It’s still dark in the lush, mountainous jungles of Thailand when Tad Sresthaphunlarp wakes up to begin his morning meditation rituals. As the sun breaks, he and his fellow monks of the Wat Srisoda Temple will perform bin ta bat, making a barefoot descent into the low-lying villages to acquire their only meal of the day—if the villagers can afford to give them anything.
“(Monks) are only allowed to eat one meal a day, and some of the villagers were so poor that they could only give us a spoonful of rice.” Sresthaphunlarp said.
But Sresthaphunlarp, who worked intensively for two months to become the first English-speaking Buddhist monk at the Srisoda Temple, does more in his spare time than meditate, pray and hike through the jungles of Thailand. Tad Sresthaphunlarp is also a marketing and finance junior at the University of Houston.
“Growing up my family was extremely poor…They each paid for their own universities and got scholarships every year,” said Sresthaphunlarp. “Coming all the way from a poor family from Thailand with nothing to eat, to every single family member becoming a multi-millionaire…I felt like I wanted to follow (their) footsteps in life.”
Becoming a monk was only one of the many goals he plans on accomplishing, and as a full-time student in the Bauer School of Business, Sresthaphunlarp said his educational vision centers on entrepreneurship. Thanks to the successful example and encouragement of his family, whose roots are in Thailand, Sresthaphunlarp said he hopes his story mirrors theirs.
Sresthaphunlarp not only followed in his family’s business and academic pursuits, he also traced his family’s heritage across the world. At 21 years old, he has experienced life in more than five countries including China, Australia, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore and the United States. In Thailand, his family’s country of origin, his grandfather founded and directed a non-profit organization dedicated to providing free education for children of families impacted by the 2004 Thailand tsunami.
Although Sresthaphunlarp is the first person in his family to become a monk, he said certain aspects of his choice were always family decisions. His grandfather’s mission in Thailand aligned with Temple Srisoda’s similar dedication to providing aid to orphaned children in over 118 locations in Thailand. Sresthaphunlarp said this connection of giving and kindness influenced his choice of location and temple.
Although becoming a monk was a difficult commitment, it was something he always felt was his destiny.
“I felt like my life in America was getting too wrapped up by materialistic things…I saw myself becoming greedy and (I) always wanted better and nicer things. (I was) spending more time going out or working rather than on the more important things in life, such as family,” said Sresthaphunlarp. “So I decided to give I everything I ever had and everything I knew to become a monk.”
His dedication and determination to achieve what many still see as mystical or unattainable was not met without challenges and discomfort.
“The process of becoming a monk is actually quite hard,” said Sresthaphunlarp. “My whole family had to be present at the same time, which was difficult. None of my family members were in Chang Mai at the time (I began the process).”
Before his official ceremony, Sresthaphunlarp’s mother flew into Thailand from the U.S., and his father made the trip from Australia. Besides his family’s distance and their difficulty in being in together all at one time, another obstacle he was faced with was learning and committing to memory an ancient Pali scripture.
Pali is an archaic liturgical language of the Indian sub-continent, and is the sacred language of Buddhism, according to the American National Standards Institute. Most ancient Buddhist scripts consist solely of Pali. Sresthaphunlarp was determined to learn these sacred texts in a dead language, which is only spoken religiously, before reciting them to leaders in the Srisoda Temple.
“There was a huge ceremony and feast on June 12, when I preformed the Pali scripture in front of 13 monks. It was the most difficult language I ever had to learn, but it only took me six days (to learn). The whole thing was set up two months in advance, and I had to perform a ritual in order to receive my robes,” said Sresthaphunlarp.
Although he was required to recite an ancient language to complete training, he was also the only English-speaking monk at the Temple Srisoda. As a result, Sresthaphunlarp was taught by an English-speaking master, a 27-year-old monk, who could speak five languages fluently. Despite relying on someone else to translate for and train him, Sresthaphunlarp said he persevered for several reasons.
“Becoming a monk … was my service to help numerous individuals and give them life essentials that should have been theirs from the beginning,” said Sresthaphunlarp. “To practice to let go … to bless and pray for the people less or more,fortunate than you, because everyone has their own problems. The main point is just to accept.”
Sresthaphunlarp’s journey into Thailand was complete after two months, but his journey to caring for and helping others in the world has not. After becoming a monk and traveling in Australia this summer, he plans to return to Houston to continue his studies at UH, picking up classes where he left off in the spring. Sresthaphunlarp said his life dream is similar to his uncle’s back in Thailand.
“My goal … is to own a chain of hotels and resorts around the world,” Sresthaphunlarp said. “Here at UH, I realized that I could get a great education at a good price, leading me to many opportunities that Houston, out of all places in the world, has to offer.”
His goals as a businessman and entrepreneur are far-reaching and global, but so is his vision for using his role as a monk for the betterment of the world. When asked what piece of advice he would give to students, Sresthaphunlarp said valuing the time and opportunities you’ve been given is key.
“Do not get attached to anything, because nothing lasts forever. Your appearance, your family, your material things will all be gone one day. Cherish the time you have with the people you love…do not hold on to anything for too long, because in the end, it will only hurt yourself,” Sresthaphunlarp said.
“The goal is to appreciate anything you are given and make use of it.”