Many of us have at one time or other found the toll of living in the modern world hard to bear. Stress, depression and disillusionment are some of the diseases of modern times that leave us yearning for a solution, a cure, so to speak. More and more people are turning to meditation as they fail to find the answer through worldly paths. Meditation is found in some form or other in all major religious traditions. Even those who are not religious use it to focus mind, to hone it, so that it works better. In Buddhism, meditation is time of the integral to the eight-fold path to enlightenment. One trains one's mind so that it can see the four-point Supreme Truth that forms the core of Buddha's teachings: suffering, what causes it, the end of suffering, and the path to that end. Even if you are not interested in Buddhism, meditation is a-valuable training that can be applied to daily life, for it helps with concentration and when done correctly can lead to a state of peace and calmness that's beyond worldly joys.
There are two main branches in Buddhist meditation: Samatha (calmness, concentration) and Vipassana, (insight), which stresses mindfulness. This doesn't mean that the two are entirely separate, since you cannot be mindful unless you have at least some level of concentration.
The techniques of samatha meditation are many, some older than Buddhism, others developed after the time of the Buddha. Among the most commonly practiced here is anapanasati, or "mindfulness with breathing." This technique was advocated by the
Venerable Buddhadasa Bhikku (1903-1993), founder of Suan Mokkh Forest Monastery in Surat Thani. Meditators at Suan Mokkh (( Garden of Liberation ), follow the 16 steps of anapanasati as laid down in Pali texts.
Mantra meditation, in which you repeat a few words over and over is also widely practiced. Followers of this technique may chant "Buddh" as they inhale, and 'dho" as they exhale. The words may vary, but the purpose chanting is really to get the mind focused. Yet another widely taught technique is kasinas, where meditators concentrate on an object outside themselves, such as the flame of a candle, or crystal ball.
Sati, or mindfulness, is key to vipassana meditation. You train yourself, to be aware of the body's movement, the rise and fall of your chest as you inhale and exhale, the movement of your feet and legs as you walk, as well as your fillings, your thought, and finally, the state of mind you are in. Walking, sitting and lying meditation are but a few of vipasana techniques. When the mind is untrained, concentration can be shattered by the slightest stimulinoise, smell, heat, hunger, pain, etc. The key is to become aware of what happens, but not dwell on it. Still, a novice can only ward off so much distraction, and that's one reason why vipassana retreats are usually held in peaceful and isolated settings.
Meditation teachings are widely available in Thailand. You can attend a class at one of the teaching monasteries for an afternoon or evening. Wat Mahadhatu near the Grand Palace , for example, has two meditation training centers open to locals and tourists. Or you may join a vipassana retreat, which usually takes a weekend or longer: A number of retreat centers, most of them located in the provinces, run intensive courses of up to four weeks on an ongoing basis. All vipassana retreats require you to follow the Five Buddhist Precepts. These include refraining from harming all living beings, from taking what is not given, from improper sexual behavior, from lying and incorrect speech, and from taking liquors and drugs that will cloud the mind. Some retreats may require that you take you take the Eight Precepts, which in addition to the first five include refraining from dinner, from all forms of entertainment and body decoration, and from sleeping on high mattresses.
Once you get enrolled in a course, be sure to follow only the technique taught there. Mixing techniques will only confuse you. Usually, you are given instructions daily, and required to report your progress or lack of it to your meditation master on the following day. After the interview you will be given advice and new instructions, or old ones to repeat.
Respect for ones teacher is inherent in Thai culture. At the start of a vipassana session, you must attend an opening ceremony, where you pay respect to the meditation masters and present them with traditional Buddhist offerings of incense sticks, candles and flowers, usually three lotuses or a hand garland. There is also a closing ceremony, where you thank your teachers and bid them a formal farewell. Even if you cannot stay for the duration of the course, be sure to perform this ritual before you leave, since not doing so is considered very rude.
All-white, modest clothing is required at vipassana retreats. Check ahead if there is a shop on the compound, or if you have to bring your own. At most monasteries, simple accommodation and food are provided, usually free of charge. Talking, reading and writing are discouraged, as they will distract you from your meditation. And meditators are not allowed to leave the retreat compound unless absolutely necessary, so be sure to bring enough change of clothes, toiletries and personal items for the duration of the course.
For first-time meditators, it might help to attend a day session or two before you join a long retreat. Bangkok has a number of meditation centers offering day classes in English. Many temples around the country also teach samatha and vipassana meditation.
Where to Learn Buddhist Meditation:
Interational Buddhist Meditation Center (IBMC)
Dhamma Vicaya Hall Wat Mahadhatu,
Tha Prachan, Bangkok
Tet: (662) 623-6326, 623-6328 (Afternoons only, 1-7.30 p.m.)
IBMC is the vipassana teaching center of Mahachutatongkorn Buddhist University, one of the highest seats of Buddhist learning in the country. Mindfulness meditation classes in English are held daily, from 1 -6 p.m. , except on Buddhist holly days and Sundays. Bring flowers, nine sticks of incense and a candle for the opening ceremony. The Center also organizes vipassana retreats at Buddha Monthon in Nakhon Pathom, usually on major Buddhist holly days and long weekends. Dhamma talks to groups can be arranged by request.
Section Five, Wat Mahadhatu
Tha Prachan, Bangkok
Tet: (662) 222-6011
Thais and foreigners have long come to Section Five of Wat Mahadhatu to learn mindfulness meditation. Classes are held from 7-10 p.m., 1-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.
These are mixed; at any given session there will be beginners and advanced meditators, monks and laymen, locals and tourists. English-speaking instruction is available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. You can come for a retreat of three days or longer. Meals and accommodation are provided on the compounds free of charge. Bring enough sets of clothes, toiletries and personal items, and an o ffering of flowers, a candle and nine sticks of incense for the opening ceremony. Donations are accepted but not solicited.
Other Meditation Centers
House of Dhamma (Vipassana) Insight Meditation Center
26/9 ChompoL Lane, Lat phrao Soi 15
Tel: (662) 511,0439 (weekends or evenings only) Fax: (662) 512~6083
This is part of the International Buddhist Meditation Center of Wat Maha Dhatu. Sunday meditation classes from 2 p.m.,5 p.m. on the second, third and fourth Sundays of the months. Occasionally the center holds one-day retreat on its compound. Classes conducted in English.
World Fellowship of Buddhists
616 Benjasiri Park, Sukhumvit Rd.
Tel: (662) 661~1284-9 Fax: (662) 661~0555
The World Fellowship of Buddhists holds Dhamma talk on the first Sunday of the month. Lecture on mindfulness with breathing is given on occasions.