Is it possible to study meditation in Buddhist monasteries for free?
Yes, you can. In the suburbs and near St. Petersburg there are Buddhaviharas. These are centers of meditation. There you can go for free vipassana, this is a multi-day meditation retreat. Not everyone can stand it, some leave on the first day. In the end, you can decide for yourself whether to leave a donation.
But meditation is a practice that requires persistence. So in any case, either at home to do it yourself, or to facilitate the systematic and increase the depth of the study, the easiest way is to go somewhere constantly. So free (in fact, paid with donations) or paid classes in meditation techniques are still useful and necessary. These are complementary things.
Thailand is one of the countries where almost the entire population is Buddhists. Meditation is an integral part of Thai Buddhism. There are many centers and monasteries throughout the country where everyone can learn the technique of meditation. Best of all, it's all free. It works on voluntary donations. You can stay as long as you think is necessary or as long as your visa allows. All this time, your content is at a monastery or meditation center. The minimum recommended duration is 7 days.
In the north of Thailand, near the border with Burma, there is a place called the Forest Monastery and everyone goes there to meditate. This is just an awesome place to meditate. This is due to the democratic daily routine and democratic rules, the amazing beauty of the place and the fact that your teachers are real monks. There is everything, gardens and parks where you learn walking meditation, real caves where you can go for a day to meditate all alone under a mosquito net. The halls are equipped with fans and do not have walls so that you can always hear the sound of trees and streams with crystal clear mountain water, which are near each meditation hall. Each tree has a sign with a motivating quote from VK. You eat, like all Buddhists, twice a day. Food is always healthy and always plentiful.
The only thing that really bothered me was reading prayers in Indian, Thai and English aloud for an hour at the same time every evening. But this is the only drawback of the fact that the meditation was in the monastery.
On the day of my arrival, there were almost 50 people in the monastery. Most of them are foreigners, and only a couple of Thais. I was told about the "tough" daily routine, I signed that I agree, and I was sent to my house. I didn't get a separate house. It was more like a hostel. Two floors, designed for 50 people, but on my floor there were only three. You need to sleep on the floor. White clothes are given to everyone upon arrival.
Honestly, there is something ritual about it. Everyone around is walking only in white clothes and everyone is immersed in themselves. As if not people at all, but ghosts. No one communicates with anyone or greets. It was difficult for me to get used to this after my perky and noisy Thai company in the mountains. On the other hand, this is understandable, because people come here to be alone with themselves, so they don't seem to notice the rest.
Only the monks in orange are always smiling. And the abbot of the monastery arranged a stand-up every morning before breakfast.
In total, there are about 8 hours of meditation per day, of which 4 are mandatory for everyone, and the rest are under your responsibility. Conversations are not prohibited as in ordinary Vipassana centers. But if you don't want to be distracted, then hang yourself a badge and no one will touch you.