Back in Perth – new directions old directions

Dear readers, I have been active with other priorities and not blogged much. Now that I’m busier, I’ll probably blog more.  I hope you enjoy the new blog page style. I updated my June post on Sri Lanka and added a lot of photos.

I returned to Perth about 12 weeks ago. I applied for many jobs and finally accepted an interesting role starting on Monday, 14 November.  In order to generate income for paying bills I usually work as a in government on social policy development and project management.  I always find work though it can take about 2 months of applying.  This time it took nearly 3 months…

I enjoyed my recent trips to Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom. On the first trip to Sri Lanka (3.5 weeks in June 2011) I stayed with Bhante Nyanatusita at the Forest Hermitage where I installed mosquito screens, door handles, and tidied up a storage area. Bhante and I also went on a 5 day tour of places north of Kandy. We hiked in forests and climbed hills. I really enjoyed visiting ancient monasteries at Ritigala and Kaluda Pokuna as well as several significant sites at Anuradhapura.  I learned a lot from close association with Bhante and our Dhamma discussions.

The second trip was only about 10 days and again mostly in Kandy working at the Forest Hermitage. Bhante and I installed a wifi antenna with lightning protection on the roof and significantly improved Bhante’s Internet connection.

The detailed map located just past the main entry gate to Udawattakele, Kandy, Sri Lanka
Old sign for the Forest Hermitage, Udawattakele, Kandy, Sri Lanka

Michael made two mosquito screens with scrap wood and left over mesh at the Forest Hermitage in June 2011. These two screens were installed in the window frames of the outside kuti sometimes used by guest monks.


Inside the outside kuti sometimes used by guest monks at the Forest Hermitage, Kandy, Sri Lanka, June 2011

Shaded meditation walking path near outside kuti, Forest Hermitage, Kandy, Sri Lanka

Wifi antenna installed on the Forest Hermitage roof, 13 August 2011. It is not quite finished. After this photo we attached three metal pipes connecting the antenna pole to the solar panel frame. These connections were insulated to prevent any lightning current flowing between them. The green wire in the photo is an earth wire that leads from the lightning attractor above the antenna itself down to a lightning rod embedded in the ground. You can see the white plastic pipe protecting the wire from the antenna and entering a small hole in the roof tile.

A new LED lamp for an existing socket at the Forest Hermitage, Kandy, Sri Lanka, June 2011

New lamps, medicine and ARRID plugs for the 12 volt electrical solar powered system at the Forest Hermitage, Kandy, Sri Lanka, June 2012

My second trip (10 days in August 2011) coincided with the Australian cricket team’s tour of Sri Lanka which I had no interest in. It also coincided with the annual 10 day Perahera festival held in Kandy. I have little interest in colourful parades mainly because I don’t like mixing with crowds of people. I saw parts of the parade when I was in town shopping for items to install the wifi antenna. The parade is very popular among Sri Lankan people.

Michael & an elephant at the forecourt of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 10 August 2011 (photo taken by Ven. Nyanatusita)

Corner of Dalada Veediya and Yatinuvara Veediya, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 13 August 2011.  People were sitting on plastic sheets on the pavements waiting for the Perahera festival parade so pedestians had to walk on the roads to get around. 
My trip to the United Kingdom was my first trip to the mother country since 1974. Except for my own two children, all other members of my Australian family (two parents and three siblings) had visited more recently and some have visited many times. I had a mild case of culture shock when I first arrived at Heathrow Airport and then spent my first week mostly in Wittering (near Chichester), Sussex. The weather was sunny and warm almost the whole time I was in the UK, even in Scotland.  I then went to Telford in Shropshire; Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen in Scotland; and then Beverley, Hull and Polkington in Yorkshire. I visited most but not all of my UK relations. I was warmly welcomed by all and I learned a lot about family history.

This trip to Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom was part of my exploration of ways to live a spiritual life as a lay man. I validated this approach and am very confident that this is the right thing for me to do it (not saying this is the right thing for everyone).  In previous blog posts I wrote about getting stuck at the same point during Mahasi method vipassana meditation retreats. Since January 2010 I changed my primary meditation practice to samatha though I am still doing satipaathana (mindfulness of body, feelings, mind and dhamma; it has always been a combination of samatha and vipassana).

Some might say that I have not tried hard enough. I am not keen on metaphorically bashing my head on a brick wall. I believe the path is gradual and gentle.  I think the right amount of viriya-energy arises with the right amount of samaadhi-concentration. An imbalance in the faculties is an obstacle.

On these two recent trips to Sri Lanka I kept precepts and offered items and service to the Sangha that stays at the Forest Hermitage.I also participated in Dhamma discussions with Bhante and others. I listened to and read  Dhamma. Although positive and wholesome, these good deeds maybe less important or virtuous than bhavanaa-mental development through vipassana and samatha.  However, the importance of developing samaadi.t.thi-Right View cannot be overstated. Dhamma discussion, hearing the Dhamma and asking pertient questions are all excellent ways of developing and supporting Samaadi.t.thi.

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Perth – settling in

I’ve been back in Perth, Australia for over two weeks now. I’m living at my Mother’s house and seeing my siblings and their families often. The weather is fine and cool. It is great weather in fact.  Perth is so clean and tidy, all the infrastructure is so well maintained and so convenient… except that everything is so spread out and there seem to be few people.  Australians are fortunate to have such good living conditions.

I’ve applied for many jobs already and will continue to apply until I am employed again. My main job market is government service and university administration. My expertise is public policy analysis and project management. I’ll get something soon, I have good qualifications and experience.

I went to Murdoch University campus for the first time since 1992. There are many new buildings and modifications to older buildings.  I’ve also joined Murdoch University Alumni, thinking this is another network and such networks can be helpful.  Following their advice, I joined the Murdoch University Library as a Community Member with the usual $99 annual fee waived. I also got a “green zone” parking sticker for free. The annual fee is usually $137 for staff or $74 for students.  The friendly Alumni office staff also gave me an attractive  aluminum covered notepad with pen and a special tube of Alumni sunscreen lotion. I first went to Murdoch in 1979 which wasn’t long after it opened.  I was a full-time student there for six years. Now I’m considering options for doing a postgraduate diploma there next year in part-time mode. I’m not sure yet.

I don’t have a big network of friends in Perth because I lived most of the past 18 years in Canberra and traveled overseas. It is easy to make new friends though.  Australians tend to move a lot. I’m not sure if any studies have been done on how often people move house or even relocate to different towns and states but feel confident that Australians move more than other nationalities. I’m generalising of course.

Since I left Na Uyana Aranya, Sri Lanka I done much meditation. I have spent a lot of time on my Mother’s computer surfing the Internet as well as writing job applications.  While I was in Asian meditation centres I was unable to keep up with news or do research by “following my nose”. Now I have time and opportunity…

I prepared a schedule in Google Calendar for an ideal way to manage my time and this includes sitting meditation for one hour in the morning (4:30 AM start) and one hour before sleeping. However, I confess that so far, I haven’t got into the routine. Sometimes, I follow my nose on the Internet and two or three hours pass in subjective minutes.

Even so I still chant every morning and evening and do a little loving-kindness and recollection of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. I also read a little Dhamma each day and some days read a lot. During day when I drive the car, or walk somewhere, instead of letting the mind wander I often focus on the breath touching the upper lip. It feels good and centres me straight away. I note the good feeling and try to focus on the touch sensation.   I even do this kind of short meditation when waiting in queues or walking around shops.

Negombo, Kuala Lumpur, Perth

Negombo
On Tuesday, 11 May, I travelled from Kandy to Negombo by regular bus.  It was a hot 4 hour journey sitting next to my luggage on the seat next to me. I bought two seat tickets (one for my luggage). The conductor alerted me to the stop where I wanted to get off, Parakrama Road close to a Nayomi Bakery just about 5km just south of Negombo town. I drank some tea and ate some cakes before taking a 3 wheeler with my 3 pieces of luggage 1km down Parakrama Road to Srilal Fernando’s guest-house. I had booked the room a few days earlier.  I did not wish to go to the Negombo beach which is north of town. Srilal Fernando’s place is relatively close to the Bandaranaike International Airport (Sri Lanka’s international airport). It is very clean, comfortable and economical.

Kuala Lumpur
I flew AirAsia to KL arriving about 2pm, stored my luggage at the airport and rode a shuttle bus into town to visit a Dhamma book distribution centre where I picked up two books and made a donation. I ate roti and dal and drank milk with Mrs Lim from the distribution centre at a nearby restaurant. We chatted about Dhamma and life in KL. Then I went back to the KL airport by shuttle bus and a short while later boarded the flight to Perth.

Perth

I arrived in Perth on Saturday, 15 May 2010 before dawn. The air was crisp and cool. Someone told me the temperature of around 2.5 degrees Celsius though the minimum is usually around 6-8 degrees rising to a maximum of around 22. It was a huge contrast with Negombo, Sri Lanka which was very very humid last week and had a temperature range between 31-27 degrees C.  The southern hemisphere is in autumn now. I enjoyed passing through Perth on my way to my mother’s house. There were few vehicles or people to be seen. There is so much space between things. I travelled by shuttle van from the airport to the city and then by light rail and local bus. Everything seems so clean and luxurious. So much space, so few people… I have experienced this many times and yet each time I return to Australia after some time away, I am always delighted.

I’ve caught up with many family members. The adults haven’t changed during the past year or so while the children have noticeably grown taller and one now talks incessantly.  I have already begun looking for employment.

Wat Pa Nanachat – International Forest Monastery

I came to Ubon Ratchathani for a short visit to the International Forest Monastery (Wat Pa Nanachat). Despite 27 years visiting Thailand this is the first time I’ve been to this famous monastery. I am glad to have finally made it.  

The community at the monastery is preparing for an important meeting of senior monks (Thera) from the international network of forest monasteries (in the tradition of Ajahn Chah). This meeting is due to begin next week. I met briefly with the “Guest Monk” – who has the duty of anwering queries from temporary visitors such as myself. Ven. Nyaniko Bhikkhu told me he ordained at Abhayagiri Monastery in Redwood, California, United States seven years ago.

This trip helped to straighten out some misconceptions I previously held about Wat Pa Nanachat/International Forest Monastery and the international network.

I had previously assumed that the views of Ajahn Brahm from Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth, Australia and Ven. Sujato from Santi Forest Monastery, New South Wales, were representative of the entire forest monastery network.  When living in Australia, I did not wish to visit either of these Australian monasteries due to controversial views expressed by Ajahn Brahm and Ven. Sujato. This was despite living close to both monasteries at various times during the past 15 years. Ven. Nyaniko told me that both Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Sugato have chosen to leave the network for the time being. I did not pursue the details of this break nor ask questions about what may be the cause etc. I found out belatedly after returning to Bangkok. It seems that Ajahn Brahm and Ven. Sugato may have hurt the network as a whole. Maybe one day they may both reconsider their views, apologise and return to the network.

I felt relieved to hear that the forest monastery tradition is open to many different Buddhist meditation practices including Mahasi method vipassana.

I also apologised to Ven. Nyaniko for previously considering Ajahn Chah monks to be overly obsessed with vinaya (monk’s disciplinary rules) and the outward appearance of monastic life with insufficient focus on meditation and spiritual attainment.   I realised many years ago that this was incorrect and was glad to be able to apologise face to face with Ven. Nyaniko as a representative of the Ajahn Chah lineage. Another reason for relief.

Wat Pa Nanachat has a very peaceful atmosphere and seems to be a delightful place to ordain and live the monastic life. I visited on Tuesday morning and spoke with Ven. Nyaniko and again on Wednesday morning to donate flowers, fruit and soy milk. It was Uposotha day on Wednesday so I undertook 8 precepts and listened to a wonderful Dhamma talk in Thai by Ajahn Jayasaro, who appears in many excellent videos you may download from Dhammatube. The talk was about the four divine abodes:

  • Metta – loving-kindness
  • Karuna – compassion
  • Mudita – sympathetic joy
  • Upekkha – equanimity

The talk focused mainly on Metta and Upekkha. I was previously familiar with the four divine abodes and enjoyed listening to Ajahn Jayasaro deliver the talk in fluent Thai. He spoke Thai and delivered the Dhamma talk more competently than most Thai monks I’ve heard. I prefer a structure, cause and effect, small amount of repetition and some illustrative similes. Ajahn Jayasaro delivered all these very well.  [In response to a request from one of the students I met at Wat Mahadhatu last week, I plan to write a blog article on the four divine abodes soon.]

On Monday evening, I left Bangkok on an overnight train and arrived in Ubon Ratchathani on Tuesday morning (yesterday).  I began writing this at an Internet cafe in Ubon near the Warin Markets.  The returning train departed Ubon around 18:30 Wednesday evening and arrived in Bangkok around 06:00 Thursday morning. I paid for second class air con. sleeper, lower bunk. It is fairly comfortable though if the bed was another 10cm longer it would be a better fit. I stayed last night at the Pathumrat Hotel. I booked it via Agoda and got a big discount. The room was very comfortable and way above my usual standard of accomodation. I had air con. TV, ensuite, a fridge and so on.

At the Ubon train station just before boarding, I met Brian Johnson, a fellow Dhamma tourist, who had just finished a 2 or 3 week (not sure of the length of time) period living at Wat Pa Nanachat. I didn’t notice him when I was there. He is a few months older than me and we boarded the train and swapped stories about our Dhamma experiences. It was one of those rare moments when I felt as though I’d met a long lost brother. We talked fast and four hours passed quickly before a train official said it was time to sleep and go to our separate carriages. I hope to meet Brian again one day or at least to have e-mail contact from time to time. Brian has a website with useful information about the teachings of Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw. I encourage readers to check it out. www.paauk.org I promised Brian I would post an article about Dhammanusari and Saddhanusari before I fly to India on 3 December.

Perth to Yangon

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.

Retreat
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.”

Cargo
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.

Albany – Esperance

Last week I went on an information gathering trip from Perth to Albany and Esperance and back to Perth with a work colleague. We drove a new vehicle along the Albany Highway to Albany, the South Coast Highway via Ravensthorpe (and Hopetoun) to Esperance and passed through many small country towns along the way. We met and interviewed local officials who emphasised various issues. It was very interesting and I learned a lot about the region. We saw many blue gum plantations, grain fields, roads, port and mining facilities and learned about water, power and transport infrastructure in these regions.

I have been to Albany several times and last went there in January this year on holiday with my children. This work trip was the first time I have ever been to Esperance. It is a lovely town with a population of around 15,000. It would be an ideal place for a family holiday.

I particularly enjoyed seeing the landscape of the Great Southern and lower Goldfield Esperance regions. We passed through the Fitzgerald River National Park and the Cape Le Grand National Park. Both parks have quite spectacular rock formations and beaches. While passing through these places, my colleague and I both commented on how lovely it would be to live in close proximity to these beautiful places. These must have deep cultural significance for the Aboriginal people who live in the region now and in the past.

Last day in Canberra

The past two days have been hectic. I worked hard physically to clear out the remaining things from 18 Gillespie St and then do the cleaning. Finally out of there. May that be my last house! May those belongings bring happiness to someone else. May I never gather so much stuff ever again in this life or any other.

Due to working so late on Thursday night/Friday morning, I slept overnight on the carpet in one of the rooms just wearing what I had on with a rolled up towel and some other rag as a pillow. It was cold and not comfortable even though the house heater was on all night.

I slept well last night back at the YHA. I packed and repacked my remaining stuff this morning. A series of decisions about the relatively inessential to cut weight. I’m down to my good Osprey Sojourn travel pack (with wheels and backpack straps) and an old suitcase for stowed luggage and my day pack for cabin luggage. I put my suit bag inside the old suitcase. I will probably dump that old suitcase in Perth. My travel pack is loaded with my most precious Dhamma books that I find very hard to leave behind. I may send them by DHL or FedEx to Bangkok for storage at a friend’s house so my travel pack be lighter. I won’t need the books while I’m doing intensive meditation retreat. Once I’m settled somewhere, even briefly, I like to have my Dhamma books nearby to consult.

I have arranged to meet my children for a lunch today.