MEANING OF NAME: "Garden of liberation" FULL NAME: Suan Mokkhabalarama ("Garden of the power of liberation")
ADDRESS: Amper Chaiya, Surat Thani 84110
DIRECTIONS: Suan Mokkh is about 640 km south of Bangkok and just west of the Asian Highway (Hwy. 41); Surat Thani, 53 km southeast, is the nearest city. From Bangkok, take any southbound Rapid train and get off at Chaiya, about 40 km north of Surat Thani's Phun Phin station, then take a taew to Suan Mokkh. Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal is on the Buddha-Monthon Road in Thonburi; both air- conditioned and non-AC buses depart here for southern Thailand. Take a bus bound for Surat Thani or Nakhon Si Thammarat and ask to be let off at Suan Mokkh; buses will either let you off directly in front (KM post 71) or at the Shell station 1 km north. From the south, take trains that stop in Surat Thani (Phun Phin) or Chaiya. At Phun Phin station, ask at the bus stop in front for a bus going by Suan Mokkh. (Phun Phin, Surat Thani's train station, is 14 km west of the city.) Buses from Surat Thani bus station depart about hourly during the day. THAI flies direct to Surat Thani from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Nakhon Si Thammarat, et, and Trang; the airport is 27 km south of Suan Mokkh and 2 km west of the highway.
MEDITATION SYSTEM: Anapanasati (mindfulness
with breathing) according to the Buddha's Anapanasati Sutta. New students first
learn some theoretical background and the purpose of Dhamma practice, then the
preparations for and the 16 lessons (objects of investigation) which make up
mindfulness with breathing. Walking meditation is also done using mindfulness
with breathing; if one has difficulty doing this, one can observe sensations in
feet or legs. One practices the first 4 lessons (the body foundation of
mindfulness) to calm one's breathing and body and to stabilize the mind. Then
one refines both the calmness of the mind and one's understanding of how it
works by working with lessons 5-8 (the feelings foundation of mindfulness) and
9-12 (the mind foundation of mindfulness). At any time that the mind is
sufficiently calm and stable, while practicing with right understanding and
motivation, insight can take place, even during the first lessons. Lessons 13-16
(the Dhamma foundation of mindfulness) further develop and perfect insight into
right knowledge (//vijja//) and liberation (//vimutti//). The goal of this
practice is to realize the voidness-emptiness of the 5 //skhandhas// (body,
feelings, memory, thought, and sense awareness), that there is nothing worth
attaching to as "I" or "mine." To aid the development of right understanding
(//sammaditthi//), the Buddha's teachings on //anatta// (not-self) and
//paticcasamuppada// (dependent origination) are examined in detail and depth.
The study and investigation of these principles are considered essential at Suan
TEACHING METHOD: Formal instruction is given only during monthly 10-day retreats; at other times interviews, books, and tapes are available. Retreats feature Dhamma talks, interviews, group sittings, walking meditation, and morning hatha yoga.
TEACHERS: Ajahn Poh, abbot (Thai; age 60) (Foreign monks and nuns do most of the English teaching.)
LANGUAGE: English is the medium of instruction for foreigners. SUAN MOKKH STYLE: The purpose of Dhamma practice here is to get free of the tyranny of ego in order to live peacefully (in realization of Nibbana) and usefully (in service to Dhamma and humanity). Thus residents try to practice unselfishness in everything they do -- meditation, study, work, talk, sleep, and whatever life asks. Suan Mokkh is not a "meditation center" per se where people come only to "meditate. " This is a Garden of Liberation, a place to study and practice Dhamma in a wholistic way. Study and investigation of Buddha-Dhamma given in the Pali suttas is an essential foundation for practice. Joyful service for others is the context of practice. Thus cultivating Right Understanding and Right Aspiration with the path of samatha and vipassana becomes liberation now. Each person integrates the three aspects of study, service, and meditation in the way that works for them. With growing mindfulness and wisdom, temporary liberation blossoms into the perfect voidness empty of "I" and "mine," full of wisdom and peace.
DESCRIPTION: Set on 300 rai (120 acres) of forest at the base of Nang A Mountain. Group meetings take place outdoors whenever possible. Two "ships" (one a meeting hall, the other a rock garden) can be visited, but the //bot// (uposatha) sits atop Golden Buddha Hill in the center of the monastery. This natural open-air setting under the trees probably resembles uposatha areas used during the time of the Buddha. A Spiritual Theatre, near the ships, has Buddhist paintings from many traditions. Reproductions of ancient Indian sculpture that depict the Buddha's life decorate the outside walls of the theatre and are scattered around the monastery grounds. The International Dhamma Hermitage, 1.5 km east of Suan Mokkh, has been the site of meditation retreats since 1989. Ten-day retreats in English begin on the first of every month (one must arrive 1-2 days in advance for registration). Thai retreats take place mid- month of most months; retreats for monks are held occasionally too. The 120-rai (48-acre) site has coconut palms and small trees with many open areas. A new forest monastery of about 70 rai (28 acres) lies beyond the hermitage; foreign monks and laymen come for very long-term study and practice in the Suan Mokkh tradition. English is the medium of instruction.
SIZE: monks: 40-70
a few nuns: 15-25
laypeople: 15-20 Thai, 15-25 foreign; (numbers increase greatly during retreats and conferences)
DAILY ROUTINE: Retreat schedules change through the ten-day period according to the teachers, but wakeup time is 4 a.m., breakfast 8 a.m., and lunch 12:30 p.m. A typical schedule for meditators staying "between" retreats is 4 a.m. wakeup; 5 a.m. meditation; 6 a.m. yoga or other exercise (optional); 8 a.m. breakfast; 9 a.m. chores; 11:30 a.m. meditation; 1 p.m. lunch; 4:30 p.m. meditation; 5:30 p.m. drinks; 7 p.m. tape or talk; 8 p.m. meditation; 9 p.m. individual practice; 10 p.m. lights out. RETREAT INFORMATION: The 10-day retreats have been very popular. They provide a unique opportunity to experience the anapanasati technique in a retreat setting. (Most other meditation centres in the Theravadan tradition teach the vipassana system based on Mahasi Sayadaw's techniques.) Retreats begin on the first of every month; you must register in person a day or 2 in advance. Sometimes the 110-person capacity of the retreat cannot accommodate everyone who comes, hence the importance of coming beforehand. Upon acceptance, one must follow instructions given and be committed to staying the entire 10-day course. Late arrivals aren't possible. Retreats take place at the International Dhamma Hermitage 1.5 km east across the highway from Suan Mokkh. Foreign visitors cannot be received easily at Suan Mokkh when retreats are underway, so plan arrival after the 11th of each month. Participation in community activities is expected. One is encouraged to practice in the Suan Mokkh style. Experienced meditators who have done a retreat here before may request permission for long-term stays.
FOOD: Laypeople eat 2 vegetarian meals a day at a foreign kitchen (at the hermitage during retreats, at Suan Mokkh between retreats). Monks and novices eat once or twice a day from food collected on pindabat and provided by the monks' kitchen (mostly nonvegetarian).
ACCOMMODATIONS: During retreats at the International Dhamma Hermitage, meditators have small individual rooms; separate buildings for men and women. Bathing is Thai-style from tanks; toilets are Asian-style. Other times visitors stay at Suan Mokkh; men have small dormitory rooms; women stay in individual rooms or dormitories; Thai- style bathing from tanks (most men's areas are in the open); mostly Asian-style toilets. Monks and novices stay in individual kutis scattered through the forest or in monk's dormitories if all kutis are occupied (they often are). Most buildings and kutis have electricity.
WRITE IN ADVANCE?: Don't. Retreat registration has to be done in person.
ORDINATION: Can be arranged for men who have a serious interest in ordaining and practicing in the Suan Mokkh style. One should be committed to long-term practice (at least 3 years). The training offered takes about 10 years. Normally one trains initially as a layman for 3 months or more, then as a novice for 6 months or more before full ordination. Ordination ceremonies take place at another temple.
OTHER INFORMATION: Although Suan Mokkh
prefers not to make rules, it is much appreciated when visitors dress and behave
within the rather conservative traditions of Thai forest wats. Laypeople observe
5 precepts. A daily charge of 50 baht (US $2) covers food and accommodation
expenses during and between retreats. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu founded Suan Mokkh in
1932 and moved it to its present location about 10 years later. He has sought to
provide a natural setting where visitors can forget "themselves" and study,
practice, and realize the Dhamma. His many books, some translated into English,
skilfully explain anapanasati meditation and other aspects of the Buddha's
teaching. Ajahn Buddhadasa died at Suan Mokkh on July 8, 1993; He was 87 years
old. The "Evolution/Liberation" newsletter comes out once a year with articles
and news; it's available free by mail or at Suan Mokkh; donations support
publication and distribution. The foreign library at Suan Mokkh has a variety of
books on Buddhist and related topics. Most are in English, though German,
French, and other languages are represented too. Please visit other links
such as http://www.suanmokkh.org/
Reference: Bill Weir, A guide to Buddhist Monasteries and Meditation centres in Thailand, 3rd ed., The World Fellowship of Buddhism, 1991