Sunday, April 6, 2014

Restarting this blog: Changes since 2010

It's been quite sometime since I last updated this blog. Since then, a couple of things have happened.

I intend to rejig and post regularly on this blog again. The intent is to share on my personal path and journey of the Dhamma, and to share some approaches & solutions to some meditation problems. I hope this could turn out to be useful to some readers out there, whoever that is.

But what were the couple of things that happened....?

In 2010, I went for my first meditation retreat with Ajahn Brahmavamso, organised by the Singapore Buddhist Fellowship, and meant for working executives. This retreat changed my life in a few important ways:

a.  I gave up drinking alcohol, and have been keeping the Five Precepts (including not killing mosquitoes) since. (As a consequence, I've not been that close to some friends whom I knew from my wine-drinking days. I guess people grow apart with different interests.)

The story behind the decision: just before we reached the retreat venue, I had this sudden craving for a Chang beer. However, I was bound by the retreat rules not to drink any alcohol at all until after the retreat.

After the retreat, I found that I had completely given up all desire for alcohol. I reflected on it, and decided that while I do like the flavours of certain types of beverages (e.g. Riesling wine), the main reason I drank was conditioning. Also, I like it when people loosen up with alcohol: usually I don't need any alcohol to loosen up, though.

There was also the fact that alcohol consumption dulls the mind. From the retreat, I felt it was much, much, much more fun to meditate than to imbibe.

Some of my colleagues started joking that I had become a monk after the retreat. They weren't aware that I very seriously considered that possibility.

b. I started meditating much more regularly. This was the first retreat which really "hooked" me on meditation. In the middle of the retreat, Ajahn mentioned that the experience of samadhi causes the mind to "leap towards meditation", which was exactly what happened. (One morning, I was so enthused that I went to the meditation hall at 4am, only to find that the a/c wasn't turned on at all.)

Nowadays, I meditate whenever I am travelling in the car (I have a driver, since I'm based in India), and try to meditate for at least 20 mins everyday. On Sundays, I try to keep it free and to meditate & nap as much as I can.

c. The way I (try to) meditate now is quite different, too. Ajahn Brahm's method is VERY different from the other meditation teachers I've encountered. He likes to say that there are two types of meditation: 2nd Noble Truth meditation (craving creates suffering) and 3rd Noble Truth meditation (cessation of that craving). He also likes to say that wisdom-power is more effective than will-power. And to focus on applying kindfulness (mindfulness with kindness).

The 2010 retreat really opened my eyes to the power of mindfulness and letting go.

d. After this retreat, I consider my Dhamma teachers to be the Buddha and Ajahn Brahm, and was fortunate enough to subsequently introduce Ajahn (who is still alive) to my parents and wife (then my girlfriend).

This has had a very beneficial effect on my personal relationships: my parents relationship has arguably become much better, and my relationship with my wife has also really been reinforced by the Dhamma (especially after our latest 2014 retreat).

That said, I do sometimes have to be careful not to hard-sell Ajahn Brahm too often, which my wife repeatedly reminds me.

e. On Ajahn Brahm's advice (during the return flight, when we ended up sharing the same flight and were on the same row), I started reading the suttas directly, especially the Majjhima Nikaya (Middle Length Discourses) translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi.

I also started to download Ajahn Brahm's podcasts, including his sutta talks. His talks are quite enlightening: his mastery of Pali is very thorough, as he was one of the first Westerner monks to translate the Vinaya (Monastic discipline) from the original Pali into English. As such, his grasp of Pali is somewhat street-savvy & pragmatic, and not overly academic. For example, the Eighth factor of the Eightfold Path (samma samadhi) is often mistranslated as right concentration: Ajahn points out that it's more helpful to translate it as right stillness, especially since samatha (calming, tranquility) is etymologically linked to samadhi.


I still strongly respect my first meditation teacher, Richard (Vajiro). I will always be grateful and appreciative to him for having introduced me to the Dhamma, and to basic meditation. For those who are interested, he still runs his Basic Buddhism Course (the other BBC).

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