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.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Diversions..

It's been a long, long time since I wrote here. I have re-discovered my interest in art after many years and have been gong about it with quite a bit of zeal and enthusiasm. Consequently my days are quite packed with 2 hours of meditation, cooking & keeping house, working 4 days a week at the University and creating works of art.

I wondered at this obsession with art. Yes, I was always interested in it in my younger days but apart from doing some sketches, a one-off oil painting, I did not produce this many as I am currently. Maybe I had lesser opportunities in India or child-rearing and academic pursuits took away most of my time then. Whatever the reason I am quite enjoying what I do now--it gives me a satisfaction never experienced before.

I also recalled one of the discourses in the long course of Vipassana meditation. Goenkaji cautions us that as one progresses on this path, there are many challenges that a practitioner would have to face from time to time. He speaks of Mara who he says can be seen in two ways. One, as a personification of our own impurities, our negativities which block us from doing good deeds ( such as meditation). The second way to understand Mara is as a Deva putra, who feels a kind of jealousy towards people who meditate and attempt to come out of their defilements and thereby suffering. He (Mara) feels that there is nothing wrong in people enjoying sensual pleasures and will therefore do things to hinder a persons' development on the path. No matter how we want to view this, it is important that we recognize the challenges or obstacles that we may encounter as some can be very deceptive and subtle.

For instance we may have some weakness ( which seems like our strength in disguise) such as we may have a talent for public speaking. So all the time when we ought to be meditating, we start imagining giving a lecture to an imaginary audience informing them about the virtues of meditation... and in the mean while stop meditating totally. Its difficult to tell which way this negative force would keep us from doing what we should be doing--especially regular meditation.

I am so thankful that I attended the long courses and have been quite careful that no matter how interested or enthusiastic I am in creating works of art --my new passion, I do not give up on my meditation practice. And as long as I follow the path and the practice, I have not lost touch with the sense of balance that is needed for a dharmic life.