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An Ancient Meditation System: Part Three

In the third part of his series on meditation, Pat examines the epicentre of the meditation system taught by Supreme Patriarch Suk Kaituean: Wat Ratchasittharam.

An Ancient Meditation System: Part Three

Wat Ratchasittharam is located in the Thonburi district of Bangkok. The temple is considered a second-class royal temple and was founded by King Rama I. Originally named Wat Phlab, its name was changed during the reign of King Rama III. The temple was a well-known centre for meditation training during the early Bangkok period, and it was here that Kings Rama II, III and IV studied meditation. This has been confirmed by historical documents kept in the museum at Khana 5, including in letters written by abbots recommending their pupils study at Wat Ratchasittharam and in diaries written by monks recording their meditation experiences there.

The temple comprises a main section, the ordination hall or ubosot, flanked by two large chedis and surrounded by several miniature huts around the ubosot in a rectangular-shaped design. The front entrance of the temple, located between the two chedis, houses a shrine to the Venerable Suk. The image in the shrine was built by Rama III in honor of his late preceptor. This shrine is watched over by the temple’s mae chis who take separate shifts in the day to attend to devotees and clean the shrine when necessary.

I spoke to an elderly mae chi named Mae Chi Chinda who is 78 years old. From her, I learnt that the miniature huts around the ordination hall were actually used as meditation rooms in the past by monks who were studying meditation at the temple. A close observation of each of the huts, however, indicates that they have not been used for a long time and are kept under padlock.

Room to advance

Khana 5 is presently the only section of the temple that continues to teach the Matchima meditation system. There are in total 10 khanas that surround the perimeter of the main temple ground. The other khanas are involved primarily in scriptural and Pali studies. According to the practitioners I interviewed, including Luang Pho Wira and Mae Chi Chinda, the other khanas used to teach the Matchima meditation system. Unfortunately, the teachers in these khanas have passed on and suitable successors were not found.

An Ancient Meditation System: Part Three

Khana 5 is located in the little-used north-eastern corner of the main temple. It consists of an elevated floor comprising three rooms in one section opposite the monk’s quarters, where the teacher Luang Pho Wira resides. The rooms are organised in such a way that that one has to cross the first two rooms in order to enter the third, innermost room. It is not a particularly big area, stretching to the size of a normal one-bedroom apartment in Bangkok, around 60 square metres.

The first room is divided into two segments. One end houses the museum and its artifacts, while the other contains a golden Buddha image and an open area for conducting the initiation ceremony. The second room contains more Buddha images and images of the Venerable Suk. Monks and lay people use the area to meditate in groups and can undertake the eight precepts from Luang Pho Wira. The innermost room is the smallest of the three rooms and houses the largest and most life-like image of the Venerable Suk, the likeness showing him seated on a raised platform with miniature chickens about. This room is meant for practitioners who come individually to hone their practice. Practitioners whom I have spoken to claim that this area is the most conducive to advancement as they feel additional spiritual support from the image of the Venerable Suk gazing at them from across the room.

20/12/2012 - 14:26

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