This year’s personal note on the Dhamma Talk Series:
Each year I run a series of Talks in Bangkok, in English, for the international community. This happens in the Rains retreat – which runs roughly from July to September each year depending on the lunar calendar. During this period monks are not permitted to go travelling outside of their temples overnight, except for a few particular extenuating circumstances. Hence, I am one of few English speaking monks in the capital at this period.
Setting up the talks takes a huge effort. Usually monks stay in their temples, and only go out to teach if they are invited by a particular group. In Bangkok there are no such groups. The WFB and Wat Maha Taht provide some meagre dhamma in English, but nothing concrete or really regular. If we want a group, we have to do it ourselves.
There are a lot of frustrations, and satisfactions in trying to provide something in English for meditators here. A lot of time used trying to get the word out, writing articles, making leaflets, meeting people….. Some places/persons do not want to assist, which is fine, but we have been very lucky so far that so many people have provided help. In particular, all the locations we have been at have been generous in providing facilities free of charge. These are prime locations, so it is no small thing. It takes a lot of trips to meet owners and scout out possible venues, so if you know of places, or come across something do get in contact. Other than good spaces to hold talks/meditation we also like places to meet informally for lunch. This is a great way to form the feeling of a Sangha, a group. A mixed bag of people we certainly are, but it is always nice to associate with good people (not forgetting the good food!)
This year we are all appreciative to Eric Levine, boss of California WOW for providing facilities. Although the gyms have a reputation for jazzy PR, music and marketing, in fact Eric’s own vision has always included meditation and spiritual development. I talked to him for a while about this. And he is as enthusiastic about the spiritual sides of good diet (he has even given up coffee) as he is about yoga, exercise and meditation. He himself maintains a daily routine of meditation in the Buddhist style. He also unflinchingly offered us his many prime location facilities free of charge to provide dhamma in English. We picked the Planet Yoga studio basement, as it is cool and quiet, and right on the BTS/MRT lines.
exercise the body…
… rest the mind …
Too many people have contributed in ways large and small to mention. And all the encouragement in appreciated. We monks can stay in our rooms and temples of course, which is easy and peaceful. But sticking to what is easy and peaceful is never the best way to live your life. To keep dhammaalive in yourself, in your life, you have to get up and go out with others who have the same interest. The Buddha himself, though leading renunciate forest dwellers, was most instant on this. Every 7 or 8 days (again, depending on the lunar calendar) the monks were required to meet together. This is the ‘Wan Phra’ that you find on all Thai calendars. They would meet to talk about their practice, and about dhamma. These were ‘frequent and regular assemblies’ engaging talk which was ‘to the point’ and ‘connected with the goal’. We should do the same. It does not matter if you know more or less about Buddhism. It doesn’t matter if you are a greater or lesser meditator or which lineage you are from. Gathering with good people in the spirit of dhamma is essential.
So if you can come along to the sessions this year, remember that just by being here, being involved, you are contributing to the spiritual path of the people around you. Sadhu!
The series of talks each year is my contribution. It is never easy sitting up there in the spotlight as a ‘teacher’. You always wonder if you really have anything to teach. Especially when you have been doing your own PR, and trying to jazz it up a bit. But if my robes serve as a focus point, a rallying point for people to get together, then it is already a good thing. And the teachings themselves come from the Buddha, not from the speaker. We recite, re-present and re-formulate the teachings in different ways, but in the final count, it is up to the individual to take the things that make sense and use them. If any speaker gets something wrong, or gives the wrong advice, it is only to be expected. If we wait until we are Arahants before speaking up and sharing, then Dhamma would be a very hard thing to find indeed. I meet and get mails from lots of people who have grown in so many ways. Many have meditation much deeper and more profound than what I have experienced myself. Many have developed a regimen of meditation and commitment that makes me feel a little like a slacker. Many have developed the kind of wisdom, compassion or loving kindness that I still aspire to. The lesson is – don’t limit yourself.
I feel very strange putting personal details on the Internet, but since we are putting PR out right now, and some might like to know who is delivering these “Way Of Wisdom” talks, I put a link to my recent 40th B’day blog (click the image).
So I ask everyone to join in this year and help bring the group together. Just by coming along you are already contributing. Our aim is to get to know each other and join up. It’s a great feeling when we gather together, especially informally and without and kind of ‘event’. Some people will prefer to keep quiet and observe from the background – which is fine. But many others would like to make contact and join in greater or lesser ways. It is up to all of you to help in this. From the platform I can’t do so much in getting to know the names and faces.
Running a series of Talks instead of one-off events that visiting teachers do, means we have a unique chance to develop as a group. Originally, I only wanted to make my annual contribution, and then duck off out of sight for the rest of the year. But so many of us made good friends we had to keep going. Now we invite other speakers who pass through. It is my belief that ‘Variety is the Spice of Dhamma’ and that having different speakers with different styles, from the academic to the dhamma talks to the meditation instruction, keeps things interesting. This is better than deciding on a particular style of meditation or temple lineage and eschewing anything that strays from our party line. Lets throw it all out there. Personally I have got a lot out of the talks and instructions from the different people we have invited to teach, as well as individually from friends in the group.
In late August, we will have lunch and movies at the Tai Pan Hotel near Asoke. Good food, and a few short clips on the topic of Sense Desire to get the discussion going…. The first weekend of September we will have two of the senior teachers from Wat Kow Tahm giving one-day meditation workshops for those who have had enough talks, and want to look into the states of (the tricky) mind that meditators experience. In October our good friend and teacher Sayadaw U Jotika will come back through Bangkok. He was due in July, but did not make it. He has sent word that he intends to come after the Pansa ends, so that will likely be towards the end of October. Ajahn Jayasaro will be doing a talk for us in Oct. or early Nov, which is a rare and special chance for us. In December, Ajahn Pasanno and Ajahn Amaro – the two abbots from CA. will stop by and do some talks.
So long as all of you in Bangkok are happy to gather together, we can keep inviting the speakers. If things keep going as they have, we might even be able to open a small center of our own. It all takes time and work, but things are progressing… things are looking up. I am happy to keep putting in the work if you all want to keep things going, and happy to arrange different events according to your wishes – more meditation workshops, or talks, academic or whatever… Just let me know.