Geriatrics and Right Livelihood

This week, Ryan and I brainstormed about our family “mission statement.” I find that it’s helpful to be very clear on what my values and goals are and to re-visit them frequently, to help me stay focused on what’s truly important. This helps me avoid getting sidetracked by things that seem valuable on the surface, but don’t actually help me stay aligned with my core values and goals.

Sharing love and light with the world is at the core of how we want to live our lives, and career, or livelihood, is one key area in which we want to manifest this mission. What does this mean for me as a geriatrician? In an obvious sense, it’s very important to me to interact lovingly and compassionately not only with my patients and their families, but also with the myriad members of the geriatrics care team–it takes a village: nurses, nurse-practitioners, doctors, certified nursing assistants, family caregivers, clerical and support staff, social workers, pharmacists, physical and occupational therapists, dieticians, chaplains, recreational therapists, podiatrists, janitors, medical subspecialists, administrators and more.

But in a bigger picture sense, I think about the meaning of the Dhamma concept of “right livelihood.” Right livelihood is the fifth fold of the eight-fold path taught by the Buddha. I struggle sometimes to reconcile the numerous problems in American healthcare with right livelihood. Is contributing as a clinician to a dysfunctional system with misguided paradigms right livelihood? Or should I be throwing all of my energies into changing the system and its underlying assumptions? Trying to take on both is challenging.

A Google search turned up the following:

Vipassana teacher S.N. Goenka said, “If the intention is to play a useful role in society in order to support oneself and to help others, then the work one does is right livelihood.”  [O’Brien, Barbara. “Right Livelihood: The Ethics of Earning a Living.” ThoughtCo, Sep. 1, 2017,]

Considered from the perspective of intention, both paths are in line with right livelihood, and staying focused on clinical practice is an absolutely acceptable option–clinicians are needed, even in the broken system. However, as a clinician, it is not acceptable for me to be a complicit cog in this economically driven medical system.  I have a duty to find ways to be the kind of clinician I want to be, to practice medicine I believe in. There are formidable barriers and constraints to doing this, but that is the useful role I can play in society.

“Work diligently. Diligently. Work patiently and persistently. Patiently and persistently. And you are bound to be successful. Bound to be successful.” –Goenkaji

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3+4 = 4+3? Meditation Timer Experiment Report

In ancient China, a person raised a monkey. He fed the monkey 4 nuts in the morning and 3 nuts in the evening. The monkey was sad and cried. So the person gave 3 nuts in the morning and 4 nuts in the evening, the monkey was happy. The person easily outsmarted the monkey with “3+4” and “4+3”.

At the first glance, this story showed the monkey was silly and did not know how to count. Going deeper, there is a possibility that the monkey had specific preference. Interestingly, I found I am like the monkey.

After the 10-day vipassana meditation course, I decided to practice two 1-hour meditation each day. For me, to mediate everyday is not very hard. As long as I schedule it on my calendar, I follow it pretty well. My challenge is to sit through the full hour.

At beginning, I arbitrarily thought too many “ding”-intervals over 1-hour mediation are distracting. Therefore, I set the timer to ding once at 15’; when it finished at 1 hour, a finishing bell rang; i.e. a 15’+45’ model. Pretty quickly I heard 15’, but when I was in the 45’ session, it was a little bit too long. I felt like it was endless and boring during the last 10 minutes in some day.

After 10 days of this model, I reset the timer to ding once at 45’; when it finished at 1 hour, a finishing bell rang; i.e. a 45’+15’ model. Amazingly, I felt much better. It did not take too long for me to hear the “Ding”; it was not too long to hear the finishing bell. It seems my monkey mind, like the monkey, loves this new 45’+15’ model.

This is my beginner’s experience on daily practice. How about you? Can you share your experience? What model does your mind follow?

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Dhamma Friends Ski Trip

This past weekend, we went on a ski trip with some friends in the Pocono Mountains, and it was so much fun!! Well, we didn’t end up skiing due to balmy temperatures and ongoing rain, but I’m still calling it a ski trip :).

There were 4 couples on the trip, including 5 serious meditators amongst 3 of the couples. It wasn’t conceived of as a “Dhamma” trip, per se, although the original basis of our friendship with two of the couples was through Dhamma, and we do still try to incorporate group sittings into our social plans when we can. Over the course of two days, we cooked, ate, talked, laughed, played board games, listened to music, played pool, cozied up around the fireplace, spent time in the hot tub, and even went for a 3 mile hike to a waterfall one morning before the rain came. Great bonding, for sure. A few of us had a conversation that eventually turned to Dhamma topics in the hot tub one night, and then decided to meditate together in the common area of our cabin before going to bed–joined by one non-meditator who expressed interest in quiet time, which was awesome–but other than that, Dhamma didn’t really get talked about much. Well, okay, there was one instance when we were discussing how early to get up the next morning for skiing/hiking, and someone made a quip about being the gong ringer, har har har….ahh, Dhamma humor :).

Even though we didn’t meditate together day and night, or spend a great deal of time talking explicitly about Dhamma in our lives, these kinds of experiences and friendships are so meaningful and valuable. There is a shared understanding that Dhamma is the foundation and compass in all of our lives, along with our lives being about so many other things beyond just Dhamma, and a shared goal of simply striving to live fulfilling and loving lives in a complex world.

“Continuity is the secret to success.” — Goenkaji

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From Christian Mysticism to Vipassana


I grew up in a family oriented to Christian Mysticism. My grandparents from both sides were very focused in that way, though they followed different teachers.  My mom’s mom was very influenced by Joel Goldsmith who became well known in the 50s60s and formed a group called the Infinite Way, this teaching rubbed off on me the most. Its focused on experiencing the teachings of Jesus through silence and contemplation.  Joel and the teachers that succeeded him would give talks, hold seminars and record them.  These recordings would be listened to and contemplated in silence.  My mom was also really influenced and I often heard the tapes and went with her to some seminars.

There was a lot of depth conveyed in the tone and words of the teachers, their experience of the kingdom of heaven within sounded a lot like what the Buddha might call the first Jhana where the 5 hindrances fall away giving way to luminosity and rapture.  Their experience of the New Testament would be related to metaphorically conveying a language describing spiritual depth and experience, not understood from literal interpretation. The goal was to realize the Christ mind within yourself and see yourself and the world through the Christ mind.

Though I was comforted listening to the talks, I didnt know how to experience what the teachers were talking about.  Theyd just say just stop thinking, go into the silence and see you on the other side.  The outer physical world was seen as an illusion including the body, sickness, lack, poverty, war, death and so forth.  They were products of the deluded mortal minds creation, split off from God. The thing to do was to train your mind to see past these illusions of the world and see as they truly are as Christ would see them.  It was a very different orientation to suffering than Buddhas teaching. Suffering was more to be looked past rather than to be entered into and be used as a catalyst for liberation. Also some people seemed mental about it, theyd try to talk the talk but it seemed like they were trying to talk themselves into it rather than talk from experience. It seemed disjointed from experience. I was fascinated yet I didnt know how to get inside and experience what the teachers were talking about.

When I found vipassana it was like a golden key to unlocking the inner world. The talks from the Christian tradition started to make more sense experientially.  When I started to develop samadhi, it came to mind, oh this must be what was meant by Christ mind, a Christ mind is a pure mind free from the defilements and this is what that feels like.  And when starting vipassana and feeling energy in the bodythe flow of energy was what was meant by Holy Spirit.  The presence of God could be translated as subtle pleasant sensations or the feeling of peace. But there had been little room for the experience of unpleasant sensations or unpleasant experiences in the Christian tradition, theyd say you need to change your way of thinking and align your mind with Christ mind.  There wasnt the concept of the deep-seated habit pattern of the mind to react to pleasant and unpleasant sensations with craving and aversion and the need to observe them with equanimity. It seemed like it was easy to get stuck in the head and removed from the body. There wasnt the concept of impermanence, you were either operating from the mortal mind or the Christ mind.

Coming from vipassana I can now look back and appreciate what was being taught and recognize some parallels. I feel so grateful now to have a tool with vipassana to develop experiential wisdom.









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Ryan’s Classroom

After only 54 minutes of meditation divided over 6 months of school, my high school student completed a survey, and the results are impressive. I’ve added a page to the toolbar of this blog sharing the progression of events that lead to meditation in my classroom called “Ryan’s Classroom.” If you have thoughts, ideas, or questions, let me know!

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One-degree Warmer

“Did you sense the air you breathed out was one degree warmer than the air you breathed in?”

On the 3rd day of a Vipassana mediation course, we focused on sensations of the tiny area between nostrils and upper lip. Theoretically, the air we breathe out is a little warmer, maybe only 1°F warmer, than the air we breathe in because our body temperature is always warmer. It should be easier to sense it in colder weather, but it is more difficult to sense it indoors or in normal or warmer weather.

It took me pretty much no time to physically sense a 1° warmer air. Interestingly, I realized that it is very easy to mentally notice if people add 1° of warmth to their voice, words or gestures in their interactions with other people.

1. Warmth in words in daily life

Lets me give an example:

Imagine you want to say yes when a colleague invites you to have lunch together tomorrow…

Your Colleague: Do you want to have lunch together?

You (can agree with slightly different answers)

  • Okay;
  • Yeah;
  • Yes.
  • Awesome! I will absolutely come.

Do you sense different warmth with the different answers? I have a colleague who often says, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” You certainly can sense the warmth.

2. Warmth in voices in daily life

This is also easy to understand in daily life. A company trained their employees to be 1° warmer in their voices for business. For instance, when you call them, they pick up the phone with a neutral or calm “Hello,” and after you tell them your name, the employees immediately add warmth in their voice with either smiles or use more excited voices. In this way, they make you feel that you are very welcomed.

3. Warmth in body languages in daily life/work

Warmth in body languages in daily life is very common. It is easy to sense temperature in comparing these two scenarios:

  • a person talks with you and reads his phone simultaneously;
  • the same person talks with you with a warm gaze into your eyes and his body slightly leans forward to you.

Warmth of body languages is even more important at work. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, brought up the idea “Lean In” to encourage women to lead more. In fact, “lean in” is a body language to show your participation, warmth and even passion.

Note, warmth is the vehicle of love and positivity

We all want to be positive people; however, this thought is like a New Year Resolutions, easier to say than to do. When I say I want to be healthier, it barely means anything most time. However, if I say I will run a 2K every morning in gym, it becomes easier. It’s easier to manage an idea if it’s connected to a concrete practice.

Similarly, it is very hard to “be positive” or “be with Metta” without any concrete practices. The easiest practice might be to add 1° of warmth in our words, voice and body languages. Or, just add 1° of frequency of the warmer words, voices and body languages. In other words, words or voice or body language are vehicles that we mindfully deliver the warmth and positivity.

My daily practice on “1° warmer”

After I understood this, I started my mindful daily practice on 1° of warmer.

  • When it is time to say “OK”, now I mindfully say “Yes”; when it is time to say “Yes”, now I say “Yes, yes” or “yes, absolutely”.
  • I started to add smiles into my voice more often, even when I’m on the phone.
  • When I listen to other people, I lean forward 1° to show my attention.

P.S. The first time I met people who practiced vipassana meditation at Dhamma Center, the most impressive thing to me is their eyes. Their eyes projected stable warmth, which radiated deeply to the soft spot in my heart. “I want those warm eyes.” My practice with meditation is always warmer by this simple goal.

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My Vipassana Catholicism

I come from a devout Catholic heritage and navigating my spiritual/religious identity over the years has been a rich and complex journey. One of the more interesting turns was my discovery a few years ago that my Vipassana meditation practice actually enabled me to understand, appreciate and connect with Catholicism in a whole new way.

Vipassana provided a bridge of sorts — the best way I can describe it is that the Catholic teaching I received throughout life seemed to impart clear directives about what values I should strive to embody, without providing concrete guidance about how to embody them. After learning Vipassana, I found that it was the missing link I didn’t even know I was lacking; the tool that illuminated for me how to embody these values. No matter how much I aspired to be a more loving and compassionate person before this, my efforts carried me only so far — my most earnest intentions were no match for my deepest rooted mental habit patterns. I inevitably reacted to potent age-old triggers in fractions of a second, beyond the reach of my conscious mind’s ability to control my emotions (and often, my words and behaviors). Think family dynamics. Through Vipassana, I have learned a technique to face the negativities within me, towards gradually weakening their grip on me at the deepest subconscious levels. I suspect that prayer the way it’s intended to be practiced more closely approximated Vipassana meditation once upon a time, but that the meditative and contemplative emphasis was lost to mainstream church teaching long ago.

Another way that Vipassana has deepened my connection to Catholicism is that scriptures, creeds, prayers, etc. have taken on entirely new and profound meanings as I find myself interpreting them through the lens of my Vipassana experiences. Sometimes it seems the teachings are alluding directly to Vipassana practice (or more accurately, its prayer equivalent). I’ll try to identify some examples to share in future blog posts. I find these parallels to be extremely exciting. They illuminate possibilities for people of various spiritual and faith traditions to converge with a shared basis in contemplative self-awareness. The journey continues.

“Start again.” — Goenkaji

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Effects of Music and Dance on Meditation

I went to a 5 Rhythms dance about 2 weeks after sitting a 10 day course.  The 5 rhythms is a free form dance style developed by Gabriel Roth which takes dancers through 5 distinct rhythms of flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness. These rhythms mirror the rhythms of nature and the seasons. It’s about a 2 hour dance and is likened to a meditation in motion, there is no rigid form to adhere to rather you let your body dance according to how it wants to move.  I first got introduced by some meditator friends I was serving with at the Massachusetts Center many years ago. Since, I’ve found a dance close to where I live now.

I have enjoyed these dances, they can be deep and profound in their own right. I’ve approached it from the place of being aware and equanimous as I move and allow whatever sensations, thoughts, and feelings to come and go without getting caught in them.  Our bodies need movement and this is a way to move get out of the head and synch the mind with the body. It’s also a nice way to be in community with others. Here in the US many people sit all day at work and then if you practice vipassana you also sit for 2 hours a day, some body centered movement is a good balance I think.  Also for someone who has never taken a 10 day course it can be a way inwards.

Dance and music are very stimulating to the mind and is a gross sensory input especially coming from a 10 day course, I usually wait awhile after a course before I’m ready for a dance.  It’s obvious why the 7th precept of abstaining from sensual entertainment is there for serious meditation because music and dance greatly stimulate the mind and dissipate the subtly of one pointed Samadhi needed for penetrating wisdom. But once I acclimate back to the world and am more active it’s not as big of a jump.

There’s music to fit every mood and emotion. We resonate with music which connects with our emotions. If we want to know what the conscious or unconscious mind has been generating or moods we are inclined towards music will tell us right away.  A challenge with music can be the lure to get completely into emotions without equanimity and get lost and swept away. Let’s say someone is angry and they are drawn to angry music and the music makes them angrier or can make that tendency to react with anger stronger.  The difference as a meditator is that we have learned to observe the sensations underlying emotions with equanimity and maintain wisdom about them.  Music can also be very inspiring and uplifting, it can foster our feelings of metta, generosity and good will towards others, it can help give context and meaning to our personal experiences, articulate what we may have found hard to articulate, connect us to experience we had found hard to connect to before or to something greater than ourselves.  At the same time there’s the wisdom that whatever is arising is impersonal changing phenomenon which does not belong to us but rather are conditions of mind arising and passing away.

When I meditate in the evening after a dance I feel a buzzy flow of energy in the body, there may or may not be emotions that accompany that.  The mind isn’t fixated on particular thoughts as much, thought impressions are moving more quickly, one pointedness samadhi is less. It can make meditation less subtle, less still and peaceful.  More absorption into the sensual realm and less into the sublime. It is a trade off temporally but it’s also anicca. On the other hand the body is benefited- strength, dexterity and coordination is enhanced.  The sitting posture is benefited. The body and mind feel in better communication and there can be a freeing of mental and emotional material and a clearing of the mind.

When we are back in our daily lives in the world we strive to find balance and integration with our meditation practice. For me dance has been one balancing support in this process.


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“Don’t use your meditation practice to harm yourself, only use it to help yourself.”

Do you know about Dr. Paul Fleischman’s recent Old Student talks? The title of this blog post is a quote from one such talk, available for streaming audio or download by old students on the website

You can link to the talks here.

I am not always 100% successful at accomplishing my twice daily 1-hour sittings, and Dr. Fleischman’s perspectives are immensely helpful to remember not to beat myself up whenever I fall short of the goals I set for myself. It’s all about one’s dhamma volition.

Description of the talk, from Pariyatti:

Dr. Paul R. Fleischman talks specifically with Old Students highlighting the theme, “Don’t use your meditation practice to harm yourself, only use it to help yourself.” These two talks, recorded in San Francisco and Dhamma Kuñja, will inspire and help old-students who are working towards creating a daily practice in the throes of modern life.

Here are a couple of comments/reviews about the talk from other old students on the Pariyatti website:

simple and inspirational

This talk by Dr. Paul is a must for every individual who has ever taken a course of Vipassana. We all falter on the path and get confused – I found Dr. Paul’s simple approach and reassuring words to be very inspiring. Have listened to this talk numerous times and I recommend it to everyone.

Reviewed by: Nishant from West New York. on 11/11/2016

Supportive and encouraging

An assistant teacher just recommended this talk to me when I told her that I was trying to restart my practice after stopped when I had a baby 2 years ago. I feel so grateful and supported after listening to the San Francisco talk. The knowledge that so many other meditators deal with the same challenges to maintaini a practice is relieving, and Dr. Fleischman’s advice to help with those challenges is very encouraging. It’s okay that our minds wander! I could instantly relate to his question to the audience asking whether anyone had sat for an hour and realised at the end that they had forgotten to meditate for that whole hour, without observing any breath or feeling any sensations… two days ago I repeatedly tried to feel sensations from the top of my head and I kept forgetting what I was doing before I finished my scalp – I never made it to my forehead! I admit that I gave up after 15 very long minutes. I now I have added strength and volition to persist next time, smilingly. I’ve been reminded that we get benefit from each attempt, as long as our intention is there. Much thanks to Dr. Fleischman for helping me to set priorities and realistic expectations.

Reviewed by: Lara from Toronto. on 10/3/2016

Give these talks a listen, if you haven’t already. I hope that you will find them as helpful as I have.

“Start again.” — Goenkaji

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Success vs. Love

One reason I believe daily meditation is hard is because it’s not simply about setting aside time in your busy day to sit. It’s about actively shifting the way you live your life. For decades, most of us have been taught to measure the quality of our lives by our successes and failures. This implies that we can write a list of the things we’ve accomplished, like a resume, and that we never write down our failures because that would be a knock to our reputation. We haven’t been trained to be honest and authentic; We’ve been trained to create the perception of a perfect life.

Meditation immediately eats away at this training. Every time we sit, we face our weaknesses and shortcomings. Every time we sit we’re challenged to reflect on our imaginary list of failures and accept that each item on the list as a part of who we are. Instead of trying to glorify our strengths and cover up our weaknesses, meditation encourages us to accept, embrace, and love everything about me.

This acceptance of oneself and each other is so rich that the last day of a 10-day course has a natural high, but what about after you leave the Center? Most of the people in our communities are living by the old rules of glorifying strengths and diminishing weaknesses, so if I present my weaknesses, I will probably get trampled. In order to live the life of dhamma, we not only need to follow these new rules of unconditional love, but we need to convince the people in our lives to embrace these new rules too so they don’t trample us while we’re trying to change. Everyone would agree that the world would be a better place if we all lived with unconditional love, but it’s very difficult to love while being attacked or put down. To start shifting the tides of the world, we need leaders who are strong enough to do just that. Meditation and meditation communities can help. Time to meditate.

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Vipasssana Mediation vs “USS Callister” Episode of Black Mirror

“USS Callister” is the 1st episode of the fourth season of the Netflix TV show Black Mirror which debuted on 29 December 2017.

The episode follows Robert Daly, a reclusive but gifted programmer of a popular online game who is bitter over the lack of recognition he gets from his coworkers. He takes out his frustrations by simulating a Star Trek-like space adventure within the game, using his co-workers’ DNA to create digital clones of them. Acting as the captain of the USS Callister starship, Daly is able to order his co-workers around, submit them to his will, and mistreat them if they get out of line. When Daly brings newly hired Nanette Cole into his game, she encourages the other copies to revolt against Daly. (referenced from wiki)


Walking into the room and sitting on a chair, Daly was starting to game by merging into his own Star trek-like space adventure gaming world… He is a god-like controller of other people in this world: control and suppress all of the people in the spaceship by mistreating them; control and suppress everyone’s behaviors with fear; control and suppress all these people by mistreating them; … He believes “controlling and suppressing” is the way to happiness. 


Walking into the room and sitting on a cushion, I was starting to meditate and merging into my own Vipasssana meditation world… I am an observer of my own sensations in this world: observe sensation of a blood vessel jumping under the eyelid; observe sensation of itching on the lower neck; observe sensation of pain on the right shoulder; observe sensation of growing pain on the knees; observe sensation of temperature on both toes; …observe sensation of the disappearing of itching on the lower neck; … I believe “observing sensations and finding equanimity” is the way to happiness.


In the USS Callister gaming world, Daly believed that “controlling and suppressing” is the action for liberation; fear is powerful. However,people being suppressed revolt against Daly; suppression is not the way to liberation.

In the Vipasssana meditation world, we believed that reaction is not the action; love and compassion are powerful. All sensations are equanimous and serve us to get out of suffering; Dhamma is the way to liberation.

Maybe nobody agrees with me to compare Vipassana meditation to the USS Callister game. It is funny that I found that behavior-wise, we do similar things; mentally, we are opposite. 

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Is This the Path?

When my practice starts to feel stale, or rote, or like a chore, it’s time to ask myself again—is this the path I want to walk? I need to dig deep and remind myself why my Vipassana meditation practice is so important to me, to tap into the inspiration I need to continue devoting 2 hours a day to meditating.

I need to remind myself that my most fundamental goal in this life is to be the most loving person I can be. After I remind myself of that, it’s pretty simple. My next thought is, oh yeah, duh—my Vipassana meditation practice is the best way I know how to pursue that goal. This thought process actually helped me a great deal yesterday morning when I didn’t feel like sitting, and I wanted to move on with my day after getting up a little late. I recognized in that instant just how at odds my impatience was with my desire to be loving. I realized that if I want to be loving, it would behoove me to start my day by connecting with my deepest intentions and cultivating my awareness and equanimity. And moreover, if my utmost goal is to be loving, what could be more important on my to do list than…pursuing being loving?? (again— duh)

Beyond the abstract goal of being the most loving person I can be, I remind myself that I am committed to figuring out how to build a successful dhamma household with Ryan as the foundation for our lives and relationship. We want to find others who share this goal, so we can all reaffirm and support each other in walking the dhamma path in this complex world. This is how I want to bring light into the world.

“Start again.” — Goenkaji

Have a great day!

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Community Building Through Insight Timer

Insight Timer is a great free app used by over 3,000,000 meditators. The app supports many different traditions by giving access to many different teachers and their teachings. I use the app because it allows me to log my daily meditations and connect to nearly 20,000 other Vipassana meditators trained by SN Goenka. I’m currently attempting to use the app to connect with other Goenka meditators in my region through a group called Goenka Vipassana Meditators near Dhamma Delaware. Even if it doesn’t work, the app helps me get to the cushion each day which is the most important goal. Maybe it can help you too. Time to meditate.

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Wings of Desire-a Great Dhamma Movie

Wings of Desire

There’s a great Dhamma movie called Wings of Desire that I highly recommend, it came out in 1987.   After finishing Peace Corps Sri Lanka in 1996 and sitting and serving  in India and Nepal, I came back to Sri Lanka to settle at a meditation center near Kandy.  I followed a daily schedule that included a lot of meditation. I befriended an Israeli meditator and we took a break to travel to Colombo. While there he took me to a German Cultural Center and said you got to see this movie because it had a lot of profound Dhamma meaning.  So I sat in a booth with some headphones to watch a German movie with English subtitles, the first movie I’d seen in quite awhile.

It’s filmed in Black and White, set in Berlin before the fall of the Berlin Wall.  There was something about that setting symbolic of human oppression.  The black and white background portrayed the dreamlke world as seen by angels and the somber mood of people trying to get by.  Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander)  are angels who watch over the city of Berlin, they travel through the city, listening to peoples thoughts and dreams, watching their actions and comforting those in distress. They make their presence known in subtle ways and usually only small children and other angels can see them.  They spend their days serenely observing, unable to physically interact  but through presence, help to comfort and lift up suffering people. While observing a beautiful female trapeze artist, Damiel falls in love and chooses to give up his immortality to become human and go through all the things humans go through to be with her. Once he switches over to being human, the film turns to color. It’s a masterpiece of poetry, cinematography and music. Here’s a couple links from two beautiful opening scenes,,  There was a sequel to it in 1993 called  So Close So Far Away.

I think it especially struck a deep vein because I strongly related to the angels.  I’d been removed from the 10,000 things of the world and deep in meditation. The meditative concentration and equanimity felt like experiencing all the stuff in my mind and witnessing the world through the eyes of an angel, through a lens of detachment and compassion.  Before vipassana angels seemed far away.  Here I was living removed from having to get up to go to work, pay bills, wasn’t married, didn’t have many external needs, worries or responsibilities, my life in the US felt faded. When I’d go to Kandy or Colombo, it really felt like descending into the rougher daily grind of human existence and witnessing that suffering from the outside.  At the same time I was probing deep into my own humanity and facing the existential suffering that I brought into this life, the concentration and equanimity was kind of like having an angel there all the time to witness it. I was also nearing a cross roads of deciding on whether to continue or return home to the US. There was some fear with coming back of losing that connection and getting caught up in the grind.  I could relate with the angel deciding whether to stay or go.

The movie had a lot of symbolic meaning and shed light on the suffering people go can through and the experience of isolation and separateness that can sometimes come with the human experience. Also from a Dhamma perspective I was thinking is that guy out of his mind to get back into potential endless Samsara? Does he know what he’s getting into?  Likewise I was thinking am I out of my mind to consider going back?  I think of the Sutra about if you could collect all the tears one has shed over endless Samsara it would fill the 4 oceans, and likewise with all the blood shed. After I returned to the US I realized that coming out of Samsara rests more within myself and how I relate to my mind, it’s less on where I live.  Wherever I go I carry the same mind with me to either liberate or to increase bondage.  The choice is always mine, the angels never go away,  it’s only the mind that connects or disconnects from heaven.



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How Do We Live Loving Lives?

Since the first talk to my high school classes titled Are We Living Loving Lives? was well received, I gave a second talk that linked meditation to a life centered on truth and love. You can see the presentation slides here if you’re interested. I now have around 60 high school juniors choosing to meditate for 3 minutes before each class. I’m curious to see how many students stick with it and if they notice meditation having a positive impact on their lives.

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These books gave me insights to sign up for a 10-day Vipassana meditation

Solid evidences from neuroscience support that meditation not only reduces stress, but also changes the brain; i.e. meditators had more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision-making. According to Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School who studied  mediation, 8-week of 40 minutes of daily mediation practice can change the brain. She suggested finding a good teacher for mediation if you are serious on it.

However, knowing these scientific evidence is not enough to motivate me to be serious with mediation. Interestingly, several books I read in 2017 gave me significant insights, directly or indirectly, to sign up the 10-day Vipassana meditation (Dec. 20-31, 2017).

1. The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s Perfection (published in 2015).

This is a non-fiction book by Michael Singer.  It is rare because it is an autobiography-like book related to his life experience of meditation.

To shut down the noise-like talking in his mind, the author started meditation practice in his 20’s. He even got up at 3am to practice. During 1.5 years, to achieve the best meditation result, he only ate a salad every other day to avoid distraction from food. He described in detail one of his deep mediation experiences in nature during a hiking activity. He described deep meditation is “Absolute silence” and total no “I”. “Eventually, all consciousness of my body and my surroundings was gone. I was not there, only the flow was there.”

The meditation helps him find the voice of his true self. Later on, he incorporates his mediation in his daily life (the most amazing part!) and volunteered to teach meditation in prison for over 30 years. For meditation, he built a Temple of Universe, a 900-acre meditation center in Gainesville, FL.

Fascinated by his description of his meditation experiences, Similar to him, I really want to shut down those “I” or “my” voices in my mind. I am eager to experience of “absolute silence” .

2. The Razor’s Edge (published in 1944).

This is a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, the famous novelist who wrote The Moon and Sixpence.  The book tells the story of Larry Darrell, an American pilot traumatized by his experiences in World War I,  who sets off in search of some transcendent meaning in his life. The book described Larry’s deep meditation experience.

3. Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work (published in 2017)

The authors of this non-fiction book, Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal, spent 4 years investigating high performance. The book described the “flow” state, which a 10-day Vipassana meditation can lead to, which often shows up in the 7th or 8th day in the 10-day practice. (It is very interesting that I started to experience it on the 7th day of practice in my 10-day vipassana mediation.)

All these books directed me to sign up the serious 10-day vipassana mediation. I wish S.N. Goneka had an autobiography like “The Surrender Experiment”. In particular, Goenka is a poet. His lectures have a beautiful rhythm. I am curious what big masters like Goenka experienced during deep meditation.

As a life-long learner, I questioned myself regarding whether I did the right learning before. I wonder how these deep mediators experienced and how they achieved calmness and reached “flow” state. I would like to gain first-hand experience of how mediation can impact on my own mind.

p.s. It is interesting that Vipassana mediation did not emphasize deep mediation at all. “Everything is changing (Anicca)”.

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Re-establishing my daily practice

I am now several weeks into re-establishing my consistent practice of meditating 2 hours a day. Mostly, this was a personal decision motivated by my desire to re-center myself in Dhamma, but there is a bit of added motivation in the form of guidelines that old students accepted to sit a Satipatthana Sutta course should be trying to maintain a daily practice — I have registered to attend my first Satipatthana course this year.

So, how is it going, now several weeks in? It’s going well, actually. It is very grounding to structure my day around my twice daily sittings, and it has led to other improvements in my life as well. For example, the evening routine is to meditate, exercise and cook dinner — not always in that order, but these activities have now become linked in my mind, and therefore more automatic (cooking and exercise didn’t used to happen consistently, either, lol). But the bigger difference is that I am successfully feeling more anchored in Dhamma. As a result of consistent practice, I am more able to calm my mind, observe sensations and experience some degree of panna. I find myself having valuable insights about myself and about how to better navigate life’s challenges with wisdom. Some days are better than others, but continuity has provided positive reinforcement to keep going. Also, on days when it’s difficult to sit, I have been calling to mind a quip from an old student on the Insight Timer Vipassana group— “the only bad sitting is the one that you miss!” I draw support from knowing there are other people out there committing themselves to the same challenge each day. After a few years of inconsistent practice, it feels good to finally be in a place that I am able to do this.

“Start again.” — Goenkaji

Have a great day!

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My Humble Authentic Voice

Goenka’s stories and discourses are so good that for years I found myself using his language and sharing his stories in casual conversation as if they were my own. Vipassana was so novel and different from anything I had ever experienced that I hadn’t developed the necessary language to articulate my personal thoughts and feelings so I automatically borrowed Goenka’s language. I also adopted the belief that by meditating 2 hours a day and surrendering to dhamma, all of the problems in my life would go away. In practice, this didn’t turn out to be true.

There is no doubt that meditation brought tremendous benefit to my life. I was able to release strong feelings of anger, frustrations, and blame that were holding me back, but once I released the negative emotions, meditation didn’t give me a plan to move forward. I kept surrendering and being patient until I realized that I was in a new rut. My physical health had deteriorated and my financial stability was questionable. I had focussed so much energy on internal growth that I had been neglecting my external growth. Meditation had helped me clear out the emotional rubbish inside but it didn’t determine my destination outside. I needed to actively look out into the cleared meadow and set a course.

Part of this journey has been reconnecting to my pre-Vipassana wisdom and discovering how to integrate the lessons from Goenka and Vipassana into that framework. I needed to discover from my own experience where Vipassana could contribute to my life, and where I needed to keep working from my previous knowledge set. Instead of simply parroting Goenka’s language and stories, I needed to find my authentic voice and personal truth by creating my own language and stories. While my opinions may not resonate with the depth of truth of Goenka’s words, it’s my humble authenticity that people in my life can trust. Time to meditate.


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Away with snarkiness

I’ve been thinking about a comment on a blog I came across recently (okay, it’s Rivers Cuomo’s website…see my last post, lol :). Anyway, the comment was in response to a post by Cuomo about the benefits of Vipassana meditation in his life.

Inexplicably, the commenter felt the need to suggest his own meditation practice to Cuomo instead of Vipassana. He promoted his practice as “neutral” rather than life improving, in contrast to Vipassana, and stated that Vipassana meditation and eliminating undesired negative emotions “will make you flat rather than happy because there is nothing to contrast the happiness with.”

I felt annoyed and found myself wanting to add my own comment saying, “News flash–Vipassana meditation is precisely about life improvement, through equanimity and panna. It’s kind of the point. We aren’t interested in ‘neutral’ practice, whatever that means. And no, it doesn’t make you ‘flat.'” In the next instant, I caught myself and called out my own snarkiness (phew! my practice is working!). I tried to send that guy some metta instead. I’m glad he is meditating in a way that makes sense to him, and was probably just trying to be helpful in his own way.

But his comment did get me thinking about the uniqueness of our practice and why we practice Vipassana meditation rather than something else. In a nutshell, I would say that I practice Vipassana to be a more loving person, and more specifically, to cultivate my capacity for unconditional love and compassion. I feel that it is necessary to work with my deep-rooted mental habit patterns to do this.

Why do you meditate? To achieve liberation? To de-stress? To find deeper meaning in life? Any brave souls willing to give it a go in the comments? Perhaps sharing our perspectives can help inspire our collective daily practice. Have a great day!

“Continuity is the secret to success.”  — Goenka


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A Missed Opportunity?

As the mindfulness movement grows, I wonder if the Goenka organization is missing an opportunity to lead. While focusing on preserving Goenka’s teachings and enforcing the 2 hour a day minimum, teachers from other traditions have shown that as little as 3, 5, or 10 minutes of meditation a day can make a positive change in a person’s life. Many of these mindfulness programs lack the depth of understanding of Dhamma that Goenka presented, but it seems that 2 hours a day is not the minimum to see the benefits of meditation. I wonder if the Goenka organization is missing an opportunity to lead the mindfulness movement because they’re holding on to this regulation to tightly.

The key to growing in Dhamma is to incorporate meditation and mindfulness more and more into your daily life. If you’re currently meditating zero minutes a day and start meditating 3 minutes a day, this is progress in the right direction! You can build upon this positive growth, and maybe eventually you will be meditating 2 hours a day. Unfortunately, I believe many new old students hear the 2 hour minimum, try to make a dramatic shift in their life right away, fail, then leave the practice completely. This is sad and unfortunate.

I wonder if Goenka realized this towards the end of his life causing him to make the Anapana video. While the video is okay, I think we could do a much better job teaching and supporting people who aren’t ready to sit a 10-day course or 2 hours a day. Instead of focusing on empower every individual to seek liberation independently, I think we can build a community of meditators that will support each other in their daily meditations regardless of where they are on the path. If we join the mindfulness movement and the general conversation about meditation, we may connect more people with pure dhamma than by protecting the teaching through isolation. Goenka succeeded at spreading his message around the world, but he is no longer here. Who will be the next set of leaders that carry his message forward? Time to meditate.

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I found myself Googling Rivers Cuomo, the Weezer guitarist, last night after a friend recently mentioned that he is a serious Goenka Vipassana meditator. I knew that at one point, but had forgotten.

Let me just say that after visiting his personal website, I am extremely humbled and inspired by him as a meditator. The first section/tab of the site is called “Dhamma” — ie the Dhamma part of his life isn’t hidden away somewhere in an obscure part of his bio. It’s the first and most prominent tab. Pretty neat. I further discovered that he has sat and served numerous 10-day courses, and even a handful of 30 and 45 day courses. He is also a father of two, and perhaps most impressively, one post mentioned that he sits 2 hours a day very consistently, missing his sits only the day he was in a serious bus accident in 2009 (not sure how up to date this is, but still).

In conclusion, I was inspired. I sat this morning with a little more resolution than usual. We can do this–live courageously as Vipassana meditators in this complex, modern, world, that is.

And I’m listening to Weezer as I stand here typing this post and drinking my coffee in my kitchen, ha! Have a great day!

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Love and Truth in My High School Classroom

With mass shootings and teen suicide on the rise, there is a need to discuss what is important in life, and what is not. Most of us are running around trying to accomplish short term goals not realizing that our efforts are leading us towards an undesirable destination harming ourselves and others along the way. In an effort to discuss these issues in my high school classroom, I challenged my students to evaluate 2 opposing sets of goals.

Set 1 vs. Set 2
Get a great job vs. Work hard to find a job where you can help society.
Get good grades vs. Measure your skills and growth to learn how best to serve.
Make lots of money vs. Make what you need, then share.
Fall in love and live happily ever after vs. Find a partner to share the up and down journey of life.
Build a resume vs. Find opportunities to contribute to your community.
Be the best at what you do vs. Accept and love who you are.
Stand up for your perspective vs. Listen and learn from people with different perspectives.
A message that was originally shared with just 23 students has now reached the ears of all 750 students in my high school as well as the faculty, administration, and parents. Here is the video based on my students presentation:
Time to meditate.
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Purpose in Life

I’m at a juncture in my life, re-evaluating my career direction. At a deeper level, I am really re-examining the question what is my fundamental purpose in life?

The instinctive rote answer, the one I long ago arrived at, is that my life is about “being the most loving person I can be.”

But what does this mean, concretely? And how is it that I have been living a life so disconnected from my purpose as I defined it long ago? “Being the most loving person I can be” was little more than an afterthought over the past several months, during which I was mostly caught up in my work, and stressed.

My meditation practice became less and less consistent, more and more perfunctory, optional and expendable, when I should have been prioritizing and protecting it. This, despite my fondness of the following quote:

“Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed.” – Saint Francis de Sales (or Zen proverb?? the internet can’t decide)

In searching for clarity about my purpose in life, I know that my meditation practice is key. I can’t arrive at the answers purely intellectually. It’s tough to explain why meditation is key…I’d like to be able to explain this more articulately at some point, but for now, I’ll just say that meditation connects me with myself and with my truth. I know that I need to firmly re-establish and prioritize my daily practice and that the answers and the wisdom will come. I’ve made some bold decisions and am giving myself the space to do this. Have a great day!

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People Can Change

Vipassana has a special message to share with the world; People can change. Youthful optimism transforms into frustration, stubbornness, and pessimism with age as individuals repeatedly run into the same barriers in their efforts to make the world a better place. The expectation that everyone is acting according to their own volition has created the belief that some people want to be mean, disruptive, and disrespectful. As meditators, we know that most human actions are reactions to the conditioned subconscious mind. No matter how badly we want to change our relationships and experiences, we will remain stuck until we learn how to unpack the subconscious mind.

Vipassana is the secret weapon for change. Through meditation people discover that below the hardened surface, everyone is full of peaceful, joyful, unconditional love. Every negative action a person performs is simply their mind being overpowered by mental impurities. The individual doesn’t even know that their negativity is rooted within their own mind and not in the world around them. We need to discover how to spread this message beyond those ready to sit a 10 day course. This simple realization can greatly reduce the tension and animosity felt around the world. Any ideas? Time to meditate.

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I Believe

Dreams are a funny thing. When I believe my dreams are possible, I’m willing to sacrifice everything and work tirelessly to achieve them. When I submit to the struggles of life, I escape the difficulties through sensual pleasures and surrender to long term failure. Over the last few years I’ve been waiting for someone to lead me to a better place. In this crazy world, I’ve been searching for someone with great courage, strength, and intelligence to guide us all to a more compassionate, sophisticated, and civil world. I’ve been waiting because I haven’t had the gumption to stand up as a leader myself.

I’m sure there are tremendous leaders out there, but I haven’t found one in my spheres that has bigger dreams or more comprehensive ideas than me. While it would be so much easier to follow and support someone else’s vision of the future, in order to pursue my big dreams, I need to be willing to lead. Maybe I’m naive, and maybe I’ll fall short, but I’m always at my best when I’m shooting for the moon. It’s time to organize my thoughts, synthesize my ideas, and share my vision with the world. Hopefully I can sustain my optimism long enough to follow through on this intention. Time to meditate.

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Social Creatures

Meditating daily is great, but it’s not enough to be a healthy human being. SN Goenka made an amazing contribution to our planet by helping to spread the practice of Vipassana around the world, but after your 10-day course you’re essentially on your own, and this practice is too demanding for most of us to sustain it in isolation. I also appreciate the benchmark of sitting 2 hours a day to attend long courses, but this is not the minimum necessary to benefit from meditation. Most people are so disconnected from their inner reality, that any daily effort to slow the mind will help redirect them down a healthy path. Many meditation apps are showing that 5 to 10 minutes a day can make a big difference in a persons life. I’m not trying to contaminate the practice or lower the standard. I simply want to explore strategies to help more people achieve this high bar over time.

Finding social support is a critical part of most individual’s journeys. In order to find social support, you must be willing to share your experiences and understanding with the people in your life. Most of us are beginners and should refrain from speaking as teachers, but sharing your personal struggles and growths can be extremely helpful for everyone involved. I’m amazed at how similar everyone’s struggles are to integrate this practice into their lives. By talking about our experiences we develop a deeper understanding of dhamma and we improve our ability to communicate these very complicated experiences.

I believe that most new students give up because they can’t find the social support needed to walk this demanding path. While it’s possible to walk this path alone, that doesn’t mean we have to. If we all work together to maintain our motivation, we may be able to change the culture of an entire community, but this can’t happen if we isolate ourselves. Let’s talk and work together so we can make the world a better place. Time to meditate.

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Seeking Dhamma Wisdom

by Anonymous

I’ve been around awhile – growing older and more comfortable with the process of living. I’m still unsure of exactly who I am but as I sit Vipassana courses I realize my uncertainties are less important than my ability to forget about the ‘me’ and focus on breath or sensation.   So twice each day I make that attempt to rise above the internal and, may I say, incessant, chatter. Does it get easier as I grow older?  Not really!

Since my retirement I’ve immersed myself in Dhamma:  I live next door to a Dhamma center; I sit a long course every year; I join in sitting with the students on courses numerous times each week; I volunteer at the center.   And it is still a challenge to quiet the mind every day. So I do the best I can for that hour because the years have taught me that those two hours each day are the most important part of my life.  How else would I be able to teach my ego-centered mind to feel love for others. Not just kindness but a wellspring of love.   I have a child so I have felt unconditional love. But after sitting a Vipassana course I even felt love for the guy who cut in front of me on the drive home.  Gone were the harsh words or thoughts. I understand his rush isn’t personal. He doesn’t know me!  He’s just a guy caught up in the fast lane. He isn’t driving home from a life-changing Vipassana course!

I’ve definitely found my path. No reason to stray. I still get angry, sad; still say the wrong things and feel stupid afterward. But I now have a way to sit down and let go of all that and maybe even have a spark of equanimity arise.  Be happy 🙏🏼

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Jamie Metzler


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



Forest monk 3

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.

Forest monk2

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, (,  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 ( ) 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.

Forest monk 4

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.

Forest monk1


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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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