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Spilt coffee and enlightenment, the days of Buddhist Lent

All About Buddhism is a monthly column in The Phuket News where I take readers on my exotic journey into Thai Buddhism and debunk a number of myths about Buddhism, as well as take readers to exotic temples that few of us have gotten to see…

Tuesday 19 July 2016, 09:08AM

Many monks avoid travel for three months. Photo: suc/Pixabay.

Many monks avoid travel for three months. Photo: suc/Pixabay.

by Jason Jellison

Thailand will celebrate Asanha Bucha Day on July 19. The holiday marks Buddha’s first sermon and the christening of the Buddhist Monkhood 2,500 years ago. The holiday is held just before the start of Buddhist Lent and is occasionally called the “rains retreat”.

Much like Jesus, Buddha had disciples. However, he had only five original disciples. Different people celebrate the holiday a little differently, but it is common for families to travel back to their family homes and old temples. The temples sometimes preach the original sermon and many young men still like to be ordained into the monkhood on this holy day.

The Buddhist Monkhood is called the Sangha in Pali and the day is a public holiday in Thailand. Many monks will stay in their temples after July 19 and avoid travel for three months. The date is held on the first full moon of the eighth lunar month, so unlike most Western holidays, the date can be a little different from one year to another. Last year, the holiday was held on July 30. This year, it will be held on July 19.

My own initial encounter with Buddhism was brought on by the passing of my Great Grandmother. She had been fighting cancer for some time, and this was expected. Never-the-less, the finality of such an event is hard for a teenager.

As I poured coffee, my mind drifted back to all of those early Sunday morning meals she cooked for us. Her tiny apartment was quite a restaurant for her grandchildren. Whenever we visited, we would be greeted by the pleasant smell of two pounds of freshly cooked bacon, fresh eggs, toast, orange juice, and oh so many things that any healthy young lad would like…and then it happened. I felt a slight singe on my finger and right toes. Now I’d done it. I’d spilled my coffee all over the counter and onto my feet. You see, while I was physically in our kitchen fixing some coffee, mentally I was in another time, another place… dare I say, a better place.

Although it would be 23 more years until I figured it out, I had actually stumbled upon a bit of Buddhism. Laypersons often ask why Buddhists meditate. In a way that was only slightly different, my spilled coffee was the answer.

The answer is we meditate to alter our reality. Physically, we are in the room with you, but mentally we are somewhere else. Meditation techniques intentionally lead my “spilled coffee” process to a more evolved level. Buddhists meditate to achieve clarity of mind, sort of like fine tuning an old television set. (For our younger readers, old-style TVs had dials and lots of static interference.) As you tuned into channel 12, for example, the picture was fuzzy and it was hard to hear and see what was going on. But as you turned the fine-tuning dial, the picture and sound became clearer, so then you could see what’s on TV and enjoy the show.

Well, such is the case with life. You see, we live in static. We live in fuzz and noise. We often can’t tell if we’re watching General Hospital or the five o'clock news. Buddhists meditate to clear the picture. Once you achieve clarity of mind, then you can really see what is going on around you. Everything becomes clear.

When you see large groups of monks meditating peacefully, they are sort of “fine tuning”. The basic equation for becoming a Buddhist is simple. The equation is: Do not kill. Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not commit adultery. Do not use intoxicants. Then, meditate regularly.

Your next question probably is, “How do I meditate?” The answer is that there are a lot of different techniques. Some of them are simple and some are complicated. Different teachers also teach meditation differently and different students learn differently.

You can meditate while breathing, sitting or even while walking. Meditation is frequently taught incorrectly and is the subject of controversy in the Buddhist Fellowship. But, there are some techniques that are basic enough to be agreed on. I will teach you a very simple technique.
First, you need to know that there are long meditations and short meditations. One can meditate for as little as 10 minutes at a time, or for hours. I personally have found that it is best to meditate for short periods very often. However, I have found that shorter meditation was ineffective for me when I was a beginner, and also more difficult to learn. (I know, you’d think a shorter way would be easier, but I found just the opposite.)

Here’s a simple technique you can try at home. First, wear some loose clothing because you don’t want to be too uncomfortable. Find a quiet spot at home. Put some blankets or a mat on the floor to soften your seating place just a little. Now, sit down and rest your right foot on top of your left. Rest your right hand in your left, just like you see in the picture (below, left). Now, close your eyes. Clear your mind. You should see only darkness. Slow your breathing to a relaxing pace. Inhale and exhale three times to finish clearing your mind.

Now, count your breath on each inhalation. Inhale and count “one”. Exhale at a relaxed pace. Inhale and count “two”. Keep repeating this. New people – and even the experienced – often lose count. If you do, start over at one. Thoughts will inevitably come into your mind. Allow this, but remember the goal is to achieve clarity, so don’t follow them and let them leave your mind with peace. I often allow Buddha’s image to centre in my thoughts, but this is just my personal way.
Corrupt thoughts will come into your mind. Those thoughts could be the distractions of life, or very often thoughts of those whom you love. Sometimes, the thoughts could be lustful. Do not follow those thoughts. Focus on your counting. You’ll notice slight discomfort. That is good, actually, because otherwise you may become sleepy, and that’s undesirable.

New people may want to set an alarm. I would suggest meditating for 20 minutes. In time, as you learn to tune out corrupt thoughts, you may find that spontaneous answers to life’s problems will fill their place. I’ve found those answers are for questions that I never even asked, or for long-standing problems. That’s good.

If you’re still interested, there is much more to learn. But, you’ll need a more experienced teacher than someone like me. I am not an Enlightened teacher.
Asanha Bucha Day marks when Buddha laid out the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path, so we’ll talk all about those great truths as well as how to find a teacher in my next column.



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