I arrived in Wat Marp Jan in the afternoon on the 27th December 2018. It’s a huge area surrounded by the jungle so even on really hot days one could go near the forest and feel a cool breeze coming out. There are sounds of geckos and various birds to hear all day and there is a small lake with lots of big fish in it as well. When entering the monastery there is first the kitchen and eating place on the right and a toilet house for guests on the left. In the middle, between kitchen and the morning meditation hall, there is a Buddha statue greeting the entering guests. The next big building consists of the morning maditation hall on the front side, a living house for the staff to the right and on the backside is the dorm room for women lay guests, where I was staying for the next 10 days. I slept in a dorm room and mostly I was by myself because I was sleeping in one of the smaller rooms and many people who stayed there just slept outside on the floor. My bed was very uncomfortable! It was actually just a wooden board and a very thin mat on it (I actually used 3 mats and it still felt like I was sleeping on a plain floor haha) so every morning I woke up with back and neck pain…
Further back goes a steep road up the mountain, surrounded by the forest where small cottages for the monks stand. Half way up is the monastery office where people can go to talk to Ajahn Anan, the Supreme Abbot of this monastery and founder of Marp Jan. After that there is another hall for men lay guests and a meditation hall for the monks. On the top of the mountain is the big meditation hall for evening meditation and events or celebrations. A small meditation hall is right next to it as well (which was my favorite place in the monastery). Right now there is a big construction side behind the hall to build a monument for Ajahn Chah, the founder of the forest monk lineage.
So yeah I was pretty overwhelmed by the size of this monastery. My first impression was surprise! Everything was very different from what I expected. The monks drove around in golf cars. They had phones, although they didn’t use them too much. I also expected more smiling or happiness since this is known as the teaching to true happiness but mostly peoples face impressions were neutral. The next morning I was very surprised again! Many people come to the monastery every day to offer food to the monks, not leftovers or something but offering them the best and fresh prepared food. So the monks didn’t eat as basic as I thought they would. We had a big buffet every day with various dishes and a lot of sweets! From 9am to 12am one was allowed to eat, having breakfast at 9am and packing a snack for lunch at like 11:30. After that one was not allowed to eat anything anymore, leaving more time for the practice and not being concerned with worldly needs. Due to the huge amount of food it was really hard not to eat more then necessary and the monks didn’t cut down on food eather and even enjoyed fruitshakes or other isced, delicious drinks in the afternoon. This actually confused me a lot because in buddahs teachings, which we were signing (they call it chanting) every day it is said that one who practices the Dhamma (true path) should only eat to nourish the body but not to enjoy it because it leads to desire, craving and worldly attachment. But I guess that’s different from monastery to monastery.
Now let me lead you through my everyday routine:
- At 4 am in the morning one was awakened by the sound of ringing bells and hauling from the dogs who live at the monastery. I then had 30 min to get ready and walk to the morning meditation hall. From 4:30-5am was meditation. Afterwards we started the morning chanting till 5:30. Chanting is kind of a mix between singing and speaking. The text is in Pali, the language of the earliest Buddhist scriptures, closely related to Sanskrit. It is used as a meditational guide. If used properly and continously it can lead to a state of trance and deeper understanding of Buddha’s teachings.
- From 5:30-7am the lay guests should clean the kitchen and eating area or women should help out in the kitchen preparing food or cleaning. The monks would go into town to receive the offerings from the people
- At 7am people from the towns and city’s near by came to the monastery to offer food, after that they participate in the meditation and chanting and then stay in the monastery for breakfast. The lay people can offer rice from the kitchen as well which I thought was a very nice experience. It is incredible how much they care and respect the monks and the cultivation of giving and helping is visible everywhere in Thailand!
- While the guests and lay people chant, the monks would take their food. When they are finished, the lay guest are allowed to take theirs and at last the people who visit only for the morning. There were always be a lot of left overs, so all the food prepared for this day was then given to the construction workers, the hospital or the police station in town.
- After the brunch, we started packaging the food or cleaning all dishes and tables.
- At around 10am we were finished and now had time to either clean in the dorm, take a nap, go shower, read from the books given to us from the monastery or of course meditate. So from 11am-3pm we always had time for ourself.
- From 3pm-5pm we had chores to do around the monastery. I was mostly cleaning the bathrooms and in the beginning always with someone else and in the end by my self.
- From 5pm-6:30pm one had time to shower, meditate or read again. I mostly went up to the small meditation hall and stayed there from 6pm-7pm
- At 7:30pm everyone would come to the big evening meditation hall for evening chanting. First 30 min chanting and then 30 min meditation. After that a record from Ajahn Chas teachings
was played which were always in Thai so I didn’t unterstand anything…
- Between 9 and 9:30pm we returned to the dorm to go to sleep.
This was my every day scheduled. I have to say although it may not seem hard or difficult I actually wanted to leave from the first day I arrived.(eventually I got used to it and sometime enjoyed it very much!) When I asked Ajahn Anan if I can shorten my stay to 8 days he said I should stay and practice keeping promise and that only through obstacles one grows. Which is actually very true and now I think it was a good experience but for a first retreat 5 day would probably be enough.
The first three days of my stay there was another European woman staying there. She helped me a lot at first to understand the regulations and dayly program. I also made friends with a Thai woman, her name is Siri and we became pretty good friends although our age difference is 15 years. She was very nice and even gave me one of her outfits because I only bought one with me. It felt good to have a friend there. Especially over new years and doing chores together was a lot more fun too.
I was a little bit sad in the beginning because I thought there would be a lot more teaching or guidence but I was very thankful for the books which are free (monks are not allowed to take money). Also I’ve come to realize that this kind of life is not for me and that I want to find my own way. Meditation although is something that I will practice more from now on and through that I’m sure I’ll find the truth which lies within me.
New years in Buddhist tradition
The 31st was actually a very normal day although the dorm grew from 4 people to around 60 or 80. A lot of Thai people come here over new years, stay a night or two and then leave again. Except for the first 3 days, I was the only foreigner there. So from the 2nd January till the end I was the only lay woman there because everyone else left.
On new years eve a lot of people from all around were coming to the big hall on the mountain. There was first a meditation, followed by chanting and then Ajahn Anan gave a speech. In between we had little breaks where drinks were offered as well(of course no alcohol because in the Buddhist faith alcohol is seen as an evil delusion). At around 11:30 we startet chanting and chanted the same song 108 times into the new year. At the end a monk rang a bell and the ceremony was over.
Our chanting song for New Years, a lot of people sat outside because the hall was full
My dear friend Siri and I
After that everyone received a necklace, which is a symbol for protection, from the monks. And then at like 12:30/1am we went to bed because wake up at the next morning was again at 4am. I have to say it was very nice to see this, the gathering and community and friendliness of all the people. Although it didn’t feel very much like new years to me and I missed my friends and family a lot…
The next day my friend Siri left and I was very sad about that but at the same time I now had more time to practice and be for myself. The last days I also didn’t talk much, most people didn’t understand me anyways, only a few monks spoke English but I only talked to them when they addressed me first…
I think my practice got a lot better here. While it was really hard for me to focus and concentrate my mind in the beginning I was able to hold my concentration longer in the end. But it’s a very tiring fight and I felt kind of a headache very often. I’ve also come to understand more about my mind and staring to see things how they are and not how the mind projects them to be(feels good to have some peace and quiet up there although it’s still just temporary) . Getting rid of all the chaos of thoughts, feelings and sensations that come into your head every second is the first step to experience a constant state of happiness without the ups and downs. Practicing loving-kindness within your meditation is the first step to virtue. Truly wishing everyone to be free from suffering and to be happy. This rises the level of good and loving thoughts in everyday life! Giving without wanting anything back, compassion for others and friendliness come naturally with it and I’m already seeing the positive effects these things have brought me in my life. Doing good and being generous is so important in our society today where everyone is stressed, greedy and selfish! Let go of it and you’ll be rewarded with far more than money or any material thing can give you! Remember, nothing is gonna last for ever, everything is in constant change, rising and fading, its just the circle of life.
I’m still afraid to let it all go, afraid that nothing is gonna be there anymore but with time and deep reflection and contemplation of the course of life, my own thoughts and everything around me. I’m sure I will be able to gain a deeper understanding of it all. Although I have to say I don’t want to go to a monastery or anything like that, I even think that reading the books has too much impact on what I should rather find out for myself. Not while sitting in a hall and meditating but better out there in the world, in nature (the oldest lasting but still changing thing we know on this earth) through interacting with others, listening to their thoughts and of course sharing love to any being there is on this earth. I’m still not sure about my purpose or what to do with this life but I know it’s very uncertain and the only right thing to do is to learn and be open to everything. Through my travel here in Thailand I’ve already learned a lot and met so many incredible and helpful people. I really love this country and the culture. But now it’s time to move on… So I’m on my way to Cambodia now and already very excited to see what this place is gonna teach me!
(I’ve only written a small part, what I thought was the most important to know, down. So if you have any questions or if I didn’t express my self correctly please feel free to write me) 😉
I wish you all a very good day!
Thank you Thailand for this beautiful trip!