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.”
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.
“So, don’t be in a hurry and try to push or rush your practice. Do your meditation gently and gradually, step-by-step. In regard to peacefulness, if you become peaceful, then accept it; if you don’t become peaceful, then accept that also. That’s the nature of the mind. We must find our own practice and persistently keep at it.”
“If we have presence of mind then whatever work we do will be the very tool which enables us to know right and wrong continually. There is plenty of time to meditate, we just don’t fully understand the practice, that’s all. While sleeping we breathe, eating we breathe, don’t we? Why don’t we have time to meditate? Wherever we are we breathe. If we think like this, then our life has as much value as our breath, and wherever we are we have time.”
“When we practice, we observe how much peace, happiness, and lightness we already have. We notice whether we are anxious about accidents or misfortunes, and how much anger, irritation, fear, anxiety, or worry are already in us. As we become aware of the feelings in us, our self-understanding will deepen. We will see how our fears and lack of peace contribute to our unhappiness, and we will see the value of loving ourselves and cultivating a heart of compassion.”
NOTE: Apologies. A version of this post you may have just received (if an email subscriber to this site) did not include the password now required to enter the ZOOM meditations led by Bhante G. The pasword is listed below. | with metta, Douglas
AS IT APPEARS THE PANDEMIC continues unbated with no vaccine in the short term, The Meditation Circle of Charleston WV will remain on hiatus for the foreseeable future.
WE HIGHLY ENCOURAGE FOLKS INTERESTED in learning breath-centered meditation, or to deepen their current practice, to not miss the chance to join the guided meditation and Dhamma talks led by Bhante Gunaratana, abbot of the Bhavana Society in West Virginia, every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. on ZOOM.
The free ZOOM sessions are for anyone with a serious interest in meditation practice, as well as being a master class in the Buddha’s teachings. This is a rare opportunity to learn meditation from a master. You’ll also gain insights into the point of meditation and mindfulness practice in the Buddhist tradition, which is to gain deep understanding into how we cause ourselves suffering because of how we choose to focus our thoughts and live our lives. And, so, to attain liberation from all suffering.
This is also an opportunity not likely to present itself again. Bhante G, at age 92, remains at the peak of his prowess in being able to offer practical, straight-up instruction in how to meditate. That instruction is then deepened and enhanced by his discussions after the 30-minute meditation, which address why we meditate in the first place and deeper points of Buddhist teachings. Among other subjects, he has been discussing the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths, Dependent Origination, and other core Buddhist topics.
BHANTE G ZOOM guided meditations and talks: WHEN: 10 AM weekly on Thursdays, Friday, Saturday and Sunday WHERE:Join Zoom Meeting: https://us04web.zoom.us/j/668674778 DETAILS: Meeting ID:668 674 778 PASSWORD TO ENTER MEETING (all lowercase): metta
A HEADS UP. If you have not had the chance to join the daily ZOOM Buddhist teaching and guided meditation led by Bhante Gunaratana, abbot of the Bhavana Society in West Virginia, we encourage you to do so. The ZOOM sessions are for anyone with a serious interest in meditation practice, as well as being a master class in the Buddha’s teachings.
This is a rare opportunity to learn meditation from a master. You’ll also gain insights into the point of meditation and mindfulness practice in the Buddhist tradition, which is to gain deep understanding into how we cause ourselves suffering because of how we choose to focus our thoughts and live our lives. And, thus, to attain liberation from all suffering.
This is also an opportunity not likely to present itself again. Bhante G, at age 92, remains at the peak of his prowess in being able to offer practical, straight-up instruction in how to meditate. That instruction is then deepened and enhanced by his discussions before and after the 30-minute meditation, which address why we meditate in the first place.
His daily ZOOM sessions run from 10 to 11 am, but get there about 10-to-15 minutes in advance, and hang around after the meditation, for the series of talks Bhante G has been giving. Among other subjects, he has been discussing the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths, Dependent Origination, and other core Buddhist topics.
“We don’t meditate to hate our bodies. Unsatisfactoriness depends on clinging to impermanent objects. A mindful meditator should remind himself or herself an attractive object has triggered sense desire. One should then develop wise reflection or mindful reflection.”
“In practising Dhamma, we will meet with many sorts of experiences, such as fear. What will we rely on then? When the mind is wrapped up in fear, it can’t find anything to rely on.
“This is something I’ve gone through; the deluded mind stuck in fear, unable to find a safe place anywhere. So where can this be settled? It gets settled right at that place where it appears. Wherever it arises, that is where it ceases. Wherever the mind has fear, it can end fear right there. Putting it simply: when the mind is completely full of fear, it has nowhere else to go, and it can stop right there. The place of no fear is there in the place of fear.
“Whatever states the mind undergoes, if it experiences nimitta, visions, or knowledge in meditation, for example, it doesn’t matter—we are taught to focus awareness on this mind in the present. That is the standard. Don’t chase after external phenomena. All the things we contemplate come to conclusion at the source, the place where they arise. This is where the causes are. This is important.
“Feeling fear is a good example, since it’s easy to see; if we let ourselves experience it until it has nowhere to go, then we will have no more fear, because it will be exhausted. It loses its power, so we don’t feel fear anymore. Not feeling fear means it has become empty. We accept whatever comes our way, and it loses its power over us.
“This is what the Buddha wanted us to place our trust in; he wanted us not to be attached to our own views, not to be attached to others’ views. This is really important. We are aiming at the knowledge that comes from realization of the truth, so we don’t want to get stuck in attachment to our own or others’ views and opinions. But when we have our ideas or interact with others, watching them contact the mind can be illuminating. Knowledge can be born in those things that we have and experience.”
“Meditation in the strictest sense is a very special way of training our mind. For that you don’t need any particular posture, time, or place. At any time, any place, and in any posture, you can practice mindfulness.”