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An Ode to Vipassana Centres

By | 1/22/2022
It can be overwhelming to think about the unfairness of life, the complexity of its problems, the impossibility of solutions, and the ignorance, irrationality, pettiness and selfishness of humans, myself included. But it helps to remember Vipassana centers, places that do makessense. Places that seem too good to be true. Unrealistic. A system, an environment, an organization that I would never believe to be true without first-hand experience.

Webu's Meditation Hut

By | 1/22/2022

 


Dedication: I think of Webu’s sick-bed inside his dwelling, the renovated meditation hut next door that we could share. Beyond a  devotional exercise, which is present, the following explores an underlying feeling of strangeness, or perhaps it’s an unfamiliarity that doesn’t feel strange, or unpleasant to experience. It reaches into a gratitude that wants to be precisely expressed.

Observing the Flow

By | 1/14/2022

In Hot Water

By | 1/14/2022
In January 1973, at the Burmese Vihāra in the village of Bodh Gayā, Goenkaji conducted a nine-day course after his annual self-course. In those days the Vihāra consisted of a walled compound containing a main, two-story, concrete building for the few monks who resided there, workers' quarters and kitchen, a dozen or so brick-and-thatch huts, and a cowshed.

Nowhere

By | 1/14/2022

It hurts.

It hurts to confront myself.

It’s not rainbows and butterflies.

There are parts of me that I don’t want to look at…that I’ve protected…that I hide from the world and from myself.

Not Self

By | 12/30/2021
Perhaps the most central aspect of the Buddha’s teaching is insight into the absence of a permanent self anywhere in subjective experience. In addition to the philosophical perspective of denying the existence of a permanent entity, important practical dimensions are the countering of self-centered conceit and of a tendency to appropriate ideas or objects as “mine” through possessiveness and clinging. The three dimensions of the teaching on not self that emerge in this way are conveniently expressed in a standard phrase found repeatedly in the early discourses, according to which one should contemplate any aspect of subjective experience as not being “mine,” not being what “I am,” and not being a “self.”[1] Contemplating any aspect of subjective experience in this way can target craving, conceit, and mistaken views in turn.

Holding on to Nothing is Liberation

By | 12/30/2021

Pull down the blind, tune out the time. Sitting hour after hour, from 4:30 in the morning until 9:00 o'clock at night. In silence. One day, two days, three days...

I sit, get up, stretch, sit, repeat. I observe the mind, coming and going. I recognize myself running away from the inevitable. I nod off the accumulated fatigue of the previous months. I procrastinate, postponing concentration with thoughts, thoughts, thoughts. I know the process well (or so I think), and still the mind plays tricks.

The Cow: In the Absence of Rumination, What Remains is Peace.

By | 12/15/2021

Geneticists tell us that cows and humans share about 80 per cent of their genes. Two eyes, two ears, a nose, lungs, liver, a heart, etc. Moreover—because of genetics—both have something else in common: they ruminate.

The cow brings up food already swallowed to chew it again, while humans bring up long-gone events, to chew them again.

Over millennia, the cow has slowly developed this ability, which has contributed to her very survival. Grazing too long in an open meadow, in danger, she has cultivated the ability to minimally chew grass and swallow it quickly, and then regurgitate and rechew it calmly later, out of the sun and away from predators.

Biologists call this intelligence. Can we say the same about humans?


Taming the Wild Bull

By | 12/14/2021

Adhiṭṭhāna

By | 12/7/2021
Aching,
Shaking,
Backbreaking.
Tranquilly sensed but, Painstaking.


The Tree of Merits

By | 12/5/2021
By the late nineteen fifties, the Indian community in Burma was divided. There were those who were sure they saw the handwriting on the wall. Being convinced that sooner or later a socialist regime would be installed, these people reasoned

Goenkaji's Italian Messenger of Dhamma

By | 12/5/2021

DHAMMA MAHI - August 1988

The first two courses at Dhamma Mahi in Louesme, France, were conducted by Goenka and managed by Gerhard and me (Pierluigi). The courses were hosted in a big white tent where about a hundred students participated in each course. In the second course, there were approximately 30 Italian students. Probably the influence of an Italian manager with 30 Italian students gave Goenka a particular idea.

Compassionate Recall - Day 4

By | 12/5/2021
I woke up in the morning thinking I was waking up from a dream; the dream being the commitments I had made to myself the previous day. Suddenly, I felt a lot less sure about myself. I thought I must have been on some sort of meditation high—maybe an over oxygenation of my brain due to improved breathing or circulation—to have come up with such implausible goals as completely abstaining from alcohol, the embarrassing prospect of apologizing to those I might have offended while dealing with them in difficult situations, or pledging to forgive others who have wronged me in indelibly hurtful ways.

Ambapali

By | 11/21/2021

Dependent Arising

By | 11/21/2021
The principle of “dependent arising”, or paṭicca samuppāda, stands at the heart of the Dhamma, the Buddha’s teaching. According to a well-known saying, one who sees dependent arising sees the Dhamma, and conversely one who sees the Dhamma sees dependent arising.[1] What such seeing requires, however, is perhaps not necessarily obvious. In order to unpack this statement and relate it to the meditative contemplation of vedanās, first of all it could be noted that a chief principle behind expositions of dependent arising is the principle of specific conditionality.[2] Simply said, this means that there are specific conditions required for something to arise. In the absence of the relevant specific condition(s), that which depends on them will cease, or not even arise in the first place.

Winds of Change

By | 11/21/2021
Not much time had passed after we started classes again in college when the crisis started. Large masses of students, workers and other segments of the population had decided they had enough of what they perceived to be a tyrannical government. People took over the streets chanting, yelling, and demanding their voices to be heard. The government reacted with violence. Some protesters did also. Soon afterwards, the cities became war zones. Nobody, no matter what neighborhood you lived in, could walk to the park safely. In my city, events proceeded relatively normal in comparison to the rest of the country. We heard news of burnt town halls, of mysterious civilians shooting unarmed protesters in the street, missing relatives all over the place, dead protesters and dead cops, and overall chaos for everyone.

Hard Reboot - Day 3

By | 11/12/2021

Having rested well in a deep sleep with a cleansed body and mind, I woke up recharged and ready for the long day of meditation ahead. I was beginning to like the feeling of a refreshing cold shower early in the morning. My wake-up routine was down to a science by now—every minute was counted out for each activity so I would be ready in 30 minutes flat and seated on my meditation cushion in the Dhamma Hall by 4:30 am. The fact that I wasn’t shaving helped knock off a good 10-15 minutes from the morning rituals.

Today’s exercise was to persist with observing the breathing process and learn to recognize the sensations in and around the nasal area. As I tried to focus my mind towards acknowledging sensations like itching, warmth and moisture, more self-observations began to surface effortlessly...

Send Mettā

By | 11/8/2021
In the spring of 1979, construction of the Dhamma Giri pagoda was in full swing. A combined crew of Indian engineers and labourers, and Western volunteers—some experienced in construction, some not—bustled daily over the rising concrete bell, or dome. Student numbers continued to swell on courses, so there was a push to make the pagoda fully functional as soon as possible.

Looking from the Bridge

By | 10/22/2021

Sleepy Skepticism - Day 1

By | 10/22/2021

The video discourse stated promptly at 7:15 pm and I saw Goenkaji for the first time—a full head of white hair, calm face, looking like he was in his late sixties though I had heard that he was well over eighty years old now. He started with stating matter-of-factly that the first day of meditation was over, and there were nine more days left in the camp to learn the Vipassana technique. He then proceeded to provide explanations for everything we had experienced during the first day.

The rationale for observing our respiration to build mental concentration is that the process of breathing serves as a medium for our outer (conscious) mind to connect with the inner (deep-rooted) mind by focusing conscious attention on the respiratory process which is an unconscious, involuntary activity regulated by our autonomic nervous system. Breathing is also a natural, neutral, and ongoing process to focus the mind’s attention and is conveniently ever present. He rhetorically asked if we were finding the process to be difficult.

Meditation Dilemma: Portrait of a Free Choice (Nepal 1990)

By | 10/22/2021

I first met Anitya Pal the monk on a summer afternoon at a small Buddhist temple on the outskirts of the town of Banepa, Nepal. Banepa is not a famous place--among travellers it is known mainly as a transit point and service centre for buses making their way along the Arniko highway to Tibet, which emerges from the Himalayas only a few hours away. Among Nepalis the town is recognized for its large number of schools, which serve the greater district of Kavre. Groups of smartly uniformed students are a common sight, making their way between the town and neighbouring villages. Banepa is also a destination for pilgrims, with the temple to the goddess Chandeshwori (Parvati) located on the banks of the Punya Mata river, just outside of town. Surrounded by the rolling hills and rice paddies of central Nepal, the feeling of Banepa remains deeply rural, deeply traditional–-with the exception, of course, of its main drag and bus station, which is a typical modern chaos of shouting, honking, and revving engines.

Having passed through Banepa many times before, I had decided, this day, to get off the bus and do a bit of exploring. I'd been wandering the side streets for some time, lost in thoughts, when I came across a dilapidated little temple complex, innocuously situated on the other side of a brick wall I had somehow found myself following. Rounding a corner, suddenly there was an archway and a signboard in Devanāgarī script: Banepa Theravāda Buddhist Vihāra. This one was not in the guidebooks.

Meditation in Brussels

By | 10/10/2021

Unexpected Beginnings – Day 0

By | 10/10/2021
Once through with the rules, the speaker moved on to explain the daily schedule, which was also posted on a huge poster outside both dining halls so there was no ambiguity about it! He went on to explain that we would be woken up at 4 am and that a full day of meditation would start promptly at 4:30 am with a break for breakfast from 6:30 to 8:00 am, group meditation from 8:00 to 9:00 am, followed by instructions, check-in on individual progress and more meditation before breaking for lunch and rest from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm.

A Road Trip On and Off the Path

By | 10/10/2021
“What? You can’t be serious. That is completely dumb and dangerous. Who do you think you are? Over my dead body you’re doing that. Just go on your course.”

There is no one like my wife to knock me off a cloud and cut through my bullshit. But we’ll get to that later.

As Spring 2020 approached, it had been a year and a half since I completed my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course and I felt ready to return. I searched for reasons to go. I asked my wife, “Do you want to come with me this time?” NO.

Going to multiple 10-day Vipassana courses is like intentionally throwing yourself into Groundhog Day except in the movie, Phil, a weatherman stuck living the same day repeatedly, occasionally had a lot of fun. Instead of a one-day loop, the course is a ten-day loop. The classes are taught by the same teacher via the same sequence of audio and video recordings regardless of the location and time of the year. But every course is different. We’re in a different place in life. The cast of characters is different. The weather and accommodations vary. Yet, like Phil, if we get it right this time, there might be some form of liberation.

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