From long stretches of bitumen in Queensland to the gravel covered paths of Maitland, he has walked in practice of an age-old Buddhist tradition extolling the virtues of a life free of greed, hate and delusion.
This is the story of Jason Chan and the road less travelled.
It’s a strange juxtaposition – this traditional monk seated in front of a lap top.
But in this sparse container-style abode Jason Chan is an image of antiquity among the contemporary.
Cross-legged he sits, swathed in a thin orange robe and a charcoal grey blanket looped hood-like over his bald head.
His frame is slight, his feet are hardened and bare.
But if happiness were a face it would be his.
“My decision to do this was very simple,” Bhante (the traditionalist Buddhist honorific) Chan says.
“I’ve always been a very rational person and a person with very high standards so I wanted to live the way that was, rationally-speaking, the most beneficial for myself and other people at the same time.
“So after contemplating for a long period of time I decided that being an old-fashioned homeless, wandering Buddhist monk was the best way to do that.”
Mostly, the wandering monk (as he is known) politely declines interviews with mainstream media but after spending the past couple of months walking the streets of Maitland he wants to convey the message of his faith to the masses.
Still, he shies away from too much attention and requests the story focuses mainly on his faith.
But to understand how Bhante Chan arrived (spiritually) to where he is now, we do need to go back.
Bhante Chan was once a lawyer living in Sydney but despite this apparent success he lived with depression, chronic fatigue, sleeping problems and suffered with extremely bad eczema.
More than that, he lacked direction and hope.
“Now I have very strong direction and hope,” Bhante Chan said. “I have no eczema whatsoever and, in fact, I probably have the most resilient skin of anybody in Australia.
“I’m full of energy and I sleep like a log whenever I need to. So, basically all of the problems have been solved.
“And not only have I gotten past the point of getting rid of the problems, I’ve also become unusually resilient for a person with medical insurance, hardly any clothes and no property.”
Bhante Chan’s transformation from successful lawyer to traditionalist monk was slow and not without challenge.
“I adapted to all these changes with difficulty,” Bhante Chan said.
“But I just had enough faith that the Buddha wouldn’t have taught people to live this way if he thought it would bring them long term harm.
“This faith is highly empirical. It’s based on careful observation of human behaviour and adjusting behaviour so that it creates beneficial long term results of both body and mind.
“I had faith in Buddha’s constant assurances so I figured if I just stuck it out through the hard times it would all work out, and it has.”
Because of this, Bhante Chan wanders Australia with little more than a bowl – containing an identification card, a Medicare card (he has never used), a razor, a needle case and a set of nail clippers – three pieces of cloth (constituting his robes) and a blanket.
He eats when people fill his bowl and stays at the homes of people who offer. This practice is known as Alms Round and symbolises dependence on others, all-acceptance and generosity.
“A lot of people have seen me walking around collecting food and this is a tradition that is 2500 years old. It is the seed of an alternative economy based on generosity, respect and wisdom,” Bhante Chan explains.
“So if Australians see a monk standing outside a shopping centre holding a bowl it’s not because he’s waiting for money, he’s actually waiting for offerings of alms food.
“Instead of doing things for each other based on greed and fear, money and contract, Buddhists do things for each other out of love, respect and wisdom.
“We’re always looking for what other people need and always checking for whether or not it’s in our capacity to give it.
“And the moment we can, we do because in our view we make such good karma from it that it’s the smartest investment a person could possibly make.
“We kick start the generosity of love and wisdom based economy by deliberately making ourselves vulnerable to everybody by going out on the streets waiting for food.
“And, if by the end of the day, we receive no food we deliberately allow ourselves to go hungry. I’ve got so many supporters that I could get food from a lot of people. But I deliberately go out and make myself vulnerable to strangers in order to inspire them to be generous and wise and loving.”
Interestingly, Bhante Chan has never missed a meal. Even when he has walked long stretches of highway, where there is no town for 100 kilometres, Bhante Chan is satiated by the kindness of strangers.
“And I’ve never been frightened because my faith has been really strong. Sometimes I get a bit worried but I’ve never been dead-set frightened,” he says.
In preparation for his life as a monk – “it was a very slow process and I introduced it to my parents over a long period of time so they weren’t really surprised” – Bhante Chan spent a year in a Southern Highlands monastery.
“I learnt more about the earlier strata of the Buddhist literature and found it was completely different to all the other kinds of Buddhist literature and I became very inspired to become a Buddhist monk according to that literature,” Bhante Chan said.
For two weeks next month about 30 Buddhists and Buddhist sympathisers will live together in tents at the Purple Pear Farm, Anambah, as part of the Hunter Valley’s first Plain Buddhist Tent Village.
The brainchild of Bhante Chan, the concept is designed to create a fully functional albeit temporary village run in accordance with early Buddhist principles.
He hopes the tent village will be a mirror of ordinary life, with adults working on the organic farm according to Buddhist co-operative principals and children attending the village-home-school according to Buddhist educational principles.
The makeshift village is the first brushstroke for a bigger picture that includes the future establishment of Plain Buddhist Permaculture Villages, Plain Buddhist Permaculture Urban Co-operatives, Plain Buddhist Schools and a Plain Buddhist Micro-financial system in the Hunter Valley, Newcastle and Sydney region.
“The cause of all forms of suffering in the world isn’t the government, it isn’t Islam, or the Labor Party or the Liberal Party, it isn’t the refugees,” Bhante Chan said. “The cause of every single problem is greed, hatred and delusion. And the way to solve that is to train in, as opposed to waiting for God to give it to you, wisdom, compassion and simplicity. That’s the way a real Buddhist sees the world.”
The Plain Buddhist Tent Village will be held at Purple Pear Farm, 131 Anambah Road, from July 4 to July 10. Buddhist.firstname.lastname@example.org.