Meditation In Thailand Today
Meditation in Thailand is an important part of life. Businessmen take regular meditation breaks at one of thousands of war or temples in Thailand. This is Keith Allen’s story of his meditation boot camp at one of northern Thailand’s most prominent temples:
A ten-day Vipassana retreat in Pitsanulok
I just returned from a ten-day silent retreat held about 40 to 50 km outside of the city of Pitsanulok. It’s located in a rural agrarian part of Thailand. The campus is nestled at the foot of a mountain and it has numerous fruit trees located on it. I think one would be hard-pressed to find a much more idyllic location for this “Meditation Boot Camp”.
I’ve referred to this event as a meditation boot camp several times. The reason I have is because it is relatively rigorous-relative to most other silent retreats. Everything is structured so that we can begin to unhook our chains to day-to-day life. We are asked to stay within a certain boundary to limit potential contact with people not in this practice. You are asked to refrain from speaking, gesturing, even looking someone in the face while at this practice. You are served great meals every meal time. Ye have little choice in the food, we either eat it or we don’t. At the beginning of the course you’re asked to give your wallet, your phone, any and all reading material and/or writing materials, anything that would connect you to the outside world or distract you, and put it in a lockbox. Then, after an orientation, meditation starts at 4:30 AM. Thankfully you can meditate in your room from 4:30 AM until 6:30 AM (the time breakfast is served). I have to admit that I did sleep past the 4:30 mark more than once. Meditation stops at 9 PM Believe me there’s no problems going to sleep, at least there wasn’t for me.
The instruction is given by Goenka. Goenka, who has unfortunately passed away, is an extremely literate Burmese gentlemen. The 10 days of discourses are videotaped and in excellent English. This videotape of a previous ten-day retreat is what is shown in the centers all over the world. If people are seeking a different language, they have translations which they can show en masse or play on individual iPods. This way the teaching is consistent from country to country. I attended two courses in Kaufman Texas and this one had exactly the same teaching-it was the same videotape. There are also assistant teachers on hand to answer any questions you might have about your meditation. In fact, they’re the only ones we’re supposed to talk to during the 10 days.
Later on we learn that everything in the course is structured the way it is to help simulate being a mendicant. That is, we eat what is offered, we have few if any outside distractions, we can’t even donate to our first ten-day silent retreat until it’s over, and we’re expected to rigorously work on our own enlightenment. Because that is the real stated purpose, the end goal- our own enlightenment, the end of our suffering. Not a bad goal to chip away at, ending our suffering, over a 10 day sit in a stunningly beautiful natural surroundings.
I do want to take a moment and talk about money. Virtually everybody on the campus is there on a volunteer basis. The teachers do not get paid, the servers do not get paid, the land for the campus was donated, and obviously the people sitting don’t get paid. It’s based on the idea that what we decide to donate will pay for the person attending the course after us; the next enlightenment coming. It is stated that until we have completed one ten-day course we don’t know the benefits from Vipassana meditation. Therefore, we can’t donate until after the ten-day courses over-if we choose to donate. The closest equivalent to church that I can come up with is that it’s done on a love-offering basis. It takes the money question straight out of the equation.
By Keith Allen
Here’s some background on the Thai Buddhist Forest Tradition It’s called Thudong: Forest Monks and Hermits of Thailand that Keith’s talking about:
And some more reading on meditation in Thailand
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