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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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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Jerantut, Kuantan, Malaysia

GoingGoingGoing… Gone.

It’s been several weeks since my stay at Dhamma Malaya. You may read about it in the previous three articles I posted. I am going to post some photos here to illustrate briefly how the journey went on.

   

EAST COAST

Two nights at the beach – one in the tent and one on the kitchen floor of Thom’s cabin.

Unfortunately, the pavilion to the left does not prevent our tent to be flooded during the night

Lovely time with Thom, Maymay, Lya, Josy, Joy, and of course Senna, the magic jungle cat. The third day, the sun is shining again, the clouds have passed away.

So happy to be outside again after all those rainy days we are enjoying the Tongkang Bay.

Hi, I’m Senna, the magick jungle kat, your personal chill guru … 😉

   

PAHANG

A friend tells us it’s impossible to go north to visit the islands near Terenganu right now. So we decide to go west and try… but due to unfavorable weather conditions, also the National Park (Taman Negara) is inaccessible. Too much rain also in this area. Roads are flooded.

Since Chinese New Year is approaching also in Jerantut (south of the entrance to Taman Negara) it is not that easy to find a place to stay. Luckily, we are spotted by Yen, a compassionate nun, at a Mahayana temple. Surprisingly, she invites to stay overnight. We help them packing up sweets, meditate, and go to sleep early.

At Dhamma Vihāra, Jerantut, we bid farewell to our friendly host…

   … and leave Jerantut with the intention to go to Malacca. This plan, however, we change because everyone goes there during Chinese New Year and thus, we don’t get a bus ticket. Instead, we decide to go north after one night in Bangk… errm… KL.

On our way back to KL. We were told that if we’d wait with departure, we might be stuck in Jerantut because of inundated roads

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Dhamma investigation, Malaysia

After the ecstasy, the laundry

Well, folx, this is the third and last part of the Vipassana Diaries. Please enjoy 🙂


DAY 7

Sitting in the morning feels like having arrived. Like homecoming. This presence of mind! No more ‘kneedles’. It’s ‘bumfire’ now. Effortlessly aware for about 90 minutes: already it is a memory. Anicca. The continuation of the practice shows that the pain is manageable. After a while it’s the pleasant states that become a prob as I get easily attached to them.

Deep anāpānā – pain doesn’t concern me. Every action becomes so efficient, so precise. Eating out of a small bowl instead of a plate. Not hungry anymore. Peacefully abiding with the momentary change of different tastes while chewing. No thoughts. Quiet mind. The inner monologue/commentary has subsided into the background. Every now and then, a whisper, an insight, an idea, an image, a memory. But 9 out of 10 minutes: silence.

With some distance I get a clearer picture now. It’s not that ‘my mind is defiled’ or that ‘I am defiled’. Rather, there are defilements which everyone shares. Every woman and every man has a share in these defilements (kleshas) which are craving (lobha), aversion (dosa) and delusion (moha). And sankhārā, as I understand it, is not used in plural but in singular. In plural, it would imply that you have some stock of them somewhere which you need to clean out like Augias had to clean that mythological barn. Sankhāra (sing.), however, means nothing but the habit pattern of the mind to identify with the five aggregates (skandhas) and the resulting defilements. Once you watch them, they become weaker because the habit pattern gets weakened by depersonalizing, i.e. objectifying the experience of this present moment.

I feel a bit awkward today. As if nothing really matters. A bit mad. Crazy thoughts of fantastic skills, superman. At the same time: pulsating headache across left temple and eye. Anicca. Anicca. Anicca. Anicca.

   
DAY 8

The denial of how temporary life is and how ephemeral the things, places and persons are which we tend to get attached to is ridiculous. Well, it would be ridiculous if the level of our clinging wouldn’t have reached epidemic proportions. We have become addicted to craving. Addicted to craving. It’s not about the worldly objects anymore. It’s a sign of our endless search for pleasure. We are pleasure seekers who deny the fact of decay and death with cosmetics, operations, tricks and mindgames.

Taking good care of myself: Drinking enough water to keep the vessel going. Mettā-bhavana at the start and ending of a sitting to keep the attitude bright. Taking a shower when I need one, especially after sittings of strong determination. Walking in nature appreciating its lush beauty.

   
DAY 9

At least three things have become clear today:

1. Guard the sense doors

2. Transform craving into mettā

3. Observe pain only when you’re ready for it

   

1. Whenever I attend a meditation retreat again, I will guard my sense doors. Utmost priority will be: Not to look at the female group. There is always one who will look extremely skilled in practice, have a supermodel shape, and be equipped with mysterious tattoos w/ superb style. Dangerous! It ruins practice. So difficult to watch that objectively: blood, urine, pus, body hair, nails, teeth etc. of someone who I find extra hot 😉 Once you’re hoked you’re hooked and it’s all about the future: “How do I get in contact with her?”, “Where is she from?” etc etc. playing movies of how it would be. There is no end to it. Therefore, from beginning to end: Guard the sense doors!

   

2. To get a glimpse of dhamma is what ten day retreats are for. Practitioners get desperate and exchange gestures, glances, whispers. They don’t keep to themselves. It becomes obvious on day 9. People stuff themselves at lunch. That’s usually a sign of how their meditation is going. Also, on day 8 or 9 you might get really deep into the practice. You might be i spired to stay but alas, the course is over when you just start to see the results. And there you go: You want results. Being swept away by virtual romance, imagination, mindgames, and all of a sudden it dawns on me: I wanted results! As soon as I transformed craving into mettā by applying the technique, I was free from suffering. All this hoping and manoeuvering because of this lady. To find back to dhamma is so wonderful, so wonderful. So liberating. Like coming out of a hut in which the air is so thick it’s hard to breathe you walk out of it onto a field where there is a meadow, there are trees and you breathe in the fresh air and your lungs are frolicking!

   

3. You are not observing pain to lessen it or to make it go away or to extend the threshold of pain you can bear. You are here to observe it and learn a lesson.

   

DAY 10

This is somehow a very difficult day for me. At 10 a.m. the Noble Chattering starts. The mind jumps back into the same old habit of chitchat like a child runs back into the room in which its toys have been stowed away.

Oh how beneficial is silence. Silence is really golden!

What can we do? Something can be done: Love and compassion and equanimity regarding my situation in the midst of it all. Not deeming myself any better because I prefer to be still, silent.

A lot of rain is falling today. Rain rain rain rain, beautiful rain 😀 It reminds me of the acronym:

  • Recognize
  • Accept
  • Investigate
  • Non-Identification

The last sitting from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Incredibley smooth. Flow from top to bottom, bottom to top. Pain starts, anāpānā comes almost automatically for help, cutting and piercing the stings away like swords of wisdom. Then, concluding mettā. I cry because… when will I be so intimate with my breath again, and because it’s Day 10 and all the misery in the world, and we’re all sitting here, and the whole scene is just so moving I am exhilarated to be a part of it, and so indescribably happy for the new students that they pulled through with it and stayed despite the difficulties, despite the ups and downs! I am so grateful to experience this! Je suis très joyeux, très heureux, très content!

   

RECOMMENDED

Bowker, John: “Problems of Suffering in Religions of the World”

   
RELATED PAGES

How to play the game of sensations

Five misconceptions about pain
   

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Dhamma investigation, Malaysia, Sharing

Nothing has meaning…

until it changes what we think and who we are.


   

On the way to Dhamma Malaya Vipassana Centre we take rest for an hour at a nearby lake

   


INTRO

I read this statement in a book titled Running from Safety by Richard Bach. It conveys very well what I experience at meditation retreats time and again. Since my first vipassana retreat (as taught by S.N. Goenka) I have refrained from unveiling what’s actually going on there. There are already enough testimonials on YouTube, I thought.

Another reason I hesitated was that up til now I was not at all sure what to write and what to omit. Trying to jot down an insight or rather its verbalized form does not necessarily contribute to a deeper understanding. Instead, it might create expectations and thus, disappointments which in turn are prone to create confusion. The motivation to write arises partly out of an anxiety, namely to forget, when in fact insights are by their very nature only accessible to memory in a limited sense. Insight changes my ideas, views, habits, priorities, behavior. If it is truly experiential insight, i.e. bhavana-maya paññā, it has the power to change the way I perceive myself and the world, it changes my reality altogether, in one word, it has an impact on how I live my life.

As Sayadaw U Tejaniya puts it:

“The account of someone describing certain experiences leading up to an insight and the actual insight itself are two fundamentally different things… You can express the effect an insight has on you or the experiences’around’ it but not the depth of understanding you gain through the insight.”

That pretty much sums it up and may serve as a brief rationale for why it took a while to write about it.

Regarding the ‘setting’, the timetable is clear. You get up early and you go to bed early. No food after noon. Every participant has to observe the precepts. This includes keeping Noble silence at all times. So far as the framework is concerned, it seems quite clear.

Now, what about the inner turmoils, the questions that arise, the internal storms within the external quietude? Of course, one wants to know what one is getting oneself into. My intention is to make it a little bit easier for anyone to be prepared for such a workshop and also to encourage you, dear reader, to go ahead and apply for a course. It’s well worth your time and energy. What’s more, you will find this investment is going to leave you with all the time in the world, and an entirely new form of NRG which gives you a fresh perspective on what really matters.

   

Natural habitat of Vipassana yogis

   

DAY 1
The first thing I notice is how agitated my mind is. Usually that fact goes unnoticed. I only react to the agitation. Come to think of it, I do not become aware of it right away during the first day. Rather, it happens on the second and third day. Why? Because the mind is so beleaguered by thoughts there is not enough room to realise: “Wow! I can’t even do such a simple practice as observing respiration for one hot minute. I get distracted so easily.” There is no room for that recognition, let alone the ability to be relaxed about the fact. Over time, the mind has become so entangled in its own magick that there is no way of noting the in-breath as in-breath and the out-breath as out-breath. It can be quite a humbling experience to notice how unstable and capricious the mind is. Hitherto, I thought it is my mind. I ought to have control over it. Now I am embarrassed to see I am not at all in charge. 

Also, questions arise: “Why am I doing this? What is that supposed to do? What is it good for?” It is only later that the results present themselves in a most extraordinary way.

   

DAY 2

After a while it becomes clearer and clearer that this simple (but not easy) practice is a preliminary for vipassana. In order to calm the mind down, it is essential to find an object that is sufficiently stable, like the breath, and stay with it. On the second day I notice that I am trying too hard. In the evening, I am quite hungry.

Also due to the Goenkaji’s evening dhamma talks critical thoughts come up:

This being my fifth or sixth retreat in the Goenka tradition, it becomes obvious how strong the emphasis is on ‘washing out defilements’ and on ‘eradicating impurities’. It is presented in an apodictic manner. It seems to me that the man who emphasized  the teachings to be ‘non-sectarian’ and ‘non-dogmatic’ is actually followed by a sect-like entourage propagating strict adherence to his so-called ‘non-sectarian’ teaching.

Then again, I reflect and ponder:

Am I critical about the teachers while in fact it is rather the followers who are worthy of critique because they interpret Buddha-Dhamma in a certain way? Can I really hold a teacher responsible for the structural setting his followers established?

Currently I am reading Bowker’s recommendable anthology (see below “Sources”). He investigates the history of Marx’s ideas, too, and finds that they were corrupted by tyrants to become an ideology but that there were passages in his writings that could foster ruthless aggression towards reactionaries and the belief that the ends justify the means. Same goes for Christianity which started with the message of love and freedom and was instrumentalized to instill guilt into the hearts of the people. First the Christians suffered from prosecution and then they prosecuted and burnt those who were later titled martyrs. So from that perspective innaway I dig Goenkaji’s worries about the Dhamma being diluted or misrepresented but in his sayings these interpretations were already implicated.

Thus, it is clear that Day 2 is kind of a dhamma-vicaya day.

   

Such cute lil’ puppies at Dhamma Malaya 😛

   

DAY 3

Goenkaji repeats again and again: “Continue to work. Patiently and persistently. Patiently and persistently.”

As with every other skill you just have to practice, man, for hours and hours just practice. After a group sitting suddenly a thought I’d had long ago once again resurfaces: Now at least I know enlightenment doesn’t exist, so I can relax. Endowing this thought with some credibility, the next few sittings go pretty smooth. A relaxed breath is an easy breath. Later, I feel energy arising naturally and sit extended periods. Even so, there is still a lot of pain when I try to sit for one hour without moving a muscle. Also, a slight headache visits me. In my mind, I crack a joke to myself: “Better headache than heartache. Take it easy, Kimo.” My smile turns the headache into something else not quite so disturbing.

Theoretical questions don’t bother me so much anymore. Even though, I have an interview with the assistance teacher to ask him if Goenka was a Buddha. No, he says, a bodhisattva with a lot of ‘mettā power’. It becomes clear that awakening is a gradual process, so I also ask a question about sudden awakening, “what about Mooji and Tolle?”, but alas, he only explains method and lineage of Goenkaji.

During Goenkaji’s dharma talk this evening I heard him sing ‘Happy Birthday to yuuu’ with more than 100 people around not knowing that it is actually my continuation day. I am aware that I am another year closer to the cemetery 😉 It was only after the course that I realized it was the day before that: Day 2 of the retreat. Funny dat.

   

   
SOURCES

Bowker, John: Problems of Suffering in Religions of the World

Richard Bach: Running from Safety

Sayadaw U Tejaniya: Don’t look down on the defilements. They will laugh at you


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Chiang Rai, Sharing, Thailand

Thaime

THAI TIME

Much has happened. Too much to put it into words. For now, let me just say that I have been to Chiang Mai and then to Pai since I last wrote something on that blog.

Two days in Chiang Mai go by so fast. Big city yet smaller than Bangkok. No chance to speak Thai. Everyone confronts me with touristhainglish. Tao knew it and in foresight had warned me about that. Thanks for that. In Chiang Mai, many English teaching opportunities. Surat Thani is a good place to teach English as well, bytheway. Check the web if you’re into that. In Chiang Mai, temples, of course. One day on bicycle. One on scooter. No guided tour. Also, I resolve not to take many pictures of temples anymore. It’s a drag after a while, to be honest.

   

PAI TIME

After Chiang Mai, a week in Pai 😀

What can I say? I am lost for words. Can you imagine spending a week in the present moment? An entire week without thinking about what you’ve been doing, where you’ve been, what you are going to do tomorrow? Not caring what others think of you, not even caring what you think of yourself? Ceasing to be anyone in particular. Just going with the flow of what’s happening? Having a shower in the river in the morning and at a waterfall in the afternoon? Come here and enjoy the good life.

About my experience. Ten minutes after bus arrives I have already found a place to put up the tent i bought in Sukhothai. One or two days there and people start asking me about where to eat and where to stay because I feel so much at home with the community. No chance to read. No time to write a blog. Every day is playing out unplanned. Every day is so full. At the same time there is a sense of relaxing into emptiness. Going with the flow. Who knows what will happen in the next few hours? Who cares? No need for a calendar. No need for splitting time into segments. Sun rises. Sun sets. And everywhere I look I see a smiling face. And my own little self… I can’t stop smiling. Won’t stop feeling tingling sensations all over my body. Recognising it as love unconditional. So many beautiful people. You catch my drift… yes, drifting is allowed, even encouraged.

Being in Pai for about a week feels like being there a month. It feels like a time warp like I’ve been to another dimension of being. Synchronicity abounds. Timing always perfect. Love unbounded… slowly slowly coming down to earth from a heady existence. Laughing til the belly hurts. Savouring sweets. Spending nights at the bonfire. Looking at the stars and crying tears of joy. Getting a bamboo tattoo on my left foot actually enjoying the pain.

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