A GUIDE TO MEDITATION CENTRES IN THAILAND INTRODUCTION
The Buddha 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.
ADVANTAGES 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 traditions.
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.
CHOOSING 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.