NORTHEASTERN THAILAND - 1
WAT WAH POO KAEW
MEANING OF NAME: "Crystal Mountain monastery"
ADDRESS: Tambon Magluwamai, Amper Sungnoen, Nakhon Ratchasima 30140
DIRECTIONS: Located 230 km northeast of Bangkok and 50 km before Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat). Take a bus on the Friendship Hwy. (Hwy. 2) from either city and ask to be let off at Wat Magluwamai (between KM posts 215 and 216); take a songtaew from the junction here south about 15 km to Wat Wah Poo Kaew. From Bangkok, it may be easier to get off at the junction for Sikhiu on the Friendship Hwy. and take a songtaew. Buses in Bangkok leave from the Northern (Moh Chit) Bus Terminal. Some trains stop at Sikhiu.
MEDITATION SYSTEM: Anapanasati combined with mental repetition of mantra "Buddho." All-around awareness of mind and body is emphasized. Meditators are free to use their own techniques.
TEACHING METHOD: Ajahn Sutji Anutaro (Thai; age 47) is now the abbot. Retreats for students (mostly high school) take place 2-3 times a month, lasting 4-5 days; frequently senior monks from surrounding provinces will teach. These retreats increase the noise level, but you can continue your individual practice during them.
TEACHERS: Luang Paw Pudt (Phra Phawanaphisal Thera) (Thai; age 70)
Ajahn Sutji Anutaro, abbot (Thai; age 47)
LANGUAGE: Lectures and instruction are given in Thai. Visitorsmust speak at least basic conversational Thai. The teachers and most monks do not speak English.
DESCRIPTION: Spread out across a lightly wooded hillside with open areas. Small farming villages occupy the valley below. The wat has 15 rai (6 acres) plus 1,000 rai (400 acres) of government deforested land entrusted to the care of the wat; this land is being replanted in trees. A wooden sala used by the abbot to meet visitors and as the monks' eating area is just inside the entrance. Winding paths lead up the hillside to a large sala where chanting and group meditation take place. Luang Paw Pudt stays in the house farther up the hillside when he visits here. A waterfall is about 2 km from the wat.
SIZE: monks: 15-35; novices: 3-15; nuns: 0 (no living quarters for nuns); laypeople: a few
DAILY ROUTINE: 4-5:30 a.m. chanting (30 min.) and group meditation; 6 a.m. pindabat for monks and novices; 7:30 a.m. the meal; 3-4 p.m. work period; 4 p.m. drinks; 6-8 p.m. chanting (1 hour) and group meditation. Most of the day is free for individual practice. People try to practice all night on "wan phra."
FOOD: Very good quality and variety; supplied by pindabat, kitchen, and visiting supporters. One meal is served in the morning; laypeople may keep food for later in the day if they need to. People in this region of Isaan eat mostly white rice, bringing out sticky rice on special occasions.
ACCOMMODATIONS: The monastery has about 34 kutis, well separated, and 10 large dormitories; nearly all have screens, Thai or Western bathrooms, running water, and electricity. A large, open sala on the hill now serves as the meditation and eating area.
WRITE IN ADVANCE?: Not necessary; there's usually room.
ORDINATION: Not available
OTHER INFORMATION: Local villagers asked a tudong monk staying at this site to establish a monastery. Luang Paw Pudt, the abbot of Wat Pah Sarawan in Nakhon Ratchasima, offered to help. Construction began in 1980 on land donated by a villager. The Forestry Department donated additional land in 1987 and the monastery became official the following year.
Very suitable for experienced meditators who wish to practice in a quiet monastery environment. Laypeople normally observe 8 precepts. Information about Wat Wah Poo Kaew can be obtained from the main monastery if you're in Nakhon Ratchasima. Wat Pah Sarawan, once surrounded by jungle, is now enveloped by the city; it's located south of the railway station; easiest way there is by samlor.
WAT PAH NANACHAT
MEANING OF NAME: "International forest monastery"
ADDRESS: Ban Bung Wai, Amper Warin, Ubon Ratchathani 34310
DIRECTIONS: Located outside the city of Ubon Ratchathani, about 600 km northeast of Bangkok. From Ubon, go southwest 12 km to Ban Bung Wai on the highway to Si Saket, then follow signs west one km through rice fields to the forest and wat. You can take a Si Saket bus from Ubon and ask to be let off at Wat Pah Nanachat or you can take a city bus 2 km south across the Mun River to Warin and get a songtaew from the market area. Trains arrive in Warin; walk 20 minutes east into town to catch a songtaew. Easiest of all is just to take a tuk-tuk or taxi at the train or bus stations or airport.
Several fast trains provide daily service from Bangkok, including an overnight express which offers comfortable 2nd class sleepers. Many air-conditioned buses with reclining seats depart Bangkok's Northern (Moh Chit) Bus Terminal for the day or overnight journey.
THAI offers a daily flight from Bangkok to the airport in the northern part of Ubon Ratchathani.
MEDITATION SYSTEM: No single technique predominates. One is creative, using a variety of appropriate meditations and reflections from the Theravadan tradition. Mindfulness with breathing forms the basis for most formal meditation. Teachers hold that samatha and vipassana cannot be separated. Sila, conduct of body and speech, along with monastic discipline forms a fundamental part of the training. One tries to maintain mindfulness in all postures. The monastery environment provides not only an ideal environment for meditation practice, but the opportunity to learn from and reflect on the customs and traditions honored here.
TEACHING METHOD: No formal instruction is offered. The teachers will answer questions. A library has a good selection of English and other foreign-language books on meditation practice. Some books about practice in the Ajahn Chah forest tradition are available by free distribution. Dhamma talks on audio tapes by Ajahn Sumedho and other teachers can be borrowed or copied.
TEACHERS: Ajahn Pasanno, abbot (Canadian; age 41)
Ajahn Jayasaro, vice abbot (English; age 33)
Senior monks teach men too. Women only meet with the abbot or vice abbot. Teachers usually talk with laypeople in the morning; the rest of the day is reserved for instructing monks and novices.
LANGUAGE: English is the medium of instruction. Most monks can speak some Thai and perhaps other Asian or European languages. The abbot and vice abbot speak fluent Thai; they give advice and Dhamma talks to local people much as abbots do at any monastery in Thailand.
DESCRIPTION: Nearly half of the 250-rai area (100 acres) is in thick forest. The main sala, where most of the Buddha images are, serves as the dining area and as the place for visitors to meet the abbot. Local villagers hold cremations at a site nearby. The //bot// has a marble and wood interior of modern design. A large meditation sala lies a 5-minute walk through the forest.
SIZE: monks and novices: 15-20; nuns: 0 (no living quarters for nuns); laypeople: 5-10
DAILY ROUTINE: Group meetings and work periods have equal importance with formal meditation in the monastery. Laypeople are invited and expected to join the activities: 3 a.m. wakeup; 3:30-5:15 a.m. chanting and meditation; 6-7 a.m. sweeping or help out in the kitchen (pindabat for monks, novices, and pakows); 8 a.m. offering food to the monks; about 8:30 a.m. the meal, followed by cleanup; 3-5 p.m. work period of hauling water, cleaning buildings, and other projects; 5 p.m. drink at abbot's kuti; 7-9:30 p.m. meditation, chanting, and Dhamma talk (or a reading). Other time is free for individual practice. The daily schedule changes during times of retreat and on Buddhist holy days (//wan phra//). On //wan phra//, the community and some visitors make the effort to stay up all night without lying down and practice meditation until 5 a.m.
FOOD: Very good quality and variety, including vegetarian dishes. Sticky, white, and (usually) brown rice are offered. Monks, novices, and pakows go on pindabat for rice; most food is donated to or prepared in the kitchen. Laymen and women with shaved heads eat with the monks. Other laypeople eat in the kitchen. Everyone adheres to the one-meal-a-day standard; a drink and sweets are usually offered in the afternoon.
ACCOMMODATIONS: Monks, novices, and laymen live in well separated kutis, most with a walking path. (Laymen visiting for short periods stay in a dormitory above the kitchen.) Women have their own building with individual rooms (can be shared) upstairs and western-style bathrooms downstairs. Men have communal facilities (bathing from tanks or showers; mostly Asian-style toilets). Bathrooms and large buildings generally have electricity and running water; kutis do not. Blankets and mosquito nets can be borrowed from the monastery.
WRITE IN ADVANCE?: Yes, be sure to write ahead with a request to stay, or you might be disappointed on arrival. The monastery can only accommodate a small number of guests.
ORDINATION: Wat Pah Nanachat is primarily a training center for non-Thai nationals preparing to take ordination. A sincerely interested layman first becomes a pakow (anagarika) wearing a white robe and taking an alms bowl. After 3 months he can take the going forth as a novice and wear orange robes. Full ordination can take place about one year later. Anyone considering //bhikkhu// ordination will benefit from a stay at Wat Pah Nanachat, whether he plans to ordain here or not. Unless fluent in Thai, one isn't likely to find this situation of thorough training combined with ease of communication elsewhere in Thailand.
OTHER INFORMATION: A visit provides a great opportunity to experience and participate in a monastic community of the forest tradition. The way of life here will be unfamiliar even to most visitors with a Buddhist background, hence an importance of being willing to adapt and learn. For best results, plan on staying a minimum of 1-2 weeks. If you're not keenly interested in the monastic life-style or if you simply prefer doing your own retreat, other places will be more suitable.
Men staying for more than a few days must shave their heads, including beards and eyebrows; this shows a spirit of commitment and renunciation. Women aren't expected to shave, but they need to have an understanding and appreciation for the monks rules; women who have been here awhile will explain.
Laymen dress in modest white clothing. Women usually wear white blouses and black skirts, or they can wear all white. Clothing for men and women can be borrowed from the wat.
All laypeople observe the 8 precepts. Some talking and socializing is allowed, but not between men and women. Conversations should be related to Dhamma practice (avoid the temptation to talk about travel or politics as they can agitate the mind!)
Ajahn Chah established Wat Pah Nanachat in 1975 as a place where his western disciples could live and train in the Dhamma-Vinaya. Ajahn Sumedho, an American, served as the first abbot; after 2 years he went to England and founded monasteries there. Ajahn Pabhakaro, the second abbot, now assists with running the monasteries in England. Ajahn Jagaro then took over; he later established a monastery in western Australia just outside Perth. The current abbot, Ajahn Pasanno, has been in charge since 1982. Originally mostly westerners and the odd Thai trained at Wat Pah Nanachat. In recent years, however, a variety of Asians have added to the international atmosphere. Today the monastery is one of more than 100 branch monasteries in Thailand and around the world of Ajahn Chah's Wat Nong Pah Pong.
WAT NONG PAH PONG
MEANING OF NAME: "Forest monastery of marsh and pong" (pong is a type of high grass)
ADDRESS: Non Peung, Ban Gor, Amper Warin, Ubon Ratchathani 34190
DIRECTIONS: Located 12 km southeast of Ubon Ratchathani or 10 km southeast of Warin. See Wat Pah Nanachat directions above for transport to Ubon. From Ubon, you can take a pink bus to its terminus in Ban Gor, then walk or take a tuk-tuk 2 km west to the monastery. You can walk to Wat Nong Pah Pong from Wat Pah Nanachat in 1-1/2 hours on a series of dirt roads and foot paths; ask to see the map at Wat Pah Nanachat.
MEDITATION SYSTEM: Similar to Wat Pah Nanachat.
TEACHING METHOD: Similar to Wat Pah Nanachat, except that women have very little contact with monks.
TEACHERS: Ajahn Leeam, abbot (Thai; age 50)
LANGUAGE: Instruction is given in Thai; the teacher doesn't speak English. Sometimes western or Thai monks can translate.
DESCRIPTION: Forest and open areas total 350 rai (140 acres). Originally this was a cremation site thought to be inhabited by ghosts. Much construction work has taken place in recent years. Arriving from the east you'll first see a 3-story museum. Exhibits inside include a life-like statue of Ajahn Chah, his robes and other memorabilia, archaeological finds, Buddhist art, and area crafts; bas-reliefs illustrate important events of Ajahn Chah's life, including his visits to England; skeletons on display can be used as meditation objects. Continuing into the monastery, you'll arrive at a new sala, an ornate concrete bell tower (monks cast the bell), Ajahn Chah's old kuti (he used to sit downstairs in a chair to meet with visitors), and a //bot// of modern architecture. A circular mound to the north is used as a meditation area; a chedi on top contains Ajahn Chah's ashes.
SIZE: monks and novices: 45-70; nuns: 45-50; laypeople: Often a few laymen preparing for ordination.; Lay disciples frequently visit for short periods.
DAILY ROUTINE: Similar to Wat Pah Nanachat. This is also a good place to combine one's own practice with group activities in a monastic environment.
FOOD: Adequate northeastern fare with sticky rice; one meal a day and an afternoon drink.
ACCOMMODATIONS: Monks, novices, and laymen stay in well-separated kutis; most have no water or electricity. Laywomen stay with nuns in a separate area of the monastery; laywomen must speak Thai. Women will find better conditions at Wat Pah Nanachat. Most bathing is done in shower blocks; toilets are Asian- and western-style.
WRITE IN ADVANCE?: Not necessary
ORDINATION: Possible if one speaks fluent Thai. Most non-Thais find Wat Pah Nanachat more suitable for initial training. Women interested in ordaining as a nun should first contact Wat Pah Nanachat.
OTHER INFORMATION: One should speak Thai or be willing to learn. Long-term laymen shave their heads and wear white.
Much of the western Theravadan Sangha originated here with the encouragement and support of Ajahn Chah. In Thailand, Ajahn Chah earned fame by his skill at training monks in high standards of Dhamma-Vinaya. He was one of the most influential monks of Thai Buddhism. Born in nearby Ban Gor in 1918, Ajahn Chah took robes as a novice at age 13. He ordained as a bhikkhu when he was 21. In 1946, following his 8th Rains Retreat, he set out as a //phra tudong//, wandering the forests and practicing meditation in lonely places. Teachings of Ajahn Mun and Ajahn Ginaree influenced him during this period. In 1954, Ajahn Chah accepted an invitation by his mother and villagers to return to Ban Gor to establish a new monastery -- Wat Nong Pah Pong. After many years of teaching, his health began to deteriorate, resulting in an operation to relieve cranial fluid pressure in Nov. 1981. Unfortunately, his condition worsened in mid-1982; by the end of the year, Ajahn Chah had become bedridden and unable to teach. His monks continued to lovingly care for him.
Ajahn Chah died here on January 16, 1992 at age 75. His life and teachings inspired a great many people around the world. At his funeral, which took place exactly one year later, the king and thousands of monks, nuns, and laypeople gathered to pay their respects.