Bhante started the meditation session promptly at 9.30am, gently prodding the attendees to relax, to wish all beings to be happy, calm, healthy, and peaceful, to instill universal kindness for oneself and others, and to cultivate calmness, which is a powerful inner force.
In the ensuing silence, I fought a personal battle to banish all thoughts from my mind, while taking note (observing) of each passing sound: cars passing by; coughing; chair creaking; door closing; ringing tone; fan blowing, air-cond humming; distant whispering; feet shuffling; chair hitting the floor; and some of my own shallow breathing with occasional deep breaths; swallowing saliva and feeling facial muscles twitching.
I also tried mentally chanting Amituofo in rhythm with my breathing, for a while. Then my mind wondered off to thinking of my medical exam appointment next week. After making a conscious effort to resume the chanting, this time the mind drifted to tennis greats and I remember enumerating the south paws: Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and now, Rafael Nadal. Then it was back to chanting and before I knew it, Bhante’s voice came back on, signaling the end of the meditation session.
After a brief break, Bhante commenced the wisdom session by introducing the Five Aggregates (skandhas): form, feeling, perception, volition (another term that has been used is mental formation), and consciousness. Form (rupa in Pali; incidentally this has the same spelling and meaning in the Malaysian language, and this is not the first such link that I’ve come across) refers to the physical body and environment, and has the distinguishing feature of being constantly changing, i.e., impermanent. But often times we cannot see nor feel these changes taking place, and become attached to form and its various manifestations: I, me, my, mine, etc. Our failure to detach from form is a cause of suffering as clinging to and grasping form makes our existence a painful and stressful one.
Once we understand impermanence, just like Khema, a beauty queen who used to take great pride in her charming self, but realized impermanence when she witnessed the transformation of an angel through the ages created by the Buddha, we can then practice detachment.
On Feeling (vedena in Pali), there are three sensations: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. Our habit is to grasp happy things and reject unhappy/painful things. But pleasant sensations, though positive, are impermanent as well. Therefore Buddha taught us not to attach to either, but just be realistic. When a feeling surfaces, just let it rise, then let it stay a while, and then let it vanish.
Bhante then narrated a story of a man who after inviting the Buddha to dinner, blamed the Buddha for anything that went wrong at the dinner. But the Buddha just smiled at his tantrums. After the man had vented his anger, the Buddha asked, “what if there has been a last-minute cancellation of your dinner invitation, what would you do?” “I’ll enjoy the food,” said the man.
And that’s what the Buddha did. He ate the man’s bad words and his good food too. The moral of the story: do not react.
Bhante’s teacher once gave the following answer when posed the question: Why are you born? To die. Because while birth is uncertain, death is certain.
From discipline comes concentration, and wisdom ensues. One of our problems is not having enough discipline. There are various techniques to deal with a difficult situation (e.g., inter-personal friction) such as stay like a log, let it pass, read spiritual books, chant Amituofo, have compassion, say thank you.
A body has 32 parts. Next time when we are faced with an enemy, consumed with anger, just think about which part of the enemy that we are angry about. And our anger will subside.
On that note, Bhante and the attendees adjourned to a hearty vegetarian lunch, thanks to all who brought along a dish or two to share.
Sister Lily making an announcement prior to the vegetarian lunch.