I’ve been quiet for a couple of days. That’s because it’s been a very challenging week and I haven’t gotten my head around it well enough to describe it.
However, since when I worry about logistics, my anxiety about everything goes up, I’m going to describe the logistics in detail. I found only very sketchy details when I searched online, and that brings out the worst in me.
All of these were recommended, but here is my advice.
1. Calling in advance
I read that you have to handle this very delicately, citing your experience or lack thereof, and politely asking to join. Here’s what happened when I called.
People are around in the classroom from 08:30 until 09:30, so it’s safe to call during that time, possibly earlier. I wouldn’t call later, since we start sometime between 09:30 and 10:30, and you’ll be on speaker phone. I’m not even completely sure you really need to call. I called on Thursday morning, today is Wednesday and someone called today. Friday is fine. Someone else called over the weekend, but there is no class on the weekend, so you risk no answer.
When you call, don’t be nervous. He doesn’t even want to know your name, so I doubt he cares about your experience. Maybe he cares about numbers, but we’re overfull now & he didn’t say no.
2. Showing up the week before you start
Possibly fine. There are so many people coming & going, I doubt you’d be a distraction. Maybe aim for lunch time 13:00ish or the end of the day (16:30) to be least distracting. At 16:00 everyone gathers for the closing prayers, so don’t show up until 16:30 unless you want a big entry.
I was nervous about finding the place, so I drove out there Friday afternoon, arriving between 16:30/17:00, and it seemed fine but unnecessary.
3. Bring your payment and an offering for the shrine.
Lessons are 800 baht per day. You can pay the whole week at once, or just pay each day. If you pay each day, you don’t need a new flower offering every day, only the first day.
For the offering, here is what you need. Flowers are most important. Get a couple of bunches of whatever you think is pretty. If you get lotus flowers, that’s awesome because you’ll have something fun to do while meeting people when you’re there. Classmates can show you how to fold the petals in preparation. But don’t only get lotus flowers. You’ll want something else on your offering tray as well. (You don’t need to bring a tray or basket, it’s provided.) If you get the little wrapped flowers in leaves that you see on household shrines, get 3 or 5. 3 is symbolic of Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha (Buddha, the Teachings, and the Monks). 5 includes those 3 and your mother and father, to whom you should also show respect. Placement of those in the offering dish is scripted, so ask someone to show you how. Note: these aren’t necessary at all, but if you choose them, now you know how many to bring. I brought one, which had sticks of incense in it and candles, but one isn’t appropriate. You can also bring garlands of yellow flowers if you like, but again, that’s optional.
Lotus flowers, with petals folded:
You also need incense. Look for a big wrapped package, decorated gold or silver. There’s symbolism in those colors, and while I was there, Pichet seemed to have plenty of gold ones but not enough silver. You can buy incense in the Buddhist supply stores, which I seem to see everywhere.
Finally, you can bring a package of candles. I noticed that not everyone had candles, though, so it’s up to you.
For your payment, you don’t need to buy an envelope. There are envelopes you can use. Put your payment inside and write your name on it. If you pay each day, you do this then put only the offering inside the shrine, no need for the whole flower offering (except for your first day).
As for putting all this in the shrine, this is scripted too, but your classmates can help you. At least now you know what you should bring. This picture was taken after the flowers (and the envelopes) were repurposed from the offerings.
Fruit! I almost forgot. Bring fruit, anything you like. It goes in a separate communal offering platter, and I honestly don’t know whats happened to it after that. I brought bananas and mangosteens, which I was told to put in the platter. Other people brought other things. My things disappeared but I don’t know where they went. The whole platter got presented at the shrine later.
4. Food and drink
You don’t need to pack a lunch unless you prefer to. There are cheap little eateries serving pad thai, khao soi, and various other things. Other students brought fruit to share, which you could also do if you like. Pichet has water, coffee, tea all there for you to drink as well.
5. Getting there
Here is what I read online before coming:
To get there: Go to Chiang Mai gate (the southern central gate). Across the street from the market (on the other side of the street) you’ll see a yellow songthaew (yellow pick up) on the corner. That pick up is probably going to Hang Dong.( ask the driver first). Take the yellow bus for about 10-15 minutes, it will first pass the Old Medicine Hospital, then continue past the airport, and then it will begin going down a wide boulevard with a divider island down the middle. You will pass a large SONY billboard on the right. This will continue for about 8-10 minutes more. At this point you should look for a big blue/white “American Standard” sign on your right (on the opposite side of the boulevard). When you see the American Standard sign, you are about ½ mile away from the stop. Ring the buzzer on the bus, or tell the driver you want to get off at “Baan Chang Kam”, which is about 1 block before a wat (temple), which you can see on the other side of the street. Get off, and on your left, just past a little woodworking place, you’ll see a dirt road that winds past a field on your left. In the distance on the left you’ll see a few banana trees. Pichet’s house is right there, at the end of the block, before it curves to the right.. If you get lost, just ask for “Ajahn Pichet” or “Baan Chang Kam.”
I didn’t take a yellow pickup, but I think it’s pretty accurate. Others took them and didn’t seem to have any trouble. I rode a motorbike. Here is what was different, or relevant.
It is basically a straight shot south from Chiang Mai gate or Suan Prung gate, on route 108. There are no turns until the very end, onto a narrow road. It did, however, take longer than that description says. It took me about 40 minutes, and I was not going slowly, nor was I passing everyone. I’m not familiar with the Old Medicine Hospital (rather, I know of it of course, but haven’t been), so I didn’t notice it in passing. Further, I did not see the Sony billboard. I did see the American Standard sign, which looks a little bit like this, but not really. I include this as reference to the lettering.
At the American Standard sign, be prepared to turn left. (The sign is on the right, as is Baan Chang Kam, a nice-looking guesthouse directly across from the turn off to Pichet’s.)
I didn’t notice a woodworker, but that’s possibly because the corner stall was closed this week. Anyway, it’s the very first left turn after you pass the billboard. It’s a narrow, paved road. You will pass this on your left, shortly after turning onto it.
And Pichet’s home is just after you pass the field. You will come straight at it, and his name is on the wall to the left of the drive. Pichest Boonthumme.
So that’s how you get there. Now you know!
6. What to wear
My understanding, before arrival, was that long flexible pants and something with sleeves are appropriate clothing. I wore a pair of fisherman’s pants and a short-sleeved T-shirt, which is what I usually wear for massage. But here’s something I didn’t know, as a non-Buddhist: DON’T WEAR BLACK!!!
Preferably, wear white, or a very light color, to symbolize your openness to learning. If you don’t have white, any color except black will do. If, like me, you don’t own much of anything that isn’t black, buy something. Otherwise, in addition to learning it during the “welcome” talk, you will hear about it from several of your classmates, who apparently didn’t think you were listening, since you haven’t changed yet.
As for bare shoulders and shorts and such loose pants that you’re flashing everyone any time you’re being a practice model, hey, go ahead. Apparently, it’s just color that’s important, and not how appropriate your attire is to what you’ll be doing.
7. You don’t need a notebook. Some people had cameras and made videos, but I don’t think that’s very useful. Up to you.