c. The feeling of joy is absent; the meditator feels bored and sad as though he has been separated from what he loves.
g. The meditator may feel that everything is bad in every way and there is nothing that can be enjoyed.
f. Some meditators think of returning home, because they feel that their parami (accumulated past merit) has been insufficient. As a result they start preparing their belongings to go home. In the early days this was termed, “the nana of rolling the mat.”
1. Guardian Naga
I stumbled upon this sculptural group at Koh Mak temple. The woman with a broom struck me. I haven’t seen many images of women in Buddhist wats (apart of apsaras and devatas, who play a rather decorative role, or Mahayana deities such as Guan Yin, or numerous female figures in the narratives about the life of the Buddha). And although I’ve seen a lot of sweeping and cleaning at the Buddhist monasteries, I’ve never seen a sculpture of a sweeping woman in any of them.
Wat Ram Poeng (Tapotaram) was established “on Friday, the third day of the seventh lunar month, in the year of 2035 B.E. (1492 A.D.), at 8:20 a.m., a most auspicious time”, by King Phra Jao Yod Chiangrai and the religion and secular authorities of Chiang Mai.
The monastery was deserted for many years, badly damaged during World War II, and rebuilt in the early 1970s. In March 15, 2518 B.E. (1975 A.D.), a meditation retreat was founded in the wat now known as the Northern Insight Meditation Center.
I stayed at Wat Ram Poeng from April 15 to May 10, 2013, taking a 26-day basic course in Vipassana. Below are a few observervations on the wat that can serve as a brief introduction to my photographs taken during the retreat.
Unlike some other buddhist monasteries I have seen, Wat Ram Poeng is extemely beautiful, comfortable, clean and full of feminine energy. Lots of flowers, greenery, water fountains and things that are pleasant to look at. Great feng shui.
Another striking feature is the lack segregation. Monk and lay meditators, men and women, thai people and farangs mix freely in most situations.
Thai people consider meditation as a universal remedy for psychological and existential problems. Death of a relative, break of a relationship, uncertainty about the future are just a few examples when vipassana can help to restore a balance of mind. Thais normally stay in the wat for a few days (up to ten).
Among white cloth devotees, female strongly predominate. In 2012, women outnumbered almost six time over men (6,124 vs. 1,123). However, monkhood largely remains a man’s business. In 2012, there were 146 monks and only 4 nuns in the wat.
In foreign participants, the gender correlation is different. Farang men and women show an equal interest in vipassana with men slightly predominating (263 vs. 221 in 2012).
There are lots of youth, including teenagers and children. Some come with their parents. One can often see a son meditating with his father or a daughter encouraged in the path by her mother. This visible intergenerational continuity and the sheer number of participants (about 15,000 in 2012 only) suggest that Buddhist teaching and training in Thailand is a major factor of consolidating society, culture and the national psyche.
Daily activity in the wat includes Dhamma talks, chanting, prayers, ceremonies and of course meditation (both walking and sitting). Farangs are instructed to meditate most part of the day, while Thais spend much time in chanting and listening to discourses. Cleaning, watering and other selfless work is an important part of the meditation process (especially in women).
I am grateful to Abbot Phra Ajahn Suphan for his daily guidance and inspiration, to Director of Foreign Meditators’ Office Phra Chaibodin for initial teaching and everyday support, to all monks and nuns and lay meditators for being there with me.
Photo by Ruchadawun Khunchieng