Thailand's capital has many famous wats and some highly respected teachers. Meditation practice can be difficult, however, due to crowded conditions, noise, air pollution, and lack of English. The city may best serve as a place for information before one heads out to the countryside. Unless you're a resident of Bangkok, there's no reason to stay here since wats and meditation centres in other parts of Thailand can be reached in as little as an hour's bus ride away; even most distant provinces lie only an overnight bus or train ride away.
The World Fellowship of Buddhists (W.F.B.)
The W.F.B. works to bring Buddhists of the world closer together by helping to exchange news and views of groups in different countries and by promoting ways to bring greater peace and happiness to the world. Since the W.F.B.'s founding in 1950, more than 100 organizations in 37 countries around the world have joined as regional centres. The headquarters in Bangkok offers a free talk and meditation class in English from 2 to 5:30 p.m. on the first Sunday of each month, provides information on places to learn and practice meditation in Thailand, and distributes some English and Thai books. The headquarters publishes a quarterly journal, the "W.F.B. Review," which has wide-ranging articles on Buddhist topics. A library has many English books on Buddhism, including some hard-to-find titles. The office is open Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. at 33 Sukhumvit Rd. (between Soi 1 and Soi 3), Bangkok 10110; tel. 251-1188, 251-1189, or 251-1190.
International Buddhist Meditation Centre (I.B.M.C.)
Vorasak and Helen Jandamit founded this organization in association with high-ranking monks of Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University to provide information on Buddhism and Buddhist meditation for English-speaking people. A "Buddhism and Philosophy Discussion Group" meets on Saturdays from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Dharma Vicaya Hall; it's led in English by Miss Seonai (Sona) Gordon and is very popular. Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University conducts Budddhist study courses; register at the Dhamma Vicaya Hall. Current information about places to learn and practice meditation is available too. This is probably the best source of information for finding out about good teachers in the Bangkok area. The I.B.M.C. publishes and distributes books about Buddhism, has a list of meditation centres, and puts out a newsletter. Contact Vorasak and Helen c/o T.E.L.S., 26/9 Chompol Lane, Lardprao Lane 15, Bangkok 10900; tel. 511-0439 or 511-3549.
WAT MAHA THAT
MEANING OF NAME: "Temple of the great element" (refers to a famous copper pagoda)
ALSO SPELLED: Wat Mahadhatu
ADDRESS: Tha-Phrachan, Bangkok 10200
DIRECTIONS: Located west of Sanam Luang (parade grounds) and south of the National Museum and Thammasat University. Main entrances are on the west side from Maharaj Road. Many city buses pass by.
TELEPHONE: (02) 222-6011 (Section 5)
(02) 222-4981 (Section 5 secretary)
(02) 222-2835 (Dhamma Vicaya Hall)
MEDITATION SYSTEM: Vipassana using techniques similar to those taught by Mahasi Sayadaw. Based on Four Foundations of Mindfulness described in the Maha Satipatthana Sutta. Concentration is developed on the rise and fall of the abdomen, then awareness is directed to physical and mental sensations.
TEACHING METHOD: Individual daily interviews. Weekly lectures in Thai (usually on Sundays). Most meditation instruction and practice takes place in Section 5.
TEACHERS: Ajahn Maha Sawai Nanaviro (Thai; age 35)
Ajahn Phramaha Boonchit (Nanasangvaro) (Thai; age 34).
Other experienced monks and laypeople assist.
Ajahn Phramaha Suphap Khemarangsi (Thai; age 45) is head of Section 5.
LANGUAGE: Teachers and some assistants in Section 5 can speak a little English, though instruction is normally given in Thai. If no one speaks English when you visit, ask at the Dhamma Vicaya Hall.
DESCRIPTION: Large, busy temple of 50 rai (20 acres). Founded in the 18th century, Wat Maha That serves as an important center for Thai Buddhism. Many of the monks attend Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University here. Crowds of worshippers visit the various viharns, shrines, chedis, and Buddha images on the grounds. Monks in the Dhamma Vicaya Hall sometimes speak English and can answer questions; scheduled talks are given here. Meditation takes place in Section 5; you're welcome to join in on the group sitting and walking sessions.
SIZE: Monks: 300-400 (one of the largest populations in Thailand during the Rains Retreat) (30-50 monks in Section 5)
Novices: 50-70 (about 10 in Section 5)
Nuns: 10-12 (about 8 in Section 5)
Laypeople: about 500 (30-40 in Section 5)
DAILY ROUTINE: In Section 5: 6:30 a.m. breakfast; 7-11 a.m. morning chanting (about 30 min.) and sitting and walking group meditation; 11:30 a.m. lunch; 1-4 p.m. sitting and walking group meditation; 4 p.m. drinks; 6-8 or 9 p.m. evening chanting (about one hour) and sitting and walking group meditation.
FOOD: Good quality and variety. A simple breakfast in early morning, then the main meal in late morning; drinks are served in the afternoon. Meditators can also arrange for food, including vegetarian, to be delivered from shops.
ACCOMMODATIONS: Laypeople usually stay in dormitories, separate for men and women; conditions tend to be crowded. Monks, novices, and some laymen have individual rooms. Electricity and running water. Bathing is from jars or showers; Asian-style toilets.
WRITE IN ADVANCE?: Not necessary.
ORDINATION: Possible as monk, novice, or maechee. First ask chief of Section 5, who will inform the abbot. One then has an interview with the abbot. Longer ordinations of 1-2 years or more are preferred.
OTHER INFORMATION: Laypeople follow 8 precepts and normally wear white clothing. Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University Bookstore, facing the street on the north side of the wat, has some English books on Buddhism; other Buddhist bookstores are on the same street.
WAT BOVORNIVES VIHARA
MEANING OF NAME: "Temple of excellent abode"
ALSO SPELLED: Wat Bovoranives, Wat Bovorn, Wat Bowonniwet, Wat Bowon.
ADDRESS: 248 Phra Sumen Rd., Banglamphu, Bangkok 10200
DIRECTIONS: On Phra Sumen in Banglamphu district, 2 blocks north of the Democracy Monument. Many city buses pass through the area.
TELEPHONE: (02) 280-0869 or 281-2831-3
MEDITATION SYSTEM: No formal teachings or meditation instructions are currently offered. The teacher is very busy with duties. This temple is mentioned because it's an important center for Thai Buddhism. Usually a few foreign monks are in residence who can answer questions.
TEACHERS: His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyansamvara, the SupremePatriarch (sangharaja) of Thailand (Thai; age 78).
DESCRIPTION: Thirty-one rai (12.5 acres) in an urban setting with some trees and a few open spaces. Small canals criss-cross the grounds. Some of the buildings have notable Thai or European architecture. The Great Chedi, glittering with gold-colored tiles, towers more than 50 meters; relics of the Buddha lie inside within a small metal chedi. If you're here on a Sunday afternoon, you can visit the Dhamma Museum in the tall building near the street; exhibits include Buddha images, temple paraphernalia, skeletons and other meditation objects, and "cremation books" (given out on cremation occasions). Resident monks engage primarily in Dhamma studies; Mahamakut Rajavidyalaya Buddhist University is on the east end of the grounds.
SIZE: monks: 100-160
laypeople: (just schoolboys and workmen)
DAILY ROUTINE: Not generally available or recommended for meditators.
ORDINATION: Foreigners occasionally ordain here but few stay;contact the secretary for details.
OTHER INFORMATION: A small English library is available at Gana Soong (International Section). Mahamakut Bookstore, on Phra Sumen across from the wat, has many Buddhist books in English; publishers represented include Buddhist Publication Society, Pali Text Society, and Mahamakut Rajavidyalaya Press; closed Sunday.
The temple has had a long and glorious history. In 1836, King Rama III, in a boat procession, invited Prince Bhikku Mongkut to become abbot of Wat Bovornives Vihara. Prince Mongkut was a scholar of Pali Buddhism and the first Asian king to speak English fluently. On the death of Prince Mongkut's half brother King Rama III, he left the Order to become king, being known in the West as King Rama IV. In 1956, King Mongkut's great grandson, H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the present king of Thailand, was ordained and resided at Wat Bovornives for a period. The royal history continues with the ordination of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn and several of his children who, after ordination, resided here.
WAT PAK NAM
MEANING OF NAME: "Monastery at the mouth of the river"
Uppdate January 2009:
"You may interested to know that this book ("Samma Samadhi" by T. Magness) which was originally published in 1960 and had been enlarged and is currently called "Vistas - Buddhist Insights into Immorality" which makes for even more comprehensive understanding of the method.
ADDRESS: Therdthai Rd., Amper Phasicharoen, Bangkok 10160
DIRECTIONS: Located west across the Chao Phraya River in Thonburi, part of metropolitan Bangkok. Easily reached by city buses #4, 9, or 103. If you don't mind some spray (the water isn't too clean), you can take a long-tailed boat to the wat from Rajinee (Rachini) and Saphan Phut jetties north of the Memorial Bridge on the east side of the Chao Phraya.
TELEPHONE: (02) 467-0811
MEDITATION SYSTEM: The technique begins by concentrating on a point inside the body in the center of the abdomen, 2 finger-widths above the navel. This point is said to be the place where consciousness has its seat. The words "Samma Araham" can be repeated mentally to aid initial development of concentration. A luminous nucleus appears at the center point, then develops into a still and translucent sphere about 2 cm in diameter. Within the sphere appears another nucleus which emerges into a sphere. The process continues with increasingly refined spheres or forms appearing in succession. The high levels of concentration achieved are used in vipassana to develop penetrating insight. A qualified teacher is important in this practice. The late abbot Ven. Chao Khun Mongkol-Thepmuni (1884-1959) popularized this meditation system. The wat has a book in English, "Samma Samadhi" by T. Magness, that explains the technique in detail.
TEACHING METHOD: Individual interviews as needed. Talks in Thai by a monk or a tape recording of Ven. Chao Khun Mongkol-Thepmuni are given 2 or 3 times a day at group sittings in the meditation hall.
TEACHERS: Chao Khun Bhawana Kosol Thera (Thai; age 72); he speaks English and Japanese.
Ven. P.K. Bhavananuwat (Thai; age 77); he speaks a little English.
LANGUAGE: Teachers speak some English and people are usually around who can translate. Easiest for one who can speak Thai.
DESCRIPTION: The "bot" and many large, multi-story buildings are tightly packed on the 17-rai (7-acre) grounds. Urban setting. Large crowds of worshippers come on weekends and Buddhist holidays. The wat dates back to the early 18th century in the Ayuthaya Period.
SIZE: monks: 200-400 (one of the largest populations in Thailand during the Rains Retreat)
laypeople: about 100 (half practice meditation)
DAILY ROUTINE: Meditators can practice individually or attend group sessions.
FOOD: Good quality and variety; offered in the temple at daybreak and at 11 a.m. Monks and novices can go on pindabat if they wish. Laypeople eat after monks and novices.
ACCOMMODATIONS: Monks and novices usually stay in individual rooms, some with attached Thai- or western-style bathrooms. Nuns have shared rooms. Laypeople may be able to stay except during the Rains Retreat.
WRITE IN ADVANCE?: Not necessary.
ORDINATION: Men spend a minimum of one month as a layman, then 3 months as a novice before full ordination as a monk. Women can request maechee ordination, though no westerners have done so.
OTHER INFORMATION: Ven. Chao Khun Mongkol-Thepmuni revived this system of meditation, sometimes called "Dhammakaya." He's very highly venerated by the Thais. A shrine room in the wat contains his coffin and a life-like wax statue. Laypeople practicing meditation normally follow 8 precepts and wear white clothing; visitors staying a week or two can follow 5 precepts and wear regular clothing.
"We have on our website currently 6 books written by the same author and they are excellent expositions of the Buddha Dhamma and all are available for free download.