- We practise Buddhism until we have a feeling for it.
After a time, a new kind of understanding arises.
- Ajahn Chah
The core of doing retreat is the things we practice during it.
Our practices during the regular 10-day retreat are alternating sitting, walking, and work meditation through the day. We also promise daily to abide by the standard Eight Precepts of Theravada, do 15 minutes of Buddhism chanting in the morning and evening, and express our strong respect to the Buddha and the teacher.
The purpose of all the practices is to provide a quiet place for our monkey mind to relax, and to develop the habits so that we can carry them back to our day-to-day life.
The sources of practices and teachings at Khao Tham are the Theravada Thai Forest Tradition, particularly as taught by Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Sumedho, and Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. With emphasis on the actual goal of Buddhism: loving-kindness and compassion.
The Main Practices
Starting on the evening of the second day (11th of the month on the usual 10-day retreat) we keep complete silence until the evening of the 8th day (18th of the month). This means absolutely no talking or extended gesturing to anyone for any reason. Exceptions are for asking questions of the teacher, and at scheduled Interviews. (And of course, in the case of some emergency.)
Read more about silence.
MeditationMeditation is sitting quietly
while paying attention to your experience,
allowing it to be just as it is.
— Cassandra Vieten
There are many techniques for calming, focusing, and developing deep understanding in the mind so that we can allow this attention to happen.
At Khao Tham we practice sitting and walking meditation with the breath.
Read more about meditation.
Sitting is the basis of meditation practice. We find a comfortable and stable sitting position so that we can breathe well and free our minds. This position usually turns out to be the “Burmese position” (legs crossed next to each other) or half-lotus position (one foot on top of the other leg). For some the full lotus may be great. Other possibilities are using a meditation bench with feet tucked under, or a chair.
Read more about sitting.
Walking meditation is just walking, and just meditation. That’s all. In sitting, we place our focus on our breath. In walking, we place our focus on our steps … and our breath. In Pali it is called cankama.
Read more about walking.
“Being aware of your breath forces you into the present moment — the key to all inner transformation. Whenever you are conscious of the breath, you are absolutely present.” — Eckhart Tolle
Mindfulness of breathing meditation — ana pana sati — is merely focusing attention on: breathing in … breathing out.
Read about the practice of breathing.
In the normal retreat at Khao Tham, we practice a subset of the traditional Theravada Buddhist chants, in the Pali language.
What are the chants? Why Pali? … Read more about chanting.
Our core practice is loving-kindness — mettā bhāvanā, one of the four brahamaviharas.
Explained more on the metta page.
Taking the Precepts
The precepts are “a way of training, a way of guiding yourself towards recognizing the conditions of your mind.”— Ajahn Sumedho
During retreat we take all eight precepts as taken by monks. In the rest of our life we try our best to adhere to the first five precepts.
Learn about the Eight Precepts
Bowing, or prostration
Before and after meditation, and before and after a teaching, we do the “five-point veneration” (patitthitapanca) to show honour to the Buddha and to our teacher. While bowing we repeat “Anjali”, “Vandana”, “Abhikar” …
Exactly how do we bow? What is the meaning? and why do we do this? Read more about bowing.
The Auxiliary Practices
Usually known as “rules and regulations”, they are really “boundaries” — like a small child playing, they keep us safe while we explore our minds, our selves, and the dhamma!
We are safely bounded on four sides by the customs of our Thai hosts, our Code of Conduct, our Dress Code, and the eight Buddhist Precepts which we take at the beginning of retreat.
- If a person cannot stay within the boundaries — follow the Rules and Regulations of the retreat — they will not be able to attend.
We say this all together before eating a meal:
Considering it thoughtfully, I eat this food,
not playfully, nor for intoxication, nor for putting on bulk, nor for beautification,
but simply for the survival and continuance of this body,
thinking: ‘Thus will i destroy old feelings (of hunger)
and not create new feelings (from overeating).
I will maintain myself, be blameless, and live in comfort.’
About doing personal practices during retreat
It is not beneficial to do other practices during a retreat. it would be like practicing your basketball moves at a football camp. They are all part of the same thing, but the purpose of being here is to concentrate on the specific practices here.
Study, reading, and writing
There are differing points of view about studying, reading, and writing during a retreat.
One view is that the retreat is for letting go of the information-gathering, analytical, rational aspects of the mind, to help oneself into true non-verbal insight experiences.
Another view is that taking notes helps us remember what the teacher said and think about it later, reading texts helps us understand all these concepts better, and writing helps in both, and in observing our mind.
Which one we will follow, will depend on the view of the teacher of the retreat. If it is not made clear during Orientation, please ask.
Listening to teachings
Listening to teachings can be done with the same mindful attention that you give to the arising thoughts of your own mind. So a meditative posture and relaxed breathing is very helpful. Here is more information about sitting at teachings.
You can carry your breathing and mindfulness into your sleep, and have a very restful sleep, or even very interesting experiences during it.
The purpose of the practices
Mindfulness … acceptance … letting go — just being
- When there is mindfulness and right understanding,
then I can’t find any suffering at all in this moment, now.
- Ajahn Sumedho
Buddhist mindfulness isn’t exactly the same as the Western popular concept of “mindfulness”. It is about paying attention — but not with your self, your ego-mind. It is letting go, letting your ego get out of the way, and observing with the buddha-mind, with acceptance, without grasping.
- What we mean by mindfulness is the abiity to not attach to any object, either in the material realm or mental realm. When there is no attachment, the mind is in its pure state of awareness, intelligence, and clarity. That is mindfulness. The mind is pure and receptive, sensitive to the existing conditions. It is no longer a conditioned mind that just reacts to pleasure and pain, praise and blame, happiness and suffering.
- Ajahn Sumedho
Anthology, vol. 2, Seeds of Understanding, p.124