MEANING OF NAME: "Garden of liberation"
FULL NAME: Suan Mokkhabalarama ("Garden of the power of
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
SIZE: monks: 2-22
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
ORDINATION: Ordinations are not normally provided now. The centre is
associated with the Panditarama Meditation Centre in
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
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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