Archive for April, 2012

First 10-Day Vipassana Meditation Retreat

by on Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Women's residence hall and trees with mangoes wrapped in newspaper

After my application for the retreat was accepted, I started having doubts. Ten days without speaking to others I didn’t see as a problem for me. I like silence. We were also forbidden any reading or writing materials—I’d heard about this before with Zen practice. Also no cell phones, or food we brought in ourselves. No problem, I thought. But eleven hours of daily meditation? With my old back and sciatica-ridden right leg? I got on the internet and found a very helpful pamphlet which assured me that students could work independently much of the time, in their own quarters if they like, where they could stretch out on the bed for five minutes if necessary. [http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/v_retreat6.pdf]. This was clearly not the kind of situation where you had to be sitting in the meditation hall the whole time and a monk would come around and whack you with a stick if you weren’t sitting up straight. (When a Japanese monk did that to a friend of mine, she jumped up and yelled at him.)

For four and a half years I’d taken a weekly meditation class from Do Gong Sunim, aka John Barazzuol. [For Dogong’s posts here , see http://caroldussere.com/2012/04/14/a-meditation-teachers-last-talk and http://caroldussere.com/2010/12/10/the-man-behind-spiritpower-part-1 and http://caroldussere.com/2010/12/18/the-man-behind-spiritpower-part-2 .] I wrote to him about the retreat, and I got this response:

Throw away your apprehension and embrace and enjoy the 10-day Vipassana retreat! This is a wonderful, precious gift that you have given yourself. I will be your cheerleader. I’ll cheer for you to go. Do it. Go for it.

Now I must admit that I am very prejudiced in favor of the Vipassansa meditation, which comes from the Theravadan Buddhist tradition in which I received my first, high ordination as a Buddhist monk. Also, in various times in my life as a lay person, I have taken a few of the Vipassana retreats run by the teachers under Goenka. I love Goenka’s style and approach. He trains his teachers to run a very tight ship as far as discipline and rules and regulations go. Initially, it all sounds like a bit too much to put up with—but just accept and go with it and you will find yourself in a wonderful meditation environment. The Rules function to minimize distractions and help you maintain a focused mind. I also like Goenka’s meditation technique—”The Technique”—and have made good use of it in my life even though it is no longer my main meditation practice. Also I found the Goenka retreat environments very helpful in attaining an inner stillness. If after taking the course, you are not happy with the results or whatever happened, and you want to blame me for recommending it, then I would say with great delight, “Do it again!”

I close with this observation: after many meditation retreats, participants would often share all the suffering from the hell realms that they passed through; and they were not at all happy with me sounding like a bliss ninny. But I also experienced the same suffering as they.  I embrace the suffering and I enjoy the bliss. I embrace my darkness to get to my lightness. Now I am in no way suggesting you program yourself to go to this retreat expecting to suffer or to be blissed out. Just go and accept whatever the universe has to offer you.

I would be delighted to know how it all goes for you.

A few weeks later I was with the Vipassana group on a public bus for Sico Farm in Dasmariñas, Cavite, where Dhamma Phala is located. My head was full of images from approximately two decades before, when Dogong and Mujin and Chikwan Sunim—all monks and nuns from English-speaking countries—took our meditation class to Sudok Temple, a few hours from Seoul, for three or four weekends of meditation. We sat for eight hours a day in the meditation hall, mostly facing the walls, while the old clock creaked and banged its way through the hour. We also slept in the hall—men in the hall, women on the porch. I made us coffee in the morning, we gave each other backrubs, and between meals we pigged out on junk food. At the Vipassana retreat there would be no backrubs because we weren’t allowed to touch each other for the duration of the course.

Sudok Temple buildings

Images from Sudok Temple were with me the first couple of days at the center. Sudok-sa was a traditional Buddhist temple with buildings with curved tiled roofs and enormous Buddha statues, all financed by the same Chogye Order which paid my university salary. In contrast, the Vipassana Society is supported entirely by donations from former students—no religious affiliations, no corporate grants, no commercial exploitation of the method. Teaching, food and lodging are free to participants. The staff is unpaid. The rules include putting aside all religious objects and practices until the end of the course. At Dhamma Phala, the land is owned by a former student. The buildings are metal prefabricated constructions which can be taken apart and moved when the society buys its own land.

During the retreat, when the bell struck repeatedly at four in the morning and I had to struggle into my clothes, wash up a bit and head up the gentle rise from the women’s quarters to the meditation hall, in my head I was also hearing the temple bell and the wooden drum, loud enough to waken the dead, and the monk strolling around the courtyard, beating the wooden mokt’ak to summon everyone to the temple. Then I would slide the paper door to one side. It was hard to imagine anything more exotic—the hour, the silhouettes of the temple buildings in the dark courtyard. Inside the temple, the cosmic patterns painted everywhere, the shaven-headed monks in their robes, the rich light falling on the Buddhas and the paintings, the sound of the brass gong. While the cold wind blew through big cracks in the walls, our group stood behind the monks and participated in the bowing and chanting. Then we went back to the hall to begin meditation on the overheated floor.

It was strange not putting palms together and bowing when I entered the Vipassana center’s meditation hall, a plain white building with cushions in royal blue on the men’s side and powder blue on the women’s side, a seat for the teacher in front and recording equipment to play audio and videotapes. As soon as I sat down the first time, I felt I had come home.

The meditation all--men on the left, women on the right.

Meditation began when the teacher put on an audiotape of Goenka’s chanting in Pali, followed by Goenka’s instructions. For the first three days, we were to concentrate on the breath coming in and out of the nostrils, first on the inner wall and then on the bit of skin outside and below the nostrils. This was practice for sharpening the mind to our physical sensations. As he explained in the videotaped lectures, the idea is that by observing our physical sensations and reacting to them with equanimity, we can train the mind to avoid making immediate positive reactions, which lead to craving, or negative reactions, which lead to aversion.

This made sense to me. I know about hair-trigger reactions’ becoming a habit. I’ll also never forget sitting for three days at Sudok-sa trying to follow my breath but listening to my thoughts making one judgment after the other, mostly that something was bad. It was frustrating and humbling, and it taught me something about thinking always in dualities. I knew also from experience that examining a thought or feeling dispassionately without feeding it any emotional energy can take away its power. However, I’d just finished rereading Goldstein and Kornfield’s Seeking the Heart of Wisdom: The Path of Insight Meditation, taken copious notes and loved it. I had Goldstein’s The Experience of Insight not yet finished. I was not at all sure I was willing to follow Goenka’s insistence that one use this technique only, forsaking all others. I also had Dogong Sunim in my head cheering me on.

My concentration was poor. I knew better than to be too hard on myself for this. Many times I’d heard Dogong laughing at his own lack of concentration in the early days. But I berated myself anyway. When my practice, such as it was, was only to follow the breath, if the mind wandered off to make a banana cream pie I could pull it back and begin again with an in-breath. But now, when using the mind to scan the body for physical sensations, I’d come back to what I was supposed to be doing and realize I didn’t know exactly where on the body I’d been when my mind wandered off. It was really frustrating to tell myself time after time, “Okay now, start over at the top of the head.” The teacher, who was there to answer students’ questions as well as to play the tapes, suggested that I combine concentration on the body with concentration on inhaling and exhaling. That helped.

I’m a writer. Much about this experience my mind wanted to mull over. Since I was unable to write anything down, it insisted on remembering by repeating again and again—even editing sentences or finding the right words. Sometime in the second or third day I realized I’d come up with a post for this website, a blog for another, and the contours of the first chapter of a novel—a misdeed of some sort in a setting of Noble Silence where the participants weren’t allowed to communicate with each other. The first chapter would end in the washroom with the protagonist secretly scrubbing dried blood from a black silk shirt. It was ridiculous.

Women's dining hall

I was also hungry most of the time. I hadn’t even thought about food as a problem. It had been at Sudok-sa, but only because we had to serve the monks at some of the meals. They would sit on cushions at low tables, and we would scurry in carrying the food. I had fears of dropping the soup and watching it spread out over the linseed-oil-papered floor. After we sat down, each meal was regulated by the sound of the mokt’ak. You untied your set of bowls, lifted out each one and set it on the placemat in the proper order, served or got served, gobbled up your food as rapidly as possible while wasting not one grain of rice, rinsed the bowls with water, scrubbed them with a pickle, poured the dregs in a bucket for the “hungry ghost,” ate the pickle, tied up your set again and stood in line to put the bowls back on the shelf. Here at this retreat there was no ritual, no need for speed. But there were only two meals a day, breakfast at 6:30, when I was famished, and lunch at 11:00, before I’d gotten hungry again. Between 11:30 and the following breakfast, there was a small piece of fruit and a cup of tea at 5:00. In the meditation hall I would sit on my cushion and think of cooking. I came up with recipes for peanut butter cheesecakes, chocolate-coconut cakes, peanut butter banana cakes. This was exactly the kind of craving the technique was meant to be working against.

Still, somehow it worked. The woman I sat behind wore a tee-shirt which said on the back “Ang galing mo!” or “Good for you.” It seemed she was also cheering me on. I was learning “the technique.” When Goenka introduced it to us with a guided meditation, I was amazed at how much physical sensation I could feel in my face. Sometimes I felt really good vibes on my body and told myself not to get attached to the feeling. When I felt a pain in my back or in my right leg, I warned myself against developing aversion—and when it got really bad I moved the leg a bit. My cushions were set against the wall, so I could lean back, and that helped. I seemed to be holding up as well as the other students, almost all of them half or a third of my age. Once during the group meditations, when we had to sit motionless for an hour, I felt the sweat running down into my ear, tickling unbearably inside my ear, and tried hard to maintain equanimity.

By the end of the seventh day, when Goenka informed us that we were now ready for surgery and that we should cut out those unwanted miseries we had brought with us, I thought, “How does he know?” I also felt he was right, and I did some work on the worry and resentment I’d brought with me, but not without remembering Goldstein and Kornfield’s saying, “You can learn a lot from anger.” Why should one take only one approach?

Our class in front of the meditation hall

Part of what sold me on this particular center was the people. True, we maintained silence and avoided even nonverbal communication, but it was clear that, except for the three who left early, everyone on the women’s side was following the rules, working on the meditation, maybe also feeling she was having a life-altering experience. I felt less isolated in this overwhelmingly Catholic country with these people who were doing Vipassana during Holy Week.

Windy overcomes 30-year fear of cats. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

On the last day we were allowed to talk with each other. I got my camera back and took some photos. Noble Silence was now followed by Noble Chatter. In a flood of pent-up thought and emotion we shared with each other what we’d been through for the past nine days. One woman said that after great agony she’d crawled over to the teacher, a native speaker of German. Referring to herself as ‘this humble person,’ she begged to be given her old seat where she could lean against the wall. In the laughter which followed, I said, “In German people haven’t used language like ‘this humble person’ for two hundred years.” Another woman was empowered to overcome her 30-year-old fear of cats by petting the scrawny adolescent male who would wander through the woman’s dining hall. I seemed to have finally gotten what I need to maintain a steady meditation practice, and I was glad to hear about the regular sittings where people who have finished their first 10-day course can practice together.

Women students

On the way home, one of the women told me she’d actually signed up for the retreat in order to lose weight, and later she sent a text that she’d lost ten pounds. I discovered I’d lost six and a half of the fifteen pounds I’ve been wanting to take off for years—and that’s without exercise. I’ve also discovered I don’t need as much food as my mind tells me I do. I’m sleeping better. I feel curiously empowered. My concentration while meditating has improved. I have the sense that my focus has sharpened, even though I’m not sure what that means.

Men students

So that’s it for me. I’ll close by offering links to other people’s reflections on their first 10-day course.

Goenka Vipassana Washes Whiter < http://www.hyam.net/blog/archives/1572>

How to survive a 10 day Goenka Vipassana course.  <http://www.evolver.net/user/vincenz0h/blog/how_survive_10_day_goenka_vipassana_course>

The Vipassana site can be found at http://www.dhamma.org/.

A reader writes:

Thank you for sharing your website. I can relate with your former meditation teacher. “There is no certain way—each of us must make his own way, and when he does that, that way will express the universal way.” I’ve been making my own way, too, and our 10-day Vipassana course was one of those ways. I went to the course with an unformed, “unworded” question in my heart. I didn’t ask the teacher, some part of me knowing that it will be answered in time. I waited and I listened to my heart, my guts, my bones (despite the unexpected pain that sprang from wherever I’ve unconsciously buried it). And on the last minute of the last hour of the last day, during metta [loving-kindness] meditation, I heard the answer. Like what a friend of mine told me, the answers to our questions are really simple and just under our noses. (It really does start and end with the breath.)

A reader writes:

Your Vipassana retreat sounds quite amazing. On the one hand, I admire and envy your… What? Tenacity? Commitment? On the other hand, it seems an extreme measure to shed a few pounds. Honestly, it must be great to be in that place where you are willing to make the sacrifice in order to achieve something more. Good for you. I, certainly, am nowhere near there.

A reader writes:

Very interesting.  Glad you did it even though it makes me feel guilty that I don’t put the effort into searching out activites that will improve me!  Maybe someday!

A reader writes:

Carol. Good for you!I enjoyed your article and the one your teacher wrote.

A reader writes:

Enjoyed your recent posts, Carol.  Great to know you’ve been sitting in the shade of the ‘big oak’ all this time. (Wasn’t that how you once described talking with Do-gong Sunim?)  Hope you can hear me cheering you on from the emerald isle.

A reader writes:

Thank you for sharing this beautiful post.  It is good to be reminded and walked through the technique all over again.  In no attempt to
overrate the experience, I would sum it up as “life changing.”  Coming from a quality-oriented environment where there are documented standards and procedures in order to operate, this has been such a liberating experience.  I realized there are no standards on how to live one’s life, but there are techniques we can work on to have inner peace.  Everyday I still try to meditate, though not as religiously as we would during the course.  I would still do it for 10 more days, given the chance.  I also like what I read regarding “embracing one’s darkness to get into lightness”.  Thank you for documenting this Carol and sharing your metta here.  Hope to see you again some time.

A Meditation Teacher’s Last Talk

by on Saturday, April 14th, 2012



Lanterns hung at Lotus Lantern

Years ago, our meditation teacher left the Lotus Lantern Buddhist Center in order to return to Canada. He laughed when we gathered in the meditation room and saw seven tape recorders laid out on the floor in front of him. In Canada he removed his monk’s robes and wrote his own book on meditation, which he talked about in “The Man Behind Spiritpower.” When I asked him about his monk’s name, he said, “Do Gong means ’empty way.’ My interpretation: a way that is empty includes all other ways. So I don’t have a personal path because my path/way is large enough to include all others. Lao Tzy says, ‘Everything comes from nothing.’ “

Dogong Sunim’s story

Buddha told a wandering monk, “I am the one who is fully awake.” Be involved in the process of waking up. What does it mean to wake up? So I started working with the unknowing mind, the mind that is before thinking. This is what Zen is about. So I volunteered to wake up the other monks. I could handle that. Don’t fall into the fog. Wake up.

“What am I going to do with my life, where is my life going, what is the direction of my life?” I thought about that and sat with that for many years.

“I think I need to release some energy.” I went up the mountain, and I yelled for three or four hours. And that night I couldn’t sleep because I had so much energy. An incredible amount of poison, toxin, defilements, negative energies had been released in my body. An enormous amount of junk that I had been holding onto had been released. I had filled the vacuum with a lot of this good, clean, fresh mountain energy. So that got me interested in the whole process of purification. For me, part of the process of waking up is the process of purification, letting go of the impurities that are lodged in the body and the mind. I spent a lot of time working on the five hindrances—desire, hatred, sloth and torpor, laziness, doubt. I spent a lot of time looking at the dark side of myself, looking at the dark side of human nature, of ourselves. I got in touch with stuff in myself that I wasn’t supposed to see, particularly as a monk thinking that I’m such a special person. Stuff like I had a very deep fear of being abandoned, which I think came from childhood. All kinds of restlessness. A lot of doubt and cynicism and skepticism, just all kinds of garbage came up and came out. I worked with this, and sometimes when I was at Lotus Lantern it took the form of talks.

I got interested in Carl Jung because he talked about “the shadow,” which is all these defilements that you can’t see because they’re buried inside you, the energies that are unacceptable to us. Whenever they come up, we push them down and reject them. I was particularly interested in these kinds of energies because these energies represent the real master. The master’s not out there, the master is the stuff in here that we don’t want to look at. That was the master I was looking at. When you look into this deeper side of your unconscious mind, you find a lot of stuff that’s not just negative, some of it is positive. I got in touch with a character deep inside myself that was pushing this waking up process. Deep inside of you are positive forces that will support what you want to do if you can contact them. It said, “As long as enlightenment is your goal, I’ll be around to help you. Whatever you do or don’t do, I will be working with you and through you. You cannot and you will not uproot me.”

Another vehicle that I’ve used is teaching. During the time I’ve been at Lotus Lantern, my focus has been on getting the teaching into my life. Before when I studied Buddhism, the Buddha’s teachings were in my head. I’d just taken them in my head. When I went back to the West with them in my head, I had nothing to offer, just a bunch of information. I realized I had to take this information in my head and put it in my gut and in my toes and in my bones and in my blood and in my life. That’s what I tried to do with the teaching here. So it wasn’t just, “This is what the Buddha said,” it was “OK, this is what the Buddha said, but what does this mean in your life, what does it mean inside your body, what does it mean right now.”  I started taking this approach because if the teaching is just dry, intellectual abstractions, they didn’t do anything for me. They didn’t seem to go anywhere. “Understood are the things to be understood, cultivated are the things to be cultivated, eradicated are the things to be eradicated.”

One of the cultivation things I did here was working with love and compassion. I was at Hwagye Temple wandering around in the mountains one day. I had a free day. I said to myself, “where is my practice going? It’s not clear anymore. What do I need to do the practice. What kind of a practice should I do?” Then I said, “Okay, I’m not going to stop walking until I find out what my practice is. I’m not going back to the temple.” I found myself walking down the mountain, which I didn’t like. I thought I was supposed to walk in the mountain. I went on the subway and went to Chongno-3-Ga and started walking up and down the street where they’ve got all these Buddhist stores and shaman places. I started walking up and down, and I walked into a store, and there was a big statue of Kwanseum Bosal [also called Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion]. I walked right into Kwanseum Bosal. Okay, I walked into another store. They’re playing a tape—Kwanseum Bosal. I walked into another store, there are all little wooden statues of Kwanseum Bosal. This went on for about five or six stores. Kwanseum Bosal, Kwanseum Bosal, Kwanseum Bosal, Kwanseum Bosal. And I think, “I think I got the message. I think I can go home now. I think I’d better do something with Kwanseum Bosal.”

So I went back in the subway, and sitting on the subway there was this older Korean lady, and she just had no energy. She was washed out and depressed, and her whole body sort of hung there on the subway. So I did one of my little tricks. I pretended to be asleep, and I sent my mind to her. I tried to radiate some compassion and some love to her. I thought, “Okay, come on. Get to work. Here we go.” I went back to the temple, and I thought, “Okay, this is what I’ve got to work with.” So one of the things I tried to develop is loving compassion. Not in any formal way.

As we go through this process of waking up, we have to each of us follow our own way. “There is no certain way—each of us must make his own way, and when he does that, that way will express the universal way.”  Zen Mind, moment to moment as we live our life. If you are on the way to waking up, I hope you find your own particular way and I hope you stay on this way for 10,000 years if necessary but at least until you can experience some kind of a full awakening. I hope that you can be the Buddha that you already are.

The metaphor of waking up has become real to me. I want something that’s workable and practical and pragmatic.

I think the most difficult was to stop the thinking mind and come to a mind that was naturally empty. There was one kilche [meditation retreat] I remember at Hwagye-sa, when my mind was thinking, thinking thinking. About halfway through I said, “Oh, please, please. Stop. Stop. Thinking, thinking thinking. Oh, please, stop. Stop. Stop.” I’m begging myself to stop thinking. And you know, it took me many, many years. When I first meditated, I sat down and went “duh-duh-duh-duh: these are are all the places I went to and all the places I saw and all the kinds of perfume I smelled and all the kinds of food I ate and how I can cook this and I can’t cook that.” Oh, it just didn’t stop!  It went on, and it went on, and it went on. One year, the next year, the next year until—I remember I was in Singapore at the time, I was doing the walking meditation and for four steps there was no thought. My mind is empty. And then the next day I went halfway around the room. Then one way around the room! Ooops, lost it. But it took a long time to reach silence because I’ve got all this thinking karma. This is why I’m straddled with teaching. My teacher once told me at the beginning, “Don’t read any books.”  And I thought, “Well, that’s fine, because I needed a holiday from books.” But he said, “When your direction becomes clear, you must read.” I’ve always had trouble getting beyond the thinking mind.

Okay, the koans. [For example, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” These are intended to stop the mind from thinking.] A koan is a question that if you bring it up, whatever this question is—in my case it was related to thinking, too. I once asked myself, I was doing koans like “who are you?” “what is this?”and I’d go on for hours and hours. But one day I asked myself, “where does this thinking come from?” And I really looked. I was stunned. I had no idea where it came from. And so whenever I ask myself where my thinking comes from, it just turns right off, because I have no idea. I really don’t have the answer. So to me that’s the function of the koans. When you really get into a koan, then you’ve got your mind at the edge where you know that you don’t know. So your mind just goes, “Okay, I give up.” You’re bankrupt. You’re in a corner. But that’s one way. Then awareness is I think another way. Where you watch the thoughts coming and going.

The mechanics of the koan, as I understand it, is you’re given a little story or something, and your thinking mind thinks. And if you play the game, you think and think and think and think and think and think and think until one day you get the message that your mind is not going to come up with the answer. At that stage you genuinely don’t know. It’s not an attitude. You have no idea because you’ve been thinking about it for months and years. And you know that you don’t know. And that’s the beginning of knowing. But it takes a lot of thinking. For me it took a lot of thinking. So you can turn it off with koans. Mindfulness is good too.

No, the idea is that we each have a self-image. When energy pops up that’s not consistent with the self-image, we push it down. This is what the shadow is all about. Energies that are not acceptable to the conscious mind get pushed down into the unconscious mind where they take on a life of their own. And they work inside the unconscious mind, and then they take over. So you have an idea that you’re some particular kind of person, and then something happens that’s not consistent with that special kind of person you think you are, so you jam it back down again. You don’t recognize it because it’s not you. Or you project it onto someone else—“that dirty, filthy person. It’s not me. I’m pure. That animal.”

Anyway, I found that working with the shadow side is difficult. It’s very slow and it’s very difficult, and it takes a lot of energy. It takes a lot of commitment because you have to take a look at parts of yourself that you don’t like and don’t want to see, and you have to be with parts of yourself that are not acceptable to you, and they have to be.

With negative energies, I found that what works best with me was just hanging out with them, living with them, treating them as friends. And if necessary staying up all night with them sometimes until they were ready to leave on their own. And that’s how it worked with me. One night I couldn’t sleep, and I stayed awake all night. And about six o’clock in the morning I just spontaneously started a dialogue between my heart and my mind. And I did a gestalt thing. My heart is over there, and my mind is here. And I went back and forth between the two places physically. And the heart said, “Please, listen to me. You’ve been a big bully, and you won’t listen to me. You just control everything. You override all my decisions.” And the mind said, “I’m sorry if I’ve been doing this.”  And they started a dialogue which ended up with their deciding to try to cooperate and work together. And then I went to sleep. But that kind of a transformation was—I let it work on an unconscious level. I didn’t even know what it was until it was ready to come into words. And then through the verbalizing it got released. I don’t know. It happens all kinds of different ways.

But all of this—anybody can do it. But you have to get a focus. You have to turn your energy in and zero in on it and be with it and concentrate and hang out with it and work with it. And so you have to make it sometimes a priority in your life. It doesn’t matter if there’s a business appointment. Tonight you’re going to stay up until this thing is settled—even though you don’t even have words for it. Or you’re not. You go to bed.

Why do you throw a fish in the water?  Why do you throw a bird in the air?  Why do you become a monk?  It was the same. It just happened. I found myself knocking on a monastery door and saying to this man who has become my teacher, “I want to meditate.”

And he said, “I’ve got all the bulldozers and the banging and the scraping and the painting. How could you meditate here?” And I looked at him like, “Are you crazy? I want to meditate.” And this came out of me. I’m looking at myself saying, “What are you telling this man?  You can’t meditate.” I’m going, “I want to meditate.” And I’m looking like “where’s this coming from?”  And then bang, I’m in robes.

You know, I feel that everyone’s life is like a flow. This is not Buddhism now, necessarily, but anytime my life has taken major turns, it isn’t really my thinking mind. My thinking mind can never really think out what I’m supposed to do. It just happens. I have no idea why. My thinking mind has no idea. None. Completely out to lunch. Not just me, but I think if you’re in the flow with your life, instead of resisting you just sort of go with it. I could never have imagined my life. If somebody had told me that I would have become a Buddhist monk, that I would live in different parts of the world and I would move around from one place to another, I’d say, “You’re crazy.” And if you’d said I would live in Seoul, I’d say, “you’re absolutely out of your mind. Korea?” I had absolutely no interest. But it all happened. I couldn’t have planned it if I’d wanted to. It’s like moment to moment the universe brings all this stuff to us. I’m constantly amazed, and I see it all as a mystery. I have absolutely no idea why all of this happened.

With meditation basically you’re just being yourself. You’re just with yourself, right?  Whether you call it Vipassana or Zen or whatever you call it, or whether you to the koan or concentrate on your breath, you’re sitting there. And if you sit long enough, this stuff comes up into your mind. It just comes up. The hells arise, and the heavens arise. My attitude is very Western and very pragmatic. Whatever works, use it. If it doesn’t work, abandon it. When the mind becomes naturally empty, there’s no Zen, there’s no Vipassana, there’s no technique. There’s no teaching, there are no words. It’s just empty.

When there was the silence here, it felt really nice. One of the things that I’ve also discovered in Korea, and I think it’s from the oriental tradition, the focus is on here in the tanjeon or the hara [abdomen]. In Vipassana, sometimes people concentrate up here [nostrils]. But for many years now I’ve had my energy in here, down in the tanjeon. And because of this I’ve finally gotten to reclaim what we call the gut center, the instinctual center. This is also the creative center. And so I feel in the last few years I’ve also gotten in touch with my creative energy, indirectly through the meditation. Just from keeping the mind in this area all the time. I discovered the whole creative energy. When the mind is silent, like we’ve got a silence in here, there’s that silence inside. This is also a way of getting in touch with your creative energy. If somehow you can still your mind—by Zen or Vipassana or being in the mountain or taking a hot bath—anything. Once the mind is quiet inside, then the creative energy can start surfacing.