Enlightening Meditation Class in Bangkok, Thailand

Life is a dance. Mindfulness is witnessing that dance.”

-Dr. Amit Ray, meditation scholar

 

After chickening out of a 10-day silent meditation retreat, I decided to take some baby steps into the world of Vipassana meditation. This turned out to be an excellent decision, because it led to one of my favorite experiences in Bangkok. Meditation, particularly Vipassana, is truly beneficial for anyone—long as you have an open mind and respectful attitude. Personally, it was the best thing to happen to my mental health since Nutella.


The two hour English meditation class at Bangkok’s Wat Mahathat Yuwaratrangsarit (no, they don’t teach you how to pronounce it) provides an excellent and authentic opportunity to learn about basic Buddhist meditation techniques. It is held in Section 5 of the temple, in sort of an international education area that is very well-marked and easy to find when walking along Maharat Rd. Every day at either 7:00, 13:00, or 18:00 (you can check updated times here) you can show up and dip your toes into the ancient practice of Vipassana (“insight”) meditation practiced throughout Thailand.

 

Bangkok locals practice meditation at Wat Mahathat
Source: Wikipedia Commons
If like me, you’re a meditation newbie intrigued by the idea of a longer silent retreat in Thailand or Southeast Asia, one of these free (though donations appreciated) classes might be a good starter course. There were only four people in my class: me, a nice Polish tourist, and two beginner monks. The small size made focusing a lot easier and gave us more time for one-on-one monk Q&A at the end of class.

What do you do in a meditation class?

Total meditation time, not including demonstrations led by the English speaking monk, is only about an hour. The first 45 minutes or so is simply an introduction to the benefits and principles of Vipassana, which from what I understand focuses on awareness and a lot of stillness. You sit and observe. If your leg falls asleep, you acknowledge that it hurts and move on. If your mosquito bite-riddled shin itches, you acknowledge that it itches and move on. Basically, if something sucks, try to detach your ego from the fact that it sucks until it doesn’tsuck, it just exists.
Monks chillin' and practicing meditation
Monks are some of the smiliest folks I met on this journey! (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

This, according to our ever-smiling monk teacher, is the key to pure happiness. Otherwise known as nirvana. That’s the goal some people spend lifetimes, let alone two hours on a Wednesday afternoon, trying to achieve.

We practiced walking meditation for a half hour, then sitting meditation for another half hour. They each came with very different challenges, but with our teacher’s guidance we had some idea of how to best handle and learn from those challenges. If anything, the half hour of each seemed too short and left me wanting more!

At the end of class we had an opportunity to ask questions. For example, what’s the best sitting posture? How does one avoid mind numbing boredom? Our teacher was unfailingly kind and patient in his answers.
Ultimately, I came away with a stronger motivation to keep meditating and see where it’d take me. The walk home felt like a daydream, or like I’d just woken up from a particularly peaceful nap. How would I feel after 10 days of nonstop meditating in a silent retreat?! Just how detached from my ego would I be then? Maybe that’s a more realistic goal than I thought, and something I’ll definitely consider in the future.