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A Buddhist monk, a hot pot and the quest for a cosmic guarantee

A couple seeks relationship advice in a hidden corner of Las Vegas

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Chaiya, 65, offers relationship advice, Buddhist-style.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

The building was on Google Maps, but not the road. I could see the Chaiya Meditation Monastery listed in digital clarity on my iPhone, but its red pin floated mysteriously in space between the Windmill Library, a gated community and a construction site destined to become a Church’s Chicken. Maybe it’s a mirage, I thought to myself. Maybe Virtue Court is only accessible to those who deserve to find it.

Or maybe I just needed better directions.

My quest had begun a few weeks earlier over goat hot pot in Vietnam. I was on vacation, eating dinner with my parents, their Vietnamese tutor, Mai Lan, and her husband of a few months. As Mai Lan ladled out bowls of steaming greens and tofu skin and her husband poured shots of Hanoi Vodka, they bounced between casual couple and deep flirt. They teased each other in the way newlyweds do and switched from English to Vietnamese to giggle over the occasional private joke. It was charming to watch, which is why I came to a stuttering halt when Mai Lan slipped that her husband had been engaged before.

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Chaiya Meditation Monastery
7925 Virtue Court, 456-3838.
chaiyacmm.org

He’d intended to get married, too, Mai Lan told us, but when he brought his fiancé home to meet his very traditional parents, they spotted something they didn’t like: high cheekbones, an apparent sign that she might kill her someday husband. He broke it off, connected with Mai Lan and, after a process that involved fortune-telling and parental vetting, both families agreed to the wedding. If their birthdays hadn’t aligned auspiciously, Mai Lan explained, they might never have gotten married.

With that in mind, my boyfriend and I stepped out of our shoes and padded into the main room of the Chaiya Meditation Monastery just off Rainbow at Windmill. Sunlight filtered over low benches along one wall, and an altar beckoned from the center of the room, strewn with gold Buddha statues and money trees. But our focus was on a small man with a friendly face, wrapped in orange robes and a red blanket and sitting on a purple easy chair behind a small table covered with books, papers and a Kleenex box.

We had come seeking reassurance, some cosmic guarantee of a happy ending to our romantic story, perhaps a knowing nod as the monk looked at our zodiac signs and assured us that, yes, goats and pigs do very well together.

Chaiya became a monk in Burma at 19. He says he's never smoked, drank, lied or touched a woman.

But Chaiya is no fortune-teller. The Buddhist monk scoffed at the notion that horoscopes or numbers could predict successful relationships, gently scolding the suggestion from behind large glasses.

Rather, he told us, Buddhist teachings hold that balance and equality determine marital success. “Four things should be equal,” he said, listing off faith, morality, generosity and the concept of life. He drew his creased palms together like two parties meeting in compromise. “We need to adjust everyday. We have to remind each other to go the right path.”

If it’s strange to take relationship advice from a man who’s never been in one, it didn’t strike me at the time. Instead, we shifted our legs as they started to tingle and absorbed the quiet of the room, the monk’s words and his story. Chaiya grew up in Burma in a religious family, joining a monastery at 19 years old. “In my life, I’ve never lied; I’ve never smoked; I’ve never drank; I’ve never touched a woman,” he said, smiling as if to acknowledge how rare he is.

Now 65 years old, Chaiya spends his days at the Las Vegas monastery, rising at 3 a.m. and meditating four times daily between meals, prayers, taking guests and answering questions. It’s a quiet life, but he said he’s content here, living in the suburbs, doing his job.

Which, on a recent afternoon, involved telling a young couple what they should already know: “Listen to your mind. You know what’s in your heart.”

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Sarah Feldberg is the editor of Las Vegas Weekly magazine. A veteran journalist, Feldberg previously worked as the Weekly's web ...

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