A few more breaths with Sandima

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It’s almost time to start packing for the long trip back to Korea. I’m always glad to be going back to Korea, even though I’m always glad to have a break from it when the time comes to leave. It feels like home now just as much as anywhere else.

When I left Korea, I’d just started studying Vipassanna with Sandima Bhikku. We made our plans to come to Canada just after meeting him, so I didn’t get very far. In the end, during our visits, he taught EunBong more than I learned which I thought was more beneficial since EunBong hadn’t been exposed to much more than devotion to GwanSaeEum Bosal. She was interested to learn theories about Kamma and how we can improve our Kamma by helping others.

What we went over together wasn’t really anything I hadn’t been exposed to, but it’s the kind of thing you can always benefit from hearing again. There was an extra quality in the teachings when it came from a person face to face instead of a book or a clip on YouTube. Sandima had a nice way of explaining things that helped open your understanding. His warmth and friendliness made being with him very comfortable. When he taught, he didn’t act as though he was above us, he was aware that what he was teaching was just as important for him to follow as the rest of us.

Over and over, he repeated that the most important thing was to understand the theory before starting the practice. It could be why I’d found myself lost on my own. I was going through the motions but not truly understanding what I was doing. I would find myself sitting with no focus, lost in thought or gone with no attention to where. At these times I realized the limitations of learning from a book.

Sandima spoke a lot about Kamma, as I mentioned a few months back. He explained how we are surrounded by the energy of our Kamma. Kamma is one of those things you can’t worry about too much as far as your past is concerned, but by being mindful in the present moment you can ensure that whatever Kamma you generate will be positive. Meditation, chanting, acting with mindfulness and compassion are excellent ways to maintain positive Kamma. Do I succeed at these from moment to moment in my own life? No, but even if once in five times I can stop myself from negative action or speech, remembering my teaching, then my Kamma is a fifth better than if I hadn’t heard the teachings at all! Swatting flies is a basic example. How many of us give it a second thought before smacking a house fly or a mosquito as it’s sinking its needle into our flesh? I still catch myself swiping my hand through the air without a thought  in mind, sometimes soon enough to veer off and miss or other times at least in enough time to be glad I missed. As far as my understanding of Kamma goes, the more often I remind myself not to swat the fly, the more likely I’ll be to remind myself the next time. Hopefully, after enough times, the thought of killing the fly will eventually stop arising. There is a strong connection between Kamma and habit, which makes a lot of sense. Sandima made an analogy that we are like little caterpillars climbing a tree. First the head goes forward, then the body follows. Like that, our Kamma energy goes first, then our mind and body follow. Like cause and effect we follow our Kamma.

I asked about chanting in Theravada practice. In Korea, I’d grown accustomed to chanting Namo Amitaba, Gwan Sae Eum Bosal, or a few other Bosal names, now and then, that don’t have a presence in Theravada tradition. He replied that it’s common to chant the different qualities of the Buddha that one wishes to manifest in themselves. For example, if he were preparing to teach a class, he might chant the Pali word for right speech. The most usual chant, Sandima told me, is Arahant, one who has all the qualities of a Buddha. In contrast to Korean chanting (at least according to Sandima, as Marcus kindly pointed out), Theravada chanting is/should be done in silence. I don’t think one or the other is better, but there is a difference. Sandima simply explained that, in Therevada practice, silence is prefered.

He spoke a bit about the nine qualities of a Buddha and the seven delusions that cause Samsara. To start, it’s important to know your position between total ignorance and being an Arahant. With a big smile, he looked at us and asked, “I’m a crazy fool, how about you?” His point was, if you start thinking that you are more advanced than you are, you won’t be able to learn what you need to know. To cultivate the nine qualities requires contemplation, mindfulness, and listening. You must start with knowing, with wisdom. Knowing comes from touch, from the five aggregates. Knowing starts with breathing.

visiting Sandima <

2 responses »

  1. Hi Joseph,

    Thank you again for a great post!

    But I had to laugh at one point! You say “In contrast to Korean chanting, Theravada chanting is done in silence”…

    ….sometimes I wish it were! I can’t tell you how many temples in Thailand have loudspeakers attached to every other post blaring out recorded Dharma talks and chants at full volume from early in the morning to late at night! It’s so difficult to get any peace and quiet in some of these temples that I long ago stopped going! (Of course, some people might actually like this).

    Myself, I prefer chants when they are live and not recorded. My favourite place for this in Bangkok is at Wat Suthat where, every evening, a hundred or more laypeople gather together to chant. A fabulous sound.

    But, even then, everything is amplified – and I bring my earplugs. I once went without earplugs and the subsequent headache lasted for hours.

    One of the (many) reasons I love Korean temples so much is that they are so much quieter in general than Thai temples! So you can see why I laughed at the idea that Theravadan chanting is silent!

    (Of course, much of it might be!)

    All the best,

    Marcus

    • Maybe I should change it to “according to Sandima, Theravada chanting is done in silence…”
      haha… It seems to be a treat anywhere you go to find a temple without amplifiers!
      At least Jogyesa kept the volume tolerable. There was one beautiful temple an hour and a half south of Seoul that didn’t have speakers and I remember how wonderful it was.

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