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We started our retreat on the 26 February at 8am. Approaching in a rickshaw the center we bumped outside the gate into the resident teacher Venerable Vivekananda. With a smile he welcomed us and informed that after settling down we will have to fill out some forms and listen to an instruction tape. Even here needed to be done all the worldly administration stuff.

That this would be for Jing and me our last shared activity for the coming month dawned inside of me. After being on the road for 8 month together 24/7 the sudden splitting from my knight Jing would be hard. The gate opened and we got separated. My place would be in a dormitory in the main building close to all necessary facilities and hers in a Triplet out in the garden along the walking meditation path.

Filling out a form and listening to the tape made me feel like I don’t know what I am doing here. Required is to keep 8 precepts and to restrict all my 6 senses including not to talk to Jing. The thought of I am not ready for this strict regime crossed my mind. It is like a first school day where you are not sure what will happen next to you and if you can catch up.

Vipassana is a concentration meditation where you observe the rising and falling of one’s abdomen or any other dominant object within. ‘Observation of my abdomen’…Mmmhhhh not much to see though but my legs get numb and my back is painful. So much to my first sitting meditation encounters.

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During the coming day’s and weeks many things happened to me. Thanks to the guidance of resident teacher Venerable Vivekananda I made it through. His daily interviews were a great encouragement and help me to understand my experiences. Everything is so personal, so depending on oneself that there is no right or wrong answer, everything is just experience. Mostly I realize how busy I can keep myself with thinking, dreaming and reflecting on unnecessary non related things. Especially noisy neighbour mediators made me going mad. Then there are hindrances that like insecurity, doubts, ill will and a lot of laziness wanted to disturb my precious concentration. A battlefield within me. The whole day can change from sunny to stormy like April weather or from up to down like a roller coaster.

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But thanks to all this and the Dhamma talks I gained a simple understanding of the teaching of the Buddha and the path. Something has changed during the 4 weeks for me. If I look from the outside everything is pretty much the same but deep deep inside is a different feeling. It is not easy to say what it is but something has changed.

Alex

Alex picked up two red books at a little hand made paper store in Varanasi. “These are for us to record our progress in the meditation retreat.” She said. I didn’t think it was that important but it proved a great investment with little money…

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Now they are filled with detail of our meditation experience…

Jing

Upon begin of our retreat, and throughout our stay at the center, we are requested to take the following vows:

  1. I undertake the precept to refrain from taking the life (killing) of living beings.
    Pānātipātā veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi
  2. I undertake the precept to refrain from stealing. (lit. “taking what is not offered”)
    Adinnādānā veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi
  3. I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct (adultery, rape, exploitation, etc).
    Kāmesu micchācāra veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi
  4. I undertake the precept to refrain from false speech (lying).
    Musāvāda veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi
  5. I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicants which lead to heedlessness.
    Surā meraya majja pamādatthānā veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi
  6. I undertake to abstain from eating at the wrong time (the right time is after sunrise, before noon).
    Vikálabhojaná
    veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi
  7. I undertake to abstain from singing, dancing, playing music, attending entertainment performances, wearing perfume, and using cosmetics and decorative accessories. Nacca gíta vádita visukadassaná málá gandha vilepana dhárana mandana vibhúsana††háná veramaši sikkhápadaµ samádhiyámi.
  8. I undertake to abstain from luxurious places for sitting or sleeping.
    Uccásayana mahásayana veramaši sikkhápadaµ samádhiyámi.

As a part of the tradition, the meditators wishing to cultivate a pure mind do observe the eight precepts. Usually, these people follow the five basic precepts (the first five) at all times. To speak for my own experience as a meditator, these five precepts are already extremely beneficial on my own spiritual cultivation. They are so natural that being inclined to a virtuous living, do observe them without being aware of it.

Jing

Food is something during the retreat where only 2 meals get served and food consumption after 12pm is forbidden. There are approximate 3 main advantages with food.

1. Each gong for food marks the end of one’s sitting meditation
2. Finally the hole of one’s stomach get filled
3. For lunch it will mean after food half an hour rest and remember it will be your last meal for the day

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Food was plenty on the buffet every time I went to the dining hall. Delicious self baked bread and muesli in the morning. Yummy. Then the vegetarian lunch with great salad and chocolate as dessert were my favorite, especially the veggie with the soy chunks. After a few days my stomach was trained to be hungry at the right time and not having food in the afternoon seems to be OK.

Interesting is to encounter the different types of eater during food the retreat:

1. The Pushy one – they try to be the first at the buffet but if they are behind you in the queue they will be always closeup or overlapping with your actions to make sure that you do not delay the food-taking process; you will see their plate is always well filled never less.

2. The Sleepy one – slow and extremely patient are their movements, nearly as they were dreaming, they don’t care if you are behind them nearly fainting for hunger and will take their own sweet sweet time; their plate is accurate filled, better less then to much

3. The Ordinary one – this kind is somewhere in between type 1 and 2, the majority of the eaters, they built the buffer between Pushy and Sleepy to reduce complications, try to be mindful when taking food but not to slow, try not to overeat themselves but remembering that the day is still long

4. The Jing one – behaving like type 3 but they forget that there are only 2 meals a day, the food portion is amazingly `little´ and only God knows how they can survive.

That I had changed occurred to me one day during lunch time. It was served my favorite salad and I was happily eating taking even some more of the delicious food. Full and contented I drank the hot coffee and eyed on the Kit Kat that was supposed to join the drink. I felt nicely filled. Strange what would have been no problem to squeeze into my stomach, my secret chamber not long ago now became an issue of deep thinking. Imagining the next sitting meditation and that it will be difficult to concentrate with overflowing stomach.

So my dear friends if you believe it or not, the only piece of chocolate for the next days was put back by Alexandra Zech without hesitation. Mastering your desire… wow

Alex

Upon entering the meditation center, my first instinct reaction of seeing the walking meditators is – Opps! They look weird! Everybody are dressing in sloppy looking cloths, some partially cover their faces with shawls, hair goes all direction and heads are pointing down, eyes staring either blankly or on their walking feet. Facial expressions are generally pale, blank, bitter, pain, extremely serious, totally absorbed into their own world. Though this is not the first time I have been to the center, I can’t help but think, ‘This is how we get liberated?’ Strong stream of sceptical doubt arises in my head.

Sure enough, I am so use to seeing the world dressed and coloured with garlands, cosmetics, perfumes, adornments and ornaments. Suddenly here I am confronted by their bare appearance. ‘But soon I will be one of them.’ This was in my mind.

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In the silent meditation hall, everyone is given a single mosquito net, and as many sitting cushions as one’s like. Meditators build their little nests at every corners with one thing in common – all are facing the beautiful Buddha statue in the hall. We usually give three bows to Buddha, for Him giving us strength and appreciate Him for sharing the great practise. There are a wide variety of sitting styles in the hall. Meditators design their own style to their most comfort sit for long hours. Thus, the wisdom that gain from one’s meditation also goes to one’s way to arrange his/her sitting cushions and how one’s legs are crossed or folded – simply amazing! Usually beginner meditators pile themselves with as many cushions as they can, to give a psychological support to their spines as well as maximizing physical comfort to their folded legs. Some blind folded their eyes while meditating; some put on a pair of huge ear plugs; one cover her face like batman; while another simply covers herself completely with black cloth and sits on a chair in an extreme corner. It took me several days to notice her as she is totally blend in the dim hall.

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Constrain of senses and incorporate mindfulness in every act do put me into another reality which has a complete different experience of perceiving time, space and interrelationship among meditators. Though verbal communication is prohibited but our interrelationship grows in a silence way…

Jing

Our meditation retreat has just started two days ago. Besides we have to follow strickly on the 8 precepts, we should also reduce any reading to the absolute minimum. So, Alex kept all the books in tightly wrapped, stuck at the bottom of her luggage bag. Nowadays in our modern life it is quite impossible to live without reading.

This morning on the breakfast table, I was gladly discovered my possible chance of reading on a mug I accidentally chosen for my hot beverage – a brief description of Piscies sign printed on:

Pisces – loyal and reliable, famous people – Albert Einstein. Ruling sign: Neptune etc.

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It will be my little morning entertainment… they are a few other star signs printed on several mugs of the same series…

Jing

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Irgendwie halfen meine bisherigen Meditations Erfahrungen nicht Herrin ueber Nervositaet und Unsicherheit zu werden. Ich hatte mich in der Vergangenheit in so mancher Praxis ausprobiert, da war Tibetan Meditation mit chanting von Mantras und Visualisierungen und so manch technische Hilfsmittel wie HemiSync und Frequenz CD’s die einen in Tiefenmeditation versetzen. Vipassana Meditation schien nur ganz anders zu sein als meine alten Versuche.

Mein Wissen mit dem ich in das Center eintraf waren von Jing und dem Buch ‘In This Very Life’ von Ven. Sayadaw U Pantida. Um ehrlich zu sein habe ich das Buch nur bis Seite 60 gelesen und nicht wirklich verstehen koennen. Jings Beschreibung waren ‘Dies ist die Meditation mit der Buddha Erleuchtung fand’ und ‘Ich hatte waehrend meiner Meditation in 2002 3 Wochen lang Schmerzen ueber Schmerzen’.

Ausgeruestet mit dem Halb- bis Zerowissen bereitete ich mich nun vor. Als erstes fing ich an meine koerperlichen Schwachpunkte ausfindig zu machen und mich moralisch auf die eventuellen Schmerzen einzustellen. Da war ein Zahnschmerz hin und wieder und meine Knie, ach ja und mein Ruecken. Dann waren ja noch die Sitzmeditationen zu bestehen und mein Po-fleisch auf 1 Stunde zu staerken. Alle meine Trainingseinheiten endeten nach nur 30 Minuten. Unwohlsein und Zweifel wuchesen und wuchsen. Panik!!!!

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Zum Glueck war wenig Zeit zum weglaufen. ‘Frau oder Maus war meine Devise’….. Maus meine Antwort.

Der 25. Februar 2007 kam und wir trafen puenklich in Lumbini ein.

Alex

This will be our schedule for the next 4 weeks. It seems to be impossible to follow. How am I be able to get up at 4am?

04.00 Wake Up
04.30 – 05.00 Walking meditation
05.00 – 06.00 Sitting Meditation
06.00 – 07.00 Breakfast
07.00 – 08.00 Sitting Meditation
08.00 – 09.00 Walking Meditation
09.00 – 10.00 Sitting Meditation
10.00 – 11.00 Walking Meditation
11.00 – 12.00 Lunch
12.00 – 12.30 Rest
12.30 – 13.00 Walking Meditation
13.00 – 14.00 Sitting Meditation
14.00 – 15.00 Walking Meditation
15.00 – 16.30 Sitting Meditation
16.30 – 17.30 Walking Meditation
17.30 – 19.00 Dhamma Talk
19.00 – 20.00 Juice & Walking
20.00 – 21.00 Sitting Meditation
21.00 – 22.00 Walking Meditation

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This is my second time entering the meditation complex. The first time was in summer 2002, which I did a 3-weeks retreat. This time, I am pleasantly surprise that the center has tremendous improvement – beautiful garden, ponds and greenery, well maintained living quarters, meditation hall, and of course the home-grown vegetation which served on our lunch table!

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The blooming flowers give touches of life and colours in this peaceful place, and the wonderful sound of ‘gong’ serves the purpose of wakes us up in extreme early morning or marks an end of a meditation sitting or starts of Dhamma talk or it’s eating time!

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“Please constrain your senses…” Resident monk cum our meditation teacher Ven. Vivekananda had said. “It is hard, around me is so beautiful now.” I replied honestly.

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Ven. Vivekananda is still as lively and friendly as when I first met him. With him around to conduct interview, I am confident that my meditation progress is ensured. Ven. Vivekananda and the two resident nuns are indeed the highlight of my retreat. They vibrate an unusual peaceful aura that sufficient to lead me through the ups and downs.

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The meditation center is sorely depending on volunteers and is run in an organized manner. During my stay I have seen some meditators-to-be come for a few days but unable to withstand the hardship and go. On the other hands, they are also several very serious meditators around who become my role models.

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Jing

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