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Long Report of Chom Tong/Saying Hello to the Forum

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Hi all!
My name is Paul and this is my first post in this forum. I am writing this straight after the 21 day retreat, so I hope I can get most of the stuff you would like to know out of my head into this post. I am writing this basically because I am in the mood to write it down anyway so why not post it and give something back to this place. I would have appreciated the information before I went so it might be of no value if you don't plan going but may help you a lot to get your expectations straight if you plan to go or consider to do so. I have taken my time with this, it got a little long so I suggest this is adressed to the people out there who want to go there. 
Before I start, I will wirte something about myself as I think that whatever information is being consumed always has to be seen with the author in the background as he colors the whole thing. I hope that it is appropriate to write all this stuff about myself here but I did not find a "Saying Hello" section, so I hope it is ok and if not I will edit all stuff out. If you would like to skip all this stuff and just read about the temple/center be free to scroll down. I will make a small list of content so you can hit CTRL/CMD+F and look it up more easily. emoticon

0. The Short list
1. My person and my position in the dharmaworld
2. Center and surroundings, rules etc
3. Teachers and teachings
4. My experience

0. Short list

I will put everything that I feel exceeds the [url=]Wiki of Chom Tong down here, so it is easily accessable for those who do not want to read the 3000 words.

Techniques are taught step by step and complete like this:
  • Walking Notes: Standing, Intention, Heel up, Lifting, Moving, Lowering, Touching, Pressing, Stopping, Intention, Turning
  • Sitting Notes: Rising, Falling, Sitting, Touching (different touching points, quite a lot)
Rest:
  • Day 16 - Day 19 are days of determination where special instructions are given and you are required to stay awake the whole time
  • Busy temple with Theravada culture
  • You can totally isolate yourself besides the reporting and getting food, yet noise can be an issue
  • I do not feel like I can judge the teachers abilties well due to my lack of experience




1. My person and my position in the dharmaworld

I believe that I first got contact with the whole exploration of the mind/body thing when I was 20 years old while smoking one of my first joints. Suddenly thoughts were rushing from one to another and they revealed a strong causality - it was clear that this impression triggered this thought and then triggered the next one and so on. Maybe I was just stoned but the whole thing felt very profound and left me wondering. I kept philosophing for a couple of months until I solved my problem and I came to the conclusion that nothing can really be understood, there it must be experienced without any judgement. With this in mind I started doing more stuff, I would have never done before, Yoga, Fishing etc. I was more open to stuff, a mindset I really appreciate. Ok, I might have tried these things anyway but however I feel like this is true. emoticon

So, somehow I held a little piece of paper in my hand with the word "Vipassana" and I enrolled at a Goenka course in Auckland in early 2014. 
The course was good, still I think I was too much into my stuff, too much analysing the technique and whether I was getting brainwashed or what the heck was going on. Still, some great waves of ecstasy came in on day 7 or so, so I was somehow convinced that this stuff was something for me. Unfortunetly I had a scooter accident shortly after the course so I was literaly unable to sit and this was enough of an excuse to not continue my practice until I would do my next 10 day in July this year (2015). After reading heaps of stuff and stumbling upon MCTB and this site and lots of other stuff and meeting Giovanni Dienstmann(Thanks for the meeting lol) I was more than motivated to give 100% at the course. I worked pretty hard and on day 8 something shifted which I will post more detailed in the "What was that?"-section of the forum. After this experience I was looking for more retreats as I still have time before I return to Germany. As I somehow want to stay free and be able to continue traveling in my future life I had a little dip into the digital nomad lifestyle in Chiang Mai which ultimate lead me to Chom Tong on the 16th of September 2015.


2. Center and surroundings

The center is located next to the temple which is basically like any other Buddhist temple you find in Chiang Mai. You can get there with the yellow car from Chiang Mai Gate, it costs 32 Baht. The abbot of the temple is Ajahn Tong who is very popular therefore he receives a lot of donations which made the temple quite a big thing, still getting bigger. When you come and leave you have to attend a ceremony where you take the 8/5 precepts. On the 21th of September is Ajahn Tongs birthday where it is usual that everyone attends ceremony where you basically wait for an hour then chant a little bit and so on. If you would like to practice without this 2, 3 hour interuption I suggest you not going on this date. Still this birthday is celebrated like Chirstmas and Eastern combined and there is a big market where you will have to get your food(for free as it is a birthdayparty emoticon). This goes for two days or you visit a restaurant. I recommend this if you want to avoid big crowds and much noise.
The International Department is run by Kun Thanat Chindaporn of which I will talk later at teachings. His birthday is at the first of October where another ceremony is mandatory. Ajahn Tong has founded the international department which is growing at the moment and therefore there is some construction noise.You can avoid this noise by going to one of the three meditation halls, one at the Internation Department, quite a small but nice hall or one of the other two, at the main temple site. One of them is in quite a big building so you will find peace there. I was too lazy to take my fortress of cushions over there so I shut all the windows and doors and put the fan on 3 so it was quite silent with this consistent buzzing of the fan. The western meditators stay in kutis or in the houses which are kindly given by Thai people. I am pretty sure that if you do the 21 day course you will end up in a house instead of a kuti. My room was pretty big, got a fan, stool, little cupboard, plugs, a lamp and a matt to sleep. You can get more cushions, blankets, white clothes (You have to wear these) from the library where the reporting is done every day. At the reporting you will have to prostrate in front of the Buddha(also when you enter the mediation hall), this and the white clothes are pretty much all the things you are forced to follow (unless birthdays of important people). The food is given at the dining hall at the main temple site. Some days the food was pretty boring and at some days I can honestly say I got the best Thai food I ever had. Breakfast is at 6, lunch at 11. If you like you can eat in your room or in the library where there is a little kitchen. In eveings you can eat something milk based, like jogurt or chocolate. You are free to leave the temple if you want and go to 7/11 and stack up chocolate/jogurt or even have lunch at a restaurant. There is a fridge in the library where you can store your stuff, or make yourself a coffee or tea.
Behind the temple, behind the International Department there is a nice lake where you can see a nice sunset with the mountains in the background. There is also a pizza place which I have never tried.
Around the temple there are heaps of dogs, so if you are afraid of dogs this is not your place. They walk around and do their stuff, sometimes they greet and jump at you, in the evening I got surrounded once, I guess if I would have something against dogs I would have freaked out. Also you will have to deal with insects like ants, cockroaches and mosquitos. Once I had a pretty big spider in my room and Bathroom. Ah, yeah, there is a western bathroom with a warm shower you can use. You can do your washing by hand but there is also a washing machine.
Next to Chom Tong there is the highest mountain of Thailand so if you could rent a scooter and have some exploration tour after your course.
I really liked all the animals at the temple, birds everywhere, fishes in front of the library, dogs, cats and all the plants and nature and this stuff. All these things gave the temple, especially the International part a very friendly vibe. emoticon


3. Teachers and teachings

The mediation technique which is taught is the Mahasi Noting with some Ajahn Tong flavour which I will explain soon. You will do walking/sitting 50/50. The technique has got a lot of steps which are taught at individual speed, I believe. I got the full technique on day 14 or 15.
When you arrive they tell you about the four foundations of mindfulness but I did not get a satisfying answer to the fourth one (mind/dhamma-objects) this is a thing for some more research... During the course they explain that everything is anicca dukkha anatta and nama and rupa and the five aggregates. This is all the theory you will see until you finish.
I think if I hadn't done the Goenka and lots of reading about mediation I would have quite disappointed with the small amount of input. They emphasise that you should concentrate on your practice so more teaching than necessary would be distracting.

Around everything they always emphasise strongly to be mindful and be in the present moment at all times. They say that every day, pretty much. I feel like this helped me.

Walking:
You start with... 1) Intention of walking, left goes, right goes...stopping, standing  intention of turning, 4 times Turning, standing and then from beginning. The walking notes change during the first two weeks:
2) Lifting Moving Putting
3) Heel up, Lifting, Moving, Putting
4)Heel up, lifting, moving, lowering, putting
5)Heel up, lifting, moving, lowering, touching (with the front of the foot), pressing

I have heard that this is quite a lot of steps, I found it okay.

Sitting:
You start with rising, falling, then they add sitting, where you are mindful of the sitting body.
Then they add touching points, so you cycle through like this: rising, falling, sitting, touching(point 1), rising falling, sitting, touching(point 2) and so on. After two weeks or so you will have all the touching points which I will list:
Every touching point is done at the right and the left except of the cross thing...
1) Point the lower back above the pelvic bone where the muscle is
2) sitting bone
3) backside of the knee, between the strings
4) outside ankle at the foot
5) top of the foot
6) top of the knee
7) middle of the thigh
8) that point between your thigh and your body (front not back)
9) here starts the cross: right point of 8), solarplexus, front of left shoulder, down to left 8), solarplexus, front of right shoulder,
10) cross at the back starting at right point 1), middle of back, top left shoulder, down to left 1) again, middle, top right down again, and then you are at the beginngin again.

I think these are a lot of touching points and I got confused often. When you forget you are supposed to start over again.
They ask you to start your sitting/walking cycle with 5 minutes each and you go up 5 minutes per day or more if you ask for that. You get a timer. As you can see things build up during the course and it gets more intense, peaking at something they call determination which I will explain soon.

The report is every day and the time of the report can vary. The teacher or an assistant knocks at your door and tells you to show up in 5 minutes or so. Most of the time you wait another 10 minutes for the person before you to be finished so you can end up spending 40 minutes at the report.
I found the teachers helpful but I would have liked more to hear about at which nana I am but they keep their output strictly to practice advices. They ask you how you feel, how your practice is, asked me whether I see any lights or any other sensations/experiences. Most of the time this is followed by the question:"Did you acknowledge it?"
The teachers from all over the world, Mexico, Hungary, Italy, Germany, Kun Thanat who is on top of the whole thing is Thai. He isin his 70s and I suggest raising your voice a little bit as his hearing is getting weaker. He does not attend the normal reports, only at the determinationdays, but if you have a question at any time of the day you will find your teacher around to help you. 


The next part will discribe the Days of Determination which I was just told by a friend are not supposed be known before attending the retreat/known by outside world. In the spirit of this forum, and because I have already written it down here anyway, I will leave it here for you to read. If it is perceived as wrong, the admins shall edit it out or ask me to do it and I will do it. I think it is okay to know what one is going into.


At day 14 sleep is reduced down to 5 hours. The next day it is reduced to 4 hours.

At day 16 they give you a task written on a paper and this is where the first day of determination begins. You will have to do the mindful prostration(not a big deal, 3 minutes exercise), say out loud a Pali text, make a wish that the three characteristics shall show themselves with more clarity and then do your walking and sitting mediation for one hour each and then repeat the whole thing until the next report without any sleep and without long breaks, they recommend 15, 20 minutes, no walking around, no eating in the dining hall, no talking etc. They give me some soy milk at the evenings so a little more nourishment. Also I could ask for some stuff like more chocolate from 7/11 or one day I ran out of toothpaste so my teacher brought me that, I found that really cool! emoticon

After the first day you will get another paper, Pali text, prostration, make wish for reflex like jerks of the body and then meditate but then with a different meditation schedule. The schedule is like this:

Walking/Sitting: 1hr/1hr, 1hr/30min, 1hr/25min, 1hr/20min, 30min/15, 30min/10min, 30min/5min.

If finished, repeat. They give you a little counting thing(these things they use to count the people on a plane) and you are supped to hold in your hand while sitting and press it everytime you have a jerk motion like your head falling in front because of lack of sleep or your knee jumping up or any other reflex like movement. After each session you write down the number on your timer in your table which you find on the back of the paper and reset the timer.

Again this is done without any sleep. I failed here and slept 5,6 hours and I was happy about that as the next 24 hours of meditation follow this day.

On determination day three (day 18 on retreat) you return to 1hr/1hr but make a different wish. You wish for the experience of sitting meditation without any perception of outside experience like noise etc, you wish for 5 minutes, if successful, go up another five and never go down or increase more than 5 minutes.. (For me this is a case for the "What was that?" section.) Your are supposed, as soon as you realise that this blackout happened to check the time and guess for how long you were gone. It felt a little like sleeping but without the feeling that time has passed. I simply realised that time got skipped, checked the time and was really surprised what was going on.

After this last day you get an exercise: prostrate, 5min/5min, then lie down for 15 minutes and wish for the blackout to come. You can repeat this and do it one more time after your next report but for 30 minutes reclining then. I recommend to lie down on the wooden floor so you don't fall asleep.


If you wanted to skip the part where the Days of Determination are explained, you can continue reading from here on.


After you go to the reporting room with all the teachers and other meditators who may have finished their course at the same day, I reckon it is rare to sit there with more than two yogis. You get a necklace from the temple, everyone congratulates you and Kun Thanat explains the Stages of Insight. He does that not as precise as I expected and he did some comparisons that I find weird such as the jerk motion representing the arising and passing away. In his explaination you cycle through the whole progress from Mind and Body up to Equanimity in these three days of determination. I can not recall too much detail from that, as I was lacking sleep and his explanation are of some nature that does not go along too well with my understanding of things. As I asked him about the four stages of enlightment and where I am on the path he replied with:"You are looking for a key to a room you already in." What to think of this I do not really know yet.  He suggested daily practice without the touching points and with three walking steps only. I find this very reasonable.

You are also given a book you can also find online, I got in German and translated it means "The only way". It explains the whole Vipassana thing. Google this"Home > Ajahn Tong > The Only Way - VIPASSANA" and you will find it.
The next two days there is no report and you may leave if you like or you stay and keep pracitcing, checking out the cafes/restaurants in town (They don't like to see you hanging out too much but as long as I practice a couple of hours I guess it is ok. You can still meet the teachers, read books from the libary or meet up with Kun Thanat.)

4. My experience

I think some flavour got through with my discriptions above so I will try to limit this section a bit.
I think I came with quite naive goals (either A&P Event, where I can not tell whether I have crossed it) or SE. I have to laugh now that I write this, but the motivation to reach these things really pushed me, which was good.
However as things got more turbulent and the emotional roller coster got really fast around day 5, every day had horrible moments and great moments, sometimes there was great clarity but most of the times the mind was throwing heaps of stuff at me. One day I went outside to write a message to a friend to help him with a problem. I think this was okay and did not affect my practice. One other day I got so obsessed about where I am, why they are asking me whether I see lights that I grabbed my kindle and went through MCTB using the search for "bright lights". This also calmed me down and I do not really regret, though I would not do it again.
I really disliked the ceremonies as I see them as a waste of time when on retreat. I reckon I missed out 6-8 hours of meditation because of that and if you feel like me I guess you should avoid going there on these events, though there might be more events like that... These birthdays were on 21.09. and 1.10.
I fell asleep at the second day of determination after 46 hours of being awake. Also I do not regret this because I suspect that I might have failed to stay awake on the following day, which I was told, was more important. However if I ever do a Ajahn Tong Style retreat again, well if I do it again I will try to not sleep during these days. If you want to do this I highly recommend you to NEVER lie down no matter what your mind is throwing at you.
I had my issues with the amount of information the teachers gave me but at the end of the day I appreciated their work and I think they did a got job to keep me on track.
I found the people at the temple super friendly and it would have been possible to do another retreat straight away. I really appreciate that. Also they can connect you to all the others places of this specific tradition so I may go to a temple in Jacksonville, Florida as I am visiting a friend there soon anyway. I am quite happy about this coincidence and I will see whether I take this oppurtunity. In the long run however my next mission will be to get to Nepal or Burma to find something more straight forward to avoid answers like "You are looking for a key...".
I guess describing everything what happened here in Chom Tong would make less sense and not give more value to you but I hope that you got something out of reading the whole thing.
Okay, it is quite late now and I feel like I put the most important things together.

After this retreat I can say that I more emphasise on living in the present moment, I will try to not fall into unnecessary thinking and wondering, trying to stay mindful at all times if possible. Also I feel a great sense to engage with my life back in Germany, I have spent two years of traveling, now I feel it is the time to try to find a university, find a occupation, improve family relations and try to give something back to the people I love. emoticon

I will see what time brings.

I hope I gave something back to this forum with this text as I feel like I got a lot out of it.


With metta,
Paul

PS: If you guys want some pictures, I can attach some pictures so you can get the feel of the place.

RE: Long Report of Chom Tong/Saying Hello to the Forum
Answer
10/7/15 10:26 PM as a reply to Paul.
Interesting report, thank you for taking the time to write it all out.  :-)
-Eva

RE: Long Report of Chom Tong/Saying Hello to the Forum
Answer
10/8/15 1:46 AM as a reply to Paul.
Paul:


The next part will discribe the Days of Determination which I was just told by a friend are not supposed be known before attending the retreat/known by outside world. In the spirit of this forum, and because I have already written it down here anyway, I will leave it here for you to read. If it is perceived as wrong, the admins shall edit it out or ask me to do it and I will do it. I think it is okay to know what one is going into.
I would want to add that these people aren't stupid - this is NOT a rigid system. You will not get the Days of Determination if you are not ready. First, you need to be at Equanimity. Even if you are, the conditions need to be right. If they're not, you will get a weaker form of Determination (without sleep deprivation) or none at all. I have done this type of retreat multiple times (though shorter); I only got the full Days of Determination instructions on one occasion.

As I asked him about the four stages of enlightment and where I am on the path he replied with:"You are looking for a key to a room you already in." What to think of this I do not really know yet.
Haha, I had to laugh. I thought this was a brilliant answer. He's right, of course: the course shows you the complete progress of insight, what more do you need? I think the blackout-things on the last day can be fruitions, but probably not every one of those occurrences has the same effect, i.e. there's variation to the effect of those things just as there's variation to the whole experience.

Honestly, I doubt that you will get more precise answers anywhere else. The approach of obsessing over minute details of experiences is pretty idiosyncratic to this board, but hardly found 'out there'. (And, I think, not so useful most of the times.) I guess there's also almost no point in comparing practice in this tradition to the model laid out by MCTB. By definition in MCTB, 2nd path occurs after one more full cycle. But the Ajahn Tong method, it seems, is somehow designed to go through a Progress of Insight in every retreat (in contrast to letting it unfold by itself), so you can see how that doesn't really make sense.
4. My experience
I guess describing everything what happened here in Chom Tong would make less sense
Actually that's the whole point about a practice report ;)

RE: Long Report of Chom Tong/Saying Hello to the Forum
Answer
11/26/15 10:12 AM as a reply to Paul.
Hey Paul! It's really great to hear from someone who's experienced Chom Tong! I was there a 3 months ago for two sets of two weeks.
It's been life changing. Thakns so much for this report it certainly brought back some memories. I did both sides of meditation. 14 days in the international centre and 14 days with the monks on the other side of the fence with Ajan Chai as a teacher. Two completely different experiences. I'd love to talk it through with you. 
Ben

RE: Long Report of Chom Tong/Saying Hello to the Forum
Answer
2/18/16 1:59 AM as a reply to Ben Hudson.
Hey would you recommend staying another 10 days after the 21 day course if I am able to do so?  It will be my first retreat but I've practiced for over a year, recently at around 2-4 hours a day.  Or, I was thinking of going to Wat Pah Nanachat for a while, which is similar to your staying with the monks.
Let me know your opinion.