Many of us have at one time or other found the toll of living in the modern world hard to bear. Stress, depression and disillusionment are some of the diseases of modern times that leave us yearning for a solution, a cure, so to speak. More and more people are turning to meditation as they fail to find the answer through worldly paths. Meditation is found in some form or other in all major religious traditions. Even those who are not religious use it to focus mind, to hone it, so that it works better. In Buddhism, meditation is time of the integral to the eight-fold path to enlightenment. One trains one's mind so that it can see the four-point Supreme Truth that forms the core of Buddha's teachings: suffering, what causes it, the end of suffering, and the path to that end. Even if you are not interested in Buddhism, meditation is a-valuable training that can be applied to daily life, for it helps with concentration and when done correctly can lead to a state of peace and calmness that's beyond worldly joys.
There are two main branches in Buddhist meditation: Samatha (calmness, concentration) and Vipassana, (insight), which stresses mindfulness. This doesn't mean that the two are entirely separate, since you cannot be mindful unless you have at least some level of concentration.
Venerable Buddhadasa Bhikku (1903-1993), founder of Suan Mokkh Forest Monastery in Surat Thani. Meditators at Suan Mokkh (( Garden of Liberation ), follow the 16 steps of anapanasati as laid down in Pali texts.
Mantra meditation, in which you repeat a few words over and over is also widely practiced. Followers of this technique may chant "Buddh" as they inhale, and 'dho" as they exhale. The words may vary, but the purpose chanting is really to get the mind focused. Yet another widely taught technique is kasinas, where meditators concentrate on an object outside themselves, such as the flame of a candle, or crystal ball.
Sati, or mindfulness, is key to vipassana meditation. You train yourself, to be aware of the body's movement, the rise and fall of your chest as you inhale and exhale, the movement of your feet and legs as you walk, as well as your fillings, your thought, and finally, the state of mind you are in. Walking, sitting and lying meditation are but a few of vipasana techniques. When the mind is untrained, concentration can be shattered by the slightest stimulinoise, smell, heat, hunger, pain, etc. The key is to become aware of what happens, but not dwell on it. Still, a novice can only ward off so much distraction, and that's one reason why vipassana retreats are usually held in peaceful and isolated settings.
Meditation teachings are widely available in Thailand. You can attend a class at one of the teaching monasteries for an afternoon or evening. Wat Mahadhatu near the Grand Palace , for example, has two meditation training centers open to locals and tourists. Or you may join a vipassana retreat, which usually takes a weekend or longer: A number of retreat centers, most of them located in the provinces, run intensive courses of up to four weeks on an ongoing basis. All vipassana retreats require you to follow the Five Buddhist Precepts. These include refraining from harming all living beings, from taking what is not given, from improper sexual behavior, from lying and incorrect speech, and from taking liquors and drugs that will cloud the mind. Some retreats may require that you take you take the Eight Precepts, which in addition to the first five include refraining from dinner, from all forms of entertainment and body decoration, and from sleeping on high mattresses.
Once you get enrolled in a course, be sure to follow only the technique taught there. Mixing techniques will only confuse you. Usually, you are given instructions daily, and required to report your progress or lack of it to your meditation master on the following day. After the interview you will be given advice and new instructions, or old ones to repeat.
Respect for ones teacher is inherent in Thai culture. At the start of a vipassana session, you must attend an opening ceremony, where you pay respect to the meditation masters and present them with traditional Buddhist offerings of incense sticks, candles and flowers, usually three lotuses or a hand garland. There is also a closing ceremony, where you thank your teachers and bid them a formal farewell. Even if you cannot stay for the duration of the course, be sure to perform this ritual before you leave, since not doing so is considered very rude.
All-white, modest clothing is required at vipassana retreats. Check ahead if there is a shop on the compound, or if you have to bring your own. At most monasteries, simple accommodation and food are provided, usually free of charge. Talking, reading and writing are discouraged, as they will distract you from your meditation. And meditators are not allowed to leave the retreat compound unless absolutely necessary, so be sure to bring enough change of clothes, toiletries and personal items for the duration of the course.
For first-time meditators, it might help to attend a day session or two before you join a long retreat. Bangkok has a number of meditation centers offering day classes in English. Many temples around the country also teach samatha and vipassana meditation.
Where to Learn Buddhist Meditation:
Interational Buddhist Meditation Center (IBMC)
IBMC is the vipassana teaching center of Mahachutatongkorn Buddhist University, one of the highest seats of Buddhist learning in the country. Mindfulness meditation classes in English are held daily, from 1 -6 p.m. , except on Buddhist holly days and Sundays. Bring flowers, nine sticks of incense and a candle for the opening ceremony. The Center also organizes vipassana retreats at Buddha Monthon in Nakhon Pathom, usually on major Buddhist holly days and long weekends. Dhamma talks to groups can be arranged by request.
Section Five, Wat Mahadhatu
Thais and foreigners have long come to Section Five of Wat Mahadhatu to learn mindfulness meditation. Classes are held from 7-10 p.m., 1-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.
These are mixed; at any given session there will be beginners and advanced meditators, monks and laymen, locals and tourists. English-speaking instruction is available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. You can come for a retreat of three days or longer. Meals and accommodation are provided on the compounds free of charge. Bring enough sets of clothes, toiletries and personal items, and an o ffering of flowers, a candle and nine sticks of incense for the opening ceremony. Donations are accepted but not solicited.
Wat Phra Dhatu Sri Chomthong
This temple is headed by Dr. Phra Supromyanathera who founded the Northern Insight Meditation Center at Wat Rampoeng. Meditation retreats are held on an ongoing basis. Instructions are in Thai with translation into English, French and other European languages. Meditators must present identification card or valid passport, and inform the temple of the intended le ngth of stay.
Then they can choose whether to follow the Five or Eight Precepts. The temple provides two meats a day at 6 a.m. and 11 a.m., dormitory-style lodgings for , men and women, most with their own f; bathroom. Proper clothing is available at a shop next door to the monastery. Bookings are advised, since the retreats draw large crowds during major , B.uddhist holidays and Chinese vegetari an festival.
Northern Insight Meditation Center at Wat Rampoeng (Tapotharam)
Suan Mokkh Forest Monastery
Founded in 1932 by the late Venerable Buddhadasa Bhikku, meditation master and Buddhist scholar Suan Mokkh holds a 10 day meditation course on an ongo ing basis. During the course participants will explore two interrelated subjects: dhamma and meditation. Meditation instruction focuses on mindfulness with breathing (anapanasati), a system of training used and taught most often by the Buddha. Dhamma talks are held daily, and everyone is encouraged to participate. English-speaking facilitators "Friends" offer guidance on meditation practice and other aspects of the course.
Other Meditation Centers
House of Dhamma (Vipassana) Insight Meditation Center
This is part of the International Buddhist Meditation Center of Wat Maha Dhatu. Sunday meditation classes from 2 p.m.,5 p.m. on the second, third and fourth Sundays of the months. Occasionally the center holds one-day retreat on its compound. Classes conducted in English.
Sorn Thawee Meditation Center
Meditation here follows the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, based on the teachings of Mahasri Sayadaw. Meditators are required to pursue individual practice in or near their own quarters.
Vivek Ashram Vipassana Meditation Center
Teachings here are based on the Four Foundations of Mitldfulness. Meditators are encourage to practice 20 hours a day, in meditation halls or in their own indi vidual cottages.
Wat Pah Nanachart (International Forest Monastery)
Teachings here are based on anapanasati, or mindfulness with breathing. A meditator's day is spent in group meetings and pursuing individual assignments. As a wat pah, or forest monastery, this one can accommodate a limited number of meditators and makes no concession to the outside world. There are no tele phones on or near the compound.
World Fellowship of Buddhists
The World Fellowship of Buddhists holds Dhamma talk on the first Sunday of the month. Lecture on mindfulness with breathing is given on occasions.
This temple, some two hours' drive from Bangkok, houses a well-known insight meditation school headed by the Venerable 'Phra Raj Suthiyanna Mongol (Phra Ajarn Charan). Non-Thai students are required to stay for three month, to learn meditation in Thai language. Retreats during long weekend and religious holiday are usually packed. Meditations stay in simple common loadings, with shared bathroom facilities.
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