You can find places to meditate all around Thailand, and in Burma you can even get a meditation visa. We went to one of these charming meditation places in Thailand, Wat Tam Wua and want to share our experience.
Wat Tam Wua is a beautiful temple out in the nature about 1 hour drive from Pai. It is free to stay there, and you can stay as long as you wish, but not shorter than 3 days. Remember to bring your passport with a valid visa, otherwise you cannot be admitted to the temple, since the police check on them regularly (possibly some foreigners without visas were hiding at temples before).
When we arrived, we were welcomed by the lady at the reception, who has been a volunteer there for a while and she is managing all the meditators. We had a long explanations about rules and suggestions from the lady, she even mentioned some stories about ghosts, and only in about 1 hour or more, she let us go to our rooms.
The garden and natural surroundings are stunning at the temple, and every sunrise after the morning meditation is a blessing. The living conditions are very simple, at the dorm you just get a tatami mat and a thin mattress, and a blanket or two. You can choose a space for your mat and place your backpack next to it. This kind of minimalism simplifies everything, and you do not have to worry about folding or cleaning too many things. If you think about all the cupboards and closets we have at home, and all the time and energy we spend on arranging them, then it becomes clear why at a meditation retreat one has much more time to look within.
Everyone takes care of the cleanliness of the place together, at a special designated time for this, at 4 PM every day. Since everything is so simple, and the schedule is monotonous, days become very similar, and it feels like time has either stopped here or is everlasting.
While meditating at Wat Tam Wua one is requested to wear simple white clothing which covers most of the body, not to distract other meditators and the monks. Since the monks live a celibate life, they prefer not to look at beautiful shoulders of young meditators, keep it in mind and cover your body. Good news is – you can borrow the white clothing directly at the temple if you wish, and before leaving wash everything and put it back.
The schedule includes early wake up, breakfast and lunch only, so no eating after 1 PM, and 3 meditation times per day including chanting.
Early morning starts with offering food to the monks. Once you arrive to the meditation halls, which is right to the dining hall, everyone gets a plate of rice, and separates it on the plate, people sit along the perimeter of the hall and are managed by the friendly reception lady. The monks arrive with their bowls, and we have to share a spoonful of rice into the bowl of each monk. In our case, there were four monks, and we had to separate the rice into five parts, keeping one for ourselves. In the buddhist tradition sharing is very important, and it is believed that sharing first thing in the morning gives one a lot of merit. Start your day with sharing. The abbot likes to walk around before breakfast and make jokes about “Here no have barbecue”, he is very friendly and smiley.
Meditation is done guided by the monk, but in case you want to get a deeper explanation of what is going on, read the chanting book and another book written by the abbot. They have a lot of details. There are three types of meditation – sitting, walking and laying down. The walking meditation was the most confusing for me and difficult to concentrate since I have not practiced it before, but later I understood to repeat the mantra all the time and concentrate on my movements only and I loved it. Chanting is done in three languages – Pali (the language of buddha), English and Thai. There are transcriptions for all languages so even if you don’t know Thai, you can still chant. Chanting in English is a bit awkward, but an interesting experience, and if actually helps you understand what is written in the text.
- Women are not allowed to touch monks, and it is very strict.
- You are required not to eat anything after lunch to keep yourself awake for the evening meditation and to practice your will power.
- One can get a tag which says “Silent and happy”, and choose to be silent during the retreat. Others should respect this and not talk to this person. I
- In the afternoon you can join preparation of food for the fish in the pond.
- Everyone cleans their own dishes. It is good to observe yourself and your thoughts not only during meditation but all the time, this will deepen the practice.
Even if you have never tried meditation, but you are curious and have some spare time, Wat Tam Wua is a great place to explore. Come there with a smile and an open heart.