Sam's blogger
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
I'm just trying to remember how to do this ...

I've been a miserable blogger but I've made a commitment to start blogging regularly while I'm on a six month sabbatical to allow my congregation to keep up with my adventures so that when I return, I won't be quite as strange and the transformations I've undergone will have a trail to follow.

We've just returned from visiting my wife Philomena's family in Buffalo. We usually do this the day after Christmas. (We had a fine Christmas with my Aunt Lois and her husband Ron. Lois is a vegitarian so I made a delightful dinner for them. The menu included salad, bok choy ministrone, thai peanut sauce rice noodles with fried tofu and yams.) The trip to Buffalo was pleasant as such trips to visit inlaws can be. Philomena's mother is in a nursing home but we loaded her into the car and took her to Philomena's sister's house for a nice family dinner. Andy and I returned early (leaving Philomena free to catch up with her favorite neice) .

I began reading a good book on Buddhist meditation called: Mindfulness with Breathing: A Manual for Serious Beginners by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. It is absolutely delightful to be able to pick up a book and read it without feeling the pressure of a deadline looming for a Sunday sermon. This Thai Buddhist monk came to my attention through Bill Batt's "adopted son" Apisom Intralawan who sent me a link to Suan Mok, Suraj Thani Province.

The book explains the traditional Theravaddan text on meditation the Pali Anapanasutta Sutta. The Sutta has a sixteen step progression that begins with awareness of long and short breaths, to awareness of feeling, to awareness of mental processes, and concluding with contemplation of the truths of Dhamma. Buddhadasa was a well loved 20th Century reformer of traditional Thai Buddhism who died in 1993.

Since this Sutta is the foundation of the meditation practice I do, I was surprised by the differences from the way I was taught. Buddhadasa's interpretation of the sutta is much more active and directive. Rather than just passively observing phenomena that arises such as noticing whether a breath is long or short and noticing what effect a long or short breath has on the mind, he recommends practicing long breaths then short breaths intentionally in sequence and observing the effect. That night I tried this method for a couple of hours and found it quite different.

I'm glad I'm reading up on this before I go on my meditation retreat January first!

I've been buying tourist books for Thailand and am feeling a little anxious that I don't have my trip all planned out yet. I'll have time from January 16-22 to get prepared. I've been trying to learn a little Thai as well and am finding the language fascinating. They have a "tonal" pronunciation of words. The way a word is pronounced can change the meaning. I think this is true of Chinese too.

My sabbatical hasn't started but I'm reveling in learning new things that are out of the normal loop of what I read and think about. Not sure I'll be speaking Thai by the time I return but I'd like to be able to have a minimal facility to at least say please and thank you!

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