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Scaps from my journal during the mindfulness retreat

Chang How

Chang How

Thursday, March 5

We started a four day retreat with Chang How, a Thich Nhat Hanh disciple, at Khukuk, a kibbutz just above the Sea of Galilee.  We arrived Wednesday lunch time and it will continue till Saturday afternoon.

During the evening meditation I thought again about what Murakami wrote at the prize ceremony in Jerusalem.  I must download the speech, lest it disappears from Haaretz website.  His speech emphasized that every human being has worth and dignity.  Is this dignity based on his Buddha Nature, or is it based on the things that make him unique - the imperfections?  Are the imperfections, the egoism, the flaws of character, also Buddha Nature?  I think that for a writer these are of the essence; the thing that makes a novel interesting.  The dirt - this is the place a novelist goes, and dwells.  But he transforms it into art - he exhalts what other men shun.  He doesn't belong to that dirt, but rests upon it like a lotus, like a saint.  Of course this is a very idealized view of a novelist.  But in reading writers of the calibre of Murakami or Mistry, there is a feeling that they are special in that way.

Thursday morning.

I was very tired yesterday when we arrived, and tired this morning in meditation. Thoughts confused. I imagined, I think it was early morning, that over Chang How, while she sat talking, giving a dharma talk, there was a high beam, and on it sat a crow.  I was gazing at the crow, which made bird movements, hopping and pecking.   And then at breakfast in the dining hall, I also sat gazing above Chang How's head (this time in reality).  Behind her hung a photograph from the early days of the kibbutz.  There was the fortress from the 1940s, its tower, stone walls and interior courtyard.    There was a banner saying that you must have the intelligence to know what to want, and then to execute it.

The teacher gave a dharma talk this morning about her own life experiences, which included early life in Vietnam.  She became a refugee and had to move three times, the last time to Canada.  When she fled, it was without any possessions.  She had only two shirts and two pairs of pants, all of which she was wearing.

Chang How was for a long time very angry with her mother.  Her mother had to work hard to support their large family, such that she had little time for the children.  Once when she came home from work the children asked her to take them for a ride on her motor bike, but she was just too tired.  Till today, her mother is full of worry, remembering her earlier hard time and the war.

They had a handicapped brother, who lived with them at home.  Chang How said that while one normally thinks that it is the most beautiful child who gets the most attention, his disability brought all of them to love and help him.

Chang How grew up hating the Americans for what they did in Vietnam, and it took her a long time to overcome this hatred.  Later in Canada she met with war veterans and told the story of how one visited her home.  He had been traumatized by the war and was very distrustful when he came to stay with her.  Before going to bed he secretly checked the whole apartment, crawling from place to place, checking every room.  He even came into her room while she pretended to sleep.  He was afraid she would murder him.


Satyakama Jabala told his mom that he wanted to study under a vedic teacher and so he needed to ask her about his lineage.  She said, When I was young, I was a maid, and had many relationships.  Therefore I can't say with any certainty what your lineage may be.  My name is Jabala, so you should say that you are Satyakama Jabala.

Satyakama Jabala went and sought out a vedic teacher and, when the teacher asked him about his lineage, he repeated the story is mother had told him.  The teacher said that only a true Brahmin would have responded like that, without hiding any part of the truth.  He accepted him as his student.

"Om is like a pin, which pierces through all the leaves."

This morning in meditation I felt like Om must be the string upon which all the beads of a mala are strung.

I fell into a deep sleep after breakfast, with the Upanishads shielding my face from the sunlight. Dorit had been reading aloud the 14 mindfulness trainings, and I had said, "The dharma's too hard, I'm going back to sleep." I didn't awake until 10:30, till long after the "dharma sharing" had begun.

The days, (in the Galilee) are full of birds, "sounds like they are saying words."

Maybe they are giving their own version of a dharma sharing, if I could understand them.

Da - Datta - Dhamyatta.  I had been looking for that half-remembered passage from What the Thunder Said, in TS Eliot's The Wasteland.  Quoted from somewhere in the Upanishads, I think.  [found it later: Brhadaaranyaka Upanisad, Chapter 5, 2.] Dorit had been asking if Dana, the donation given to the teacher in Buddhist retreats, is a Sanskrit word.  English, Italian, Pali, Sanskrit - the same.

My Flip camera's battery is weakening fast.  This morning I managed to film only till the end of the recitation of the first mindfulness training.  Strange, I dreamed, in my mid-morning slumber, that it had an iphone battery, and was therefore replaceable.  It would be nice if it would be so.

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