invited all to come and investigate his teachings. For the Buddha
not only found a way to the end of suffering, but he actually
taught a way which we can choose to follow. He observed how
all human beings sought happiness and How nearly all failed to find
lasting contentment. So, out of Compassion, the Buddha taught the
Four Noble Truths-of The way things are how we can develop the mind
toward Nibbana, The highest happiness, the most perfect peace.To
do this, we need to obtain instructions through Teachers and
books, then apply the teaching to our lives. The Buddha presen teddifferent methods
of practice to suit the varied personalities of his
students. All methods, however, involve a foundation
of virtuous conduct, application of mindfulness, development
of concentration to focus the mind, and growth of wisdom
through investigation and reflection. The key point to remember
is the Buddha could only point the way; we must
do the practice in order to progress toward realization of Nibbana.
OF PRACTICE IN THAILAND
To visit Thailand is to experience Thai Buddhism - for
the culture and religion cannot be separated. Thais have followed
and supported the Buddha's teachings for
more than a thousand years. Much of Thai life
centers around the local wat (temple or monastery) where people
come for worship, sermons, advice on family matters,
meditation, schooling for children, and traditional
medicine. Many boys and men take on robes as novices
or monks for short periods in order to fully immerse
themselves in the Buddha's way of life. Men who choose to spend
all their lives in robes receive great respect. Thais
also welcome foreigners to come and practice the Buddha's
teachings. The extremely supportive environment
of a good Thai wat or meditation centre provides inspiration
and opportunity for spiritual development that's rare
in the world today.
Thais believe the Buddha's teachings
to be priceless; no money is asked or expected in return for meditation
instruction. In nearly all cases, such things as accommodations
and food are free too. Generosity of the laypeople enables
the wats and meditation centres to function in this
remarkable manner. Some meditation centres do charge
a fee for room and board, but this is miniscule compared to charges
at retreats in western countries. For stays of a few months or more,
one can have the benefit of practice in Thailand for less cost than
a retreat in one's home country, even after paying airfare. But
of the thousands of wats and meditation centres in Thailand,
which one to choose? This book was written to help you get started
and to assist in an enjoyable stay. The wats and centres
described in these pages represent some of Thailand's best meditation
All welcome foreigners; usually some English
is spoken or a translator can be found. Many more excellent
teachers and places to practice exist too. You'll hear
about some of these during your stay.
A WAT OR MEDITATION CENTRE
Because different Thai
wats and meditation centres offer so many practices and environments,
one may wish to carefully consider which place will be most
suitable. At most wats, monks devote the majority of
their time to ceremonies and to study of Buddhist scriptures. Noise,
many people coming and going, and lack of a suitable
teacher can make meditation practice difficult at these
places. A small percentage of wats, however, do offer
very supportive conditions for meditation.
These wats typically have a peaceful
environment, teachers who can help with difficulties, and freedom
for one to choose the meditation technique that works
best. Some of Thailand's forest wats follow a "Way of
Life" in which the monastic discipline and daily routine receive
equal emphasis with formal meditation techniques. Meditation centres
specialize in practice either a particular meditation
system or one of the meditator's choosing,
depending on the centre. These centres have
minimal or no chanting and ceremony so that maximum
time can be devoted to formal practice.
If you're new to Buddhist meditation,
consider the 10-day retreats offered at Suan Mokkh and
Wat Kow Tham in southern Thailand; western teachers
conduct the retreats, so you don't have to worry about
language or cultural misunderstandings. Frequent talks and interviews
allow one to get a good basic understanding of practice and to clear
up any doubts about the meditation techniques.
Because Thais traditionally
do temporary ordinations during the 3 month Rains Retreat,
from mid- or late July to October, expect more crowded
conditions at some places then. This can be an especially good
time to stay, however, as many wats place extra emphasis on practice.
Monks take up residence in their chosen monastery, so there's
much less coming and going. Meditators would be wise to check in
by early June to make arrangements to stay for the Rains Retreat.
Whether one is new to meditation or has done many years
of practice, a teacher or "good friend" can
be of great help. The teacher also sets an example for
the wat or centre and determines the discipline. Monks traditionally
devote 5 years to their first teacher.
Some wats and centres expect laypeople to participate
in group activities. Other places let them make and
follow their own schedule.
A few meditation centres offer only intensive individual
practice -- sitting, walking, meals, and other activities
take place in or near one's room in solitude. Residents
of most wats begin the day early, typically 3-4 a.m.
in forest monasteries and 5 a.m. in towns, with meditation and chanting.
Meditation centres expect early rising too, with sleep limited to
4 to 6 hours. Monks and novices go on pindabat (alms round) at daybreak,
then eat once or twice in the morning, depending on the custom
of the wat or centre. You may also see maechees (8-precept nuns)
on pindabat in central and northern Thailand and pakows (anagarikas,
8-precept laymen) in the northeast. Most wats have another
period of meditation and chanting in late afternoon or evening.
The rest of the day is used for meditation, work projects,
and personal needs. At some intensive meditation centres you
will be encouraged to practice 20 hours a day.
A typical daily routine has been
listed for many places; expect changes at many wats,
however, on wan phra, the Buddhist holy day that falls
on the full, new, and half moon (every 7 or 8 days). Many laypeople
come to make special offerings, hear sermons, chant the refuges
and precepts, and practice meditation. Some visitors may stay at
the wat all day and night, sleeping as little as possible. Additionally,
monks gather on the full and new moon for a recitation of the
Patimokkha, the 227 rules of discipline for the order.