notion of how a monk should behave.
He wore the robes, of course. A maroon gown with pockets toward the bottom and a thick sash, slightly darker than the gown but still maroon, stood out against dark, aged skin covered with light hair. Brown penny loafers covered his feet and his head was shaved, but the hair was beginning to grow back, giving his head a fuzzy appearance. He wore a watch on his right wrist and a key around his waist, which also held a cellular phone, hidden under the dark sash.
The class sat in surreal silence. Not one person spoke, but stared at this man, as if waiting for divine inspiration to pour from his thin lips. He gazed at each of us through sunken eyes, his fingers constantly twirling a string of brown beads. Tall and thin, he stood perfectly straight and towered before us, daring one of us to say something.
I was awestruck when he finally spoke. His English was perfect, and he showed no trace of an accent. This man is American, I thought, but said nothing to my classmates, just continued to stare. I had expected him to speak wise words in a slight accent, bowing to us as he politely told us that we were unenlightened and should seek to better ourselves.
This monk did not do so. He quipped and mocked us, how lazy American college students were, how meaningless most of our lives will be. He gesticulated with his bony arms and whined at us for being materialistic and spoiled, for taking for granted the freedoms that we, as Americans, sometimes don’t even realize we have.
Someone asked about Tibet, and he motioned for his assistant, a short Asian wearing a purple sweatshirt and jeans muttered the history of Tibet in horribly broken English. He never seemed to answer the question completely, and I noticed that when he referred to China, he called it The China.
Toward the end of class, no one could think of anything else to ask. Lo Sung spoke about the Dalai Lama, and how each person’s soul is reincarnated elsewhere in the world depending on how its previous life was lived, and then his cell phone rang. I’m not sure it even surprised me that a monk would have a cell phone (after all, the computer I am using was advertised in commercials to be used by a Tibetan monk), but the fact that it rang after his long speech about living our lives for others and giving up personal happiness slightly belittled his point.
"What do you hope to make happen by talking to us today," a brave girl asked.
"Nothing," Lo Sung replied. "If you think about your life and try to make things better for someone else, I would be very pleased. But otherwise, I expect nothing."
Maybe I won’t change anything about my life. I'm not even sure whether or not I believe that he is right. But I will probably think about this experience every time I think about my life, if nothing else. It always amazes me how little I actually know of the world.