Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Me... talking politics ... even while in meditation?

The Golden Buddha in Bangkok.... one ton of pure gold!

During one of the reflective compassion meditations during the 19 day retreat, we were asked to show compassion on someone we really did not like. Well.... I thought of a couple of political figures in the USA with whom I could conjure up Zero - Zip - Nada degrees of even the tiniest bit of compassion.

Later I had a chance to talk about this with Rosemary, one of the teachers, during a private interview with her. I was on my high horse of idealism, questioning why these very powerful USA political figures were doing so little, if anything, in my humble opionion, to bring about an end to all the suffering in the world. Of course under my breath what I was also saying was that if I, were in their position.... I indeed would be working tirerlessly to end poverty, cure diseases, care for the orphans, bring clean drinking water to everyone, bring about a changes in Burma and Zimbawe, and so on and so forth!

Rosemary looked at me.... sat back in her chair and said.... "The Buddha, when he was alive, could not end all the suffering in the world. Who am I to think that I can do this, when even the Buddha could not?"

The air went out of my idealist balloon. I was again reminded to look at myself... what I can do to end suffering .... not be the judge of what others I think... should be doing.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"Your body lives in the moment. You can join it!" Rosemary

"How was the 19 day retreat?" you ask.......

Let me respond to your question like this....

"Every thought is significant. Investigate every thought." noted the late Kristnamurti.

This retreat taught me to do just that. Step-by-step, I learned methods, tools and techniques of mental development to use throughout my meditation practice. It provided me with the time daily to practice the new skills I'd been taught, and it provided me with the one-on-one guidance of a teacher, through a series of interviews, to share my experiences with and to insight from them.

Developing "Wisdom" was a major focus of the retreat, learning to become more compassionate with ourselves as well as with the rest of the beings on this planet.

It was for me, another step towards my becoming much more aware of my own thoughts as they arise in my mind, learing to investigate these thoughts to see if the are beneficial or unbeneficial, and then to act on the beneficial thoughts through my speech and actions so as to create my own personal "Peace of Mind" on a moment-by-moment basis.

Restructuring my conditioned views of the world that lead to my thoughts, speech and actions, will take time. As Rosemary, one of the retreat teachers said to me.... "With Right View and Right Thought, one walks out of suffering (unsatisfactoriness) and onto the Eightfold Path toward Enlightenment."

End of the 19 day retreat..... participants, teachers and nuns.

Retreat schedule....

4:00 a.m. Wake up bell
4:45 a.m. Sitting Meditation
5:30 a.m. Stetching Exercises
6:30 a.m. Sitting Meditation
7:05 a.m. Breakfast
8:15 a.m. Working Meditation
9:00 a.m. Walking Meditation
9:30 a.m. Talk followed by Sitting Meditation
10:25 a.m. Talk
10:30 a.m. Walking Meditation
11:05 a.m. Lunch
1:00 p.m. Walking Meditation
1:45 p.m. Standing Meditation
2:45 p.m. Walking Meditation
3:30 p.m. Sitting Meditation
4:30 p.m. Walking Meditation
5:15 p.m. Light Dinner
6:15 p.m. Sitting Meditation
6:45 p.m. Walking Meditation
7:15 p.m. Talk
8:30 p.m. Optional additional Meditation or sleeping

Experiencing Meditation and Life at the Retreat Center

Three hours in the state of deep, breath-by-breath, concentration....

During the afternoon of the seventh day of the retreat.... at the very beginning of the hour long standing meditation.... I suddenly found myself in very deep state of concentration ... as every breath rose, I followed it in.... as every breath left, I followed it out. If a thought came into my brain, I'd zap it by saying "thinking, thinking, thinking" and the thought would "puff" disappear. As I watched my breathing, it became a blue-green oblongish flow or air moving in and out. My mind was totally fixed on follwing my breath and only my breath. This continued the whole hour!

When the hour ended and we were to move outside of the meditation hall and begin our walking meditation, the deep concentration state continued .... until.... a mosquito came along and began singing in my ear. Had I been mindful enough to have said "hearing, hearing, hearing" instead of allowing the mosquito to bring up all sorts of aversions.... well... the spell broke.... darn mosquito!

But then... following 45 minutes of walking meditation, we moved back into the meditation hall for sitting meditation, and suddenly, there I was, again deep into following my breath and only my breath.... for another 45 minutes, I thought of nothing and I mean NOTHING, other than observing each breath as it came in and as it went out. It felt so, so, sooooooooooooooooooooo good! I was in total and absolute bliss ....

The bell rang for the evening meal which consisted each day of a fruit salad ... chunks of fresh pineapple, slices of bananas, covered with grated coconut with a few roasted peanuts scattered around on the top. All through my silent evening meal.... I kept thinking... "I was in the Zone. I was in the Zone. Is that what Nirvana is like?"

Follwing dinner, the evening sitting meditation brought me smoothly and easily back into the same deep state of concentration. By now the experience had brought with it a mellowing effect, where I did not struggle in the least to follow my breath.... rising... falling.... rising.... falling.... for another hour!

That night when I went to sleep... I set my alarm to make sure I'd be in the meditation hall early for the 4:45 a.m. sitting! I could not wait to get back into the "Zone!"

Next morning however,.... nothing.... nothing... I could not concentrate... I felt frustrated. Later that day, I met with Rosemary for one of my interviews with her, and told her about my experience from the day before and how I could not recapture the experience again at the morning sitting. She looked at me... sat back and laughed! "Everything is impermanent," Rosemary exclaimed! "You wanted that feeling back so badly this morning, your desire was so strong that it kept it away!

Rosemary went on to explain to me that in Theravadan Buddhism, the objective is not to crave the past or desire the future, but to investigate objects (thoughts) arising in the mind on a moment by moment basis. "Remember everything is impermanent, constantly changing," Rosemary reminded me again. "Try to deal only with the situation you experience at any one moment. Don't let your desire try to re-create a blissful experience from the past." I knew Rosemary was right.... but that blissful experience I'd had... well, it sure was nice!

The laundry area and bathrooms at the meditation center.

On the retreat registration day, I found that I'd been assigned to a small, rustic wooden cabin built on stilts in the jungle. A building with wooden planks for a floor that shifted and groaned when anyone walked across it. It was a really cozy little place, with built-in wooden bunks to accommodate up to six people. Luckily there were only four of us..... but as I was to find out my first night.... that was about three too many!

Everything was peace and calm that first night... until I was jolted out f my sleep by what sounded like a ruff running 747 jet landing right next to my bottom bunk! The guy next to me was snoring so loud, the noise made the floor vibrate! Mentally, I began packing my bags. No way was I going to lay on a hard wooden floor for 19 days and listened to this guy every night! I mean, in my California home, I have two white noise machines to block out any noise while I sleep.

Next day I asked one of the retreat assistants if she had any thoughts on how to deal with snoring. She replied.... that when the snoring started, for me to just keep saying "hearing, hearing, hearing" and NOT "snoring, snoring, snoring" since the word snoring makes the brain all agitated with aversion (why is he so loud! doesn't he have any consideration for me?, etc.) while the word "hearing" just notes, without any aversion, what's going on.

Well... I'd heard of this technique before, and had actually used it.... But only when, during a weekend meditation retreat there was a little bird singing while I was meditating..... NOT when a loud 747 was lumbering down the runway next to my bed!

So that night, as soon as the snoring started, I began repeating "hearing, hearing, hearing" and to my amazement, I did eventually fall asleep! Now that did not mean I was able to stay asleep, for when the snoring came back in full force, I'd wake up and repeat "hearing, hearing, hearing." Funny thing was that when I used that word "hearing" no aversion arose in my mind, so there was not the typical tightening of my muscles and racing of my brain that I had grown so use to in the past.... no none of that.

I was a little shaken to notice one day however, that even this snoring guy wore ear plugs! So every time when the big jumbo jet would begin its lumbering take off, I'd just say to myself... "hearing, hearing, hearing" and I'd fall off to sleep. Of course,, the little blue ear plugs I brought along and the two heavy pillows I placed over my ears... well.... they helped too!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Buddhist Monastery at Wat Kow Tahm

The island of Kha Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand where the Buddhist Monastery of Wat Kow Tahm and the Meditation Center are located....

This really is a tropical paradise!

The Pink Temple at Watt Kow Tahm

Within the first few days of the retreat, I began noticing my mind's aversion toward judging other people at the retreat.... "Why does she do walking meditation so exaggerated like that?" or... "Why does he always take so much food?" or... "Why don't the teachers realize that everyone is very tired from meditating all day and yet the evening talks go on for so long?" and on and on and on went my mind non stop it seemed!

During one of my individual interviews with Rosemary, one of the teachers, I asked her about my "judgemental" mind. She commented that judging is linked to prejudice which has as its origin ignorance. Rosemary suggested I do a mindfulness meditation on my judgemental mind, using the Law of Cause and Effect to reflect on all the suffering that has been created in the world due to judging, prejudice and ignorance. To reflect on the lives of those people who appear a little different and how they have been hurt because of prejudice. Then in my reflection, to try and develop compassion for myself and these people.

Later that day, I did just that. In silent meditation, I went through a series of reflections on various groups of people who have been hurt by prejudice. With this kind of reflection, it is easy to spiral downward and see one's self as totally worthless. So I guided my reflective meditation session with an image Steve, the other teacher, had given us, wherein he'd noted we're not all totally bad... in fact, we've created a beautiful houses for ourselves in our minds, with many, many beautiful rooms!

Reflecting, I looked at my life and my mind's home... with the vast variety of rooms I'd created. Many very exotic! Fun places for me to go to in my mind! Other rooms were bright, cheery and places where I'd often meet friends. Some rooms needed to be cleaned a little, while others... well, needed a whole lot of cleaning.... someday, I told myself... someday. But not now. As I went through the home my mind had created, I noticed that some doors were slightly ajar, others were closed.... I knew what or who was behind those doors and I just did not want to go there very often!

Then... I found doors that were locked solid. I knew exactly who waited for me behind those locked doors, and in mind, I knew that keeping the doors locked was causing me suffering.... but I just did not what to deal with the history behind those doors .... I just wanted to keep the doors lock. As I continued in this reflection.... I came upon just one of those doors I'd locked a couple years ago. Someone had been, what I felt at the time, very judgemental towards me, so in return, I became very judgemental toward that person, cut off all communication without explanation, and locked the door.

Frequently, some thought would pop into my mind, and I'd find myself walking by that locked door, knowing very well who I'd locked inside and hence out of my life. It made me feel sad about what had happened, but the door remained locked, just the same. Every time I catch a glimpse of that locked door, I'd feel some guilt, remembering the good times I'd had with this person before I locked the door. And there were many, many good times, starting so long ago, I can not even remember. But my desire to show this person's judging of me was wrong, and my counter judging was good, I kept the door locked... My reflection continued as I stood next to that locked door, suddenly realizing all the suffering I'd brought on myself over the last years for what was in essence, my wrong view. My judgemental mind had caused me to lock the door, cut off all communication with this person, with ongoing suffering for me the end result.

The whole purpose of this 19 day meditation retreat I was on in the Gulf of Thailand, was to learn how to develop internal "Peace of Mind." A "Peace of Mind" that could come from letting go of unbeneficial thoughts and cultivating beneficial thoughts. "Did I want to continue to suffer?" I asked myself.... "Did I want to have Peace of Mind?"

Concluding my silent meditation, now very much aware of all the suffering my judgemental mind had caused, I resolved to unlock the door after the retreat was over, re-establish communication with this person, ask for their forgiveness, therein letting go of the suffering and finding, in at least this one situation, my own "Peace of Mind."

The Shrine at the top of the mountain, overlooking the beautiful blue waters of the Gulf of Thailand.

The grounds and a few of the statues located within the Monastery grounds.

The name of this temple comes from the fact that it is located on a mountain (Kow) and that there is a cave (Tahm)where some monks have spent considerable time meditating....

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Brainstorming.... basis for a 5 paragraph essay..

Over the last two weeks, I've been working with the students at the University in That Phanom, teaching them how to write a five paragraph essay. Using the Four Square Writing Method, students brainstorm and organize their thoughts, using a graphic organizer, before they write. In the Four Square Method, students are encouraged to come up with a topic sentence which contains three sub-topics which in turn form the body or 2nd, 3rd, and 4th paragraphs of their essay. After teaching and re-teaching the basic structure, here Phra Von verbally brainstorms the beginnings of his essay....

Congratulations Phra Von! Good job!

True Confession of a Thai Temple Addict!

Okay... I confess... I'm a temple junkie! I love to visit Thai temples, walk around them, meditate in them, take pictures of them, and so on and so forth. I'm fascinated with them... well one in particular. The temple at Wat Phra That Phanom captured my imagination two years ago when I visited here, and has been calling out my name ever since.

For me, experiencing this temple is somewhat like experiencing the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Both are overwhelmingly massive. Both spectacularly beautiful. Both exude the mystery of life! If one allows oneself, these spiritual sites can radiate an incredible power and attraction!

But no matter how powerful the illusive draw, no matter how strong the allure, I had to remind myself on this trip that these spiritual sites are made by the hands of people.

So this morning, as I sat cross legged on the cool marble tiles near the base of the gigantic pagoda of Wat Phra That Phanom, and in the quiet of the morning, with not a single solitary soul around me as the bright golden sun rose and illuminated against the deep blue sky, the pure gold umbrella that sits on the very top of the structure, I reflected on my latest stay in That Phanom and penned the following....

Pilgrim's Pagoda
Buddha's Bone
It's impermanent