Meditating with the Monks
Cambodia is a Buddhist country, which allows me to experience vastly different cultural practices than my own. This evening I attended my first one hour session of meditation at the local temple. The meditation room is on the second floor of the temple, with a large statue of the Buddha at one end. Locals come here to pray, give offerings and meditate. During the hour of meditation, square cusions are lined up throughout the room, with circular cushions placed in the center so that you can find your most comfortable meditation position. As this was one of my first experiences practicing meditation, especially in this form, the head monk gave me an instructin manual to read during the session so that I can become acquainted with the practice of Vipassana meditation. The manual says:
Vipassana meditation is an awareness meditation. It teaches you to be with the present moment, to live in the present moment. It teaches to be aware of
everything that comes to you and is happening to you. Only the present moment is important. And everything that comes to you at the present moment through the six sense doors: “eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind” is to be noted, to be watched, to be observed as the object of awareness. When you practise Vipassana meditation, by making mental notes of just watching the things that come to you, you bring awareness to a high level so that you will be able to see things as they truly are. You will come to see the true nature of mind and body, of the mental and physical phenomena of which you are composed. “True nature” means the nature of impermanence, the nature of dissatisfaction, and the nature of insubstantiality or the absence of an unchanging self or soul. It is important to see these three characteristics of nature so that you can have a correct view of things, so that you may have less attachment to mind and body, and gradually be able to weaken the hold of mental defilements that prevent enlightenment.
Vipassana meditation suggests that before you begin your practice, you ask forgiveness from yourself and others in order to have a clear mind. After the process of forgiving anyone you may have offended by deed, speech or thought, you enter a short practice of loving-kindness meditation. This portion of the practice is to focus on love without attachment, wishing peace and happiness to the whole world and to all beings. Once you have completed about 15 minutes of this process, you enter into the Vipassana meditation.
During the Vipassana meditation, you either sit in half lotus or cross legged, or you walk on a set path with your head down, back and forth. You can also change between seated and walking meditation, depending on how long you plan to practice (ie one hour or many hours). During the meditation you have one main object of awareness, normally your breath. You focus on the breath just at the tip of your nose as it enters and exits the body. If you become distracted during the practice, you acknowledge the distraction and move your focus back to your main object. For all thoughts and movements, you have to very specifically focus on each component and release the thought to maintain the focus on your breath. For example, if you feel that you have to swallow:
First be mindful of the intention or desire to swallow, saying to yourself
“intention, intention, intention” or “desire, desire, desire”. And when you
have gathered the salive in your mouth, be mindful of gathering, or say to
yourself “gathering, gathering, gathering”. When you swallow it down, be
mindful of swallowing, or say to yourself, “swallowing, swallowing, swallowing” then go back to the breaths.
Each thought, movement, etc. involves a process of acknowledgment and focus. I became a bit sleepy, but that just shows that I am inexperienced and have a lot to learn. I definitely felt relaxed after the hour, even though I took the time to read through and try to understand the instruction manual versus fully focusing on meditating. The experience was lovely and I hope to practice again soon!