Suan Mokkh International Dhamma Hermitage Overview
A center for silent meditation retreats away from the pressures and stress of normal daily life. Specifically tailored to meet the needs of foreigners with instruction and teachings provided in English, the retreats have a strong reputation spanning 20 years.
- Location: in the South Thailand province of Surat Thani, near the town of Chaiya about 50km to the north of Surat Town.
- When: from the evening of the last day of each month to the morning of the 11th of the following month.
- Teaching style: sitting and walking meditation, Dhamma talks, yoga and chanting.
- Attendees: from absolute beginners to frequent returnees
- Key points: complete silence, early wake-ups, simple accommodation, no solid food after midday, abstention from alcohol, cigarettes and sexual practices.
- Cost: a minimum donation of 1,500 baht.
- Official website: Suan Mokkh International
A quiet setting and being close to nature can help greatly when meditating. Though there is traffic noise from the distant highway, it easily subsides into the background.
- The hermitage is set on 48 acres of land populated with trees, coconut palms, lakes and natural hot springs.
- Nature is respected and there is an aim of minimal negative environmental impact.
- Wildlife provides a constant aural backdrop, from the frogs in the lakes, to the birds in the trees and the geckos in the dormitories.
In choosing a simple life for a short time, luxury and sumptuous living give way to practical needs and utilitarianism. This can lead to a different understanding of what is truly needed, and what is just wanted.
- The men’s and women’s dormitories are identical, each containing a block of 50 rooms around a central grassy courtyard.
- Each room has a concrete shelf for a bed, a mosquito net, a straw mat to sleep on, a blanket and wooden pillow.
- The rooms are well ventilated and fans are not provided.
- Windows have shutters and are barred for security. Substantial padlocks are provided for the doors.
- Bathing is accomplished by taking water from one of the six open concrete water tanks, or mandis, situated around the dormitories and pouring it over the body.
- Clothes are washed by hand using water from the mandis.
- There are plenty of western-style toilets in the dormitories, near the dining area and at meditation halls.
- There are separate hot springs for the men and the women, which can be used during the morning and evening breaks.
Eating only twice each day might seem difficult, but few attendees experience problems. There is usually enough for second helpings, and most attendees agree that the food quality is very good.
- A simple, traditional Thai breakfast is provided, with salad, vegetables and fruit.
- Lunch includes brown rice, a selection of vegetarian or vegan Thai curries, with salad, vegetables and fruit or sometimes a Thai dessert.
- Sweet tea or soy-milk is available in the evening.
- Food cannot be bought during the retreat, and food should not be brought into the retreat.
- Free drinking water is available at all times.
All rules are for the benefit of the participants and personal responsibility is encouraged. Rules are not strictly enforced and only serious breaches result in any action being taken.
- Be silent.
- Respect each other and be mindful of others’ needs.
- Follow the eight Buddhist precepts
- No alcohol, cigarettes or recreational drugs.
- Do not leave the retreat grounds.
- Do not enter the dormitories or approach the hot springs for the opposite sex.
- Dress appropriately: cover from shoulders to knees when outside the dormitories and keep modestly covered while bathing.
- Do not wear shoes inside dormitories or halls.
- Attend all activities on the schedule.
- Complete at least one chore each day.
- No cameras, mobile phones music players, etc.
- No reading, other than provided texts, and no writing.
Full schedule at Suan Mokkh Retreat website. As additional information:
- Morning readings provide instruction, inspiration or guidance.
- Ajarn Po, the venerable abbot of the hermitage, usually speaks and attends some group meditations.
- Concentration is needed to comprehend his strong Thai accent and meandering style of talking.
- Other talks are usually given by guest speakers who will talk on matters of Dhamma, Buddhism, or personal experience.
- An English monk named Taan Dhammavidu will usually give the Dhamma talks, and most attendees agree he is highly entertaining to listen to.
- Chanting is an optional activity as it might conflict with some attendeesâ€™ religious beliefs. A monk from Chaiya named Taan Medhi is the usual host, as well as being a strong advocate of the benefits of the wooden pillow.
- A watch is not required as bells are used to indicate when activities begin or end.
Formal meditation is the main practice, though attendees are encouraged to be aware and mindful at all times.
- Full meditation instruction is given, supplemented by some written texts.
- Key concepts of Buddhism will also be discussed, such as the Four Noble Truths
- Sitting meditation usually takes place in one of the meditation halls as a group.
- Cushions and small stools can be used to ensure you have a comfortable sitting position.
- Chairs are fine if you have problems with your knees or back and cannot sit on cushions.
- Typically there are five hours of sitting meditation each day.
- You will have opportunity to discuss any problems you are having in a personal interview with one of the monks or facilitators.
By undertaking chores, attendees can appreciate how much work is needed to run the retreats and maintain the site. This is another great time to practice being mindful.
- Cleaning toilets
- Sweeping the dining hall
- Making a morning reading
- Sweeping the dorms
- Raking leaves
- Burning rubbish
- Others as needed
What to bring
- Loose, light clothing which is not transparent.
- Towel or sarong
- Mosquito repellent
- Washing powder
- Personal toiletries
- Foam mattress, if you’d prefer.
- Passport to deposit on registration.
- A small on-site shop with essentials opens at lunchtime.
How to get to the International Dhamma Hermitage
Full directions are available on the official Suan Mokkh website.
- Try not to have preconceptions about what benefits the meditation will bring.
- Expecting results can cause tension which will almost certainly prevent those results from happening.
- Many attendees find that the fatigue from the sleeping schedule and the pains from sitting are worst on day 3.
- Use the hot springs morning and evening to alleviate aching joints and mosquito bites.
- Try to adjust to the eating two meals prior to noon before you arrive.
- Don’t try too hard, but do try hard enough. Find a balance that suits you.
- It takes many people to make silence, but only one person to break it.
Copyright ©2013 Written by Vern Lovic.