Meditation – Cultivate Awareness and Achieve Peace
The ability of the Thais to laugh and joke, their smiles, and their ubiquitous ‘Mai Pen Rai’ phrase all reflect a culture that is infused with Buddhism. Although the country is diverse, with many practicing different religions, the culture of Theravada Buddhism has nevertheless had profound effects on the greater Thai culture. If you’d like to dive in and learn more about Thai Theravada Buddhism through actual practice, it’s possible to attend a short, or full meditation retreat either in town or the surrounding areas.
The courses available at meditation retreats seek to impart the real teachings of Buddha, the dhamma. Thai Buddhists practice vipassanameditation in order to properly learn the lessons of the dhamma, and this is no light undertaking. There are codes of conduct that are strictly adhered to in order that the meditation will bring about the insight leading to awareness and the cessation of suffering. The key ways these are cultivated are through seated and walking meditation. Eventually as self-knowledge is gained, the probationer will begin to experience a profound sense of peace. Ultimately, whether seekers identify themselves as Buddhist or not, all are welcome, and it is hoped that the insights gained, no matter the depth of experience, will enhance normal everyday life.
Short-Term Meditation Retreats
For those that want to look more closely, but not go all out, there are short-course meditation retreats available. Wat Suan Dok, on Suthep Road just outside the Old City, is the most accessible temple with the most convenient courses for the curious. They offer simple overnight experiences beginning on a Tuesday and ending the next day on Wednesday. At the end of each month they also offer a three-day course beginning on a Tuesday as well, and ending on a Thursday. Not only is Wat Suan Dok a lovely, spacious temple conveniently close to the city, it also has a nice atmosphere for westerners due in part to their monk chat program, and the popular vegetarian restaurant located at the back, Pun Pun.
Another location for short-term vipassana practice is Wat Umong, a forest temple at the foot of Doi Suthep. There, they offer one- to four-day retreats. This lovely temple will give a more serene setting to your practice, and is just a bit off the beaten path.
Long Meditation Retreats
Some people really want to dive in and partake in the commitment of a long-term meditation retreat. These are serious affairs, and involve a lot of self-discipline, not to mention an application process to get in. While away at these retreats, practitioners will find themselves following five precepts of abstinence in order to facilitate their progress: no killing, no stealing, no sexual activities, no lying, and no taking of intoxicants. Those who are advanced or have prior experience are also expected to abstain from eating after the midday meal, sensual entertainment and bodily adornment, and use of luxurious beds. These five (or eight) standards of conduct are actually just the beginning. From there, the practice will involve a lot of seated and walking meditation, with a goal of around 12 hours total per day. Perhaps one of the most challenging other rules is that there is to be no speaking throughout the duration other than with a monk sometime midday for consultation about your progress. If all of these standards are not too intimidating, then perhaps these courses are for you.
Long term meditation retreats come in 21 and 26 day options. The most popular one close to the city is at Wat Ram Poeng, at the foot of Doi Suthep like Wat Umong. The retreat there is for 26 days with participants urged to complete at the minimum ten days if they feel the full course is too much. For the shorter 21-day course, continue on up the mountain to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep with its commanding view of all of Chiang Mai. There, you will have the opportunity of practicing at perhaps the city’s most famous temple.
On the other hand, if the idea of remoteness makes sense for your long meditation retreat, Wat Chom Tong, which lies south of the city by approximately 60 kilometers, also offers the 21 day retreat. As at the closer temples, you will be in good hands though so far outside the city and in the mountains. They make sure that there will always be a monk or other counselor to speak in English with you and help guide you along your path every day.
To sum up, meditation retreats bring Buddhism to life. However, there are some basics to keep in mind when considering a meditation retreat. Remember that it is a real commitment and is not a casual thing. Be sure that you are up to the challenge of adhering to the moral code and the challenges you will face with a restricted diet and a regimen of daily meditation. Though westerners are often only Buddhism tourists, we must never forget that this is a sacred religion to millions and treat it with respect at all times. Considering that this all suits you, it is recommended to get in contact with the temple of choice well ahead of time and begin the application process. People of all faiths are welcomed, and meals, housing, and instruction are provided free of charge. Donations are always accepted, and may be made any time after the end of the meditation retreat.
Temples That Offer Short Meditation Retreats
Wat Suan Dok (1- and 3- Day Retreats)
Location: MCU Buddhist University Chiang Mai Campus, Suthep Road (opposite Chiang Mai Neurological Hospital)
Tel: 053-278-967, ext. 210; 084-609-1357
Wat Umong (1-4 Day Retreats)
Location: Suthep Road, Soi Wat Umong
Temples That Offer Long Meditation Retreats
Wat Chom Tong (21 Day Retreats)
Location: Tambon Ban Luang, Amphoe Chom Tong (approx. 60 km south of Chiang Mai)
Wat Ram Poeng (26 Day Retreats)
Location: Northern Insight Meditation Center, Tambon Suthep, between Canal Road and Suthep Road