40 nights in confinement

SIDDHARTHA came to SBS to find himself and leaves with some glimpses of what a Buddhist is.

I was lost and didn’t know what to do with my life. It was like I had so many interests without knowing what interests me. All I did was dabble and touch the surface of many things. I got depressed by my uselessness. “If only”, I said, “if only I know without a doubt the one thing that I want to do, what I am destined for my life’s calling. Or if there is no such thing as destiny, at least be sure of what I really want.” At my dad’s suggestion, I went to Bhante Aggacitta. My dad just asked me to see him to say “Hi” or something. Since my mind was still in this state, go I did. I sat in front of Bhante, and he said, “What’s up?”

“Can I stay for 40 days here?” Hehehehe… it was to find out what I want to do in life.

So up I went. I felt like I was at a resort, checking in. Later at the kuti I really felt like I was in a luxurious chalet. Bhante spoke to me that night. “So you are here to find out what you want to do with your life-meditation!” Meditation! that was the essence of it. Bhante told me that with meditation I will find out what I want to do with my life. I had faith in Bhante. So began my daily sessions of meditation. I was chosen to be the one to wake up at 4.30am to sound the gong at Sima Hall-the call for morning meditation. It was quite ironic for that is usually the time I go to bed.

Meditation. Meditation is about ups and downs, pain and fear, peace and relaxation, sudden insight, sleepiness, anger and everything all jumbled up. Pain and sleepiness seemed to want to be my best friends. At times I would be lazy and not meditate very well, but the daily interview kept me on my toes and pushed me to meditate and find things to tell Bhante.

I also learnt a lot about the Dhamma. Bhante was excellent at teaching Dhamma. Simply excellent. As a Christian, I find the Dhamma to be truly insightful and actually does not go against good but explains the nature of things. With me, if something makes sense, I have to accept it, even if it comes from a five-year old boy with a lollipop in his hand.

There are three bhantes and they all taught me a lot. Bhante Balacitta taught me the Tibetan Five Rites, breathing exercises as well as yoga. His bass voice was very pleasing. Bhante Kumara and I had, at least to me, a relationship of conflict. We would argue and debate on various topics—from politics to food, health, Dhamma and pronunciation. I also posed a lot of hypothetical questions which kind of fired both of us up. I am assuming it fired him up, he being a monk and all. But we always made up. Bhante Balacitta was one of my evening exercise ‘gang’. We three would stretch and stretch and talk in between. He is a very, very kind and sweet person and it shines through his eyes, smiles, in his speech and his body language. Heh. He once took me for a walk up along the stream and we sort of jumped from rock to rock; did a bit of wall climbing and it was beautiful. It felt like an adventure—we had our bags and alms bowl slung over our shoulders all cool like and hiked up! And when we returned I took a seat in the classroom. After half an hour, I felt a cold sensation on my legs, and I found three well-fed leeches on me! Whee!

I also joined the IMP, together with 21 others—and boy, was that a whirl of a time! We did so much that there wasn’t much time for bathing or washing and it was like Pap! Pap! Pap! And that’s the end of the two weeks. We did so much, learnt and experienced so much that it’s not gonna get written at all. Join the IMP if you must know.

Then came the retreat with Jeff. He is a great guy. In that week I felt like I learnt really a lot. Things sort of fell into place and I had a better understanding of things. It all got verbalised. I met my demons and subdued some of them, and learned that there are many more battles coming. I learnt not to judge, or plan or retreat but to stay strong and just be there. It was pretty cool.

Being in Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary (SBS) for 40 nights was a blessing. To have chosen 40 nights of SBS over getting blasted in Langkawi with my friends, I would like to think I made the right choice. Before the retreat I was unsure and cracking my head thinking of what to do but after the retreat I knew what I had to do. No, I still don’t have the answer as to what I want to do with my life. But I got closer—I know all I have to do now is finish my studies—and I am not going to think of anything else.

I’ve learnt that Buddhism has been turned into a religion. What actually matters is that this dude, Gotama, learnt something; taught us it; it is good; we copy him and practise. That’s all.

There really is nothing else. When you don’t cling to anything, this is what you get, a man who taught the world how to end suffering. Pretty cool guy. Of course he also taught the Dhamma for us intellectual folks, but really, you don’t even have to study to learn. Just meditate, and you’ll see. Have I seen? Yes, I’ve seen, but I also know that what I’ve seen and experienced is still shallow, and there are depths I cannot imagine yet.

Leaving after 40 days made me fear things. One is that I cannot go back to the world but have to give up everything and be a monk for that has been shown to be the truth. The other is to go back to the world and enjoy it knowing that the truth is over the other side. Hmm… the plan now is to see how the world is, enjoy it and pursue life, but while doing so, to be conscious that if and when I get tired of it and realise that that is the path I do not want, then maybe being a renunciant would be pretty cool. I could stand on a rock and preach. Hohoho. Also, I find that I can no longer forget about meditation and that it will be a continuous practice for me now.

I have also seen more light. I have always thought Buddhism was just a Chinese thing to do because we were born into it. That is a sad situation. To know the core of and the truth about Buddhism, which is just what the Buddha taught (Dhamma)—a natural law that is actually universal and not confined to Buddhists—is for everyone. Calling it Buddhism restricts it. I wish it could go back to just being this guy taught this guy this and it works. Then take it from there.

But who am I? So yeah, my experience in SBS was wholesome and fulfilling (for want of better words). The Bhantes were kind to me; the people were so very nice to me; the place was good to me, and I was at peace with myself for 40 nights at the edge of the forest.

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