Monday, June 9, 2008

Control your naughty monkey mind

Chanting in the International Meditation Retreat [photo]

The Mahachulalongkornrajvidalaya Buddhist University of Chiang Mai offers free (*donations suggested) meditation retreats Tuesday-Wednesday overnight. We attended, assessment: professional, somewhat informational, however creepily cult-ish.

The brand-spanking-new Meditation Center, located in the middle of nowhere a half-hour from town, is what I would imagine a Scientology conversion compound to be like. A tall white fence around the perfectly manicured lawn cloisters a squeaky clean assembly hall, dormitory, dining hall, and watch tower (why? why is there a prison-style watch tower?). The landscaping and architecture is too modern and too sterile, leaving the atmosphere of an insane asylum which, when coupled with forty foreigners uncomfortably wearing sexless matching white pajamas with enforced silence, freaked me and many others right out.

Lessons were hit or miss. Before going to the Buddhist-meditation-crazy-person-spaceship, a very intelligent Cambodian monk lectured on the fundamentals of Buddhist philosophy for almost two hours. His interesting and informative discussion of morality, social code, and Siddhartha's life were a highlight of the experience. From the University campus, the forty bewildered Caucasian monkeys were squeezed into four vans and blasted off to another universe.

The five monks with one master gave lessons on the general drift of Buddhism, but I found the analogies and anecdotes un-fulfilling and generic. The way in which the master monk approached his teachings felt more like a missionary attempting to convert his tender flock of foreigners than an educative session on the techniques of proper meditation. That being said, we were introduced to sitting, standing, walking, and laying meditation. Walking meditation was conducted like a slow called dance with exaggeratedly long pronunciation of directions over loudspeaker, "Staaaaaaaaaanding. Staaaaaaaaaanding. Staaaaaaaaaanding. Intending to walk. Left foot gooooooooooooooo, stop. Right foot gooooooooooooooo, stop..."

Practicing walking meditation in creepy white robes.

The master compared the goal of meditation to controlling a wild monkey, "Your mind jumps here and there, thinking about the past and future, just like a naughty monkey going from tree to tree."

If you are interested in experiencing this for yourself, the course is offered each Tuesday-Wednesday from Wat Soun Dok in Chiang Mai. The food is not half bad. More information on the Meditation Retreat Workshop page of

Monk Chat