Practice Buddhism in Thailand
A Soul Vacation
By Deborah L. Bassett
|Girls meditating in Thailand.
When the over-populated beaches of Leonardo Dicaprio’s Koh Phi Phi and the silly full-moon parties of Koh Phangan began to invoke preconceived images of Thailand’s sleazy sex tourism and bad techno, I decided that it was time to head inward—both physically and metaphysically. Thus began my soul vacation.
Suan Mokkhabhalarama, known to locals simply as “Suan Mokkh” is one of Thailand’s most celebrated forest “wats,” or temples. Located only a few miles from the small southern town of Chaiya, in Surat Thani province, this monastery was created by one of Thailand’s most revered monks, and has since become an international Theravada Buddhist retreat center.
At the beginning of every month this wonderland offers foreigners an opportunity to spend ten days learning and practicing meditation and the teachings of the Buddha, otherwise known as “Dhamma.” Although no former training is required to participate, Westerners should understand that the experience does require discipline and a basic knowledge of both Buddhist theory and practice.
For example, each day begins at sunrise with a sitting meditation. Replacing a morning caffeine jolt with simple breathing techniques can be a difficult adjustment at first. Accommodations—a small cot, a pillow, a light blanket, and perhaps a mosquito net—are not luxurious. The price also includes two vegetarian meals per day.
Bear in mind, however, that guests at the center are expected to respect and appreciate certain tenants of Buddhist ritual: Certainly no drinking or smoking, no listening to music or reading non-related materials, and no talking. The purpose of such a retreat is to go inward, not to socialize. Finally, women should also be prepared to dress conservatively at all times. That means no exposed shoulders or legs. Period. Guests much appreciate that they are not there to change the center; rather, the center is there to change them—or at least provide a venue to find some answers or perhaps the right questions.
Wat Suan Mokkh is located at about six miles south of Chaiya and may be reached by local transportation from the Surat Thani bus terminal. Overnight trains run to Surat Thani from Bangkok for about 850 baht ($28) and travel arrangements may easily be made once in Bangkok.
DEBORAH L. BASSETT lives in Meriden, CT.