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SOUTHERN THAILAND ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ SUAN MOKKH MEANING OF NAME: "Garden of liberation" FULL NAME: Suan Mokkhabalarama ("Garden of the power of liberation") ADDRESS: Amper Chaiya, Surat Thani 84110 DIRECTIONS: Suan Mokkh is about 640 km south of Bangkok and just west of the Asian Highway (Hwy. 41); Surat Thani, 53 km southeast, is the nearest city. From Bangkok, take any southbound Rapid train and get off at Chaiya, about 40 km north of Surat Thani's Phun Phin station, then take a songtaew to Suan Mokkh. Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal is on the Buddha-Monthon Road in Thonburi; both air- conditioned and non-AC buses depart here for southern Thailand. Take a bus bound for Surat Thani or Nakhon Si Thammarat and ask to be let off at Suan Mokkh; buses will either let you off directly in front (KM post 71) or at the Shell station 1 km north. From the south, take trains that stop in Surat Thani (Phun Phin) or Chaiya. At Phun Phin station, ask at the bus stop in front for a bus going by Suan Mokkh. (Phun Phin, Surat Thani's train station, is 14 km west of the city.) Buses from Surat Thani bus station depart about hourly during the day. THAI flies direct to Surat Thani from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phuket, and Trang; the airport is 27 km south of Suan Mokkh and 2 km west of the highway. MEDITATION SYSTEM: Anapanasati (mindfulness with breathing) according to the Buddha's Anapanasati Sutta. New students first learn some theoretical background and the purpose of Dhamma practice, then the preparations for and the 16 lessons (objects of investigation) which make up mindfulness with breathing. Walking meditation is also done using mindfulness with breathing; if one has difficulty doing this, one can observe sensations in feet or legs. One practices the first 4 lessons (the body foundation of mindfulness) to calm one's breathing and body and to stabilize the mind. Then one refines both the calmness of the mind and one's understanding of how it works by working with lessons 5-8 (the feelings foundation of mindfulness) and 9-12 (the mind foundation of mindfulness). At any time that the mind is sufficiently calm and stable, while practicing with right understanding and motivation, insight can take place, even during the first lessons. Lessons 13-16 (the Dhamma foundation of mindfulness) further develop and perfect insight into right knowledge (//vijja//) and liberation (//vimutti//). The goal of this practice is to realize the voidness-emptiness of the 5 //skhandhas// (body, feelings, memory, thought, and sense awareness), that there is nothing worth attaching to as "I" or "mine." To aid the development of right understanding (//sammaditthi//), the Buddha's teachings on //anatta// (not-self) and //paticcasamuppada// (dependent origination) are examined in detail and depth. The study and investigation of these principles are considered essential at Suan Mokkh. TEACHING METHOD: Formal instruction is given only during monthly 10-day retreats; at other times interviews, books, and tapes are available. Retreats feature Dhamma talks, interviews, group sittings, walking meditation, and morning hatha yoga. TEACHERS: Ajahn Poh, abbot (Thai; age 60) (Foreign monks and nuns do most of the English teaching.) LANGUAGE: English is the medium of instruction for foreigners. SUAN MOKKH STYLE: The purpose of Dhamma practice here is to get free of the tyranny of ego in order to live peacefully (in realization of Nibbana) and usefully (in service to Dhamma and humanity). Thus residents try to practice unselfishness in everything they do -- meditation, study, work, talk, sleep, and whatever life asks. Suan Mokkh is not a "meditation center" per se where people come only to "meditate." This is a Garden of Liberation, a place to study and practice Dhamma in a wholistic way. Study and investigation of Buddha-Dhamma given in the Pali suttas is an essential foundation for practice. Joyful service for others is the context of practice. Thus cultivating Right Understanding and Right Aspiration with the path of samatha and vipassana becomes liberation now. Each person integrates the three aspects of study, service, and meditation in the way that works for them. With growing mindfulness and wisdom, temporary liberation blossoms into the perfect voidness empty of "I" and "mine," full of wisdom and peace. DESCRIPTION: Set on 300 rai (120 acres) of forest at the base of Nang A Mountain. Group meetings take place outdoors whenever possible. Two "ships" (one a meeting hall, the other a rock garden) can be visited, but the //bot// (uposatha) sits atop Golden Buddha Hill in the center of the monastery. This natural open-air setting under the trees probably resembles uposatha areas used during the time of the Buddha. A Spiritual Theatre, near the ships, has Buddhist paintings from many traditions. Reproductions of ancient Indian sculpture that depict the Buddha's life decorate the outside walls of the theatre and are scattered around the monastery grounds. The International Dhamma Hermitage, 1.5 km east of Suan Mokkh, has been the site of meditation retreats since 1989. Ten-day retreats in English begin on the first of every month (one must arrive 1-2 days in advance for registration). Thai retreats take place mid- month of most months; retreats for monks are held occasionally too. The 120-rai (48-acre) site has coconut palms and small trees with many open areas. A new forest monastery of about 70 rai (28 acres) lies beyond the hermitage; foreign monks and laymen come for very long-term study and practice in the Suan Mokkh tradition. English is the medium of instruction. SIZE: monks: 40-70 novices: sometimes a few nuns: 15-25 laypeople: 15-20 Thai, 15-25 foreign; (numbers increase greatly during retreats and conferences) DAILY ROUTINE: Retreat schedules change through the ten-day period according to the teachers, but wakeup time is 4 a.m., breakfast 8 a.m., and lunch 12:30 p.m. A typical schedule for meditators staying "between" retreats is 4 a.m. wakeup; 5 a.m. meditation; 6 a.m. yoga or other exercise (optional); 8 a.m. breakfast; 9 a.m. chores; 11:30 a.m. meditation; 1 p.m. lunch; 4:30 p.m. meditation; 5:30 p.m. drinks; 7 p.m. tape or talk; 8 p.m. meditation; 9 p.m. individual practice; 10 p.m. lights out. RETREAT INFORMATION: The 10-day retreats have been very popular. They provide a unique opportunity to experience the anapanasati technique in a retreat setting. (Most other meditation centres in the Theravadan tradition teach the vipassana system based on Mahasi Sayadaw's techniques.) Retreats begin on the first of every month; you must register in person a day or 2 in advance. Sometimes the 110-person capacity of the retreat cannot accommodate everyone who comes, hence the importance of coming beforehand. Upon acceptance, one must follow instructions given and be committed to staying the entire 10-day course. Late arrivals aren't possible. Retreats take place at the International Dhamma Hermitage 1.5 km east across the highway from Suan Mokkh. Foreign visitors cannot be received easily at Suan Mokkh when retreats are underway, so plan arrival after the 11th of each month. Participation in community activities is expected. One is encouraged to practice in the Suan Mokkh style. Experienced meditators who have done a retreat here before may request permission for long-term stays. FOOD: Laypeople eat 2 vegetarian meals a day at a foreign kitchen (at the hermitage during retreats, at Suan Mokkh between retreats). Monks and novices eat once or twice a day from food collected on pindabat and provided by the monks' kitchen (mostly nonvegetarian). ACCOMMODATIONS: During retreats at the International Dhamma Hermitage, meditators have small individual rooms; separate buildings for men and women. Bathing is Thai-style from tanks; toilets are Asian-style. Other times visitors stay at Suan Mokkh; men have small dormitory rooms; women stay in individual rooms or dormitories; Thai- style bathing from tanks (most men's areas are in the open); mostly Asian-style toilets. Monks and novices stay in individual kutis scattered through the forest or in monk's dormitories if all kutis are occupied (they often are). Most buildings and kutis have electricity. WRITE IN ADVANCE?: Don't. Retreat registration has to be done in person. ORDINATION: Can be arranged for men who have a serious interest in ordaining and practicing in the Suan Mokkh style. One should be committed to long-term practice (at least 3 years). The training offered takes about 10 years. Normally one trains initially as a layman for 3 months or more, then as a novice for 6 months or more before full ordination. Ordination ceremonies take place at another temple. OTHER INFORMATION: Although Suan Mokkh prefers not to make rules, it is much appreciated when visitors dress and behave within the rather conservative traditions of Thai forest wats. Laypeople observe 5 precepts. A daily charge of 50 baht (US $2) covers food and accommodation expenses during and between retreats. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu founded Suan Mokkh in 1932 and moved it to its present location about 10 years later. He has sought to provide a natural setting where visitors can forget "themselves" and study, practice, and realize the Dhamma. His many books, some translated into English, skilfully explain anapanasati meditation and other aspects of the Buddha's teaching. Ajahn Buddhadasa died at Suan Mokkh on July 8, 1993; He was 87 years old. The "Evolution/Liberation" newsletter comes out once a year with articles and news; it's available free by mail or at Suan Mokkh; donations support publication and distribution. The foreign library at Suan Mokkh has a variety of books on Buddhist and related topics. Most are in English, though German, French, and other languages are represented too. WAT KOW THAM INTERNATIONAL MEDITATION CENTER MEANING OF NAME: "Mountain cave monastery" ALSO SPELLED: Wat Kow Tahm ADDRESS: Abbot, Wat Kow Tham, Koh Pha-Ngan, Surat Thani 84280 DIRECTIONS: Koh Pha-Ngan, an idyllic island with many beaches, lies just north of Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand. Daily boats connect the islands with each other and direct to ferry terminals in the Surat Thani area. Bangkok Airways has daily flights between Bangkok and Koh Samui. Surat Thani has good bus, train, and air connections with Bangkok and other centers. On arrival at the pier in Thong Sala on Koh Pha-Ngan, take a songtaew or taxi southeast 4 km to the junction for Wat Kow Tham, then turn inland 1 km up a steep road to the wat. MEDITATION SYSTEM: Vipassana similar to techniques taught by Mahasi Sayadaw. Primary concentration development is on the breathing and physical sensations; mental noting helps focus on moment to moment awareness. Teachers emphasize compassion as the basis of mental development and meditation practice. Compassion and loving kindness have a close connection and receive much attention. Standing meditation is taught as a formal practice along with sitting and walking postures. Wise reflections are encouraged on compassion-loving kindness, sympathetic joy, how fortunate we are, karma, death, dukkha, and impermanence. TEACHING METHOD: During 10-day retreats, scheduled most months, teachers present a short Dhamma talk in the morning and a longer one in the evening. Further instructions are given during individual interviews. The teachers are often available for guidance between retreats too. The retreat talks can be purchased in a book and on audio tapes; people have found this material useful as an introduction before attending a retreat and a review afterward. TEACHERS: Steve Weissman (American; age 42) Rosemary Weissman (Australian; age 39) LANGUAGE: English; some German material is available. Teachers also speak Thai. DESCRIPTION: Beautiful island setting near the south coast. The wat covers 33 rai (13 acres) on a wooded hill; you can gaze out across the water to Koh Samui and other islands. SIZE: monks: 2-5 novices: usually 0 nuns: 4-6 laypeople: Steve and Rosemary Weissman are resident DAILY ROUTINE: The day begins at 4 a.m. and is largely devoted to periods of (ON RETREAT) sitting, walking, and standing meditation. A morning exercise session aids in developing mindfulness of body and improving flexibility. Teachers give morning and evening talks. Everyone is expected to keep noble silence and to follow the schedule. DAILY ROUTINE: Guests are required to take part in 3 meditation periods, a (BTWN RETREATS) work time, and the meals. FOOD: Wholesome Thai vegetarian. The kitchen serves 2 meals in the morning. A light dinner in the afternoon is also available during retreats; hot drinks are served in the afternoon between retreats. Some nonvegetarian food may be served between retreats. ACCOMMODATIONS: Simple dormitories and some shared rooms; Thai-style bathrooms have running water. Buildings have electricity. WRITE IN ADVANCE?: A good idea to obtain retreat dates and registration information. Also, the wat closes occasionally when monastic retreats take place. Mail can be slow and unreliable, so it's best to visit in person in advance of your intended stay. ORDINATION: Not available OTHER INFORMATION: Ten-day intensive retreats take place most months. They usually begin about midmonth (dates vary). The 40- person retreat capacity sometimes fills, so it's a good idea to preregister by mail or in person. A 90 baht (US $3.60) daily fee covers food expenses. Teaching and monastery facilities are offered freely. Visitors are usually welcome to practice meditation here between retreats too. A simplified schedule is followed with more freedom for one to organize one's own time. Teachers may not be available, however. Note that the wat closes occasionally. Two new programs have been developed for approved old students: an intensive 20-day retreat and a less- intensive 3-month work retreat scholarship; both are designed to help the student understand more fully how to incorporate their formal practice into their normal life. Much of the teaching centers on further development of //yoniso manasikara// (wise reflection) in developing Right Understanding and Right Intention. Attention is also given to the 10 //paramis// (perfections) and the 8 worldly conditions so that one can understand more clearly the difference between beneficial conditioning and unbeneficial conditioning. A Thai nun, Maechee Ah Mohn Pahn, is in charge of the center (nuns rarely have such a position in Thailand). She speaks English but does not teach the foreigners. AN ADDITIONAL MONASTERY IN THE SOUTH Wat Tham Sua ("Tiger Cave Temple") in Krabi Province has a beautiful setting in a natural amphitheater enclosed by sheer limestone cliffs. Some shrines and monk's kutis lie tucked back in caves. Ajahn Jumnien, who receives great respect for his skill in teaching, has mastered a variety of vipassana and concentration techniques. He will talk with a new student and suggest the best method for that person. Language and accommodations are the main difficulties for foreigners. The teacher doesn't speak English, nor can you expect to find anyone who can translate. You may be able to stay here, but space is tight. The author found the teacher friendly and very approachable, but other temple residents to be indifferent to visitors. (The wat may get too many tourists for the comfort of the monks and nuns.) A day visit is recommended for one who can speak fluent Thai (or can bring a translator along). From Krabi, go north 6 km to the Talaat Kao junction, east 8 km on Hwy. 4 (toward Hat Yai), then 2 km north to the wat. Songtaews and local buses will take you to the turnoff, where you can walk or take a motorcycle taxi. A songtaew could also be hired direct to the wat. Any bus between Hat Yai (or Trang) and Krabi will pass by the wat turnoff. Steve and Rosemary Weissman, teachers at Wat Kow Tham International Meditation Center, visit Ajahn Jumnien regularly and find his advice extremely helpful. They also advise traveling meditators to go to Wat Tham Sua and visit him. Someone may be available to translate, though this cannot be relied upon. PENANG ISLAND, MALAYSIA Many travelers come through this multi-cultured island to see the sights or to obtain a Thai visa. You can also stay and practice meditation here. Visitors of most nationalities typically receive a 3-month entry permit on arrival (no visa needed) in Malaysia. The country also has the advantage of easy access from Thailand (inexpensive if one comes by train or bus). English is widely spoken. MALAYSIAN BUDDHIST MEDITATION CENTRE (M.B.M.C.) ADDRESS: Honorary Secretary, Malaysian Buddhist Meditation Centre, 355 Jalan Masjid Negeri, 11600 Penang, MALAYSIA DIRECTIONS: Located in the southwest part of Georgetown, the main city on Penang Island. Taxis provide the easiest way to get here. Buses "Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang" #5, 6, 9, and 11 pass by from the ferry jetty. A short, inexpensive ferry ride connects Penang with Butterworth on the northwest coast of Malaysia. The train station is in Butterworth. Long-distance buses operate both from Penang (via a bridge) and Georgetown. The airport, on Penang Island, has connections with Bangkok, Phuket, and Hat Yai in Thailand and many other cities in Asia. TELEPHONE: (04) 872-534 MEDITATION SYSTEM: Vipassana, based on the Mahasi Sayadaw techniques and Four Foundations of Mindfulness. All meditators must adhere to this method while they are here. TEACHING METHOD: Individual interviews and group Dhamma talks; frequency is determined by the teacher. TEACHERS: A monk experienced in teaching vipassana meditation (the teacher changes from time to time). LANGUAGE: English is the main language; translation for the Hokkien language used locally is available. If the teacher is not fluent in English, he will use a translator. DESCRIPTION: Look for a large 3-story building with an orange- and green-tiled roof. The office, group sitting and walking areas, and men's accommodations are inside. Women's accommodations are in a separate building behind. Kitchen and dining area are in front and to the side of the main building. Trees and grass in a suburban setting. SIZE: monks: 2-22 novices: 0-9 nuns: 0-5 laymen: 0-22 laywomen: 5-60 DAILY ROUTINE: Day begins at 3:45 a.m. and ends after the 9:45 p.m. Metta chanting. Breakfast is at 6:30 a.m., lunch at 11 a.m. Most of the day consists of alternating hour-long periods of sitting and walking meditation; beginners can start with shorter periods, then work up to one hour. Sleep should be limited to 4-6 hours a day. Continual mindfulness through the waking hours is emphasized. FOOD: Good quality and variety Malaysian food; vegetarian is sometimes available and can be requested then. Two meals are served in the morning. ACCOMMODATIONS: Laypeople stay in dormitories, separate for men and women. Monks and novices have individual rooms but may have to share. WRITE IN ADVANCE?: Recommended. Occasionally the centre fills, especially during school holidays, and staff can advise you. ORDINATION: Ordinations are not normally provided now. The centre is associated with the Panditarama Meditation Centre in Rangoon (Yangon). OTHER INFORMATION: The centre, declared open in 1982, offers intensive meditation instruction and practice year-round. One can begin a retreat any time. This centre is connected with the Mahasi Meditation Centre in Rangoon (Yangon), Burma (Myanmar). Meditators should plan on a minimum stay of 10-14 days for best results. (One can come for a month or longer.) The centre requests that everyone observe 8 precepts and abstain from reading, writing (except notes for interviews), and talking with other meditators about meditation experiences. Men wear white; women a white blouse and a long skirt (plain, no bright colors) or brown sarong. The centre appreciates your bringing a letter of recommendation. Donations support most costs of operation; a M$3 (US $1.10) daily fee is levied for food and accommodation. * * * * * * *


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