YBAT Retreat Jan 2009
This was our first time organising a weekend retreat with the YBAT organisation, known in Thai as Yuwaphut. YBAT arrange continuous retreats all year round at both of their centres, with more centres being built. Many thousands, from young students to adults, attend the retreats every year. Though having close relationships with various temples and Vipassana teachers, YBAT is a lay organisation run by laypeople for laypeople, but have so far have communicated in Thai language only – mainly due to a shortage of English speaking teachers. Thus YBAT was happy to facilitate this weekend retreat with something of an air of experiment to see how much interest there might be, and what kind of adjustments should be made for an international audience.
Although YBAT were happy to adjust their usual schedules and rules in this special case, such as providing evening meals, we decided that it would be best to stick to their usual format. The western participants then have the chance to see how a genuine Thai-style Vipassana retreat is conducted together with Thais. In all there were 37 participants from a variety of countries, including 14 Thais. It was delightful to observe everyone trying hard to adjust – the Westerners to the unfamiliar Thai Buddhist rituals such as bowing or wearing white, and the Thais in supporting and leading by example amongst fellow meditators. In the end we were glad not to have changed too much from the usual Thai format.
Hopefully we can arrange more such retreats. It is clear that the Thai people are also interested in the Western approach to explaining meditation, in large part so they will be more able to explain meditation to their English speaking friends. There will be a longer YBAT Retreat in November led by a Thai monk who has completed his education in the UK.
According to the usual Thai approach to meditation the participants are asked to wear white clothes, take the 8 precepts in Pali, and join in with the morning and evening chanting so far as is possible. Not everyone is comfortable with this of course, and so retreatants are welcome to just observe or join in as convenient. With the Vipassana approach, there is a lot of sitting and walking meditation, all conducted in ‘noble’ silence. Meditation follows the ‘Four Foundations of Mindfulness’ approach of practising awareness in all postures, through all states of mind, as outlined by Burmese master Mahasi Sayadaw. Meals were in the morning only following the monastic tradition.
In February the Little Bangkok Sangha will hold its own retreat, which will offer variations on the usual format as desired by participants.
Thanks all around – from the initial interest and encouragement of YBAT, from the President Khun Anurut, and Pol. Col. Norawat, to the staff, and to the participants for their mutual support. Some of the Suttas and stories mentioned during the 3 days will be posted up here with references for those who would like to look at them again or see their original context within the suttas.