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.” “
“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.”
You don’t need to avoid or deny anything. It is enough to just know about it. When you are busy trying to avoid something, it’s still affecting you. Simply cease to be affected or impelled by anything, and you’ll find you are free.