Wednesday, January 11, 2012


On a couple of the days when I was at Bhavana I had a real need to communicate, so I scribbled on the backs of whatever paper I could find. That satisfied the need, but I thought I'd put them here anyway.

Undated, but the first one:

A-NEE-cha. Perhaps the most important Pali word those following the Buddhist path need to know. This trip to Bhavana could not have illustrated the meaning better. Summer's dense greenery has turned to winter's bare branches, a thick bed of brown leaves and lots of downed trees.

Roughly translated, Anicca means 'impermanence', yet according to Bhante G it means a great deal more than that. Like so many words from ancient languages, there is no clear English word that conveys the full meaning, so 'impermanence' has to do. He suggests we learn the word and use it, to benefit from its full meaning. Does my English-fed mind truly understand the Pali nuances? It's not a question I can answer, but I can tell you that when I contemplate 'anicca' (a word I learned 7 years ago at my first retreat) in my meditation, I do seem to feel a tad different than when I contemplate 'impermanence.'

We contemplate anicca, or impermanence, because the entirety of the Buddha's teaching can pretty much be boiled down to this word. He taught that the cause of all suffering is greed, or its opposite, aversion. And yet, since everything in this world -- this universe -- is impermanent, we can never find happiness, or freedom from suffering, from grasping and trying to hold onto pleasant feelings, perceptions, ideas and circumstances, or from angrily pushing away or against feelings, perceptions, ideas and circumstances that we find less appealing. It just doesn't happen. That shiny new car, or that new love in your life, satisfy a greed or desire, but only temporarily. Once the newness of either wears away, we're mostly off to some new object or idea to 'make us happy.'

Everything changes.  The oceans, rivers,mountains and trees -- even the stars in the sky -- are constantly changing. And so, my friend, are you. Does your body look the same in the mirror as it did 20 or 40 years ago? One year ago? We age. We mature, hopefully. Our body loses old cells by the millions daily, replaces them with new. We have ways of making us live longer, but death and aging are inevitable.

Our ideas change, too.  When we look closely at the feelings of body and mind we see constant change. Things arise, they pass away. Nothing stays the same. Yet, we grasp at objects, people, ideas for happiness, even though it's impossible for that object, person or idea to remain constant.

So, we're back to anicca. We contemplate everything as impermanent, unable to give us lasting happiness. Along with that we realize that these feelings or desires are not 'ours', since we cannot control them or hold on to them. They are mere products of the mind, which with close attention we can watch arise and pass away, arise and pass away. Regarded as impermanent, we cannot grab hold and develop attachment, cause suffering. And that, to answer many questions, is a good part of 'what do you do up there?". Anicca, anicca, anicca.

Christmas Day:

I have just arrived at my own personal version of 'Bhavana heaven'.  Well, maybe not quite, but certainly so in its own way.  How? I moved out of the crowded, noisy dorm (8 women in 4 small rooms) into a Kuti hut of my very own. Karuna is its name, and it's really quite lovely. As I write this I'm sitting in filtered sunshine on my nice screened deck, looking out at the woods. Peaceful. Quiet. Outdoors.

As you can see [from previously published photos] it has its own meditation cushion and I expect to put this to use for the afternoon sits (2-5:30pm with a 1/2 hour break). I find these difficult, but it should be easier here. Maybe. I like to think so, anyway.

I've been thinking of this for a few days, since the weather hasn't been forbidding, then last night I got a new roommate, who flipped on the lights 3 times while I was trying to sleep (and another in another room who snored, loudly). The decision was made. The move is accomplished. I'm a happy camper. Or, happy Buddhist camper.

One of our new arrivals (for the 2nd half of the year-end retreat) brought lunch dana, or offerings, for us today. Not only did that get me out of my lunch prep in the kitchen (which I love!), we got a scrumptious meal. Some kind of bean soup, roasted brussels sprouts (yummy), sauteed mushrooms, biscuits, brie cheese, fabulous guacamole, some kind of European pastry and fresh raspberries. What's not to like about that? Don't get me wrong, food here is always plentiful, varied and delicious, but when someone offers dana they tend to bring their best shot, and it's a bit more luxurious than the Bhavana budget (or my budget!) tends to allow. We have Sri Lankan dana on our last day, January 1st, and I know from experience just how wonderful that can be.

The three of us who stayed over from the first half of the retreat had a grand old time yesterday. Meditation? Forget it. Silence? Forget it. We talked, laughed, got downright giddy and silly. A break for the body and the mind. -- and friendships forged.

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