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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Vipassana Retreat Report

As mentioned earlier herein, late June I went on a ten day Vipassana retreat in Singaraja, the big city to the north of Bali in a Buddhist temple named Brahma Vihara Arama. It has a number of retreats a year with visiting teachers, solid financial backing so they only accept contributions - nothing required but one's presence and commitment. We were even told not to ask for a suggestion as to how much to give as a contribution to the teacher or temple for the retreat.
The temple is totally oriented toward meditation and practice in terms of philosophy but relies on visiting teachers and the one who came from South Africa to do the retreat I was in, Bhante Sujata, was Burmese. Bhante = monk. His lineage is centered in the West in Springfield, Ill., at the Satipattha Chanmyay Meditation Centre. He emphasized lower abdomen center of gravity in meditation just like Japanese do for everything almost so it was quite compatible with the zazen I'm used to.

The rules and practice were clearly stated. Follow the full schedule. No talk except to teacher or manager, a Chinese Indonesian woman who runs these - I think Indonesian Buddhists are very mainly Chinese. Do nothing but meditation all day - sitting, standing, walking, eating. Every other day discuss what's happening in your meditation with the bhante and don't bring up anything personal like your emotional problems, parents, relationships, etc. Don't notice others, whatever they do is none of your business, you're on your own - no one will be watching to see if you're doing it or not. This was reemphasized several times. I never experienced a group of people that long before with not one shred of conflict.

The meditation was to keep labeling everything to stop from following wandering thought. So an in breath was "rising" and an out breath was "falling" and a walking meditation step was "right, left, right, left" at first then after two days dividing up the steps into heel lifting then the whole foot then moving it forward then dropping it. So that was "lift, push, drop" (I think). As the mind wandered just go "wandering, wandering" or "planning, planning." And then return to the breath? No - don't return to anything - just identify what's happening - don't try to control it.

Up at 3:30 and bed at 9:30. Sitting and walking periods of roughly an hour each alternated. Lots of tourists were no problem and not to be thought of as a problem as nothing was to be considered interfering. There were signs for others not to enter the stupa (in the photo) which was the main place to meditate - plus the another hall and the dorms. People would not notice the signs and come in but they were always fairly quiet and were never asked to leave. Yogis, as we were called, could meditate anywhere including in little roofed stands overlooking the jungle ravine down to the river, so usually there were only a few of us in the stupa except for talks and chanting.

The ten days was like an eternity but not unpleasant at all. The place is so beautiful. We started off with walking meditation at 4am in the stupa garden under the stars and at night with the full moon. Bhante  advised against full or half lotus and urged not to move more than once in a period. I was much older than almost everyone and it seemed most were having a hard time but I think almost everyone else was inexperienced. It was demanding but I didn't fight it, didn't lie down or take any breaks except to put in eye drops (had just had laser surgery) and do quick laundry and use the toilet.

The day after I returned, Katrinka and I got married on the beach and two days after that went to Gili Air island for 11 days honeymoon without motorized vehicles or dogs. There I read, very slowly with a dictionary, in Indonesian, the entire pamphlet we'd received about the temple, the practice, and with the chants. It had English with it so that made it easy. The retired businessman Buddhist priest who married us had trained at the same temple.

I had not expected to find Buddhism I'm so comfortable with here. - dc