Wat Pa Nanachat – International Forest Monastery

I came to Ubon Ratchathani for a short visit to the International Forest Monastery (Wat Pa Nanachat). Despite 27 years visiting Thailand this is the first time I’ve been to this famous monastery. I am glad to have finally made it.  

The community at the monastery is preparing for an important meeting of senior monks (Thera) from the international network of forest monasteries (in the tradition of Ajahn Chah). This meeting is due to begin next week. I met briefly with the “Guest Monk” – who has the duty of anwering queries from temporary visitors such as myself. Ven. Nyaniko Bhikkhu told me he ordained at Abhayagiri Monastery in Redwood, California, United States seven years ago.

This trip helped to straighten out some misconceptions I previously held about Wat Pa Nanachat/International Forest Monastery and the international network.

I had previously assumed that the views of Ajahn Brahm from Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth, Australia and Ven. Sujato from Santi Forest Monastery, New South Wales, were representative of the entire forest monastery network.  When living in Australia, I did not wish to visit either of these Australian monasteries due to controversial views expressed by Ajahn Brahm and Ven. Sujato. This was despite living close to both monasteries at various times during the past 15 years. Ven. Nyaniko told me that both Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Sugato have chosen to leave the network for the time being. I did not pursue the details of this break nor ask questions about what may be the cause etc. I found out belatedly after returning to Bangkok. It seems that Ajahn Brahm and Ven. Sugato may have hurt the network as a whole. Maybe one day they may both reconsider their views, apologise and return to the network.

I felt relieved to hear that the forest monastery tradition is open to many different Buddhist meditation practices including Mahasi method vipassana.

I also apologised to Ven. Nyaniko for previously considering Ajahn Chah monks to be overly obsessed with vinaya (monk’s disciplinary rules) and the outward appearance of monastic life with insufficient focus on meditation and spiritual attainment.   I realised many years ago that this was incorrect and was glad to be able to apologise face to face with Ven. Nyaniko as a representative of the Ajahn Chah lineage. Another reason for relief.

Wat Pa Nanachat has a very peaceful atmosphere and seems to be a delightful place to ordain and live the monastic life. I visited on Tuesday morning and spoke with Ven. Nyaniko and again on Wednesday morning to donate flowers, fruit and soy milk. It was Uposotha day on Wednesday so I undertook 8 precepts and listened to a wonderful Dhamma talk in Thai by Ajahn Jayasaro, who appears in many excellent videos you may download from Dhammatube. The talk was about the four divine abodes:

  • Metta – loving-kindness
  • Karuna – compassion
  • Mudita – sympathetic joy
  • Upekkha – equanimity

The talk focused mainly on Metta and Upekkha. I was previously familiar with the four divine abodes and enjoyed listening to Ajahn Jayasaro deliver the talk in fluent Thai. He spoke Thai and delivered the Dhamma talk more competently than most Thai monks I’ve heard. I prefer a structure, cause and effect, small amount of repetition and some illustrative similes. Ajahn Jayasaro delivered all these very well.  [In response to a request from one of the students I met at Wat Mahadhatu last week, I plan to write a blog article on the four divine abodes soon.]

On Monday evening, I left Bangkok on an overnight train and arrived in Ubon Ratchathani on Tuesday morning (yesterday).  I began writing this at an Internet cafe in Ubon near the Warin Markets.  The returning train departed Ubon around 18:30 Wednesday evening and arrived in Bangkok around 06:00 Thursday morning. I paid for second class air con. sleeper, lower bunk. It is fairly comfortable though if the bed was another 10cm longer it would be a better fit. I stayed last night at the Pathumrat Hotel. I booked it via Agoda and got a big discount. The room was very comfortable and way above my usual standard of accomodation. I had air con. TV, ensuite, a fridge and so on.

At the Ubon train station just before boarding, I met Brian Johnson, a fellow Dhamma tourist, who had just finished a 2 or 3 week (not sure of the length of time) period living at Wat Pa Nanachat. I didn’t notice him when I was there. He is a few months older than me and we boarded the train and swapped stories about our Dhamma experiences. It was one of those rare moments when I felt as though I’d met a long lost brother. We talked fast and four hours passed quickly before a train official said it was time to sleep and go to our separate carriages. I hope to meet Brian again one day or at least to have e-mail contact from time to time. Brian has a website with useful information about the teachings of Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw. I encourage readers to check it out. www.paauk.org I promised Brian I would post an article about Dhammanusari and Saddhanusari before I fly to India on 3 December.

Skillful Giving – How to Donate

One of the most convenient ways of developing wholesome mental states is to give or donate to others. However, the benefits accruing from donating, both for the donor and the recipient will vary depending on each side’s virtue or spiritual development.

Anguttaranikaaya  AN 6.37   PTS: A iii 335
Dana Sutta: Giving
translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

On one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Savatthi in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery. And on that occasion the lay woman Velukandaki, Nanda’s mother, had established a donation endowed with six factors for the community of monks headed by Sariputta and Moggallana. The Blessed One saw with his divine eye, surpassing the human, that the laywoman Velukandaki, Nanda’s mother, had established a donation endowed with six factors for the community of monks headed by Sariputta and Moggallana. On seeing this, he addressed the monks: “Monks, the lay woman Velukandaki, Nanda’s mother, has established a donation endowed with six factors for the community of monks headed by Sariputta and Moggallana.
“And how is a donation endowed with six factors? There is the case where there are the three factors of the donor, the three factors of the recipients.
“And which are the three factors of the donor? There is the case where the donor, before giving, is glad; while giving, his/her mind is bright and clear; and after giving is gratified. These are the three factors of the donor.
“And which are the three factors of the recipients? There is the case where the recipients are free of passion or are practicing for the subduing of passion; free of aversion or practicing for the subduing of aversion; and free of delusion or practicing for the subduing of delusion. These are the three factors of the recipients.
“Such are the three factors of the donor, the three factors of the recipients. And this is how a donation is endowed with six factors.
“And it is not easy to take the measure of the merit of a donation thus endowed with six factors as ‘just this much a bonanza of merit, a bonanza of what is skillful — a nutriment of bliss, heavenly, resulting in bliss, leading to heaven — that leads to what is desirable, pleasing, charming, beneficial, pleasant.’ It is simply reckoned as a great mass of merit, incalculable, immeasurable.
“Just as it is not easy to take the measure of the great ocean as ‘just this many buckets of water, just this many hundreds of buckets of water, just this many thousands of buckets of water, or just this many hundreds of thousands of buckets of water.’ It is simply reckoned as a great mass of water, incalculable, immeasurable. In the same way, it is not easy to take the measure of the merit of a donation thus endowed with six factors as ‘just this much a bonanza of merit, a bonanza of what is skillful — a nutriment of bliss, heavenly, resulting in bliss, leading to heaven — that leads to what is desirable, pleasing, charming, beneficial, pleasant.’ It is simply reckoned as a great mass of merit, incalculable, immeasurable.”
Before giving, glad; while giving, the mind is bright and clear; having given, one is gratified: This is the consummation of the sacrifice. Free of passion, free of aversion, free of delusion, without fermentation: the consummation of the field of the sacrifice, one restrained, leading the holy life. Having rinsed oneself, having given with one’s own hands, then — because of oneself, because of the other —  that is a sacrifice yielding great fruit. Having given thus — intelligent — a person of conviction, with awareness released, reappears — wise — in a world of bliss unalloyed.

Qualities of a Dhamma Teacher on the Path

Since I exited the eight week retreat at Section 5, Wat Mahadhatu, I’ve been spending a lot of time there in the afternoons and evenings helping Pi Yai teach meditation and answer questions about Buddhism. I regard teaching as a big responsibility.  I need to take great care. I am still learning so much myself. Even so, there is merit in teaching and helping people to understand the Dhamma. I try to keep the following five points in mind when teaching.

Anguttaaranikaaya AN 5.159   PTS: A iii 184
Udayi Sutta: About Udayin
translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying at Kosambi, in Ghosita’s Park. Now at that time Ven. Udayin was sitting surrounded by a large assembly of householders, teaching the Dhamma. Ven. Ananda saw Ven. Udayin sitting surrounded by a large assembly of householders, teaching the Dhamma, and on seeing him went to the Blessed One. On arrival, he bowed down to the Blessed One and sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One: “Ven. Udayin, lord, is sitting surrounded by a large assembly of householders, teaching the Dhamma.”

“It’s not easy to teach the Dhamma to others, Ananda. The Dhamma should be taught to others only when five qualities are established within the person teaching. Which five?
“[1] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak step-by-step.’
“[2] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak explaining the sequence [of cause and effect].’
“[3] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak out of compassion.’
“[4] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak not for the purpose of material reward.’
“[5] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak without hurting myself or others.’

“It’s not easy to teach the Dhamma to others, Ananda. The Dhamma should be taught to others only when these five qualities are established within the person teaching.”

Ven. Thannisaro also noted: According to the Commentary, “hurting oneself” means exalting oneself. “Hurting others” means putting other people down.

As I mentioned above, I am still learning. So in addition to the above five qualities, I reflect on the limits of my knowledge and while wishing to help others, I try to know when to say, “I don’t know the answer to that question”.

Furthermore, the Blessed One often advised disciples not to study the Dhamma (teachings) for the purpose of winning debates. The right grasp of the Dhamma leads to liberation from suffering.

MN22.10  Alaagadopama Sutta: The Simile of the Snake
Translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

“Here, Bhikkhus some misguided men learn the Dhamma, discourses, stanzas, expositions, verses, explanations, sayings, birth stories, marvels, and answers to questions. But having learned the Dhamma they do not examine the meaning of those teachings with wisdom, not examining the meaning of those teachings with wisdom, they do not gain a reflective acceptance of them. Instead they learn the Dhamma only for criticising others and winning debates and do not experience the good for the sake of which they learned the Dhamma. Those teachings being wrongly grasped by them conduce to their harm and suffering for a long time. Why is this? Because of the wrong grasp of those teachings.”

Then the Blessed One uses the simile of grasping a snake wrongly to show the danger arising from wrongly grasping the Dhamma. 

When teaching or discussing the Dhamma with others, particularly with people who seem to hold strong views, I try to take care not to become competitive and become obsessed with converting others to my view. This is difficult when we have confidence that we are on the right path and have some degree of “right view”.  Sometimes, during Dhamma discussions, others have asked questions in such a way that they reveal assumptions and gaps in my understanding. I then follow-up by further study and ask questions of my teachers.

I have always hesitated to teach the Dhamma. As an unenlightened being, I don’t fully understand.  I am confident I have some degree of understanding. Even so, I am concerned not to spread wrong understanding to others. By cultivating mindfulness and other wholesome/skilful states of mind, I may teach well.

Certainly, a good Dhamma teacher will have a lot of experience in meditation and have developed wholesome/skilful mental states such as samaadhi-concentration and pannaa-wisdom.  A purely theoretical knowledge of the Dhamma is insufficient to be a good Dhamma teacher. A good Dhamma teacher needs to have both theoretical knowledge and experience in meditation.

Dhammanusari-Dhamma follower
I bolded the phrase “reflective acceptance” in the quote above. A reflective acceptance of the Dhamma is vital for beginning the path of liberation from suffering. The Dhammanusari-Dhamma follower, is someone who has gained a reflective acceptance of the Dhamma. In addition the Dhammanusari has developed the five controlling faculties “to a sufficient degree”. The five controlling faculties (panc’indriya) are: saddha-confidence, viriya-effort, sati-mindfulness, samaadhi-concentration and panna-wisdom. The five controlling faculties are developed in meditation.

Note: I plan to write more about the distinctions between a Dhammanusari, Saddhanusari-faith follower and the four noble ones (ariyapuggala) who have already opened the Dhamma eye (Dhammacakkha) and understood the state that can be known (Nibbana).

Moral Conduct as the Basis for Spiritual Development

Buddhist suttas-discourses are translated into English in various ways. Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu translates satipa.t.thaana as “the four frames of reference.” Others translate it as the four establishments of mindfulness or the four foundations of mindfulness. I prefer “the four establishments of mindfulness” or to just leave it in the Paali as satipa.t.thaana. This is the basis for samaadhi-concentration and developing panna-wisdom, both of which are the basis for spiritual development.

Sikkha-dubbalya Sutta: Things That Weaken the Training
translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

“Monks, these five are things that weaken the training. Which five? The taking of life, stealing, sexual misconduct, the telling of lies, and distilled and; fermented beverages that are a cause for heedlessness. These five are things that weaken the training.

“To abandon these five things that weaken the training, one should develop the four frames of reference. Which four? There is the case where a monk remains focused on the body in and; of itself — ardent, alert, and; mindful — putting aside greed and; distress with reference to the world. He remains focused on feelings in and; of themselves… mind in and; of itself… mental qualities in and; of themselves — ardent, alert, and; mindful — putting aside greed and; distress with reference to the world. To abandon the five things that weaken the training, one should develop these four frames of reference.”

Photos in Yangon 2009

Visiting the International Buddhist Missionary University in Yangon, July 2009 1.  I am squatting in front of a row of Theravada Buddhist monks from three different countries (China, Thailand and Laos). We were visiting the International Buddhist Missionary University in Yangon. Behind us in the photo is the main administration building. I am wearing a longyi, the traditional sarong of Myanmar.
Front of Foreign Yogi Building at Mahasi Sasana Yeithka July 2009 2. Sri Lankan yogi Mihindu Pulukkody is standing near the front door of the male foreign yogi building at Mahasi Sasana Yeithka in Yangon.
Front of Foreign Yogi Building at Mahasi Sasana Yeithka July 2009 3. The front of the male foreign yogi building at Mahasi Sasana Yeithka in Yangon.
Volunteers and Michael at Saddhamaransi Yeithka June 2009 4. I am standing with three women who regularly do voluntary work at Saddhamaransi Yeithka in Yangon. The woman standing on the far right is Dr Than Than Nyien. She translated for me when I attended meditation interviews. The other woman standing next to me is Daw Wai Wai, a retired veterinarian who mainly worked in the front office. She also helped me a lot. The woman with dark hair could not speak English and I do not know her name.
Donating food to Sayadaw U Kundala in June 2009 5.
I am donating some food to Sayadaw U Kundala, the Abbot of Saddhamaransi Yeithka in Yangon. The young man on the left of the photo is the Sayadaw’s nephew (I think) who is the Sayadaw’s main carer.

Eight Week Retreat Over

On Tuesday, 3 Nov. this week, I finished an eight week retreat that began when I returned from the visa run to Laos.

Eight Week Retreat
People have asked me what I gained from the vipassana retreat or what did I learn or what seems different now and so on. The changes seem subtle though generally I feel content and less restless than the Myanmar vipassana retreats. I also got better at noting desire as it arose and passed. I feel more confident. During the retreat I only spoke with my current teacher, Pi Yai and only when necessary. After the retreat people who live in Section 5, Wat Mahadhatu (Thai version) told me they are impressed with my determination to meditate for 8 weeks.

My routine was to wake around 3:30 am or 4 am, go down to the meditation room and meditate until breakfast after dawn at 6 am to 6:30 am. Then I continued meditating until lunch around 11 am. After lunch I continued meditating until around 9 pm.

Most of the time I alternately walked one hour and sat one hour. This is the same as my experience of vipassana meditation in Myanmar. However, I did spend some periods sitting longer such as 1.5 hours, 2 hours, 2.5 hours and maxed out at 3 hours for one sitting session. The intervening walking meditation sessions during these periods varied from 30 minutes to one hour. There was a lot of pain arising and passing and I prefer to not sit so long in one session for a vipassana retreat. Even so, I developed equanimity, persistence, truthfulness, resolution and concentration by sitting for these longer periods.

I also spent some periods alternately sitting for only 30 minutes and walking 1.5 hours. This built a lot of energy and also sprained my left Achilles tendon. This may not have happened walking on wood panel floors or carpeted floors. The meditation room floor was covered with hard ceramic tiles – no give at all. I recovered from the sprain in a few days by doing standing meditation instead of walking meditation and also by doing “walking on the spot” on top of a soft mat.

ABOVE: Video of Michael Kalyaano demonstrating walking and sitting meditation in the “basement” of Section 5 Wat Mahadhatu, Bangkok – September 2009


Pi Yai
Pi Yai is an excellent meditation teacher. I have known her since 1983. She has worked voluntarily at Section 5, Wat Mahadhatu for around 25 years. She teaches meditation to Thai people and to international visitors who drop in. I heard that Section 5 is mentioned in several travel guides. There is no fee or charge for the teaching. It runs on the traditional voluntary donation basis. Pi Yai receives no payments from Wat Mahadhatu for teaching meditation or for any of the other work she does there.

ABOVE: One of Pi Yai’s intricate flower arrangements prepared as a an offering for a bhikkhu ordination at Wat Mahadhatu, Bangkok – November 2009. It consists of fresh flowers, banana leaves, candles, incense and a coloured aluminum bowl. The image on the right demonstrates the removable cone-cap. 

Along with other volunteers, Pi Yai prepares and serves food/beverages, purchases and arranges flowers, counsels visitors and cleans up. She works seven days a week arriving at Wat Mahadhatu before 9 am and heading home after 9 pm. She receives a small stipend from her aged father which she uses to pay rent and cost of commuting to Wat Mahadhatu each day. I am confident that Pi Yai has a high meditation attainment.



ABOVE: Pi Yai, Meditation Teacher at Section 5, Wat Mahadhatu Bangkok – November 2009

Thai Multiple Entry Tourist Visa

When I entered Thailand, I didn’t get 90 days visa that I expected, only 60 days. The multiple entry tourist visa obtained in Vientianne allowed me to extend it by 30 days in Bangkok by just going to the Immigration Office. I did this yesterday (Friday, 6 Nov) and it cost 1900 baht.

By the way, the Immigration Office recently moved from the central location near Sarthon Road to a far northern part of Bangkok near Chaengwatana Road (near Lak Si). Their new location includes many government offices in a huge, I mean really massive, office building. It is all quite new and very impressive, except that it is so far out of the centre of Bangkok.

I asked a few questions about my multiple entry tourist visa that expires after 90 days (6 Dec) and it seems that if I leave Thailand and re-enter before 6 Dec. I will automatically be given a 60 day tourist visa at the airport (no charge) which can be extended by 30 days (and payment of another 1900 baht) at the Bangkok Immigration Office.

Banglampoo – Khaosan Road
I finished the retreat on the same day as another meditator who completed a one week retreat and she recommended the Wild Orchid Villa on Soi Chanasongkram in Banglampoo near Khaosan road because it is only 10 minutes walk to Wat Mahadhatu where I did the 8 week retreat. This is the first time I ever stayed in Banglampoo, even though I’ve been visiting Thailand since 1981. I previously didn’t like hanging out with the backpackers. This week I made friends with some and found they aren’t all obsessed with beer and cigarettes. Allan from Alaska and Joan from London (via Malaysia and India) have become good friends in the short time I’ve known them. They taught me a lot. I have a small clean room for 250 baht per night with fans (no air conditioning) and must use a common toilets and shower area . All that is fine since I only sleep there and spend most of the day out and about. Actually I’ve spent most of the daytime at Wat Mahadhatu talking with Pi Yai or teaching drop-in travellers wanting to learn meditation or get an introduction to Buddhism.