Monk Chat at Wat Suan Dok
"Meditation is medicine for the mind"
-Phra KK, Wat Suan Dok
Preparing to Meditate
With a sore knee, I woke up early this morning to shave and wash up for the retreat. You see, one of my early goals with coming to Thailand was to learn about Meditation a bit more. While in Phuket, that goal seemed to fade to the back of my mind as training took over. Now that I'm in Chiang Mai, I remembered this goal and began looking. I found that the temple I've been living next to this whole time has meditation programs running all week!
I felt a bit dumb as I could've been partaking in these programs the whole time! They have 1/2 Day, 1 Day, and 2 Day retreats as well as a 3 Day retreat once a month. There is even a 10 Day retreat run by the same monks at a different temple in Chiang Mai. So, I signed up for the 1 Day retreat! Thinking I would be sitting on the floor for 8 hours.
Learning for Eight Hours
The program started at 9:30 am at Wat Suan Dok. I lived right next door to one of the entrances and yet... all this time I had never visited the actual temple itself. It was interesting to finally walk in and see what it looked like. Within the white arches of Wat Suan Dok is a high school, monk halls, retreat center, and even a coffee shop!
The temple is very active part of Chiang Mai. There is also a lot of history about it. What I think was cool about my experience with Wat Suan Dok is that I've gotten to see the Stupa refurbished while I was here. When I got here it was white, now it is golden with a nice glass central piece.
Meeting the Monk
My view on monks changed in China, and while in Thailand the view continues to change.
When I found the small building with the "Meditation Retreat" sign hung on the wall, I gingerly took off my shoes and went inside. Luckily, I had found the right place. About twenty to thirty other people sat in chairs in a room decorated with statues of Buddha. Sitting in front of the statues was a cheerful and soft looking man in dark maroon robes. This man was our teacher today. His name was Phrat K K (pronounced Kay Kay). Phrat, refers to him being a fully ordained monk. He talked with an accented english, made even more unique with a lisp on 'th' and 'p'. A monk for more than 20 years, Phrat KK had come up with this retreat program on his own. With the donations from those who attend, he is able to keep it going while also being able to fund his other projects like an orphanage.
What I found surprising was that I had already "met" this monk at a Nepalese Restaurant near the temple. I don't think he realized it, but I later learned that some former students of his had opened the restaurant that I had frequented a few times. Also, the restaurant's name written on the wall was written by Phrat KK.
"Meditate without expectations."
-Phra KK, Wat Suan Dok
So, what was the actual retreat like? Well, not at all like I had expected. What I expected was some basic introduction to what meditation is and then just meditating for hours with some breaks in between. What I got was a history lesson on Buddhism and some in depth explanation on what meditation is and the methods of meditation out there. In total, I think we meditated for 2-3 hours out of the 8 hour retreat.
Phrat KK will take you through a simple history of Buddha's life and then talk about what Buddha taught. The Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the Middle Way. After that, you'll get an explanation about meditation, it's goal, and the different ways to meditate. Only then, will you actually sit down and meditate for 20 - 30 minutes.
The first meditation exercise is sitting meditation. For the first few minutes, Phra KK is guiding you on what to focus on but at one point it will be just you and your body. Hopefully, you're trying to use what you learned to meditate. The second meditation exercise is walking meditation. This one made me feel silly but, I was in a room full of people doing the same thing so the feeling was lessened a bit. It took us thirty minutes to walk about 12 meters. The final meditation exercise that you will learn is movement meditation. Using movement to build up your concentration. I'm not talking Tai Chi, Yoga, or Qi Gong. What we did here was simple hand movements with our eyes closed.
We were lucky with the fact that some Tibetian Monks had come for the "First International Kagyu Monlam in Thailand". What it meant was we got a tour of Wat Suan Dok and we got to sit in the main hall to listen to the monks chant for a bit. I'd like to say I felt something or was moved as I sat eyes closed... but it just didn't happen. It was a cool experience though and I'm glad we got to do it.
To close the retreat, we did one more movement meditation and then had a Q&A session with Phra KK. I didn't ask any questions, but I did take notes on his responses. Oh, I took a lot of notes throughout the whole experience... too many to put down here. I was intrigued with his view on topics as well as the misconceptions there are about Buddhism. His explanations on topics I already have studied were different as well.
"If there is one thing I want to tell students it is: 'Practice the training of Buddha, avoid the culture of Buddhism'. That way there will be less confusion."
-Phra KK, Wat Suan Dok
Reflecting on the Experience
This whole retreat was free. The only thing spent is your time. I donated some money and bought a little book that they had. For those wondering if they should go to an experience like this then I say go for it. If you don't like it then just leave! There were five people that left early. I will say, just have an open mind, ask questions, and don't be afraid of feeling a little silly... because everyone else is there doing the same thing you are.
Plus, there is a shorter 1/2 Day retreat program that they run. It seems like they have it made so that you can slowly build up to longer and longer retreats as you get more "into" meditation. This retreat is very light hearted, no oaths of silence or restrictive rules. Just conversation, discussion, and meditation.
My next time in Chiang Mai, I'll probably take the time to do the whole series of retreats just to see how they are. "Get the full experience".
Honestly, this was a nice break from training and café hopping around Chiang Mai.
So... as this adventure comes to a close. I'll see you in the next location!
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