One day I went to visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the one located high on the mountain. It was 7.30 am when I got there, and the sight I saw. The panoramic view of entire Chiang Mai surrounded by forest was breath-taking.
My imagination was working out what would the sunrise and sunset look like. I went to Wat office, and talked to the officer about possible joining the temple. I was told that anything between 4 and 21 days is possible, and was asked when I wanted to join. The plan was 1st of November, for 21 days. If something changed I was supposed to let them know by the phone, since it was busy period and all rooms but 1 were taken.
There was still one more Wat on my mind, that I was considering going. On my first day in Chiang Mai I met a monk from that Temple recommending me going there. It was Wat Umong, located closer to the city. So few days later I went there.
The difference was visible at first glance. Since Suthep was virtually a tourist attraction, thus kind of rich Wat, the external layer was somehow luxurious compared to Umong. Everything clean, polished, renovated where and when necessary. Surrounding was neat and clean, and every being – human and animal being were generally friendly. In Umong, on the other hand, there were unfriendly dogs everywhere barking at you everytime you passed close, every possible object was begging (if a stone could speak) for renovation, and in general the negative vibrations were omnipotent. Not to mention that it was next to the airport, which means noise where it was really difficult to focus on meditation.
After barely 45 minutes of brief visit, I left the place, and made a phone call to confirm joining the Suthep in 2 days. Initially the plan was to do 21 days (and prior to arrival in Asia was even planning couple of months!), but since my plan for Burma was starting on 23rd of November, and I still needed to get to BKK and get a Burmese visa, I decided to stay shorter.
Before arrival there were a few things to buy. First were 2 sets of white comfy clothes, so that they don’t bother you while meditate. They also give a notion of something clean, pure and innocent. Another thing was alarm clock, to measure timing between meditation sessions.
Checked out from the hotel at 11,30 am, and 2 Songkhaw & 1 hour later reached my destination, my new home for following 9 days. I was only bothered about eating schedule.
Just a quick summary, I always eat a lot, and loved meat. 3 proper meals was my standard, and I was a happy man in Argentina where I could eat over half kilo bife de lomo steak.
Here in the temple it was completely vegetarian food. The breakfast would be at 7 am, 2 hours after wake up time, and lunch at 11 am. No food for the rest of the day.
Mentally prepared I went through the registration and then to my room. Exiting the tourist noisy area, walked down 1001 steps and found myself in totally quiet row-bungalow, surrounded by the jungle. It was very bare, with 10 centimeters thich matress, no bed and no chair, just a couple of blankets and pillow for meditation.
I was told that using phone as a meditation time was fine, but only as long as you don’t use it connect via sms or calls. So I put it in offline mode. It felt good, nobody (except my own thoughts) will be bothering me during next days.
First afternoon I met 2 cool guys, one from Holland other from South Africa. They turned out to passionate seekers of ideas, and it was very pleasant to sit next to them and just listen. Unlike most folks you meet in the hostel, where most conversations start with 4 basic questions (where u from, how long have u been here, how do u like it, where u going next). Instead, the talk would rather evolve around the ideas of Buddhism as a way of living, hipnotherapy as a way of fixing issues instead of taking and meditation as they way both of them would reach their balance in life. One of the guys before coming to retreat was training Muay Thai in special camp for couple of months, which I found especially interesting since I was going to do the same soon.
Next day everything started at 5 am. it wasn’ t too hard to wake up. After quick shower in ice cold water I went for Dharma speech (the teachings of Buddha). During my last few weeks in Thailand, I noticed that Asians cannot speak english. Even if their vocabulary and gramma are decent, the pronounciation makes it impossible or very hard to understand. Needless to say, I would understand no more than 20% of what the teacher was trying to tell us. But the general idea was the concept of Vipassana – to see clearly. In general, meditation is all about concentrating on your own mind and body (imagine your stomach “laysi fali” (rising falling in asianglish or rather thanglish). Then at 7 am there was long awaiten breakfast. After that time for self meditation, followed by lunch at 11. The cook would ring the bell as long as all the dogs started to bark, announcing the world that it is the eating time. Very good, because it will be followed by 20 hours of no eating. At 1.30 pm there was report, so that teacher would tell you individually what are next steps to incorporate in further mediation. The start ones are sitting and walking meditation. Sitting is obvious, eyes closed and concentrate on the belly. The walking is somehow more difficult, becuase you have to walk (or rather step) really slowly, with your eyes almost (but not completely) shut. Initially I found it hard to keep the balance, and would stumble, but after figuring out how to shift body weight + imagining that the leg I’m standing on is like an ancient column able to sustain the entire building, it became relatively easy. After report there was again time for meditation, and at 6 chanting together. From the beginning I liked this part. The different rhytm and tempo, some easy to pronounce and livelty melodies would bring me into the state of semi trans. Just before the end (approx 1 hour) there is a meditation. I was very concentrated on that one.
After chanting we have time for ourselves, which I used to go uphill, where the pagoda is and watch the Chiang Mai at night. This time we (me and Garreth) went together with monk. He gave us a delicious pack of soy milk, which made me full until the morning (and was legal, since it was technically a drink and not a food).
We talked about religion and lifestyle, and later monk said that there was a really good book with important sutra, that he would bring tomorrow. I learned that Buddha had 84,000 teachings in total, which would sum up to 26 books.
In Burma there are 8 monks who remember by heart all those teachings. Very impressive.
Buddhism is also different approach than other religions, because here there is a teacher and student. And student is supposed to ask questions, and say how he sees the various issues with his own mind and understanding. Pretty much unlike in Chrisitanism, where there is a God and pupils, and questioning or trying to make sense of many parts of the Gods – messenger is not welcome and accepted. You are just supposed to take it as it is and follow.
After the evening session I went for another meditation, and then to sleep.
We were told to put our hands on the belly and imagine yourself very relaxed, as on the beach or on the mountain. After pracitising this I had powerful and colorful dreams. I wonder if it means that the halves of brain work simultaneously? I was truly relaxed and meditation was good.
In the course of retreat, after my knees started telling me that I definitely should stop trying to get the lotus position, I focused more on reading. Hopefully, the monk I met another evening was capable of offering me some interesting titles, which was more about general harmony and equilibrium in life than techniques of meditation. What is more, some concepts from Buddhism aren’t easy to translate into English, but here also Suriayh was helpful, having answer to most of my doubts regarding some notions. There was a book called questions to kind Milinda, which was one of the sutras taught by Buddha. It gave a very good insight into the Buddhist philosophy. Loved it.
So my few last days consisted less on meditating (or not at all in some cases), but spending time in the library.
The time was running, and the moment of going back to real world was there.
On my leave from the Temple, I had a short dialogue with one of the guys who was running the shop, and was also involved in some activities for meditators,
-Have a nice day.
– You too. And enjoy your life.
Way to go, path to follow and mindset to internalize. That simple and that complicated at the same time.
This is what this lifestyle and religion is about. Unlike any other in this world.