organic farms and meditation study in northern Vietnam?
10th April, 2009
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Hello! I am headed to northern Vietnam in a few weeks and trying to arrange some activities. I'm hoping to find work trade opportunities as well as monastery stays. Does anyone have any recommendations for either? Looking for somewhere safe as a female, with reasonable work trade.
For meditation I was hoping for something in English, around 10 days long.
I'm also interested in volunteer opportunities, specifically orphanages or environmental restoration.
Thank you! Any advice for resource would be great as well. having trouble finding accurate resources online.
#1 Posted: 28/1/2013 - 22:11
28th August, 2012
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Hi, I think people are going to struggle a bit with supplying any leads for you with this one.. In Vietnam monasteries are for monks, for a woman to stay at one would be unthinkable.. The whole meditation vacation thing here is a very unusual thing, I know there is nothing like that in Central Vietnam - the north I can't find anything mentioned but I may not be looking in the right places - I hope someone can help you with that.
Short term volunteer work is very hard to come by, I'm really against people doing the orphanage thing, unless you have some real qualifications that would be of help to them and could commit to longer, orphanages in Vietnam and S.E Asia are not being helped by orphanage tourism. Environmental restoration is another area where most projects are aid or government (most both) run.. all I can think to advise you on would be to contact an NGO in the area, if you have experience, qualifications and a background in this field then they might be able to offer you something, but if you are only here 10 days and you don't it just wouldn't be worth them taking you on board. It does seem like you are looking in the wrong country - India would have loads to offer you, but Vietnam is still emerging from years of struggling and have a long way to go before this kind of 'tourism' is recognised.
I hate to be so negative and I really hope someone else can tell me I'm wrong. I've been racking my brains trying to think of another way you could do something similar here - the only thing I know (in central VN) is a little homestay where they encourage longer stays where you can help the fishing community - they have formed a little school for the village kids teaching them English and environmental awareness - schooling their parents could not afford for them, the kids absolutely love it and class sizes have grown from 6 to around 40, they also encourage guests to help teach the village women new skills, someone recently taught them foot massage - its just small stuff, but gives them an extra trade and much needed income to support their family. The homestay is on the beach in a little secluded garden and there is a yoga and meditation teacher locally that runs classes on the beach ( two a day) or privately. I know this is in the wrong location for you, but it might help to give you a few ideas to broaden your net. Good luck!
#2 Posted: 29/1/2013 - 20:31
A very good and thoughtful answer by Lola above. I too have been thinking on this (not that I'm an expert on Vietnam) and not much really came to mind. If the relationship between the Vietnamese government and Thich Nhat Hanh weren't still precarious I would imagine he and his followers would have long since set up something in Vietnam similar to his Plum Villlage in France (and his other branches in other parts of the world), which accept all people to stay and practice. Unfortunately the Vietnamese thien (zen) sect that he belongs to has been persecuted often over the years and isn't too strong in Vietnam today.
So really you're looking at Pure Land temples, of which there are a bazillion, and the odd Theravada temple. As far as I know, you won't find a traditional '10 day retreat' like you will in Thailand, Burma and many other countries (although it very well might exist somewhere in Vietnam). But that doesn't mean you can't get involved.
Check out this list: http://www.buddhanet.info/wbd/country.php?country_id=54
There you'll find a number of different organizations, including both Pure Land and Theravada monasteries as well as Buddhist collages and other groups. If they're listed on buddhanet.net I would imagine at least some English is spoken at them. It appears there a few that at least offer some kind of regular weekly meditation instruction, and I would imagine some of the Theravada monasteries in particular might allow more traditional retreats. As Lola says, it's very uncommon for women to stay in monasteries (though there are Buddhist nuns in Vietnam, again, I'm not an expert), but you may be able to stay at a guesthouse or homestay or something near a temple and spend time every day learning and practicing at the temple. Pure Land monks are certainly very open to teaching women - rules are actually a lot less than stringent than they are for Theravada monks.
Keep in mind though that, in practice, Pure Land Buddhism is generally more centered on chanting than sitting meditation. Or course, chanting "Nam mo A Di Da Phat" ("Homage to Amithaba Buddha") over and over for an hour or two can also be very meditative. If I were you I'd read a thing or two on Pure Land first if you're not already very familiar with it. It's very unique (and very popular but mostly only in Asia) as far as Buddhist schools go.
Some years ago I was lucky enough - by virtue of traveling with a fluent Vietnamese speaking Vietnamese-American - to spend over a month immersed in Pure Land Buddhist community life and practice in and around Hoi An. We stayed at a guesthouse but went to a few different temples (Chua Phap Bao was the main one) and received teachings from the monks and took part in chanting services everyday. It was an amazing and enriching experience. Unfortunately, though, if I hadn't been with that Vietnamese speaker I would have been just another tourist wandering in to the temple for an hour and smiling to the monks on my way out.
The Pure Land tradition in Vietnam is very special - it encourages a lot of community service/charity by the actual monks and the actual Buddhist practice is very, very different to Theravada (in Thailand for example). All of the monks we met at all of the temples (it was 6 or 7 altogether) were incredibly welcoming to me as a foreigner and excited to teach me, and just generally excited that a foreigner was even interested in Buddhism. I actually ended up hosting one of the head monks at my home in the US for several days a year later during his visit there. He's still at Chua Phap Bao in Hoi An, which is very easy to find right near the old town, and he does speak a little English. So if nothing else, stop by there and ask a couple of questions. Otherwise, maybe you'll have some luck with what's on that buddhanet list.
#3 Posted: 29/1/2013 - 23:39
10th April, 2009
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Wow, thank you guys so much for investing into my questions. I really appreciate you taking time to explain and elaborate. Since posting my question, I to have come to the conclusion that child work is likely not a good idea. That being said, it seems as though I will have to dig through a lot of this information on monastery stays to see what I can find.
I will be sure to share information about my findings for anyone who may stumble upon this post. It does indeed seen that Thailand is full to the brim of the volunteer opportunities I've been looking for, I will be heading there after Vietnam soon I suppose.
I'm traveling very flexibly so for the right opportunity and experience I can commit longer than two weeks. I'll be in Asia until late April
Would you mind giving me more details about the stay you described? It sounds right down my alley! thank you!
#4 Posted: 29/1/2013 - 23:51
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