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Archive for May, 2009

Buddhism, Thailand, Achaan Chah

Michael Babcock, Thursday, May 7th, 2009

I first went to Thailand with Kasma in the fall of 1992. At that time I already knew a bit about Buddhism; I had been an on-and-off meditator for years and the teachers I learned from in the San Francisco Bay Area had been trained in the Theravada Buddhist tradition of Thailand. On that first trip I did a 10-day meditation retreat at the monastery of  Suan Mokh in Southern Thailand, an experience that I still draw upon, some 17 years later.

Buddha Image at Chaiya

Buddha Image at Chaiya

I still practice meditation. I love the word “practice.” Like “practicing medicine,”  meditation is a process that is never perfected, just practiced over and over again.
 
(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Walking Buddha, Sukhothai

Walking Buddha, Sukhothai

I do not call myself a “Buddhist.” What attracts me to Buddhism is my understanding of what the Buddha taught:  that liberation from suffering is found in moving beyond conditioned experience and labels by relying only on what you have experienced and understood.

Most of my study of Buddhism has focused on the teachings of one man, a Thai forest monk by the name of Achaan Chah (or Ajhan Chah; Achaan or Ajahn is an honorific given to teachers), who died in 1992 (ironically, the first year I visited Thailand).

NE Thailand Buddha Image

NE Thailand Buddha Image

What attracts me to his teachings is his simplicity. He’s not one for book study; in his book A Still Forest Pool he says “If you really want to see what the Buddha  was talking about, you don’t need to bother with books. Watch your own mind. Examine to see how thoughts come and go. Don’t be attached to anything, just be mindful of whatever there is to see. This is the way to the truths of the Buddha.” (p. 157) Over and over again he emphasizes studying your own mind, finding the truth within yourself: “You will see that only by stopping and examining your own heart can you find out what the Buddha talked about. No need to go searching outside yourself. Eventually, you must return to face your own true nature. Right where you are is where you can understand the Dharma.” (p. 159) He is an advocate of tireless practice: “Do not put the meditation aside for a rest. Some people think they can stop as soon as they come out of a period of formal practice. Having stopped formal practice, they stop being attentive, stop contemplating. Do not do it that way. Whatever you see, you should contemplate.” (p. 101)

Temple Sign in Chiang Mai

Temple Sign in Chiang Mai

Thailand is a Buddhist country and on Kasma’s trips we visit many of the temples. I tend not to get too involved in the external trappings of Buddhism there. As with Buddhism in other countries, the teachings have adapted to have a particularly Thai flavor. Much of the emphasis in Thailand centers around the concept of “making merit” – doing acts that will produce good karma so that your future life will be more harmonious and peaceful. 

Temple Sign in Mae Hong Son

Temple Sign in Mae Hong Son

From what  I observe, Buddhism in Thailand appears to be much like many other religions: along with the heart of the teaching there are external trappings that seem questionable and it’s easy to find things that appear to be contrary to the tenets of the Buddha. For example, women at times appear to have lower status then men. What I do know is that many of the temples are very peaceful, that they contain numerous Buddha images that are beautiful and inspiring and that it’s a tradition that produced someone like Achaan Chah. 

I commend his teachings to your perusal.

Buddha Statue in Nakhon Si Thammarat

Buddha Statue in Nakhon Si Thammarat

You can find some of Achaan Chah’s teachings available as downloads in PDF format at the Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery website. Also of interest is a series of videos on the life of Achaan Chah by Achaan Jayasaro (an English disciple).

Quotes are from A Still Forest Pool: The Insight Meditation of Achaan Chah, compiled by Jack Kornfield & Paul Breiter, First edition 1985 by The Theosophical Publishing House in Wheaton, Illinois.  I also recommend Food for the Heart: The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah, published in 2002 by Wisdom Publications in Boston.

Wikipedia has a short biography of Achaan Chah and his legacy.

You might enjoy Michael’s article and pictures on Buddha Images in Northeastern Thailand.


Written by Michael Babcock, May 2009.

Buying Eggs in Thailand (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Carry Carefully! 

Eggs in Nong Kai Market

Eggs in Nong Kai Market

I took this picture in 2004 at a market in Nong Kai market in Northeastern Thailand (Isahn) when Kasma and I visited on our own. It’s something you’ll see in just about any Thai market: eggs for sale packaged in a  plastic bag with no padding whatsoever. It seems as if Thai people are much more careful when they carry their purchases home!


The Wednesday Photo is a new picture  each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

This photo was actually the first Wednesday Photo.