Nam and I went to the next door village, Phrathat, about 1.5 km as the crow flies, to the retreat center, Walai Dhamma Sathan, for a ten day meditation session.
We had been there a year ago for a Buddha Day celebration:
For a small village, 180 families, (500? people), Phrathat has a lot of temples. Nam says that is because the area was a cross roads for traveling armies in the past and therefore a fount of visions about buried treasures.
Here’s a Google map showing the temples (and Royal Chiang Mai Golf Club) and their relationship to our home, Chiang Dha Garden:
Nam inveigled me to attend by planning to go for only three days. I was interested but never attended formal meditation ceremonies before and have grown less interested as I get older.
I didn’t like being away from home although I had a private cabin and the bed was short, but I enjoyed the actual meditation.
I was given a very short intro on walking meditation which had always interested me and then our core group of five people (me plus four women) and some 3-4 on and off visitors were left on our own during the days. In the evening there was a long chanting ceremony that I skipped after the first couple of days.
The style of meditation is Vipassana:
The four establishments of mindfulness are regarded as fundamental in modern Theravadan Buddhism and the Vipassana or Insight Meditation Movement. In this approach the emphasis is on mindfulness itself, as bare attention, instead of on the objects, mental states to be guarded, and the teachings to be remembered. The four establishments (Satipaṭṭhāna) meditation practices gradually develop the mental factors of samatha (“calm”) and vipassana (“insight”). Thanissaro Bhikkhu notes that “satipatthana practice is often said to be separate from the practice of jhana,” but argues that mindfulness is also an aid in the development of concentration.
I’ve been paying attention to my breath for many years so this next step was pretty straightforward for me:
” Though of such a high order, the initial stages of this meditation are well within the reach of a beginner though he be only a lay student of the Buddha-Dhamma. Both in the Discourse here translated, and in the 118th Discourse of the same Collection (the Majjhima Nikaya), which specifically deals with that meditation, the initial instructions for the practice are clearly laid down:
Herein, monks, a monk, having gone to the forest or the root of a tree or to an empty place, sits down with his legs crossed, keeps his body erect and his mindfulness alert. Ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out. Breathing in a long breath, he knows, “I am breathing in a long breath”; breathing out a long breath, he knows, “I am breathing out a long breath.” Breathing in a short breath, he knows, “I am breathing in a short breath”; breathing out a short breath, he knows, “I am breathing out a short breath.” “Experiencing the whole (breath) body, I shall breathe in,” thus he trains himself. “Experiencing the whole (breath-) body, I shall breathe out,” thus he trains himself. “Calming the activity of the (breath-) body, I shall breathe in,” thus he trains himself. “Calming the activity of the (breath-) body, I shall breathe out,” thus he trains himself.
These are instructions given by the Enlightened One to the monks who, after their alms round, had the whole remaining day free for meditation.
After five days I started walking out with three monks when they went on morning alms patrol:
We walked about three km and they were bare foot.
People gave them food. And at a half way point I shared the burden by carrying 2 bags of donations.
After the donations the monks chanted a blessing prayer:
Along our route a funeral ceremony was being prepared:
When we returned to the wat our group served the monks food the women had prepared while we were gone:
On New Year’s Day there was a special gathering [where the old school had been (before they started busing all the students from small villages to a central school)] :
The monks walked around the volley ball court and received the food. It was a real assembly line operation. The monks received the food in their alms bowl and then immediately transferred it to a large plastic bag carried by a person standing next to them. As the bags filled helpers rushed up with new empty bags to replace the filled ones. I felt rather honored to be drafted to be a bag holder and stand next to a monk and help transfer the offerings from pot to bag.
Our friend the Thai Sweet vendor was there with his moto vending equipage:
People also constructed money trees as a gift:
I was surprised and pleased to learn that I could sit cross legged comfortably for an hour. This is new and I credit Nam’s massage and a simple stretching exercise I’ve been using on my legs in hopes of fending off amputation.
The monks were friendly and relaxed. I was referred to YouTube videos by Yuttadhammo Bhikku for more info: