The Young Buddhists Association of Thailand (YBAT), which has been actively promoting Buddhist meditation for more than six decades, plans to hold its second annual camp for international students in August, aiming to present Dharma teachings in a manner more accessible to young people who are new to meditation.
International students meditation camp. From Bangkok Post
The camp’s organizers and participants emphasized the difference between the YBAT’s approach and that of meditation courses for children that place an emphasis on teaching self-discipline, concentration, and morality through Dharma talks and practices. The YBAT, by contrast, organizes its annual camp around games and activities that encourage student participation, and uses young speakers to communicate with students on their own terms.
Chutikarn Cholsaipant, a first-year student at the University of California, Berkeley, and a returning volunteer from last year’s camp who will be participating again in August, emphasized the difference between the YBAT’s approach and her experiences at other camps.
“It is really encouraging in terms of having a certain degree of freedom,” she said. “We are trying to set a home environment for the kids that teaches them to meditate, unlike going to a strict camp that forces you to conform with everything. The past meditation camps that I have been to are very discouraging because I had to be quiet all the time.” (Bangkok Post)
YBAT official Chatchai Bunnag, who designed the course, agreed: “Basically, other camps tend to focus on meditation and lectures. Here we incorporate games and activities to give [young students] a more complete picture of what Dharma is.” (Bangkok Post)
Meditation camp. From Bangkok Post
“Our camp encourages kids to raise their voices because kids from international schools are keen on sharing their opinions and using critical thinking skills,” he said. “We also handpick young speakers, so the students can become more motivated.” (Bangkok Post)
Another volunteer from last year’s camp, Sahnfun Chittmittrapap, a student at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said the camp had a positive effect on participants as it sought to de-emphasize some of the more materialistic aspects of a young person’s lifestyle by suspending access to the Internet and mobile devices.
“At first, the participants might not enjoy the experience because of the drastic change in lifestyle, however towards the end of the camp they did see what they had gained through the trade-off they made; they realized that it was meaningful,” she said. (Bangkok Post)
Fifteen-year-old Nirada Habanananda, who participated in the camp in 2014, spoke of her own experience with enthusiasm: “When I went back to school, my friends noticed how I became calmer, which was a huge contrast to my habit of panicking and messing around. I have also learnt how to cope with exam stress through talks we had at YBAT.” (Bangkok Post)
The camp will take place from 8–12 August at the YBAT center in Pathum Thani Province north of Bangkok for international students between the ages of 12 and 18.
The YBAT was founded by a group of young men and women who wanted to learn more about Buddhism and to disseminate it to Thai society. On 15 January 1949, founders Sathiara Bodhinunta, Dr. Boonyong Vongvanij, and Supoj Saengsomboon formed “Yuwabuddhiga” (“The Young Buddhists Group”), which organized Sunday Dharma activities and meditation classes. The group soon earned the praise of senior Buddhists in Thailand for showing young people the relevance of Buddhism and making the teachings more accessible to the younger generation.
The group held their first activities on the grounds of Bangkok’s Kanmatuyaram Temple with the monastic support of Phra Srivisudhiyana (lay name Sucheep Boonyanupab), who allowed the young people to use the temple as a temporary headquarters. In 1950, the group became an official association with 11 founding members and was renamed “The Young Buddhists Association of Thailand.” The YBAT was granted Royal Patronage status on 17 March 1960. In 1975, Kwan Iam-ong donated a piece of land in the Phasi Charoen district of Bangkok to Thailand’s Queen Sirikit, who presented the land to the YBAT, which moved from Kanmatuyaram Temple to its present headquarters on 10 December 1980. The YBAT has established five meditation centers in Thailand with support from lay Buddhists and former participants.