Add a Taste of the Spiritual to Your Visit
Some people use their stay in Thailand to explore Buddha’s teachings and further their personal development. There are many wats (temples) that offer courses and retreats to those interested, some in English. A meditative stay in a temple can be a unique experience, made more special by the fact that you practice in a country where nearly 95% of the population is officially Buddhist, and observance of religion is still a part of Thais’ daily life. Many boys and men at some point in their lives take on the robes and live as novice monks for a short period of time. The king did it after the death of his grandmother, and a picture of the shaved and humble-looking king-monk is often displayed in Thai homes.
The meditation style most commonly taught around Thailand is some form of Vipassanā (or vipassna) meditation, which draws on traditions from Sri Lanka, Burma, Laos and Thailand. The word vipassanā means insight; three main foci of this practice in the initial stages are mindfulness, observing your breath, and bodily sensations.
In Bangkok’s Wat Mahathat (buses 32, 201, 503; or river ferry to Tha Maharaj or Tha Chang) you find two meditation centres under one roof. At The International Buddhist Meditation Centre you can attend talks, study sessions and retreats. Informal meditation classes take place every day at 7 AM, 1 PM and 6 PM, are taught in English and last up to three hours. An introduction is followed by a demonstration of walking and sitting meditation. You can also choose a longer course and stay at the wat to engage in a more intensive experience. Or if you prefer to just listen, a talk on meditation is given daily between 8 and 10 PM. The Meditation Study and Retreat Centre is housed at the same place and offers daily mediation programs.
Your other option in Bangkok is The House of Dhamma, a meditation centre in the north of the city (26/9 Lardprao Lane 15, Jatujak district; Latparo MRT station). Here they offer introductory vipassanā courses and one day vipassanā retreats, as well as follow-ups and reiki healing courses.
You can also visit the World Fellowship of Buddhists, which organises meditation classes in English every first Sunday of the month, from 2 PM to 5 PM. There are also interesting forums that deal with Buddhist issues hosted at this centre.
All activities described above are given free of charge, although donations are welcomed. If you decide to go on a retreat, different centres apply more or less strict rules to your daily schedule. The participants wear white clothes (usually available at the wat or centre), start their day around 4 AM, and in some cases observe silence. Food and accommodation are provided. But don’t worry, if the experience proves to be too challenging for you, you can always cut it short.
In general, when travelling around Thailand, be aware of their traditions and respect some basic rules:
- wear appropriate clothes when in the wat
- don’t treat monks as tourist attractions by taking intrusive photos of them during their practices
- don’t sit with the soles of your feet facing the image of the Buddha or a Buddhist monk (the feet are considered dirty)
- women should not touch monks (if a monk accidently touches a female he has to undergo a lengthy purifying ritual), therefore don’t sit on a bus or train next to a monk and never give anything (an offering, food, etc.) directly to the monk.
You can easily obtain a leaflet or book on Buddhism whilst in Thailand. Learning about a new tradition can be very rewarding. Who says holidays can’t include some thoughtful education and growth?