A Year in Bangkok – Wat Tham Yai Prik

28 05 2011

Welcome!

In the late sixties, the Venerable Prasit Thavaro had a vision. An old lady called Prik, who was King Chulalongkorn’s (Rama V) nanny, came to the master and invited him to a cave on Koh Si Chang. In 1970, he went there to meditate and he subsequently spent almost ten years meditating there alone.

A monk's room.

In 1983, he went on a pilgrimage to India and Nepal to visit Lumpini Park in Nepal, where the Buddha was born; Bodhgaya in India, where the Buddha became enlightened; Deer Park in Sarnath, India where the Buddha proclaimed his first sermon and Kushinagar in India where the Buddha passed on. He brought back soil and water from those four places, mixed them together into a ball and kept the ball in the cave. Supposedly, a Buddha relic appeared at the base of that ball and then proceeded to multiply of its own accord. In 1996, when a pagoda was built there, the relics were placed above the ceiling to show respect.

A meditation class.

But now I’m getting ahead of myself! For many years, Master Thavaro taught meditation using the cave as his centre. Over time, particularly in the 1990s, several buildings were added to the site. In the year 2000, it was established as a monastery with Master Thavaro as the first abbot. It is a wonderful place which I hope to visit again before too long.

A bodhi tree from India, under which the Buddha found enlightenment.

The atmosphere is calm, what I would expect from such a place, but it is also much truer to what I think of as real Buddhism than most temples are. For example, everything here was built by the monks and nuns rather than by outside contractors. Those monks and nuns live a simple, self-sufficient monastic lifestyle which was normal during the time of the Buddha but is not so now. Also, the abbot was opposed to the commercialisation of Buddhism so, unlike most temples in Thailand, Wat Tham Yai Prik does not offer services such as fortune telling, amulet selling or even the sprinkling of holy water. It is a policy which means the temple doesn’t get much by way of donations.

Everything here has been built by the monks and nuns.

Meditation is still taught here and anybody can go. You can even stay here although the accommodation is basic. If you fancy the idea of learning to meditate, I can’t think of a nicer place to learn. If you’ve practiced meditation before, come and try it here. You can call them on (+66) (0) 3821 6104. At least one of the nuns even speaks English! Surprisingly, the language doesn’t seem to be a barrier. I met a Russian woman here who was on a five day meditation course. She couldn’t speak any Thai or any English but was really pleased she had come for the course.

Part of the vegetable garden - they are not just self-sufficient here, they even give the surplus to members of the local community!

Sadly, Master Thavaro passed on in March 2007. In June 2008, Nopphadon Khunesako was appointed abbot and, although nuns are no longer ordained here, he seems to be continuing to run the monastery in the spirit intended by its founder. He says he is also influenced by the late reformist monk, Phra Buddhadasa of the Suan Mokh forest monastery in Surat Thani and his belief that being mindful in everything we do amounts to the same thing as practicing Dhamma – essentially a path of self imposed discipline which includes the cultivation of mindfulness and a wisdom which comes from understanding the nature of things.

Lunch break for course participants.

Incidentally, during building works in 1998, they found a picture of Prik which is now in the original cave that Master Thavaro meditated in.

In the cave, the black and white picture below and at the right of the Buddha is Prik.

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