The International forest Monastery in Ubon Rachathani province, Northeast Thailand has an isolated branch situated within a large and remote National Park along the border of Myanmar. This branch is called "Dtow Darm" or Black Turtle. There are very few buildings in this special place. There are however tens of thousands of large trees that make up a fabulous old growth forest and a winding fresh water stream and several waterfalls. It is customary for many of the monks and novices to head off to this secluded place during the warmer months of February through to April, as the air under the trees remains pleasantly cool. The monks then live on small raised bamboo platforms within the jungle, sleeping and meditating under a thin nylon fly sheet to protect from summer showers and a mosquito net to protect from the mozzies and horse flies – bathing in the fresh water stream nearby. The sound of thousands of insects and hundreds of birds is a wonderful backdrop for finding the silence of the peaceful mind.
These retreat periods in this austere and minimalist setting are an important balancing component to the more regimented and ordered structure of the training monastery. The monks are able to have a lot more time for reflection and meditation, while living very close to nature. It is not uncommon for some fear to arise at times… of wild animals… of sickness or injury… of the darkness of night… and of being alone. It is an excellent situation for developing meditation and wisdom. Having been on retreat to this special place many times before myself, when the group of monks heading off for their retreat spent the night at Anandagiri - I was able to offer them some friendly advice based upon things that I had found helpful in my own experience.
Although this talk was given to a group of highly committed and well trained meditation monks, I am confident that some of the advice may be both interesting and useful to lay-practitioners as well. For when it comes to training the mind in concentration and in in developing wisdom, we must all engage in a similar journey – facing the darkness of the jungle (delusion) while training our mindfulness, wisdom and loving-kindness to be like a cool stream in the mind – nourishing the journey onwards.
I hope that some of the suggestions in this talk might be useful to you wherever you find yourself now.
Ajahn Achalo Bhikkhu
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