Tag Archives: monks

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:

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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!

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!

Am I over it?

Lately I have been feeling a bit restless, impatient to move on to my next adventure at Chulalongkorn University.  I think that mostly what I am craving is a return to something like ‘normality’.  Maybe this is a natural stage of culture shock at the three-month mark. I think the culture shock I have been experiencing has been magnified:  first I have Thai culture shock, and second I have Buddhist culture shock after being immersed in temple life.

For the last three months I have hardly left the temple compound, and mostly when I have, I have been with temple staff.  Here in the temple, life revolves entirely around Buddhist activities.  Most of the people I see every day are monks or upasikas (the closest thing you can get to a nun here in Thailand).  They live at the temple in dormitory accommodation.  They don’t get paid, but receive a small allowance (which most of them donate straight back to the temple), so there’s no point going for a trip to the shopping mall.  When they are not attending temple events, they work on their temple projects.  A normal day involves starting work from about 8am (after chanting and breakfast) until they go to bed around 10pm.  They don’t have a ‘home’ as we Westerners know it to go back to each day to relax.  Also, they have taken vows not to engage in worldly entertainment (no movies, television, dancing, etc.).  They have committed their lives to working for Buddhism.  They also only eat two meals a day (no eating after midday) so there’s no going out to dinner at the end of a big day.  There’s also no touching, especially the monks, but also the upasikas don’t hug or engage in any physical demonstrations of affection.  (When Don left to go back to Canada the other day I gave him a big hug and people looked a little uncomfortable, although it wasn’t too much of a problem because we were both farangs).

Having said that, the people I work with, monks and upasikas, are some of the nicest and funniest people I have ever met.  We laugh a lot!  Work is fun and is broken up during the day with meditation time, which I am finding really valuable.

I think the reason I am feeling particularly melancholic at the moment is that all the other westerners have now left, except Anita and I.  And Anita has been at the second stage of upasika training for the past two weeks, so I have hardly seen her.  Anita wants to become a nun, so she takes everything very seriously.  I have so much respect for her.  I call her my ‘rock’ because whenever we are in meditation together and I am getting restless, I always look at her and she will be sitting there completely still with a look of calmness on her face, and it motivates me to settle again.

I decided not to do the second upasika training.  The life of an upasika is not for me.  I am too much a creature of the world.  In Buddhist terms that means I have a lot of attachments, which I need to try to let go of in order to work towards true happiness and enlightenment.  One of the things that this temple isolation has given me is time to reflect on my attachments.  I don’t think that I’ve actually freed myself of too many, but I can now certainly recognize things about myself and my attachments that I have not realized before.  It has been a very interesting exercise in self-reflection.

When you start craving something and there’s no way of getting it, it does make you ‘deal with it’ by simply having to get over it and move on (or wallow in your own misery, which is not a good option)!  Then, a few days later when you are no longer craving that thing, it dawns on you slowly that you didn’t really need it after all and you are perfectly happy without it.  There are so many things that I use to think I couldn’t live without, that I have now realized are not essential in my life.  These are physical and non-physical things.  I think that the physical objects are actually easier to let go of.  It’s the non-physical things, the emotional things, the psychological things that I am really struggling with.

I thought this could be a good time to review my progress with the 8 precepts (which I have been trying to keep since I have been living here in the temple, nearly three months now):

1. I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.

This one hasn’t been too difficult, although the ants have definitely tried my patience.  I have accidentally (and perhaps on occasion mindlessly) killed some ants, but I haven’t intentionally set about to do so.

2. I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.

This one hasn’t been difficult.  I have the luxury of having all my needs provided for and I haven’t ever been tempted to take anything that wasn’t mine.

3. I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual activity.

There is absolutely no risk of breaking this precept here in the temple grounds!

4. I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.

I don’t think I’ve been so good at this one.  I have sometimes said things that weren’t entirely positive about people and situations that I have been exposed to.  It’s not easy to always demonstrate ‘djap die’ or seeing the good in everything and everyone.  I also think I’ve engaged in my fair share of ‘idle chatter’ and ‘gossip’ (so far as that goes here in the temple)!

5. I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.

There is absolutely no risk of breaking this precept here in the temple grounds!

6. I undertake the precept to refrain from eating at the forbidden time (i.e., after noon).

I have kept this precept most days.   I did have dinner on a few occasions with my parents when they were here.  But mostly I have been ok with this one.

7. I undertake the precept to refrain from dancing, singing, music, going to see entertainments, wearing garlands, using perfumes, and beautifying the body with cosmetics.

This one is a little complicated.  I haven’t done much dancing, but I may have on occasion slipped up and done the odd bit of singing or a little dance move.  I haven’t gone to see many entertainments, although I did go to the movies once, and I also have watched a few tv shows on my computer when I needed a fix of western life.  I haven’t worn any garlands or perfumes (but I definitely have worn deodorant – a necessity here)!  I haven’t worn cosmetics, which is ok because nobody here wears makeup.

8. I undertake the precept to refrain from lying on a high or luxurious sleeping place.

No risk of breaking this one – my bed is like a slab of wood with a thin mat on top. Definitely not high or luxurious!  Although by temple standards my apartment is pretty luxurious – I have my own space and airconditioning, whereas most others are in dormitory accommodation with only fans.

So….

What am I missing most right now?  I would love to be sitting around with a group of friends, who speak the same language (literally and culturally), laughing about everyday stuff, relaxed and uninhibited, some singing and dancing, some flirting, some physical affection…just a normal weekend type scenario at home.

Anyone want to come and visit?????

Tour following the life of Luang Phu

On Friday a group of us went on a tour to visit important locations in the life of Luang Phu Wat Paknam – the founder of Dhammakaya meditation.  There was a group of European/Thai upasika who were being taken on the tour and the Peace Revolution team were invited to go with them.  We had our own van and driver.  The tour started at 8am and we got back to our temple at 10pm.  It was a very full day, involving visits to various temples, lunch on a boat, and lots of driving around Thailand.  During the day we made offerings at each of the temples, did chanting and meditation, listened to talks about Luang Phu’s life, did a fish release, and generally sweated a lot – it was a REALLY hot day.

Here are some images of the day:

Some of the Peace Revolution team with our van

Lunch on a boat - LP John had to sit at his own table behind us as monks are not allowed to eat with us

Luang Phu

The memorial hall at Luang Phu's birthplace

Upasikas with lotus flowers to place before the Luang Phu statue

Don and Om

The beautiful Nicky

The temple where Luang Phu first studied

Inside the temple where Luang Phu first studied

Buddha and Luang Phu statues

Fish release at another temple where Luang Phu studied

Chanting before fish release

Keeping an eye on the fish!

About to release my fish

The boats

Upasikas and monks on the tour

In the chapel where Luang Phu attained Dhammakaya

Cute!

By the time we got to Wat Paknam, the temple where Luang Phu was the Abbot, it was too dark to take any good photos, sorry!

Earth Day – 22 April

Today was Earth Day, another ordination of 500,000 ubasika, offering of alms to monks from over 10,000 temples who were visiting from around the world, the casting of the last golden Buddha images for the Cetiya (the pagoda that each temple has that houses important Buddhist relics and also is the centre for ceremonies), and the Abbot’s birthday. As you can imagine, it was a very big celebration day here at the temple. I was there from 7.30am until 9.30pm, when I arrived home a dirty sweaty but happy mess!

Ubasika women from temples all over Thailand have been doing their training for the past week (see my previous post on nun camp for my experience doing this training). Today they all came together at our temple for the ordination ceremony.

Monks also came from 10,000 temples for the annual Sung-Ka-Tarn, a ceremony when lay people offer alms (necessities) to the monks. During this ceremony the monks chanted a long blessing in Pali. Because there were monks from all over the world, they each had a slightly different melody (although they all chant the same Pali words) and it was the most amazingly beautiful sound.

Also, for the past few years this temple has been casting 1,000,000 Buddha images for the Cetiya. Today they will cast the last images, and the million will be complete. The roof of the Cetiya has 300,000 Buddha statues on it, and the remaining 700,000 will be enshrined inside. Each statue is donated by a layperson and their name (or someone they choose to donate for) is engraved into the base of the statue. In a thousand years, when the statues on the outside of the Cetiya are becoming worn, they will be replaced with some more from inside. This will ensure that the Cetiya will be beautiful for at least 3000 years. It is an important religious landmark for Buddhists here. See beautiful pictures of the Cetiya here:

http://www.dhammakaya.net/visitorzone/detail_page_01_en.php

The temple was the most crowded I have ever seen it. The Cetiya arena, which can seat 1,000,000 was packed full (mostly with women) and many men had to stand around the outside. There were also monks from all different countries, with different coloured robes.

Anita and I : Extreme Upasikas!

Ping Ping and I went down to the main meditation hall at 7.30am and helped prepare breakfast and lunch for the visiting international monks. This was definitely the best place to volunteer, as it was in a big airconditioned dining room!

Luang Phi John and Luang Phi Pasura : Two of the coolest, funniest and kindest monks I know!

I had a moment of complete panic during the meal service, as I was offering a pot of rice to a monk and he grabbed the pot while I was still touching it. That is an absolute no-no here for Thai monks – not only can they not touch women, they cannot touch anything while a woman is touching it. I gave Ping Ping a look of horror and stood there in shock. She came over and said not to worry, he was a monk from a different country and sect and they weren’t so strict about touching women so I hadn’t done anything wrong. She explained that in some countries monks can even get married and have children. I asked her how I was supposed to know which monks were which. She said you could usually tell by the design of their robes, but it was better always to be safe than sorry. She also said that was why there were usually only men serving in the international monks dining room, so that no women felt awkward around the foreign monks.

At the end of their meals, the servers got to eat anything that the monks didn’t want, so we had a really delicious feast culminating in me eating way too much mangoes and sticky rice and feeling really sleepy in the afternoon heat!

After the ubasika ordination and the alms offering, we moved to the Cetiya stadium. I donated one of the Buddha images, so I was given a round gold ingot to add into the furnace for the casting.

All over the stadium were long shutes where, at the appopriate time, you placed your gold ingot. It then rolled down the shute into a golden bag. These were collected and taken to the main furnace in the middle of the Cetiya where they were melted and then poured by the monks into the Buddha moulds.

After this was completed, we had more meditation and then the lantern lighting ceremony.

As this finished there was a big surprise: fireworks over the Cetiya to celebrate Luang Phaw’s birthday! It was really beautiful and everyone was so happy – it was a truly wonderful atmosphere! It’s impossible to explain what it’s like to be sitting under the open sky, meditating in silence with a million people, and then for there to be chanting, singing and fireworks!

Here is a link to the DMC video scoop of the event. If you don’t have time to watch the whole 20 minutes, highlights are at: 10.24 alms giving; 11.20 upasika ordination; 14.25 casting of the buddha images; 16.50 lantern ceremony and fireworks.

http://www.dmc.tv/?module=articles&action=page&p=6520

Information about the casting of the Buddha statues:

This highly sacred tradition of casting Buddha statue will come to an end this year as the last set of statues are cast. This occasion will also mark the completion of Maha Damakaya Cetiya (Pagoda), which will be closed as soon as the last statue is enshrined inside.

This will be an occasion for all Buddhists to be united, to pay homage to the Lord Buddha through making contribution to the casting of Buddha Statues, which will be revered and paid homage by both humans and celestials. These Buddha statues symbolize the purest of all the virtues (goodness), which will help extending the boundlessness of happiness to the mass of the people. The personal Buddha statues and the Cetiya will be in existence as the center of Buddhism for thousands of years. The merit of paying homage to one Buddha statue is immeasurable; imagine the merit that one will earn when paying homage to the Maha Dhammakaya Cetiya enshrined with 1,000,000 Buddha statues. The Cetiya will be the center for Buddhists all over the world to come to pay homage. Being a part of casting personal Buddha statues adorned and enshrined on and inside this sacred Cetiya will result in great merit that will forever continue until the time the ultimate path of Dharma is reached. Think of the impact the sight of Cetiya will have on people. Think of how many people will feel motivated to have a clear mind and reach inner peace and eventually reach high Dharma when they pay homage to 1,000,000 statues. The number will be countless and so will be the merit. The fruition of merit will be transcended to those who helped adorn this sacred place to have a long and plentiful celestial life (plentiful in celestial wealth) and so in their reincarnations thereafter. This merit will be with them until the ultimate path of dharma and Nirvana is reached.

Please join us in casting personal Buddha statues with your name or your loved one’s name engraved at the base of the statue and enjoy the merit of being a part of introducing this body of enlightenment of Lord Buddha to the world. This body of enlightenment when visualized as a virtuous symbol, placed at the center of the body when meditating, will be the gateway of reaching inner peace and eventually the body of enlightenment or Dhammakaya.

Merit from Casting Personal Buddha Statues

The merit from casting Buddha statues is immeasurable and can be summarized into the following 3 major elements:

1. Physical Beauty (good appearance) – One will be born with good appearance, fine skin and all other attractive qualities, along with longevity and freedom from all disease and sickness.

2. Wealth – one will be born in high places with wealth and prosperity. Any business one touches will turn to gold. One will be blessed with an abundance of wealth and will become a generous wealthy person who helps support Buddhism.

3. Good quality (Intelligence & Wisdom) – One will be born with sharp wit and intelligence. One will be a fast learner and will be able to reach inner peace in a short period of time. Will have wisdom in both worldly and Dharma affairs.

Lastly, here is a very funny advertisement for this event that has been shown on DMC television here. It’s called “Big Boon” (boon is the Thai word for ‘merit’ or the good karma that you receive in return for doing good things).

http://r200.dmc.tv/spot_dmc/520212_BigBoon.wmv