At first his mother protested, saying “You’re a baby. You can’t know.” But he was sure of his decision, and went to live at Sisumang Temple in the forest outside his native city of Vang Vieng in Laos.
It wasn’t easy. There was no electricity. He had new rules - although there were only 10 of them for the 10 years he lived as a novice - and woke at 4 a.m. to bathe, pray and listen to the monks’ lectures.
He became a monk himself at 20.
Now, people come to him for help and advice. He stresses to them that “everything depends on you.”
Chanthavong does not have money, a car or a house but he is happy.
“Happiness you can find by yourself,” he said. “No one gives it to you.”
He studied English for four years before arriving in Louisiana about a year ago.
When he arrived, he was surprised that it is “a small state but many cultures live here.”
He also likes Cajun culture, noting that the sugar cane festival does not take place in other states.
He said he will stay for at least one more year.
“I need to know English well,” he said.
He also believes there are “fewer hours in America.”
“Some people happy, some people not. Get up, work, everything hard for them,” he said, adding sometimes people think too much.
He recommends meditation for 5 to 10 minutes before bed to quiet some of those thoughts.
Buddha, he said, knows “every problem in the world.”
“Bad things,” he said, should be “like water poured into sand.” They disappear, and we can “make it good.”
He also sees a lot of similarities between the Christian Bible and the Buddhist Bible. He studies English with a Catholic nun, and they tell each other stories, he said.
Those that come to him for help have different kinds of problems. Some have drinking problems. Some are sad at the loss of a loved one.
These he tells that it is the time we are alive, not the time we are dead, that is important.
“When I help them I am happy,” he said. “When I can’t I am not happy.
“When I am sad, I watch the ocean. If the sea does not have waves, it is not beautiful. Life is the same.”