The Buddhist magazine Tricycle published on its website today a blog article that Meditation Circle co-founder Douglas John Imbrogno wrote 20 years ago, about being on retreat led by Bhavana Society co-founder Bhante Gunaratana right days after 9-11:
“An airplane buzzes across the sky as we sit in strange silence. The monastic retreat center lies in the flight path to the airports of Washington, DC, several hours due east. Usually, planes pass one right after the other. But the planes come only intermittently this night, and the single engine poses a greater challenge to concentration than mere noise … We are guided to direct metta, a loving-kindness meditation, to the tens of thousands of shattered family members. The haunted survivors. The Ground Zero eyewitnesses up and down the land. Not to mention the shocked millions upon millions of us who followed along on TV around the planet.”
People may look at you and feel your way of life, your interest in Dhamma, makes no sense. Others may say that if you want to practise Dhamma, you ought to be ordained as a monk. Being ordained is not really the crucial point. It’s how you practise. As it’s said, one should be one’s own witness. Don’t take others as your witness. It means learning to trust yourself. Then there is no loss. People may think you are crazy, but never mind. They don’t know anything about Dhamma.
Others’ words can’t measure your practice. And you don’t realize the Dhamma because of what others say. I mean the real Dhamma. The teachings others can give you are to show you the path, but that isn’t real knowledge. When people meet the Dhamma, they realise it specifically within themselves. So the Buddha said, ‘The Tathāgata is merely one who shows the way.’ When someone is ordained, I tell them, ‘Our responsibility is only this part: the reciting ācariya have done their chanting. I have given you the Going Forth and vows of ordination. Now our job is done. The rest is up to you, to do the practice correctly.’
Teachings can be most profound, but those who listen may not understand. But never mind. Don’t be perplexed over profundity or lack of it. Just do the practice wholeheartedly and you can arrive at real understanding; it will bring you to the same place the teachings are talking about.
AJAHN CHAH (Excerpt From ‘The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah’)
“If one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness. Having few desires, feeling satisfied with what you have, is very vital: satisfaction with just enough food, clothing, and shelter to protect yourself from the elements. And finally, there is an intense delight in abandoning faulty states of mind and in cultivating helpful ones in meditation.”
Withdraw now from the invisible pounding and weaving of your ingrained ideas. If you want to be rid of this invisible turmoil, you must just sit through it and let go of everything. Attain fulfillment and illuminate thoroughly. Light and shadow altogether forgotten. Drop off your own skin, and the sense-dusts will be fully purified. The eye then readily discerns the brightness.
It is not as well known as it should be that a much-beloved, 93-year-old global figure in Buddhism has called West Virginia home since the latter decades of the 20th century. Bhante Henepola Gunaratana — better known around the planet as “Bhante G” — is abbot of the Bhavana Society, a Theravada Buddhist monastery and retreat center near High View WV, in Hampshire County, which he co-founded in the early 1980s.
Bhante G, who was born in rural Sri Lanka, ordained as a monk at age 12 and took full ordination at age 20, as he recounts in his entertaining biography “Journey to Mindfulness.” He came to America in 1968 and earned a PhD. in world religions at American University in Washington D.C. where he also served as chaplain.
Long desirous of establishing a Buddhist forest monastery in America, Bhante G and supporters found and purchased a 60-acre plot of land about twenty minutes from Wardensville, WV. The seed of his idea took root and became the Bhavana Society, a monastery and retreat center that has attracted thousands of lay Buddhists, monks and nuns from around the world in the years since its establishment.
Bhante G has written a number of books, including the now-classic meditation manual “Mindfulness In Plain English,” which has been translated into more than two dozen languages, and its companion “Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness.” He regularly leads retreats on meditation, mindfulness , concentration, and other topics at the Bhavana Society and around the world.
With the onset of the COVID pandemic in 2020, the Bhavana Society suspended in-person retreats. In March of that year, he began to lead guided meditations on ZOOM, followed by in-depth talks on Buddhist teachings. Bhante G spends the first two months of every new year in solitary retreat at Bhavana, which led to a pause in the ZOOM sessions. He recently resumed them. They take place promptly from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., on most Saturdays and Sunday.
To mark the recent resumption of the ZOOM meditations, I asked Bhante G to take part in WestVirginiaVille’s “5 Questions” series, which focuses on intriguing people in West Virginia doing interesting things. For more questions-and-answers with him, see the book I edited of highlights from 50 years of his responses to common questions he receives: “What Why How: Answers to Your Questions on Buddhism, Meditation, and Living Mindfully” by Bhante G” (Wisdom Publications 2020) | PS: Thanks to Brian Chamowitz at Bhavana for his assistance in making this Q-and-A. happen.
Then spring now autumn, the four seasons revolve. Then young now old, you see the hair turn white. Then wealthy and nobility, now a long dream. Years and months go by, Carrying ten thousand pecks of sorrow. In the path of suffering, The wheel of rebirth rolls endlessly. In the river of passion, We swim like bubbles forming and popping. Now coming to the right place To learn the Way, Why don’t you touch your nose? See that this is your very good Chance of a million lifetimes.
“To cook or fix some food, is not preparation; it is practice … Whatever we do, it should be an expression of the same deep activity. We should appreciate what we are doing. There is no preparation for something else.”
One day AjahnChah held up a beautiful Chinese tea cup:
“To me this cup is already broken. Because I know its fate, I can enjoy it fully here and now. And when it’s gone, it’s gone.” When we understand the truth of uncertainty and relax, we become free. The broken cup helps us see beyond our illusion of control.
“Calmness of mind does not mean you should stop your activity. Real calmness should be found in activity itself. We say, “It is easy to have calmness in inactivity, it is hard to have calmness in activity, but calmness in activity is true calmness.” “