Chaiwat Ngamsakthaweechai '08 (MSRE)

MSRE Alum Pursues Monkhood First, Real Estate Later

Chaiwat Ngamsakthaweechai '08 (MSRE) Until recently, 30-year-old Chaiwat Ngamsakthaweechai '08 (MSRE) led the life of a typical Southern Californian bachelor: dressing in jeans and polo shirts, living in shared housing in the Clairemont area, appreciating the beautiful young women and luxury cars that surrounded him and, in this economy, searching nonstop for a full-time professional position.

Starting this month, that life will change dramatically as Chaiwait returns to his native Thailand to study Buddhism for 90 days and become a monk. Chaiwat's study of Buddhism is actually his second: According to traditional Thai culture, a son embarks on the study once in his life—for his parents, himself and his future. The act is a sign of maturity in young men who desire to "educate their souls."

That Chaiwat is undertaking the process a second time makes him rare by Thai standards.

"This time is to fulfill my personal interest," he says. "Before I start my new life after school, I wanted to do this because when I start a new job, I won't have time to."

Chaiwat began his first study at the age of 20, but had to end it after 18 days to enter school. This time, he will have no interruptions to the three-month devotion to Theravada Buddhism—the branch that predominates in Southeast Asia and is known as the "School of the Elders."

Chaiwat will begin the experience by having his head and eyebrows shaved by a senior priest at a ceremony that respected family members and friends will attend. The exercise is the first step toward getting students to detach from outward appearances and external distractions.

Once inside the temple, he will don a floor-length yellow robe and renounce all modern technological conveniences, such as his cell phone, TV and iPod. He'll sleep on a small bamboo mat on the ground with one pillow and one blanket. A mattress, he says, would be "too thick, too high, too soft."

He'll awaken each morning at 5 a.m. and head out to the surrounding neighborhood in Bangkok with a large, helmet-like bowl to beg for food. The neighbors who wish to contribute food will call out and drop to their knees before him. As they stand up, they will place their contribution in his bowl—anything from fruits to fried rice.

He'll bring the food back to the temple and eat breakfast with his fellow monks. "I need to eat whatever they put in," he says. They will then have a group prayer session in the temple during which he will pray for those who gave him food that morning, as well as all of those who have touched his life.

"I'm going to pray for everyone around me—my parents, my instructors, the people who did good to me and those who did bad to me," he says. "I will forgive everyone."

He'll then go into private meditation, starting first with a 15-minute session and gradually extending the time as he builds his concentration with the help of a meditation instructor. After the morning meditation session, he'll eat lunch, made up of his leftover food from breakfast, and then join in an afternoon group prayer session and afternoon meditation session. He will have no dinner, but will pray and meditate again in the evening.

While he's at the temple, he will be allowed to talk with his fellow monks, but not engage in any lighthearted conversation. "There is no joking around—it's not proper," he explains.

Once he has completed his studies, Chaiwat will look for a position in commercial real estate in Thailand, with the goal of someday returning to San Diego to live and work. He believes that his practice as a monk will help him navigate the at-times tumultuous real estate industry.

"It's going to calm me down," he says. "I'm going to have really high self-control after this."