A Mindful 'Holiday'


Wat Panitaram in Chachoengsao province organises an annual ordination programme for teenagers

Chachoengsao Province, Thailand -- EACH LOCK OF HAIR DROPS TO THE GROUND, SHORN OFF AT THE SCALP. A score of newly shaven heads glisten in the sunlight, as brightly as the saffron robes the novices wear, and there is a mix of tranquillity and natural gaiety on the faces of the young men.

Since 2002, Wat Panitaram in Chachoengsao province has been organising an annual ordination programme for teenage boys. Typically, the one month retreat is held from March to April.

However, this year, Phra Surasak Jarana Dhammo, head of the Visutthi Samanane project, has launched a shorter programme catering specially to Thai students at international schools. The first of these new two week retreats ended on Monday.

The majority of the boys, aged between 10 and 17, initially possessed very little background knowledge of Buddhism, noted Phra Surasak. Some thought Buddhism involved idolatry and the amulet craze. A few did not know that Buddhism originated in India. Others mistakenly thought meditation would endow them with supernatural powers.

But the intensive retreat, with five days of pre-ordination training in meditation and basic Buddhist tenets, witnessed a transformation in the youngsters. The monk teacher said he believed most of the children learned the art of controlling their minds and of living with others with respect and a sense of harmony.

"Actually, the children tend to absorb things faster than adults," said Phra Surasak.

"Their minds are less cluttered by thoughts, and it is thus easier for them to learn how to pay attention to each movement, be it physical or mental."

For about three weeks, the young novices practise the technique of meditation taught by renowned meditation master Khunmae Siri Krinchai. The fundamentals are simple: They just have to be aware of the present state of their body. Each and every posture will be enhanced by the recitation of the words that describe that very pose. So when they walk, they utter (mostly to themselves) that they are "lifting" their left or right foot. When they eat, they recite that they are "chewing". Even when they feel drowsy during sitting meditation sessions, they recognise, verbally and mentally, that they are feeling sleepy.

Over time, the youths move about in a slower but more alert and concentrated fashion. Phra Surasak said the gist of the training is to enable the practitioners to understand the true nature of their own minds.

"We've never told them that they should not feel bored," he said. "When the feeling arises, they just have to recognise it. Soon they come to realise how in the past their minds could easily drift here and there. If unrestrained, bad thoughts could instantly lead to bad words and bad deeds. Anything could happen, but we'd better learn how to maximise our potential.

"The children [from international schools] are usually quite well-disciplined. They want reasons and explanations. They do not hesitate to ask questions or express their doubts. But once they understand the rationale behind an act, they usually follow the instructions willingly."

One example Phra Suraksak gave concerned eating. Every morning, after chanting prayers, the novices have to go on alms rounds and return to the temple for communal breakfast. For the first few days, however, the novices, who have been used to pampered lifestyles, found the choice of food offered to them not to their liking. Phra Surasak explained how the people who offer food to the monks and novices do so out of selfless devotion. They have to get up very early in the morning to prepare the food for the men they deem holy. How would they feel if they found out the food was to be wasted? "You are not eating just for your own sake," Phra Surasak told the novices, who seemed to take it in as food for thought.

The programme is not only dharma lectures and long hours of meditation, though. The Visutthi Samanane project incorporates several mindfulness games, and last but not least, a trip to Chiang Mai (where there is another Wat Panitaram centre). Here, on the express train to the north, the novices also had the opportunity to learn how to be patient during the long hours spent in restrictive compartments. By the time they arrived in Chiang Mai, the novices had by and large become fully awake, and had dressed themselves properly. (It had taken a few days training for them to master the art of wrapping themselves in the saffron robes, Phra Surasak noted with a small laugh).

The monk praised the volunteers and supporters who make the Visutthi Samanane programme possible, many of whom have previously attended courses at Wat Panitaram and come to realise the importance of dharma classes for the young.

Worapon Kornubrabhan, 17, sacrificed his holidays to serve as a volunteer during the recent retreat. The Grade 12 student at Ruam Rudi School said he first joined the meditation programme when he was 13, and has already taken seven or eight similar classes at Wat Panitaram. Last year, he decided to offer his services as a volunteer. It was not much, he said, he just knew that he was doing "something good for other people". Nor does he think he is practising mediation in order to do well at school, as he used to believe.

"I have since changed my mind," said the young man. "Our academic performance depends on our own diligence and perseverance. For me, dharma has taught me to become more mindful and careful, and that is enough."

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Omniscient Robotic-Being for Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv