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Looking for a suitable centre in Asia

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Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
4/12/13 6:38 AM
Hello everyone,

My name is Andre and I'm a relatively new practitioner of vipassana. I practiced for a while using the Goenka technique, and through the guidance of a friend and after a couple of full readings of MCTB I have since transitioned to the Mahasi method (Daniel – if you are reading this thank you so much for writing such an informative and fun-to-read book).

Seen as I am currently skirting around the early edges of the A&P and the time to cross the Dark Night is approaching fast I am considering having a little "Manhattan Project" for meditation this summer and join a 30-day retreat to pummel through the unpleasantness in an environment where mood swings and other "raptures" don't have to bleed into my real life and hopefully reach stream entry. Since I am based in Taiwan I am inclined to attend a retreat at either the Panditarama center in Yangon or in the Centre in Penang that Daniel recommended in MCTB (if anyone knows of decent places in Taiwan I'd be happy to check them out!).

And here is the pickle. Given my personality, metaphysical preferences (that is, the less razzle-dazzle, chanting, bowing to teachers on dais and discussion on reincarnation the better) and other desiderata my 'ideal' retreat settings resemble closely those that were available to the journalist who visited Daniel's guesthouse last year and published his experience on the NYT. A stable environment, nobody to bother him, competent advice at regular intervals, microwave lunches and the clear understanding that going through the meditation was ultimately entirely up to him – too bad Daniel doesn't accept students anymore.
I have attended two Goenka retreats in the past and I found the treatment and the discipline ultimately infantilising and counter-productive, the assistant teachers inadequate and Goenka's insights pretty shallow and patronising. Too much attention and mental energy were wasted being self-conscious of staff members who are looking over your shoulder like a schoolmaster in a Catholic boarding school (I understand how that type of petty mentality might be generated in a "franchised" organisation which must maintain consistency and in which nobody wields real authority – even authority to break the rules – but the consequences are real).
I am also not a fan of group meditation in a hall (while there is nothing wrong with it in itself, for me it generates the uncanny feeling that there is something 'religious' about the whole experience) and I would prefer a place where the vast majority of the practice takes place in isolation inside a cell in private.

Does anyone know where such an environment might be found in Asia? For those who have experienced them, how do Panditarama and the Penang centre compare to Goenka's centres?

Thanks to all for the advice :-)

A

RE: Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
4/16/13 11:26 AM as a reply to Andrea B.
I'm not aware of a place that offer everything that you are looking for. Surely, the Burmese I known to be very happy to share their teachings. My only experience in Burma is at Chanmyay Yeiktha in Yangon. It's in the Mahasi tradition. It's a very noisy place but the monks are attentive and friendly. One issue was that it wasn't always the same monk from one interview to another. One monk was pretty good and the other not so much. The good one would go at great length to explain the technique or the important details, even doing demonstrations of walking meditation. They don't care much about ceremonies and don't take themselves too seriously. Also, they speak a decent English which is very helpful. At most, we would be 6 people in the meditation hall and the people there are serious about their practice (all international yogis, some were monks from China or Thaiwan). Their practice imply doing everything very slowly (it will take you forever to get to the dining hall and they tell you it's ok to be late. They really don't want you to feel pressure). I certainly want to go back there if I have the chance. Interviews are every other day.

Another place in the Mahasi tradition is Wat Rampoeng in Chiang Mai. It's a good option for a 30 days retreat as their course is tailored for 30 days. They teach a variation of the Mahasi technique with some pretty clever elements added. The monks are not so great at teaching and need a translator but it's not really an issue. They have a recipe that is known to be working and make you apply this recipe, which is ok. You will not get any hardcore dharma feeling and the crowd of meditators are mostly backpackers going on a ten days retreats. Still, I consider their technique to be so well refined that I have to recommend the place. The course is designed to get you stream entry in 30 days. If you do what they tell to do, it's perfectly possible. They will keep a log of how many hours you meditate everyday and you will feel the pressure to meet the expectations, which is a good thing if you need motivation. They don't make you do everything slowly has they consider walking meditation and time on the cushion suffisant but you are expected to keep noting all the time. The rooms are nice and there is plenty of place to practice alone. You practice outside which is very nice compared to meditation halls. I recommend it for a first retreat. Forget about the stages and just follow the instructions.

RE: Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
4/16/13 12:12 PM as a reply to Simon T..
Hi, Simon. Do you know of anywhere on the web which describes the additions to the Mahasi style you mentioned?

RE: Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
4/16/13 1:59 PM as a reply to Simon T..
Simon T.:
They teach a variation of the Mahasi technique with some pretty clever elements added.


That's interesting. Could you say more about these clever elements? I'm always on the lookout for new variations of the technique to add to my toolbox.

RE: Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
4/16/13 5:20 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
fivebells .:
Hi, Simon. Do you know of anywhere on the web which describes the additions to the Mahasi style you mentioned?


Compared to what I learned at Chanmyay Yeiktha, the main differences are during sitting meditation and the fact that you are not expected to do everything slowly (I prefer the "everything slow" approach. I don't know why Chom Tong left it out). Also, every yogi has his own timer to alternate between waking and sitting meditation, which are always of equal length. This is a nice addition as it take the time out of your mind. A new-comer will start at 15/15 minutes and will have increased to about 1h/1h after 10 days. Depending on your progress, the teacher will increase everyday the amount of time.

Walking meditation is pretty much the same. You start with 2 phase for each steps and as you progress you will increase to up to 6 phases. You note intention at every turn and if I remember correctly there was a bit more steps when turning. As usual, you do noting of the 6 senses door when they interrupt your mindfulness of the steps.

Sitting starts with the usual rising/falling noting and the noting of the 6 senses doors. As you progress, more steps to note are added and this is what I believe make an important difference. First noting you add is "touching" of a point in the lower back. That's clever because the muscles in the lower back are the last to relax before Enlightement and enable the relaxation of that damn spot in the brain, the "Ajna Chakra" (ok, this is a bit speculative but there is at least some truth to this).

So, you will be doing "Rising - Falling - Touching -Rising - Falling - Touching...." and of course you keep noting the 6 senses doors (generally 3 times) when they arises. As you progress more, other touching point are added and you do a round-robin of those points. The second point added was on the forehead. So, on one respiration cycle you note "touching" at the tailbone, after the next cycle it will be "lightball" on the forehead. Since you always add new points, it works somewhat like counting meditation, so if your mind wander you risk of loosing track of what point you should pay attention next. When you loose track, you start from the tailbone again.

The other point that were added were to contact point with the cushion or those 2 points at 2 inch on each side of the tailbone. Tension points in the upper back could be added too. So you end up with:
rising - falling - touching (tailbone) - rising - falling - lightball -rising - falling - touching (left point) - rising - falling - touching (right point)...

I got instruction for this technique first at the international center at Chom Tong center and then at Wat Rampoeg. At the Chom Tong center, the assistant of the teacher (laypeople) provided very confusing instructions. There was also the instruction of sending the light ball from the forehead to the tailbone. I don't remember receiving this instruction at Rampoeg.

Ajahn Tongis the monk that refined this technique. He studied under Mahasi and is the head monk of the whole north of Thailand. He founded a center at Rampoeg and then another one at Wat Chom Tong. I believe the same technique is taught at Doi Sutep (the temple at the top of the mountain in Chiang Mai).

The canadian monk Ajahn Yuttadhammo studied under Ajarn Tong but I'm not sure if he teach the same technique. He answer questions on his website (ask.sirimangalo.org/). He wrote this guide (How to meditate) which details prostration which I skipped in this post. Again, they have a very detailled prostration which is nice as it force attention from the beginning of the session. Writing this post reminded me the challenge that the prostration posed to me and I realize that including it in my routine would be beneficial.

I searched quite a bit on the internet to find a detail of the technique and never found one. I asked for it last time I passed by Wat Roempoeg but the books by Ajahn Tong I put my hands on didn't include it.

They believe strongly in the 16 stages of insight and the technique is supposed to make you progress through them. On the last day of the retreat they remove the bed from your room and you are asked to stay inside to do a 24 hours meditation marathon and get stream entry. It actually worked for a guy when I was there. In my case, sadly I rolled the mat after 12 days so I cannot give much details about the technique passed that. I don't think they add much more steps, though. Wat Rampoeg is also the temple where my wife goes from time to time (she live near to it) and their instructions were key to her stream entry.

RE: Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
4/17/13 2:17 AM as a reply to Andrea B.
Andrea B:
Since I am based in Taiwan I am inclined to attend a retreat at either the Panditarama center in Yangon or in the Centre in Penang that Daniel recommended in MCTB (if anyone knows of decent places in Taiwan I'd be happy to check them out!).
A


Hi, 2 yrs back, I attended a 2 weeks Mahasi retreat under Ven U Gunasiri (email - ven.gunasiri at y a h o o.com) who was based in Tao Yuan, Taiwan. I made significant progress under him. You may email him to inquire.

RE: Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
4/25/13 2:52 AM as a reply to PE Ong.
Thanks for the lengthy answer Simon. I spent some time checking out the Chiang Mai centre and at first sight it seems pretty interesting.
From reading their brochure I seem to understand that they lodge students in single rooms and that you do most of the meditation work on your own. They also seem to be relatively lax in terms of discipline, and they only "discourage" rather than prohibit speaking between students. Is that right?

Lastly, they say that "Wat Ram Poeng offers a 26-day basic course in Vipassana (Insight) Meditation under the guidance of a Teacher on an on-going basis. For meditators who have completed the basic course, a 10-day Insight Meditation retreat can be taken, which builds on the 26-day basic course." Are the two things substantially different from each other? Which of the two did you attend?

Thanks

RE: Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
4/27/13 9:35 AM as a reply to Andrea B.
Andrea B:
Thanks for the lengthy answer Simon. I spent some time checking out the Chiang Mai centre and at first sight it seems pretty interesting.
From reading their brochure I seem to understand that they lodge students in single rooms and that you do most of the meditation work on your own. They also seem to be relatively lax in terms of discipline, and they only "discourage" rather than prohibit speaking between students. Is that right?

Lastly, they say that "Wat Ram Poeng offers a 26-day basic course in Vipassana (Insight) Meditation under the guidance of a Teacher on an on-going basis. For meditators who have completed the basic course, a 10-day Insight Meditation retreat can be taken, which builds on the 26-day basic course." Are the two things substantially different from each other? Which of the two did you attend?

Thanks


There is no meditation hall for foreigners so you can do your meditation anywhere on the site. There is a few nice area for that. You can also do your sitting meditation in your room and do your walking meditation on the gallery. Yes, you got individual rooms with their own bathrooms. It's pretty nice. I did end up having a few conversation with other yogis. Since people don't have much opportunity to exchange with fellow yogis in the real world, I think it's normal. As long as it's respectful and done away from other people, it's not big deal.

A monk living in Taiwan gave me his contact infos and said he was teaching there. I will try to find it when I go back to the family house and post it here. Just subscribe to this post.

RE: Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
5/1/13 3:19 AM as a reply to Simon T..
Thanks for that. I'll be glad to get in touch with him.

Andrea

RE: Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
6/10/13 10:41 PM as a reply to Simon T..
Hi Simon,

I just booked a one month retreat for Wat Rampoeng. I have high hopes for the place, and I will report back on my experience whenever I return.
Do you have any advice on how to get the most out of that centre other than the usual recommendations?


PS
Did you get a chance to find the contact information for that monk?

RE: Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
6/11/13 2:41 PM as a reply to Andrea B.
I didn't have the chance to look for the monk's contact info. I will look for it this weekend. When do you plan to go to Chiang Mai? I expect to be there in September.

I only have the usual advice to provide. Follow the instructions. Don't leave early. Do all that you can and forgive yourself for not being able to do more than it's possible. If indead you are on the edge of the dark night, you can get in there pretty fast. This technique is all about building momemtum. We all end up having to deal with our dark stuff at some point. Sense of guilt, narcisism, broken dreams, and so forth. Hell, we call it the dark night for a reason. The acceptance of all this is something you pretty much have to do by yourself. This is the limit of vipassana teachings. The techniques are about building the attention skill and breaking through the walls the hard way. In a way, the technique by-pass the psychological level and you get to deal with it at the sensation level. Still, a narrative (often negative) can develop in our head and end up being overwhelming. If you see it happens, allow yourself a step back, laugh about the silliness of it. The noting technique generally focus on noting the 6 senses but you talk to the monk about using more precise label for thoughts if you find some recuring thoughts overwhelming (label like guilt, arrogance, ressentiment, envy, excitement, or whatever label fit the recuring thought, positive or negative). The world of meditation tend to take itself a bit too seriously and monks are surely guilty of that, more so in Thailand. Allow yourself to relax when needed even if nobody is but keep working hard. Don't let yourself be distracted by sexy yogis. Also, if I remember correctly, they don't explicitly tell to keep noting in-between meditation session (while eating, cleaning, moving around). Do those activity at a slow pace but natural and keep noting. It will maintain your momemtum.

RE: Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
6/12/13 9:11 PM as a reply to Simon T..
Thanks for the advice, it's duly noted (no pun intended). I will be joining the retreat in only four days (I contacted them more than a month ago but they suggested I only book the retreat a few days in advance), so no chance to meet there (but I'll be very happy to write to you more when I'm out of the "rabbit hole"). The monk I spoke to on the phone was a little brusque and made sure I knew that the retreat "wasn't free" and that there'll probably be two people in the same room, but I understand where he's coming from if their guests are mainly backpackers.

Concerning more practical matters...does the monastery have a place for the safekeeping of personal items? I will be carrying with me several things which, ranging between the valuable to the distracting, would be best kept away from my person. Or do they ask you to simply "surrender" all such items when you enter, Goenka style? Is one forced (or simply encouraged) to maintain silence for the entirety of the retreat? Do they discourage (or simply prohibit) the keeping of simple, non-dharma related items, such as what would be required to keep a journal?

RE: Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
6/16/13 5:02 AM as a reply to Andrea B.
I arrived in Chiang Mai yesterday and I just rode to Wat Rampoeng to check out the place. It's pretty welcoming, relaxed, and not as hot as the city centre. I'll start tomorrow morning, and I plan to stay for 26 days. I'll report on the experience when I'm out.

RE: Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
6/17/13 10:10 PM as a reply to Andrea B.
Sorry I didn't answer before. You probably have your answers right now. The young hyperactive monk that run the international center is pretty funny. As a vet, my wife take care of his little dog and the other dogs on the site each time she goes. I really love this place. The weather is always nice. Not too warm, not too cold. It's quiet too. The monks aren't so great to talk to but it's ok since the technique is pretty straightforward and the stages well known by them.

RE: Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
7/2/13 9:50 PM as a reply to Simon T..
Hey Simon, I just came out of the monastery and everything went well! I'm in Chiang Mai a few more days now chilling out. As you said, the place is perfect for a retreat (in terms of climate, facilities, calm surroundings, safe food, access to simple items that can make life easier without distracting from fundamental goals) and as you also mentioned the monks were not particularly useful to talk to. They were reluctant to talk specifics or acknowledging the ones I was providing (as if I was an outsider who somehow had gotten his hands on their trade secrets), there was no strategising of any type, no interest on their part in finding out where on the path I was. When the second-last day I told the abbot (through the translator) that I thought I was towards the end of the first Path the two seemed to exchange a condescending glance and then he ignored my statement by replying something very generic about how "the Path is about letting go". It might be the result of an explicit pedagogic choice based on previous successes and failures, but from my understanding of Asian culture (six years here and counting) it most likely comes from the idea that students don't need to understand what they're doing, they just need to keep doing it.
I went there with an action plan of my own and plenty of information to reach my goals. I had planned to stay for 26 days at the most, but after gaining Stream Entry on day 13 and doing a few review cycles I decided to go back to my life and travels. The monks didn't seem too happy about that, as if I somehow had broken an unspoken rule, and maybe I should have stayed at least a few more days. I'll go back there tomorrow to visit the place again and take some photos, maybe have lunch with their simply prepared but delicious food if they don't turn me away.

In any case, thanks for the suggestion: all things considered the experience was excellent (it's hard to complain about stream entry, and about losing 9 pounds in two weeks without any effort in that direction and without going hungry) and I recommend the place for those students that go there with clear goals and knowing already what they're going to be doing and what they're aiming for. I'll try to add a review of the place to the site when I have some time.

RE: Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
7/2/13 3:20 PM as a reply to Andrea B.
So you had a perfect opportunity to practice for 26 days which proved to be very effective, and after half the time you decide it's enough based on some impressions from the retreat which you didn't even test for more than a few days? I can see why the monks were disappointed. Maybe they even know what they're doing and had some idea what you could accomplish within 26 days and there's a reason why the course is that long.
On my last 10-day retreat, I was told that the 10 days were needed to gradually build up the concentration. Thus if you quit at day 13 you may just have wasted 13 days of preparation which you need to get that far.
Anyway, your decision sounds rather foolish to me, unless there was some specific reason for your aborting the retreat which you chose not to mention.

I'd still like a more detailed report though.

RE: Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
7/2/13 10:11 PM as a reply to bernd the broter.
You are making rather rash assumptions as to why I left the centre, as if I had had a change of heart halfway through. I went there with the purpose of completing the First Path, not of spending 26 days sitting with my eyes closed. In the beginning I was afraid that I would have to extend my stay significantly to get to that point (and I was perfectly willing to do so), but when it became clear that I was approaching the endgame faster than I had predicted I was quite happy to spend the last ten days during something else.

If the monks had specific (rather than vague) ideas about what i could accomplish in 26 days they certainly didn't share them. As I mentioned, throughout my stay and during the daily reporting I tried to develop a shared understanding of what was going on in detail in my meditation, what to expect next, how to deal with different stages and whatnot, but the monks didn't seem interested in that. This attempt to develop a meaningful channel of communication with my instructors failed. I can respect their "pedagogic paradigm" but I can't be forced to go along with it. Would you accept piano lessons from a teacher who will not say what you will be learning with him? Once I had achieved the goals that I was able to reach on my own I did not see many reasons to stay there a lot longer. I only (and genuinely) regret not doing maybe one or two more days of review before leaving.

In any case, when I have more time I will type down and edit my journal (which I was allowed but discouraged from keeping) and share it, and give a more detailed description of the centre for those who might be interested in going and wanted to have a better idea of what the place is like.

RE: Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
7/12/13 4:55 PM as a reply to Andrea B.
It's nice to hear you made some pretty good progress there. Your description of the center is quite accurate. It's a shame that the monks aren't more helpful because it's a very nice center in many regards. I'm curious to hear more about your experience and your opinion on the technique taught.

RE: Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
9/20/13 7:37 AM as a reply to Simon T..
It's been a long time in the writing but here is a pretty exhaustive review of Wat Rampoeng, down to the smallest details which one deserves to know before making such a commitment. If someone knows how, I'd like to add it to the list in the wiki.


__



Wat Rampoeng

I retreated at Wat Rampoeng for two weeks and I can recommend it as a very good retreat location – as long as you can prepare your own action plan and don't need the type of guidance which most members of DhO would find ideal. It compares favourably in a few (not all) aspects with the much praised Panditarama centre in Lumbini, where I also went on retreat later on. It compares *very* favourably with the two Goenka centres I have visited in the past (different meditation styles aside). I am strongly considering retreating there again whenever I have a few weeks and can fly to Thailand.

On their website they advertise "courses" of at least 10 and (ideally) 26 days are offered, with the possibility of attending a "retreat" later. The distinction between course and retreat is not entirely clear, since the course is in all respects a retreat.
The temple complex is situated in a green area 20-30 minutes from Chiang Mai's city centre and can be reached easily with one of the characteristic red taxi-vans (120 baht is the standard fare to charter a whole vehicle). There are roads and houses near, but once you are inside you could be deep in the forest for all you know. Chiang Mai's weather is possibly the most agreeable in all of South-East Asia, and for this reason alone one should give some thought to Wat Rampoeng for a retreat. It's never too cold, too hot, too sunny or too humid and this can change quite a few things for the better in terms of comfort and concentration once you're down the rabbit hole and have to sit still many hours every day. Mosquitos come out around dusk to feed (as can be expected in any tropical setting), but otherwise they don't bother yogis much. I spent most of my time meditating outdoors and I was only marginally inconvenienced by them. Chiang Mai is known to have some dengue fever during the summer season, but I didn't exactly see flocks of people being carried away by ambulance while there – so don't worry too much on that front.

The accommodation for meditators (at least for men, I have never seen the women's quarters, and I suspect they are at least a little different) is pleasant and well thought out. Yogis are lodged in small self-contained apartments with everything one needs to go through the retreat and nothing more: bed, fan, table, toilet, shower, basin, sponges, cleaning products, coathangers, broom. Food is served at 6:30 and 10:30 in the mess hall, and at 5 o'clock one can have a cup of some corn flour drink. Meat is served at every meal, but there is also a vegetarian option. All food is simply prepared but excellent, nutritious and fresh. No complaints on the that front. Light work (raking leaves, watering plants) is required of yogis after breakfast for about thirty-forty minutes.

Yogis can choose to meditate in a number of locations of their own liking. The temple complex is vast and variegated, and there are both indoors and outdoors spaces aplenty. Moreover, these spaces are almost entirely to foreign yogis, who are never more than a couple of dozens and are never really enough to make these spaces feel crowded (Thai meditators, who are more than 90% of the total and almost entirely women, seem to usually meditate elsewhere). Foreign meditators (which includes both Westerners and at least a few Chinese) are handled by the centre entirely separately from the Thais, and are even accommodated in a separate building. Meditators are given timers which they can use to time their sittings. They are quite loud, and there is a constant buzzing of timers all around the place.
The dress code requires to wear white clothes (which can be purchased cheaply in loco if necessary) at all times. Women must wear also a light scarf on their upper chest, fastened at the extremities with some pin or brooch. There is a (cheap) laundry service provided for those who don't want to spend their time washing and drying clothes.
A small convenience store operates several hours a day to provide meditators small items of daily use (such as soap, toothpaste, bottled water and even some food items) for an honest price. Yes, one can even buy some food to complement meals, but the attendant will refuse to sell anything that goes against the rules (e.g. solid food items after midday). A moving cart (not associated with the temple) selling freshly cut tropical fruit for a pittance (~30c for an honest portion) is also available around lunchtime.

As one might have guessed reading the last paragraph, Wat Rampoeng is not exclusively a meditation centre, but a temple which is open to the public and is the centre of all the activities, pomp and pageantry of a normal Buddhist temple. I might have been discouraged to go if I had known all this when I valued alternatives, but at no point did these activities disturb my meditation or decrease the quality of my mindfulness. I could always find a silent, secluded space to meditate, and all these other activities stayed in the distant background. If anything, the daily life of the temple and its various (and respectfully quiet) visitors served to dispel the feeling (which somewhat ruined my experience at Goenka retreats) that I am in a strange, cultish place with no relations with reality, with attendants looking over my shoulder all the time for infractions and (at least implicitly) approving or disapproving of my smallest acts. For the two weeks of my stay I was left almost entirely to myself and to my own sense of responsibility, and progress came fast – faster than I had expected in fact. I suppose that it is ultimately up to oneself to decide whether the "secluded retreat" environment is better conducive to progress, but the relative (and disciplined) openness of Wat Rampoeng quite suited my personal preferences. I certainly wouldn't have thought so until I tried it.

The first monk you will meet is a somewhat abrasive, scattered and quirky young monk who is in charge of the foreign meditators section. You will have spoken to him by phone before your arrival (they don't take reservation by email) and you will have agreed together on a specific day to start the retreat. He will take care of you for the first few hours of the first day, and if you can take his mannerisms and idiosyncrasies in stride you'll be alright. He will also impart the initial instructions of both walking and sitting meditation, and for those who are not clear with the spirit of meditation his instructions might be a bit confusing. I remember a Chinese yogi who marched around like a little soldier during the walking meditation, most likely as a consequence of misunderstood instructions.
Whatever failings as a teacher this particular monk might have, his mistakes can be corrected during the interview sessions. Interview times are not allocated individually ("show up at 2:35pm for your 2:40 interview") and on some occasions one might waste more than an hour waiting for one's turn. During the interview a half-German monk who speaks impeccable English is always present to either conduct the interview himself or translate for the Sayadaw, when the latter not occupied with other responsibilities. The interview process requires the triple kow-tow to a Buddha statue and to the Sayadaw which some people (myself included) dislike and execute grudgingly. During the interview you will be asked how many hours you have meditated in the last day (you will be asked to start from 8 to advance to more than 12) and how many hours you slept (at first you will be given the 6 hours which are customary at any retreat, but in later days they will ask you to cut down to 5 and then 4; nobody however is there to check how many hours you actually sleep at night). If you don't ask anything the interview process will be more or less over there, unless they need to impart you with more instructions.
From the beginning I tried to establish a clear communication channel to figure out what was going on in my daily meditation, but I was met only by silence and occasionally condescension, the details I volunteered were glossed over and my questions addressed in a generic fashion. As I understand more and more the culture and "political economy" of the Dharma-verse I see why monks might be reluctant to acknowledge students' achievements, even very small ones (see for example Mahasi Sayadaw initially giving away "Stream Entry certificates" in his meditation centre, but finding it wiser later to stop the practice), but there are still many drawbacks in doing so for genuinely willing yogis who aren't there to play games. As I said in the beginning, it's best to go there with one's own action plan.

As for what they teach, at Wat Rampoeng they use a slightly modified noting technique which – for the sitting meditation – includes moving the attention away from the breath to different spots of the lower body during different movements of the in- and out-breath, while for the walking meditation the movement of each step is broken into up to six movements (instead of the two or three which Mahasi Sayadaw recommended). Starting from the standard Mahasi technique, more and more steps of the technique are added every other day during the interviews. I cannot say whether the modified technique is better or worse than the original, or if it is just a "flair" which the Sayadaw decided to add to make it his own. It did its job well enough for me, as "normal" noting most likely would have.

To conclude, I warmly recommend Wat Rampoeng as a perfect retreat environment, if not as an ideal place to receive the type of hyper-practical, transparent, empowering guidance which I believe most of DhO members value.

RE: Looking for a suitable centre in Asia
Answer
9/20/13 7:28 AM as a reply to Andrea B.
Also, a video of the locales can be found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wmo01bDmRI (just ignore the bit with the cat in the middle...)