Wat Pa Don Hiay Soke is located inside a small village, a 30 minutes drive away from the small city of Udon Thani. There’s nothing you would recognize as a traditional temple here, the main monastery is still under construction, as it was when I first visited four years ago.
Instead, there’s a lecture hall, a larger multi-purpose hall used for meals, and smaller huts and houses scattered around for the monks and visitors to stay in. The entire area is populated with trees, in fact the temple is what’s known as a forest temple. It’s not an untamed jungle wilderness here, neither is it a luxury garden and to call it a forest sounds about right.
I’m not sure how large the temple grounds are, as the roads extend further into the forest than I care to explore, because the deeper into the trees you go, the more voracious the mosquitoes become (and I’m already mosquito food here most of the time).
Today is the third day I’m here, and while most of the temple looks unchanged to me since my first visit in 2007, there have been a few upgrades. Newer houses for visitors. A newer toilet (which I really appreciate). A new office with Wi-Fi, which is how I’m able to publish this post.
I’m learning a lot from talking with Paiboon, my friend who went off to be a monk for three months but ended up staying one for nearly six years instead. We’ve been talking about so many things that it’s going to be hard to sum them all up into a coherent whole. Luckily I’ve recorded quite a lot of those discussions and my goal is to edit those recordings together.
From the looks of it, I have so much material now that the final product may end up being two videos instead of the one I’d planned originally; a shorter version about Paiboon and a longer one with his discussions on life and Buddhism.
We also recorded 90 minutes’ worth of dialogue on what Buddhist is, how its teachings can help us overcome distractions, increase happiness and achieve our goals. Those audio recordings were done for Paiboon’s English radio show, but I hope I can get a copy of them for distribution somehow. We’ll see. And yes, Paiboon has his own radio show, three of them in fact. The Thai people here tell me that Buddhist talks on radio are common.
It’s pretty quiet here. I came in on the last day of a week-long retreat, and nearly every visitor has left. Every time I come here I feel like a fish out of water; most people here don’t speak English, but the people here are so friendly and kind. Without them, I’d truly have been lost.
For example, I was prepared to eat less on my visit, as the monks only have their one meal a day in the mornings. But the friends I’ve made here in the temple prepared lunches and dinners for me and made sure I didn’t have to go hungry. The kindness of strangers in a foreign land always touches me, and reinforces to me just how people all over the world want the same thing; to be happy and loved.
When the Thais call this time the rainy season, they’re not kidding. The rains come and go suddenly; with clear skies one moment, a flash of rain the next, and back to being all clear again. Last evening the rain started in earnest after I drove Phra Paiboon to town and back in a car infested with ants, and it poured the entire night for hours on end.
The hours are slow, and I have much free time here to read, think and meditate. I’ve forgotten how much I enjoy meditation, and how wonderful it is to have a quiet place to practice. I’m surprised by how serious many of the visitors here are about meditation; I can hardly bring the topic up amongst my friends and colleagues, but maybe I just don’t spend enough time with practicing Buddhists back home.
One lady here has received special permission to stay here for three months just to practice her meditation and she’s not a monk. Their level of commitment humbles me, reminds me that I’m still just taking baby steps on this path, and I need to work harder on my own practice.
I’ll be leaving here on Thursday, after staying five days in the forest temple. This is my first visit to Wat Pa Don Hiay Soke again after four years, but I have the feeling that my next visit won’t be as far away.