Why go to a Buddhist meditation retreat in Thailand?

Blog entry created by: Teresa

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I was raised Christian, but joined  a Unitarian Universalist church as an adult.  I like that the UU church brings together people of all religions with the goal of creating a supportive community and doing some good in the world.

In the UU church, I get to learn about so many different religious philosophies and beliefs and pick and choose what I think suits my life best.  One of the things I’ve done on the trip is learn more about Buddhism.

Here’s what I like about the Buddhist philosophy:

Large and small acts of kindness

I know someone who isn’t naturally empathetic or very good with social skills.  In his mid thirties, he made a dramatic change in the way he treats people.  When I asked him how he did it, he said he was studying Buddhism.  I know how hard it is to change long term behavioral tendencies and was amazed that any philosophy could help someone change so much.  I knew he had tried therapy earlier, which had some effect, but not nearly as lasting or dramatic.

When we were selling our furniture before the trip, a man came to buy our recliner for his wife, who had medical problems and would be helped by it.  We had a nice conversation.  When he picked up the chair, he took the liberty of clearing the snow off my car windshield.  I thought it was such a random and nice thing to do, that I sent he and his wife flowers as a thank you.  He called to thank and said that he was studying Buddhism and trying to do nice things for others and was amazed at the nice things that were also happening to him.  Interesting…

It wasn’t that he got something nice in return for clearing off the snow that impressed me, it was that he cleared it in the first place.  Even though most religions teach that you should do good for others, I haven’t seen such concrete evidence of people’s day to day behavior changing in such big and small ways…at least not changes that anyone attributed to studying a philosophy or religion.


Buddhism teaches acceptance of things as they are, which helps me emulate some of what I see in people who are happy regardless of their circumstances.  Most of us think that circumstances play a large role in happiness, but Buddhism teaches that happiness comes from within.  I know most people say they believe that, but not many of us act as though we truly believe it!  Yet all around us, we see people who have everything going for them who are unhappy and many with tragic circumstances who are happy.  I think the Buddhists are onto something.

Training your mind

Meditation is the heart of Buddhism and meditation is all about being able to concentrate and control your mind, rather than letting your thoughts run wild.  Boy, could I benefit from that skill! Many times my brain tells me the logical way to react to something, yet my emotions get the better of me.  I get upset or angry when I don’t mean to, I say the thing I know is better left unsaid.  It is so frustrating! Who hasn’t worried about something unnecessarily or fumed or been upset about something someone else did or didn’t do , causing themselves a lot of angst and heartache?

There is a lot of research that shows that our thoughts come first and lead to our emotions- control your thoughts and you can get control of the resulting emotions.  If there is a way to train my mind and choose to be happy – let me at it! It isn’t giving in to others’ behavior, it’s adjusting your behavior and not getting so upset when people don’t act the way you expect them to or things don’t work out exactly as you planned…which happens often!

Uncovering myself

I am learning not to say this, but before I thought that many things happened in my life that were pretty traumatic and negative.  I hoped they wouldn’t cause me to be a bitter person, or not treat others as well as I had in the past.  Being nice, pleasant, and positive used to come so naturally to me…it was effortless!  But I admit that after many life circumstances, I started to have automatic reactions that were counter productive.  Sometimes I would think that someone did something to hurt me, as I had been hurt in the past, even though they didn’t intend any harm.  Ascribing negative intentions to an innocent act – and sometimes a silly little thing – is bad news for relationships.  Sometimes I feared history would repeat itself, and that can be a self-fulfilling philosophy.  Meditation and Buddhism have a way of uncovering our innocent, happy, naturally curious, open-minded selves. What a treasure that would be!  Even before going to the retreat, just in studying Buddhist philosophy, I started to feel more like my old self.

Of course, there is so much about the Buddhism philosophy that I left out, and much of it is difficult to understand.  Also, there are some aspects I reject (possibly it is because I don’t understand them).  But that is fine because Buddha himself said that people should challenge everything with their own mind and decide each aspect for themselves.  He taught what he learned, but the idea is really to discover it all yourself through meditation.  He just sort of provided a short cut or a head start – a sneak preview of what we can all figure out on our own.

So if I could spend some time at a mediation center and come out with the ability to better control my emotions, gain more happiness with the same set of circumstances, and treat others better, Why not?  It certainly seems more worthwhile than a lot of other things in which I choose to invest my time and effort.  Also, if my children can learn these things at an earlier age tan me, all the better for them!  What a great gift to be able to help them attain.

4 days, 3 nights at Wat Mahathat – up at 4:30 am, no eating past noon, 8 hrs of meditation a day, chanting – what more could you ask for?

Unfortunately, the retreat in Chiang Mai that is geared more toward English-speaking Westerners was full.  We signed on to spend four days and three nights at Wat Mahathat in Bangkok. It’s called an “International Meditation and Retreat Center”, but from my experience, I think it's really geared toward Thai speakers and experienced meditators.

I know that four days is nothing – most people sign up for weeks…in the next psot you’ll see that three days in this program was more than enough for most of us!

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Posted on: April 25, 2011 | Categories: Thailand, Traditions, What travel has taught us



  • Jenny French says:

    So well said, Teresa! Especially the part about the disconnect between knowing something intellectually, and then what prevents us from acting accordingly. Those pesky emotions are SO powerful!!

    It is nice to be in the inquiry, though, isn’t it?

    Love from NY-

  • Teresa Teresa says:

    It’s really nice to have the time to explore these things. Can’t wait to tell you how the retreat went in the next post. Love to you and your family, too! -Teresa

  • Emily says:

    Can’t wait to read your next post…
    We should go to the ashram in the Catskills when you return (if 4 days of meditation doesn’t do you in!!) Only kidding. Go with the flow, baby…
    Who loves ya!

  • If it means anything to you, you are always nice,pleasant and positive. Not much room for improvement. So glad you had an opportunity to experience Buddihsm in its natural environment.
    Love from NY Kathleen

  • Teresa Teresa says:

    Love to you too, Kathleen. We miss you. You are the one who is always nice, pleasant and positive!



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