The sound of silence

Sarah Berry, The Age (Australia): What’s the point of being completely silent for three days? You could just be drinking cocktails by the pool.

“You’re doing this for fun?” confused friends ask before I leave. After spending three days in ‘noble silence’ and meditating for 11 hours a day, several people with me on the silent retreat are asking the same question.

At the end of the final day, when the silence is finally broken, one woman admits she spent a fair bit of the time wondering why she hadn’t just “booked into a resort and spent the weekend by the pool, sipping cocktails …

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Happy 85th birthday, Bhante Gunaratana

The Venerable Henepola Gunaratana Nayake Thera — often known as “Bhante Gunaratana” or just as “Bhante G” — is 85 years old this week. He’s a well-known writer and a highly respected teacher, who has now lived in the US for 50 years. This tribute comes from the Sri Lankan monk and former parliamentarian, Ven. Udawatte Nanda Nayake Thera. (Wikipedia says Bhante G’s birthday is in December, but he’s such a noted figure that he can have two birthdays if he wishes!)

Born to Ekanayake Mudiyanselage Punchi Bandara Nilame and Herath Mudiyanselage Lokumenike on October 07, 1927 in a family of seven in Thumpane of Galagedara, the Ven Henepola Gunaratana Nayake Thera at his young age received education in Dehideniya Primary College and subsequently entered the monkhood under the tutelage of Ven. Karmacharya Kiribathkumbure Sonuttara Mahanayake Thera, the incumbent of Malandeniya Sri Vijayarama Pohoyamalu, Weuda, Kurunegala at the age of 14.

He received his primary education from Vidyasekera Pirivena, Gampaha Bandiyamulla and entered Peliyagoda Vidyalankara Maha Pirivena for higher education and subsequently received the Higher Ordination in 1947 at the Mangala Uposathagara Seema Malakaya of Malwatte Mahaviharaya. At the invitation of Most. Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Thera, Ven. Dr. Henepola Gunaratana Thera visited the First Theravadi Buddhist Temple in Washington – USA where he held the General Secretary post from 1968 to 1988 and ascended to the position of President there. During this period Ven. Nayake Thera engaged in the propagation of the Buddhism in the USA and several other countries.

Having admitted to a world renowned university in Washington Ven. Nayake Thera penned a research book on Buddhist ways of meditation for which work he was awarded a Doctorate and thereafter engaged in teaching the Buddhism in George Town University and many other Universities for more than 10 years as a lecturer.

The experience gathered through preaching the Buddhism and Vipassana Meditation in almost every State of the United State of America made the Ven. Nayake Thera think of the urgent need of a Training Centre to teach Theravada Buddhism, which prompted the registration of a dedicated Dhamma Centre with the government.

A portion of land located in Virginia more than 100 miles away from Washington was purchased for the purpose in 1984 and an Aranya Senasana was put up on a land in extent of 10 acres and later it was possible to purchase some other portions of adjoining lands. This place consists of a large meditation hall, a shrine room, a library, a conference hall and accommodation for both bhikkus and bhikkunis.

Sri Lankan devotees residing in distant States visit this seat of meditation with alms and beverages to be offered as was the practice in Sri Lanka.

In appreciation of the religious mission performed by Ven. Henepola Gunaratana Nayake Thera, the honorary title of ‘Sri Sonuttara Gunarathana’ and the position of Chief Sanghanayake of America was conferred on Ven Nayake Thera by the Most Venerable Mahanayake Anunayake Karaka Sangha Sabhawa of Mahaviharaya Chapter of the Syamopali Mahanikaya in 1996.

The government of Myanmar conferred the honorary title of ‘Aggamaha Pandita’ on Ven. Gunaratana Thera.

Devoting the entire life for religious interests of the people living in India, Malaysia, Europe, Australia and Africa the Most Ven. Nayake Thera has undertaken a noble mission following the teachings of the Buddha ‘Maniwatta Abhikkama’ (continue to proceed) facing many untold hardships, being away from the motherland, with perseverance: making use of every moment available for some productive purpose. Ven. Nayake Thera wrote and published a number of books in English and Sinhala.

He has ordained more than 25 Americans and taught ‘Samatha’ and ‘Vipassana’ meditation to many people abroad.

A felicitation ceremony has been organized in appreciation of the services rendered by Ven. Gunaratana Nayake Thera towards the Buddhasasana of Sri Lanka and throughout the world by his first disciple Ven. Katugasthota Uparathana Nayake Thera, incumbent of Maryland Buddhist Temple in Washington, America, Dr. in Sinhalese Language and Civilization – Foreign Affairs Ministry of the State Department of America, Advisor of Buddhist Affairs in Washington American University and the Chief Sanghanayake of America Ven. Talgaswewe Seelananda Thera in collaboration with the Meditation Society Performance Board and the subscribers in the vicinity of Washington along with ambassador of Sri Lanka in Washington Jaliya Wickramasooriya, deputy ambassador Esala Weerakoon and the staff.

An all night Pirith chanting was held on October 6 and an alms giving (Dana) on the following day and a felicitation ceremony in the afternoon.

Via the Sri Lanka Daily News

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Meditation teacher’s practice thrives in Mountain View, California

Daniel DeBolt: Meditation teacher Shaila Catherine once added it all up. It turned out that she’s spent more than eight of her 50 years in meditative silence.

“I love meditating,” she says, calling a limitless source of bliss — if you can stop your busy life long enough to do it.

What could have been a passing interest at age 17 has turned into a thriving practice called Insight Meditation South Bay. Teaching what she calls Vippassana Insight meditation, the non-profit has grown to have more than 1,400 students, and sometimes over 50 at each session. Events, classes and even a monthly day-long meditation are held in several …

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The quiet hell of extreme meditation

Michael Finkel, Men’s Journal Magazine: These are my final words: “Why a camp chair?” I speak them to a man named Wade. Wade from Minnesota. I’m in line behind him, waiting to enter the Dhamma Giri meditation center, in the quiet hill country of western India, for the official start of the 10-day course. Wade tells me that this is his second course and that he learned a valuable lesson from the first. “I’m so glad I have this,” he says, indicating the small folding camp chair tucked under his arm. I utter my last question. It’s never answered. One of the volunteers …

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Worth pitching? Why did a meditation story get repeatedly rejected?

Meditation is often thought to help expand the mind, opening up the limits of consciousness. Now research suggests that meditation can indeed help one keep an open mind, preventing people from falling into mental traps that prolong problem-solving, findings appearing in the journal PLoS ONE. So is this worth pitching?

The research is rooted in experiments based on something with the intriguing name of the Einstellung water jar task. Einstellung literally means “attitude” in German — in this case, it refers to the creation of a mechanized state of mind, a propensity to solve a given problem in a specific manner even though …

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Vipassana meditation helps addicts stay clean

Vipassana—a form of meditation in which practitioners train themselves to observe bodily sensations without reacting to them—has a growing reputation for helping addicts. “I nearly walked out three times during my first course,” Alex, a former heroin user from England, tells The Fix. “It was so painful to observe all the negativity I had stored away inside me.” But the results were impressive: “Cravings do not effect me like they used to. If I have a craving, I just observe it and it passes away.” Vipassana teaches the mind not to react to the emotions and thoughts that result in harmful behavior; adherents …

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Transcendental billionaire

Naazneen Karmali, Forbes: Every day busloads of tourists arrive in Gorai, a seafront suburb of Mumbai, and head to Esselworld and Water Kingdom, two popular theme parks built by Indian billionaire Subhash Chandra’s Essel Group.

Since 2008 the traffic to Gorai has jumped several-fold. Around 10,000 of those people are seeking something other than a ride down a water slide. They are going to the giant golden pagoda. You can see it from miles around rising from the trees in a sharp fingerlike spire aimed at the clouds.

The people are going to the pagoda to sit in Vipassana, an ancient Buddhist meditation style seeing …

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Ten days meditating in search of enlightenment

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Maarten Dankers, Globe and Mail: I never thought I’d look forward to brushing my teeth. It’s not a task I consider particularly exciting. But late last November, it came to that. After eating an apple for dinner, I found myself rushing toward the bathroom for some quality dental hygiene time. That’s what happens when you’re not allowed to partake in many activities of ordinary life.

For 10 days this past fall, I subjected myself to a meditation retreat. Along with about 70 other souls, I was confined to a basic compound in the woods along the shore of Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island. We were left without the freedom to speak, read, write or exercise, among other things. There were no cellphones, no e-mail and basically no communication allowed.

These are the rules of Vipassana, an ancient Buddhist meditation technique that aims to purify the mind by eliminating the root causes of suffering. I had dabbled in meditation before, but nothing more than a few hour-long sessions, so this was a big leap. I first heard of it about five years ago after meeting someone who described it as a life-changing experience. Other people told me it gave them increased mental clarity, focus and patience.

Since finishing a master’s program in sustainability last summer, I had been in a prolonged and uncertain state of transition. Unemployed and unsure what to do with my life, I decided a Vipassana retreat would be the perfect opportunity to tame my wild mind and have a break to focus. Plus, I always like a good challenge…

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Life on a 10-day ‘Buddhist boot camp’ in the Himalayas

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Matthew Green, Financial Times: The guru looked troubled. A spry 75-year-old, who could have passed for 60, he usually wore an expression as pure as his ivory robe. Peering into my cell, he watched as I wept harder than I could remember, for a reason my mind could not fathom. Then he beamed. “You are very lucky,” he said. “This is a very big sankara leaving your body – perhaps it was an illness that even a doctor could not cure.”

Perplexing as his words sounded, their meaning would become clear later. All I could grasp then was that the Indian meditation master believed that my mysterious meltdown had taken me a step closer to enlightenment. The Himachal Vipassana Centre clings to the flank of a valley above the town of McLeod Ganj, in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India, where exiled Tibetans, led by the Dalai Lama, co-exist with a backpackers’ nirvana of hostels, trinket shops and bars. Smiling monks sporting off-the-shoulder purple habits scurry past temples swathed in incense, while earnest-faced Europeans, Japanese and Israelis zigzag along paths of self-discovery. Late-night singalongs of Bob Marley classics with guitar-playing strangers are virtually compulsory; Vipassana is optional. Just as well: it is the closest thing on offer to a Buddhist boot camp…

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Ten days in silence at a meditation retreat changed my life

Lena Vazifdar, Blisstree: The day I signed up for a silent meditation retreat, I had no idea what I was getting into. The first day, I piled into a red sedan in San Francisco with a 40-year-old hippie in a Hawaiian shirt, a 20-something product developer from India and a straight-faced, vegetarian Indian woman who had been meditating for years. I thought I was about to embark on a great adventure, but little did I know I was beginning the hardest ten days of my life.

I went into the experience with an open heart and mind. My knowledge of Vipassana meditation was minimal, but I did know I had signed up for a 10-day course that taught students the basic method of this ancient Indian type of meditation. Every day we would be fed a vegetarian breakfast and lunch. We’d receive no dinner and begin meditating 4 a.m. until the evening, with various breaks.

Vipassana literally means to see things as they really are and has aims to eradicate mental and physical suffering. With time they say this is achievable, but getting there is the hardest part. Another aspect of this process involved a vow of silence. There was no reading, writing, emailing or using your cell phone in this place. All communication with the outside world was entirely cut off. I couldn’t remember the last time I didn’t check my email, let alone Facebook for 10 days. How was I going to survive?

Surprisingly, the first few days went by easily. But at day three I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown. My mind was going crazy and I felt overwhelmed by ruminations on how the details in my life that had gone terribly wrong. Meditating for over six hours a day was starting to take a toll on me, both mentally and physically. People had told me I would have a breakthrough that would put all of this into perspective. All I knew was that I hadn’t gotten there yet.

I was imagining a transcendental out of body experience, but all I was felt were emotions run wild and pounding headaches and backaches from meditating for hours on end.

I was finding it impossible to concentrate during these sessions and my mind would keep wandering from the mundane to the serious—what I wanted to eat for lunch to what I was going to do with my future. There were sporadic moments where I felt like the silence and the meditation was helping me work through some issues. Like the meditation was some sort of internal therapist helping me deal with past woes. I knew the reasons why I chose to come. It was part curiosity and partly an attempt to to deal with the stress and anxiety in my life. But sitting in a room cross legged on the floor trying to meditate, I would look around me to the nameless group of individuals sitting in still silence and wonder if they were transcending into some sort of out of body space that I wasn’t experiencing. I started to feel jealous and antsy.

As day five came and then day six, I noticed that the meditation was starting to get easier and there were periods where I was not thinking about anything at all. There was one hour-long meditation in particular where all of my past regrets and relationships came whirling at me like a baseball out of nowhere. I don’t know why they had surfaced but I had to deal with it then and there and tears just started streaming down my face. I wondered if this was normal and thought it probably was. Somehow, through those tears and the meditation, I learned to forgive myself for the things I regretted. I let go of anger toward the people that hurt me. I didn’t understand how I got to this point, but tried not to question it because I was starting to feel at peace. I felt grateful. Grateful for my friends and family and for the life I was given. I was learning to really appreciate.

Everyday felt like I was breaking through a new barrier and the more days that went by, the more insight I gained. I didn’t understand how it worked but somehow I felt like I was being purified. It was like a full-on mind-body detox. I didn’t know if I had hit that breakthrough yet, but on the ninth day I sat for an entire hour without moving. As I flowed through the process of focusing on every limb of my body as they taught us to, I finally felt it. It was this flowing, effervescent, transcendental whole body pulsation that made me feel all at once tranquil and–for maybe the only time in my life–wholly content.

On the tenth day I left feeling like a new woman. I was liberated. I knew I could always come back to meditation to deal with stress, anxiety and day-to-day life stressers that often consume us. I was ready to face the world head on. I didn’t really understand how it worked, but somehow meditation changed my outlook on the world. With every step of my life thereafter and every hurdle I found, meditation –and that retreat particularly–helped me get through it. It has helped me appreciate the things around me and live life day by day instead of always worrying about the future. I still stress and I still worry. I am human after all. But the meditation has helped me see life as it truly is—wonderful.

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