Thursday, September 22, 2011

the rock

Before meeting Lance in Bali around March, I've always thought of Buddhism as a very “dry” belief centered around suffering. You meditate, notice the suffering in the world and then meditate some more... (Meditation by itself is a horrible form of suffering for me, my knees hurt and my mind constantly searches for an escape plan from the cross-legged seating.) On the other hand, Hinduism is spicy; countless gods, stories, rituals  and everything else. Buddhism doesn't have a god, heaven, hell, warriors that can jump across the ocean, that's why I thought it was dry. Talking to Lance and having a first hand experience of his Buddhist spiritual guides surprised me a lot and made me wonder what else is there...

Coming to Thailand with this different view point, talking to devoted Buddhists, visiting 2 major temples and living in one of them for about 3 weeks plus being blessed by one of the most powerful monks have completely changed my ideas about Buddhism. It is highly spirited, it has a very clear and strong energy. What we call “supernatural” is often considered as very natural in Thailand. Senior monks often have powers to bless, offer protection, sometimes even see the future or read minds. During ceremonies, people receive blessings or protective amulets from monks and use them everywhere. I've already received enough protective bracelets, pendants, holy ropes to use with the pendants that would probably last me for the rest of my life. This all makes sense to me, I've experienced the difference that the energy of these pendants and photos create so I do believe in them without a doubt.
meditating on the rock
Today  5 monks and one of the residents of the monastery took me to a sight-seeing tour. The first stop was to another monastery nearby. It was small and rather shabby, just a few hundred meters away from the border of Burma. I was told that the abbot had a stone that would answer questions about your future.  Hmm... We paid our respects, monks talked among themselves for a while and I sat there with a shy smile plastered across my face, knowing that I was the center of attention. A foreign woman arriving to a small monastery in the Burma border with 5 monks in a pick-up truck does attract some curiosity and I can understand that.

Then the abbot brought the stone from a locked room. I was told that he would never take it out for public; it was only for monks and for special occasions, which made me feel a little privileged. The abbot prayed and gave us a quick demo.  I would hold the stone in my hands, meditate on my question and choose a direction for the stone to move, then put the stone on the floor and my hands on it. If the answer is yes, the stone would turn in the direction I chose. If it's no, there would be no movement. 2 monks tried it. It didn't work for one of them, and there was a slight twist for the other.
and the rock starts to turn
notice the surprise in the faces of the monks?

It was my turn and I was a little scared; The question I had in my mind was a centrally important one for me and a negative answer would make me feel quite devastated. Yet I was curious. I took the stone and asked my question. I was told that I would need to meditate for a few minutes before the stone moves, but for me it started moving almost immediately towards left, which was the direction I chose along with my question. I was ecstatic for a positive answer but at the same time stunned by the movement I was feeling under my hands. The stone kept turning and the abbot told me to keep moving with it. Somewhere near 270 degrees, he told me to mentally aim for a right-turn as a confirmation to my question. I closed my eyes and did exactly as told and then the stone started to turn towards right! I followed it's movement for about another 180 degrees and then everyone was convinced
that my wish would come true. As I passed the stone to the next person who wanted to try, my hands were trembling in a high frequency. I was feeling the energy of the stone all the way up to my elbows. I sat in amazement and with gratitude for a while.

The stone started moving almost immediately for the next person too. But this time its movement was much faster and sharp. Later the abbot explained that the harder you press on the stone or the more weight you put on it the bigger the movement would be. In the past there were people who didn't believe in the power of the stone and instead of putting on their hands, they laid on the stone. The stone moved their whole bodies in fast circles! 

Having a first-hand experience is very different that hearing the story of something that happened to someone else. I believe in the powers of the senior monks and their protective abilities. I believe that one can purify his/her mind  through meditation to a level to see the future. I believe that chanting can change the energy of a place. I believe in all of that because I have experienced them.

Today was just another day in Thailand, just a little closer to Burma... And with a little more faith in my own future.

Friday, September 16, 2011


There's a big spider in front of my room, the biggest I've seen in my life. His web is also big, wider than a meter in diameter. First days, I was scared that he would attack me so I kept my distance.

One morning as I was practicing my morning yoga, I noticed that he was also doing his own version of asanas, moving every leg towards his head and touching it with one of the front arms. He was surely more flexible than me. Taking a closer look, I noticed that he was missing a leg. In nature, that should mean a disadvantage, but apparently this spider survived and even got really big. Later he became my breakfast buddy. I would observe him while I eat. I came to learn how he does his yoga asanas, how he repairs his web, how he catches butterflies. More importantly, how he sits in complete stillness for hours when there's no prey or no work to be done on his web. He would come to the very center of his web, hang upside down and wait.

This morning I noticed that his web was completely gone. It had been steadily widening every day since I came, but this morning there was nothing. Maybe a big bird attacked, maybe he had a fight, I have no idea how cobwebs are destroyed but when I saw it, he was hanging on just 2 threads. By the time I finished my morning practice, he had the outline of his new web completed. In the next few hours, he continuously worked and created a new web, it is yet half the size of the old one but he instinctively knew what was enough. Then again, he positioned himself right in the center and waited in complete stillness. Within a few hours he caught his first butterfly and now he's eating it. First catch of the new web, I raise my tea cup for him.

Despite his disadvantage of a missing leg, this spider survived. He's actually catching more food than any other spiders around my room. He instinctively knows when it's time to expand, when it's time to repair and more importantly when it's time to wait in complete stillness. He doesn't get anxious if he'll ever catch a new butterfly again, and paces nervously. He stays still. More importantly, when his whole house hence his source of food  is destroyed, he didn't spend time mourning over his loss. Instead he started right from the beginning to build a web. Then again, patiently waited...

Situations can be quite unfavorable to our expectations. Often we have no idea what the future holds for us. Sometimes we lose everything. More than the actual situation, it is those emotions we attach to situations that blind us. If we can clear ourselves from the emotional drama and simply wait with complete stillness of the mind sooner or later we see what we need to do.
This is the nature...
10th August 2011, Kanchanaburi 

Monday, September 12, 2011

forest tradition

the view from the 3rd floor of the chanting hall
Within Buddhism, there are some different schools and traditions. The monastery I stayed in Thailand follows the Thai Forest tradition. Monks following this tradition spend a lot of alone time in nature, especially in the rain forests in the northern parts of Thailand. They believe that clear, big spaces (unlike cities) creates a clear mind too. Also observing the nature and living in complete harmony with it is important. Monks who follow this tradition are generally experts of insight meditation and they are believed to have some “supernatural” powers. I met a few who can see beyond what eyes can see, but I doubt if that should be called supernatural. Anyway...

I have no idea how I ended up in this monastery. Despite currently living in Ubud, I'm still very much a city girl. Nature is good to observe from the windows of an A/C car and organic food is healthy, that's pretty much my relationship with the nature. So coming here, people ask me if I like to swim in the water fall or take hikes in the jungle. I would feel trapped on one floor if shopping mall escalators are being serviced, and they are talking about hikes in jungle?

The first days were pretty hard. Constant rain, limited electricity, no hot water, walking to the chanting hall in darkness with a thousand creatures around is not my cup of tea. My teacher kept saying “open space, open mind”. Yet I felt very much trapped and scared. This didn't feel like an open and clear mind to me.

constant fog in the mountains
Then slowly, but very slowly things began to improve. I was no longer scared to death when I walk to the chanting hall at 4am. I was confident to take 45 minute walks in the forest (the distance I can go is less that a kilometer but sometimes slow is good) . During one of these walks, I saw a big snake catch and eat a lizard and I stood at a distance to watch it. I almost enjoyed the space that my teacher was talking about. I can't say that my mind was clear, however within that new space I was able to see my fears. Sometimes I felt too old to face them, other times I felt that if I wasn't meant to overcome them, I wouldn't be there...

I'll be back in the monastery in about two weeks. Maybe it would be time for me to try the forest walk under the rain. Maybe I'll understand the forest tradition monks, maybe I'll find the clarity.

At least I hope to get some of these supernatural powers. Courage shouldn't go unrewarded, should it?