Friday, August 26, 2011

Vipassana Meditation

I will start this by telling you, gentle reader, that I am writing about my personal experience and make absolutely no claim of expertise.  The subject is deep, deeper than I would ever have imagined.

There are many types of meditation.  Many use mantras, external sounds and other methods to allow the meditator to concentrate.  These types of meditation offer moments of peace and often bliss.  The effect is not long lasting after the meditation period ends.  I’m not suggesting they are bad in any way, I am suggesting that the results may not be a permanent as one might hope for.  Then there is Vipassana meditation.  Vipassana means insight.  Vipassana is said to be passed down from Gautama the Buddha.  By the way the word Buddha means enlightened; Buddha was the enlightened one.

The popularity of Vipassana meditation has waxed and waned. The writings of Buddhaghosa were very influential, especially his exegesis “The Vissidhimagga” written in 412, which was the basis for the current revival of Vipassana started by Sayadaw Mahasi in Burma in the 1930’s. The flame of Vipassana was preserved by a small following in Burma who kept the practice alive for several hundred years.  Recently it has spread and is particularly prevalent in Thailand as well as in the West.  You can find a lot of information about sites and so forth on line.  Just google Vipassana.  Also I have collected some information I am willing to share.  Just contact me by email if you are interested.

Vipassana is more about awareness than concentration.  Of course there needs to be a bit of concentration to achieve any awareness.  As taught at the mediation center I attended each session consists of three parts, mindful prostration, walking meditation and sitting meditation.  The idea is to become aware of self.  Self awareness is truth. And as Jesus said “the truth will set you free”.  Who should take this path?  Only those who really want to know the truth.  Vipassana is not for spiritual wimps, it’s for people who want to know a new happiness and a new freedom.  I’m reminded of a sign I once saw in the back offices of the U.S. State Department.  It read “Toil is the price of greatness and the Gods have deemed that you pay in advance”.

In the United States and other countries there are several centers.  There is a comprehensive list in the back of the book “The Art of Living – Vipassana Meditation”.  I’m happy to share this list with you for the asking.   Here in Thailand there are also several centers.  I chose the International Meditation Center at Wat Chom Tong a few kilometers South of Chiang Mai.  This choice I made solely based on the recommendation of a good friend who had been there.   I recommend the center to you based on several factors:
a.      a.   My experience was all positive.  The teacher was excellent and the facility totally appropriate.
b.      b.  The location is convenient, assuming you are in Thailand.
c.      c.   Wat Chom Tong is the home of Ajahn Tong who created this center.  He is a true master, considered to be enlightened my many Thais and foreigners.  His presence is felt. People who choose a site based on a master often come here, as did my teacher Jonathan.  
Ajan Tong 
d.     d.  The proper name of the Wat is Prathat Sri Chom Tong.  The preface Prathat Sri indicates that the wat has a relic of the Buddha and is therefore of great significance.   It’s a very cool place to meditate.  
The Temple in the evening

Most of the internet sites and books suggest that a first course should be 10 days.  At Wat Chom Tong they recommend 21.  I thought 21 days was a long time, but signed up and went.  I’m glad that I took their advice.  In the future I can go back and do 10 day retreats when it suites me.  I’m already trying to schedule my next retreat.   There must be a combination of concentration and awareness in this meditation. Ajon Tong teaches with great emphasis on awareness because that is how the mediator  will  gain self awareness.  Mindfulness is a key word at Wat Chom Tong.  It’s amazing how much of life I have gone through totally unaware.  To be mindful of my surroundings helps me to learn about me.  Getting to know me is a good thing.
Ajon Tong receives alms
To give alms to the enlighted one is deemed most excellent merit
While there, we are introduced to a little Dharma and allowed to go make merit in the same way the Thai Buddhists do.   

There are three refuges; Buddha (enlightenment), Dharma (teaching) and Sangha (community).   The key to everything is the concept of anatta, which means no-self or no-ego. Does this mean I’ve become a Buddhist?  Not really, but I’m grateful that my teachings of the past allow me to accept their wisdom and incorporate it into my own philosophy.                                                                                                                       

Wat Prathat Sri Chom Tong

Wat Prathat Sri Chom Tong is a very special place.  The formal designation Prathat Sri indicates that it houses a relic of the Buddha.  This is analogous to the Catholic cathedrals which house relics of the various saints.  This relic, is said to be part of the right side of The Lord Buddha’s head.  This relic is not buried, as are most.  Rather, it is kept in a golden mondoo and is brought out for display during major Buddhist holidays.

The Chedi at Wat Prathat Sri Chom Tong

Wat Prathat Sri Chom Tong is also home of the Insight Meditation Center of Northern Thailand.  The Wat actually houses two complimentary centers one Thai and one international.  Vipassana Meditation as taught at the international center is the subject of my next article.  
Chedi just after sundown
While I was at the center I had the opportunity to see the temple during the evening, even to meditate on it's serene grounds.  What an amazing experience!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Summer Vacation 2011

On the 28th of July I left Bangkok at 5:00 p.m.  3 ½ hours to Taipe, 13 hours to San Franciso, 1 ½ hours to San Diego and a one hour van ride to Fallbrook and I was there by midnight!  That’s one really long day.  Coming back was almost as weird, we sort of just skipped Wednesday having checked in the night Tuesday night and arriving in Bangkok on Thursday morning.

The trip was too short, but I'm glad that I was able to go.  The photographs from my vacation to the States have been culled to 100 and uploaded to Photobucket.  You can see them at:  A hundred of my favorites might be boring to you, so I’ll include a select few in this article.
Darth Vader poses with us at Lego Land
The California segment was very enjoyable.  I hooked up with my son, daughter-in-law and grandson.  We went to an extended family gathering, a Padres game, Balboa Park and spent two days at Lego Land.  Frankly I knew I’d get a kick out of watching Andy enjoy Lego Land.  To my pleasant surprise I enjoyed the park on it’s own merit.  Warning!  Do not eat at the Pizza place; looks edible but it really isn’t.  Other food locations seemed to be O.K.  If you happen to be in Falbrook try Truplano's Italian Bistro.  The food is excellent and the price is reasonable See:
Petco Park, is one of my favorite places.  This year the team is busy making
all the other teams look good.  Tis life! 
Cotton Candy meets 5 year old!  Gotta love it! 

The Capital Building in Lego's with Tony, Shawnees and Andy in back
Sadly the family gathering was a lost opportunity for a really big family group photo.  People were just having too much fun with the bouncing area and Wi bowling to be collected for even a few minutes.  It was certainly good to see everyone.  Tony and Sue do such a great job of hosting these gatherings.   
I did get to spend a bit of time with my nephew Jim after Tony, Shawnee and Andy returned to El Paso.
Finally an elephant that I don't mind seeing in captivity!
 A Lego Elephant, who would have thought! 
On Saturday I flew out to Denver and spent 3 days with my niece Kate and her family.  As always the hospitality is marvelous.  The kids are growing at an amazing rate.
My hat looks better on Mattie than on me

Brighton, Mattie, Evelyn, Kate, Preston & Quinton
Rocky Mountain National Park, one of my favorite photo locations

What a location! 

Family Time, So Important! 

As soon as I arrived back in Thailand I headed for Nan Rong to be with Maliwan and her family for Thai mothers day.  
Gun is Maliwan's Son, Maliwan and her parents
Thai mother's day 2011
 Last night we caught a truck to Korat and took an overnight bus home to Chiang Rai. I'm grateful to be home.  More articles to come soon!

Abundant Blessings,