Wednesday, January 26, 2011


It is interesting to look at the roots of a tree. The roots are so strong and are so deep in the soil. On the surface, the tree looks beautiful and gives us shelter from heat in the environment. However, the most important part of the tree is the roots by which it is supported.

Our negative emotions run just as strong and deep as these roots. These emotions have become strong and deep rooted because we have given them the nutrients for their growth--we have watered them and provided fertile soil for them to take such deep roots.

In a 10 day course we train ourselves to observe sensations that come up on our body as we sit in meditation. Observing sensations objectively, not reacting to them with craving or aversion, we learn to loosen the strong habit patterns that have taken deep roots in our sub-conscious mind. We learn to stop clinging to them, we refuse to give them water and fertile soil to grow and eventually they die.

Observing my progress on this path, I have noticed that anger, hatred and ill-will have definitely reduced. However, sadness still remains. I guess those roots are very strong and deep as well. Generally, I am a very calm person and happy as well, but occasionally I have spells which seem to throw all my learning out of the window-I become acutely unhappy, miserable and depressed. These are rare episodes but quite intense when they happen and takes everyone by surprise and also raises questions on the practice which I have faithfully followed.

Introspecting one day, I realized that just as I have cut some deep roots of habit patterns, all haven't gone yet and need more time and practice to eliminate. It is a tough tree with deep roots and the cutting has just begun!

A friend asked me what do I do when I go through those spells of misery... The first thing I do is to observe myself--how miserable I am, how helpless I am and how over powered I am by the emotion I experience. I and the emotion have become one and the same person. It is no longer "I" who is experiencing the emotion----I am the emotion. When I start observing this, the emotion I experience loses its intensity. To feel the emotion and to make it last, I need to keep feeding it in a way that it will last. When I start observing what I am thinking, feeling and experiencing on my body, objectivity comes into my thinking and I dissociate "me" from the emotion experienced.
At other times, I begin to think as I observe-- is this the mind-set I want to bequeath to the next person who is going to inherit this mind?
This helps me snap out of the miserable state I am in.

The long and regular hours of meditation practice has helped me internalize its principles fairly well--I can now quickly get to experience my inner world whenever something happens in the external environment. This helps me to be in touch with the present moment and not get carried away by the emotion experienced.

But yet... Life is difficult...the first noble truth!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Heart full of love!....

Last evening I made Veggie Kurma curry at home for dinner.
It was a tiring Friday evening and when Raja came back from work, he suggested that we go out for dinner. I was was so inclined to follow his suggestion...when after a little while I thought to myself--having done 10 days of cooking at Dhamma Malaya, and for 100 people at that, did we really have to go out and have dinner? Can I not rustle up something quickly so that all of us could enjoy a meal at home?

And that's what I did--made Veggie kurma curry -an alteration of the one I made at the center (onions and & garlic included this time) and then Jeera rice. Raja said---looks like we don't have to eat out anymore!

Yes, even to me the transformation is amazing. I always considered cooking a "chore", never excited about it and always thought I was no good at it. And now I think differently and feel differently about cooking. My heart is full of love--and I just love to cook! House-keeping, kitchen managing is not difficult anymore. I just have to set myself to it and its done quickly.

I don't know if this is only a passing feeling. I suspect it isn't. I am so glad I served this course. It taught me so much! It taught me how to delegate work, it taught me to give clear instructions: I call my daughter to help me cut vegetables, I demonstrate to her how I want it cut & for what purpose. I do it with enthusiasm and love which is infectious.

Every step on this path has taught me numerous things, expanded my horizons and made me a better person. It has taught me to love and embrace all of life. It has taught me to give unconditionally. Is this just a temporary high feeling after a 10 day course of service? Only time will tell. Well even if it is temporary and it fades, all I have to do is to serve another 10 days in the kitchen!

Dhamma works!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

10 Glorious days....Part 3

Day 4 was the day when Vipassana instructions were given to was also the day I made cabbage curry for lunch and also over slept in the afternoon.

Our day used to begin at 5 am in the kitchen. I would wake up around 4 am, and have my bath and a quick oat meal for breakfast before I began kitchen work. We would get the fruits out to wash, peel and cut; get the food for breakfast started--usually meehoon (noodles). Preparations for lunch would start right after the breakfast was sent to the dining hall. Breakfast was at 6.30 am.

Axel, Belinda and Toh Teck helped me cut 12kgs of cabbage and I got the ingredients ready to start cooking. Under my instruction Tan Abba stirred the cabbage in the huge wok. I had to do the cabbage in two batches. While we were at it, it suddenly struck me why men are considered to be good chefs the world over. Stirring food in a huge wok required lots of physical strength, and I had to rely on Tan Abba to do that for me.

Our afternoon break was between 1 to 2 with the second group sitting soon after (2--3pm). I overslept and the course manager came to wake me up and bring me to the hall!
In the evening I planned out my ingredients for the Kurma curry the next day...I peeled 10 kgs of potatoes.

Day 5, I made Veggie Kurma curry. This was with potatoes and cauliflower cooked in coconut milk and spices. It turned out great though I used the coconut milk from a carton when fresh coconut milk was available. To use up the fresh coconut milk which could turn bad with time, Richard advised that I cook the Kurma curry again on Day 7 and push the Dal scheduled for Day 7 to Day 9 ( when I had to cook Kurma again).

So when Day 7 dawned, I had my potatoes (8kgs)and cauliflower (4 kgs)steamed and ready for cooking. Suddenly at around 9 am, Richard said he was sorry but Kurma curry did not go with the other items on the menu for that day and so I should be cooking Dal instead. I hurriedly soaked 1 kg of Tuvar dal ( the only dal available in the store-room) and began preparations for cooking it.

Meanwhile, I had to find a way of consuming the potatoes and cauliflower that I had already steamed. I boiled the potatoes, till they were nice and soft, drained them and quickly gave instructions to Hue to add 1 tablespoon of salt and one tablespoon of evaporated milk powder, a dash of parsley and bingo! I had mashed potatoes in a jiffy! The steamed cauliflower were merged with broccoli with seasoning. This was really thinking on my toes ...(or should I say cooking on my toes?)

I also managed to cook the dal in time for serving....One of the Indian male students I met on the last day thanked me and said.."Jab mein ne dal ko dekha, jaan me jaan aa gaya...sochcha -chalo kam se kam aaj jee bar ke kha sakoon!" (When I saw dal, I got a life and thought atleast today I can eat well)

That afternoon was also the time I did a trial run of "kheer", Indian milk pudding. Earlier, Richard asked me if I could make that as Jayeshji asked him in the previous course why they did not have Kheer in the menu for Day 10. Kheer figures in a story narrated by Goenkaji on the last day of the course and all centers make this dish on Day 10 for lunch. I got the recipe to serve 4 people from the internet ( it wasn't in the center's recipe book)and then multiplied it to serve 20 people ( dhamma servers). This was a trial run before cooking for 100 people on Day 10.

Alice gave me a good feedback and suggested that I grind the soaked rice before adding it to milk---I did that on Day 10 and it turned out really really great!

Meanwhile there were huge human relations issues that had to be tackled. Anna was really upset on Day 6 and no matter what I did, it didn't help change her so I had to speak to the teacher (Jennifer) at night. She asked Richard to take over as Kitchen Manager with me assisting him.

Things changed quite a bit after that and I learned what it takes to be a good leader in this situation. Richard knew the kitchen inside out, he knew how to delegate, how to manage time and in short, organize the whole team. Spot on! Good learning experience for me. By the evening of Day 7 all of us could get to attend the Goenkaji's discourse.

10 Glorious days.....Part 2

Day 1 was very hectic. We had to get the breakfast and lunch going and since we only arrived on Day 0 of the course, we did not know the exact location of items in the kitchen and store-room. Fortunately, old-time meditators & servers, Richard & Mr. Gan (both from Malaysia)were at the center and they helped us quite a bit to get going.

I made Indian Dal with vegetables on the first day, following the recipe book to the letter. In addition, I managed to locate a rolling pin and atta ( wheat flour) and quickly made some chappatis for the teachers. I was sure Jayeshji would appreciate that as he was away from home for about 20 days. Indeed, he exclaimed to me that evening after metta session: " Bees din ke baad roti mila khane ko...Saadhu, Saadhu!" ( I got to eat rotis after twenty days! thank you!)

When the other dhamma servers saw me making chappatis it led to a kind of lec-dem on chappati making, with some of the servers trying their hand on it.

Anna, the other kitchen manager, took charge of the Chinese food and by the time we rolled out the lunch, it became evident to us that we need to plan for atleast a day in advance to get things done smoothly.

Alice took ill on Day 1, overwhelmed with the kind of work required to be done ---just listening to the work assigned was enough to make her ill!

Day 2 was Anna's turn to fall ill, having worked hard the previous day without resting. Kitchen work is a huge responsibility and requires hard work which can be physically tiring. Therefore it is essential that all kitchen servers rest during the scheduled 1--2pm to be fit and ready and in good health.

Three of us in the kitchen--the main cooks--Anna, Alice and myself only had experience cooking for our own families--cooking for 100 people was altogether a different experience. The rest of the helpers were all new to serving in a course. All of them, except me, had previously done 1 or 2 ten-day courses and it was their first experience in serving.

Ms. Jennifer Lin explained to me, that a long term meditator like me was essential to serve in the kitchen, because previous experiences with kitchen helpers made her realize that a calm and cool head and a person established on this path would help in maintaining harmony in the kitchen. Harmony was essential, particularly in the kitchen as when servers are happy, the work they do turns out that much better.

This was something I could do easily, and when Alice was alarmed on Day 2 when Anna was not well, I could reassure her that I was there to assist her in any way possible and things would go smoothly.

Day 2, we practically did everything ourselves with minimum help from Richard. I called for a meeting that afternoon to remind servers to take an hour's rest from 1---2pm and not over work and fall ill as we needed all of them everyday. In addition, I addressed the safety issues of keeping the floor dry to avoid accidents. Most of the jobs were allocated by the Malaysia organizing committee with the teacher, Jennifer Lin specifying my role as Kitchen Manager.

Anna returned to the kitchen in the afternoon and we started planning for Day 3. Managing kitchen involved taking stock and placing order for vegetables and other groceries; checking the items when delivered and storing the items. As Anna speaks Mandarin, only she could do this job well, and soon she was getting stressed with this as well as the cooking she was in charge of.

The others in the kitchen were one Swedish gentleman, Axel, a Spanish Tomas, Belinda, Chinese from Singapore, Rie Ishida, Japanese, Iskandar, Indonesian, Tan Abba, Chinese Malaysian, Toh Teck, Chinese Malaysian and Hue.

Axel made great salads--quite an expert at it, regaling us with interesting tales of his experiences in different cultures particularly Thai where he is currently living. Tomas helped in cutting fruits and vegetables and was also assigned the duty of carrying food for the teachers. Both Axel & Tomas helped to clean the grease trap in the kitchen sinks.

In addition to our work in the kitchen, we had 3 one hour meditation sessions in the hall with all students in the course. At night after 9pm we had a metta session with the teachers and a feedback on the progress of the day.

Day 3 went off well, though the stress began to tell on Anna and she was beginning to show signs of being upset. I tried to calm her and soothe her irritation. She felt that some of the servers were not carrying out her requests.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

10 Glorious days in Dhamma Malaya-Part 1

It feels like how Gulliver would have felt returning from Brobdingnag. 10 days in Dhamma Malaya, serving in the kitchen as Kitchen Manager and cook for Indian food, I had gotten so used to huge woks and huge pots, that returning home and to my own kitchen makes everything look so small!

What an enriching experience it was! After a lovely, hectic trip to Cambodia I was off on the 5th of January 2011 to Dhamma Malaya, Kuantan, Malaysia. We ( 2 ladies who were doing the course & I) reached the center at around 6pm. I was a little surprised when informed that my role as Dhamma server would be to manage the kitchen. I was not much of a foodie, and though I cooked frequently at home never took much interest in it compared to other women I knew. However, I had come to serve in Dhamma Malaya and was happy to do so in any capacity and was willing to take up this role.

Serving in India does not involve cooking or helping in the kitchen as centers engage paid labour for this purpose. Huge numbers throng the centers so the kitchen has to be managed by professional cooks and managers. In most other countries the kitchen is managed by old meditators who come to serve in the center. Dhamma Malaya has a fairly organized kitchen with a recipe file that include the menu for 10 days, such that anyone coming there to cook would just have to follow the instructions.

This was the second time I was serving full time outside of India. The earlier one was as course manager in Singapore. As I have been serving as Children's Course Teacher (CCT) for many years, I did not particularly go to serve in a 10 day course. However, this time when the opportunity presented itself and I had a strong volition to serve, I was glad to be there as Kitchen Manager.

The teachers for this course were Ms. Jennifer Lin, originally from Taiwan but lives in the US and Mr. Jayesh Soni, from India, who had visited my house in Singapore. This was the second course that Jayeshji was conducting in Dhamma Malaya.

In the 10 days that followed, I found myself gaining a lot of experience in leadership, human relations, planning & decision making and interpersonal communication--a truly rich & invaluable experience. I will be writing the highlights of each day separately in the next blog.