The stupa at Wat Rumpoeng. Courtesy of Don Morreale.

Tan Chawut’s Chanting echoed out across the temple grounds—as startling as the cry of the tree-dwelling gekko, as reassuring as the whirring of cicadas. I had journeyed to his monastery—Wat Rumpoeng (Lum-pung) in Northern Thailand—in search of tranquility and insight, the fabled twin blessings of Buddhist meditation.

The regimen was rigorous: 20 hours daily of sitting and walking meditation in strict seclusion. During the last three days of a two week retreat, in an exercise known as “determination,” retreatants were expected to meditate round the clock without lying down. A meal of rice gruel and greens was served at six a.m., the main meal at ten. For the rest of the day we fasted. Visiting and idle chit-chat were discouraged.

I was curious about the chanting and asked my meditation teacher, Luangpoh (“Grandfather”) Panjat, what it meant. “Tan Chawut chants the Patimoka,” he explained.

“The Patimoka?”

“These are the rules which govern a monk’s conduct; where he may sit or sleep, what he may eat and when, the work he may do or not do, what he may touch, and what he is forbidden to touch. It is the code of sila—morality. We believe it to have been formulated by the Buddha himself in order to instruct us, even in his absence.”

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