To read Part I of this series, click here.
As we moved south to Vientiane, I revisited the blog post which had initially inspired me to find a Wat with meditation instruction. After reading through it, I realized the coveted destination was simply called “Wat Pa,” or “Forest Temple.” Doing a quick search showed a location near the city.
We took a tuk-tuk to the location, walked through the ornate gates past a few huts and gardens, and to a building resonating with the sounds of bells, gongs, and howling dogs. A service had just started and all of the attendees were either monks or nuns. Outside the building, there were a number of monks walking around, but in a purposeful manner. It was difficult getting their attention. I spotted a monk drying his laundry and decided to walk up to him. His English was minimal, but he called another monk out who spoke more.
We soon found out that we were at the wrong Wat when we asked for the Abbot. “Abbot Ajahn Sali is at Wat Pa Na Khoun Noi which is very far away, maybe 20km. This is Wat Sok Pa Luang, ” More specifically, we were at the wrong Forest Temple since there was apparently more than one. The good news was that the next day there would be free meditation instruction for one hour at Wat Sok Pa Luang. Somehow, going to the wrong Wat Pa worked out for us. But, even with the promise of some teaching, I left with an unsatiated feeling. The quest to retreat at a Wat for a few days was not fulfilled, yet I was still hopeful.
The next day, after visiting Pha That Luang stupa and nearby wats, we ventured back for the meditation instruction at Wat Sok Pa Luang. Nearly a dozen travelers/expats joined while a handful of monks sat in a trance at the front of the terraced pagoda. There was a mild breeze and sounds of bells in the distance while I attempted to quiet my mind. After an hour of walking and sitting meditation, I spoke to the head of the class, Monk Sommith, about contacting Wat Pa Na Khoun Noi and potentially confirming an extended visit there. Sommith mentioned he had some names & numbers that he could email to us. Could we be getting closer?
The following day, we were further away from realizing the quest than ever before. The phone number we received was out of service, and I found myself hunched over a toilet contracting stomach muscles never felt before, while beast-like sounds erupted from my throat. Dehydration, fever and eventually, hopelessness caught the best of me for the next day or so. It was my first and hopefully last stomach bug I had while on my Southeast Asia trip.
As I was physically recovering, so was my determination. I decided a last resort option would be to make the long trip to Wat Pa Na Khoun Noi and directly ask the abbot there. Unfortunately, yet understandably, Ankur was not on the same page. He was skeptical on making the trip without any confirmation. The obstacles once again seemed insurmountable. Time passed slowly. My hunger was growing yet still meager. I limited my diet to bread, yogurt, and water.
On the fifth morning in Vientiane my energy was almost 100% . I saw Ankur after breakfast and his mood was different, almost optimistic. He was ready to take the deep dive and venture out to the elusive Wat Pa together. After checking out of our hostel, the manager, Phillip, helped us find a tuk-tuk to go out there. Given that it was 20km away, the price wasn’t cheap – about $20. We threw our bags into the tuk-tuk, climbed in, and were on our way.
After thirty minutes of riding, we went past a large gate and arrived at complex of buildings, temples, trees, and ponds. Finally, it was Wat Pa Na Khoun Noi. We were next shown up some stairs into a hall filled with elders preparing flower bouquets, wreathes, and banana leaf cones crowned with marigolds. After gazing around, we were directed towards an older monk sitting in the back. He looked up and smiled as we approached him.
We sat down in front of him and expressed our interest in staying at the temple to learn and practice meditation. “Have you practiced before?” he asked
“Yes, at Pa-Phay in Luang Prabang and Wat Sok Pa Luang,” I said.
“Ok, where are you from?”
“Do you have your passports?” A common question for any hotel or guesthouse.
“Yes.” I took out my passport and Ankur his driver’s license and mentioned his passport was in the tuk-tuk outside.
“So you are Indian?”
“Yes, and we live in America.”
“Ohh, I see.” With a big smile he erupted, “Indian-American!”
We laughed along. “Yes, we are.”
“So, we a have a celebration starting tomorrow at the temple. Many people will be coming here and we do not have room to keep you here.”
After the last week of anticipation and hope, especially in the prior three days, I noticed something strange in my reaction. I wasn’t upset. The attitude of the monk was so genuinely positive, it was contagious, and I was completely okay with the result. So much had culminated in that moment: Recovering from a stomach bug, asking countless people about Wat Pa, and some guilt felt for dragging Ankur out to a futile quest.
But, the fact was that we took the risk. We left no questions unanswered and tried everything. And having the opportunity to visit the temple during an auspicious time just before a celebration was also fortuitous.
Looking back and reflecting, I realized an important lesson about desire. I’ve already written about freeing myself from being a Prisonor of My Own Desires. But, now I understand that desire is inevitable and part of human nature. Obviously, bad desires should be avoided, but good desires can be pursued, cautiously.
In my Quest for Wat, there was certainly desire involved. And, although it was good in intention, there was an aspect to it which burdened me and had a negative effect. What was it? The problem was that the desire had been coupled with expectation. In the quest, I undoubtedly had the expectation of finding and staying at a Wat. That expectation quickly became an attachment. And, attachment to an outcome was the perfect setup for dissatisfaction and potential mental anguish.
Going forward, I will continue on the Quest for Wat. I hope to remember this important lesson by acting on my desires with a sense of detached involvement.