A pulsating cosmopolis of 10 million, Bangkok at times seems like the most unlikely Buddhist city on earth, despite the glittering spires of its famed shrines and temples.
It’s tempting to view the latter as quaint background filler, or as clichéd tourist traps thronged with foreign visitors. Meanwhile, everyone else seems to be stuck in slow-moving traffic shuttling back and forth between condos and office buildings, while hordes of workers from the outer provinces transform construction sites into makeshift villages.
After sunset, the scene switches to busy street-food stalls and the latest Michelin-starred bistros. Prior to the pandemic, bars, nightclubs, massage parlors and live music venues competed to squeeze the last out of your waking hours before it starts all over again. Yes, Bangkok’s mass weapons of distraction make it all too easy to fill one’s life without sparing even a moment for self-reflection. That’s a pity, because beyond the grit and glitz lies one of the city’s greatest charms — the opportunity to slow down, turn inward, and find some stillness at the heart of chaos through meditation.
The majority of Thais follow Theravada Buddhism, considered the earliest existent school of Buddhism and the tradition most focused on meditation. Almost every wat — Buddhist monastery — in Bangkok offers instruction on how to meditate, often with a hall dedicated to practice, or at the very least, floor space where laypeople can sit down, fold their legs, and practice basic mental techniques that are for the most part unique to Buddhism.
In addition to the monasteries found all across the city, Bangkok offers a number of standalone meditation centers that also organize regular instruction, drop-in sessions and meditation retreats. For visitors and residents alike, practicing meditation in Thailand offers the chance to step back, extract one’s self from the rat race for a short time, and take a look at the bigger picture. For some, it also aids recovery from anxiety, depression and trauma in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.