Jamie Metzler

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Introduction by Chris Hammond: I met Jamie around 2007. He had moved to Baltimore from Kansas City and was heading the registration for a local 3 day course I attended.  He later contacted me asking if he could sublet at my acupuncture space for seeing counseling clients.  That ended up working out and we shared space until he found a space of his own.  He’d met up with a couple of psychologists and they’d found a very nice space across from Baltimore Harbor. For sometime I flirted with the idea of renting a room from them and that finally materialized in Sept. 2016.  It’s been nice to work alongside a good dhamma friend who shares similar aspirations in dhamma.

We have a similar background of extensively traveling in the east and intensively sitting and serving over a long period in our younger years. We both reentered the householders life and have since been charting our lives forward, finding the balance between maintaining our meditation, being successful practitioners, and leading good family lives.  Jamie and I have occasionally sat together at our practices spaces and we sit one Saturday morning a month with another meditator friend.  Jamie has also been a great initiator in organizing a recent canoeing trip and several hikes. He’s helped to fill a real need of bringing dhamma friends together off the cushion to have fun and grow friendships.  I’m grateful to have him as friend.

Dhamma Story: I first heard about Vipassana and S.N. Goenka during my travels in Asia. I had just completed a year of teaching English in China and was visiting my aunt and uncle who were living in Nepal. Part of my intent in being in India and Nepal was to explore various types of meditation, likely not too different from many others drawn to the East. After asking my uncle for advice on different spiritual traditions, he directed me to a priest friend of his that had lived and worked in India for some time. One of the 10 suggestions for spiritual teachers was Goenka. So when a friend I met in Calcutta mentioned that there was a Vipassana retreat happening close by, I immediately jumped at the chance to take a course.

My first Vipassana course was like most others, very difficult but also very eye opening. I thought I had found something very significant and was motivated to give this technique a try. But what really stands out to me was my experience of returning to Calcutta’s main train station (from the “suburbs”) straight from the course. The cacophony and press of hundreds of people was overwhelming. I immediately began missing the peace and serenity of the 10 days of silent meditation I just left. I was of course craving what I had lost.

This experience reminds me of how often the difficulties and distractions of a householder’s life seem to pull me out of a more peaceful space. It can be discouraging, like the proverbial two steps forward and one step back. Which sets me up for aversion to life’s hardship. However, over the course of my practice I have come to learn that though adversity can seem like a hinderance to our practice and equanimity, it can also provide motivation to use our practice to overcome obstacles. When I notice negativity triggered by hardship arising, I try to retell “the internal story” to one of hopeful meaning: “Oh, this suffering is just an opportunity to grow in Dhamma”. I see these daily struggles as a gradual, lifelong process of letting go of my reactive need to fix and control my life to that of “letting go”, a continual lesson of finding a path to acceptance and equanimity in the face of suffering.

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Time with a Western Forest Monk in Sri Lanka

 

 

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With Bhikkhu Vappa 1996

 

I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a rural village near Tissamaharama in southeast Sri Lanka between 1994 and 1996. I feel fortunate to have been sent to a Buddhist country as that was my first coming into contact with Dhamma. From the first time I saw a Buddhist monk, I felt great fascination, resonance, and veneration.

With six months to go in my time there, some of my villager friends were talking about a western forest monk, the “sudhu hamduru”,  who lived about 5 miles away close to the ocean.  I told them I’d like to visit and asked if someone could communicate that to him.  I soon heard back that it was ok and within a day or so I got on my bike and rode down the pot holed village roads to his dwelling.  He lived in an area near Bundala, which is a National Park and wild life refuge.  To get there I rode through several adjoining villages, as usual people along the way would smile, wave and call out, “hello sudhu mahateya” ( a respectful name for a white man). Then, the houses became sparser and the arid desert forest more pronounced, a local villager led me the rest of the way. We got to a bend in the road where there was a trail and we walked our bikes through the trees, brush, and cactuses to his small hut. His hut was a one room dwelling called a kuti.  It was built out of brick, mortar, and plaster with a tin roof over it. There was a covered walking area outside his front door where he could do walking meditation and hang his robes to dry.

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His name was Bhikkhu Vappa and he was a young man about my age, 25 at the time. He was from the Netherlands and I believe he’d been a monk for a few years. Traditionally a monk stays close to his teacher for the first 5 years and then if given permission can go out his own. He’d recently moved out to this dwelling to live in seclusion and went through the local village of Bundala every morning to collect his food for the day. I remember him saying that a well known western monk living there in the 1950-60’s had committed suicide, apparently the monk claimed to be a sotapanna and suffered from severe gastric pain, here’s a wiki article on that monks life, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanavira_Thera),  the monk living there after Nanavira had died from a poisonous snake bite. After this, a Danish hermit monk named Nanadipa had lived there and to this day still practices out in the wilds of Sri Lanka. Here’s an article about him (http://bhanterahula.blogspot.com/2010/10/meetings-with-remarkable-monk.html ) Bhikkhu Vappa seemed ok with the history and his being there. He was very bright and learned and was very immersed in sutta study and pali translation. He also meditated and said that he had some powerful experiences on meditation retreats which led him to take robes.   He was very enthusiastic that I start meditating and encouraged me to read a book called “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bante Gunaratana. We practiced anapana together and he was very encouraging that I go to Burma to ordain with Pa Auk Sayadaw after finishing Peace Corps as the conditions for supporting meditation was much better there he said.  After Peace Corps is when I came across vipassana as taught by Goenka and spent the next few years sitting and serving courses.  I also stayed at meditation centers and monasteries in Sri Lanka and then to Burma to become a monk for a short time.

At this point in Peace Corps, I had a lot of down time with projects completed, so I went out to visit him quite often. I was lonely from going weeks without the company of westerners and was very drawn to learn from him. We had long engaging conversations. One day he took me out to scout elephants in the forest outside of his kuti as they were migrating through the area. He said that you needed to be careful because sometimes they would stand still and you wouldn’t know that they were there and they could get scared and go wild. Nanadipa, the prior inhabitant of the kuti had been knocked down by an elephant at another location, you can read that story in the above link.  Bhikkhu Vappa was like a master animal tracker and would look, listen and pay close attention to the surroundings.  We came across a family of elephants and watched quietly from behind some trees. The ocean was about a 1/4th of a mile down a trail, and we’d walk out onto a pristine untouched beach where you did not see any people or human dwellings for as far as you could see.

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Another time, he took me to a temple within Yala National Park called Sithulpawwa which was built in the 2nd century BC. There is an ancient stupa there from the Buddha’s time.  It was located in an area where there were enormous rock formations which formed caves where monks had meditated for over two thousand years. It is rumored that arahants had meditated there in ancient times and it had been a serious monastery for meditators.  It was way off the beaten path, not known to tourists at the time.  Only Sri Lankan pilgrims came to visit the temple, I never saw anyone who wandered up to the caves. Bhikkhu Vappa said that the temple monk wouldn’t let wandering lay people stay in the caves but it was ok because I was accompanied by a monk. We stayed for a few days in a spacious cave which overlooked the jungle with the ocean in the distance. The walls of the cave had inscriptions of the ancient Brahmi script and had chisel marks everywhere. The caves had been chiseled and crafted to make them habitable.  Some of the other caves had pictures from the Buddha’s time. It was very placid and quiet.  There was a serene sense of timelessness as if it was 2000 years ago. At night you could hear the animal sounds of the jungle and a distant remote light house flashed out in the Indian Ocean. Sleeping on the rocky ground gave a new meaning to the 8th precept of not sleeping on high cozy beds. We had a lot of life and Dhamma discussions, it was such a unique time having been immersed in Sri Lankan rural life for almost 2 years, far away from life in the US, my mind was wide open to take in new things.  I would go with him to the temple for the mid-day alms meals and bathe in an ancient man made bath which still had the ancient irrigation system flowing fresh water through it.  There were gray monkeys with black faces throughout the rocks and in the trees.  After staying there we hiked almost 18km through the jungle to Kataragama where I met some fellow Peace Corps Volunteers.  We encountered an elephant along the trail which we had to go around, we also saw leopard footprints and weathered many ticks. Looking back it was quite an adventure.

Sithulpawwa view

 

In the final weeks, he invited me to go to Kandy with him to visit Bhikkhu Bodhi who is an American monk and was the editor and president of the Buddhist Publication Society. He is well known for translating the Majjhima Nikaya and Samyutta Nikaya texts amongst other great scholarly work.  Bhikkhu Bodhi had given a talk to my Peace Corps class during training and later on, I would serve him for 3 months at Bodhi Monastery in New Jersey after he moved back to the states. Bhikkhu Vappa also took me to visit a couple of other long time western monks, one in Kandy and the other in Bandarawela before I finished Peace Corps.  I remember needing to learn the proper etiquette for being with a monk in public.

I later found out that Bhikkhu Vappa changed his name to Bhikkhu Nyanatusita and took over Bhikkhu Bodhi’s responsibility as editor of the Buddhist Publication Society.  He’s still presently serving in this role. If I go back to visit Sri Lanka I hope to visit him again.

I am very grateful to Bhikkhu Vappa (Nyanatusita), as he was my first substantial connection with the Dhamma. He encouraged and supported me in taking my first steps on the path. I feel very fortunate to have crossed paths with him and to have had these very impressionable experiences and in depth discussions on life and the Dhamma. These experiences greatly impacted me and give my Dhamma practice a much greater context.

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Dhamma at Work

By Maria D’Souza

I’m navigating some challenging circumstances at work, which I’ve been viewing very negatively. As a result of these circumstances, I’ve strengthened my meditation resolve and have returned to regular daily sitting recently. Such a difference it makes!

An example:

I noticed that I was experiencing every little email or comment from various work colleagues as intentional digs meant to heckle and harass me. These emails would throw me into a heated tailspin, and I would react with mushrooming agitation, allowing myself to become fully consumed in the subsequent crafting of an indignant response to shoot back to the sender. Fortunately, because of my meditation practice and increased self-awareness, I started to recognize my own reactivity at some point before sending the response (an improvement), but not before rolling in significant agitation for some time. And I was still defensive and filled with negativity and dread related to work, overall.

Then it dawned on me the other day—now several days into sitting for at least 1 hour daily—that I have in front of me such a great opportunity to grow in the wonderful path of dhamma! (let yourself hear that last part in Goenka’s voice :). I realized that these perceived insults may or may not be intentional abuses, and even if they are, it is because the poor individuals abusing me must be utterly miserable themselves…just doing the best they can while dealing with their own stressors and reactivity. So, I must have great compassion for them, and show them love rather than anger. Throw water rather than petrol at fires (and keep a water pump ready).

Next, I remembered and felt that the self is an illusion, that my ego must be dissolved. ”No I, no me, no mine…” We are all in this together.

And suddenly, I can see things as they really are.* I am ready to face my work challenges with a new perspective.

*sometimes 😉

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Entrepreneurship as a Meditator

I practice acupuncture and while there are a few paid positions here and there, most practitioners run their own practices. I have run my practice for the past 9 years and have earned my living while supporting my two daughters. Part of this requires me to bring in new patients, retain current patients and stay in contact with all patients. There is an entrepreneurial aspect to the business with putting myself out there and promoting myself. I haven’t had to do it for awhile because my business had been coasting and auto regulating, however, I’m finding myself needing to put some energy into that again. As all self-employed people know, business ebbs and flows.

Developing the qualities of an entrepreneur has been a work in progress, I didn’t enter my acupuncture career in 2008 especially inclined that way, in fact, friends might have described me as more introspective and monk like. Before acupuncture school, I’d spent 4 years meditating in South Asia. Given this, I’ve needed to work to develop those qualities.

The process of meditation uncovers all the inclinations of the mind. There are natural strengths which come to the surface to support one almost effortlessly. Then there are areas where someone finds they aren’t as practiced at and need to develop. Meditation by itself does not magically make someone an entrepreneur if they don’t already have those qualities developed in them. Conversely, there are many charismatic people in the world who are natural born entrepreneurs, who will never meditate a day in their life. The meditation part only brings wisdom to whatever conditioning we are working with, to come out of the minds unconscious habit of reacting to pleasant and unpleasant sensations with craving and aversion to purify the mind.

When starting my acupuncture practice, I found myself seeking out people who were good at entrepreneurship for advice and skill development. Then I would need to do things which would take me out of my comfort zone like give talks and put myself out there. It’s challenging to do things which bring up discomforts such as anxiety and fear. There was no discourse in the 10-day discourses which specifically touched on this subject. It was a process of integrating what I learned from the coaches instruction together with my experiential practice of vipassana. I think that’s such the case with integrating vipassana to life, there’s often not a discourse that specifically explains how to apply your practice to certain life experiences. Assistant teachers can be of great help to bridge that gap, especially those who’ve had experience with integrating similar things, but I found the greatest learning came experientially from within myself.

It was challenging to go from a humble meditator who valued quiet to someone who needed to put themselves out there, to direct and instruct people, to promote and be more vocal. My experience as a devoted meditator had been so antithetical to being an entrepreneur. The last thing I was developing while meditating in a cell was that of an entrepreneur. These have been two different worlds which have needed to be brought together for the sake of success for my business and my own development.  This makes going back to meditate on my next course in the cell all the more deep and rich.

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Balance

While meditating 2 hours a day for 6 years, I adopted some unhealthy patterns. I exercise less, spend less time developing relationships, go on less adventures, and I’m more passive when facing life’s challenges. By surrendering to dhamma, I surrendered control of my life and created an expectation that dhamma would fix everything for me. If life is simply the manifestation of my sensations, do I actually have control? Add that I’m dissolving my ego and the idea of self and life becomes pretty passive.

At the time I started meditating, my life was full of conflict and impossible challenges, and meditation helped me process this pain, find needed patience, and set my spiraling life in a positive direction. I owe a tremendous amount to my meditation practice, but I’ve surrendered too much. I’ve lost meaning and excitement. I’m not engaged in our worldly problems. I hoped that meditation would be the golden ticket to a better world, but meditation isn’t for everyone, and my current life isn’t a blissful example of greatness. I can’t simply hide behind my practice waiting for the world to become a better place, so what do I do?

I’ve been evaluating the importance of dhamma in my life. Why do I meditate and how does it make my life better? Is the purpose of my life to grow in dhamma and spread its teachings? How long was I simply checking the “2 hours a day” box without connecting my practice to my daily activities? How can I engage a world from the base of dhamma without proselytizing this technique which simply drives people further away from it? How do I spread love in communities that don’t relate to dhamma and meditation? How do I connect with meditators from different traditions without “mixing techniques”?

Years ago I pondered, “If dhamma is the greatest contribution I can make in this world, shouldn’t I become a monk?” My answer at that time was that I simply wasn’t mature enough in dhamma to give up the joys of a householder’s life. I’m also not interested in rejecting the population that has pursued spiritual paths outside of Goenka’s teachings. Dhamma has wonderful insights to introduce to my life, but I must also succeed as a husband, a son, a brother, a teacher, a friend, a community member, an American, and every other way h householder life demands.

My life must have balance, and to find this balance I must questions Goenka’s teachings. Instead of simply accepting and following, I must discover the appropriate healthy balance for my life. Maybe it was right for me to meditate 2 hours a day before but not now. Maybe I need to nurture my ego and community identity to sustain the confidence to engage life to the best of my ability. Maybe I need to focus on celebrating a little more and developing equanimity a little less. Maybe the dhamma path is a little too theoretical for me to truly engage it continuously in a healthy way. Regardless of the answers, I need to retake responsibility for my life and engage the challenges of the world to the best of my ability. I know dhamma has a role to play, but discovering how to create balance in my life is a new challenge.

Do any of you have advice regarding how to find a healthy balance between dhamma and your householder life? Or have you found a healthy and productive way to engage your spiritual community beyond Goenka’s tradition? I would enjoy hearing your thoughts. Time to meditate.

 

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Yoga as a Support for Sitting

I’ve practiced yoga for many years and have found it to be very complimentary to vipassana. I’m lucky to have a studio just 2 minutes away and have been pretty consistent this last year and a half. Goenkaji had talked about yoga as being very beneficial for the physical body and even more beneficial if you can do it with the awareness of sensations and equanimity. I’ve experienced benefits which have included greater strength, flexibility, balance, release of tension and also greater sensitivity and awareness of sensation. This has aided my sitting practice and has factored into deepening meditation on courses.

The origin of the physical asana practice from what I understand was to strengthen the body and help open the channels in support of sitting meditation. Although we tend to only hear about the asana practice, it’s actually only one of 8 limbs of yoga. The other limbs relate to ethical practices, developing virtues, and concentration; 1) The Yama’s- Moral Discipline (Sila) 2) Niyama’s- Positive disciplines which build character 3) Asana’s – The Physical poses 4) Pranayama- Breathing exercises 5) Pratyahara- Sense withdrawal 6) Dharana- Focused concentration 7) Dhyana- Meditative absorption 8) Samadhi- Liberation.

Most of these limbs are within what we practice in Dhamma. I focus on natural breathing instead of pranayama and also in yoga the emphasis seems on developing concentration than on developing wisdom into the impermanent nature of mind and matter. I do yoga with the focus on breath and sensations. The limbs of yoga developed in a class are the physical postures with a positive theme presented usually about developing virtue and character. There’s also the withdrawal of the senses and the development of concentration which is a support for wisdom.

We are very blessed to have come in contact with Dhamma and in order to get the most out of practice​ it’s important that we maintain the health and longevity of our body. Yoga is one support for that. Just as we take care of our car with servicing, it’s important that we take care of our body. Also in western culture, ​there is such an emphasis on being busy and in our heads all the time. Yoga is an aid to connecting to the body and sensations. Actually, yoga means to yoke the mind with the body which is something that we in western culture are especially in need of support with.

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Devika Patil

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Introduction by Ryan Shelton: I met Devika through a mutual friend at Dhamma Delaware shortly after her first course. She started getting involved with dhamma service immediately and we became friends through our service together. It has been exciting to see her grow in dhamma over the last 2 years, and I look forward to more movies, dinners, and games in the future.

Dhamma Story: I would like to share my experience from early Jan 2017. I woke up to an icy and freezing rainy Saturday morning. It irritated me as I would be confined indoors for rest of the Saturday. Finally getting out of the bed, I looked out of the window. Surprisingly, it didn’t feel gloomy anymore; in fact the light, powdered snow that covered trees and the grass looked beautiful. I made myself a nice, hot masala tea and pulled my tea table near the patio. The branches of tree that leaned towards the patio were covered in tiny icicles. Listening to the beautiful acoustic rendition of the song “La Vie En Rose” by Louis Armstrong and sipping my tea, I sat enjoying the view outside.

The hobbyist in me persuaded me to pick up the camera and capture the icicles. I watched as few icicles started to melt slowly. I remembered the law of impermanence and in that moment another realization dawned on me – enjoy all the good things and moments while they last, but don’t be sad when they are over. As for the bad things and phases, they will change too, so just be strong and patient and keep learning and gathering experience from such phases.

I was thankful to the nature for yet again teaching the lesson of “change” with something so simple and so beautiful.

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Beyond Pleasure and Pain

Nibhana sounds awful. Why would I want to strive for a state beyond mind and matter? Isn’t that simply non existence? Why am I supposed to believe that this state is blissful? Couldn’t it just as easily be hellish? The intellectual goal of seeking Nibhana is insufficient to motivate me to sit twice a day. It might even be a deterrent, but let’s observe this practice from a different direction.

Vipassana has made 2 states very apparent: pleasure and pain. We naturally are driven to escape pain and seek pleasure. Most of my life has been driven by this simple intuitive goal. Vipassana builds upon this intuitive apparent knowledge and teaches me that pleasure can be just as harmful as pain in the subtle levels of the mind. Choosing not to pursue pleasure initially seems counter intuitive until you look more closely.

People enjoy drinking in moderation because of the pleasant feeling, but many choose not to drink because of concerns of a hangover or alcoholism. People work extremely hard to accomplish company goals but are wary of the burden this places on family and know there is suffering if they can reach their goals. Wisdom shows us that in every example a temporary pleasure can quickly be replaced by pain if there is attachment.

I believe Vipassana is trying to show us the state beyond pleasure and pain. Both these sensations are so closely linked to suffering, but an experienced meditator understands the peace that comes with simply observing these sensations instead of reacting to them. By accepting these experiences we can let them go and witness the peace and love that remains. I think unconditional love is an experience beyond pain and pleasure, and since the mind and matter are directly linked to the sensations of pleasure and pain, maybe moving beyond pleasure and pain also means moving beyond mind and matter. Maybe I’m seeking Nibhana after all. Time to meditate.

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What Happens at Death?

I was inspired to share this article written by Goenkaji which describes what happens at the time of death. Reading this always brings the reflection that we could die at any time (Maranasati) and is a reminder to pay attention to states of mind, because​ the last mind moment determines the conditions for the next life. If I died at this moment what would my state of mind be? The habits of mind we cultivate throughout life create the conditions for what we experience​ at the end of life. Above all equanimity is the most important to cultivate, to be with whatever our experience is with a balanced mind and the awareness of anicca.

By S.N. Goenka

To understand what happens at death, let us first understand what death is. Death is like a bend in a continuous river of becoming. It appears that death is the end of a process of becoming, and certainly it may be so in the case of an arahant (a fully liberated being) or a Buddha; but with an ordinary person this flow of becoming continues even after death. Death puts an end to the activities of one life, and the very next moment starts the play of a new life. On the one side is the last moment of this life and on the other side is the first moment of the next life. It is as though the sun rises as soon as it sets with no interval of darkness in between, or as if the moment of death is the end of one chapter in the book of becoming, and another chapter of life begins the very next moment.

Although no simile can convey the exact process, still one might say that this flow of becoming is like a train running on a track. It reaches the station of death and there, slightly decreasing speed for a moment, carries on again with the same speed. It does not stop at the station even for a moment. For one who is not an arahant, the station of death is not a terminus but a junction from where thirty-one different tracks diverge. The train, as soon as it arrives at the station, moves onto one or another of these tracks and continues. This speeding “train of becoming,” fuelled by the electricity of the kammic reactions of the past, keeps on running from one station to the next, on one track or the other, a continuous journey that goes on without ceasing.

This changing of “tracks” happens automatically. As the melting of ice into water and the cooling of water to form ice happens according to laws of nature, so the transition from life to life is controlled by set laws of nature. According to these laws, the train not only changes tracks by itself, it also lays the next tracks itself. For this train of becoming the junction of death, where the change of tracks takes place, is of great importance. Here the present life is abandoned (this is called cuti-disappearance, death). The demise of the body takes place, and immediately the next life starts (a process which is called patisandhi – conception or taking up of the next birth). The moment of patisandhi is the result of the moment of death; the moment of death creates the moment of conception. Since every death moment creates the next birth moment, death is not only death, but birth as well. At this junction, life changes into death and death into birth.

Thus every life is a preparation for the next death. If someone is wise, he or she will use this life to the best advantage and prepare for a good death. The best death is the one that is the last, that is not a junction but a terminus: the death of an arahant. Here there will be no track on which the train can run further; but until such a terminus is reached, one can at least ensure that the next death gives rise to a good birth and that the terminus will be reached in due course. It all depends on us, on our own efforts. We are makers of our own future, we create our own welfare or misery as well as our own liberation.
How is it that we are the creators of the tracks that receive the onrushing train of becoming? To answer this we must understand what kamma (action) is.
The healthy or unhealthy volition of our mind is kamma. Before performing any action at the mental, vocal, or physical level, whatever wholesome or unwholesome volition arises in the mind is the root of that action. The consciousness arises due to a contact at a sense door, then the sañña (perception and recognition) evaluates the experience, sensations (vedana) arise, then a kammic reaction (sankhara) takes place. These volitional reactions are of various kinds. How strong is the volition? How slow, deep, shallow, heavy or light? According to this the intensity of these reactions will vary. Some are like a line drawn on water, some like a line drawn on sand and some a line on rock. If the volition is wholesome, then the action will be the same and the fruits will be beneficial; and if the volition is unwholesome, then the action will be the same-it will give fruits of misery.

Not all of these reactions result in a new birth. Some are so shallow that they do not give any substantial fruits. Some are a bit heavier but will be used up in this lifetime. They do not carry over into the next life. Others being still heavier continue with the flow of life into the next birth, but they themselves do not give new birth. Nevertheless they can continue to multiply during this life and the next. Many kammas however, are bhava-kammas, or bhava-sankharas, those that give a new birth, a new life. Each one of these bhava-kammas (actions that give rise to the process of becoming) carries a magnetic force that is in tune with the vibrations of a particular plane of existence. The vibrations of a particular bhava-kamma will unite with the vibrations of the bhava-loka (world, plane) that has the same intensity, and the two will attract each other according to the universal laws pertaining to forces of kamma.

As soon as one of these bhava-kammas is generated, this “railway train of becoming” gets attracted to one or the other of the thirty-one tracks at the station of death. Actually these thirty-one tracks are the thirty-one fields of existence. They are the eleven kama lokas (realms of sensuality: the four lower realms of existence, and the seven human and celestial realms); the sixteen rupa-brahma lokas (where fine material body remains), and the four arupa-brahma lokas (non-material realms, where only mind remains).

At the last moment of this life, a specific bhava-sankhara will arise. This sankhara capable of giving a new birth will get connected with the vibrations of the related realm of existence. At the moment of death the whole field of thirty-one realms is open, so it depends on which sankhara arises as to which track the train of existence runs on next. In the same way a train gets shunted onto a new track, the force of the bhava-kamma reaction provides the push to the flow of consciousness into the next existence. For example, the bhava-kamma of anger or malice, being of the nature of heat and agitation, will unite with some lower field of existence. Similarly, one with the nature of mettā (compassionate love), having peaceful and cool vibrations can only unite with some brahma-loka. This is the law of nature, and these laws are so perfectly “computerized” that there is never any flaw in the operation.

At the moment of death, generally, some intense sankhara will arise; it may be either of a wholesome nature or an unwholesome nature. For example, if one has murdered one’s father or mother, or perhaps some saintly person, in this lifetime, then the memory of this episode will arise at the moment of death. Likewise if one has done some deep meditation practice, a similar state of mind will arise.

When there is no such dense bhava-kamma to arise, then a comparatively less dense kamma will arise. Whatever memory is awakened will manifest as the kamma. For example, one may remember a wholesome kamma of giving food to a saintly person, or one may remember killing someone. Reflections on such past kammas as these may arise. Otherwise, objects related to the particular kamma may arise. One may see the plate full of food that was offered as dana, or the gun that was used to kill another. These are called the kamma-nimittas (signs).
In another case, a sign or a symbol of the next life may appear. This is called gati-nimitta (departing sign). These nimmitas correspond to whichever bhava-loka the flow is being attracted towards, such as the scene of some celestial world, or perhaps of an animal world. The dying person will often experience one of these signs as a forewarning, just as the train’s headlight illuminates the track ahead. The vibrations of these nimittas are identical to the vibrations of the plane of existence of the next birth.

A good Vipassana meditator has the capacity to avoid the tracks leading to the lower realms of existence. He clearly understands the laws of nature, and practises to keep himself ready for death at all times. If he has reached an advanced age, there is all the more reason to remain aware every moment. What preparations are undertaken? One practises Vipassana, remaining equanimous to whatever sensations arise on the body and thereby breaking the habit pattern of reacting to the unpleasant sensations. Thus the mind, which is usually generating new unwholesome sankharas, develops a new habit of remaining equanimous. Very often at the time of death, if there are no very heavy sankharas to arise, habitual reactions occur; and as the new sankhara is being made, an old one from the storehouse might get stirred up onto the surface, gaining in strength as it arises.

At the approach of death, it is very likely that one will experience very unpleasant sensations. Old age, disease and death are dukkha (misery). They produce unpleasant sensations of a grosser type. If one is not skilful in observing these sensations with equanimity, then one will be likely to react with feelings of anger, irritation, maybe malice, which provides an opportunity for a bhava-sankhara of like vibration to arise. However, as in the cases of some well developed meditators, one can work to avoid reacting to these immensely painful sensations by maintaining equanimity at the time of death. Then, even those related bhava-sankharas lying deep in the bhavanga (seat of birth-producing kamma) will not have an opportunity to arise. An ordinary person will usually remain apprehensive, even terror-stricken at the approach of death and thus will give occasion for a fearful bhava-sankhara to surface. In the same way, grief, sorrow, depression, and other feelings may arise at the thought of separation from loved ones, and the related sankhara will come up and dominate the mind.

A Vipassana meditator, by observing all his or her sensations with equanimity, weakens the sankhara and thus does not allow it to arise at the time of death. The real preparation for death is this: developing a habit pattern of repeatedly observing the sensations manifesting in the body and mind with equanimity and with the understanding of anicca.

At the time of death, this strong habit of equanimity will automatically appear and the train of existence will link up with a track on which it will be possible to practise Vipassana in the new life. In this way, one saves oneself from birth in a lower realm and attains one of the higher realms, which is very important because Vipassana cannot be practised in the lower realms.
A meditator who is on the point of death is fortunate to have close relatives or friends nearby who can help maintain a good Dhamma atmosphere, free from lamenting and gloom; people who can practise Vipassana and generate vibrations of mettā, which are most favourable for a peaceful death.

At times a non-meditator will attain a favourable rebirth at the time of death due to the manifestation of wholesome bhava-sankharas such as generosity, morality and other strong wholesome qualities. But the special achievement of an established Vipassana meditator is that he enables himself to attain an existence where he can continue to practise Vipassana. In this way, by slowly decreasing the stock of accumulated bhava-sankharas stored in the bhavanga of his flow of consciousness, one shortens one’s journey of becoming and reaches the goal sooner.

One comes into contact with the Dhamma in this life because of great merits one has performed in the past. Make this human life successful by practising Vipassana. Then whenever death comes, it will come with the experience of an equanimous mind, bringing with it well-being for the future.
N.B.: The analogy of a running train changing tracks should not be mistaken for transmigration, as no entity goes from one life to the next. Nothing passes to the next life except the force of the accumulated kamma sankharas.

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Mark Hoefer

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At the Boulder Vipassana Hall following a group sitting. Mark Hoefer at left with Dhamma family.

Introduction by Ryan Shelton: Mark and I had a lot in common when we met in 2012. We both worked for universities in the Research Triangle of North Carolina doing research related to applied math and physics. We were also serious meditators trying to balance work, dhamma, and our relationships. As is the nature of dhamma friendships, we got to know each other very quickly as we shared our life stories and personal struggles during 14 hours of driving to and from a Trust Meeting at Dhamma Patapa.

Dhamma Story:

Dhamma Family

After experiencing the clear-eyed benefits of my second 10 day Vipassana course, I decided to go home and take my daily meditation practice seriously. I wanted to sit twice a day, one hour each. With all the best intentions and this strong motivation, I started off pretty well. Mornings, easy; evenings, not so much. All kinds of mental states-fear, frustration, guilt, drowsiness-came to the surface as barriers to keeping my goal. And I failed.

Then I learned that weekly group sittings were being offered, and the location was along my commute home from work. A warm, generous woman opened her home for people to practice Vipassana together twice a week in the evening. I immediately felt something different from my at-home sittings. It was hard to pinpoint at the time but I now recognize the diverse group of a dozen or so meditators-some regulars, others transient-as my first reliable interface with the Dhamma community. The purpose of maintaining my daily sittings, although still a challenge, started to come clearer into view. Before and after the sitting, people would chat about their lives and Dhamma goings-on: upcoming 10 day courses, news of a new center, and opportunities to serve.

I learned at a sitting that an upcoming 10 day course in Colorado needed servers. Having just served my first course at the Northwest Vipassana Center, I was in. What an eye-opening, different experience that was! Thrust into the role of kitchen manager at one of the first courses organized at a new rental site, I quickly learned that this was going to be different from my previous service. The detailed manuals, orientation, and the time-tested environment from my last service were replaced by “take it as it comes”. But the community of servers, some new, some experienced, formed a Dhamma family nucleus. Everything worked out. The concreteness of bringing our understanding of equanimity and anicca into meeting that 11am lunch deadline was striking. In addition, Dhamma service helped us begin to develop a deeper understanding of metta.

By then, my daily sittings were so much easier to keep. I had directly experienced the benefits of meditation by meditating and serving with others. Looking back, I see those regular Tuesday and Thursday evening group sittings as the source of my Dhamma family and so much support to maintain my daily practice. Nowadays, I get the wonderful opportunity to sit in a dedicated space for meditation: Boulder, Colorado’s Dhamma house. And, with the recent purchase of 156 acres of land in Elbert, CO for a permanent Vipassana center, the opportunities to meditate, serve and continue to grow my understanding of anicca, equanimity, and metta here in Colorado are abundant.

This blog is an example of manifestation of Dhamma community and family.

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A Social Approach

Expecting meditation to do all the work is isolating and incomplete. We must be able to process and integrate all of our experiential learning both on and off the cushion. As social creatures, we must be able to articulate our experiences so we can exchange wisdom and mission with others in our community to maximize our contribution. A person’s potential is limited by their ability to share their great ideas. If we limit the wisdom we gain from the cushion to the inside of our heads, we are not reaching our potential.

While I respect the intention of eliminating craving by not discussing stages beyond one’s current state and of preventing contamination of the pure practice with false teachings, I believe meditators can just as easily get off track in their own heads. Discussions with other meditators about their experiences can reinforce one’s understanding inspiring confidence to continue on the path. Meditators that have gotten stuck might find a nugget of wisdom that returns them to the path. Of course there is a concern that a person could knock someone off the path, but don’t we face a barrage of those diversional forces every day?

Believing that growth on the path can only come by practicing Vipassana on the cushion separates students in this tradition from everyone else. It implies that people outside of this tradition are stagnant and have nothing to give. Yet my life has shown me that anyone who is striving to learn and grow is building their base of experiential knowledge. Every action is an opportunity to learn, and every person is a resource to deepen my understanding. If we don’t let other people in, binding ourselves through the exchange of ideas and experiences, we are failing to dissolve our ego. Reinforcing one’s intellectual knowledge through experiential knowledge on the cushion is essential to reach the final goal, that doesn’t devalue the utility of thought. As the world faces escalating communal crises, it’s the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and hope that will ultimately lead us to a sustainable outcome. I believe meditation can be a valuable piece of that solution. Time to meditate.

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Conspiracy Theories and Dhamma

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We live in an incredibly complex world brought to our attention by the vast flow of information available. No longer are we confined to a narrow range of media sources. The internet has opened us up to a vast information exchange, unimaginable even 20 years ago. With this has come information that greatly contradicts what society has accepted as truth. This has brought a conundrum around what to believe and has brought controversy as is seen on social media and the real news versus fake news debate. These different takes on reality and world events have been coined as conspiracy theories, those takes which do not fit with established narratives and beliefs. The term conspiracy theory was originally developed by the CIA as a means of undercutting critics of the Warren Commission’s report that Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy. (CIA Doc. 1035-960). Since then it has been used as a derogatory term to ridicule those who question official narratives.

Because conspiracy theories bring controversy they are not appropriate to converse about at Dhamma Centers. The Buddha was clear that monks were to stay away from talking about worldly controversial subjects as they excite and agitate the mind which is​ not conducive to concentration, insight and the final goal. Yet as householders practicing Dhamma, we also live in the world and it seems it is our duty to have a wise understanding about the world with its Deva’s, Mara’s and Brahma’s. It doesn’t seem helpful to be in denial when there is compelling evidence which points to potentially unpleasant truths. It seems that it’s our duty to look with an open, balanced and discerning mind and discern the credibility of the information presented to us.

One controversial subject which has weighed on me over the years has been the circumstances around 911. What really turned my head was when I saw a documentary put out by Architects and Engineers for 911 Truth called, 9/11: Explosive Evidence- Experts Speak Out (http://911expertsspeakout.org). The most compelling evidence showed that those buildings fell at free fall speed. So if you took a bowling ball and dropped it from the height of the towers it would have fallen at the same speed as the collapsing buildings. How could it fall that fast if there was the resistance of so much concrete below? If fires were to have brought them down and the floors pancaked it wouldn’t have fallen at free fall, nor would they have fallen so nicely and neatly. Then a third building which wasn’t even hit by a plane ( Building 7) fell at free fall later in the day. How is it that no steel framed buildings had ever collapsed due to fire before, then three did in one day? There are now 2887 architects and engineers who’ve signed a petition asking for a new investigation.

In my mind, it points to a false flag where you attack yourself and blame it on someone else so you can start a war or demonize an opponent.
The Gulf of Tonkin Incident which started the Vietnam War is an example of this (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_of_Tonkin_incidents). So is Operation Northwoods which was a plan hatched from within the US Department of Defense in 1962 and signed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “The proposals called for the CIA and other US operatives to commit acts of terrorism against US civilians and military targets, blaming it on the Cuban Government, and using it to justify war with Cuba. The plans included the possible assassination of Cuban emigres, sinking boats of Cuban refugees, hijacking planes, blowing up a US ship and orchestrating violent terrorism in US cities. The proposals were rejected by the Kennedy Administration”. (Wikipedia) (http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/news/20010430/northwoods.pdf).

If the evidence from A/E 911 Truth adds up, it opens up a massive can of worms. There would be immense shock and outrage that something like this could happen. It would cast a much different light on those who died that day.  The whole narrative of the war on terror would be a lie. All the millions of people killed, maimed and displaced would be all for nothing except for geopolitical gain, control and access to resources. All the dead and wounded soldiers and the destruction of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya… Our contribution in destroying Syria and war mongering with Iran would raise great controversy. The scope of what this would mean is horrendous. There is an abundance of credible evidence that throws all this into question, including General Wesley Clark, saying that in 2001 the goal was to take out 7 Middle Eastern and North African countries in five years. The 7 countries were ​Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Lebanon, and Iran.(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8FhZnFZ6TY).
My hope is that the truth will prevail.

As a meditator, it’s been challenging to see the evidence about 911 and know how to go about sharing it. Questions arise, does being a good Dhamma person mean only sharing about positive uplifting things and avoiding controversial things? It seems just as we observe pleasant and unpleasant sensations with equanimity, we can face and share about controversial subjects with equanimity, we can also receive input from others with equanimity. When subjects like this come up it can bring joking, skepticism and criticism. It can also bring admiration and praise. There’s a social stigma around conspiracies and many don’t want to be perceived as wearing a tin foil hat no matter how credible the information may be. I notice that there is strong societal pressure to conform to popular ideas and beliefs as seen in popular MSM and social media. It’s easy to just go along with whatever is popular, not go against it and perhaps even be hypnotized by it. But what happens when certain truths lay outside of popular opinion? If someone had talked about the plans of Operation Northwoods before it was declassified, they’d really have been seen as cuckoo. There’s a famous quote by Gandhi, “Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.”

In the discourses, Goenkaji talks about some of the business people he associated with as having an unwholesome orientation to what they were doing. When there was war, famine and great suffering they’d say great, the market is improving! When there was peace and harmony they’d say how awful, the market is terrible! So extrapolate this to our world and we can surmise that there are some with great wealth and power who profit off of war and want to create the conditions for war; the arms manufacturers, the Haliburtons, the oil companies, investment bankers, high military officials and certain politicians. He also talks about the doctor who was disappointed that there were no sick people coming to his office because everyone is healthy and his business was suffering. Extrapolate that perhaps to the cancer industry. Is the cancer industry too profitable of a business to want to find a cure? The negative things we see going on in the world are a manifestation of Mara or the collective personification of our defilements, the forces of greed, hate and delusion. How skilled are we at seeing these forces in ourselves and in the world? How easy is it for us to be fooled? It’s inspiring to read about just before Buddha was enlightened as he was attacked by the armies of Mara. He saw Mara for what Mara was and defeated him. For the next 45 years after his enlightenment, Mara would continue to visit and each time Buddha would know Mara and say, “I see you, Mara”.

With the meditation process of dissolving the solidity in ourselves, it also dissolves the solidity of established belief structures about what we hold to be true. In a 10 day course so many established belief structures get challenged; organized religion as a source of salvation, the belief in a solid self and a solid world, chasing after sensual pleasures as a source of lasting happiness, the belief in this life is all there is, praying to a God to free us from suffering, there’s little consequence to our actions, the notion of I think therefore I am. Perhaps to someone who hasn’t experienced Vipassana, Dhamma might seem like a conspiracy!

I noticed when I meditated after writing this that it brought up a lot of thoughts and feelings. It was even challenging to sleep. Maybe one might not want to probe into something like 9/11 because it brings too many things up. But is it right to choose peace over awareness of potentially unpleasant truths? Is it wise to live in a bubble and block out compelling evidence about such things in our world? Perhaps there’s a balance to be had between maintaining our peace and being informed. We can know when to back off if we are losing equanimity and getting overwhelmed or if our health, work or family life are being affected. We can go about our lives in the world with an open, balanced and discerning mind and stay wise to our inner reality while staying wise to the outer workings of the world.

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Chris Hammond

Introduction by Jonathan Penn: I met Chris when I was coming back to the DC area after sitting my first course in Australia. At the time I didn’t know whether there were even other old students or opportunities for group sittings in my home town. I met Chris pretty quickly, very likely at a 1-Day course at the Mehta’s home and then saw him at different group sittings after that. I was just returning and starting my career as an engineer, and Chris was just arriving in Maryland and starting his advanced degree and then career in acupuncture. We quickly started hanging out and discussing our desire to meet someone and then we both did! In a somewhat bizarre parallel path we both met a partner, got married, had kids… and then both got divorced around the same time. I’m deeply grateful to have had such a constant and grounded friend through all of my life events over the past many years in Chris. These days our daughters (my daughter Layla age 5 and Chris’s daughters Lilly age 6 and Zoe age 4) are close friends as well and we just enjoyed a great pool day all together this past weekend.

Dhamma Story: I’ve had an epiphany lately. It’s an epiphany that’s come and gone before. It’s the role of what I eat, how much water I drink and maintaining a consistent eating schedule each day affects my meditation practice and my life. I was feeling tired, restless and foggy on a regular basis and was observing that a lot in my sitting practice.

As we know from the discourses, the sensations we experience are due to the current sankaras, past sankaras, the food we’ve eaten and the climatic conditions that surround us. I was feeling that my diet was playing a significant role in my experience so I tightened things up. In the morning I would have lemon water, some chlorella and some fruit, which has a cleansing affect. At 1pm I would have a salad, steamed veggies, lentils, and potatoes. Mid pm would be some nuts and a piece of fruit. Then 6pm would be a lighter version of lunch. After that there was no later evening eating, which allows the body over 12 hours to cleanse and rest the digestive system. Also during the day I would drink lots of water. This has some resemblance to intermittent fasting that has gotten lots of good press lately. I learned of doing this from Terri Kerr who was a nutritionist and an assistant teacher in Massachusetts. She had a book out called Terri Kerr’s Ultimate Detox Diet. She has since passed and there are used versions of the book on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Teri-Kerrs-Ultimate-Detox-Diet/dp/B002O6YHR0.

I noticed an immediate affect of having more energy, a clearer mind, much more rested and calm and able to sleep more deeply. The body felt more fluid and less tight, I also experienced the mind as more fluid. The factors of diet, water intake and daily rhythm play such a supportive role in the quality of our meditation practice and our lives. I realized that i’d been dehydrated, hadn’t been nourished enough and my eating schedule had been off. Sure our job is always to observe reality as it is but then we need to ask what are we doing to create reality as it is. If we are angry, we work to come out of that. If we aren’t drinking enough water or not nourishing ourselves, we need to work on that. Our body is constantly alerting us to what is or what isn’t in balance and we need to listen with wisdom.

Dhamma Friends: Jamie Metzler

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Year End 10 Day Course

By Devika Patil

19th December 2016 evening : I receive the acceptance email for a 10 day course starting 21st Dec at Dhamma Siri, Texas. I am a little tense with last minute travel but I really want to attend the course to let go of the passing year in peaceful way. I book my tickets, packed my bags, and left the next morning. A very nice gentleman contacted me offering the ride to SVMC, just few hours before my flight. I was touched by his gesture to accommodate my bizarre flight timing and hotel checkout time. It reminded me of Paulo Coelho’s quote from the Alchemist: “When you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it”.

31st December 2016, Metta Day : I listen to the experiences of fellow meditators while having lunch. All their stories end with same gist – “We are so grateful we got chance to learn this technique and so happy that we invested our vacation time in learning Vipassana.”

Suddenly an idea strikes which I share with the group – “Most of us might have spent New Year’s eve partying, how about ringing 2017 with meditation at midnight.” The group seemed to like my idea but I was not sure if they would join in.
Nevertheless I left my door open at 11.30 pm. Everyone in the group showed up at my dorm and we did a 30 min mediation followed by Metta. All the girls were quite happy and filled with pure joy.

Of all the New Years I have celebrated , this was the most peaceful one. It made me feel ready for 2017 – to embrace the things that might change, to learn to make best use of time, to let go of the unpleasant memories of 2016, and to fight very hard to remain in the present. As the quiet night drifted by, I fell asleep thinking the quieter you become, the more you can hear

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Funny Course Story

I remember a 20 day course I sat in Sri Lanka back in the late 90’s. On day 5 as we were going for tea, there was a sign posted by the dining hall which said something like, please be sure to shower and wash your clothes regularly with soap, other people notice.

We’d been concentrating our minds for 5 days and reading that really agitated me. I was feeling angry that the management would put a sign like that up, let alone at such a time. Who were they referring to? I was feeling self-conscious even though I felt I was doing ok in that department. However my mind persisted, could it be my clothes that I’d been washing in wells and rivers over many months? Was I sweating too much? Were there meditators with noses of blood hounds? Maybe someone’s sensitivity was off the charts. I found myself sniffing my clothes just to make sure. My mind was going in all these different directions, starting again over and over to come back to my breath.

At lunch time on day 6, I noticed a line for the showers and the course manager was going around asking each student if they needed soap. I over heard a student tell the course manager that he’d like to buy soap for everyone as dana.
I felt like I was witnessing comedy central and was challenged to contain the mirth bubbling up.

Up till this time, the lunch period had been so quiet and peaceful and I had been experiencing such a deepening of concentration. Now, I as well many of the male meditators looked worried. All these things were a reminder though, that distractions like this do come up in courses and how skillfully could I allow these things to come and go and stay with the breath? How much could I be with this experience and not generate more anger and agitation? Also how much could I relate to these thoughts, feelings, and stories as impersonal changing phenomenon? How easy it is to identify myself with these experiences and feel like it’s mine and create a drama out of it.

At the end of the course, a Sri Lankan nun said that she’d made a complaint about the smell in the cells, that there was a “cloud” wafting over from the male side to the female side. This story has since stuck out in my mind as a source of comic relief though at the time I was really challenged by the situation.

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Jonathan Penn

IMG_0684Introduction by Ryan Shelton: When I arrived in Delaware, Jon was already an established contributing volunteer for the Mid-Atlantic Vipassana Association. I appreciated his enthusiasm, positive energy, and support of everyone in the community. My dhamma relationship with Jon grew as we served together on Committees, at Children’s Courses, and at the Center. I could tell that we both enjoyed the simple pleasure of watching dhamma grow in our region. Even though we live 2 hours apart, our relationship progressed beyond dhamma on a overnight canoeing and camping adventure. I’m happy to call Jon my friend and look forward to our future escapades.

Dhamma Story: By the end of college I had totally burnt myself out, so I worked at a restaurant, saved some money while living at my parents and then flew to Australia to figure something out  about myself or maybe just have a good time. Volunteering in a scuba shop in Queensland (Byron Bay) I mentioned to a fellow diver that I wanted to learn meditation and she told me about a Vipassana meditation center a couple hours away that offered courses for free. The price was right so without putting very much thought into it at all I filled out an application and found myself at the center on my first 10-day course a few weeks later. I told some Old Students there that I had shown up knowing virtually nothing about the courses and when they exchanged a knowing look with each I knew I was in for a wild ride… I think that might have ended up being the most difficult 10-days spent of my life but it was worth it. I experienced a sense of peace that I had never known before and find that as I continue to practice that peace is something that grows for me.

After my course, I felt ready to return to regular life and booked my return trip. Since then I’ve been working and practicing and taking courses and also giving service as time permits. At times I work really hard in my professional life but am able to keep some balance that I don’t think I would have had without my practice and haven’t burned myself out again yet. 🙂

Dhamma Friends: Chris Hammond

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Screen Time Dulls Sensations

It’s so easy to get sucked into technology. Waiting in the grocery store line? Why don’t I check my email. Unwinding from work? Let’s check out some Netflix episodes. Don’t want to do your actual work on your computer? Why not scroll through Facebook for a little while. I started out convincing myself that this was a good use of downtime, but it quickly consumes large chunks of my day. Why do I need to check all my apps 100 times a day? I don’t. So why do I do it?

There’s comfort in the numbness. When I’m staring into a screen I don’t feel any of the uncomfortable sensations in my body. With a phone I can avoid all the awkwardness of a typical day. The problem is that the discomfort doesn’t go away. It merely dips below the surface. All of these screen simply allow us to avoid our reality. Yet even with this intellectual understanding and a daily meditation practice, I still get sucked into the internet vortex. My subconscious mind has learn this basic strategy to evade pain and simply takes over. I need to work at cutting myself off.

Technology can make our lives easier and more efficient. I don’t want to lose those benefits, but I don’t want to forget to live. I want to create time for deep meaningful conversations, but those opportunities are becoming less common. Maybe I need to leave my phone at home or simply turn it off. Maybe I need to cancel my Netflix. Or maybe I just need to work a little harder to create meaningful interactions. Phones have taken over all our lives and I’m not sure what to do about it. Time to meditate.

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Aaron Cashman

Dali Lake Dec 2016

Introduction by Ryan Shelton: After making the move to Delaware in 2014, I met Aaron at a small Dhamma gathering. We were both in our 30s working on establishing our real world lives after years of seeking and exploring throughout our 20s. We both bought homes with our partners that we had introduced to Vipassana. Integrating Eastern values into a Western life can be confusing and complicated, but our friendship helps remind me that it’s not only possible, but can be exciting and energizing.

Dhamma Story: I had just completed a one-month yoga retreat near Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, when I first heard about Vipassana.  I was in my early 20’s and had been going through a years-long existential crisis.  On the last day of the retreat, I met a girl named Vikky, who was the first person to tell me about Vipassana.    I was instantly moved and intrigued by her description and knew that it was for me.  So, weeks later, I was back in Seattle and signed up for my first Vipassana course.  In January 2002, I sat my first Vipassana course at Dhamma Kunja.  I had quit my job just prior to the course and was so inspired by my first 10-day that I decided to serve the following course.  I then continued to stay on for the next six months- and even helped to co-manage the center with my Canadian dhamma friend, Malcolm.  At the end of my six month stay at Dhamma Kunja, the Meditation Now tour arrived at Dhamma Kunja and Goenkaji personally gave a public talk and Vipassana instructions to the 10-day course students at the center.  After being assured that the center was in capable hands, Malcolm and I decided to follow the second half of the Meditation Now tour.  We heard many public talks and sat several one-day courses throughout the US and Canada.  We concluded our long journey east from Dhamma Kunja by sitting our first Satipatthana course at VMC soon after Goenkaji had returned to India.  What a year 2002 turned out to be.  Completely life-changing in every way.  Deep gratitude to Goenkaji, Dhamma Kunja and the Triple Gem for my new life path, which continues to deeply inform everything that I do to this day- almost 16 years later.  I had just completed a one-month yoga retreat near Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, when I first heard about Vipassana.  I was in my early 20’s and had been going through a years-long existential crisis.  On the last day of the retreat, I met a girl named Vikky, who was the first person to tell me about Vipassana.    I was instantly moved and intrigued by her description and knew that it was for me.  So, weeks later, I was back in Seattle and signed up for my first Vipassana course.  In January 2002, I sat my first Vipassana course at Dhamma Kunja.  I had quit my job just prior to the course and was so inspired by my first 10-day that I decided to serve the following course.  I then continued to stay on for the next six months- and even helped to co-manage the center with my Canadian dhamma friend, Malcolm.  At the end of my six month stay at Dhamma Kunja, the Meditation Now tour arrived at Dhamma Kunja and Goenkaji personally gave a public talk and Vipassana instructions to the 10-day course students at the center.  After being assured that the center was in capable hands, Malcolm and I decided to follow the second half of the Meditation Now tour.  We heard many public talks and sat several one-day courses throughout the US and Canada.  We concluded our long journey east from Dhamma Kunja by sitting our first Satipatthana course at VMC soon after Goenkaji had returned to India.  What a year 2002 turned out to be.  Completely life-changing in every way.  Deep gratitude to Goenkaji, Dhamma Kunja and the Triple Gem for my new life path, which continues to deeply inform everything that I do to this day- almost 16 years later.

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Distracted By Meditation

Somewhere along the journey of supporting the spread of Vipassana I started thinking like a worker instead of a dhamma worker. Presented with too much work for to little time, I returned to problem solving in my head instead leaving the heavy lifting to dhamma. I like mental challenges so the various obstacles were little games for me to solve, but dhamma isn’t a puzzle to be solved. It’s the natural law which is beyond my comprehension. It’s something I should surrender to, but that’s a bit hard on my ego. On the surface my life is great, so why should I keep walking down the dark tunnel full of difficulties?

I continued my daily sittings but I was far from sensations in my daily activities. I’m trusting my intellect to support the spread of dhamma through the Center, but life is getting a little bumpy. I’m encouraging others to practice this valuable meditation, but I’m so focused on the meditation that I’ve lost my connection t dhamma in my life. Vipassana isn’t just about learning to meditate. Vipassana is a tool that helps one discover a better way of life. By surrendering to dhamma, I’m surrendering my ego that’s developed through my life’s successes. I’m learning how to love, and act through this love. Society challenges me to strive for titles and accomplishments and I’m reluctant to simply give them back, but love is connected to this surrender, and I believe love is what will help heal the world.

While pushing the spread of meditation, I’ve pushed some people away. As I’ve reintegrated my life into the mainstream, I’m susceptible to many distractions. I must be diligent to continue striving for love. Love inspires people to dream, believe, and grow. It might not lead an individual to meditate, but if a person is following the light within they are walking in the right direction. Who am I to tell them what their heart is telling them. I support their journey just as I trust my own, and believe my journey is meant to be supported by vipassana and dhamma. Time to meditate.

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Nate Kretzschmar

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Introduction by Ryan Shelton: I met Nate in 2008 on a random Saturday afternoon at a restaurant in Carrboro, North Carolina.  We hit it off immediately spending the next 14 hours on a wild adventure that included kick ball, dancing, amateur boxing, and failing to balance on aluminum cans. Little did I know that Nate would change the direction of my life by introducing me to Vipassana and inviting me to sit my first course in 2010 at Dhamma Patapa. Dhamma has been an important part of both of our lives and our relationship ever since.

Dhamma Story: I first heard about Vipassana in 2005 while house-sitting for a friend of mine. I didn’t have TV at my house, so I stayed up late one night channel surfing, and stumbled across the documentary ‘Doing Time, Doing Vipassana’ about courses being offered in a huge maximum security prison in India. I was really inspired by the film and almost immediately signed up for my first course, which I sat a couple of months later at Marywood Retreat Center (a rented facility) in Jacksonville, FL. As with many people, that first course changed my life, and soon I was sitting regularly and doing long-term service, which culminated a with a 5 year stint as center manager at the Southeast Vipassana Center in Jesup, GA as it was just getting off the ground. While I was there I was honored to be able to serve at Donaldson Correctional Facility as part of the North American Prison Trust, and give back in a way to inmates, who had been my initial inspiration to sit. I served children’s and teen courses in addition to the many 10-day courses, and was fortunate to develop my practice as part of a seamless whole integrated into my daily work routine as on-site manager. I met my wife, a Vipassana meditator as well, while at the center, and now am the happy father of a lovely 13-year old step-daughter and 1-year old son. Vipassana has dramatically changed our family’s lives and continues to be a bedrock influence in maintaining our efforts at harmoniously interacting with each other and the world.

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New Life Goals

Three years ago I had a mission: create a life near an urban meditation center and help dhamma spread. This mission drove my wife and I to move to a new city, support the birth of a new Center, buy a house, and establish ourselves in new careers. I’m amazed how successful we were with this massive transition and now it’s time to create new goals. The struggle is that some of my assumptions with this new life have not been accurate.

I assumed that having an accessible meditation center would allow dhamma to leach into the surrounding community. I assumed serious meditators would flock to Delaware for the opportunity to integrate a serious dhamma life with work and family. I assumed that students at my school would be inspired to meditate if I simply shared some of my experiences. All of these assumptions are either incorrect or developing at a much slower rate than I anticipated. We took a big risk and I expected dhamma to figure everything else out for us. While we created the foundation for a healthy dhammic life here, I’m still trying to discover what exactly that looks like.

Five years ago I started this blog to help me navigate the confusing integration of Vipassana into my daily life. Today I’m hoping that writing will again help me to find clarity in my life. I’m not sure how my life will evolve from this moment, but I hope that sharing my journey will provide support for others struggling with similar challenges. Time to meditate.

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Ryan Shelton

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Introduction: This is the first post of the Friendship Chain.

Dhamma Story: One of my biggest dhamma adventures was helping Dhamma Delaware become a Center. I was finishing graduate school at University of North Carolina, and I had a strong desire to create a householder’s life near a Vipassana Center. Since most Vipassana Centers are long distances from urban centers with job opportunities, my fiancee (now my wife) and I were struggling to find a plan that worked for us. When a property was purchased in Delaware for a new Center only 30 minutes from Philadelphia, we were drawn to give it a try.

The property that was purchased in late 2013 had 5 structurally sound buildings that had been abandoned for many years. All of interior utilities had been stripped, the walls and ceilings were crumbling, and the ground was covered with trash and drug paraphernalia. I moved onsite in July living in a travel trailer, buying drinking water, showering at the YMCA, and going to various local chain restaurants for their wifi. Two others quickly followed me, and we slowly added electricity, internet, phones, water, and plumbing. With the help of many hands supporting from the outside, we transformed the first dilapidated building into a residence that could support 15 student single gender courses, holding our first course in November of 2014. My fiancee moved up in January of 2015.

In July of 2015 my wife and I got married, bought a beautiful house, and both found great jobs in Wilmington, Delaware. Our entire lives were within 15 minutes of this brand new Meditation Center. We are still amazed that after jumping into a project we knew very little about, meeting the local meditators for the first time after we arrived, and leaning heavily on Dhamma to guide us in the right direction, that everything worked out as wonderfully as it did. The Center expanded to 60 students in January of 2016, and there is already work being done on a 3rd building. It’s hard to say where this adventure will lead us next, but it has been a fun ride.

Dhamma Friends: Nate Kretzschmar, Aaron Cashman, Jonathan Penn, Mark Hoefer, Devika Patil

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Friendship Chain

One of the most important assets on the dhamma path is friendship. In a world unfamiliar with the benefits of meditating 2 hours a day, it can be hard to find people to walk with on this life altering journey. In the early stages, and sometimes even later on, this practice can feel isolating and lonely. Since the number of people on the path is small, the relationships forged along the journey are deep and strong. If you continue on the path long enough, serving at your local Center when you can, you start seeing similar faces. These similar faces will develop into dhamma friendships, and these friendships will be the foundation of your dhamma community.

To help inspire you to continue along the path of dhamma, I’m going to start a Friendship Chain, sharing the friendships and stories that myself and others have accumulated along the way. After sharing one of my dhamma stories, I’ll invite a few of my friends to share one of their dhamma stories. I will then ask my friends to introduce a few of their dhamma friends to do the same. I hope this will start a long chain of stories passed from one friend to the next as we travel across the country and beyond through the diverse dhamma community.

The Dhamma Chain will start next week here.

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Start Again

by Kendra Mulgrew

she’s starting again
with another chance of a new beginning after the end was found.

& as always, the present chapter of the book she holds unfolding
reads, “as it is.”
for it this way for a reason they say.
so she erases all those memories
and starts again.

ahh, freshness at last,
but the moment has past
so she lets it go.

even if it’s a story told with harmony
she thought no lines were needed,
but she had to learn the hard way that boundaries sure do come in handy
when defining the rules
that are hers for the making
instead of taking those she was told.

so she prepares to hold on tight
as she starts again.

for the journey’s never ending
until she says, “the end,”
with a strong determination to bow out of everything she could’ve done
the decision to sit
cause she knows it’s all been done
& there’s nothing left to do.

simply put – there’s no more fruit.

even if she can find
sweetness inside
she knows the mind plays tricks
and if she thinks it isn’t it probably is.

“this must be the end,” she says,
but it starts again anyways.

detoxicated from the medicine
the seeds of Dhamma have reeled her in.
there’s a sense of freedom at last with what she already knew…
the truth.

for somewhere along the way she forgot
the gift of creation is an art,
but now she feel the shift from inside
the starting breath so wide
open and expansive
from beginningless time.

as she breathes she sees
that Dhamma plays no tricks nor deceives.
there are no secrets, nor lies.
only, “pure love…compassionate love…”

having gratitude for her teacher,
& compassionate love for all beings
she bows down saying, “sadhu”,
but even if she agrees that was very well spoken
& understands the universe is just joking
she knows she must work very seriously…
patiently and persistently
again, and again, and again.

she doesn’t have to listen,
as her job is just to observe,
while she lets the Dhamma do it’s job…
sound absurd?

but she’s tried to make her own rules
all the while knowing there are boundaries within Nature’s truths.
now there’s wisdom that it has her back if she has it’s.
this right type of awareness brings a more profound bliss.

like two wings of a bird equanimous sama sati
brings her suffering to an end.
yet another breath comes
so she starts again.

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Virtual Group Sittings

While Goenka’s Organization has done an amazing job introducing Vipassana around the world through 10-day courses, I always hoped they would find new ways to support old students with their daily practice. Today, I’m excited to see their new Virtual Group Sitting program. Students from around the world can download an app to their smartphone, and after a simple setup, call into virtual group sittings from their home. While the experience is not the same as sharing a meditation hall with other students, I do feel connected to the larger Vipassana community when using the app, and hearing everyone say “goodbye” and “thank you” after the sitting confirms it. There are currently 10 group sittings every day in English, and I suspect it will grow into more time slots and different languages with time. If you would like more information, check out this article: http://www.ny.us.dhamma.org/virtual-daily-group-sittings/

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The Struggle to Stay Universal

One component of Vipassana that I’ve been attracted to is the universal nature of the practice. I thougth, “Everyone can observe breath and sensations to learn about themselves so there’s no reason to worry about forming a sect.” Recently, I’ve thought about how the introduction of vocabulary like “dhamma” and the idea that this is the only path to liberation introduces some sectarian tension. By introducing unique vocabulary and a specific technique while qualifying the path as the only complete path to liberation, I feel a natural separation between this path and other faiths or belief systems. When thinking in terms of “growing in dhamma,” it doesn’t feel particularly universal.

I’ve also struggled with relying on dhamma to provide all the solution in my life. Instead of actively grappling with and finding solutions to challenges, I passively wait for dhamma to present a particular path. While this has kept me out of trouble, helped me to develop patience, and has often resulted in positive life choices, I’m starting to feel a little disengaged from the rest of the world around me. While meditation is important, continuing to invest in my family, career, and community feel equally important. In order to connect with the challenges and struggles of the people in my life, I need to connect with their process. This personal connection is so important, and by hiding behind meditation, I’m missing this opportunity to connect on a human level.

Instead of viewing dhamma as the universal truth that everyone should be striving towards, it feels more universal to strive for unconditional love. Most religions, self help books, and individual adventurers are all striving in their own way for the experience of unconditional love. Each person is discovering their own path to draw closer to unconditional love, and this makes it feel universal. I can talk to Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Buddhists, and Jews about unconditional love, and everyone has a story of how it connects to their lives. I can talk about how meditation draws me closer to unconditional love and my belief that it can help others in the same way regardless of their path. Vipassana becomes a supplement instead of the belief of the Goenka sect. Life takes everyone on an exotic adventure to discover unconditional love. Some journeys may include Vipassana and some may not. The universal connection is the growth towards universal unconditional love. At least that’s my current feeling. Time to meditate.

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The Role of the Rich White Guy

     On a fundamental level, I think everyone wants to feel loved. The paradox is that in order to get others to love you, you must love them first. To be able to love someone else, you need to love yourself. To love yourself, you need to learn how to accept yourself and your current reality. Love grounded in truth and reality transforms into the all powerful Unconditional Love. Once your perspective is grounded in unconditional love for yourself, your expectations and goals naturally become practical and attainable, and you’re suddenly on an enjoyable path of growth and connection. If a group or community can all ground their reality in truth and unconditional love, I believe awesome things will happen naturally.
     The power of deep meditation is the opportunity to analyze oneself on a deeper and deeper level. Naturally, one is forced to face inner truths that are normally avoided by running through the rat race of life. If you keep meditating and sitting with these painful inner truths, you learn how to relax and accept yourself and others, because it’s the only way to alleviate the pain. Slowly but surely, your ability to love unconditionally grows.
     As a rich white guy, the most powerful thing I can do for my community is support a space where anyone can take on this enormous challenge of self discovery and self acceptance. This support can be financial, through service, or simply by trying to live in the right way. While this process is very personal, going through it together is incredibly bonding. I dream that these loving bonds will leak into the larger community.
     I’m not sure if this makes any sense to you, or resonates at all with your life experience, but it’s the foundation of how this rich white guy tries to live his life. Do with it what you will. Time to meditate.
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The future I live in now

When I was a young adult the ‘future’ held the promise of transformation of a better life to the one I was living. Everything was in the future: work would only happen if I could get the funding; the places I would visit when I had someone to travel with; the people I would reconnect with when I was feeling better about myself; the skills I would make the time to learn when I felt more motivated. The only problem was nothing much changed. I believed that somehow in the future I would become a better version of me,  but a version of me that had no real connection to who I was in the present or reality.

Discovering Vipassana meditation and making it part of my day to day life helped me to see the reality as it is, it also helped me realise how much my fixation with the future stopped me being in the present and making the most of it.

Applying this learning to my current life – my wife, daughter and I recently moved into a new home. It is full with boxes that need to be unpacked and walls that need to be knocked down. It is down to me and my wife to make this space our home. Simply believing the future will magically make this happen, is a reality I know now through experience does not exist. It is down to me, not circumstance, to make it into a place where happy memories can be born.

When we first moved in, my wife and I went through different phases of thinking we had made an awful mistake, that we should never have moved. As you can imagine there was little time or space to meditate, but one evening I was able to make the most of the warm weather and to go out into our beautiful (but overgrown) garden and close my eyes for almost an hour.

All the noise in my head related to everything that had to be done went quiet, as I entered the flow I recognised that my future, which once was everything, was now of little importance. It was as if all the bright lights that used illuminate its front, making it so attractive, one by one turned off.

The future I live in now is what I make of it – no big startling revelation for any of you who have done any personal development, but finally I got it !

‘…stop thinking and concentrate on the breath’ I reminded myself just before my wife came and joined me in our new garden.

 

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Year 2 as a Delaware High School Teacher

Life keeps moving along. I’ve got some good news to report. Dhamma Delaware is working on a huge expansion which will increase capacity from 15 to around 60 students. After a year away from the Center, I’ve accepted an invitation to join the Trust. The Catholic High School I teach at will be starting the Second 30-Day Meditation Challenge at the end of September.

These 3 events are helping to solidify the presence of Dhamma in Wilmington, Delaware and in my normal life. Since I started meditating, I’ve tended to be consumed by meditation or be pushing it away to create space for work and relationships. Now I’m starting to succeed at integrating it into a traditional life. I teach high school science during the week, go to the Center to meditate on the weekends, and have enough time to fit in connecting with family and friends over some fun activities. Even more significant is that everyone at my school knows how much time I spend meditating, but it’s accepted as my quirky hobby.

With the Center capacity quadrupling, I’m curious to witness how Dhamma and the Wilmington community grow together. I didn’t expect 400 people a year completing courses to have a community level impact, but 1600 people a year? That might get the the attention of the larger community. I’m excited to be a part of it, and I’m excited to see how it unfolds. As the first urban Center, I hope it’s a success because a lot of people will benefit if it works.  Time to meditate.

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A lovely hug

Even before Joely or JJ, my daughter, was born nearly two years ago, I struggled with  prioritising making two hours available for meditation every day. But most days, first thing before the day had begun, I would make sure I got onto my mat for an hour. In addition, blessed to be living in a neighborhood with an active Vipassana community, I was able to regularly sit with others; and for five important years, annually I sat or served on a ten day course. In short it was a big part of my life.

My experience of becoming a parent has been that everything that I once held sacred and essential to being me just fell away, and in its place became the need and desire to use every spare shred of energy and second of time on being there for my family.

Recently, I was able to meditate properly for the first time since JJ was born. Thanks to the Dhamma Shed which has begun to host monthly one day Vipassana courses, I was able to meditate from 9am-5:30pm, with a lovely lunch in-between. Although my time on the mat was challenging, the time flew by.

When I got home we had a Skype call with a dear friend who lives far away. As to be expected, speaking was difficult. All I wanted to do was to close my eyes and go to that place deep inside I re-discovered during my day of mediation. But something happened that has never happened before: JJ climbed onto me and held me tight, as if in an embrace for the duration of the Skype call that lasted an hour. As you can imagine all of my sensations exploded.

Since this experience, I have been trying to understand ‘it’ in the context of my difficulties in being able to prioritise my time and energy to get back to my mat and meditate regularly again.

On one level it gives validation – I could easily use this ‘story’ to justify why I should meditate rather than enjoy a beautiful sunny day with my wife and daughter.

On another level, with my understanding of equanimity, a way of being I only know of because of Vipassana, I understand that this thinking can lead to disappointment and ‘misery’ if it does not happen again. I loved JJ hugging me for a whole hour, I was able to be fully aware how wonderful it was, not only for me and my ego, but for us as a family growing together. I also understand that for me one of the big reasons I must find a way to keep up a daily practice is to help me keep a balanced mind. My goal as a parent is to love her as much when she decides to throw a pot of yogurt over me as I did when she hugged me for an hour.

Not easy, neither is Vipassana.

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