Articles, Book Reviews, Poetry and Art
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.
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.
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.
Anxieties left to grow.
Fearful emotives blossom.
Nectars of uncertainty flows,
Attracting humanities resilience,
The mind starts to slow.
The Equanimous Mind is a book that will introduce Vipassana to people who may not have been familiar with it, and that will increase buy-in from many people who are already practicing it. The book describes a ten-day Vipassana meditation course in the tradition of S. N. Goenka from the standpoint of someone encountering meditation for the first time. It contains a detailed, journal-like narrative of the rich and complex sequence of events that unrolls during the ten-day retreat that is devoted to learning this form of meditation. The strength of the book is the author’s capacity to recall and sequence vivid details by the hundreds. Dr. Manish Chopra has a mind unusual for its precision. This gives the book the feeling of an experience rather than merely of a recounting. The reader feels as if he or she were right there, accompanying Manish in this breakthrough moment.
Historians differ on Gotama the Buddha’s actual birth and death dates. According to one accepted calculation, he was born around 563 BCE and died at the age of 80 in the year 483 BCE. He taught Dhamma for forty-five years, during which time there were other prominent spiritual teachers in India, including Mahāvira, revered by the Jains, and numerous ascetics who were not followers of the Buddha.
About 260 BCE, the aggressive Indian emperor Ashoka conquered a neighboring Indian kingdom. The extensive loss of innocent lives and widespread destruction filled him with remorse and caused him to repent his misdeeds. In subsequent years he was drawn toward the Buddha-Dhamma and became a devoted lay disciple.
In marked contrast to his previous reign of conquest and cruelty, Ashoka began espousing nonviolence and freedom of religion, and introduced within his empire certain features of a social welfare state, such as medical facilities, rest houses and elder care. Through his proclamations and edicts, often carved on rock outcrops and stone pillars, and the emissaries whom Ashoka sent to promote the Dhamma, the Buddha’s teachings spread across the Indian subcontinent and beyond, into Central and Southeast Asia, and westward as far as Greece.
On December 10, 1970, I crossed the Pakistan frontier into India at Wagah, having travelled overland from Europe, mostly on local buses. After only a couple of days in Delhi, on Janpath Marg, a main commercial artery, I unexpectedly encountered an Australian man whom I had known only slightly two years before in Frankfurt, Germany. Incredulous, we immediately recognized each other. He invited me to stay with him in the small house he was renting in Arjun Nagar, then a semi-slum in south Delhi―which I did on and off for the next two years.
I feel very grateful for the way right companionship among Vipassana meditators has supported my few steps on the path. This companionship springs from many sources, some more unexpected than others – seen and unseen, past and present – and some through the catalyst of living words in an ancient language. Like the uncanny kinship I might feel with a bhikkhunī of 2500 years ago, a few paradoxes come to mind when thinking about the community of Dhamma.
Contemplation of vedanās as a particularly powerful avenue for gaining liberating insight can benefit from a deepening of our understanding in relation to various dimensions of what this term stands for. The relevant translated passages below from a Chinese Āgama are used to present a series of key questions regarding insight into the nature of vedanā. The passage to be taken up below presents a series of key questions regarding insight into the nature of vedanā. The purpose of using these translations of the discourse is to enable the reader to compare it with existing translations of the Pāli discourse, and thereby come to a personal understanding of the often-minor differences between these parallel versions, both of which are the product of centuries of oral transmission.
Across the desert, Rajput forts atop mountains,
All and sundry covered in sand storm dust
Train stations in the middle of nowhere