Dec 12, 2018 - Jan 1, 2019
Peoplescape at the Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery
Location: Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery, Mae Hong Son, Thailand
There were several people I've met at the monastery, mostly in single but meaningful episodes - a simple smile leading to a prolonged conversation relevant to the path of Dhamma. Some left the corporate world to find their bliss, others simply embarked on a world of travel and stumbled-upon the center. We were all seekers in search of answers and found common ground in Vipassana.
He heads the monastery and very hands-on when needed. Ajahn (teacher) has been a monk over 40 years now. He has a pleasant demeanor to him...always smiling and never too rushed or busy to make his rounds amongst us meditators in the morning, greeting us before our breakfast. The prevailing vibe in the monastery is largely due to his positive energy.
He caught me and Brigitte doing a handstand (yoga is a big no-no here), which got him pissed. And he saw other people violating the rules of the monastery which got him even more pissed. That evening, I thought his message to all of us would be a reprimand. But no, he was still smiling, telling us how beautiful Vipassana is.
Known to everyone as Mr. Pong, he is the nexus (together with Attila) who hold the center together. They do an impossible job juggling a million things at the same time to ensure the meditators are fed, clothed, housed and nurtured. He constantly reminded us of Dos and Donts whenever a line is crossed. It would seem the only time he gets rest is when he goes to the toilet. Stern but so kind hearted, you could see his humanity in his words and his demeanor as he finds the sweet spot between the enforcer and the Dhamma giver. In one of his memorable sermons to everyone, "whenever I have to reprimand anyone, I have to meditate the entire night to regain my peace".
Bless you Mr. Pong. We are all indebted to your dedicated service and unflinching resolve.
Attila is definitely one of the hardest working people in the monastery. When he doesn't usher new people in, he's cleaning up other people's mess and herding the divergent meditators to the flock. He has been an Australian monk-in-training at the center and will soon be ordained - the first Caucasian monk to be ordained at Wat Tam Wua. Doing the website with him gave me a sense of his dimension, complexity and simplicity. We lose ourselves in conversation until we realize there's work to be done. Of all the monastic staff, he is the one I would closely resonate with. His addition as monk to the center ushers a new epoch in the way things are done if the monastery is to expand itself as an international meditation center - or so I hope, if he is given that much latitude. He certainly has my vote.
With his Italian/Peruvian looks, height and presence, Italo is undoubtedly the resident hunk of the monastery. He is drawn to beautiful girls and the girls are equally drawn to him. He takes it in stride as a natural order of things - it's not new to him. When he is not helping out in monastic duties or errands, he's often seen in the company of someone beautiful and alluring - and there are a good number of them coming in and out of the monastery.
He didn't choose to be here, but he's not complaining either. By his own admission, Dhamma has been slowly remolding him. And that has been echoed by people who work closely with him. I enjoy his unpretentious transparency when I hang out with him, usually in the company of Briana.
aka Ananda, she is one of those rare few who possess that kinetic X-factor that draws like-minded people around her. Her radiance brings life into a dull room and causes inert energy into a dynamic surge. She has this unbridled spontaneity that is contagious. Her presence is cause for celebration (and disruption if you are in a monastery). It's a gift few people have. Like the wind, you can feel her around you - her love, her warmth and affection. But you cannot grasp...you cannot own. Just be grateful for that soothing breeze that lifts the soul.
Our connection was short but intense. She shines bright but I hope not too bright for I want to see her live long and continue evolving into a greater magnificence. As we locked ourselves together in a long embrace before she left, I repeat what I said to her, "Wherever life takes you, know that my hug, my affection, my merits and my love go with you." ❤
"You look busy". That question started a conversation that formed a promising friendship. Being with Hanna is like being on a placid lake with all its calm and serenity. It reminds me of a line in Desiderata, "go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence." At 22 years, she is traveling the world by herself on her own terms and getting established in the pursuit of Dhamma. She leaves a trail of bliss along her path.
Hanna and I effortlessly defaulted into each other. Whenever she's not on noble silence, we engage in long talks about Dhamma and the journey ahead. Sometimes, I would just sit close to her without exchanging words - being near is enough. Like Anastasia, I would give her an affectionate hug when the moment feels right (looking left and right first, making sure the Abbott is not there) 🙂.
With a full life ahead of her, I give her my love and affection to take on her journey. Godspeed Hanna ❤
It was instant connection when we got talking. She felt like an old riding buddy I haven't shared saddle-time with in a long time. Beautiful and strong (she can do a handstand push-up from a tripod headstand), Brigitte and I share many parallelism - mountain biking, the outdoors, sports, fitness, yoga and Dhamma. She's also my partner in crime when we were caught red-handed by the Abbot himself as we were doing handstands - a big no-no in the monastery. Yes, we got our fair share of reprimand. It felt like grade school again getting sternly lectured by the principal. Admittedly, I was saddened by her departure from the monastery. She would be the last I would freely give my hugs to. Every hug is a heaviness waiting to happen when the person eventually leaves. ❤
A good-looking Roy Scheider look-alike, Peter is a nomad like me - but he rides a fancy BMW bike. Light to be with, engaging and close to my age, we talk about grown-up stuff - the family we once had, life on the open road and encounters with interesting lives. Intelligent, friendly, approachable and sophisticated, an encounter with him is like having a shot of Johnny Walker Black...it goes down smooth, begging for another shot.
Kot stands out in a crowd with his half-shaven head, dreadlocks bundled-upward to look like a carrot top and tattoo on his scalp to compliment his beard. Our talk centered on Ayahuasca, sacred geometry, kabbala or tree of life, crystals and other new-age disciplines. He does the lying-down meditation with a crystal on top of his third-eye. He is the quintessential counter-culture hippie shamanic-type you encounter in raves, art festivals and be-in gatherings. An iconoclast to the core, he was banished from the monastery when he was caught doing yoga (I was the lucky one who just got a slap on the wrist). A very interesting character indeed.
Markus and Sitara
What a wonderful yoga couple. It looks like they could finish each other's sentences. I sensed a delicate caring and respect they have for each other. Reserved but approachable, they exude a calm demeanor. We talked yoga, kundalini and pranayama among other things. But unlike my self-indulgent pursuits, they mentioned a few things giving me a lingering impression that what they do is a service to humanity.
Chase could be argued as one who had an epiphany about his immersion here. He talked exhaustively about his realization of The Knower. This probably will change his life. He was so floored by this realization that he's even thinking of bringing all his loved ones into the path of Dhamma. I was quick to warn him that if he does that, his Christian family would think he has become a brainwashed cult devotee! Seriously though, I am happy for him. I had my share of life's AHA-moments and it's nothing less than euphoric.
Like Chase, Kevin's epiphany was one of peeling layers from reality. The impact on him was powerful and profound. He remained devoted to the practice, observing Noble Silence nearly at all times. We had a few talks centered about Dhamma, with me mostly sharing Easter Eggs I found along the way. I could just imagine Kevin won't be the same person when he comes back. The Dhamma resides in him (perhaps always been) as he views the default world with clarified lenses.
She gave me a knowing look and uttered, "Kuantan!" with her rich Russian accent. Yes, it all came back to me. We met in Kuantan, Malaysia after my Satipatthana Course. She was decked-up as a hitch-hiking hippie then. Now, she looks like a nun in pristine white clothing. She is one intrepid soul who travels the world hitch-hiking her way between busking gigs. She exercises freedom very few people on the planet can. I'm grateful our paths crossed one more time.
A petite and lovely Malay-skinned Chinese in New York who speaks in slurred whisper-mode - that's Briana for you, or The Emerald Lady for me as I often see her wrapped in her green blanket. Initially, she was my hanging-out buddy as we talked hanging-out things together with Italo. But she grows on you where she becomes endearing and huggable. Occasionally, she surprises me with a cookie.
Almost a look-alike with Briana, Vanessa and I would share a talk at the non-silent area of the dining hall sometimes with Italo and Briana. She exudes a calm composure to her demeanor. Also a seeker, she takes on a less-traveled and unfamiliar path. Like Briana, she would also surprise me with a cookie. I have a feeling I'll be bumping into her at some point.
Mike was a wild card I didn't see coming. He has been a staunch friend and supporter through the years. With what he has been going through, I suggested he take a few days at Wat Tam Wua to find center and reboot the system. We shared the same kuti and pretty much hung together between sits. I wish he stayed longer than 2 nights but he juggles too many things in the business and personal fronts to be away longer. For what he got from all that meditation, I can only hope it went a long way.
I left the center with him, spent a night in Pai where we saw several meditators from the center. The following day, we headed back to Chiang Mai where he resumed his life and where I had to finish the website for the monastery and plan my next destination out of Thailand.
Mike is an interesting guy who spans a broad spectrum - he can deal with a venerable monk with the same considerable ease he can deal with a scar-faced gangster. I'm all ears when he talks - specially when he talks about a hidden world invisible to most people.
I've noticed her for a few days...always on Noble Silence with a far-out detached gaze. I chanced on her on the pond and had a short but engaging, funny, serious and insightful conversation. We talked about critical thinking and shared thoughts about emperors wearing no clothes. She's going through a process and I hope sharing her a few lessons I learned along the way, alleviated the feeling and perhaps regained perspective. What we shared seemed to be needed at that point. The connection was short but sweet.
She's only 8 years old and had to spend several days in the monastery with her mom and gramma - no other kid or even toys to play with. How boring is that to a kid? I guess I became her friend during her stay. She would always come to me and talk. She can be endearing as she can be annoying. I talked to her as an equal - no baby talk. She gets it anyway. Privileged with fluent English honed from her international school, I can only speculate what she'll be a mover and a shaker as an adult.
Ann was a silent face who kept to herself almost the entire time. I happen to sit across the dining table from her which started a "Hi and Hello" and continued to a flowing conversation that was abruptly interrupted by the bell. Before I knew it, she was already packed and ready to leave. I gave her my contact info as a last hurrah. The next chapter happened in Chiang Mai. She connected and we met up for Free Yoga in the Park. We had lunch and picked-up our conversation where we left off. I had a wonderful time trading narratives with her. She's on a clean slate and braving her way to this new frontier. She claims the meditation didn't really do it for her for completely understandable reasons (as I share some of those). Nonetheless, I suspect she'll just be surprised at what she has already taken with her from all that meditation when she gets back to the default world. Hopefully, our paths cross again.
People connection in the meditative atmosphere of Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery, even the short episodes, is intense. I stayed for 20 days meeting wonderful souls of all kinds. 6 years of travel and I haven't gotten used to the heaviness when someone dear packs up to leave this Shangrila. I'm sure to keep in touch with some of them. Hopefully, along the way, our paths cross again.
YOGA by Gigit | Learn English | Travel like a Nomad | Donation Bank
(Jan 7, 2019) It was a pleasure meeting you. I checked out your blog and really enjoyed your writing, very insightful. I appreciate our conversations at the monastery, as the seeds they planted already have and will continue to help guide me down my soul path. Your description of witnessing the unseen hand at work opened a space of deeper awareness for me to step back and do the same - coming to a solidified confirmation of a similar nature in my own experience. It's a beautiful realization which I feel continually growing, and has facilitated a witnessing of the universes unfoldings in a way that is mind blowing. Thank you for playing your part in that awakening. I hope life is treating you well since the Wa Tam Wua and wish you the best going forward. May the unseen hand continue to assist you on your journey 🙂
(Jan 7, 2019) I am in awe of your journey and can only wait in eager anticipation of what unfolds. Keep in touch, Brother. I look forward when our paths cross again. 🙏
(Jan 3, 2019) You can definitely add writing to your skillset Gigit. You took me right back to the place I witnessed the magic first hand. Thank you for that! 🙏
(Jan 3, 2019) ...indeed, it was a magical experience in an enchanting place with wonderful souls 🙏🙏🙏
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Next stop: Farewell Wat Pa Tam Wua
Mae Hong Son (city), Thailand
Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery Blogs
- 20 Days of Monastic Life at Wat Pa Tam Wua...Goodbye and Thank You Dec 12, 2018 - Jan 1, 2019
- Peoplescape at the Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery Dec 12 - Jan , 2019
- Arahattamagga Arahattaphala - the path to Aranhantship Dec 30, 2018
- Goenka and the Theravada Forest Monastery Vipassana Traditions Dec 25, 2018
- The Knower Dec 24, 2018
- 10-Day Meditation at Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery Dec 9, 2018
Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery Information
Bangkok to Wat Tam Wua Forest Monastery by Bus
- go to Mo Chit Bus Terminal near Chatuchak. Bus #509, #9 and #157 go there
- at the ground level, go to Ticket Counter #13, #14 or #15 - Sombat Tour counter
- schedule and pay for your bus ticket
1 Destination/Origin: Mae Sariang. Take the bus that passes through Chiang Mai/Pai.
- upon boarding, explain to the driver to drop you off Wat Tam Wua Monastery, otherwise, you might end up in Mae Hong Son town which is 30 minutes further out. Best to show him a written instruction in Thai.
- from the main road, it's a one kilometer walk to the monastery
FYI / Tips
- even though the Wat Pa Tam Wua website states that you need the abbott's permission to stay, you can just go straight there without any prior booking or registration.
- accommodation, food (no dinner), blankets, pillow, white shirts/pants and floor mattress will be provided at no charge. Donations are accepted.
- BEWARE: by the entrance to the monastic compound is a convenience store. It is not run by the monastery. The vendor offers Mae Hong Son/Pai tours without any quotation and charges exorbitant fees in the end. He also tells people that part of the fee goes to the monastery - this is not true. He has been reprimanded already but still, he continues his shady business.
- floor mattress on hard bed provides no cushioning. If this is a problem to get good sleep, you can bring an inflatable camping mattress (usually 1-inch cushioning and not too bulky to bring)
About Mae Hong Son
FYI / Tips
- Mae Hong Son Airport has flights to Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Chiang Rai, Mae Sot, Hanoi (Vietnam), Laos (Luang Prabang, Mandalay, Naypaytiaw, Vientiane) and Yangon (Myanmar)
General Travel Tips
- avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
- power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
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