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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.

And Passing Away

By | 9/21/2021

Pandemia's Flower

By | 9/21/2021
Reaction roots the mind,
Anxieties left to grow.
Fearful emotives blossom.
Nectars of uncertainty flows,
Attracting humanities resilience,
The mind starts to slow.

Dhamma Practice in the Face of the Coronavirus

By | 9/21/2021
One year ago today my 73-year old mother suddenly passed away from a heart attack while travelling in Mexico. Five days later my 93-year old father died as his vital organs failed. Tragedies in my life continued throughout 2019 as I witnessed my extended family members wage war against one another, my father’s business collapse, one of my siblings agonise from mental illness, several friends and relatives flee wildfires, young friends diagnosed with cancer, my children get hurt from sports injuries and bullies, and intoxicated arsonists mindlessly burn down six barns in my neighbourhood. And now COVID-19 welcomes us into a new decade.

Understanding Pain from a Dhamma Perspective

By | 9/18/2021
For many of us the Coronavirus pandemic has provided a strong confirmation of the importance of having a well-established insight meditation practice. In particular, the ability to face painful vedanās with inner composure and equanimity is such an important asset in many respects, enabling us to face the repercussions of the pandemic on others and on ourselves with equanimity, able to do the needful without becoming overwhelmed.

A Note on The Equanimous Mind

By | 9/7/2021

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.

Mountain Dreaming

By | 8/29/2021

Ingynbin 2015

By | 8/29/2021
 [1]                                                           Towards Ingynbin,
a train passes—
buffalos bellow

We arrive at the end of the rainy season. It is extremely humid, and the journey is uncomfortable: twenty miles or more on the back of small motorcycle taxis, backpacks between our knees, along potted, dirt roads, scattered trees.

Bhante U Mandala, a senior monk who speaks some English and deals with foreigners, had received our letter and expects us; but he has a new phone and so we couldn’t confirm our time of arrival. He smiles disarmingly. We settle into the same room in which we had spent two nights last year. It’s pleasing to be back—although, as I say, the first week requires making several adjustments. Aside from the weather, there’s no running water in the accommodation for the first week and we must carry buckets filled at the nearby bore-fed tank in order to flush the toilet and to wash ourselves—even then nothing feels particularly clean. Occasionally John douses and soaps himself at the tank.

Run Pierre Run: Wallowing in Thought is a Risky Distraction

By | 8/29/2021
Run Lola Run (Lola rennt) is an intriguing 1998 German film. It is composed of three sequences that have the same beginning, but evolve and end in very different ways. A young woman hangs up the phone after a call from her boyfriend, and has 20 minutes to save his life by bringing him a large sum of money, which she hopes to get from her father, a bank manager.

In the opening sequence, Lola runs down the stairs past a man walking his dog, and at the bank gets into an argument with her father who is talking to his mistress. Tragic consequences ensue. In the next sequence, events again start from the moment Lola leaves her house. This time however she trips over the man walking his dog, and the ten-second delay means that she arrives at the bank later, which substantially alters the outcome. In the third sequence Lola also races down the stairs, but this time she leaps over the dog. No ten-second delay, and a completely different ending.

A small but vital distinction produced disparate sequences for Lola, leading to profoundly different conclusions. Similarly, my droll little story involves problems that I created for myself and how, in working through them, different consequences have, over time, played out.

From the Buddha to Us: A Brief History of a Lineage and Tradition

By | 8/11/2021

The Beginning

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.

Emperor Ashoka

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.

The Lamas and the Guru: On the Way to My First Vipassana Course

By | 7/23/2021

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.

The Community of Dhamma

By | 7/22/2021

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.

Insight in a Nutshell

By | 7/21/2021

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.

Nothing Here

By | 7/20/2021
I trained west from Sawai Madhopur
Across the desert, Rajput forts atop mountains,
All and sundry covered in sand storm dust
Train stations in the middle of nowhere
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