A monk walked into my store. I know this sounds like the start of a joke, but it is not.
I looked up to see an older, black compact car park out front. Three people emerged; an elderly lady, a tall gentleman dressed in flowing cinnamon robes and a young man in white robes with a long brown coat. They entered the building and started down the hallway to the insurance office. Moments later, the younger man came back and stood in the doorway. I smiled as he slowly entered, a look of confusion played across his face as he gazed around at all the steel containers.
“Hi, have you been here before?” I asked, greeting him.
“No, I am interested all these metal tanks. What is in them?” I started my standard pitch about our oils and vinegars, giving him a quick tour of the store. He listened intently, tasted a few samples and smiled happily. His name was William. He said he was from Northern Vermont and was “accompanying” the older Monk who had a meeting. We spent several minutes discussing the products until two customers joined us. I left William to help the new arrivals. He wandered, reading labels and happily tasting.
When we were alone again, he approached me and said, “I don’t want to waste your time. I have no money to buy anything.”
“That’s OK! I figured you don’t exactly have pockets in your robes! But you are still welcome to taste.”
“We are only allowed to eat one big meal a day in the morning, but oils and cheese are allowed for after-meal snacks. You are so kind to share with me.”
William tried several cheeses and sampled some of the herbs and salts. He said he was leaving for a monastery in Thailand in two weeks. We chatted about South East Asia and travel. He had never left New England and was a bit nervous about traveling so far. Finally, he asked the time, then scurried out to wait for the elderly woman and the older monk. I spotted him sitting patiently outside the insurance office.
Later, the three entered the store. The woman was thrilled, chatting and tasting. She was rushed and promised to come back when she had more time. William stood respectfully behind the older monk who took it all in with a peaceful smile. I wanted to have hours to sit and ask the older monk about his life and why he chose this small corner of the world.
Vietnamese Buddhist monks have lived at the Bao Chon Monastery on the side of Temple Mountain since 2011. They have recently applied to build a larger temple and retreat center. You just never know who your neighbors might be…