The California Vipassana Center (more formally known as ” Dhamma Mahavana”, or “Great Forest of Buddhist Teachings”) is a large meditation center in the wooded near Fresno, in central California. It is the place where I did my first intensive meditation retreat (in 1994), and I have sat two more there since then (in 1996 and 2003). The CVC is also the place where many of my friends have done their first (and only) meditation retreats. “To do a Vipassana” is a phrase that I hear fairly often, and it means to do a ten-day retreat at the CVC, or one of it’s affiliated meditation centers.
Varanasi (formerly known as “Benares”) is situated along the banks of the Ganges river, in North India. According to Wikipedia, it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, older than most of the major world religions, and the oldest in India. Mark Twain apparently said, “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together”. Wikipedia also says that it is the holiest city in the Hindu and Jain religions, is the spiritual capital of India, and is often referred to as “the city of temples”, “the holy city of India”, “the religious capital of India”, “the city of lights”, “the city of learning”, and “the oldest living city on earth”.
I just spent a few weeks at Wat Ram Poeng, a temple two miles southwest of Chiang Mai that features an English-language meditation program. Perhaps it is less accurate to say that Wat Ram Poeng “features an English-language meditation program”, and it is more accurate to say that they provide space for foreigners to meditate. Almost all of what I did during my time there was meditate by myself, eight to fourteen hours a day, inside the simple, clean, comfortable, and pleasant little room they provided me with. I alternated sitting meditation, mostly on the bed, with equal lengths of time doing walking meditation, slowly pacing back and forth the length of the room.
After my retreat at Wat Pah Nanachat, I rode trains for a couple days to get to Wat Suan Mokkh International Meditation Hermitage, and sit a ten day meditation retreat there. Suan Mokkh is a meditation center located on the long narrow peninsula that extends from Bangkok south to Malaysia. Similarly to Wat Pah Nanachat and Ajahn Chah, the Suan Mokkh IMH was founded by one of the more famous twentieth century Thai Buddhist masters (in this case, Buddhadasa Bikkhu) as a place for Westerners who wanted to study with him but could not understand the language at his Thai-language monastery.
I just finished a two week stay at Wat Pah Nanachat monastery, here in Thailand. Quoting Wikipedia, Wat Pah Nanachat (spelled วัดป่านานาชาติ in Thai, and meaning “International Forest Monastery”) is situated in a small forest in north-east Thailand about ten miles outside of the city of Ubon Rachathani. The eminent Thai meditation master Ajahn Chah established the monastery in 1975 to serve as a training community for the many Europeans, Americans, and other non-Thais who were pursuing study with him along traditional Thai Forest monastic lines at his famous Thai-Wat Nong Pah Pong monastery. Wat Pah Nanachat’s monks, novices and postulants include a wide range of nationalities, but the primary language of communication and instruction is English.
Shinzen Young is one of my two top Buddhist teachers (along with the inimitable Gil Fronsdal). It was Shinzen’s vision of the Buddha Way that first got me interested in Buddhism in 1989 (!), and his teachings are still, to this day, the most compelling and resonant vision of the Dharma for me out of all that I have encountered.
In August 2005, I sat a ten day vipassana meditation intensive at the Tibetan Buddhist center Vajrapani, in the hills of Santa Cruz, with my teacher Gil Fronsdal. In the evening of the last of the ten days, all the meditators gathered by the center’s stupa (pictures above) for an acknowledgment ceremony that actually turned into something of a talent show. People sang songs and did some comedy, but mostly people recited impromtu poetry they had just composed about their days sitting in silence on the retreat. Today, I came across the poem I came up with that night, and wanted to share it here. For people who have been on sitting retreats, the experience may sound familiar.
So what is it to be a “true person”? One of the simplest definitions of what is “Truth” (and perhaps pointing to the “truth that will set you free”) is that we are being truthful when we do what we say and we say what we do. We can tell the truth at least to ourselves, and maybe even to others too. Living in truth, there is a harmony between our words and our actions. Buddhists would go one step further, and say that truth is expressed when there is a harmony between our “beingness”, what we really are, with what we say and what we do – in a sense, when they are the same.
Over the years, people have often asked me for recommendations for Buddhist meditation resources for beginners. Here is what I have been suggesting:
The cost of Spirit Rock’s programs are calibrated towards successful new-Prius-driving professionals with incomes from investments, and there is financial aid for, I guess, the non-profit changing-the-world-but-penniless and urban food stamps sets.
A straight up masterpiece. This book is filled with deep, true, authentic Buddhist wisdom, and yet is written in an easy, extraordinarily clear Americanized vernacular. It is a comprehensive introduction for mindfulness meditation practice, filled with clear instructions for the path. The book challenges the reader to go deep and to practice properly, but it also has a simple, patient, humorous, kind, smiling vibe to it. It covers a wide ground, and yet touches on each subject in depth.
Two weeks ago I returned from a ten-day meditation retreat that I did over New Year’s, from December 29th 1994 to January 8th 1995. Going there was like being a monk for two weeks. or like being in a non-violent prison. The schedule was to wake up at four am, sit in meditation for two hours, eat and rest, sit for three hours, eat lunch at eleven am, rest, sit meditation for four hours, eat fruit, sit for an hour, watch a video-tape discourse on Buddhist teaching and on the theory of meditation starring the head teacher guy from Burma, sit another half hour, optionally ask any questions we had for the assistant teachers (Americans), and then go to sleep, usually at around 9:15 pm.