Greetings from Wat Buddha Dhamma, 10 Mile Hollow, Wisemans Ferry, NSW 2775, Australia; www.wbd.org.au
A colorful visitor
The annual 'Rainy Season Retreat' has now passed and the time for travelling has arrived. The Retreat period in the southern hemisphere corresponds to winter which is a suitable time to spend more time 'retreating' from the inclement weather. However, winter here is quite different than that of northern Europe or North America. This year we had about 10 days of light frost with temperatures not below -3C. The cold means that the skies are clear, so as soon as day breaks the sun is shining and the mid-day temperatures have climbed to 12-15C. The hut I am staying in has a large wood stove so I did not suffer too much from the cold. And then, suddenly, it was Spring! I had never been in Australia in springtime so it was a delightful surprise to see such a profusion of blossoms amongst the bushes and grasses which I had previously experienced as only irritatingly prickly and scratchy. As the weeks progressed flowers and blossoms appeared and disappeared, sometimes virtually overnight. As I write this in early December the tiny blossoms of the tea trees are scattering in the breezes just as the eucalyptus trees are coming into bloom.
Shortly before the Rains Retreat I made a trip north to attend the Vesak ceremony at Dhammagiri Monastery near Brisbane and visit my friends John and Hanna in northern NSW. Regular readers of this blog will recognize that both of these places were on my usual circuit of travels for the last few years, so it was once again a rewarding experience to meet up with old friends and familiar faces as I had not been there for two years.
Here at Wat Buddha Dhamma the Rainy Season Retreat period is a time devoted to more intensive formal meditation. Work projects were set aside and the dedicated community was led in eight hours of daily sitting and walking practice by Ajahn Khemavaro. The steady and consistent routine, together with the exceptional natural quiet of the monastery, are very conducive to supporting the experience of deeper states of calm and clarity. It was also very conducive to focussed work on my book project on the theme of 'I-making', which provided me with some profound material for reflection. In order to satisfactorily explain 'I-making' it was necessary to delve more deeply into some of the more detailed aspects of the Buddha's teaching, such as the Five Groups of Grasping and Dependent Origination. On the one hand they required some 'brain work' to research the material in the Pali Canon, however, on the other hand, they are also an extremely rich source for meditative reflection. Following several hours of evening study my morning meditations were often inspired by some quite amazing insights. Even with my perseverance, however, I was not able to make the deadline for next year's book printing by the generous supporters in Malaysia. No worries! I feel much better about having the time and space to do a thorough job, and continue to have material for deeper reflection.
Also the printing date would have imposed upon my next few travels. At the end of November/early December, Ajahn Khemavaro and I attended the Stupa Dedication Ceremony at Bodhinyanarama Monastery near Wellington, New Zealand. Here is a video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTQI124YSng&feature=youtu.be
In mid-December I will attend the 100 years birth of LP Chah ceremony in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, together with a dozen of the senior western monks from monasteries around the world. From there I will travel on to Thailand for five weeks, giving several talks, spending a few weeks at Poo Jom Gom and participate in the LP Chah ceremony in Ubon. I then return to Australia via Singapore, where I will give several talks and a weekend retreat.
One of the themes from my studies which I continue to reflect upon is a discourse where the Buddha is quoted as saying that there are three ways to develop Calm and Insight meditation. That is, either develop Calm first followed by Insight, Insight first followed by Calm, or develop both Calm and Insight together. Just knowing this variety of approaches can help people to appreciate the wide range of techniques used by different meditation teachers. For example, some teachers give major precedence to Insight meditation while others emphasize the importance of Calm meditation. The main point to keep in mind, however, is that Buddhist meditation must encompass both Calm and Insight.
This can also be a useful guide for our own personal practice. Some situations in life are more conducive to the development of Calm meditation while others may be more conducive to Insight meditation. For example, if you find yourself in a situation where your life is quite busy and hectic, then it may be more useful to use this occasion to reflect upon how and why you feel disturbed or loose your calm, collectedness, rather than trying desperately to calm yourself down against the flood of impressions. At other times, if you have a period of less pressure and more free time available, then setting aside a few days for more formal Calm meditation exercises could help establish a deeper level of collectedness as a foundation for daily life practice.
My understanding of LP Chah's approach to meditation was that of developing Calm and Insight meditation together. His emphasis on the continuity of practice and adjusting practice to time and place very much support the careful and wise interweaving of Calm and Insight meditation as circumstances arise. In my own way I follow this approach with time for study a form of Insight meditation, while my meditations in the very quiet mornings are the practice of Calm meditation. In this way Insight infuses and supports Calm and Calm infuses and supports Insight.
Hopefully your practice of Calm and Insight continues to increasingly develop.
With Metta, and Blessings for a rewarding and beneficial New Year.
A flowering waratah, the state flower of New South Wales, in front of a gamia lily.