- By: Story Sorcha Ni Bhearain, photo Yingyong Un-Anongrak
- Published: 26/05/2009 at 12:00 AM
- Newspaper section: Outlook
A renowned Burmese meditation master explores how to have nothing and everything
So what do you get when you combine a Buddhist meditation master and a warrior code? Answer: Nothing and everything.
"To overcome loneliness, first learn to meditate, to live in the moment. Living like this, your mind becomes very peaceful, very calm, very strong. Mindfulness makes you very stong. You will develop inner strength."
Or, if you prefer, lots to think about.
Sayadaw U Jotika from Burma took an early dislike to an anonymous poem from around the 14th century that's best known as The Samurai's Creed, he told a packed audience at a recent dhamma talk in Bangkok. (Sayadaw is a Burmese honorific for a highly respected senior monk.)
But the verses' pared-down simplicity and unlikely-sounding combinations eventually wore down that resistance and grew to captivate the 62-year-old teacher, whose ideas are readily available in Burma on CDs, in books and even adorning the walls of the Lucky Seven Tea Shop in Rangoon.
More Thais and Westerners are also discovering the psychological insight and playful provocations of an adamantly independent thinker who cites love of knowledge _ or understanding _ as his main motivation for getting up in the morning.
Questions around how to live a good life and be a decent person come close second, along with the conundrum of how to combine a love of solitude with an intense desire to communicate.
The latter was a running theme in the Sayadaw's early book, Snow in the Summer, available in English and Thai from local publisher DMG Books.
Based on a collection of highly personal letters written from a remote monastery to Western friends, and first published more than 10 years ago, the book is a revealing and honest exploration of an intense inner life.
"Sometimes I am afraid when people read this book they will find out too much about me," the monk said with a smile in Bangkok.
Sayadaw U Jotika's next book in English and Thai will be a translation from the Burmese, My Mind is My Home, which explores a series of paradoxes around having nothing _ and everything.
He gave the Bangkok audience a preview of the ideas in a talk whose key points are briefly summarised here, though this short condensed sampling cannot do justice to the subtleties, elaborations and enjoyments that were part of the actual occasion.
The poem begins:
- I have no parents. I make heaven and earth my parents.
This means that it was not just your parents who created you. They could not do that on their own. It was the whole universe that gave birth to you, it was nature, and your karma.
When you think about these lines, it makes you feel connected to the whole universe, and that feeling is really amazing. It's a very wonderful feeling.
When I was meditating in the forest for long periods, without even books for company (the hardest thing for me), I was keeping my mind in the moment.
So the mind becomes almost empty and calm ... it expands ... it becomes free. You forget about yourself.
Suddenly I felt like I was connected with the whole universe. I was not living in the world, I was living in the universe, I felt connected to even the trees, birds, animals, everybody, the stars and moon.
That was a very powerful experience in my life.
These days people feel more and more isolated. They don't feel connected, maybe not even with family members. But when you get into this feeling of being connected to the whole universe, you don't feel lonely any more.
To overcome loneliness, first learn to meditate, to live in the moment. Living like this, your mind becomes very peaceful, very calm, very strong. Mindfulness makes you very strong. You will develop inner strength.
- I have no home. I make mindfulness my home.
When I first read these lines, I felt so happy. I felt this is true, so true.
If you are not mindful, what happens to your mind? Your mind just wanders around, it has no place to rest.
You may have a big house physically, but mentally you may be homeless.
When you practice mindfulness, if you keep practicing for long time diligently, you will come to the point that you know that you know. You know that you are seeing, you know that you are hearing, you know that you are talking.
And then thinking stops, and the mind is quiet, and though it is quiet, there is still this knowing.
It is called awareness of awareness, and at that point you feel a kind of energy and power.
I had a young student who practiced meditation for a few years before she came to me to tell me she had a special meditation experience, when she became aware that she was aware. At that moment, she said, "I felt that I had become a real human being."
And I replied, "Oh, this is something really wonderful, so beautiful also, to feel that you have become a full human being."
- I have no life and death. I make the tides of breathing my life and death.
You will understand this verse only if you meditate.
When you are really mindful you are not thinking any more. You can only think about the past and the future _ you can never think about the present.
The present is so short there is no time to think about it. The moment you think about the present you are already in the past.
When you meditate, you pay attention to breathing. First, you think about breathing in ... breathing out ... But as you continue you realise there are many smaller bits and pieces of awareness, of processes, going on.
So the more mindful you become, the shorter the present becomes. The more you see that whatever you pay attention to, it arises at that moment and it passes away immediately. It is very short, and that is life and death. Life and death is so short.
This verse is very profound. Only a mediator knows that death is very near, and only if you have experienced how every phenomenon occurs in this moment, arising and passing away, will you understand what this means.
- I have no divine power. I make honesty my divine power.
The best way to have anything you want in life is to get it in an honest way. First, to be honest with other people.
Yet sometimes we can be honest with others but dishonest with ourselves. Self-deception is very subtle, dangerous and hard to overcome.
You will really find out about self deception when you pay attention to your thoughts and feelings.
If we deceive anybody, including ourselves, we cannot make real progress in meditation. It is a big hindrance.
So when you really pay attention to your mind, and see how the mind works, what it is thinking and feeling, if we see "I am greedy," just see it. Don't try to justify it, just see the plain truth, "I am greedy."
If you are angry, look at your mind and see "I am angry." Don't try to justify it. Just observe the truth.
Then you can make real progress in your meditation practice and that leads to liberation.
To overcome anything first we must see it, we must pay full attention.
Attention itself is purifying. This is very powerful, you know.
- I have no friends. I make my mind my friend.
See how beautiful and how true it is. If your mind is not your friend, then I don't think you can have any friends. If you are your own enemy, how can you make friends with anybody else?
How can you make your mind your real friend? By practicing mindfulness. By really watching your mind, by really paying attention to what you are thinking, feeling, at any moment, throughout the day, you will see the truth about your mind, and only when you see the truth, gradually it will become purer, and it will become your friend.
- I have no enemy. I make carelessness my enemy.
When we really think of it, our real enemy is not out there, outside. It's inside, in not paying attention, not knowing.
The word "carelessness" has many synonyms. Heedlessness is one, the opposite of mindfulness. Forgetfulness is another.
Carelessness really degrades our life and degrades our mind. Mindfulness, awareness and attention upgrade and uplift the mind.
- I have no sword. I make absence of self my sword.
You know, ego always feels insecure. Ego is always trying to prove itself.
When people who practice vipassana meditation develop really good mindfulness, they see that there is only physical process and mental process going on.
There is only process; no person, no being, no ego. This is really difficult, but if you practice, you see for yourself.
And when you see for this yourself, you don't feel so afraid any more. Some people when they really develop vipassana inside, are not even afraid to die. They pass away very calmly, peacefully.
- 'Snow in the Summer' is published by DMG Books (www.dmgbooks.com) and is available in English and Thai at DMG Book Store, 22nd floor, Amarin Plaza, 496-502 Phloenchit Road. 'My Mind is My Home' will be published shortly in English and Thai by the same publisher.
- To listen to the full English language recording of Sayadaw U Jotika's talk, held at the Bodhgaya Hall at Amarin Plaza, download an MP3 file from littlebang.wordpress.com, which is also a great resource for Bangkok-based English speakers about events and discussions on Buddhism.
(http://www.bangkokpost.com/leisure/leisurescoop/17350/my-mind-is-my-home ကို ျပန္လည္ ကူးယူေဖာ္ျပပါသည္။)