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Published: February 9th 2008
The Chinese new year was fast approaching and one resolution the people of the East make every year is to de-clutter. I think these last two years I may be taking this custom a little too seriously as after clearing away my property, car, stuff and now internal body colon clutter I felt it was time for me to de fragment and empty my muttering mind with a seven day consciousness enema. I found an organisation that seems to be right up my street, it is called The Middle Way they practice a form of Buddhism I had never heard of before, DHAMMAKAYA.
Dhammakaya is a Pali word meaning Enlightenment Dhamma means truth, pure nature and Kaya means the body, this dates back more than 2500 years ago,but was lost to the world after the Buddha died 500 years ago. A man named Luang Pu Wat Paknam was born in the western part of Thailand in 1884 and due to a near death experience he became an ordained monk at 22 years old and practiced mediation daily. In short, he wished to re trace the Buddha path, to find this enlightenment the Buddha had talked about, various scriptures were being
lost and the philosophy was fast diminishing, so after many years of just meditating and battling with the physical pain of sitting cross legged for weeks on end, he finally transcended this pain in September 1917 when a huge glow appeared from his central solar plexus where he finally attained Dhammakaya. He teaches that the closer your mind is to its natural home the closer you are to the natural mind state of happiness. He began to teach this rekindled practise to locals and it took off around Thailand as serious mediators became less angry, less confrontational, healthier, kinder and gentler through the practice of daily mediation.
I travelled to Wat PhraDhammakaya. This site should be renamed 'Buddhawood' as the temple itself is an astounding piece of architecture. This structure is said to hold one million mediators and is similar in design to a vast alien mother of all mother ships. It had a diverse balance of craziness and calm, elements of Hollywood film sets and dressed up Bollywood masses merged. Hundreds of silent monks where in mindfull kinds of ways. Groups of orange robed young men sat eating breakfast in silence, or rode on bikes, holding books for
study, metal bowls for receiving offerings, they walked fast, walked slow, some didn't walk at all as they stood mindfully looking up to the new rising sun, everyone being silent, humble and grateful, chanting, they all looked like they were being present in the moment. Early mornings are busy times for them.
I ended up barefoot in front of a load of volunteer devotees who come daily to feed the monks. The monks are not allowed to eat unless someone offers it too them, the giver is then blessed and karmic merits are earnt for the next life. This lovely little old lady came to my rescue, she spoke to me in the tones of a child's whisper. I was looking for the middle way retreat, she made a few phone calls, her people gave directions as to where my people were. After she had taken the time to drive me her self to the right place, she had a big smile on her face and was nearly in tears with pure joy as she told me how happy she was to have been able to fully assist me, “a foreign tourist” in my journey that morning, this would
have earned her big merits for her next life.
I checked in and was greeted with a big smile and many warm hellos from the volunteers. I was also greeted with 'Oh how nice to see you again, glad you came back' which baffled me a bit, as I really have never been here before, was she already referring to my previous life time? The retreat itself is at the 'Suan Pa Himawan' centre, based near the Phu Ruea national park in the north-east province of Loei. The bus took eight hours to get there which gave us all time to get to know each other. '
“Hello my name is Claire and I am a compulsive mind chatterer and serial thinker'
Within no time id accumulated a couple of Buddha buddies, Steve from Buffalo USA, then there was Douglas from Canberra Australia a hearty man of much spirit and compassion. All of us had many things in common we were all battling with excessive brain thoughts and unable to sit still as we continue to suffer from habitual limb twitching addictions and fast developing strange curiosities and inner pulling to this new world of meditation. The
dress code was all white, which I never normally wear as it is a bugger to keep white while travelling.
The private rooms were very cosy, I had brought my sleeping bag and pillow thinking id be roughing it all week, but I had a brand new duvet and hangers for clothes. My room is where I first met Tony the busy ant, he accompanied me throughout the entire seven days, food in the rooms was a big no no as Tony had many mates who all wanted a crumb each.
The programme was bearable, wake up at 5am with four one hour mediation sessions evenly spread throughout the day, an early morning exercise class, Dhamma lessons in the afternoon with plenty of personal time to chat to each other, we could read, write, then bed by 9pm. Meal times had breakfast at 7am then lunch at 11am, then no food till breakfast the next day. We all struggled with this as the two main meals were amazing a great mix of meat and vegetables. Since my detox I have now given up meat for now. The meals were too close together, it became a careful balance of
not under eating nor over stuffing yourself at either meal. By lunch I still felt full from my smallish breakfast, by late afternoon my stomach was yodelling like an Austrian goat herder. But the teaching is this, less food, less sleep, less talk, less brain chatter equals an empty mind and happiness.
On the first day there were personal annoyances, I had not brought any books with me nor my beloved laptop, I thought it was a silent mind calming retreat like the 10 day severe teachings of Vipassana (the development of insight & wisdom) that I had survived 10 years ago. It became clear as we went into the programme that its OK to talk to others but the subject matter should be about our mediation experiences, not to talk about our complicated lives, jobs, partners, as this kind of talking makes us think more about stuff that may not matter tomorrow, this takes away our focus on nothing at all today, we needed to gain mindfulness but we had to completely empty our minds for this to work. The first night I had to go tell the three Indian ladies two rooms up to stop talking as
it was a constant stream of nattering. Then the lady next to me was a serial phone texter, she didn't think to put her mobile on silent. Every time she hit the keypad it bleeped, that first day she texted a small novel to someone which drove me insane. But, my inner voice told me to shut up moaning, think beyond the noise and there is a good reason for this, so I listened to that and refrained from banging on the paper thin walls in a mild rage.
Jane is a lovely fully devoted volunteer from London, she read out a list of rules, which included in very clear English, that all mobile phones should not be used during the retreat as it will only distract you 'AND OTHERS'. But my neighbouring texter didn't understand this at all as the key tones continued throughout. Two days later I notice she had hearing aids in both ears, so maybe she was unaware of the sounds coming from her key tones, I felt bad for my wicked thoughts of revenge but gave myself praises for showing restraint towards making a commotion and then for my insights.
its a seven day course but two days of travelling, so 5 days of mediation
I slept very well, considering the mattress was no more than 4 inches thick because the Buddha should not be tempted to sleep in, even on a Sunday morning. We woke up at 5 am to the sounds of 'The Middle Ways' own track. My first meditation went well, I went into a higher place and didn't want to come down but I was still half asleep and my physical tummy was rumbling.
At breakfast, food had to be offered to the monks first, we had one lady monk who ate alone this is because she only holds the first 10 precepts of Buddhist law, where as the men monks hold 227 precepts so they sit apart. But then we females slept in a different area to the men and meditated on opposite sides of the room as them too. The basic precepts are: No killing, this was debated as the monks ate meat as it is offered to them, so they have to eat it, but it is offered and cooked by other Buddhists? Who is it that kills the cows, chickens,
pigs and fish? In other Buddhist traditions say like in India when meat is offered it is killed by the Muslims, but the monks there only eat a little of it if it is offered, I think a little chicken and fish are OK. No adultery, which is fair enough, the monks are not allowed to touch a female at all, I was not allowed to stand right next to them on any occasion I had to cup both hands and bow before them or crouch beneath them, yet some monks had families and children but were now not allowed to touch their wives any more. If they gave you something, a book for example I had to cup my hands together and they jump it into your hands. No telling of lies, stealing, taking intoxicants as it clouds the mind, no make up as beauty is found within, no sleeping on good beds so avoid too much sleep and laziness. No meals after lunch as it give too much energy. When the monks finished eating they start a melodic chant to give thanks
to all of us who offered them the food. The only reason people are not
allowed to practice this method is if the person suffers from mental health issues.
Oh, life is good, I thought with a semi full stomach and and hour and a half rest time till the next session. But by 8.05am the first round of hammering came from the building site across the field. By 8.27am the familiar sound of an angle grinder kicked in. At 8.45am my deaf neighbour texted another small chapter. By 8.55am cement was skimmed onto the new external bathroom walls building opposite to my room and the gardener swept away leaves. Mid morning mediation kicked in where my friend Tony the ant come to join me, he liked to sit then he circled slower than a normal ant around on my knee, maybe he was Buddhist to. External silence was not what I was going to get here, I had to work hard on my internal silence.
The Middle Way is a path of practise that avoids the extremes of sensual indulgence or self mortification, the five noted hindrances to attaining Dhamma are sensual desire, ill will, drowsiness, restlessness and doubt. It is also the balance of taming the mind and body. My body
felt very clear after my detox but my mind started to feel muddled. Although I didn't have a great deal to worry about, owning nothing material and having no ties in this world. So other things surfaced instead, conversations I had 15 years ago, things I should have said and done, playing future scenarios that have not even happened yet, writing novels, Buddhawood block busters, remembering old passwords to old email accounts, changing old passwords to ingenuous encrypted new passwords, something was happening, my mind was becoming bored of thinking rubbish.
A single thought many years ago manifested into a single action, early on I soon realised that each single thought had became one single dream fulfilled, my dreams turned into my escapes, my escapes had now become my history my realities and now my destiny. Thoughts when limited and pure are great leaps of faith. The sweet teaching monk talked us through the mediation, as this was a beginners course, his voice was soothing, the teaching monk reminded us to empty our minds of thoughts, moments later he asked us to fill our minds with happiness and joy, I thought of nightmares and pain.
DAY TWO: MONKEY
Outside the weather was stormy, but inside I felt angelic in my fluffy white outfit. Today things went well thanks to the low level back rest chair thing they provided to sit cross legged on, normal chairs were also available. We were taught the five steps in being able to tame The Monkey Mind But then I thought as my Mayan Shamanic animal sign is the monkey, maybe this is why my mind drifts and chatters and jumps around so much, I am the natural monkey. We are told to accept its nature, not to get upset as the monkey also has a peaceful calm nature, we needed to treat all thoughts as unwelcome guests, these words alone set me off. My thoughts then drifted to people I once knew, some were very welcome in my mind, I made mental notes to google them, some toxic people surfaced who Id rather not remember at all, bazaar intoxicated conversations, long forgotten incidents, kooky places and I finally remembered where I had actually left my cash card back in September 1993.
We were given an exercise to blow huge liquid bubbles into the sky as we were learning to focus
in on our central inner light which is just what Luang Pu Wat Paknam originally found within himself, they teach us to use an image of a crystal ball, the moon, a bubble, a pearl. We must cherish the centre of our bodies as much as our lives. Dhammakaya teaches that life is full of suffering and unhappiness, true happiness is to want less, our first power is resistance as we are offered too much choice and changes in our current lives, through meditation we will be better able to endure this change, by practising the art of mediation we must not expect, force, judge, analyse anything, we can find all our answers with patience, we can then find pure happiness and joy within ourselves. Some people take years just to visualise this ball of light within, some use chanting out loud which is meant to express respect for the body, speech and mind, when I first heard this chanting the words sounded mixed, but then they merged in to something powerful and deep.
Today we were taught that 'the less energy we waste, the less metabolism we use, the less oxygen we consume, lesser our thoughts !'
Today our minds were likened to a computer hard drive that has all its windows open at once, slowing the entire system down. Our aim was to shut down one window at a time and have one programme open at once, to be in a near nirvana state we need to have a completely blank screen.
The monks don't do manual labour, they don't work normal jobs as such, they also stop themselves from becoming too emotionally involved with others lives, with human issues and the real world, as it all takes up too much energy, although they do have email addresses and have a great sense of humour and laugh and joke a lot. So the secret group debate for the day was What is it these monks do with all there time, are monks being a bit selfish with their endless hours of mediations and non committal non emotional actions and reactions? These days is this a good thing to be like? In many cases it would be great to be so unattached to ours and others emotions and needs, I speak from experience especially from the front line forces and nursing/emergency professions points of view.
But these Buddhists on the whole selflessly give all their time to attaining peace be it internally or worldly, they tend to the sick, they counsel the poor, they teach us itchy panted westerners the near on impossible art of patience, which is a mean task in itself, which these days is a very good, positive and progressive example to follow.
The Dalai lama once said and I quote ' Sometimes religious people who are genuinely engaged in the practice of religion, withdraw from the sphere of human activity. In my opinion, this is not good, it is not right either. In certain cases, when a person genuinely wishes to engage in intense meditation for example, when someone wishes to attain samatha, then it is all right to seek isolation, for certain limited periods of time. But such cases are by far exceptions and the vast majority of us must work out a genuine religious practice within the context of human society' Balance must be found in all areas, even within the same religions that at times have conflicting views.
The morning exercise was interesting as names were called to stand in a small circle. The
rest of us had to form another circle around them. We were told by secret written message to sing 'Happy Birthday' to those in the inner circle. Steve was right in the middle of it looking bewildered. We all sang out loud, I asked Steve when his birthday is? He said July, then Mr. Indian said August and the Czech lady said November, I then asked what date, all of them were either the 1st or 2nd of that month, What the centre had done was get the dates mixed up. In fact I was the only birthday for the whole of February, but they thought I was 2nd of December not the 12th February this went unnoticed. We had three birthday cakes made for breakfast and the same people were serenaded by the volunteers but it was meet with looks of bewilderment, and I felt like a moody 5 year old as it was my birthday month not theres.
Buddhists believe that a true Buddha-to-be will not be born blind, deaf, mad, dumb, hermaphrodite, gay, with any unyielding beliefs other than Buddhism, having killed the mother or father, being born an animal smaller than a sparrow or larger
than an elephant, as a leper, born as a devil in the celestial realms, born as two sorts of ghosts-Khuppipasika or Nijjhamatanhika as these ghosts have incredibly long lives. No, to be a enlightened Buddha-to-be you must be reborn pure of this list of things. I always believed that to be born in difficult life challenging situations strengthens the soul and this can then go on to teach the less fortunate through real life soul strengthening example? But these people don't believe that there is a soul, just pure consciousness which raised all kinds of debates over afternoon ginger tea.
DMC TV came to film, the June Sarpong of Thai TV interviewed Steve about his experiences. The Middle Way had taken video footage throughout and this was edited into a great little film of us all, that was to be screened on the channel shortly.
Today my neighbour the texter told me something amazing, she had in fact had a difficult few months of much upset and change, she told no one on the course about this at all, she kept herself to herself, but she said a monk had just given her his card
and told her she was not alone, and that he was there for her at any time. She was moved to visible tears by this and needed some kind of explanation, how did he know she was suffering? So this shows there is something very powerful about theses special individuals, they do know, they do feel something or at least pick up on some sort of vibes. I felt honoured she told me this as this verified for me what they were all about, I also felt even worse for her as she was sinking in problems and her phone was some kind of life line, but if she had removed her phone from access during this time, would this have also helped her forget her problems for a bit, or did it keep her connected to her problems?
Dow is a devotee and explained to me that she donates one third of her earnings to the Dhammakaya foundation, she says she does this to give thanks for what she has, the more you give away the more you receive, she feels grateful for the smallest thing she receives, she blesses all the good people in her life and
wishes them happiness and joy, abundance and love. The Dhammakaya foundation is a non profit NGO. But the money they generate is vast. All the people of Thailand and sponsors around the world donate lots of money and a lot of their time. The money is ploughed back in to the foundation, to pay for grants for huge projects in schools, where children are taught to meditate from a young age, this helps them not to get frustrated and angry, not to want more stuff, to be grateful for what they are given and have, to help them really focus on achievements with school work and to encourage a calm family home life. Funds support many day centres and hospitals this foundation was the first on scene when the fatal tsunamis hit this coastal area a couple of years back, they had medical staff and emergency supplies stocked up and ready to go, their fast response times saved many lives. The rest of the money goes direct to the poor. A great organisation.
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