Loving Kindness for 2017?

A highlight of my recent trip to Sri Lanka to attend the Developing EM conference in Colombo included a visit to the Ayya Khema meditation centre to visiting Bhikkuni Kusum a spiritual teacher of wisdom and kindness.

Bhikkuni Kusuma is an amazing lady. She grandmotherly figure in her late 80’s who has lead an increadibly rich lay life as a scientist, wife and mother of 6. She later took to the robes to become a leading figure in reviving the female Buddhist order in Sri Lanka.

One of the many intriguing stories she talks about life includes her experience as a university science teacher, when she undertook a masters degree in molecular biology many years ago in USA. She is said to have earnestly enquiries from her then supervisors “what I am leaning about is quite amazing, but I am really searching for the answers to the deeper questions in life like ‘why are we born?’, ‘why do we die?'”. To this her supervisors replied “i’m sorry, but science has yet to discover all that”. It was from here that she changed tack in here career and focus her efforts in a field that was dedicated to the complentation of all such entities. Upon returning to Sri Lanka she embarked upon her first PhD in Buddhist philosophy at the Sri Jayawardenapura university in Colombo.

She initially completed a masters thesis investigating aspects of Vipassana (insight meditation), and later completed a PhD on the Dasasil Mattha (Ten Precepts Buddhist nun movement) in Sri Lanka. However, due to the civil instability in Sri Lanka at the time  she submitted her first thesis there were problems with first PhD being awarded, so she embarked on a second PhD (tho only person I know who has done such a thing, perhaps a testimony to her patience and determination as middle aged woman who also had a family of her own). Here she went on to study the female Buddhist order in Sri Lanka, and she investigate why the order seemed to have dissipated, eventually fuelling the difficult journey leading to its resurgence.

At the end of this period of study she herself ordained as a female Buddhist clergy-woman, otherwise know as Nun or “Bhikkuni”. When I asked her why she became a monk she emphatically, and affectionately exclaims, “I had to! They told me I must”, referring to the moral obligation of knowing all the trouble that Bhikkuni’s had faced in establishing equal footing of an order for females.

Apparently she had discussed this with her family at the time who she is still in touch with and taken to the robes in her 60’s, over 20 years ago. Since then she has become a humble leader in gently promoting the sharing of whatever wisdom she can disseminate through years of contempative meditation, and the writing of several books about the application of Buddhist philosophy and wisdom in everyday life.
http://www.bhikkhunikusuma.info/

An autobiography that was written at the request of her daughter and chief disciple, outlining her insightful path from scientist and family woman to religious clergy and leader. The book is called “Braving the unknown summit”, and this details the incredible journey further, explaining the great challenges that were faced in re-establishing the female Buddhist order in Sri Lanka. It also covers on a more personal not the impact of several tradgeies she faced whilst working, doing research and having responsibilities as a family woman, which included illness and death of her mother and the premature deaths of one of her daughters in her 20’s and her eldest son in his 40’s, who both died from cancer.

Meeting Bhikkuni Kusuma (2006-10)
I was very fortunate to have met Bhikkuni Kusuma during my 4 years of living in Sri Lanka, as she is actually a relation (my fathers first cousin). This was a very special situation for me because one of my aspirations in returning to Sri Lanka after a life of growing up abroad, was reconnecting with my extended family, and also learning more about meditation and spirituality. Meeting Bhikkuni Kusuma seemed to incredible offer both.

I remember when I fist met her she fondly recounts looking after my father and his older brother, her small younger cousins, proudly taking them by the hand in order to sit some school entrance examination many years ago. I wanted to learn from her about Buddhism, and had some trepidation about following the correct respectful rituals in order to engage with a senior clergy woman. However, upon Meeting Bhikkuni Kusuma I realized that beyond the surface  appearance of a woman in saffron robes, whatever distinction this may have had at the time, lay a kind hearted human being who was as easy going as ever.

It was like meeting a kind wise old aunt, or grandmother, who readily shared insight and wisdom, as well as the occasional mischievous smile that made me feel quite at ease, and lucky at the same time.
Those days I learned many points of wisdom through candid discussions with Bhikkuni (some of which I have audio recorded and video recorded) that helped me through challenging times in my life when I returned to Australasia and had to face writing up a PhD thesis whilst undergoing specials training in emergency medicine (which I am still completing). I am forever grateful for the the kindness and enthusiasm that Bhikkuni Kusuma displayed whilst teaching so much about the insights that meditation offered, including principles outlined in the Dhamma (the experiential teaching of the Buddha).

The Ayya Khema Mediation Centre 2017

During my current visit to Sri Lanka, it was a high priority to visit the Ayya Khema Meditation Centre where Bhikkuni Kusuma now resides and teachers meditation and Buddhism to people who both live locally and around the world. I came there with my fiancé who isn’t a Buddhist and didn’t grown up with a background of eastern religions, and my little brother who lives quite a modern New Zealand lifestyle, including working and playing, and enjoying life when we can- much like myself and my older brother.

Both of them had not really stayed in a Sri Lankan meditation centre like this, but I believe our short but impactful overnight stay was also a highlight for them too.


We were also fortunate to meet other people who were interested in learning wisdom from Bhikkuni, including a lovely couple from Hungary who had been living in London for many years, one of whom plans to release some of the recorded discussions on an internet website (a link to which I endeavour to share! Thanks Ferenc).

Coming here after attending an amazing medical conference in Colombo was a fitting follow on to a finely pitched conference that explored the science of Emergency medicine, but also delved into many broader topics that address the philosophical issues of humanity in health care. For me this visit to the meditation picked up where the medical conference discussion left off. We addressed many philosophical topics through discussions with Bhikkuni Kusuma over those two days at Ayya Khema, following the week-long medical conference, about the “awareness of the true nature of life”, and the journey onwards in order to understand both the source of human conflict and suffering and the alleviation of suffering.

.
Loving Kindness for 2017
Finally, I will share one of the rough edits of a video clip I recorded at the end of our stay at the Ayya Khema meditation centre where Bhikkuni Kusuma wanted to teach me a useful meditative practice of extending a wish for loving Kindness to encompass all living beings. This is my New Years wish for 2017, and would like to share it with anyone who feels the benefit from knowing such practices exist and are improving the lives of many around the world. I certainly have felt the bendit of this Metta (loving kindness) meditation in the past and hope to bring the practice back into my life this year.

Bhikkuni Kusum was adamant that I share her teachings with as many people who are interested as possible, and was very happy to use whatever mediums (eg, video, blog, audio) as I saw fit. I am very grateful for this and thus will share the following You Tube recording. I hope you find it of interest. Feel free to leave comments as you so desire.

I have detailed the Pali words from this version of the Metta Sutta below, along with their  translated meanings (which the video also outlines).

Metta Sutta: Radiating kindness without limit:-



uddham – above

adho ca – below

tiriyañca – across

asambhādam – without pain and suffering

averam – no anger/hatred

asapattam – no enmity (no enemies)

sabbe sattā – may all living beings

bhavantu – be

sukhitattām – well and happy

Dear Venerable Bhikkuni Kusuma – Thank you for your patient effort in teaching me a small about of wisdom in your kind and compassionate ways.

I will cherish he words and the sentiment of this verse, and hopefully share the inspiration I have gained from you and the Bhuddist teachings I have learned through you.

A wish for 2017! 

May all beings be well

May all being be happy

Best wishes for 2017!!!

1-1-2017

Celebrating success

Celebrating success,
Is perhaps the real test,

Cherishing what has been already achieved,
Instead of allowing the glory to be thieved,

By the next goal,
And other reasons for not feeling whole,

Instead be in the know,
Like a boarder gliding through the snow,

With awareness of life’s ebb and flow,
In the act of a single breath.

22-7-14

Two days away from the hustle bustle of emergency medicine and I feel like a new person. A little meditation, some surf and hint of life music has such a healing touch. Sometimes in the space between the business and intensity of an active work-life lies the balance that perhaps we all strive for. I by no means have found the perfect balance, but I feel that I am moving towards it experimenting in with work, and relaxation in a variety of forms. It is a daily practice rooted in breathing and the exploration of philosophies that brings meaning into my life.

Sometimes the philosophy needs to be tailored for the specific context of our lives, and this is why I particularly like Shawn Anchor’s guide to happiness for those of us in the pursuit of greater knowledge and skill. Shaun’s revealing findings (about the culture where high achievers can easily be fixed on the next goal without appreciating how far they have come), shed light onto why I had encountered challenges in the past, and provided some tools on how to tackle the present moment without too much focus on the future.

I remember watching this TED talk years ago and it having a profound effect on my own perspective of goal setting and my present relationship with success as I had defined it. After all we can always find our own definition of success, and it doesn’t have to require a definite endpoint. To date the best definition of success I have come across has been one that I heard from a person called Earl Nightingale who was a motivational speaker from the 60’s

“Success is the step-wise realization of a worthy ideal”

image-3

image-5

Meditation, Surfing and Thesis writing

This morning whilst having my breakfast I watched a great Ted talk on Vipassana

Vipasanna – it’s a Pali word meaning “seeing things the way that they are”. 

This talk by Buddy Wakefield was entertaining, inspiring and informative. With this post I hope to send out a message of gratitude to Buddy for the talk and to the nice person whom I met in a cafe recently that recommended I watching it!

 

 

Watching the breath and staying present 

I relate to many things in the talk, but perhaps the theme that strikes me the most right now, when reflecting on the bigger picture of life, is that perhaps most of us are surrounded by gold, and all of us have inner gold. The dirt is usually on the surface, created by our minds. 

Every moment has Beauty even if we don’t see it, even pain, and death. They say that pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice. This is not to trivialize our external experience, it can be very tricky to navigate suffering in many instances but usually it is related to the “resistance” to “what is”, rather than the letting go and acceptance of what is. Also, I don’t mean to trivialize death, but there are many cultures that are much more at peace with death, and than the cultures that I have grown up with – I learned this in Sri Lanka when we would remember death of loved ones with relatives and the community with a regular annual ceremony where their life was celebrate for years after the death, a custom know as Banna. After returning to Sri Lanka, I learned and lived more eastern philosophy and experienced much more peaceful ways of relating to death, both professionally, as a doctor, but also personally.   

Death and pain aside, the purpose of this discussion and this blog post was to share a little about my reflections about how I have found meditation a helpful tool for staying present, something I find incredibly difficult!

I guess for me, meditation is the practice of being open to what is. Taking a breath in and observing the body sensations is a simple concept, but to be deeply aware during that breath is challenging. The beautiful thing is that we have plenty of opportunity to try, again and again. With each new breath and new opportunity to learn more about the present moment.  

Is it interesting? Definitely! No two breaths are the same right? Right at this instant I am writing this blog post on my iphone, on the train to work, listening to some nice music by the “Subway Bhaktis” (a group recently recommended to me), I am practicing observing breaths as i pause in my writing. Whilst this is not a typical ‘sitting’ meditation session, I believe being present even from one moment in a day is better than not being present at all. It’s all in the practice, and I’m trying to find ways to practice whilst doing the things that I need to do in a somewhat busy life [Nb – whilst I wrote that blog post from beginning to end on the train – I did go back and correct it later on – there were spelling mistakes and grammatical errors everywhere! And there probably still are!]  

Every time I fully observe the breath I learn something new. An interesting thing that I noticed today is that with each breath there is a different set of observations to the last time I practiced (in this case last night before going to sleep when my mind was all over the place!).

 

Surfing the waves 

This morning I missed my morning meditation because I wanted to get out to the ocean for a sunrise surf. Surfing is another form of meditation or me. Each wave is like a breath. Again the goal can be to achieve something, to stand up on the board, and elegantly navigate the ocean shore, but this isn’t really the true nature of things, sometimes you have a good session, and other times you don’t. However if you are prepared to go with the flow, then you will usually enjoy and be at peace. 

I find the best surfs I have ever had were when I have just gone out there and enjoyed the moment with no expectations without trying to achieve anything – I was blessed to have one if those such mornings today. By having no expectations it is easier to stay focused on the present, whilst still loosely holding a goal somewhere in my being (in this case the goals was simply to try and stand up, turn the board and ride along the wave). 

 

Bondi-wildmen

(Photography: courtesy of Eugene Tan, Aquabumps (c) http://www.aquabumps.com )

Planting the seed and tending the garden

To me it’s almost like the goal is planting the seed, and the “process” is the applying the fertilizer and watering the garden. This is where we need constant attention, after all there is no point continually replanting the seed. 

I see the same challenge with the writing up of my thesis. It is the constant attention to the manuscript (something that is quite challenging as there is a lot of resistance to looking at something you have seen before many times) that will allow the plant to grow. Sometimes when you expect to see a tree pop up straight away after planting a seed it is easy to get disillusioned and feel like you are no good at what you are doing, but this is only the fallacy of perspective, all well nurtured plants will grow into bigger ones with patience and dedication. 

Meditation and writing 

Perhaps the other challenge with a research thesis is that you actually don’t know what the plant is meant to look like until you get close to the end. It’s easy to feel as if you’ve made a mistake with your seed as the plant grows, and nobody else is growing the same plant, so comparing your plant with others is of limited benefit. 

Rpa_office

 

The vision and the dream

Perhaps the key message to me is that if we enjoy the process of gardening, and have a vision of what general kind of plant we want to grow – then it can mostly be an enjoyable adventure- this is my dream for education in general.

So in an attempt to practice this, my new philosophy for life is to plant the seed, go with the flow, and stay interested!   

I don’t know if it is the answer but I think it’s worth a crack! 

Enjoy your day 🙂

Bish_koggala

 

 “dare to be the person you’ve dreamed of because in one breath you are already there”

Meditation

 

I am meditating 

I am thinking 

I am thinking that I am thinking 

I must try and concentrate 

I must be aware that I am concentrating 

Too much “I”, how about non-self?

Must not try too hard to stop my mind wandering

Try and observe myself as an outsider

my foot is itching

my nose is itching

Did I switch off the gas cooker

must load the dishwasher

I must attend to that noise in the car

Is that the neighbour’s dog barking

We used to have a dog

I prefer dogs to cats

My back is hurting

Must focus my attention on my back

I shouldn’t have been rude over the phone

He did ask for it!

But being kind is better

So many nuisance calls

What am I doing next week

Will it hurt when I visit the dentist

He is a nice man

Lovely receptionist

Must write that letter

Look at the emails first

So much spam mails these days

Am I spending too much time on the Net

Another week has gone

Stop!

think of the present moment

observe the present moment

How much longer will I live

Must not waste that time

Use the present moment

Past is gone, future yet to come

Wonder what’s on Telly

Is Tiger Woods playing

Looks like he is making a comeback

My swing needs attention

Hope I can play next week

It is very cold and frosty

Stop!

There we go again!

Back to meditation

I am aware and focused

It is so hard to keep the mind still

Flitting butterflies

Changing clouds

Changing moods

My knee is hurting 

Must straighten my leg

Will I ever succeed in meditation

What is the real reason why I want to meditate

Let it go says Ajahn Brahm

I like his talks

May be I should go to Perth to meet him

The live broadcasts from Perth are very good

My hips are hurting

Will my joints get worse

Will I lose my independence

Am I a Buddhist because I was born one

Jesus must have been a very good person

I am feeling hungry

Must not eat too many crisps

I feel like drinking some fruit juice

must eat  more vegetables

write a reminder for repeat prescription

Good thing I am retired

Wonder how my friends are

Stop!

back to meditation

This is not easy!

must be aware that I am meditating

must not try too hard

I am thinking

I am thinking  that I am thinking

I am aware that I am thinking that I am thinking

 

 

Poem by Mahendra Gonsalkorale.

This was a poem that was sent to me by my Dad’s university buddy whom I call “Uncle Mahenra”. Uncle Mahendra sent this poem to me recently in repsonse to one of my poems and I really liked it. For one, it really captures the essessnce of the struggle one encounters with sitting meditation, and I think his candid and honest description really opens the doors of “inclusivity” to those who have never tried to meditate before as well as those who have tried but finish a sitting feeling like they have failed dismally. I wrote back to Mahendra and said something to the effect as “to sit is enough” and I think it really is! I’ve been meditating for years and I frequently feel this way – but I guess the main thing that “experience” gives me (sometimes) is the wisdom to know that it’s okay if the mind wanders when one is meditating, and it is good if one is aware of this wandering – which the writer of the poem clearly is, albeit after the fact. 

So well done for your sitting Uncle Mahendra and thanks for sharing your insights with us!

The second reason I particularly like this poem is that there is reference to Ajahn Brahm who is an inspirational Buddhist Monk who lives in Perth and quite an amazing meditation instructor. I was fortunate enought to meet him last year on my birthday (when I was working a locum in Rockingham) and we had quite an interesting chat which I wanted to write a blog article on. I never got around to it but hopefully one day soon, during one of my study breaks, I will write this, as he offered me some great insights about the use of love in practicing medicine, which I would love to share!