‘First modern-day Chamorro monk’ is back home

‘Duke’ Palacios overcame life of drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness
Duke Palacios could be considered the “first modern day Chamorro monk” after entering monkhood eight months ago. He will be leading a meditation session on Wednesday morning for the public. (Frauleine Villanueva-Dizon)

Duke Palacios could be considered the “first modern day Chamorro monk” after entering monkhood eight months ago. He will be leading a meditation session on Wednesday morning for the public. (Frauleine Villanueva-Dizon)

After 11 years of trying to find himself and his path, it has finally led him to becoming the “first modern-day Chamorro monk.”

Dwayne Jonathan “Duke” Palacios, who has recently entered the life of a Theravada Buddhist monk, is on island to share his story.

Palacios, 28, has been living the life of a monk for about eight months now but has been actively learning about spirituality since he graduated high school.

“I have been part of at least five major world religions including Catholicism, Christianity, Hinduism. I was once even atheist, agnostic. Every religious practice, every spiritual practice I have been part of, I didn’t feel like I was…it was like being hungry and drinking water to ease that hunger,” Palacios said.

“I always searched for myself in religion. All of them worked and all of them were good until they weren’t. And that’s when I was left hungry and wanting more,” he added.

Even before entering monkhood, Palacios has been following the Buddhist way of life.

“I started teaching myself Buddhism four years ago and I started with Japanese Buddhism, Chinese, and then Tibetan Buddhism,” Palacios said.

“It was through that that I started finding, well, all of these religions, all I found relate to the outside world. I want something that’s going to help me with the inside world, in my mind, in my heart,” he added.

Coming full circle, Palacios was reminded by her mom just a couple of weeks ago how the goal of becoming a monk has been with him since he was little.

“She said, ‘When you were 4, we were in Thailand and you saw monks and you looked at your grandfather and you said when I grew up I’m going to be a monk.’”

However, the path wasn’t always easy for Palacios.

“I have always been the person that whatever I wanted, I did. And I have by no means been a saint all my life. My 10 years were riddled with drug abuse, alcohol abuse, I was homeless. And the most exciting part of that is that I even lived as a trans, a pre-op trans as a female. I was actually on my way to get surgery,” Palacios said.

Palacios was eventually talked out of his decision to get sex reassignment surgery and it was then that he quit drugs and alcohol abuse.

Later on, Palacios went through the process of healing and forgiveness

“I actually had to work through forgiveness which was the reason why I went into the drug abuse, it was because of childhood stuff that I went through,” Palacios said, “Just a lot of things that I never imagined a child going through.”

“The spiritual path, the spiritual journey has been about healing and forgiveness,” he added.

Being a Buddhist monk required many things that Palacios had to give up such as eating beyond 12pm and having their own clothes down to having desires as they believe desires lead to suffering.

However, being a “modern” monk, he is allowed to keep certain things that he had before entering monkhood as long as it doesn’t interfere with his path.

“We believe we have enough. And if we’re supposed to have more, it will come to us,” Palacios said.

As a Buddhist, Palacios clarifies that they don’t doubt the existence of God but that God has other things to take care of.

“We don’t have much to do with [war, starvation] unless we’re there. That’s not to say that it doesn’t compassion or our loving kindness to it because as long as I have peace in me there is no war in the world. Anytime I think of war thoughts, I contribute to war,” Palacios said.

As Buddhism is not a religion but a way of life, Palacios also said that some Buddhists, including himself, still follow their own religions. To a certain extent, he believes in fate.

“I believe that the way that things are, are the way they’re supposed to be. But I also believe that I could control my words and my actions to make that work out for me or to make that work against me,” Palacios said.

One wisdom that Palacios imparted is the importance of mindfulness in our everyday lives.

“All of us, we find the world so stressful because we’re thinking of the past or worried of the future and nobody knows how to live in the moment. But the moment wants nothing from you. The moment just wants you to be present,” Palacios said.

To share something to the public, Palacios will hold a meditation session for the public tomorrow at 5am at the Carolinian Utt in Garapan. Those who wish to attend could wear comfortable clothes and bring their mats.

Palacios is set to leave Saipan this Thursday.

Frauleine S. Villanueva-Dizon | Reporter
Frauleine Michelle S. Villanueva was a broadcast news producer in the Philippines before moving to the CNMI to pursue becoming a print journalist. She is interested in weather and environmental reporting but is an all-around writer. She graduated cum laude from the University of Santo Tomas with a degree in Journalism and was a sportswriter in the student publication.

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