Dhamma investigation, Kandy, Sri Lanka

Dhamma Kuta

When I start a journey I usually start with a meditation retreat to collect myself, to be clear about the purpose of the trip. Similarly, when the journey comes to an end, as it must, I conclude my travel period with a meditation retreat to gather mind and body and to reflect on the many experiences I made throughout the trip.

   
Therefore, I choose to sit down and digest the myriad impressions at Dhamma Kuta Vipassana Center on top of a hill near Kandy. Especially after tending for the dogs and cats at Tikiri Trust I find this is a great way to understand raw existence and the suffering and compassion and love I have encountered there. Remaining silent for 8 days after so much barking at the animal shelter to come to terms with the lot of all beings, including my own.

   

View from the Dhamma Hall

   

   

Uphill, the light reflects on the stupa and meets the lens

   

Perfect spot to watch the sunset

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Dhamma investigation, Sharing

Bardos

The intervals between different manifestations of the universe are important, and so are the intervals between this decaying and dying body and a baby being born somewhere else someday soon.

Time and space are not (only) what they seem to be. There are connections where we don’t see any!

Likewise, while travelling to a certain place – going there the fastest way possible or ever so slowly – we establish patterns in and of our lives and hereby determine not only where we’re gonna end up eventually but also how, i.e. what kind of a human being we will have become once we get there. The places in-between our destinations are not at all insignificant. These spaces make the journey. They are the journey, with our bodies as observers and document-producing interpreters.

   

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Dhamma investigation, Kuching, Sarawak

The donkey and the carrot

​”Those who hold training as the essence, or who hold virtue-and-vow, pure livelihood, celibacy, and service as the essence – this is one extreme. And those with such theories and such views as ‘There is no fault in sensual desires’ – this is the second extreme. Both these extremes cause the cemeteries to grow, and the cemeteries cause wrong views to grow. By not penetrating these two extremes some hold back and some go too far.”

(Udāna 6.8)

   

I remember a story. Ajahn Brahm told it in one of his dhamma talks, I think. It’s about a donkey with a carrot in front of his nose. He wants it. Goes after it. Starts running. Takes up speed. But the carrot only comes a little bit closer. In spite of all his efforts he can’t reach it. He runs faster and faster. Then, suddenly, the donkey stops. And the carrot goes off farther than it has ever been… only to turn and slowly but surely land between the donkey’s teeth.

This is certainly a fine illustration of what wholesome effort means. To be immersed in dhamma can also mean to lose oneself, and that is not meant in a positive sense. Buddhism can become a hobby, even another ego strategy, and it can take over so that nothing is left of a person – i wonder if this is the goal  Isn’t the goal to become more acquainted with myself, more in touch with my body, more ok with my idiosyncrasies?

In order to understand the role of buddhism in my life I take note of who i am without it  Same goes for money, sex, and power: you only know how powerful they are once you live without!

Looking for guidance in the world and looking for a personal guru can be helpful if it leads me to let go of idols and ideals. Perhaps Buddha stories are sometimes ridiculous because of that: The listener needs to go beyond them. If they do not serve as an inspiration for practice wholeheartedly they are an incredible waste of time. At least that’s my point of view after having read Udana, Itivutaka, and Sutta Nipata, and Dhammapada. These texts are mainly addressing monks, not lay people. Sometimes it sounds impossible and not even close to how I think life is to be lived. Living a life of renunciation, giving up all worldly pleasures, living the holy life. For now I keep to those utterances which inspire me and let the other ones just be because i find they are quite discouraging at times. Why? Because they foster unrealistic expectations and make it hard to settle back into the moment.

   
IDEAL

The biggest obstacles to settling back are attachments to self-images and concepts of who we are and how we want to be.

They complicate unnecessarily the very simple experience of what it is that’s happening.

Often people on the spiritual path get trapped by an image.

An image of what they think it means to be a yogi or a meditator or a spiritual person, creating for themselves that struggle of trying to live up to a certain preconceived way of action or behavior.

Thank you, Joseph Goldstein!

   

What can never be reached must by definition remain an ideal, a promise, a hope, an aspiration, a drive, a search for fulfilment. Now i realise what I’ve been doing: following a dream which keeps telling me to stop craving. Stop craving to end suffering. Relinquish all wanting. Practice renunciation. Observe the precepts. Work diligently. I’ve become so immersed in that quest, so idealistic and ambitious that i seem to have missed the point. What’s the point, then??

   

The . point . is . to . be . happy !

   

All that striving to be a good buddhist has led me to a rather stiff personality, as if i constantly walk on eggs in order not to hurt any being, and all the while hurting myself because i got a stick up my ass. I have become self-aware to the max. The time has come to regard Buddhism – and what its embrace has made me – from a different angle altogether; maybe it’s too early to make a revision but i am confident it is better than to stay inside a box. Yes, better be outside and look at it.

Concepts like self-help, self-healing, self-esteem, successful personality etc. hit a nerve in Europe and America because of the cultural issue of self-perfection that pervades almost all areas of life today. So I take a closer look at the bookish buddhism i have adopted and turned into a personality trait. And i try to live a happy life instead of working on myself and getting all worked up in the process. The more I know my striving the less seriously i can take it.

All that needs to be done is to take genuine dhamma, put it in fertile soil and let it ripen at its own pace. Letting it blossom instead of trying to figure out how to get the best out of me.

Eventually, the raft has to be left behind…

   

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Dhamma investigation, Kuching, Malaysia, Sarawak

You are not your face  :-P

Mischievous lil’ monkey is up to something

   


To save the world, break the mirror!

​Since in her last fabulous post my queen/ travelmate/ girlfriend/ yogīni/ spiritual advisor Joy wrote about how she perceives me as a mirror I am reminded that i have not looked into one to check my body/face for weeks. So the philosophical me says hi and explores the relationship between full body awareness and absence of mirrors.

Mirrors can contribute both to our well-being and to our ill-being. Not having seen how my face looks for others i am prone to get a different perspective on who/what i am. For instance, I fail to notice a bad hair day or a pimple above my eyebrow, and a piece of pakchoi between my teeth slips my attention as well. That’s what I have my beloved queen/ travelmate/… for. She points these things out to me. And she does so in a loving way. She helps me get rid of what part of the lunch got stuck in my beard. What would i do without her?

Talking about the beard. Let’s face it. There is no concern about my hair because the ‘self for others’ has vanished. I remember Fidel Castro makes a point in Oliver Stone’s documentary ‘Comandante’ that he saves at least 15minutes every single day by not shaving 😉 Time is precious. Better not waste it in the bathroom. Only the essentials: soap the body, rinse with water, brush the teeth. That’s it. No big fuss about looks. It’s liberating. It feels wonderful because important needs are fulfilled: independence, clarity, and ease. Independence because i am no longer in a state of slavery, trying to make my face look attractive to others. Clarity because it is so obvious that skin-deep beauty is not what makes others want to spend time with me anyhow. Ease because how i feel inside the body becomes more apparent.

If only people knew the advantages of living without a mirror or at least not looking into a mirror every day! I am certain they would be happier and less worried. They would not identify so much with the mask they’re wearing. Eventually, consequentially the world would be a much less artificial place to live in. It would be a place where masks (latin: persona) would not be mistaken for real and we could live life in a much more natural way. Nowadays, ‘natural’ is a trademark to render consumer goods more attractive instead of what it ought to be: a way of life.

   
Lost Arts

Since Joy mentioned in another post of her marvellous blog the art of looking, the filosofa in me awakens yet again to say salaam aleikum, peace be with you.

I am thinking about Lost Arts. Joy remembers how pictures were taken with old-fashioned cameras. The number of pictures per film roll was limited and development of the photos took time.

If you grow up nowadays you are probably equipped with  a cellie before you go to school. Taking pix is what you do. Check 1,2 and if you like it – spread, if not – delete. A matter of seconds. Children do not know about this process film rolls had to go through to develop.

Another lost art might be the one of becoming familiar with oneself. Please forgive me if this sounds rude but the only thing most of us are familiar are our likes & dislikes. It starts at school when we fill in our classmate’s friendship book. I am… My favourite colour is… I like… But to be completely immersed, totally focused sothat we lose all sense of ‘me’? Taking pictures can have that effect if you are a professional photographer, and if you are, I’d be delighted to read about your experiences of flow during your work. If you’re not professional, what makes you unprofessional – is it just because you are not earning your livelihood with taking photos or you haven’t found a niche yet? Again, let me be blunt: if this is your only criterion you are giving money far too much credit in your life.

   

Putting things in perspective

   

As Pico Iyer states in a TEDx talk about the Art of Stillness it is really about how you perceive that makes the difference between a wonderful and an awful experience. I agree.

   

Immersion

Being totally immersed in a sunset, for example, there is no one there to say ‘I like it. I want it. I want to keep it.’ If you are fully present, there is only delight at the sight of it. Ayya Khema eloquently describes what happens “once the sunset is over and the delight has vanished… the ‘me’ returns, and with it the idea that ‘I’ should go looking for other sunsets because they bring such pleasure.” If you are mindful of what’s going on in your inner life you will be able to notice: It is not the quality of the sunset but “in fact it is the quality of our own immersion… that brings us delight.”

   

Don’t look out there. Let it come to you. Everything is right here.

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Dhamma investigation, Kuching, Malaysia, Sarawak

Check your sources, don’t follow blindly *_*

Sīmā Hall at Tusita Hermitage, Kuching, Sarawak

 

While joining the community at Tusita Hermitage I was feasting on the Buddha’s teachings as they were passed on to us in the suttas, e.g. the Khuddaka Nikāya. Having listened deeply, I find it hard to believe that this has really happened the way it is told. And the suttas are actually intended to serve as inspiration to practice diligently. Instead, they make me more sceptical because of the myriad instances in which the Buddha is depicted as infallible; every single one of his premonitions comes true; anyone who disrespects him is bound to be reborn in hell (e.g. Devadatta), or immediately robbed and beaten up because he erroneously thought he can outsmart the unsurpassable, holy, fully self-awakened one (e.g. Udāna 8.7).

Idealisation and idolatry doesn’t strengthen my confidence. On the contrary: hymns, myths & folklore around the life of the historic Buddha remind me of the repetitiveness of the Bhagavad-Gita or the Qur’an where every second line includes some hype about superhuman qualities, potencies and powers.

‘What has this got to do with life?’, I ask myself. When indignation has calmed down a notch I am able to see more clearly.

Firstly, it hints to the power of faith. Whatever I believe colours my perception. How strong is my faith (skr. saddhā) in the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha? How firmly do i hold on to my views and opinions about what is the Path and what is not the Path? Do i take everything in dhamma books at face value or not? Am i skilled in the language of my own heart so i can let go of my foible of reading yet another dhamma book?

Secondly, it serves the purpose of acknowledgement. Knowing that in the course of many centuries layers of lore and legend have been put on top of the original message – isn’t that in itself a valuable insight? Go figure. People do that. Exegesis, interpretation, censorship. It is part and parcel of human history.

Thirdly, it certainly shows me what league i wanna play in.

Fourthly, it points to my (in)capability to take hardcore teachings with a grain of salt. Can i act upon the spirit of the letter of the Buddha’s teachings? In other words, do i take the necessary steps to cultivate a mind that reads between the lines and is firmly rooted in practical application? Or do i keep my mind busy instead by grappling with and grasping at the phrasing and finding fault in it, and as a consequence not taking any decisive step towards clarity finding out what truly works for me and what does not?
Didn’t the Buddha himself as a historic figure invite everyone to come and see: “Ehi passiko”? At least that’s what was propagated in the industrialized world when the Kalama Sutta was rediscovered and, to a certain degree, hyped because it corresponded to the prevalent egalitarian, liberal, protestant mind-set. What follows is an excerpt of the famous Kalama Sutta (u find the translation incl. interpretation of the entire sutta here).
“It is proper for you, Kalamas, to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them.

   

Buddhists in the West, particularly those with a Protestant background, have received the discovery of the Kalama Sutta with wide open arms. While Consensus Buddhism fosters mindfulness and meditation, Traditional Buddhism, on the other hand, advocates obedience and faith. In this context, it might be useful to read David Chapman’s blog about Consensus Buddhism – as with everything that’s said and written about Buddhism these days, remember the author’s intention, always double-check, use common sense and question apodictic statements. Stay alert.
Coming back to the question: “What has this got to do with my life?” Given the fact that ambition (greed) and individualisation (isolation) runs rampant in the consumerist culture (distraction) I consciously choose to adopt a way of life that encourages me to be kind and nice and selfless. This must have consequences for my career path. It’s impossible to get to the top like that. To live up to one’s true self, and thus, neither pretending to be a hardcore version of myself (difficult in times of social media) nor presenting a softer version of myself (difficult in relationships) means to walk a tightrope, indeed.

A middle way be found between helping yourself and helping others. Friends should be supported, yes, and still equanimity should prevail, knowing that they have brought their current lot on themselves by their own actions of body, speech and mind. Nobody said it would be easy to be a Buddhist, especially not with an agenda lurking in the background urging you to be a ‘good’ Buddhist – or at least one of the good ones in general. (… link here to a controversial issue…)

As you might have guessed, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I think it is conducive to dhamma practice to have an idea of what I’m practicing compared to what others are practicing, all of us calling ourselves Buddhists, to some extent. Feel free to share here how you deal with the discrepancy of ‘Conservative Buddhism’ and ‘Consensus Buddhism’ in your life. Do you think in these terms at all? Is it relevant for you? If so, how? If not, why not? Do you read the original scriptures (Sutta, Vinaya, Abhidhamma)? If so, what is your reaction? If not, why don’t you give it a try?

 

Let us pay homage to the pineapple!

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Bukit Mertajam, Dhamma investigation, Malaysia, Sharing

Vitamin D

​Time goes by quickly. Looking back it’s hard to believe how much has happened in three months! Most of it is stored somewhere in some hidden corner of my mind… oh wait a sec – there are no corners in my mind!

   

Street corner in Penang. The Dhamma Path is bound to lead to the Road of Nirwana. All you have to do is STOP.

Having some tea tarik in the evening. Why teh tarik? Cuz they ‘pull’ the can while pouring to let air in – for a bubbly surface and a kilo of gula/sugar. Please enjoy. While munching some roti pisang/banana with the tea some cows suddenly appear out of nowhere walking the streets of Penang. I can’t help it, i just love this place 🙂

   

Cows Against The Stream (CATS)

   

I am staying at Nandaka Vihara Meditation for a couple of days. It’s at Bukit Mertajam, about one hour east of Penang. A perfect place to relax and recharge batteries.
   

Frangipani Frangipani

To recharge batteries, yes. And also to get some original Vitamin D (Dhamma). Throughout the last years i suffered from an overdose of Vitamin B (Buddhism). Naturally, as there are so many people around saying ‘this is what the Buddha really taught’ it is hard not to get confused about what is and what is not the path to liberation. 

Ven. Dhammavuddho kindly gave me a disc when i stayed at Vihara Buddha Gotama in Temoh. It is about 8GB full with readings and commentary of the Tripitaka, i.e. the Pali canon. More on my perception of these talks and the suttas themselves in a later post.
    

Come and see 🙏

   

Every day lay people come to donate breakfast and lunch. On Sunday there are particularly many people here at Nandaka Vihara. The Jivita Clinic opens its doors. Families arrive with donations (food, robes, medicine, supplements etc.) and take the five precepts. This is an essential part of the monastic life. Without the lay supporters the monks would have to walk to Bukit Mertajam and beg for alms food there or hire a van & driver to go to a town further away (like it is done at VBG, Temoh)

   

This is probably going to be a kuti one day

There is still a lot of construction work going on… stupa in the lake, library octagon hall, another meditation hall etc. Finished presumably 2025

   

Every Sunday medical care is provided for free on the compound of Nandaka Vihara by the JIVITA Clinic.

Bhante Vijita in the Jivita Clinic, having his pulse checked by Mr. Tan

Reason enough to take a closer look at the Jivita Clinic (on the website it’s still called Aroga Clinic). There are several doctors offering acupuncture, cupping, homeopathic treatment, TCM, and western medicine.

Being a Certified Ohashiatsu Consultant, I am certainly curious about the practical application of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and about Mr. Tan Choh Ling, the acupuncturist.

David, Lee Hong and Bhante Vijita

I tell David that i never had an acuPuncture session before… He asks me: ‘Do you want to try it out?’ Sure I do. Name and age are registered and about 15 mins after that I get my first acupuncture needle set ever. Four in the right shoulder, one in the arm, then three in the neck… and now that we’re at it, a cupping and cracking (postural alignment) session as well. 

   

It’s Sunday. For me this means ‘lazy day’ – I do not permit the timetable to snatch away my peace. It serves to remind me of what i am here for.

Lucky me gets a lift to Bukit Mertajam so I can buy a bus ticket to KL.

The plane to Kuching leaves Tuesday morning.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. Enjoy your day! At all times remember, my friend: There are so many reasons to be happy!

   

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Dhamma investigation, Malaysia, Perhentian Island, Sharing

¿Quo Vadis?

The question comes up again & again when travelling, especially if you don’t have a plan. No need to be on a journey, though, to fall into the traveller’s time trap. All it takes is identification with certain trains of thought. Thoughts about ‘whats next?’, jumping into both near and distant future scenarios. Do the next diving course? Work on a farm? Help with landscaping at a rainforest camp? Support a turtle project? Play tourist and visit National Parks? Meditate at the nearby monastery? Sometimes there are too many options… of course, a classical FWP. Certainly, part of it has to do with FOMO.

Like everybody else I have to anticipate actions and consequences time and again. This, in turn, can create stress by leading me ever onwards and trying to cover all eventualities. In the end, the mind can become like a monkey seeking fruit in the forest.

 

monkey stops at perhenti and says hello to fish

Maybe you know that, too… I am enjoying a delicious meal, having a stroll through town, going for a hike, a refreshing sunrise swim, or coming across an extraordinary experience during formal dhamma practice. Next, desire comes in to wreck the show. I get attached to it. It becomes shallow: ‘Not enough…’ I tend to be irritated and hope for something better. Meanwhile, I might feel tempted to light a cigarette, maybe. Who wants to remain aware of dissatisfaction, right? Then i stop and take a deep breath. Am I not acting like a baby?

Wanting something or other and becoming highly agitated if i don’t get it. The objects of desire may vary. The habit pattern of looking for pleasure stays the same. What’s wrong with pleasure, you might ask. Nothing – as long as there is no conviction that this is where happiness can be found.

For example. Did it ever occur to you that a hard nipple and a cigarette filter have approximately the same size and form? Ever noticed that this fact could be closely connected to your habit of sucking on a paper roll filled with dried leaves? Ever noticed how you’re brainwashed into believing you are an adventurous independent grown-up tough guy riding a motorbike across the desert? Oh no, you see now, you’re just a baby sucking on a substitute tittie. Please forgive me if i sound blunt about this.

Realise this.

The more I try to be someone special by all that swimming-against… the more I react like everybody else. Exploring inner & outer nature I realise how utterly human I am. It is a humbling experience to notice what kind of habits I have been forming throughout my life. Times like these it’s important to remember:

Let me not revive the past

Nor on the future build my hopes

The past has been left behind

The future has not been reached…

Bhaddekaratta Sutta

I just watched a video I’d like to share with you. Click here to listen to Guy Winch talk about emotional first aid.  Truly, the ways in which human beings can hurt themselves (and others, too) are manifold. Of course, so are the ways in which we can help and support one another and make our lives more beautiful.

 

If all goes well, I will be in Sarawak tomorrow. Which means the answer is for now ‘orientem’ – east.

 

Kitchen team of Penang Hill East (February 2017)

 

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