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The monks and I: Teaching and learning in Thailand

Foreigners are being invited to teach English to Buddhist monks at two temples in Thailand — at a cost of hundreds of dollars.

And staff at one temple claim that many visiting instructors “experienced nirvana temporarily” during meditation sessions.

The temples, Wat Luang Phor Sodh in Ratchaburi and Wat Doi Saket in Chiang Mai, run slightly different programs, but essentially offer the chance to learn about Thai culture while teaching English.

Foreign teachers have to pay for their own lodging, food and other expenses, as well as their airfare to and from Thailand. And though all of the saffron-robed monk students are male, the temples welcome both men and women teachers.

“All English speakers are welcomed,” said Dr. Barton “Bart” Yanathiro, a…

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75-year-old American Buddhist who helps run the classes in Ratchaburi, about two hours southwest from Bangkok by bus.

Dr. Yanathiro is the temple’s secretary for international affairs and assists with the Immersion in Buddhist English Program. He also manages the Buddhist Meditation Institute, which teaches meditation in English, as part of the World Buddhist University.

Dr. Yanathiro said the abbot and several monks at the temple already speak English, and “a foreign professor monk” heads the teaching program.

“We began informally two years ago, but last year was our official opening,” said Dr. Yanathiro. “We have had a total of 18 teachers and 85 registered students so far. Two teachers stayed long-term, but most came for one to two months.

“The [monk] students learn English from fluent English-speakers, and the teachers learn meditation and Thai Buddhist culture.”

Classes run from May 23 to September 7, and from October 10 to February 22, 2012.

When foreign instructors are not teaching the monks, they can study Buddhist Samatha-Vipassana meditation, in an English-language program led by Dr. Yanathiro.

“Numerous teacher volunteers have been able to meditate to experience nirvana, and get advice from Buddha or the Noble Disciples,” he said. “This is an undreamed of, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“Of 16 teachers since the very beginning, six experienced nirvana temporarily. An additional three transcended beyond this world to Dhammakaya, and another three more achieved trance states like heavenly bliss. The remaining four only attained inner peace.”

All of the monk students are male, but both temples welcome male and female teachers from abroad.
Asked about their purported temporary experience of nirvana, Dr. Yanathiro replied: “I am using the official definition, where one actually sees and communicates with Lord Buddha and his disciples.

“Most amazing is the personal instruction some have gotten directly from Buddha. One was taken to a volcano and told to jump in. When he did so he became one with the earth. In another meditation he became a tree. Another teacher-meditator experienced becoming a leaf on a tree which then fell to earth, decayed and became part of the earth.

“They see Buddha and the disciples. Communication is by direct telepathy, so language is irrelevant. One does get clear verbal communications, but more impressive are their descriptions of experiences such as feeling oneself becoming a tree.”

None of the teachers reported any side effects from their trances.

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