Papae

We returned yesterday from a short but exhilarating visit to Papae—Ajahn Khamjan’s home, a Lawa hill tribe village in the jungly mountains of rural far northwestern Thailand. Since our visit was quite brief, I’m qualified only to share a few facts but many impressions.

I’ll start with the few facts:

Papae is not terribly far from the Myanmar border. It is enveloped by lush jungle-covered mountains, and nestled in a quiet valley far from any town of considerable size. To get there, one leaves the busyness of Chiang Mai far behind. (It required 4+ hours of driving from our base in Doi Saket.) The village is home to some 100 families. It is small but has grown considerably since the conditions in the village began to improve around the time of the first of four visits by King Rama IX some decades ago.

Now, my impressions:

First off, the drive to get there is simply amazing. Fortunately, we were in good hands with Vii and Phra Ake as our guides. Depending on which approach one takes, you’re treated to generally excellent road conditions and far-reaching views as you climb into the mountains. Arriving at the village, we passed a number of homes and a school, crossed a bridge over a small creek filled with large fish begging for vegetable scraps tossed to them by the villagers (an ordinance of sorts prohibits anyone from intentionally killing fish along this stretch of the creek) then drove up a short, steep incline to Wat Papae. 

From what I understand, this small but remarkably beautiful monastery is largely devoid of monks for most of the year. Typically, a few monks will come for the annual 3-month Rains Retreat. As this was a week before the end of this year’s Retreat, we arrived when three monks were in temporary residence.

Our group was offered comfortable accommodations in one of the main buildings. After getting situated, we proceeded to tour and visit the monastery grounds, which had not only beautiful architecture but a visually stunning position above the valley and much of Papae. It wasn’t long before we were met by Ajahn’s mother, sister, and niece. This was the beginning of a brief but wonderful connection we made with these kind and caring people.

After a time, we walked into the village, watched a man feed the fish, then paid a visit to the rice field of Ajahn’s family. He’d encouraged me to visit Papae soon, as the lushness of the rice fields was particularly captivating this time of year. We were not disappointed. It was indeed beautiful.

Before long, we headed to Ajahn’s home, where he grew up and where his family still lives today. (Ajahn’s mother was born in Papae and has lived in her home at least since Ajahn was a little boy.) In brief, I’ll just say that we met many members of Ajahn’s immediate and extended family—to include Phra Rit’s mother, sister, and niece—and were quickly captured by their warmth, generosity and sweetness. Despite a significant language barrier (and despite the fact that although my Thai is poor, Thai is not the first language of most of the villagers—Lawa is), we were able to connect in a largely non-verbal way—through smiles, sharing, and an attitude of gentleness—and through the interpretation skills of Phra Ake and Vii. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner together (and an equally wonderful breakfast the next morning) and eventually retired to a quiet night at the temple. 

Although I was largely awake quite early, I waited until the sounds of monks sweeping the grounds, the ringing of a bell to signal that the current resident monks would be going on alms round soon, and ultimately, my confidence to arise that the mosquitoes had gone to bed, before I emerged from the comfort and security of our sleeping quarters. The coast was indeed clear, so I wandered about the monastery grounds for awhile in the emerging day and practiced some walking meditation near the ordination hall.

I soon encountered Phra Ake, who was sweeping the grounds. We chatted for a bit then finished packing up before heading back to Ajahn’s mother’s home for a lovely breakfast before beginning the long drive home. Before departing, we shared some nice moments with Ajahn Khamjan and Phra Rit’s families, including not-a-few photos. 

I am grateful firstly to our guides and friends Vii and Phra Ake for making this trip possible; secondly, to Ajahn Khamjan for planting (and watering) the seed that took us there; and especially, to Ajahn’s extended family for being so kind and caring, generous and genuine. We were touched by everyone’s hospitality and inclusion.

Perhaps we’ll return to this charming and beautiful, peaceful and lush village in the not-too-distant future. And maybe with Ajahn Khamjan with us, as I told his mother.

public.jpeg

Wat Umong (วัดอุโมงค์—Chiang Mai)

In terms of old and beautiful Buddhist sculpture and architecture, Wat Umong is easily the most interesting temple I’ve seen in the greater Chiang Mai area. The ancient temple, built in 1297 CE, features fascinating tunnels with hidden alcoves, a field of broken and decaying stone Buddha statues, a large sculpture of the emaciated bodhisattva, and a tall, stone stupa.

public.jpeg

Wat Chok Chai (วัดโชคชัย—Doi Saket)

This tiny village monastery initially strikes one as a deserted outpost out in the country. Walking around the property, I felt a bit like I was visiting a ghost town, as the property was sparsely developed, seemingly devoid of habitation, and hardly a sound was heard. Then, finally, I spotted a lone monk sweeping in the shadows. I approached to engage him and quickly learned that his English was less developed than my substandard Thai, so our ensuing exchange was brief and minimally fruitful. After I departed, I reflected a bit on the beauty of such quiet simplicity. Indeed, such a place of peaceful isolation must be conducive to concentration and inner development.

public.jpeg

Wat Phra That Doi Saket (วัดดอยสะเก็ด—Doi Saket)

Beautiful Wat Phra That Doi Saket sits atop a longish hill overlooking the village of Doi Saket. From the center of town, a steep staircase leads to the monastery and its many buildings. A number of noteworthy features dot the sprawling monastery property, not the least of which are the many gorgeous murals inside the main Dhamma hall. Wandering the property, one will also encounter many shady spots to practice meditation, enjoy the panoramic views, or simply reflect upon one’s experience in being there.

public.jpeg

Chitta Bhawanaram Forest Monastery (วัดป่าจิตตภาวนาราม—Doi Saket)

This newly built (only five months old) Dhammayut monastery is fresh and glowing, and its buildings (mostly a Dhamma hall and several kutis) are quite attractively designed. 

Speaking with one of the monks about returning for practice, I was kindly invited to stay in one of the kutis. He said I was welcome to practice around the property, then with a smile he gestured toward a mysterious wooded area behind one of the kutis and said, “And we have a cremation ground.”

After a few minutes of chatting, I thanked him for his offer then wandered off to explore the cremation ground, for I might be interested in practicing there—perhaps on the next full moon night. After all, one of the 13 ascetic practices allowed by the Buddha is living in or near a cremation ground.

Indeed, as one passes between two kutis, goes through a gate, then walks down a narrow, quiet road into a nearby forest, one might first notice some wooden grave markers on the left, then maybe some tombstones on the right, then in the near distance, through the trees, is the cremation chamber—a somewhat impressive structure with a large iron door stained by soot. I must admit that even in the daytime I felt a tinge of discomfort—perhaps all the more reason to come back on the full moon.

public.jpeg

Suddhajit Bhikkhuni Arama (อารามภิกษุณีสุทธจิตต์—Doi Saket)

This beautiful property is home to 17 bhikkhuni (female monks) and 10 samaneri (female novices)—ordained in Sri Lanka. Their warm presence immediately made us feel welcome. We were given a tour of the facility,  invited to come anytime for meditation or a meal, encouraged to volunteer, and I even got to spend a few minutes doing walking meditation on a lovely path around a large Bodhi tree.

public.jpeg

Wat Marn (วัดม่อน—Doi Saket)

This rustic, little monastery displayed its special beauty about five minutes after we located and then started chatting with the abbot. Not only does he teach his many novices English, but he also teaches them an impressive variety of arts and skills that may prove useful to them in life—for example, metal shaping (for monastery decorations); making hand drums and gongs/bells; making clay bricks for construction projects; and perhaps most impressively, building houses to give to poor families!

public.jpeg

Today’s Retreat

Today we were again honored to welcome our friends Kate, Natalie and Sujan to host a meditation retreat at ABMT. During the 8-hour retreat, participants practiced a variety of mindfulness-based activities, such as sitting and walking meditation, a sound healing, learning about Ayurvedic healing, and offering alms to the monks. Many community members joined the retreat participants for the alms offering.

The alms offering component of the program goes back to the time of the Buddha. Even today, in countries like Thailand, Buddhist monks go on daily alms round to receive food offerings from the community. It is important to recognize that the giving of alms is above all an act of generosity. Participants were encouraged to bring a small dish (or perhaps some fruit or other ready-to-eat food items) to ceremonially offer into the alms bowls of the two monks as they came by to receive it. This gesture, when carried out mindfully and with a heart of giving, allows one to begin to let go of greed.

Thank you, Kate, Natalie and Sujan, for another beautiful, heartfelt offering.

The next few retreats will be held on:

-Thursday, September 26 (morning; half-day)

-Thursday, October 24 (morning; half-day)

-Saturday, October 26 (full-day).

If you’re interested in attending these (and other) upcoming events, please check the ‘Events’ page on our website (www.abuddhisttemple.org) for an up-to-date schedule.

Please consider joining our MeetUp group as well.

public.jpeg

Wat Wang Tan (Doi Saket)

Wat Wang Tan is a young monastery on the outskirts of the village of Doi Saket. Currently, it houses three monks and about 15 novices. Near the entrance to the property, one encounters a sign proclaiming some of the history of the area, including the foundation of the temple. One of the interesting points recorded is that about 100 years ago – long before the establishment of the monastery – the area surrounding the present day monastery was lush jungle teeming with tigers, bears, and pythons. The local villagers, it says, were quite afraid of these animals and would close up their homes each evening and not come outside until daybreak. Around 1965, a dam was built nearby, dramatically altering the local ecology, leading to a much drier wildlife habitat and eradicating many animal species, including the tigers, bears, and pythons that used to thrive in that environment.

public.jpeg

Wat Chomtong (Chiang Mai)

Today I was fortunate enough to accompany Ajahn Saen, Phra Ake and Vii to Wat Chomtong (วัดจอมทอง) for the second day of the 5-day celebration of Luang Pu Tong’s 96th birthday. Six hundred monks were invited for each of the five days—for a total of 3,000 monks attending. Far more lay people also attended.

I learned and experienced many things during the celebration of the revered meditation teacher. What most resonates with me is that perhaps as a part and/or a result of his long-term deep meditation practice, Luang Pu eats only 16 bites of food as his only meal each day.

public.jpeg

Wat Chedi Luang (Chiang Mai)

This is a photo of the large, royal stupa at Wat Chedi Luang. In 1468, the famed Emerald Buddha was installed in the eastern niche of the stupa. It was later moved. Today, the Emerald Buddha is at Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok.

There is an interesting anecdote about the time when the revered Forest Tradition founder and master Luang Pu Mun was staying at Wat Chedi Luang: Upon hearing that the authorities were about to appoint him abbot of the temple, he promptly packed up his few belongings and disappeared from Chiang Mai for the next 11 years.

public.jpeg