What is Tudong?
Today, most monastics live in temples and monasteries. Some of these are grand, purpose-built institutions, while others are rented houses or apartments on average city streets. The monastery serves as a place to pool resources, gather for practice, and is easily accessible to the communities that support it.
Recognizing that the mind easily acclimates to comfort, the Buddha also allowed monks and nuns to follow special ‘dhutanga’ practices, or austerities. These involve developing contentment with the basic standard of support – alms food gathered in the begging bowl, living in the forest, and having nothing more than the robes and gear one can carry. Rather than taking the monastery as a support, these practitioners take the dhutanga’s themselves as a support, and travel freely in search of whatever conditions are most beneficial for liberation.
In Thailand, when a monk leaves the shelter of a monastery to practice the dhutanga’s and live independently, they are said to be ‘going tudong’, a thai form of the word dhutanga. They might practice this way for a few days or for years, and forest monasteries often closely model themselves after the lifestyle of these austere individuals.
The Buddha himself gave special audiences to monks who practiced the dhutanga’s, as he said they were inspiring. So too, whether in Thailand or in the West, those monastics who dare to leave the shelter of a monastery often find they have access to resources and teachings they never would have known about otherwise. Everywhere they go, they get to spread enthusiasm for dhamma.
The Buddha didn’t require anyone to practice the dhutanga’s. They are optional practices, and those who attempt them are often hard to find. But should you meet a tudong monk on the road one day, consider yourself lucky! Such reminders of the path of the enlightened beings are rare in our world.