4 May

Reflecting, I realize that every experience has the potential for changing my life, however, some are more significant, at least that I recognize, than others. Probably one of the most important life-changing experiences in my life was, in the late 1990s, during meditation in a Buddhist monastery outside Chicago, while I was on a weekend retreat there. In fact, during the late 1960s, the American youth culture was responding eagerly to a new influx of Eastern thought. This included Yoga as well as meditation. I became interested in Zen Buddhism and its offshoots of the Tea ceremony, Bonsai, Haiku poetry and even martial arts like Kendo. All of these have an underlying meditation aspect of mindfulness or being relaxed and focused in the present moment. In Chicago, there was a vital Japanese community and I attended some classes about Zen at a ‘school’ of Japanese culture. Later, I also went to a Zen temple and did some Soto Zen meditation which again emphasizes meditation of ‘Mindfulness’.

Well, I started to study also T’ai Chi and another Chinese internal martial Art which also emphasizes being aware of the present in the body’s movement, being relaxed and full-body coordination. I continued my involvement in Buddhist meditation because I appreciated the psychology/philosophy of it and I felt relaxed and good during and after meditation as well as during a tea ceremony or walking meditation, etc.. I went to Berkeley, California to attend a three-week course about Tibetian Buddhist bodywork to also apply in psychotherapy and I started to go to Thai Temples near Chicago for weekend retreats lead by English-speaking monks.

Over the years I also practiced Jhana meditation and during one of the retreats outside Chicago, it was toward the end of the retreat, I had practiced Jhana meditation and I experienced what is called ‘Nothingness’ or pure being in the present. Well, this experience was profound. There it was and I knew I had to relax into it and let it be because if you try to force it, it leaves you. Also, later when I was rolling up my sleeping bag and packing my backpack preparing to leave, again I was purely and calmly in the action, in the present. Well, now I interpret it as the experience of non-duality and it has been a focus and perspective for me especially in the last fifteen years. In the last ten years, I have had time to reflect on that experience and research and write about it and I am still trying to explore the significance of it not only for myself but for its application as a paradigm shift that is an ancient, universal and valid perspective. Unfortunately, in the highly dualistic and scientific modern world that we are increasingly living in, we are losing sight of this fundamental perspective of non-duality and I believe there are important negative consequences for individuals, society and the ecology because of that.

So one of my most important life-changing experiences was on a Sunday morning at a meditation retreat outside Chicago and the fruit of my previous study and practice ripened and changed, and continues to influence, my life.
Here is the complete blog I wrote about that day:

    ‘My weekend retreat began similar to others I had attended at the Buddhadharma Center, in a pleasant suburban setting about 30 miles outside Chicago, Illinois. I arrived by car on a sunny, summer Friday afternoon with my sleeping bag, meditation pillow, mat and a small bag of clothes and toothbrush/shampoo and towel. I was grateful to again have an opportunity to practice a few days of Mindfulness meditation in a supportive and relaxed atmosphere.

As I walked into the renovated small church, now temple, I was greeted by the friendly smiling faces of volunteers who were going to provide us visitors with delicious Thai vegetarian meals as well as evening tea and cookies. One of the helpers showed me to the large room where the male meditators would be sleeping and, looking around the sparsely furnished room, I found a spot where there wasn’t an open sleeping bag on the floor and, firstly, I put my mat down and then on top of it, my sleeping bag. Next to my sleeping bag, I set down my clothes bag. No one else was in the room.

Shortly after setting up my ‘bedroom’ I heard a bell ringing which meant for all participants to go to the main Temple room. Leaving the ‘bedroom’, I put my shoes back on and walked upstairs where there were already about thirty people, men and women, young and older, sitting. I again took my shoes off and went into the Temple room, which, in the front, on a small stage, had a large gold-painted statue of the Buddha, beautiful flowers on both sides and three monks in light brown robes were sitting quietly in front of the Buddha statue. With my meditation pillow in hand, I found a comfortable spot, sat down on my pillow and quietly focused on my breathing and centering myself in this new situation after a three-hour drive.

Everyone sat quietly. I heard birds chirping in the field outside. There was a pleasant smell of incense and the light whirling sound of the three ceiling fans. My meditation weekend had begun. After about ten minutes, one of the monks went to the microphone and greeted everyone and then gave a short talk on the five precepts, which is the basic Buddhist code of ethics, undertaken by lay followers, that we were expected to observe during the retreat. He said that the precepts were meant to provide a harmonious situation for the best practice of meditation and cooperation among all the participants. The five precepts are:
I shall refrain from harming the life of others

I shall refrain from taking the not given

I shall refrain from harmful sexual practices

I shall refrain from deceitful words

I shall refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness

After this short introductory talk and ‘Taking the Precepts’, we all participated, for an hour, in first chanting and then sitting meditation. After that, we had individual time during which I went to the Temple’s small bookshop where I browsed through the titles. With the again ringing of the bell, we were informed that lunch was ready for us so everyone went to the auditorium area where tables had been set up and we chose our lunch of Thai cooking, buffet style. Sitting at tables with our food, we all ate silently and mindfully. After lunch, the program had a pause and I went outside behind the temple where there was an acre of lawn with neat rows of different fruit trees. Sitting in the warm sun, I enjoyed my contentment of the moment.

So that day and the next two included the following: mindfully meditating on loving-kindness, walking, sitting, yoga, chanting; Dhamma instruction by the monks followed by Q&A; individual time to read, write, think, rest, and eating nourishing and tasty vegetarian meals for breakfast and lunch and refreshments in the evenings. All activities were done in silence to help keep our focus on the here and now and to quiet the mind and body. As in previous retreats, I noticed a gradual transformation of my mind/body condition. With the meditation practices, the instructive Dhamma talks, and the peaceful environment, my mind/body began to shed the stress and tension of everyday life and I began to melt into a deeper state of present awareness and mindful absorption.

On the last day, in the late morning, during walking meditation, I chose to walk outside among the trees. It was a beautiful warm sunny day. I began my walking meditation by finding a place where I could walk unhampered for about ten yards. I started walking slowly, mindful of each step, keeping my gaze forward, right foot rises and falls, left foot rises and falls. Arriving at the end, stop, stand and turn, begin walking again. And so it went for about twenty minutes. Then, intuitively, I shifted to a standing meditation by just standing and gazing out without a particular concentration. At this moment I had a wonderful, profound transformative experience. I stood without thinking, without a subject/object split. I experienced a state of profound freedom and deep happiness and relief. I was ‘one’ with existence. I realized that my ‘happiness’ was dependent not on the external but on my internal state. I experienced a sense of timelessness.

Without attempting to keep ‘creating’ my experience but only to continue to allow it, my ‘pure experience’ continued for possibly fifteen minutes until I felt the need to return to the schedule of the retreat. After that, my continued meditation and ‘mundane’ activities had a continued profound peacefulness and ‘selflessness’. When I ate, I just ate, when I walked, I just walked. I had a sensitive awareness of everything/everybody. Even in the rolling up of my sleeping bag, my experience was as the Japanese philosopher Nishida wrote, “In pure experience, there is no prior or posterior, no inner or outer; no experience precedes or generates experience” and (there is) “not the slightest interval between the intention and the act.”. There was only the rolling up of the sleeping bag, a oneness of action.

After having had this lovely transformative experience, later the retreat ended, I drove home and went back to work the next day. However, my transformed understanding of ‘myself’, happiness and the ‘oneness’ of life has remained deep for me and has continued to be a spiritual inspiration, guide, and direction in my life as well as has my continued meditation and Dhamma study.

Practically, I have continued to explore how to relieve myself from the burdens of the ‘virtual’ self and the accumulation of objects which, in the past, was a vain and destructive attempt to find happiness in ‘things’. I now understand how to better resist the obsessions that our modern mass consumption society attempts to create in our minds. Also, I have since adopted a voluntary simplicity to my life both for ethical and environmental concerns as well as for my own happiness. I try to create environments –both physically and emotionally – which nurture kindness and wisdom. Last, but not least, I continue to try to be mindful, accepting, compassionate and sensitive to my own being and to other living beings. Reflecting back on my meditation experience, I understand that there was nothing ‘special’ about its creation, indeed, only the correct conditions caused what took place. A deep, spiritual, life-altering transformation is available to anyone who is willing to devote time to study and practice, have a “beginner’s mind” and finds wise teachers.’


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