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.

Last Day in the Office

Today was my last day at work. I had a pending holiday that could not be converted to cash so I had to “use it or lose it”. Tomorrow, my last day in Perth will be a holiday for me. I shall use the day to do a few small chores, eat dinner at my sister’s house and then depart.

On the way to the office this morning, I bought a large lemon cream sponge cake from Miss Maud‘s. This was a popular choice for our morning tea. Yesterday, my branch and a few others went out to have a farewell lunch. They gave me a lovely going away card and a gift of $75 cash. Everyone has been very thoughtful and kind. They said lots of sweet words and wished me success in “whatever it is you think your doing.” There were comments like: “it sounds like torture more than a holiday” and “you can still change your mind and stay.” Perhaps understandably, I have been walking around with a big grin on my face most of this week.

Having spent most of my working career in Canberra working for the Australian Government on national social policies and programs, I enjoyed learning about state government processes, industrial infrastructure policy and Western Australia. I shall carry fond memories of many good people I met during the past five months.

Work and Worldly Routines

I’ve been working for two weeks in my new job. There are many similarities and differences compared with previous jobs in Canberra. I have found here there is less concern with security, people dress more casually and the amounts of money for programs are smaller. As expected, I’ve been spending a lot of time learning the policy area, the current issues and the positions of various policy agents (stakeholders). My bosses have complimented me already saying that I seem to have done a lot and made a good impression. I’ll be flying down south for a 3 day work trip in few days. We’ll hire a car then drive to a few places to meet local officials. That should be interesting.

The down side for me is the long commute. I leave home at 6:30AM and get home around 6:30PM or slightly later. I walk 15 minutes to get to the bus stop, sit on a bus to the office for 45 minutes get another bus and take another 30 minutes to get to the office. The trip home is the same in reverse. I’m thinking of not taking the second shorter bus route and just walking that bit. It is an easy decision really. I can peacefully walk by the Swan River and avoid the busy main street stop-start bus ride. I’ve been walking during lunch breaks too. In addition to the Swan River foreshore, there is a lovely Garden nearby with flowers, ducks and shady trees. I plan to take a sitting mat and do a quick 20 minute sit during the lunch break.

My day normally starts by waking at 5:00AM, wash the face, quick coffee, down dog on the ropes for my back and then a 30 minute sit, cereal, change appearance and possibly check the home e-mail and headlines. Mum is usually just getting up by the time I walk out the door. I do another shorter sit before sleeping. I struggle to stay awake during the evening sit. I’ve been continuing to read sutta while sitting on the bus to work. I’ve finished the Samyuttanikaaya and am now part way through the Majjhimanikaaya again. Next I may read the Anguttaranikaaya again before moving on to the Vissudhimagga again. A rewarding cycle of reading.

Leaving the Australian Public Service

I worked three years in the Australian Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and then six months in the Department of Finance and Deregulation. I worked in many other Australian Public Service (APS) agencies since 1992. I enjoyed working in the public service for many reasons: sharing knowledge and experience; contributing to the welfare of Australian people; meeting and stirring-up interesting people; and relatively good working conditions and salary. Reasons for not enjoying it include: seeing bad ideas become Government policy and then fail as predicted; seeing pettiness in the scramble for power; and more.

I also liked the public service because I could do work that was relatively harmless to myself and others. I always tried to ensure that my work would be helpful to the Australian community and to some extent the international community. I was mindful of Right Livelihood – Sammaa Aajiva.

“A lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison.” AN 5.177

My last day in the APS was Friday, 22 August 2008. Now I have no income. I have some savings which I plan to live on for the next few months. I may decide to seek ordination as a Theravada Buddhist monk or to find employment to continue the search as a lay Buddhist.