Tag Archives: buddhism

What have I learnt?

My eight months in Thailand are nearly over – in two more days I’m flying back to Australia.  I’ve been reflecting on what I have learnt during this adventure.  I’ve learnt things during my time at the temple, on Koh Tao doing my dive master training, at the Rotary Peace Fellowship at Chulalongkorn University, and even on the plane flying over here!  There is far too much to fit into one blog post, but here are 10 lessons that I’ve learnt that will make a difference to how I live my life from now on.

1.  Fit your own oxygen mask before assisting those around you

Eight months ago, as I was settling myself into my seat for my flight to Bangkok, the flight attendant gave this very important safety advice.  However, the advice is useful in a much broader sense in life.  If you don’t look after your own well-being, you are not able to be any help to others.  This connects with another important lesson I learnt during my time at the temple:

2.  Be compassionate to others, and also to yourself

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Dalai Lama

Being compassionate to others is not about pity, and it’s not about only being compassionate to those who are ‘worthy’.  True compassion is that which we feel when we are confronted by someone who we find incredibly difficult, ignorant, rude, violent or evil – it’s about understanding that those people are suffering and their behaviour stems from this intrinsic suffering.  It’s about wanting the best for them so that they have an opportunity to break free from their suffering and become the good person that is trapped within all the bad habits and thoughts they have built around themselves.

Being compassionate to yourself is about recognising that you are only human; that you are not perfect; that you have a lot of potential to improve yourself – and it’s especially about realising that this is ok!  It’s about understanding your own suffering and wanting the best for yourself, so that you can be the best person you can be, and be happy!

3.  Always see the good and rejoice in the merits of others

Encouraging and honouring the goodness of others is really important.  We do not do this enough in life.  We are quick to criticise others, and to notice faults. We may think that some casual compliments are enough to make up for this, but while commenting on somebody’s outfit or hair style is a nice gesture, it’s not very meaningful.

Think about the qualities and behaviours that you admire in others and aspire to develop in yourself, then look for them in those around you. Look actively for the good in others, and let them know that you have seen it.  There is nothing that makes a person feel so truly understood as when another acknowledges something good about them.  It builds a connection and motivates that person to continue with that goodness.

4.  It’s more important to be good, than to be right.

There is an important distinction between good and bad, and right and wrong.  A person may be right, but if they are not good, then they may be right for the wrong reasons, or by accident.  Whereas if a person is good, they may be wrong, but they will be motivated to try to make it right.  A person who is truly good will be right most of the time anyway.

5.  Wisdom is far more important than knowledge

No amount of knowledge in the world is valuable unless the person with the knowledge also has the wisdom to use that knowledge effectively.  Even if a person has no formal education, if they have wisdom they can contribute an enormous amount to the world.  We need to spend time and effort developing our wisdom, not just accumulating more academic qualifications.

6.  The worst thing you can be is unwise and active

The monks taught me that there were four different relationships between wisdom and action:

1.  You can be wise and active

2. You can be unwise and inactive

3. You can be wise and inactive

4. You can be unwise and active

The first relationship is clearly the best.  If you are wise, and you are active, you will do good.  The second relationship is, perhaps counter-intuitively, the second-best option.  This is because, if you are unwise, doing nothing is actually the most sensible course of action.  The third relationship is actually worse – if you are wise and inactive, then you are not doing as much with your wisdom as you can.  The last relationship is the most dangerous – if you are unwise and active, you are likely to do more harm than good, despite your best intentions.

The monks’ teachings were reinforced in our Peace Fellowship lectures on Mary Anderson’s principles of “do no harm”.

7.  Think about how you use the energy you consume

We think a lot about the purity of the food we eat – we take care to avoid artificial colours and preservatives, we try to eat low-fat, healthy meals.  However, the monks taught me that the purity of our food is more than just its nutritional values.  It involves four different factors:

  1. Nutritional value
  2. The origin of the food (e.g. whether we stole or killed for the food)
  3. The mood in which you eat it (e.g. if you eat in a bad temper you might get indigestion!)
  4. The way in which you expend the energy that you gain from that food (i.e. do you use the energy to do something bad, or something good and constructive).

How do you use your energy?

8. Remember to breathe

During my Dive Master training on Koh Tao, I was reminded of the first rule of scuba diving, and of life – always remember to breathe!

I would add to that the notion of mindfulness – and the usefulness of the breath to bring you back to the present moment.  Thich Nhat Hanh has a lovely meditation to use while concentrating on your breathing:  “Breathing in, I dwell deeply in the present moment; Breathing out, I know this is a wonderful moment.”

Learning to scuba dive, and breathe underwater, you are suddenly acutely aware of every breath in and every breath out, and there are pretty dire consequences if you hold your breath.  For me, working with first-time dive students was the perfect reminder about something that I had started to take for granted – how magical it is to breathe underwater.  It made me start to again notice every breath, how deep it was, how the pressure of the water affected the feeling in my lungs…Who’d have thought that scuba diving was so good for meditation!

9.  Always leave a bit of air in the tank

Another important bit of advice for scuba diving and life in general! You never know when you are going to need that little bit of reserve for an emergency!

10.  Don’t waste a moment!

These eight months have flown by so quickly that it has reminded me that there is no time to waste!  If there’s something that you want to do – do it now!  If there’s something that you need to say – say it now! Live every moment to its fullest, learn from everyone and everything around you, do as much good as you can cram into every twenty-four hour period (including taking good care of yourself).

This morning prayer by Thich Nhat Hanh is now the first thing I read every morning.  It reminds me of how I want to live my life, day by day:


Back to the temple

On Saturday I took some of the Rotary Peace Fellows out to the temple.  I was a little bit nervous about it, because I wasn’t sure what they would think.  I am used to the temple after having spent four months living there, but I knew that when people saw it for the first time it was kind of a surreal experience.  I needn’t have worried though.  Everyone had a ball and loved all the same people I love for the same reasons!

First we met Om and Anita at the visitors centre.  One of the taxis had become lost in the temple grounds and when we spoke to them on the phone we realised they were in the underground carpark under the mediation hall!  Om explained to the taxi driver in Thai how to get from there to the visitors centre.  After we were all finally in the right place, we met Luang Phi Pasura and he gave everyone an introduction to meditation.

Luang Phi Pasura

After that I was excited to find out that we were going to travel around the temple in the little transporters that I called the “monk-mobiles”.  I had never been in one but always wanted to ride in one.  I often saw big trains of them carrying hundreds of monks around the temple grounds.

Andrezza and I with the monk-mobile

We went to see the Chapel and then went to the local food stalls where I always used to eat when I was living at the temple.  It felt like I was home again!

Walking around the Chapel

Charlie ordering his papaya salad

After lunch we were lucky to have a meeting with the Vice Abbot, Luang Phaw Datta.  I was so excited about seeing him because he is always very interesting and he makes me laugh with his cheeky grin.  Everyone loved him!  Luang Phi Pasura and Luang Phi John translated for him when he needed it, but he spoke mostly in English to everyone.

Luang Phaw Datta, Luang Phi Pasura and Luang Phi John

Luang Phaw told us a bit about the history of Thailand and he explained the basis of the Buddhist Five Precepts.  He also presented everyone with a bundle of books each.

After that we had a whirlwind tour of the Cetiya and a quick visit to the Vihara. Everyone went back to Chula after that, but I stayed for the whole weekend.

Ping Ping told me that I could stay in my old apartment that night.  It was so weird, and yet so familiar, to be back there.  I went and said hello to my former laundry lady, the Hom Krun coffee hut girls, and some of the food stall holders.  It was so nice to see them all again.  Unfortunately my Thai has not progressed sufficiently to have more than a very halting conversation with them, but we got by with lots of hand holding and smiling!

On Saturday afternoon I was back in the Peace Revolution container office with the crew!  It was just like old times (and there were even some ants that I carefully avoided)!  After we had a meeting about recent developments, everyone got all giggly and announced that they had a special gift for me.  They dimmed the lights and put on the projector and showed me a movie that they had made especially for me.  It’s brilliant!  They basically made a movie about my time at the temple. They had compiled photos of me at various events and some film footage that I had never seen before.  At the end everyone recorded a personal message for me.  There was even a bloopers part at the end, where they included funny mistakes that they made when trying to put the film together.  We all laughed and cried all through it, especially me!  The film goes for 20 minutes, and it must have taken them a long time to put it together.  I absolutely love it!

On Sunday (after a night on a very hard bed, with no dinner and a cold shower – how quickly we take for granted little luxuries!) I went to the temple with everyone for morning chanting and meditation.  While we were there, Fon found me.  Fon is in training to be upasaka at the temple.  She was one of the first Thai staff I met and she is very sweet.   She used to give me massages every day! Anyway, she had made me a gift and she shyly gave it to me.  It was in a little bag that she had handmade:

The bag Fon made for me

Inside the bag was a book that she had also handmade.  It contains the story of our friendship, from the first moment she met me (in the bathroom at the meditation retreat centre) until the present.  I was so incredibly touched.  She had drawn pictures and inserted photos to make the story.  I was amazed at all the things she remembered.  It was just the sweetest gift and I got all choked up as I looked through it.  I will treasure it forever.

The book Fon made for me

When we first met

The last page of the story, but not the last page in the book - to be continued...

On the page above you can see that she has called me “P’Sam” which in Thai effectively means older sister Sam.  So sweet!

After morning chanting and meditation the Peace Revolution crew, including Luang Phi Pasura and Luang Phi John went out to lunch.  We had an absolute feast, and there was a great deal of laughter!  The monks (as per the rules) sat at a table nearby and ate silently.  We served them their food by offering it to them on their yellow cloths that they laid out on the table in front of them.  After we had all finished our meals, they chanted a blessing for us.  I wondered what the other people in the restaurant thought, but I expect that the Thai people are used to this kind of thing happening.  I giggled to myself as I imagined this happening in the middle of a restaurant in Australia!

Luang Phi Pasura and Luang Phi John over the remnants of our feast (taken with my 'old style' camera setting)

Peace Angels: Nicky, Joy and Anita

The monks even gave me a present!  A buddha pendant:


After my weekend at the temple, I came back to Chulalongkorn feeling full of peace and very loved.  All my wonderful Peace Revolution family are so genuinely caring. They go out of their way to give you compliments, and they are not just those kind of shallow “nice dress” kind of compliments that we Westerners throw around without much meaning.  They truly observe the things that you do that are good, and they actively “rejoice in your merits”.  For example, sometimes I would be doing something like trying really hard to cheer up a student who was a bit homesick, and later that day one of the crew would come up to me and say “I really love the way you notice when the students are feeling a bit sad and how you go out of your way to cheer them up”.  Or I’d come into the office out of the steamy hot weather outside and say “ahhh, airconditioning nirvana!” with a big grin and someone would say “I love how you are so enthusiastic about all the little things”!  There should be more of this in the world.  We really should learn from the Buddhist philosophy of always “seeing the good” in others and “rejoicing in their merits”.  It’s so easy to criticise, or to give half-hearted compliments in order to be “nice”.  It’s much harder to really see the good in others, and to make the effort to tell them – but I can tell you from experience – it’s truly worth the effort.  You end up surrounded by happiness and feeling truly loved!  Thank you Peace Revolution crew and the teaching monks – you have given me some of the most precious gifts of my life, and so much more than the video, the book and the buddha – you have taught me invaluable life lessons and been such good examples for me.  I rejoice in your merits and share mine with you with much love!

Wonderful interview with the Dalai Lama on his 75th birthday

Buddhism, boxing and other interesting insights

This morning one of my Thai friends paid me what I consider to be the highest compliment.  She told me that I was the only foreigner who she could talk to about Buddhism because I actually understood what she was trying to say.  I was incredibly touched by that statement.  We have been having quite a few discussions about the trials and tribulations of life, love and trying to be a good person.  Both of us have done upasika training (although at different temples, with slightly different approaches – my friend had to shave her hair off!) and we have been trying to translate Buddhist teachings into our every day life.  It’s not so easy out here in the real world, when you are surrounded by worldly desires, and it’s good to have someone to talk through things with.

I went back to the temple on the weekend to do some workshops with the Peace Rebels, who had just returned from the three week meditation retreat.  It was great to see them all again and to hear about how they found the previous three weeks.  They all seemed in good spirits and there were even one or two blossoming romances (although there was very little chance of pursuing this while on meditation retreat, so I think they were keen to get back to the real world very soon)!

I’ve completed another week of classes for the Rotary World Peace Fellowship.  They have been challenging on a number of levels.  The most confronting aspect for me so far were some values activities we conducted last week.  Firstly, I was startled to find that in our group of 17 people, there were some very different values in relation to issues about which I had expected we would all have fairly similar views, such as the roles of women.  Most surprising to me was that the most different views from mine were expressed by people who I did not expect to have those views.  I guess that’s an important lesson for me about cultural assumptions!  Another challenge has been doing group work with different people in the class.  I regularly set group work for my students, but it’s been a while since I’ve had to do any myself.  There were a few moments when the group dynamics were pretty dysfunctional, and it was very interesting (in retrospect) to examine my responses to those situations.  After some reflection, I recognised that on a few occasions I wasn’t very good at practising what I regularly preach to my students!  I’m much better at resolving other peoples’ conflicts that managing my own effectively!  Again, some really good learning experiences!

So far we’ve covered a wide range of topics:  concepts and values of peace and conflict studies; gender aspects of peace and conflict resolution; eastern philosophies of peace; the context of conflict analysis, human security and humanitarian law; conflict analysis and mapping (including a big case study on Dafur); trends in armed conflict and peacebuilding.  My head is spinning with so much new information and ideas.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve joined a nearby sports club and have been swimming and doing some of the classes almost every day.  Yesterday evening I went to a class called “Aerobox”.  It didn’t occur to me that in Thailand, boxing meant Muay Thai boxing, which involves kicking and elbow thrusts, as well as the more conventional punches.  The class was a lot of fun, but incredibly difficult!  Compared to the stocky little boxing instructor with very controlled and powerful movements, I must have looked like a big pale grasshopper having some kind of fit!  At one stage, as I was trying to coordinate the punches and kicks, she reminded me that the actions were about fighting, not dancing the can-can!  Clearly, I kick like a girl!!!  She kept screaming at us “HARDER!!!” throughout the class, as she demonstrated each move with a loud grunt!  The class nearly killed me, (and that was with no body contact!), but I had a blast!  Everyone was laughing and enjoying it (including the group of Thai men who gathered outside the window to watch the crazy farang trying to box!)  I can’t wait for next week to give it another try.  Hopefully by then I will be able to walk again!

Talking about meditation

When people think of Buddhism, they tend to think of meditation.  It is the foundation of what someone who is a Buddhist does, as well as trying to live their life according to the five precepts.  Here at the temple I’ve been doing a lot of meditation over the last three months.  Some days I have done up to six hours a day, but most days around two hours (in the morning and evening).  The meditation style that they teach here at the Dhammakaya Temple is a little unorthodox, and has in fact been the subject of some controversy and much debate in the Buddhist community over the last ten years or so here in Thailand.  (I will write more about the Dhammakaya controversy in a later post).

I was originally trained in Vipassana meditation, which is the main form of meditation practiced by Theravadan Buddhists.  I did my first 10-day silent meditation retreat in 2000 and another a few years later in Melbourne.  I’ve also done a couple of 3-4 day silent retreats and 1-day retreats over the last ten years.  I have meditated regularly at times, usually for a few months after one of my retreats, and then my practice has, in the past, dropped off.  This is something that I am fairly confident won’t happen again.  I feel like I am in a good habit of daily meditation now and it’s something that is making a real difference in my life.

So what’s meditation all about?  In the West, people tend to think of it as something you do for the purpose of relaxation, however this is not exactly right. Being relaxed when you meditate is helpful to your meditation because you are comfortable and relatively calm, but it’s not essential: it is possible to meditate without being completely relaxed (anyone who has done a 10-day vipassana retreat will remember the pain of sitting still for hours and hours and agree that they were not feeling relaxed during many of those meditation sessions!) Becoming relaxed is also not the purpose of meditation.  Very broadly speaking, the purpose is to enable you to observe your own mind and to see reality as it is.

There are two main types of meditation in Theravadan Buddhism: anna panna (to develop concentration) and vipassana (to develop wisdom).  Anna panna meditation generally involves focusing your attention on one thing (usually the breath) and trying to concentrate on that for as long as possible.  Vipassana (also called “mindfulness meditation” in the West) involves really paying attention to whatever is happening to you in the present moment (e.g. sensations on your body, emotions, thoughts, etc) with equanimity (i.e. just observing what’s happening and not reacting to anything).

Anyone who tries anna panna meditation for the first time will discover that it’s incredibly difficult to concentrate just on your breathing for more than a few seconds (perhaps minutes if you are a focused kind of person).  Before you know it, your mind has wandered off, forgetting about the breath and following a train of thought.  This is the nature of the human mind.  The first time I went to the vipassana retreat we spent the first day just doing anna panna meditation.  Our instructions were to try to concentrate on our breathing for 5 minutes without getting distracted.  I found it impossible, and by the end of the day was convinced that I was actually crazy!  I was so relieved that night when the teacher explained that we probably all thought we were crazy but that we were all normal, we just had “monkey minds” and everyone in the room started laughing, clearly having had the same thoughts as I had.

After practicing this kind of meditation for some time, you do become more focused and you can concentrate for longer and longer periods of time, but there are still days when your mind is busy and you can’t focus.  However, this doesn’t mean that your meditation is not going well.  All you have to do, when you notice your mind wandering, is to focus your attention back on your breathing again.  You just keep starting again every time your mind wanders, never berating yourself or becoming frustrated.  Just accepting that at that moment you have a wandering mind, and starting again.  The monks have a saying about those thoughts that like to pop into our mind and distract us from our meditation:  “You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can stop it from building a nest in your hair”.  What they mean is, when you notice your mind wandering, don’t follow the train of thought, let the thought go and come back to your focus.

Vispassana meditation takes this a step further, in that you pay attention to more than just your breathing, but the basic principle is the same.  You pay attention to whatever you are feeling or thinking, but you try not to react to it, you just observe it.  This can be very difficult, because we are in the habit of responding to many things in life with either craving (wanting something, or wanting more of something) or aversion (wanting something to stop).  So, for example, when we are meditating and we feel this wonderful sense of peace and bliss, we tend to respond to that by wanting that feeling to continue.  When it stops, we sometimes then start wishing that it would come back again.  Conversely, when we feel some pain (my leg always falls asleep and starts feeling very uncomfortable) we tend to start wanting it to stop, or we try to ignore it (which, of course, usually makes it worse!).  In Vipassana meditation we are trying to train ourselves to notice all these different sensations, thoughts and feelings but not to respond to them with craving or aversion.

Why do we do this?  It’s kind of complicated, but in a nutshell, it is our cravings and aversions that create our suffering.  They also tend to exacerbate our delusions; our tendency not to see reality as it really is.  The more we simply observe the way our mind and body works, the more we start to understand ourselves.  Meditation is like a kind of safe place for us to practice observing and understanding ourselves.  It’s hard to do this when we are out in the world engaging and interacting in the moment.  We might be able to do some self-reflection in retrospect, and while this is useful, it doesn’t actually train us to be able to reflect before or during the action (which is much harder).  Meditation creates an environment in which we can observe our thoughts and feelings as they are occurring, without too many distractions.  It also, slowly and subtly, develops us in the habit of doing this.  So after practicing meditation for some time, we start to notice our thoughts and feelings when we are not meditating, in the heat of the moment.  The aim of meditation is to get to a stage where we are fully conscious of our thoughts and feelings at all times; so we can always see reality as it really is. Lord Buddha described this level of consciousness as being “awake”.  This is, effectively, enlightenment.

Meditation itself is actually not difficult.  What’s hard is doing it with the right attitude.  The right attitude is almost to think that meditation is useless.  To do it with no expectations: to “just do it”.  Meditation is not about gaining something, it’s about letting things go.

There’s a zen story about a student who sat down to meditate for the purpose of attaining enlightenment.  His teacher came by and asked him what he was doing.  The student said “I’m meditating to attain enlightenment”.  The zen teacher picked up a tile nearby and started polishing it.  The student asked “what are you doing?”  The zen teacher replied “I intend to polish this tile into a mirror”.  The student said “No amount of polishing will turn that tile into a mirror”.  The zen teacher replied “No amount of meditating will turn you into a Buddha”.

To get the most out of meditation, counter-intuitively, we have to do it without wanting to get anything out of it.

This is something that I struggle with.  Sometimes when I meditate it feels like it goes really well, other times it feels like I am completely wasting my time sitting there.  The fact that I am analyzing the value of my meditation sessions means that I am in the wrong frame of mind already!

Putting the problematic aspect of evaluating the quality of my meditation sessions aside for the moment, I will try to explain a little more about some of my experiences.  I have had a couple of really amazing meditation sessions.  These have occurred very intermittently over the last ten years, while I was doing vipassana meditation and also once while I was doing dhammakaya meditation.  Ironically, each of these experiences occurred in a meditation session that started out ‘badly’.  What I mean by this is that each time I remember thinking “oh this meditation session is a complete waste of time” because my mind was wandering a lot.  But what turned those sessions into something wonderful was that each time, the following thought was something like “oh well, I’m just going to have to sit here for the next hour anyway, I can’t go anywhere because everyone else is still meditating, so I might as well just keep my eyes closed and see what happens”.  That letting go seems to be the key to everything.

So what do I mean by a wonderful experience?  Most times when I am meditating, I am conscious of the time and I am conscious of my body (usually some part of it hurting!).  Occasionally, though, something happens and suddenly, unexpectedly, it’s like your body suddenly disappears, and yet your mind is crystal clear.  It’s really hard to explain what is going on in my head at the time.  I can’t tell you what I am thinking about, but I am ‘aware’.  I’m not asleep: I’m acutely awake.  I can hear the monk or the meditation teacher speaking to us, I am aware of what he is saying, but I may not be paying too much attention to it (For example, he may be making suggestions about how we can focus our minds or something and I can hear it but don’t need to do it because I’m on some other kind of level.  This confirmed for me that I was not hypnotized, something at first I was suspicious of, because I’m completely in control of my own thoughts.)  It’s like my mind is floating in a very bright light and I am filled with a sense of complete calmness and bliss.  Time goes very quickly when I am in this state and when the monk or meditation teacher asks us to slowly open our eyes I don’t want to stop.  I feel like I can keep going like this forever.  During this time, and for a period of time afterwards, this sense of clarity and happiness remains.  I feel like I can see clearly, I can think clearly, I am overflowing with good thoughts and feelings and nothing bothers me.

Want a fun and simple introduction to meditation?  Check out the “Inner Peace Time” section of the Peace Revolution website, where you can download in mp3 format guided meditations from some of my favourite monks:  http://www.peacerevolution2010.org/docs/en/inner-peace-time

Forgetting you’re famous

I arrived back at the temple yesterday afternoon after my extended diving holiday on Koh Tao.  I wondered how I was going to feel coming back to the temple after such a long time in a completely different, totally worldly, environment.  I needn’t have worried.  As the taxi drove into the temple complex I had an overwhelming feeling of coming back home.  Everything was familiar and just the same as when I left.  I had forgotten that I am famous here though, and it was initially a bit of a shock when complete strangers started calling out to me “sawadee-ka Sam” when they saw me.  The fruit stall lady, who is just the sweetest thing, saw me and dropped her bags on the ground in delight, giving me such a deep wai that I felt like a member of the royal family!  The Hom Krun Coffee Hut staff also looked very relieved to see me back (no doubt they have been worrying about their drop in profits since I have not been visiting them a few times each day)!  I have also, already, had a number of hilarious conversations in Thai-lish, when people chatter away to me in Thai, and I chatter back in English, and neither of us have any idea what the other is saying, but everyone smiles a lot and says “anumutona boon ka” and “sadhu” often (“I rejoice in your merits” and “well said, also to you”).

When I came back to the Peace Revolution container office (now known as the Peace “Train” since the new extension has been added) I was thrilled to find all three of my favourite monks there!  Luang Phi Josh had literally just come out of his three month retreat, and was catching up on all the news since he’d been away.  Luang Phi Pasura was there being a cool as ever, and Luang Phi John was delightfully excited about showing me his latest video and website masterpieces.  I also caught up with Anita, the most extreme international upasika, and all the rest of the Peace Revolution Crew.  They have all been very busy since I’ve been away and the student retreat is all ready to start tomorrow.  Students have been arriving for the last 24 hours and the last of them will be here by late this afternoon.  I will then move to the POP House retreat centre to do the orientation session with them and I will stay there for the next two days until they take the “Peace Bus” up to Chiang Mai to the retreat centre up there.

Here is LP John’s latest wonderful PR video, featuring some of my all time favourite Peace Rebels!

The Art of Teaching

After an exciting morning at the medical centre, I was asked to go to a meeting with the Vice Abbot that afternoon.  I haven’t seen him since before my Upasika training, and I wondered whether he had heard that I ‘ran away from nun camp’ two days before it ended and was disappointed in me.  I asked Ping what the meeting was about and she said he just wanted to review my time in the temple and talk about my plans for the future, because he would be very busy over the next few weeks and may not get a chance to speak with me again before I left.

Luang Phi Pasura came along to translate, and Luang Phi John came along as well, as did Anita and Sunee (one of our peace coaches who was visiting the temple for a few weeks).

As usual, the Vice Abbot put me straight at ease when he walked into the room with his big smile and a giggle as we bowed to him.  He has such an aura of happiness and caring, as well as a little bit of cheekiness that I love!  He told us that this morning he finished writing another book.  This one will be called “The Art of Teaching”.  I was immediately engaged!  He explained a bit about it.  He asks the question “Why study?” and critiques what he sees as the failure of the worldwide education system.  He said that he doesn’t just identify the problems, but he also makes suggestions for resolving the problems.  He said that teachers should think about what they do as more than just an occupation.

He said that universities have become overly focused on academic standards around knowledge, and no moral standards to assist students to develop wisdom.  He said that no university can guarantee that its graduates are people of morality, only that they have a certain amount of knowledge.  According to Luang Phaw Datta, teachers should teach you not only knowledge, but also show you the way to heaven and how to close the way to hell (noting that he says this as a Buddhist monk, so he’s not talking about the kind of heaven and hell that might be used in a Christian sense, although it certainly doesn’t preclude that).

Luang Phaw continued, explaining that these days people look at their lives and the world in a way that is too shallow and that is why there is so much confusion and unhappiness.  The current education system actually encourages this kind of shallow thinking.  Luang Phaw’s book argues that we need to develop our education system, and our teachers, to be able to encourage students to engage in deep thinking and to become better people, not just more knowledgeable ones.

Luang Phaw said that his book was going to be published only in Thai for now, and not in English, but he suggested that I might like to translate it into English for him.  I told him I thought I might need to do a bit more Thai study before I could do that!  He told me the editing process would probably take about two years, so I had time!  I told him I would do my best to improve my Thai language skills over the next few years.

He asked me what I had gained from my time in the Dhammakaya Temple.  I told him that I had learnt an enormous amount: about Thai culture, about Buddhism, about meditation and about myself.  He asked what my plans were for the future.  I told him that after doing the Rotary World Peace Fellowship at Chulalongkorn university from June to August, I would return to Australia where I had a contract to teach in a Masters Program in Conflict Resolution.  He asked how what I had learnt during the last three months would influence my teaching.  I told him that I thought what I had learnt would influence my teaching greatly.  Firstly, I told him that having now developed a strong meditation practice, this would continue to ground me as a person and assist me to develop my inner peace and wisdom as a person and as a teacher.  I also explained that I hoped to continue my work with Peace Revolution from Australia, and to encourage more young people to start meditating and to develop their own inner peace.  I thought that this was also very compatible with my teaching in the area of peace and conflict resolution, and the two are essentially linked.  I also said that I could see so many links between the Buddha’s teaching and things that I taught in an ‘academic’ sense in many of my courses.  I said that many of the Buddha’s stories and examples could be used to assist students to ‘connect’ with the academic principles I was teaching on a more human level.  I explained that one of the problems I had identified about teaching conflict resolution was that the students tended to grasp the theoretical concepts, but struggled to put them into practice.  I thought that this could maybe be explained by Luang Phaw’s distinction between knowledge and wisdom: that they had the knowledge but not the wisdom to use it effectively.  I hoped that I could become the sort of teacher who could not only help students to find the knowledge, but also to encourage them to develop their wisdom.

Laung Phaw seemed happy with this and smiled and nodded a lot.  He said that he was now seventy years old and he was too busy to travel to Australia, so he was counting on me to do all the things I said and to help develop the youth of Australia.  I told him that I may not be able to get thousands of people to listen to me at one time (as happens here at the temple on Sundays) but I would do my best with the small groups I worked with!  He laughed.

He asked whether I would come back to Thailand.  I said that I hoped to come back regularly, particularly for the Peace Revolution retreats and conferences.  He asked whether I was interested in coming back for a longer period of time and I said I wasn’t sure.  I thought that I wanted to do more work in Australia, but that I would keep it in mind.

He told me that it was good that I wasn’t married and that I didn’t have any children because that gave me flexibility to travel.  I laughed and told him that sometimes I didn’t feel like not having settled down and having a family was a good thing!   He said that Khun Yay (the nun who founded the temple) was often approached by women in their thirties who would ask her advice about whether they should get married and have a family.  They worried that if they didn’t, nobody would look after them when they got old.  Khun Yay used to tell them that they shouldn’t worry about that, and that there were things they could do to ensure that they were looked after when they were older.  She suggested that they should save money and accumulate assets so that they had financial security.  She also said that they should accumulate ‘merit’ so that they had moral security.  She said that they should find children or young people who had potential to develop into good, moral adults and to support them, financially and spiritually.  She said that this would not only help the future of the world by developing strong and good new leaders, but those youth may also be grateful enough to take care of you when you got older.  If not, she suggested that if you accumulated enough assets, someone who wanted your assets when you died would probably take care of you quite well!!!

Laung Phaw laughed and pointed his finger at me and said “So don’t get married, ok?!”  I laughed and said I didn’t have time to get married!  He said “imagine what it would be like if you had a baby!”  I laughed and told him that I used to have a dog, but that I had adopted her to my parents because I was too busy working to look after her properly.  He laughed again and said “well, don’t get another dog, or a cat!” and I told him that I wouldn’t, I had learned my lesson!  I told him that I couldn’t guarantee that I would stay single forever though!

He laughed again and then very seriously explained that the problem with being in a relationship was that you start using all your energy to look after the person you are in love with, and you forget the rest of the world.  Laung Phaw in an earlier meeting with me had told me that he thought I could be a ‘mother of the world’.  He reminded me of this and said that I couldn’t be a mother of the world if I was focused just on one or two people.  He said that I would waste the energy and the skills that I had to help many more people.

He then, as he likes to do, pointed his finger at me with a big grin and asked “Right?” and I laughed and said I would keep it in mind, but couldn’t make any promises. He laughed a lot at that!

He asked Laung Phi Pasura to make another time for us to meet before I leave because he wanted to talk to me more about teaching.  I am looking forward to that.  Laung Phaw Datta is a very interesting man, and I love spending time with him – he smiles and giggles all the time, even while he is talking about very serious things.  I am very lucky to have the opportunity to spend time with him and learn from him.

Luang Phaw Datta