My plans are clearer now though by no means certain.
Postponed Trip to India
I am following good advice from friends and family not to go to India before the retreat in Myanmar.
The disadvantages and inconveniences:
1. I would be travelling there alone on the first trip and this is inherently stressful. It may be better for at least the beginning of the first trip to travel in a small group with an experienced person or guide.
2. The weather is particularly hot in late March-April after the moderate temperatures of December-February.
3. My original plan to travel to the main sites in one or two weeks was to cramped with lots of activities in a short period. It would be better to have more time to meditate, read discourses on location and see the less often visited sites.
So now I will probably go to India either in October-November 2009 or from late December 2009 to February 2010 with the later period more likely. I’ve done a lot of research on the India trip that I’ve filed away on the portable media player. I can read the maps and notes stored there. I got an Indian tourist visa but now will not use it before it expires. I will have to apply for another Indian tourist visa at a later time.
Between Perth and Yangon
My last day at work is Thursday, 19 March. I shall take my bags to work and go to the Perth International Airport from there. I will fly overnight and arrive in Singapore around 3AM, Friday, 20 March. I may find a cheap place to rest for a few hours. I want to buy some white meditation shirts and other small items at Mustafa’s. I will also go to a clinic to have the JE vaccination and the annual flu vaccination. I was hoping to visit one or two monks in the afternoon. Neither has replied my e-mail yet. Now that may be delayed for another visit to Singapore while something more urgent has appeared. I just found out that a friend’s parents are very unwell and so maybe I will visit them in the afternoon.
I fly from Singapore to Bangkok between 6PM and 7:30PM. I plan to take a combination of taxi and train to Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam, and check in to a guest house before midnight on Friday, 20 March. I will check out from there around Tuesday, 24 March and fly to Yangon.
In Ayutthaya I can relax a bit, tour the ruins, visit the museum and just get used to being in Asia before commencing the retreat in Burma.
I have a six month meditation visa for Myanmar (Burma). One needs a meditation centre to be a sponsor in order to get a six month or three month (or whatever length) meditation visa. Saddhammaransi Meditation Centre is my sponsor for this trip.
Ven. Sayadaw U Kundala has been very sick during the past few years but has recently made a good recovery. A friend who was in Yangon a few weeks ago reported that Sayadaw is up and about meeting visitors and is likely able to talk with me. This is great news for me. I am fortunate indeed.
Hopefully, I have learned from mistakes I made on a six week retreat in Yangon two years ago. This time, I have at least six months for the retreat – ten times longer or more.
1. Don’t write a daily journal; and 2. Don’t talk to anyone unless absolutely necessary. These activities involve discursive mental practices which are inherently conceptual and far from observing ultimate realities. Writing and talking are to be avoided as much as possible on Buddhist meditation retreats. Whether samatha or vipassana, the same rule applies.
3. Maintain continuous mindfulness and careful or appropriate attention at all times (sati-sampaja~n~na and yoniso-manasikaara). This is about continuity of mindfulness on the right objects. Try to maintain mindfulness of presently arising and passing phenomena at all times, even when bathing, eating, walking to the interview, sweeping the hall and so forth.
4. Purchase small necessary items at the beginning of the retreat so I don’t need to go to the office and make requests. Being experienced, I know what I need now.
5. Don’t look at other meditators or people at the meditation centre. They have a duty to observe phenomena arising and passing over there. I have a duty to observe phenomena arising and passing over here.
6. Do only basic chores necessary for daily life. Avoid repairing toilets when there are still two other toilets in working order. Despite this being a good deed, the benefit does not compare (is not one sixteenth part) of the benefit of meditation. All the planning, shopping for parts and solving of small problems involved in such repairs is very distracting for beginner meditators in the middle of a retreat. This reminds me of the old story of “cleaning the oven before writing the next thesis chapter.”
I have been anxious about taking the Suttapitaka books on this trip. When planning this trip earlier, I was not sure if I would return to Australia or not. I may meditate most of the time from April to November (or even longer) without any breaks for study or travel (except maybe short distances within Burma to other meditation centres). In that case, I may not need Suttapitaka books. Having them nearby, I may be tempted to read them or refer to them while on retreat. I’ve become quite attached to them during the past two years. They are my dearest possessions. I shall contemplate the parable of the raft and see if I can let them go for a while.
Australia in December?
I may return for 3 weeks from late November to mid December 2009 to attend my children’s school graduations. One will graduate year 12 and another may (or may not…) graduate year 10. It will mean a lot to them if I can attend. It would cost a lot in airfares though. I checked fares and could not find any discount fares for that period yet. They may be advertised later. Or maybe with the global recession, the cost of flying will increase as the airlines shut down more flights.