At the Wat Chedi Luang temple, the monks make an effort to interact with the public by scheduling a weekly “Monk Chat” evening.
I was excited for this opportunity, since some of my most vivid memories of Thailand were the daily sightings of monks wandering the streets. James said his typical day was to get up before dawn, walk the streets to collect alms before breakfast, participate in morning prayer or meditation, spend the bulk of his day in classes or studying and then take part in an evening prayer session. Later, a group of novice monks came into the sanctuary with an instructor and took a seat on the floor.
Would any of these young men, I wondered, devote their lives to monasticism and Buddhist study?
This reinforced to me the incredible influence that Buddhism has over the lives of the Thai people. Does Buddhist monks in the Thailand have different rituals and traditions than other countries.
This imposing Buddha icon sits in the park-like gardens of the Buddhist Retreat Center enjoying his view of a protea, South Africa's national flower.
The Buddhist Retreat Center, in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, has been ranked among the top 10 on CNN’s “world’s best meditation retreats” list. During a recent 10 days I spent there, one woman arrived by cab in the early evening having flown to South Africa from Canada via Germany specifically to spend five days at the BRC en route to participating in a volunteer project and safari in Tanzania. The weekend retreat in question, called “New Year intentions: starting where we are,” run by Lucy Draper-Clarke and Kerri Martinaglia, both on the board of Mindfulness Africa, an organization founded by South African Buddhist teacher Rob Nairn, had a Tibetan Buddhist flavor and drew people from Cape Town, Johannesburg and around KwaZulu-Natal, which is not unusual. The BRC is, as far as I know, the only place you’ll find in South Africa where you can you go for a long and lazy afternoon hike (or an energetic one!) along pristine walking paths, through indigenous forest and park-like gardens. This after a lunch of dreamily light shepherd’s pie made with brown lentils, sweetly spicy caramelized baby onions, tenderly crisp roasted veggies and a sprout salad ablaze with orange nasturtiums, much of it picked fresh from a bountiful organic veggie garden. Then you can go sit on a rock in a raked Zen Garden to contemplate your navel or life’s mysteries before wandering through a creative bamboo labyrinth pondering the twists and turns of existence — only to end up feeling that twists and turns are, perhaps, quite simply what it’s all about. And all of the above is before you consider the schedule of classes, perhaps yoga at the stupa or volunteering at Woza Moya, the center’s community focused poverty alleviation, empowerment and HIV-Aids program.
Perched on a ridge at the head of a valley in the Umkomaas river system, the Buddhist Retreat Center (a hop and a skip from the rural town of Ixopo — inspiration for Alan Paton’s scene-setting opening to his long-acclaimed novel, Cry, the Beloved Country), is about an hour-and-a-half by road from Durban.
The BRC — which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year — invites teachers both local and international (Steven and Martine Bachelor, Kittisaro and Thanissara — who used to be resident teachers — and Joseph Goldstein have all taught there, among many other well known names).
It draws students and teachers from the various Buddhist schools — from Tibetan, with its elaborate and colorful rituals and visualization, to the stark simplicity and rigors of Zen and the more gentle and contemplative practice of Theravada or insight meditation. It also attracts many non-Buddhists to courses that range from bird watching to sketching to t’ai chi ch’uan, chi kung and yoga.
The first retreat was held in 1980 and over the years the BRC has become a place to go, meditate and learn about Buddhism for some — and a great escape for many. When I visited for the first time, more than 25 years ago, accommodation was in a single lodge. Now, in no small part thanks to the drive and enthusiasm of Dutch-born Louis’s wife, Chrisi van Loon, it has earned custodian status for the habitat it supplies to the endangered Blue Swallow and it has National Heritage Site status.
Louis van Loon will tell you if you ask him to share some of his wonderful stories that he got interested in Buddhism in the 1950s while on a trip to Asia. He is currently adding a “Buddha boma,” which includes eight newly planted trees, all of them significant in Buddhist teachings.
The BRC has come into its own as interest in meditation and “mindfulness practice” has grown worldwide. Meditation is now being widely studied and is seen as a mainstream antidote to stress, depression and many other modern-day ills.
Tai Chi is a famous way to exercise, helping us to relax the mind and the body by relieving stress and relaxing the muscles. Famous forms of meditation involve relaxing and finding inner peace or enlightenment by just listening to the tranquil sounds of nature. The app features an option to switch between a female or male voice depending on the user’s preference.
Another app that helps you to get a good night’s sleep is Deep Sleep with Andrew Johnson. Most of the apps that we have featured so far utilize relaxing music to help attain a state of calmness or deep sleep. Whether you want to relax for a minute while you are working or you want to get a good night’s sleep, there is an app for you. NatureCast is a Chromecast app that plays beautiful, professional videos (with music) to relax to. If we try to stay with being with things as they are, if we try to stay present and aware, sometimes the mind calms down. The Buddha’s experience was the final end point of everything in his lifetime(s) that preceded it — his meditative practice, his ethical development, his philosophical understanding. This isn’t to say you won’t have profound experiences during deep meditation or on prolonged retreats. Roshi’s words resonated because I’d recently completed a teleconferenced Dharma course offered through an on-line organization.
Often the number one thing getting in the way of meditation practice is our idea about how our meditation practice should be going. The Pali Canon speaks of five hindrances (panca nivara?ani) or obstructions during meditation: sense desire (kamacchanda), ill-will (byapada), sloth and torpor (thina-midda), restlessness and remorse (uddhacca-kukkucca), and doubt (vivikiccha).
Ill-will includes resentments from the day that carry over into our practice as well as anger arising from emerging memories of past hurts.
Sloth and torpor refer to mental states of dullness, boredom, sleepiness, and lack of alertness. If we keep drifting off into dreamy mental states, can we watch the process of beginning to nod off again and again, and invest energy in observing the process? If these “hindrances” persist, if we remain “caught,” if we are the victims of a “multiple hindrance attack,” can we stay with this process without getting discouraged or disturbed? It’s said that when we practice meditation we are actually practicing three separate skills: 1) staying with the object of meditation, 2) recognizing when we’ve drifted off, and 3) returning to the object without fuss or judgment.
The poet William Blake wrote in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell that “if the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.” Keep watching your mind just as it is. Why practice either piano or meditation despite the fact that I’ll never advance beyond amateur status?
So it was with great interest that I read a recent scientific study suggesting that even very modest meditation experience can make measurable changes in the brain.


The study is called “Short-term Meditation Induces White Matter Changes in the Anterior Cingulate,” and it will appear shortly in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. In this study, forty-five college students received a mere 11 hours of training in what the authors called “integrative mind-body training,” or IMBT.
After the college students received the 11 hours of training, the researchers performed a type of brain imaging scan called Diffusion Tensor Imaging to examine the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) of their brains.
So, fellow amateurs, keep up with your meditation practice, even if your practice is not perfect. Still, for those of us who love and respect hard science, its nice to see science “validate” what we already know from our own introspection. As you sit down to meditate, the first things you may notice are sensations, sounds, and  thoughts.
These thoughts generate and maintain a series of corresponding emotional states: irritation, boredom, frustration, worry, and so on.
All of these thoughts and their ensuing emotional states are mental objects we can attend to, just as we can attend to the itch on our face, the sound of the boom box, or the feel of our breath. Cravings and impulses are transient mind states that pass on their own if we do nothing to satisfy them.
Learning to be mindful of mental states that lead to harmful behavior and the thoughts that generate and maintain them is a first step towards liberation. We rediscover our bodies in meditation.  It’s as if a previously silent realm has begun to speak. The brain normally privileges vision and hearing and assigns a lesser priority to somatic sensations (unless they are quite strong) arising from the body.  The brain also prioritizes sensations and perceptions that are socially relevant, or that pertain to either our safety or successfully attaining our goals. The best way to understand the mind is not by reading about it, but by observing it directly.  Doing so means making a space in one’s life to take the time for observation. 3) Memory – Remembering facts about birds, images of birds, past memories of having heard birds, etc. This process of one sensation setting off a volley of subsequent processes (which in turn sets off a new set of subsequent processes) is called mental proliferation.  Proliferation is the normal state of the human mind.
It was in Chang Mai that we had one of our more memorable travel experiences during a morning chat with a Buddhist monk. This gives visitors a chance to learn about Buddhism and the monastic life and allows novice monks to practice their English. But as we wandered the grounds of this temple one morning, a young monk strolled over to us.
They are so omnipresent that public buses and boat ferries even have special seats reserved for monks. Because of the “different feelings” that arise from touching a woman, he said, it would “distract the mind” from focusing on spiritual activities.
A majority of them, of course, would re-enter what they call “common life.” Most Thai men become a monk for a period of time, but it is voluntary. Some have likened it to a Thai version of a sabbatical, giving young males the opportunity to remove themselves from their normal routine for a period of time in order to reflect on their lives before they take on the full role and responsibilities of being an adult. Everywhere in the country are men who have spent from a few months to a few years as a Buddhist monk. This may be a genuine of the handy sites We have ever show up over in this pituacrlar subject.
It is a definite that is handy blnoiggg We’ve arrive all over with this area of interest. And while it might seem a little off the beaten track, it attracts people from around the world. Her plan was to unwind, walk, meditate and to experience this place she’d read about online. They’re an Impressionist’s dream when splashed with the biggest and brightest pink and red azalea “trees” you’re likely to have seen, plus patches of orange clivia and luxuriously abundant assorted protea.
Their two recipe books (a third is in the pipeline), Quiet Food and The Cake the Buddha Ate, are both best-sellers, beautiful, and the inspiration for all the meals. It looks out on a vista of indigenous valleys, forests and rolling hills that recede like waves in the blue distance. Now there are a number of options, including three simple but designer-cool luxury chalets. Alien trees and plants have been taken out and replaced with indigenous groves and forests. He had the idea to create a retreat center in South Africa while ill in SriLanka on another (seven-month) pilgrimage around Asia in the 1960s.
The idea is that one will be able to do a kind of Indian Buddhist pilgrimage at the BRC in South Africa. Many US and UK universities are doing research and finding all manner of physical, psychological and emotional benefits.
Her South African journalism background includes 7 years on the Sunday Tribune and 5 years on Cosmopolitan magazine. On the other hand, it requires years of training and commitment, which can be difficult for busy people. This could end up in a mess as you begin to jumble things in your mind when you don’t even know what to do first. It has a meditation timer to measure the duration of your meditation and it features 10 levels of enlightenment.
It has a 5-minute Breath Awareness Guided Meditation for your short breaks while you’re on the job, a 13-munite Deep Rest Meditation if you feel like sleeping, and a 24-minute Whole Body Relaxation for a complete meditation that you can do at home.
It’s not like what you see in the movies where people get hypnotized by watching a pendulum swing in front of their eyes. Deep Sleep also gives you guided meditation, designed to relax and clear your mind to get you to sleep. It has several variations and Yoga Nidra Meditation is an app that lets you experience yoga in a different way. You can use your own background music and choose to measure your sessions with your own alarm. Try it now, download an Android app that would help you relax and unwind from your stressful day.
By “somewhere else” they mean their fantasy of whatever-it-was the Buddha experienced at the moment of his Enlightenment. Our experience is the end product of everything leading up to this moment in our lives — our virtues and vices, our sleep patterns and eating habits, our discipline and skill, the quality of our relationships and our health. The ACC is responsible for monitoring and resolving conflict among competing response tendencies.


We limit incoming visual and auditory sensation and suspend (or at least try to!) goal-directed striving. We become aware of feelings of warmth and tingling in our limbs, aware of our pulse and the circulation of our blood.  All of these sensations compete for our attention in an ever-changing kaleidoscopic cacophony.  How is it possible that we didn’t even notice this world before, except when we were ill or in pain? We’ve caught ourselves in the act of being ourselves once again!  We begin to appreciate that this is who we are and will seemingly always be.  We cannot transform ourselves into another kind of being.
One moment we are observing our minds, and the next moment we are off in a daydream, the intent to observe all but lost.  It can be a bit alarming to see how hard it is to keep the mind on track.
In Chang Mai, due to the presence of the Buddhist university, these saffron- and orange-robed young men were especially plentiful.
After doing this every day for five years, could his mind now slip more easily into a state of emptiness? As the teacher spoke, the young monks took notes and occasionally goofed around with each other. They usually serve for a period of three months, although some enter a monastery for as little as a few weeks and others remain for several years.
In its own way, it’s comparable to the ritual transition that Masai tribesmen undergo on their way to becoming adult warriors, or the Australian Aboriginal tradition of the walkabout. A young German woman and her Australian boyfriend, on their Africa adventure, had heard about it from friends.
Just like at Green Gulch, the San Francisco Zen Center’s Japanese Soto Zen practice center in Marin County acclaimed for its organic farm and garden, “no anonymous food” is the norm. Qi Gong Meditation Relaxation is an app that teaches Qi Gong, which is a basic form of Tai Chi, through video tutorials. The app does this by providing sound tracks which have been professionally designed to help the mind find its way to different states of meditation and relaxation. The app currently has eight meditation tracks and four of which are available in this free version. This app guides you through your meditation as you listen to a sweet and peaceful voice throughout your session.
Calming Music to Tranquilize is an app that gives you several choices of tranquil sound tracks. Find time to relax and listen to traditional Chinese music with this app, it’s free at the Google Play Store. All you have to do is listen to the voice audio and you’ll hardly notice when you have fallen asleep. If your favorite meditation and relaxation app didn’t make it to the list, share it with us in the comments section.
His head is filled with thoughts of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday — the family he has not seen for ages, the tasks remaining to be done. Sometimes the energies that are roiling the mind are too intense to be conquered by our weak intention to be present. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox. Neglected streams of information blossom into awareness.  For many first-time meditators, listening to the body can come as a revelation.
He appeared hesitant and nervous at first over the prospect of conversing in English, but his language skills were better than he realized. They didn’t look very different from any other group of teenage boys in a classroom elsewhere in the world, save for their shaved heads and saffron robes.
I recalled a conversation with Pravat, a local guide who had spent 11 years in a Buddhist monastery, six years as a novice and an additional five years as a full-fledged monk, before leaving to get a paying job. How different would my life be, or the life of my friends, if we’d spent our teenage and early adult years focusing on spiritual growth in a monastery? We’re also another stylish medical specialist in that subject i really are able to fully understand your effort. Don’t worry because you can now use your Android device to help you meditate, relax, and sleep.
It teaches the three methods of relaxation, namely breathing, muscle relaxation and guided imagery. Metaphors and suggestions are also used by the app to train your mind and your subconscious to be at peace.
Zen music claims to help the mind reach a state of inner calm that cannot be achieved while meditating even in absolute silence. It also provides you with written meditation tips to enhance your experience and make it more effective. Whether you want to do your Tai Chi session or you just want to meditate, you can listen to these tracks to to relax and refresh your mind. Yoga Nidra has several benefits, including relaxation, the reduction of stress and anxiety, improving the immune and lymphatic system, detoxifying your body and more.
The goal is not the elimination of these thoughts and emotions, but developing our capacity to observe them in a kind and interested way. The only thing that’s clear is “just do it.” Whether the sitting is “good” or “bad,” just do it. The app also comes with relaxing audios, such as the sounds of meadows, a mountain cabin, a day on the farm, a magical forest for children and a rainbow of emotions, letting you experience tranquility. All that needs to be done is to follow the step by step instructions and to posses the commitment to achieve relaxation.
We are not the masters of our own house, and learning to work skillfully with the energies at play is the work of a lifetime.
But this whole idea of “getting better” is part of the problem, the endless self-improvement and self-manipulation game. I tell William to lighten up, that getting lost and returning is the very heart of Zen practice. I tell Matthew that his passionate anger is understandable, but can he sit with it and see what it is doing inside of him? The world is, at times, a violent and terrible place, and we are only one drop of water in this storm-tossed sea.
Can we see what’s possible for us to accomplish as this one drop — committed, firm and resolute — but without grandiose aspirations to omnipotently control the ocean?



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