By Hunter Conner
Every Tuesday and Thursday, Thung Ly wakes up at 5 a.m. in his home, the Phuoc Binh Monastery, just outside of Gallatin, Tenn and begins his routine meditation for as many as three hours.
Next, he eats breakfast and studies his Buddhist teachings, before driving to Volunteer State Community College to attend his 10:30 computer applications class.
That’s right: a Buddhist student is enrolled here at Vol State. Ly is not just Buddhist. He is actually a Buddhist monk studying psychology to better help those who seek him for guidance at the monastery.
“I think after my studies of psychology, I can help the children and people that come here,” said Ly.
While Ly is working toward his goal in psychology, the Sinhgad, Vietnam native also believes that interacting with people on campus will help him brush up on his English too.
“I am now a U.S. citizen, so I must learn better English, if I am going to help people who come to me,” said Ly.
Growing up in South Vietnam, Ly decided that he wanted to be a monk at a very young age.
“I looked up to some of the monks in Vietnam, and I liked them. They were always very quiet and very calm,” he said.
At the age of nine Ly participated in his training to become a teacher in Buddhism. He continued to study in Vietnam until he left for India due to the communist government.
Eventually Ly was invited to America by Buddhist citizens in need of a teacher, where he has spent the last seven years.
“I will return to my country when communism is no more. Until then, I’ll support America,” he said.
Ly has since opened the Phuoch Binh Monastery, which is funded solely on donations by those he teaches.
“Being a monk, I cannot have a job,” said Ly.
Not having a job is just one of the many rules to which Ly must adhere. Since he holds the title of a monk, Ly cannot marry nor have children.
“If I ever wanted to start a family, I must stop being a monk. Taking care of your family means less time devoted to Buddha,” said Ly.
Ly must also live a strictly vegetarian diet, as Buddhist monks don’t believe in killing or consuming animals that once lived.
Ly also said he is very grateful that he can freely practice his religious beliefs in America, and that Buddhist morals are not very different than Christian ones. He said he believes that both religions could coexist.
“We encourage people to be very open-minded, and to respect others. We welcome different beliefs, and we love all people,” said Venerable E. Nanda, a very close friend to Ly, and also a fellow monk, from Sri Lanka. Nanda frequently visits the monastery to worship with Ly, as well as help others in need.
If anyone is interested in visiting the Phouch Binh to study with Ly or meditate, it is located at 1046 Louisville Hwy. in Millersville, Tenn.