Buddhism can help you to take the weight of the world off your own shoulders. It is an unmatchable immunization against the excesses of our self-centred and materialistic world.
Of all the myriad cultural and natural gifts which Thailand has to share with guests, there is no more valuable opportunity than the chance to spend time learning about and practicing Buddhism at one of the many sacred temples and retreats established around the country.
Buddhism teaches us how to contemplate, understand and ultimately control our speech, thought and action. The aim of Buddhist practice is a profound realisation that the experience of living is defined by impermanence, suffering and non-self. Although this sounds fatalistic, the result of beginners’ Buddhist practice is often enjoyable and liberating, because it allows space, time and a new perspective to consider what is really important in our lives.
While Buddhism has great spiritual and philosophical cannon of literature which can be studied, you should not feel daunted by this. The essence of Buddhism is accessible to all. People who are prepared to sacrifice comfort and ego and make a sincere effort will find that it is possible to gain a great deal of practical and useful insight from simple practice. This is best done under the supervision of a Monk or Nun, who will be able to guide your practice, especially in the beginning and as your practice grows and requires further tuning.
Buddhism is practiced through Meditation. In Thailand, there are two common types of meditation. Tranquil or Samatha meditation develops concentration (Samadhi) on one subject to help calm the mind. Insight or Vipassana meditation helps to develops self understanding through mindfulness training. Training helps us to become more aware of, and contemplate what one is doing, feeling and thinking, as well as what one is thinking about.
What do you do on a Buddhist retreat?
Lay practitioners agree to live by the 8 precepts, (rules) during your stay in the temple. Taking the 8 precepts as well as leaving the temple after a retreat requires a senior monk to oversee a ceremony for you. This is a sacred matter, taken very seriously by Monks and Buddhist lay people. Baring in mind that you may not enjoy some aspects of Buddhist practice, you should not consider a retreat unless you are prepared to make a true commitment. The minimum commitment for a beginner in a reputable temple or meditation centre is usually 10 days.
The 8 precepts are to refrain from:
1) destroying living creatures
2) taking what is not given
3) any kind of erotic behaviour
4) incorrect speech
5) intoxicating liquor and drugs
6) eating at the wrong time (after midday)
7) dancing, singing, music, going to shows, wearing garlands and beautifying oneself with garlands and cosmetics
8) lying on high or luxurious sleeping beds
Only consider a retreat if you are prepared to live by these precepts until the end of your stay, while the first three days are usually quite tough, you’ll see how easily you adjust , adapt and finally enjoy the all process after a few days.
In Wat Rampoeng Tapotaram in Chiang Mai, Buddhism practice usually begins at 04:00. Meditators practice mindful walking and sitting until breakfast at 06:00. After breakfast, there is time for washing and helping to clean the temple. Lunch is at 10:30, after which there is no further solid food. Usually there will be breaks in the afternoon for hot or cold liquids. Further meditation continues until 22:00.
Acknowledging is the heart of insight meditation. It is the continual work of mindfulness to be aware and acknowledge. Insight meditation focuses on the body, feelings, the mind and mind objects. The body postures are standing, sitting, walking and laying down. Mindfulness of the body is the acknowledgement of bodily movements such as the rising/falling of the abdomen when breathing and the right or left foot when stepping. While we are practicing meditation, feelings and thoughts will naturally occur. Practitioners then acknowledge these feelings and thoughts for a short time, before returning to body mindfulness. Practitioners are encouraged to be mindful from the moment you wake up till falling asleep at bedtime.
Where to study?
As with any learning journey, students need to find an appropriate school and teacher for their learning style. Some suggestions which may help you are:
Suan Mokkh temple
In Surat Thani province, established by the venerable Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, a highly revered Monk of the 20th Century, is considered an ideal place to learn about Buddhism. Suan Mokkh is a serene and peaceful wooded oasis, where lay people interested in a serious exploration of Buddhism can enrol on a 10 day silence retreat at the International Dhamma Heritage centre. During your retreat, English-speaking instructors will teach you the theory and practice of meditation. You will also be taught basic yoga to help relieve the physical tension caused by sitting in a meditation position the whole day.
For more information: www.suanmokkh.org/index.htm E-mail: Khun.Reinhard@gmail.com
Wat Rampoeng Tapotaram
In Suthep Sub-district, Chiang Mai, is another excellent choice for beginners in the north of Thailand. The Northern Insight Meditation Centre welcomes all students who are willing to learn the Vipassana meditation practice to develop the mind. The centre is only 10 minutes from Chiang Mai, yet still feels private, secluded and peaceful.
For more information see www.palikanon.com/vipassana/tapotaram/tapotaram.htm which includes an excellent overview of the program. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wat Pah Nanachat
Serious and experienced practitioners only can deepen their practice at Wat Pah Nanachat. This International Buddhist monastery in Northeast Thailand teaches in the Theravada Forest Tradition, and is home to practicing Buddhist monks from around the world. Wat Pah Nanachat was established by the Venerable Ajahn Chah to provide English-speaking people the opportunity to train and practice in the way the Buddha taught his monks in the forests, over 2500 years ago. More information: www.watpahnanachat.org/index.php
Wat Kow Tahm (Mountain Cave Monastery)
This International Meditation Centre in Koh Phan Ngan island, Surat Thani province is another recommended place for a retreat. The monastery has attracted more than 7000 people from 75 countries, interested in studying and practicing the methods, techniques and tools of mental development developed by Mae Chee (Nun) Ahmon and taught in English by Rosemary and Steve Weissman, resident teachers since 1988.
For more information: www.watkowtahm.org/data/watmain.htm
The Monk for a Month program gives travellers the opportunity to experience monastic life in a rural Thai community. This programme would suit enthusiastic beginners, prepared to follow the 8 precepts, especially if you are also motivated by cultural exchange. The programme aims to foster meaningful cultural exchange and provide opportunities for spiritual progression within the Thai Buddhist framework. Teaching and accommodation are provided without charge in keeping with Thai tradition and Buddhist principles. www.monkforamonth.com
Dhamma Healing International
Another alternative option which gives you an insight into Buddhist teachings is Dhamma Healing International, which has offered a spiritual fasting, detox program according to Buddha Dharma philosophy for 17 years. This serious fasting course programme (minimum of 7 days) is ideal for people who want to leave behind old habits and attitudes (such as alcohol, smoking or drug use), change their lives and work towards their higher spiritual potential. The centre also offers classes throughout the week including meditation, yoga, chakra-Qi, water exercise, raw food preparation, spiritual nutrition, vibrational sound healing, Dharma talk, Kundalini colonic-acupressure and personal nutritional and psycho/spiritual counselling.
For more information: www.dharmahealingintl.com/index.html, email: email@example.com
Polite dress and quiet, polite, respectful behaviour is absolutely essential in all of these places.