Ignorance is bliss…is it???
The last full day of the retreat has arrived. Tomorrow midday, we will be released into the world again. What a week. While on the first day, I was struggling to make it through the day, now 6 days later, the dots are starting to connect. Not because I had some kind of deep revelation during the countless meditation sessions – far from that – but things somehow start to fall into place. I guess it´s a combination of the Dharma talks (a daily one-hour discourse on Buddhism by our teacher), the many hours of silent meditation, the general silence, being exposed to beautiful unspoiled nature and the clearer mind resulting from it. The interconnectedness of meditation, references to real life and the life philosophy of Buddha. Being a skeptical person by nature, I´m quite astonished of myself for seeing so much sense in all of that. What makes the experience and the lessons learned even stronger is that our teacher didn´t win me over with an awe-striking presence of a holy person, which might have contorted the whole experience. To the contrary, I struggled a lot with our teacher, which gave me the opportunity to practice Buddhist teachings right here and now and walk the talk so to speak by embracing the person that is in front of me instead of judging him because he does not conform to the image of the teacher I had in my mind.
Our whole group seems to be more at ease now. Everyone seems to have adapted to the daily structure and routine and seems to be enjoying what we all came here to do and learn: meditation. I had a really great early evening meditation yesterday. I was concentrated, awake, aware, and mindful. That´s what makes a good meditation session, I guess. The night meditation session on the other hand was rather frustrating. My mind was all over the place, chasing one thought after another, while I was seesawing up and down, eagerly trying not to fall asleep. But that´s ok. To accept that these experiences are also part of it, is something else I learned. These experiences too make yourself aware of your current busy state of mind and this insight is beneficial in itself. And after all, you can´t force yourself. If you´re not kind and forgiving to yourself, meditation is doomed anyway. Be kind to yourself. One out of many learnings from the past week. We try to be forgiving, loving and generous to other people, which is great. But do we also live up to these standards when we talk to ourselves? I think that´s where we must begin. When we start to be kind to ourselves, we will automatically be kinder to everyone else.
The daily writing too, helped me to connect all the dots and find a more holistic understanding of the Buddhist meditation practice. According to Buddhism, human suffering can be explained in a closed loop system and is exemplified in the image of dependent origination (if you´re interested, you can find images and explanations in the internet). While the image is extremely complex (The Dalai Lama apparently once talked about the image for an entire week) and there exist various interpretations of the image, the main message can be broken down to the following: Homo Sapiens is an ignorant human being, who´s unaware of his thoughts and thus is not acting consciously. This causes us to develop random desires, which we are trying to satisfy and consequently are attaching to. All desires and attachments find their roots in the concept of I, me and myself or simply the ego. The ego is naked and insecure by nature and gets stronger and stronger by covering its nakedness with the various cloths of attachment. This can be material things, but also relationships with loved ones and even beliefs and dogmas. The more cloths the ego is wearing, the further I´m distancing myself from my true self, which is – and now it becomes abstract – nobody. Obviously, the loss of connection to myself fosters my ignorance even more and, voilá, the vicious cycle is complete. Does this make sense to you? When I look around me, when I look at our world, this cycle of ignorance makes a lot of sense to me. Ignorance is everywhere. But we are not doomed. The image of dependent origination also shows us a way out, which can be achieved through mindfulness and awareness. Meditation is one means to that end. Does this now make me look rather positive or negative when I look at our world? I´m honestly not sure. It doesn´t seem realistic that we will wipe out our ignorance. Much more likely we will wipe out ourselves. But hey, you can only start with yourself and have a positive impact on your little microcosm.
Reflections after the retreat
This one week of meditation and being in silence shut off from the outside world was incredibly beneficial in so many ways. It was heart- and eye-opening, thought provoking, and mind clearing at the same time. In the first two days it was an enormous challenge being confronted with dealing with myself and only myself. But with your entire day planned through, no decisions to make, no distractions except your thoughts, I was given no choice but to surrender to my mind and deal with and accept everything that it produced. Learning and practicing the original meditation techniques taught by Buddha and learning about his life philosophy, triggered something in me. At the same time, it also raised new fundamental questions about my own life and the world we live in.
If you´re afraid that I have become an obedient follower of Buddha, don´t be. I´m a convinced sceptic by heart and I distance myself from blindly following religious beliefs just as much as from accepting and adopting ideological convictions that leave little room for doubts and questions. Nevertheless, the essence of Buddha´s teachings seem to be timeless. 2,5 millennia after his death, there is still plenty of suffering to be found in this world and in each one of us. According to Buddha, the cause of all suffering is always rooted in some sort of desire or craving, which leads to attachment. In a world where almost all desires can be satisfied instantly and immediately generate new ones, Buddha´s message seems to be more relevant than ever.