Travelling monk

Buddhist monk Sutham Nateetong walks with the San Francisco Peaks at his back Wednesday afternoon. Nateetong stopped in Flagstaff on his way to the Statue of Liberty. He has walked over 400 miles so far and will arrive in New York in late June. 

Mid-morning light filtered through the windows of Ewa's Thai Cuisine in Flagstaff's Southside as people placed fresh fruit, shrimp, strawberries and steaming bowls of rice on Sutham Nateetong's table.

The Thai Buddhist monk was resting his legs after walking some 400 miles from Santa Monica, California on his journey to the Statue of Liberty.

"I am walking for peace," he said.

The two-time graduate of Thammasat University and Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok — where he received degrees in law and public administration, respectively -- began his walk on March 1, he said, and plans to arrive in New York City in late June if all goes to plan.

Nateetong joins monks from countries including Cambodia, Australia, Japan, China and the United States who have taken similar journeys in past decades, carrying messages — ranging from anti-nuclear to pro-asylum -- across thousands of miles on foot. Nateetong's most recent walk brought him from Thailand to Vietnam, a trip that takes upwards of 20 hours to complete by car.

Walking for peace is a newer phenomenon, one in part influenced by western thought, according to Paul Donnelly, chair of the department of comparative cultural studies at Northern Arizona Universtity.

"The notion of walking, or any kind of action, for peace is a modern development, i.e., 20th century, and influenced by Western ideas...There are ancient forms of walking meditation, but those are for the sake of the classic goal of Buddhism, nirvana, not something worldly like peace," Donnelly wrote in an email.

Nateetong said walking was also a means of meditation.

Buddhists in Thailand generally adhere to the Theravada school of Buddhism, which is predominant in most of southeast Asia.

Thanks to social media -- and despite Nateetong’s long and winding routes -- people can track him on Facebook. Nateetong's assistant, who drives alongside the monk in case anything should go awry, posts regularly on the site: photos of Nateetong in Arizona included still-snowy Parks or Peach Springs, where one photo shows a stranger pulling over to hand Nateetong an apple.

Ewa Buschmann heard that Nateetong would be passing through town via friends who called her from all over the United States to tell her his route.

“I heard from the Thai community all over the U.S. telling me ‘hey, he is coming, you know, through Flagstaff’,” Buschmann said.

Buschmann paid for Nateetong to stay in the West Route 66 Days Inn for two nights and bought him a new pair of hiking boots, his third pair since leaving California.

Nateetong said the adverse weather has been challenging -- extremely hot temperatures in California and Nevada and very cold ones once he reached Ash Fork and then Williams.

"At night I sleep at motels or in a tent," said Nateetong, who has received gifts in the form of accommodation for much of his trip. "But if it is too cold, we get [a] motel."

Weather seldom stops him from walking the daily 10 hours, he said. Nateetong takes trails and train routes to avoid the dangerous highways, though he planned to walk along Route 66 in Flagstaff for part of his trip eastward out of town.

In Flagstaff, the weather proved stable for his two-day stay, Nateetong said, with sunny skies and only mildly chilly winds.

The monk and his assistant set off early the next morning toward Twin Arrows; the following day will bring them to Winslow. After Nateetong completes his United States walk, he'll make another journey, this time from Thailand to France. ​

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