Thursday, July 2, 2009

My first meditation lesson

My first meditation lesson

I got my first lesson in meditation from Bagyi Thwin. I remember very well that day as I was in my tenth standard. I was not very strong in mathematics so Bagyi Thwin volunteered to teach me maths and physics. At that time we were living at No. 66 Prome Road in a house that belonged to the Burma Railways. I sat on the floor in frot of Bagyi Thwin in the living room which was on the ground floor of the bungalow type house. The lower portion of the house was made of bricks and the upper portion was made of wood. Thus, it was very cool in the summer months. I remember it well. It was at night at about 9 p.m. I sat alone in the room with Bagyi Thwin.

He said, " The main object meditation is to calm your mind and focus your mind on an object. You have to sit still and try to make sure that your mind doesn't wander about".

I was quite worried. I dreaded the though that I had to sit there for one hour doing nothing. This was going to be torture. I could not see the point in sitting there, closing my eyes and allow myself to suffer the physical pain of sitting on the floor cross-legged.

"The first thing you have to do is to pray to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Shanga and offer your mind and body to the Triple Gems. Then you have to take the five precepts. This is called pyinsa sila - it means the five precepts. Pyinsa means five and sila means precepts. When you take the five precepts in front of the Buddha, it is better if you can sit in front of the altar and pay respects to the Triple Gems by doing the gadaw three times. Then you should protect yourself by saying a protective mantra and making a mental fence around you. This is to protect you from evil spirits which may wish to harm you. You must remember that we are not alone in this world.

I thought about the fact that we were not alone in this world. In Burma, every young boy or girl is told that there is the spiritual world. There were thirty one planes of existence, we were told. As a boy I often thought what all these beings looked like. I mustered up enough strength to ask Bagyi Thwin about the sprititual world. He closed his eyes and remained silent for a while. Then he told me in a very calm manner, in a soft voice, "although we cannot see
them with our naked eyes, there is such a thing as the spiritual world. The spirits that are closest to us are in the plane called Satumaharit. This world is the domain of the four deva kings who guard the four corners of this earth.
The inhabitants of this plane consist of nagas, galons, gonban and rakshas. The nagas are supernatural beings who look like dragons. However, since they
are supernatural beings, they have all the powers of the other devas. They can fly in the air and also transform themselves into human beings. In fact they sometimes mingle among human society by transforming themselves into human form. Ordinary people will not know them. Only holy men with supernatural powers can
see them with their deva eye."

"Wait a minute', I said, "what is the deva eye Bagyi Thwin'?"

"Oh that. The deva eye is also called the nat myet si. It is not that easy to get the deva eye. You have to follow a very strict discipline and do a lot of meditation."

"Can I also get the deva eye?" I asked.

"Of course. But it is not easy. First you have to purify yourself. This is the practice of sila. Sila is the act of refraining from doing evil things. You start with the Panch Sila. This is the five precepts. Do not kill. Do not steal. Do not tell lies. Do not take intoxicating drinks or drugs. Do not commit sexual misconduct."

For me that is not very easy. I sometimes tell lies and also I used to kill small little birds like sparrows with my catapult. How am I going to keep the five precepts, I thought. This was going to be tough but I still wanted to have the deva eye. I wanted to see the spiritual world and see what all the nagas, galons and rakshas looked like. Were they like the beings I had seen on the Shwedagon Pagoda, I wondered. I was lost in thought.

"Now now little boy. What are you thinking about. You are day dreaming again, aren't you." The sudden voice of Bagyi Thwin woke me from my day dream.

"Oh I was just thinking what it would be like to have the deva eye." I replied.

"It is a long way and it won't be easy. But if there is a strong will, it is possible. Now let's end this meditation session and we will do some more meditation tomorrow."

In the still of the night I could here the lonely cry of the gekko from the other side of the house. "Tauk te, tauk te, tauk te."

The next day Bagyi Thwin and I went to the living room where he usually teaches me mathematics. He was a very strict master but he had a very kind heart. I enjoyed taking lessons from him because he had the knack of explaining difficult things to me in an easy manner. After the lesson in mathematics, he said it was now time for meditation.

Bagyi Thwin opened by saying, "there are three things that you have to keep in mind when you do meditation. First you have to donate your mind and body to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Shanga. This is for your protection. When you do this you belong to the Buddha and being something that has been donated to the Buddha, all the powerful devas and nats who protect the sasana will give their protection. There are four deva kings who rule the four quarters of this earth. They are King Dathta-rathta, King Virulaka, King Virupekkha and King Kuvera."

"Does that mean that I will not be haunted by ghosts and evil spirits if I do this protection", I asked.

"Yes of course, that is the idea", replied Bagyi Thwin.

"The next thing that you should keep in mind is to fix your attention to the meditation object. You should keep your body still. Do not move unnecessarily. When you do "ana pana" meditation, you have to keep your mind on the in-breath and the out-breath. This breathing will calm you down. The objective is to keep your mind on one object so that your mind will not wander from one thought to the other", he looked at me straight in the face as if expecting an answer from me.

I was dying to ask him a question. How on earth could I do that, I thought to myself. My mind is very restless. It flies from one object to the other. One minute it was thinking of the mosquito that was biting my toes and the next minute it was thinking of the fishing trip that my father had promised me on Sunday. It was just like a small calf tied to a pole. I also wandered how this exercise had anything to do with me gaining super natural powers that would allow me to fly in the air or vanish into thin air at will. How was it possible, I wondered.

'Now now, young man, you seem to be dozing off. Keep alert for there is much work to be done", Bagyi Thwin's words brought me back to the present moment.

"The last thing you have to do is to empty your mind of all other thoughts except the object of meditation. This is to purify your mind. Your mind in the natural state is full of many thoughts. It is full of want, fear, hatred etc. It is full of different types of emotion. Your mind in the pure state is like clear water. All kinds of emotions give color to your mind. You have to try to make your mind clear as water again."

I answered with a heavy heart, "Yes Bagyi Thwin, I will try. But I can tell you it won't be easy."

'Clear as water, clear as water", I repeated to myself trying to understand what Bagyi Thwin meant to say.

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