Sunday, February 8, 2015

Being calm in a crisis

I happened to speak to a friend today who is a regular meditator. She greeted me warmly, her voice and tone not betraying even the slightest trace of unease. I asked her if it was a good time to speak to her and she answered that she was on her way to the hospital to visit her husband who had a heart attack the previous evening. I wished her well and said the reason I called her for could wait and I could understand her current state of mind very well and hung up.

This is not the first time I have encountered a person so totally normal and calm even at a time of grave crisis. Another meditator friend in Australia was once dealing with a person who was mentally disturbed on the phone and when she hung up and I asked her something inconsequential, she answered with total calm which did not give a slightest hint that she was dealing with a crisis (the mentally disturbed person was a student on a course and the course manager called on the intercom for him to talk to my friend).

I thought of it then and those thoughts returned to me today---was it important to be peaceful and calm at all times even when one was facing a crisis? Many would say yes, we all want to be calm & peaceful but I was thinking of the merits of actually sounding alarmed when one was infact alarmed! It helps your co-workers to know that there is something serious you are dealing with and perhaps you can be spared of some inconsequential chatter. Maybe it would signal for help if someone can provide help.

But yet, my friends are serious, long term meditators. They are always very calm and peaceful--or atleast I have never seen them lose their cool in any situation. Does it become a habit, a part of one's life? Is it that they really don't mind people chattering away about unimportant stuff when they were dealing with something really serious? Do they really completely live in the present moment, that every moment is a  new situation unencumbered by past judgments and evaluations. Incredible!

Personally it made me aware how sensitive and attuned we should be to the person we are speaking to. If I hadn't asked my friend this morning if it was a good time to speak to her, she would not have told me the situation she was in. If I hadn't asked my Australian friend what the phone call was about (soon after my unimportant question) and if I could do something to help, she wouldn't have told me anything. To me this was an important lesson. To listen deeply when someone is speaking to you. To give them your undivided attention and connect with their inner world. Because a person who is calm may actually be dealing with a crisis and may need your help---sometimes just a listening presence.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

My hands

My fingers are swollen
My wrists are swollen
And so are my hands
I find it difficult to hold a plate in my hand

Opening bottles are job that
I have to ask for help
And sometimes even for getting dressed.

Are these hands really mine?
Are these the ones that cooked and cleaned,
washed and ironed clothes without a stop?
Are these the ones that reared two children,
and held their hands when they needed support?

Are these the ones that marked papers,
and wrote on the white board?
Are these the ones that drew pictures, painted, quilled
and made flowers of pista shells?

For 50 long years they worked
and now need a break, rest and some care

As long as the person has grit and determination,
this is only a pause, a time for reflection,
a time to be grateful,
for all one has received in abundance



Monday, July 28, 2014

One day Vipassana Meditation Course Singapore







One day Vipassana meditation courses are for those who have completed atleast one 10 day course. It is to help meditators maintain their practice, as often times, due to pressures of daily living, one gives up on regular practice. The course serves as a great refresher and is very rejuvenating for a meditator.

In Singapore, which is yet to have its own center, the courses are eagerly looked forward to, and require quite a lot of planning and coordination. For the past couple of years the venue has been SWAMI Home at Sembawang, which has a big auditorium to conduct one day courses. A dedicated team of volunteers, arrange the logistics---the transportation of meditation cushions, audio equipment and planning a mid-day meal for the participants.

The course attracts people who may have done courses somewhere outside of Singapore, and are probably here due to work commitments or passing through Singapore temporarily. In the recent course on 27th July, (attended by 54 participants)there was a gentleman, who despite a bad back, attended the course for the first half. Rejuvenated, no doubt but unable to continue sitting he had to leave, but not before he thanked us for giving him the opportunity to put him back on the practice. For the rest of the participants from all walks of lives, all nationalities, all ages ( 21 upward) the day was invaluable in strengthening our practice and clarifying doubts in some cases.

The one day course is special in many ways. Apart from helping one maintain the continuity of practice, the discourse at the end of the session is truly inspirational and makes me feel truly thankful for being on this path. The following are some of the main points touched on in the discourse:

1. Just as you need food twice a day to stay physically healthy, you need to meditate twice a day to keep your mind healthy
2. Understand the purpose of the practice...not for a pleasant sensation/experience but to understand the impermanence of both pleasant and unpleasant sensation
3. Protect the dhamma within and dhamma will protect you in turn. In the ebb and flow of life when you maintain your equanimity, you protect the dhamma within and in turn it gives you peace and tranquility.
Dhammo have rakkhati  dhamma chaarin
4. Keep the practice non-sectarian and non-religious...as suffering is universal and the practice teaches you to come out of suffering.
5.Attha hi atthano naato, attha hi atthano gati. The practice makes you the master of the present moment. And by this you become the master of your future.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Serving in a new role

It was when I completed my second long course (30 days) that I was invited to serve Dhamma as an Assistant Teacher. The invitation did come as a surprise as I had just finished narrating to my Area teachers the difficulties I had during my recent course. 'Difficulties will be there, its the way you face them'.. they said. Yet I wasn't sure if I had it in me to sit on a Dhamma seat and actually conduct the proceedings of the course.

It took me a year to finally accept the new role, a realization of the fact that it wasn't really me conducting the course, but Goenkaji, and it would be the best way to repay the gratitude I had for him by fulfilling his vision of spreading the teaching to people. This was followed by about a year of rigorous training, where I learned some aspects of theory involved in the practice. The role of Assistant Teacher involved conducting the proceedings of the course and clarify any doubts about the technique of meditation that may arise among students. I was a representative of our teacher and therefore would have to be very conversant with his teaching.

After the 3 stage training I was appointed Assistant Teacher in May 2013. I did have my doubts about actually conducting a 10-day course as it would mean additional days to take off from family and work commitments. However, the teachers seemed to have much faith in me, and I started off conducting a good number of 1-day courses.

Then came the opportunity to serve the awesome 3-day course at St. John's island. This course is restricted to those who have completed at least one 10-day course. It is really awesome as the evening discourses cover many aspects of day to day living, and how the practice can help one face up to daily challenges. It helps one to see his/her life from the 'dhamma' angle.

Finally it was June 11-22, 2014 that I got to co-conduct a 10day course, along with James, the male teacher. The experience was really lovely. There were 54 women taking the course of ages ranging from 19 years to 65 years. It was really interesting, as all I had to do was to be fully present and fully alive in a calm and peaceful sort of way.

As I sat on the Dhamma seat, I could really tune in to the wisdom of all teachers on the path who seemed to aid and guide me in my new role. The whole process of guiding students became smooth as I found myself being guided along. It was like being one with all beings, in peace and calmness. I was not there to teach or instruct or fix....just gently guide and remind people of the instructions they heard from Goenkaji.

I was ably assisted by a cheerful course manager who helped me take care of students who fell sick and at times wanted to leave the course. One student left the course on the 2nd day, and though I did try my best to convince her to stay, she left and I could accept that without disappointment. I could really experience the impermanence of whatever little upheavals we had in those 10days, and that was mainly because the mind was calm and tranquil.

Even the one major area that would potentially cause some disturbance...the kitchen--went smoothly with no conflicts or personality clashes. It was a lovely, peaceful experience. A tough fulfilling course for students as they began their voyage of self-discovery.

Many years ago, I had wanted to help people understand themselves and lead a useful productive life. Consequently I chose to pursue Psychology at the University as part of my Graduate studies and later PhD. But it is really this new role as Assistant Teacher of Vipassana meditation that is really meaningful and satisfying in every way. This is what I really wanted for myself. Very fortunate to have found this path and fortunate to be helping others walk on this path.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Books

A lot has happened in the past few months. In the practice of Vipassana, we are constantly reminded of the 'storms' that come up from time to time, sometimes taking us away from our practice. Indeed, it is hard to stay steadfast on the path, as life frequently throws up many challenges which can easily take us off course.

Recently, there was one such huge 'storm' in our lives--in the form of an illness which provided a testing ground for all that I learned in Vipassana. Ofcourse, I could deal with it in much better way--the practice helped me stay positive no matter how grave the situation was. I realised how much our mind creates our reality and if kept positive, situations unfold in a way that is good. Moments when I couldn't help worrying or becoming overwhelmed with sadness and tears, I just accepted---look this is what my mind state is at the moment---worried, and sad; and change was bound to come about.

And then, I came across two good books that aided and supported me in my difficult journey. I had first heard the author of one of the books on youtube. She had a near death experience and so impressed I was with her story, that I bought her book 'Dying to be me'. Her learning has been extraordinary, and so is her sharing of her experiences. She emphasizes on living our authentic self, to be centered and live a life of love. She also stresses on how magnificent each one of us is and our purpose in life is to keep realizing this magnificence in ourselves and remind others about it as well.
This resonates so well with my practice of Vipassana.

Coming from the center of unconditional love or metta has always been a lovely experience for me. When I do this, difficult situations get transformed; difficult relationships get resolved magically. Reading Anita Moorjani's book reinforced my practice and explained the processes in words.

The second marvelous book that I am currently reading and assimilating is thoroughly fascinating and exhilarating. The Book of Mirdad by Mikhail Naimy, a Lebanese writer, a contemporary of Khalil Gibran whose 'Prophet' remains my all time favourite.

The book is allegorical, narrating conversations that the person Mirdad has with his disciples. A must read for any spiritual seeker who believes in oneness of humanity and universal love. To me it is Vipassana explained.

One passage stands out and I quote here from the book:
"Man invites his own calamities and then protests against the irksome guests, having forgotten how and when and where he penned and sent out the invitations. But Time does not forget; and Time delivers in due season each invitation to the right address; and Time conducts each invitee to the dwelling of the host.
"I say to you, protest not any guest lest he avenge his slighted pride by tarrying too long, or by making his visits more frequent than otherwise he would consider meet.
"Be kind and hospitable to all your guests whatever be their mien and their behaviour; for they in truth are but your creditors. Give the obnoxious ones in particular even more than is their due that they may go away thankful and satisfied, and should they visit again, they would come back as friends and not as creditors.
"Treat every guest as if he were the guest of honor, that you may gain his confidence and learn the hidden motives of his call.
"Accept a misfortune as if it were a fortune. For a misfortune, once understood, is soon transformed into a fortune. While a fortune misconstrued quickly becomes a misfortune"

This book has to be read slowly, because one soon realizes that the words are not the only thing you are reading, you are reading the significance of the words and the layers of meaning embedded in them. One feels like going over and over again what one has already read, quite sure that there is still more to understanding them.

Few books have touched me to the core of my being in such a transformative way in recent years the way these two books have. I treasure them and the immense wisdom gained by reading them!


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Companions

"Though people call gold, silver, wealth, and jewels their own since they have acquired them lawfully or otherwise, really they are owners only for the brief span of this life and sometimes not for as long as that.

For the things that are "owned" by us must be shared with other forces and beings such as water, fire, rulers, thieves and enemies which if sentient, may also regard those things as their own. So such things are as though borrowed for this life, just for use now but to be given up at death. And however little or much one may own of things here, all have to be relinquished at the time of death and cannot be taken with one.

When this is taken into account, we may understand how we hardly own such things at all, while by contrast the good and evil done by us is truly owned and such kamma may accompany us through a continuity of lives extending through hundreds of thousands of world cycles in the futher. Kamma cannot be taken from the doer or destroyed in any way, for it is imprinted on our minds and will bear fruit when conditions permit.

Hence The Buddha has said, "All beings are the owners of their kamma"

One should therefore love and esteem good conduct more than one's own life and preserve it well, whule one should dread evil conduct more than the danger of death and so refrain from evil deeds."

Venerable Ledi Sayadaw

I had mentioned this in my previous post, and subsequently came across the above quote of Venerable Ledi Sayadaw. This is one part of the teaching which I heard first time on the last day of my first 30-day course and which left a deep transformatory impression on me.

A lot of things that happened on that course ( as with most courses), were deep eye-openers helping me gain tremendous insights and invaluable wisdom. I lived for 30 days in a room which was about 10 ft by 5ft and which had a separate small attached bathroom. All my possessions for that one month were a suitcase full of clothes of which I did not use all--just about 3 sets. I came to the profound realisation that one really needs so little to live by. Then why this craze to accumulate more and more? I always felt I was earning less than what I would like to; I had less material possessions than I would like to have; I wished for more, more and more... in one way or the other. And here I was, living with very little and working on things that really mattered. I was getting in touch with my true inner core of who I was, what I was doing and how I was multiplying my miseries.

And then came this final day discourse....You don't own anything at all...none of the material goods coveted, bought, so-called "owned" are not really owned. Not only material things...people whom we take for granted, parents, siblings, friends.... people who we think will always be there for us.....no one or nothing is going to come along with us after death....we leave behind everything...so do we really "own" these?

Then is there nothing that comes along with us? Ofcourse there is.....our mind states...consciousness, perceptions, sensations and reactions...our vinnayana, sanya, vedana, and sankhara....constantly there with us, life after life, giving us peace, or trouble, tranquility or disturbance....just whatever we have nurtured through lifetimes.

This must be the focus of our lives--working incessantly observing with equanimity our sensations as they arise, changing our crazy, reactive sanya (perceptions) into a sanya filled with wisdom so that we become totally liberated from or miseries and defilements, to experience real peace and real harmony.

I was moved to tears when I received this part of the teaching....how fortunate I was to have been born in this Buddha Sasana to be able to receive this teaching! It was invaluable....My entire being swelled with immense gratitude to The Buddha, his line of teachers, Goenkaji (who disseminates this teaching with so much of metta), my parents for given birth to me in this Sasana, all people who have supported me in my quest to grow in this practice...all of humankind.


Sunday, March 31, 2013

Making yourself an island where you can take refuge

"Look not to the faults of others, nor to their omissions and commissions. But rather look to your own acts, to what you have done and left undone." The Buddha


This is one of my many favorite quotes of The Buddha. Infact all his quotes/ sayings are so true and inspiring. Nevertheless, they are sometimes a challenge to put into practice. With regular practice of meditation living by these quotes become a little more easier as you clearly see the wisdom behind it.

Recently, I did get rattled by what I read online. It was a review of a play/dance- drama called "Yashodhara"  -Siddharth Gotama's wife, of what she would have gone through when Siddhartha left her to seek the truth. It was based on a poem written by a well-known Hindi poet Mitilisharan Gupt. Somewhere in the review it said that although everyone knows The Buddha as a Great spiritual leader little is known of his wife who has been left in the sidelines.

I do accept that plays, poems and other works of art have a lot to do with an artist's imagination and therefore has to be appreciated from that standpoint. But it did unsettle me. Because it seemed to suggest that there is a flaw in the life of a person whose teachings I revere.

This is not an isolated case. Many a time, other spiritual leaders' lives have been examined and flaws highlighted or fictionalized. I wish people with artistic imaginations leave Spiritual Leaders outside of their creative works. Because by fictionalizing their lives, it  hurts the sentiments of those who revere or live by their teachings. Well, why should they care about that? Afterall a lot of people do appreciate plays/dance/dramas which is the artistic expressions of writers and performers.

Granted, but would anyone like it if their lives or relationships were to be fictionalized by people whom they have never met?  As someone said to me--its a celebrity culture, where you look at people who are well known and see what's negative or not so good in their lives and gloss over it.

Well, be that as it may, I returned to examine my own self and see clearly what was it that was going on inside, in my own body and mind. And it was the teachings which helped me see clearly.
"Those who speak much are blamed, those who speak little are blamed. In this world there are none who are not blamed. Try not to blame."
"Find out for yourself what is truth, what is real. Discover that there are virtuous things and there are non-virtuous things. Once you have discovered for yourself give up the bad and embrace the good."

And finally the invaluable final day discourse in the 30-day course:


 Nobody is truly your friend. Everyone you have met in this life, you will leave at the time of death--and that includes your mother and father, brother/sister/ friend. What is truly your friend which never leaves you  life after life is your own mind--the four parts of it : your consciousness, your perceptions, your sensations, your reactions. Constantly work on these and keep realizing the impermanence of sensations which will free you from the bondage of repeated births and lead you out of suffering.


And in Hindi he (Goenkaji) sums it up: Apne Karm suddhar le

In the words of The Buddha "All beings are the owners of their Kamma"

These recollections and reminders helped me to let go of what was not true and continue my practice for greater clarity and wisdom.