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 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.