Saturday, January 24, 2009

Smell of Rose

What are the most memorable moments of your life? When you felt peace, when you felt that in that very moment the world was exactly as it should be, when you felt that you are at the right place at the right moment, when you almost felt that you understand existence, when everything was just all right. If you seriously count them there are not so many, are there..? You have lived twenty, forty, sixty years, and there have been only a handful really
 penetrating moments, have been not..? Perhaps, when you watched 
a colorful sunset, and the beautiful play of lights on deep orange clouds left you speechless; Or perhaps, on a mild
afternoon, when you smelled a rose, sitting on a soft garden grass. The gentle wind touched your skin, and the sweetness of the rose was unspeakable; Or perhaps, when you watched your lover sleeping in your arms. You sensed her/his unmistakable smell, that meant you the pure love that moment. The warmness of her/his body, the soft rising and falling of her/his chest, and the small movements of her/his eyelids told you: the world is perfect, after all; Or perhaps, when you sat that afternoon at the dining table, and around the table you saw your children, maybe the grandchildren as well. You looked that special spark in their eyes that only children have. Listened the warm tinkling of their joyful laugh. Then you knew that life worth it. You knew it for sure.

Was this experience really bound to that special subject -t
he sunset, the rose, the lover, the child- you contemplated? Or your amazement of sunset, your pure love to your lover and to your child opened up some deep blockage, and let you experience the life in its eternity and entirety; and beyond even that, maybe for a split second the pure existence itself. Think about it 
for some time. In that very moment were you aware that you are watching the sunset; In that culminating point when you held your lover and felt the perfect happiness and tranquility, were 
you really conscious about the pleasure of owning and being owned? I am not asking one second before, or after - I am asking exactly that fleeting moment, when you were content. All your worries and hopes, your image of self, were all these present in that very moment, or there was no subject and no object, s/he and me, before and after, only the experience that melt all separation into the sensation of very existence here and now. When the sunset were you and you were the sunset; when that very spark in the eyes of your beloved one was you and you were the spark. Then you were utterly tranquil and content as your self opened up and united with that incontrollable flow of Universe, without a second thought.

That very moment is the beginning of meditation. Here in the dhamma-hall we all are practicing that very moment. We force our mind to detach from its created realm, by focusing our awareness to the subject of meditation. This links us back to what is 
real and true. In everyday life it happens when something really spectacular happens, because we are so deeply buried into our age-old habitual patterns, that we need so
mething extraordinary to grab our consciousness out from the cage of that world it has been 
creating to itself. Here
 in dhamma-hall the breathing makes it. In and out - no thought - in and out - no worries - in and out - just peace - in and out - and clarity.

There is this spark in every one of us. But we bury it, and, after a decade or two, it becomes barely perceivable. We bury it under unbearable weights of heavy
 thoughts, fears, unimportant dreams. We become so attached to them, that
 we forget the spark that actually lights everything, yet, lays out of anything. We start to live on the very surface of our minds, where all the trash is accumulated. We jump from one fear to the next, then to the next hope. Endlessly. All in our lives after a certain age we are in keep running. From one to another, another, then another again. Then we become frightened; we do not see the spark anymore, we do not find meaning anymore. But we do not stop, instead we double the force with which we gather more this and more that. Then we die.

Here we do not want that endless circle. Therefore we unite with the Universe trough our breathing. Just as you united trough the sunset, through the rose, through your lover, through your child, through what and whoever that opened a window for that moment to the truth. When the mind calms down, when there is no distraction anymore, when there is no hope and fear, when the subject and the object melt into one, then even the breathing, the final aid fades away. What is left behind, where there is no thought, no emotion, where no object and no 'I' and no sensation is present? That is for you to find out - That is who you really are...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Lift Your Arm

...Presence. Full awareness of here and now, and nothing else; that is in those eyes. Depth and simplicity. Life is deep and simple. The truth is simple. The truth is what exists in this very moment. Those things are simple; a touch on your skin, a fleeting warmness in the body, the sound of a bird, a vanishing memory of a long dead friend. From this point we have a choice to make: to penetrate further in depth into this reality, or creating a new world using these sensations as building blocks. Until we know what we are doing, both ways are beautiful; Until we are not bound to our creation, this ability of mind to abstraction is magical.

My teacher, U Nandasiddhi said: The most important thing that you should take with you from here is t
hat your mind always should know what it does. If you eat, you should know that you eat. If you walk you should know that you walk. If you breathe fast you should know: I am breathing fast. If You breathe shallow, you should know: I am breathing now shallow. If you move your hand you should know it.

You might say it is not mystical enough, it is too simple, it is easy. Really so? All right. Through an experiment I can show what he really meant. For that I will need your cooperation, though; let us play a half interactive game. You must sit now in front of the monitor, your hand laying on the mouse. Lift your arm, please! Just lift it up in air, then put it down.


Then, tell me, how did you do it?! Perhaps you have absolutely no idea; maybe do not even get first what I mean. Perhaps my lines set you more aware, and then you say that this muscle in the shoulder contracted, that other fixed, another again relaxed, etc. But I did not asked that either! How your mental decision of raising your arm become translated into a physical action?! You have no idea; it happened just like that... Even more, where, and how your self made the exact decision in which exact moment you start to lift your arm? You can keep thinking "I lift my arm, lift my arm" and nothing happens; Until a real decision is made, when without even t
hinking it trough "I lift my arm" it lifts. Try it! ... When and where exactly that particular decision was made. How? No idea, have you..? Any?! It just popped up, and happened just like that??? But if you have no idea how you decide, who really raises the arm, who hugs your lover, who lives your life?!?

Should I distract you even more? :) Before you are reading this line, were you aware of the push of the chair on your butt-whether there was more push on the left or right side, whether it was soft, in a small or large area? Were you aware how the shirt touched your skin, causing very gentle sensations? Were you aware of the dryness of your lips, the tension of eyelids, the warmness inside the abdomen, the ...

Then is it really you, who participate in this world? Even the grossest and most simple actions, and the grossest manners slip away from your awareness. So, are you really there on the other side of the screen, in this very moment? Or, rather, that is a semi-robot, and you are sitting in the cage of your mind, among your fears, powerful desires, and in wired habits that you have been carrying for God knows how long - sometimes, even you yourself laugh at yourself... Don't you? :)

Do you grasp the importance of this? We live so deeply in that world we created on our own that we barely perceive reality. It was a very simple question: How? not about the God, about the meanin
g of life, not about deep philosophy; nothing like that. Isn't that -ironic, hm? That we desire transcendental truths without being able to penetrate the truth of lifting arm; That we live our lives being a total alien even to our own body, but having so firm ideas about what the world is, how it should be, how it should not be, and how other people should or should not behave, what is good and what is bad. Does it sound sane? What truth such dulled minds can possibly gather?

And, soon or later, the truth, the true nature of the real world hits us; inevitably. When I say 'true', when I say 'real', I mean something absolutely down to earth, nothing misty. All phenomenon that exist out of mental interpretation, that exist here and now. Every now and then -when a person is not as we think s/he should be, when we do not get what we think we deserve, and ultimately when we are -or a beloved one is about to be ripped away from this existence by death- the corners of the illusory world, we have been keep creating, collide with reality. Like two spinning rectangular metal frames one within the other. Unless they exactly fit in one and other and have the same spin, that is when we live fully in reality, a collision is bound to come. Then we are forced to face reality. Then our fragile world is smashed by the powerful presence of the only entity that exists for real. Then our concepts we starve to hang on are shaken; or broken. Then we face that love goes, that good not at all always wins, that I am crying by my dieing sweetheart being totally powerless, that reality is a powerful flow which sometimes lifts up supporting our illusio
ns, and sometimes squeezes people into bloody mess. That reality couldn't care less.

Is that the real nature of this world? All of us felt it sometimes, I am sure. But if one does not understand how s/he lifts the arm, why on earth we have the arrogance to think that we know what love is or should be, what good is and how this or that person should follow that, what death and pain is? These are way more subtle phenomenon than a lifting arm. Yet, about these we have a rigid opinion, and if the world dears to be different we feel sorrow, annihilation, loneliness, we feel betrayed. Is that sane? Isn't that ironic?

The most suffering, the most pain is actually caused not by a cruel reality, but the tension that evolves when our play-world is matched against the incontrollable flow that we call Universe. So, then who causes and can end these sufferings: the Universe that rips our world apart, or we, who build it? After all what real control we've ever had? What control we had over coming to this existence? And instead of identifying our selves with that ultimate impulse, to enjoy and understand what we were given, we all got trapped in some dreamworld where we do not know a thing for real, not even the secret of a lifting arm, but cling for a control over fleeting illusions created by our minds. Insane. Control over concepts that melt away in the moment one truly starts to investigate them... Have you ever dared to face reality with clarity, instead of through the blurring shields of your rigid interpretations? Have you ever dared to see what love really is, what pain really is, what death really is? For that matter, what does life, and to be alive really mean? Have you ever dared to let it go, and just observe? Have you ever stopped and dared to see what it really means to lift your arm..?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Stolen Umbrella

It's been three days I am here. The nights are cool, but the days are hot. The sun is even 
more unforgiving. It shines with amazing power, especially considering that it is winter now. Its rays almost push me back when I step outside. There is a basket of umbrellas in front of the dhamma-hall (meditation hall). The monks every day when we go to have our lunch take one from there against the sun. Today I too pick up one. It is from Japan, and has a very good quality. It has double layers, and blocks the heat very effectively. Under it the hot summer day turns into a warm spring one.

So, after lunch I arrive back to the afternoon session almost refreshed. I'm just continuing my walking meditation, when one of the y
oung Vietnamese monks comes and touches me, and calls with gesture. I am surprised. The meditation rules in Theravada tradition are very strict. We are not supposed to touch, to talk to each other; not even to hold an eye contact. Until this very moment all of them were strictly following these regulations, so I am wondering more and more what could have happened with him. We go to the basket of umbrellas. Then he unmistakably points to the umbrella I took for lunch, then to himself, then he repeats once more without a word. My God! Now I get it! Those umbrellas were not for share, they were owned. To understand this more, you must know that a Theravada monk cannot own only a very few things as his robes, a razor, a water filter, an alm bowl, and... and an umbrella. That is all. Imagine that you have nothing else in this whole world but these, and I take one of them... :) I do not know should I laugh, or stay serious. Anyway, I join my palms in front of my chest and bow, meaning: sorry man, I had no idea! He understands me and smiles.

Nevertheless, something has changed after this incident. There are about eight Vietnamese monks, who are 

studying this meditation technique with me. After my stealing the strict rule is somehow broken, and I realize that often some of them gives a smile, a friendly look. For several days this dumb pantomime goes on. Until the day of my personal interview with the chief abbot (Venerable U Pandita) arrives. From now on, every day he interviews two of us about our experiences, and I am the first one. They are already having the afternoon break when I return from the interview. I sit among them in front of the dhamma-hall, but my mind is still analyzing the chief abbot's words; He gave quite a many, for that matter. The planned time of our meeting was fifteen minutes, but he released me not until forty minutes had passed.

Suddenly I am aware that someone is sitting by me. I have become rather sensitive in the past nearly two weeks, and can sense an urge from the side. An urge for contact. I give a glance, and it is one of the young Vietnamese monks, the one with whom we played the most the pantomime in the past days. What should I do? He clearly waits me to start; and I really would like to, because I am very much interested in him. But there are all the senior monks around us; he could have more trouble than me, and...

Then I feel a gentle, shy touch on my arm, and he says: - Did you visit Sayagyi (the chief abbot)?- Yes. -I am still deep within me. I am interested in him, but nothing more comes out.
- And how was it?

I smile; no difference on this whole globe - this question reminds me to my MSc time, when we eagerly asked one and another about the professor's mood before an exam.
...And then we start to talk. After the break we go together to our accommodations, and talk all the way. About my past, about his, about my aims, about his, about my experiences, about his. He is Shin Santa Maggo, and has been a monk for eight years now. He was born in the Vietnamese countryside and one day, at the age of 13, he visited a Buddhist pagoda with his mother. He felt home immediately, and right there he said to his mom that he wanted to live this life and would be a monk.
- And how did your mother take it? Did she not fear to loose you?
- No, because I had an uncle, already serving in a distant monastery for decades. So, this life style was well known and respected in my family.
A few years passed, when in that particular monastery they were seeking new novices of his age, and then his uncle took him.
- ...And how often do you see your family?
- I do not miss them. I've never missed my home; only now I am missing Viatnam, since this is my first time to be so far away...
Maybe he misunderstood my question, anyway, I shall not force it... Until now, he was mainly focusing on theoretical studies. Now his teacher finds the time ripe to shift the balance to more practical studies. So, he has sent him here, to study the vipassana meditation. He is a very good meditator having very stable concentration. After at most two hours I have to have a walk. During these breaks I quite often see him doing his meditation perfectly unperturbed for three hours in a raw. Wow! After seven more years he will be a Dhammacharia, 'the one who knows the Dhamma (Dhamma-Buddha's teaching in this respect)'.
- Parhaps one day I will visit your monastery. :)
- Yes! You should come to my country! -he says with a smile.
We arrived to our apartments. He is found of languages:
- How do you say good bye in your language? ... Then,
- Viszlàt, he says in Hungarian.
- Xin chào bà, I say in Vietnamese, laughing - at least we've already learnt something! Although he always laughs even more: his Hungarian pronunciation is generally better than my Vietnamese...

Almost every day after this, we walk together, and both of us are excited to explore a way new world in the other. And at Last I feel I've got a friend, who understands my quest, with whom I can share such experiences that are ungraspable for the vast majority of people. At last someone, who is self-consistent; a rear gift that I could find only in a handful persons during my life. Someone, who needs no support, who needs no a way to show, but the same alignment of our individual paths bears the fruit of friendship. Who is mild, yet strong -another rear gift that I've never found... And at last I find such eyes. For that matter many monks here own such look. Look Bhikkhu Ashin Sangharakkhita on the left, or Sayadaw U Nandasiddhi on the right. Both of them are my teachers. At last when I look deep into these eyes I do not see misery, I do not see that they want anything from me, I do not see unfulfilled dreams, I do not see fears. At last there are no gripping hands, which want to fulfill with my existence out here some unbearable emptiness inside there. At last I can look into those eyes without feeling the sorrow I usually do; there is no total chaos and self torture as in most of the eyes I have ever encountered. But there I can see clarity, will, understanding, tranquility, and proud humbleness. I can see presence. That is what I have been looking for for so many years. And here it is; here they are... Thank You, God! Here I am...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Golden Land - on my 1st and last days in Yangon

The arrival

The plane has been approaching the flat plain of Burma (Myanmar) for some minutes, now. The air is hazy, and the branches of river Ayeyarwady's delta reflect the light in an ever changing pattern, braking the the massive greenery of the vegetation. I am keep wondering about what the next few minutes will bring... It is a very poor country, ruled by military junta. Deliberately I am carrying as much money (no banks or ATMs in Burma, so, I ought to carry all my cash), that if anything turns bad I can pay for an outbound flight to Kolkata or Bangkok.

The first surprise hits me just before landing. Well organized buildings everywhere; in the close victinity of the airport, the apartments are simply luxurious, even to my western eye. The next surprise is the airport itself. It is not too big (though bigger than the Hungarian Ferihegy), nevertheless, one of the most modern airports I've ever visited -and I have been in many places! Wow - am I in the right country, or took the wrong plane?!

Customs - there they must show their true colors! My ultimate source, the Lonely Planet guide says that earlier everybody was forced to change 200 USD to local currency, kyat, to feed the government's hunger for foreign currency; that they might take away mobiles (well, I do not have), and if one carries, one has to register his camera (what it exactly means that is not quite clear to me). So, when approaching them, I am indeed a bit nervous. Hang on! I am shocked once more! The officers are smiling young ladies. Beautiful young girls, for that matter! OK, now I am even more nervous! :) Before I arrived to India I was expecting the Indian girls would be tempting - well, they are not (sorry India); However the Burmese... Smooth, creamy skin, lean, yet muscled body, nicely angled dark eyes, jet black hair, and some cool happy-shy smile... Well, let me get back to the customs; They are very polite, the procedure is very smooth; actually I am just over the smoothest enter to a country-I face more hassle when entering home! Amazing...

Anyway, I am outside now, and the air is hot, for that matter it is even more hot than in India. The Sun is fierce. God, and they call this winter! Some locals are hanging around, males are wearing the traditional longi, kind of skirt; some look quite impressive in their skirts with long black hair and lean bodies. Among them I recognize the guy sent by the monastery; we leave the airport.

On the way we pass by a huge golden statue arcing over the road saying: Welcome to Myanmar; Then another: Welcome to the Golden Land; Then at least two more - well, maybe less would be more, but thank you, anyway! The roads, parks are perfectly clean, well taken care of; What a relief after India (sorry India)! I get the clear impression that someone -guess who- wants me to get the impression that this is a nice country where everything is all right. That is not quite the case, though. I do not intend to raise any political issues here, but one should not forget that in this country there are still forced work camps, that there are miraculous disappearances among the opposing party members, that the organized view of Yangon was achieved by forced relocation some decades back, and that there is a heavy army presence everywhere on the streets - soldiers are well equipped, carrying modern machine guns and wearing bulletproof jackets.

In Yangon, and elsewhere. We now are already heading to the monastery that is located about 60miles from Yangon in the jungle. Soldiers are present everywhere, with discretion, though, generally in the background, but often holding checkpoints. Yet, sensing the reactions of the locals I do not feel threatened, and soon forget about them. I am sitting in the back of a pick-up, sharing the place with three nuns, who are also going to the forest monastery today (monks and nuns are separated in the monastery). I was told that we are on a highway -well... The road is very bumpy, I have been hitting my head into the roof already countless times. The situation gets even worse when we leave the road, and take the so called forest 'road'. Probably during monsoon it becomes muddy, so someone solved the problem laying rocks on the road; and not small ones. They are at least the size of my fist, and the Toyota jeep keep jumping like a crazy goat, and what is even more unfortunate that I am doing the same, trying not to hit the roof, and not to fall off.

-the story in the jungle TO BE CONTINUED...

Last day - Swedagon Paya

...One month is gone. On the same road back among gum trees. The villagers are harvesting them, and the parallel V-cravings make surreal patterns in the early morning light through the mist. The highway, that seemed calm one month ago after the Indian and western speed of life, now seems to be filled with busy people, running up-and-down like disturbed ants. I feel calm and detached.

I will have one full day in Yangon, before flying back to Kolkata tomorrow. I am considering just to sit in my room continuing the meditation. However, that very kind nun who welcomed and hosted me a month ago, encourages to visit the world famous Swedagon Paya, the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage in Burma. I am hesitant; I have never been keen to see buildings, they just leave me cold. Nevertheless, it is only about a mile away, and the nun offers a letter from the monastery stating that I am a yogi (heh?), thus providing free enter to the stupa (otherwise there is 5$ entrance fee, plus 5$ for camera).

All right, I think, if the flow takes me there no problem. I can meditate on the way, and there as well. I have to cross a big park, and climb a hill. On top of the hill I am stunned. The huge Paya (stupa) is already in sight, hiding among the trees. This is huge, blindly shining gold in the sunshine. I am getting suspicious that this building is gonna be different. I enter through the northern gate to the raised stage of thetemple, and... I am just speechless! I do not like buildings, and especially do not like overdecorated ones. But this is just amazing, mind-blowing. Every single direction I look, there is something plain beautiful. Monks and pilgrims alike fill the main square around the stupa, and after some distance the countless smaller stupas and temples are standing in wild cacophony, yet, radiating some kind of contemplative atmosphere. People are praying, meditating, chanting there, or sleep, hoping for prophetic dreams. I do something that I've never done before; After the first two shots I leave, go back to the monastery, and change my film in the camera. I decide that if anything, this should be captured in color. I wait a few hours for the mild light of sunset, then I return. I deliberately wait until the Sun goes very low. The space between the buildings is already in shadow, and the white marble reflects the deep blue of the sky. Meanwhile, the golden peaks of the various temples are lit by the dark orange setting Sun. The mixture of the original color of gold and the red-orange light produces unbelievable glittering - almost unearthly.

According to tradition, after Buddha's death two merchant brothers brought Buddha's three hear to Burma, and built a stupa above the chamber where the hair was enshrined. Accordingly, the original stupa (which is about 50-100m aside from the main stupa recently; you can see it just in the right photo, and in the 1st BW pic, the smaller one) was built nearly 2500 years ago! Then, for about two centuries the stupa was forgotten, it almost disappeared into the re-growing jungle. When the great Buddhist empire of India, Asoka came to Burma, he barely could find the stupa in the wild vegetation. He restored the building, and the stupa has been taken care of ever since. The present form of Swedagon Paya is roughly 1500 years old. My God! Tell me, where we Hungarians were 1500 years ago..?

There are four big stupas around the main one, marking the main cardinal directions (and the four gates). Four middle-sized ones mark the four corners of the raised, square shaped platform. Beside these, there are sixty small ('small', well, you can see on the pictures...) stupas. These are shrines for the various Buddhas (the previous ones, and the coming Maitreya); for the planetary posts, where you can find good resonance according to your ruling planet in astrology; posts for the days; for zillions of laying, sitting, standing huge and small Buddha statues; for prayer and meditation halls. Just at sunset, however, pilgrims sit on one of the main squares, and meditate-or pray-or chant there, while watching the brilliant plays of the last strongly colored sun rays on the surfaces of tons of gold, rubies, and diamonds. Good Night, Buddha!