Monday, May 7, 2007

Thanissaro Bhikkhu at Sati Center

This weekend I drove to Bay Area to see Ajahn Geoff giving a lecture on Paticca Samuppada at Sati Center. It took me a little bit less than two hours to get there from Davis. Traffic was not that horrible despite recent accident and collapse of one of the highway ramps. The center is fairly large and can accommodate 50-60 people. There are zafus and mats available for sitting meditation so I did not need to use my own. Tony, our Davis sitting group leader is currently volunteers at Sati Center as a teacher and administrator and I spent most of free time talking with him since he was the only person there whom I knew personally. Leigh Brasington was there too but he was always busy talking with somebody else so I did not got a chance to introduce myself. Anyway, I did not feel myself quite comfortable after I flaked Thanksgiving retreat and his dhamma talk in Davis. Ajahn Geoff began his talk with short meditation and afterwards we were reading and discussing his hand-out on Paticca Samuppada. As you might expect, the hand-out had very similar structure with Wings of Awakening: separate paragraphs on each twelve steps of Depending Co-arising and extensive quotes from the Canon. I really admire the way of Ajahn Geoff's thinking and explanation of the Canon but I think there was too much of the information for one day. My attention got spread between Ajahn Geoff reading the quotes and my own reading from the hand-out which I tried to follow. After all I think, that the hand-out was rather a distraction and I should have focused on Ajahn's speech. There were few people who actually sat in meditation through both two hour parts of the lecture. By the way my zafu and the carpet beneath were really comfortable so I could easily sit cross-legged twice for 1.5 hour period which I did. At least something to be proud with if your mediation is crappy. The most striking thing for me was Ajahn's interpretation of Birth and Aging/Death that he does not define literally. Basically, he interprets the latter as a destruction of any constructed object including, for example, a set of believes created out of ignorance. Interesting questions were about his use of word 'stress' rather than 'suffering' for 'dukkha', and the reason for avoiding genitals when working with breath energy through the body in breath meditation. For the first questions the reasons were the following: 1) Not everyone experiences literal suffering but everyone experiences stress. Hence, First Noble Truth is more convincing. 2) Experiences in jhanas cannot be described as 'suffering' but rather as 'stress'. 3) (the one that I most liked) One cannot romanticize stress but one can romanticize suffering. It's a really good point since western culture is rooted in Christianity with its veneration of martyrs. The answer for the second question is simply a matter of etiquette. Teachers prefer not to mention lower body part while teaching to public, however in personal practice there is no restriction where to focus the attention.
It's a first test message to my new blog. Still I cannot decide which system to use as my primary blog, Live Journal or Blogger. Basically, I want to keep this blog for some personal notes and brief reports about events I was attending.