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Wat Umong – Chiang Mai, Thailand Meditation Retreat
Meaning of Wat Umong
In Thai language, this means the ‘Monastery with tunnels.’
Wat Umong is also known as Suan Buddha Dhamma (‘Garden of Buddha’s teachings’)
Tambon Suthep, Ampur Muang, Chiang Mai 50000
Located 3.5 km west of Chiang Mai. The easiest way is by tuk-tuk or bicycle. Or, take a city bus #1 or songthaew west 2.5 km on Suthep Rd. (_not_ the same road to Doi Suthep Temple) to Wang Nam Kan, then follow signs south 1 km to the wat.
Chiang Mai is 700 km north of Bangkok and the most important city of the north. Frequent bus, train, and air services connect Chiang Mai with Bangkok and other major centers. TELEPHONE: (053) 277-248 (call only from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
Anapanasati, similar to teaching at Suan Mokkh. One is free to use one’s own meditation techniques.
Teachers are available for questions. Talks in English are given every Sunday 3-6 p.m. at the Chinese Pavillion near the pond. A library/museum has many books in English and other foreign languages.
Phra Khru Sukhandasila, abbot (Thai; age 62)
Phra Santitthito (Santi) (German; age 50) is no longer at Wat Umong. He now takes care of a large forest center in Australia as abbot and resident teacher: Wat Buddhadhamma, Ten Mile Hollow, Wisemans Ferry, New South Wales. A Western monk is usually in residence at Wat Umong.
One should be able to speak some Thai. Other senior monks, including the abbot, speak a little English.
Peaceful, wooded grounds of 37.5 rai (15 acres). You can feed the fish, turtles, and ducks in a large pond. “Talking trees” have words of wisdom in Thai and English. The wat is famous for its ancient tunnels and a large stupa.
Other attractions include a Buddha field of broken sculpture, a fasting Bodhisattva, a Spiritual Theatre of paintings similar to those at Suan Mokkh, reproductions of ancient Buddhist sculptures of India, and a library museum. This last building offers many books on Buddhism and other philosophies as well as a collection of historic objects and Buddhist art.
- monks: 45-75
- novices: about 10
- nuns: about 8
- laypeople: about 10
A bell rings at 4 am. Monks and novices are encouraged (and laypeople welcome) to attend chanting at 4:30 am. and 5 pm. Monks and novices go on pindabat after morning chanting, then eat together in a wooden sala. Because discipline, practice, and schedule are left up to each person for the most part, self-motivation is especially important. Laypeople on a short visit can follow 5 precepts; longer-term visitors should observe 8 precepts.
Monks eat once or twice a day from food collected on pindabat. Nuns normally cook their own food. Laypeople can also arrange meals at nearby shops or take from monk’s leftovers.
Individual kutis in separate areas for monks/novices, nuns, and laypeople. Kutis, somewhat closely spaced, have screens and electricity; some also have attached Thai-style bathrooms (Asian and some Western-style toilets) and running water.
WRITE IN ADVANCE?
Yes, write or enquire well in advance. Only a small number of kutis are available for laypeople.
Possible for both short- and long-term as a novice, monk, or magee (nun). One has a personal interview with the abbot to request ordination. If approved, one usually trains at Wat Umong for at least one month before ordination.
The monastery, one of the oldest in the Chiang Mai area, may date as far back as 1300 A.D. Legend tells that a king built the brick-lined tunnels for a clairvoyant but sometimes eccentric monk named Thera Jan. Paintings dated to about 1380 once decorated the walls.
You can enter the tunnels to see the small shrines inside (a flashlight is useful). The adjacent stupa was constructed about 1520 over an earlier stupa (1400-1500).
The monastery eventually fell into disuse, though Japanese troops were said to garrison here during WW II. Since 1948, the Thai prince Jao Chun Sirorot, now in his 90s, has been active in rebuilding and reestablishing the monastery.
In 1949 he invited Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (founder of Suan Mokkh in southern Thailand) to come and live here. Duties kept Buddhadasa Bhikkhu from coming.
Instead, he sent Ajahn Pannananda and other monks to help set up and run Wat Umong.
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