TLDR: Cheryl shares her experience in attending a meditation retreat. She explores how she sought refuge from unsatisfactoriness, learned to understand and accept suffering as natural, and reduced conceit through mudita and gratitude.
From the 18th to 25th of February, I had the great opportunity to attend Ajahn Anan’s ( a renowned teacher from the Thai forest tradition) meditation retreat in person in Wat Marp Jan, Rayong, Thailand. Thankfully, the right conditions were present, such as having supportive health, work, and family conditions. Therefore, I was able to attend and complete the retreat as planned.
It is not uncommon that people full of faith in their hearts sign up, and make payments, but due to unexpected illnesses or personal matters, are unable to make it. Thus, I cherished the rare opportunity and sought to try my best in absorbing as much as I could from a teacher I respect and admire.
The routine and living conditions in the retreat were basic but were adequately comfortable. As a lay female devotee, you live in a shared two-floor dormitory with 50 other female retreatants, with no air-conditioning or private toilets. You rest on a thin mattress and a small block of cushion as a pillow to lay your head on.
The environment was void of any luxuries or excesses, providing a conducive environment to sustain and live simple lives as we spent 8 days practising the path of virtue, concentration, and wisdom.
The programme begins at 4:30 am, and consists of many hours of sitting and walking meditation, chanting sessions, 2 to 3 Dhamma talks and QnAs every day, communal chores, and the best part, one vegetarian meal a day.
As city-dwellers used to the 3Cs of Comfort, Convenience, and air-Conditioning, many of my colleagues and friends couldn’t hide their surprise. “Why put yourself through such ‘torture’?” is one of the many questions I got.
I guess what the question is really pointing to is: What are you searching for so desperately?
I was seeking refuge, to escape the chaos and hotness of the mind, swirling and spinning with the worldly winds of gain and loss, pain and pleasure, praise and blame, and fame and disrepute.
Here are 3 things I can only hope to summarise:
Understanding unsatisfactoriness is not the same as having unsatisfactoriness
There’s no “I” in total control over “my” body and mind.
Reduce conceit through mudita and gratitude
Understanding unsatisfactoriness and looking it in the eye
Before the retreat, I was a total wreck. I was extremely anxious over the possibility of losing my job, my mental state and physical health were all out of whack due to personal matters.
One may say, with all of this chaos, that I am well acquainted with the Buddha’s first noble truth of suffering, and I thought so too. I was self-proclaimed to be an expert on suffering. “Life sucks, life is so painful,” I would lament to anyone who would care to listen.
I experienced immense suffering, but I was ignorant of the truth that suffering is an inevitable part of life—and a large part of my suffering accumulated because I did not want to suffer.
I did not want to be separated from what I loved, I did not want to be associated with what I disliked. By fighting the experience of dukkha, unknowingly, I was just deepening my suffering and creating conditions for more suffering to arise.
“Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are suffering; association with what is not loved is suffering, separation from what is loved is suffering, not getting what is wanted is suffering. In short, the five clinging aggregates are dukkha. Stress should be known.
The cause by which stress comes into play should be known. The diversity in stress should be known. The result of stress should be known. The cessation of stress should be known. The path of practice for the cessation of stress should be known.”
Learning this noble truth helped me soften my attitude towards suffering. As many wise monks often say, “When one experiences happiness, it’s just like this; When one experiences sadness, it’s just like this.”
Instead of grasping tightly to the experience of suffering as mine and as something that “I should deal with” or “I should not have”, I observe the experience as something that arises, stays for a little while, and ceases. Just as fire needs the conditions of heat, oxygen, and fuel to arise, as long as the mind is still conditioned by greed, hatred, and delusion, suffering will still arise.
And the practice was to accept that the experience of a constricted mind wanting freedom is just like this, the pain of clinging is just like this, the unreasonable demands of craving are just like this, and to patiently endure till the experience ceases accordingly.
Thankfully, nothing ever stays forever and the longest a sensation lasted was 6 breaths, before the suffering ceased on its own.
In accepting suffering as something natural, and an experience that arises due to causes and conditions, I also learn to have more compassion towards myself.
Just as how one would sympathise and care for a toddler who is learning to walk and keeps falling over many times, I am reminded by the wise words of Ajahn Achalo to not underestimate the power of our negative habitual tendencies and mental afflictions, and be forgiving to ourselves as we stumble and falter in the journey.
You would not berate the toddler for falling down as he learns to walk, so do not berate yourself as you make mistakes or have unwholesome thoughts.
And lastly, understanding that Dukkha is an inevitable experience of the human condition also expands the compassion to all beings.
Regardless of whether one is clothed in Gucci or in tattered rags, living in a huge mansion or a tiny hut, everyone will have to experience the same burdens of birth, ageing, and death; of sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, and despair; of association with what is not loved, of separation from what is loved, and of not getting what is wanted.
Thus, let’s be unconditional in our compassion for fellow compatriots in old age and sickness.
There’s no “I” in total control over “my” body and mind
Anatta is the concept of non-self, which teaches that there is no permanent, unchanging entity within an individual. In the Anatta-lakhana Sutta, Buddha addressed the group of five and shared:
“Monks, form is not-self. Were form self, then this form would not lead to affliction, and one could have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.’ And since form is not-self, so it leads to affliction, and none can have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.’
The process of contemplating my mind and body was truly humbling as I had to surrender to the fact that there is a complete lack of control in shielding my body from afflictions no matter how much I tried. As much as I try to keep healthy and maintain hygiene, my body still falls ill and deteriorates and experience pain/sickness in almost every part.
Think of the hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, skin, teeth. Have you not experienced blisters, cuts, itches and aches, falling off and bleeding in these areas?
And if the body was truly mine, why was I not able to avoid feeling painful sensations? If the body was truly self, wouldn’t I be able to stop a cough or sneeze and be less disruptive in the Dhamma talks?
But alas, the body is not mine to control, not something I own, and is merely a machine just reacting to causes and conditions, deteriorating every day till it ceases to function anymore.
Likewise, if the mind was truly mine to control, shouldn’t I be able to control my thoughts and feelings and not be distracted when I didn’t want to?
My life has always been geared towards creating a stronger sense of control by getting what I want. With this delusion, the mind was constantly in this agitated state of wanting more and more pleasure, excitement, and enjoyment, but the craving is never ever satisfied. Oddly, the more I had, the more I wanted. Craving is not fulfilled through satisfying it.
Letting go of the sense that I had to be in full control for even just a tiny moment felt so liberating because I can just rest in a content mind, and be at ease with the present moment. The mind can finally stop chasing, and this letting go leads to the heart feeling full. Thus, contemplating on how little control one has over your mind and body can be a skillful means to bring the restless mind to stillness.
Furthermore, understanding how little control I have has also enlightened me about my own mortality. Perhaps I could die by mid-morning, perhaps I could die in the afternoon, perhaps I could die at night. Life is uncertain, and we will never know when or how we will die, but death will certainly reach us.
As one who may be intoxicated by our youth, health, and life, the idea of a near-death may seem improbable, but no one can confidently say for a fact that it is impossible.
This reflection on death also brings about energy when the mind is slacking in sloth and torpor, distracted in restless thoughts, anxiety, or sensual desires. It can therefore be also used as a skilful means for contemplation.
Practice Mudita and gratitude to reduce conceit
In the Sona Sutta, the Buddha speaks to the householder Sona regarding conceit.
“If one regards himself superior or equal or inferior because of the body, [likewise ‘feeling,’ ‘perception,’ ‘mental formations,’ ‘consciousness’] that is impermanent, painful and subject to change,what else is it than not seeing things as they really are?But, Sona, whatever recluses and Brahmans do not hold such views… What else are they but those who see things as they really are?”
Due to the conditioning of ignorance present in my mind, and the mind still clinging firmly to my five aggregates, the proliferation of conceit always arose in my mind.
As I walk, thoughts screaming for attention will go “Look at me, look at me! I’m better than them!” and then in the same vein, it will swing to the far end. “Oh my god,but I am worse than xxx!” and then sometimes “Ok lah, at least we same same!”
It was fascinating to observe how the mind see-saws endlessly between feeling pretty good about itself, to becoming awfully self-loathing and stricken with anxiety. It is painful, yet almost absurdly comedic. Ajahn Anan describes this sense of self as the “us-them” or “me-you” narrative that goes on and on and on, creating so much Dukkha along the way if left unchecked.
What I found helpful was to bring up the wholesome mindstates of appreciative joy. As Buddhists, we often use the term “Sadhu”, which means to rejoice or say “well done!” But how many of us actually take the time to truly appreciate how rare it is for another person to be walking on the Noble Eightfold Path, or appreciate how much goodness may arise from one seeing the importance of doing good, practising virtue, and purifying the mind?
Sadhu for me has always been a ritual, something you do because everyone around you says it. However, the teachers kindly reminded us to not underestimate it but to bring it up to the forefront of our mind constantly.
In practising appreciative joy, I find that rejoicing in the good deeds and success of others not only uplifts and lightens the mind, but it also reduces the unwholesome qualities of greed in the mind. I stop needing to put others down to feel better about myself, and simply feel better in the happiness others experience from getting what they want or enjoying the fruits of their labour.
Ajahn Achalo half-jokingly puts it, “It’s the easiest way to gain merit without putting in all the hard work!”
Similarly, practising gratitude is also immensely helpful to move the mind from a place of conceit to humility. Whenever thoughts of conceit arise, such as “my wisdom is superior,” “my body is equal”, “my meditation is inferior”, I recall all the people I am thankful for.
This reminds me that what I perceive to be mine are merely the byproducts of the generosity, wisdom, and compassion of so many people around me, as well as the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha.
Without all these, what I proudly claim to be “mine” would have never even existed. What is experienced as “mine” is merely a ripening of kamma stitched together by various causes and conditions. Thus, this serves as a reminder for me to be heedful of speech, thoughts, and actions, as I will be the owner and heir of the kamma ripening, be it wholesome or unwholesome.
The retreat was a deeply challenging yet transformative one, and the end of it is only the start of a commitment to a life-long practice. As the bus journeys from the monastery compound into the “real world”, it is important to recollect that time also does not pause as we journey one second at a time into old age, sickness, and death. So, make the best use of our limited time here to do good, avoid evil, and purify the mind.
Whenever you are suffering, take a deep breath and use the mantra “It’s just like this.” to remind you to stop resisting the experience.
Contemplate the body as not a “self” I can control, not a “mine” I own.
Keep a gratitude log and genuinely rejoice in another person’s virtue and success.
TLDR: Meditation retreat can give the impression of being a restricted period. Keeping an open mind, one may be surprised by the depth of learning from the experience – in our own external behaviour and internal reflection.
I had an opportunity to attend an 8-day meditation retreat at Wat Marp Jan in Rayong, Thailand in February. It is a serene forest monastery following Ajahn Chah’s tradition located southeast of Bangkok, headed by Ajahn Anan. It’s the second meditation retreat I’ve attended (the first was with Ajahn Brahmali in Batam, Indonesia just a few months prior) and I credit this chance to the ripening of merits accumulated 🙂
This second retreat is totally different for me. Both Venerable Ajahns have their own styles of teaching and the environments were different too. Considering retreatants were housed in the dormitory within Wat Marp Jan compounds, one can expect to have a front-row view of certain aspects of monastic life.
I’d like to share some memorable experiences at Wat Marp Jan, or perhaps as encouragement for others who are considering such a retreat. As it is a rather long reflection, the article would be presented in two parts: Part 1 on external observation and Part 2 on internal observation.
Change in the external environment
Arriving at Wat Marp Jan, the females were dropped off at the female dormitory just below the Eating Hall. The dormitory was simple, but clean and tidy. Retreatants were to keep noble silence throughout the period for a more supportive practice. This included surrendering mobile phones for safekeeping at the beginning of the retreat period.
Keeping silent is not new to me, a practice that I’ve come to enjoy occasionally to bring calm to the mind (side reading for those interested in understanding the quiet ones). This was the longest period that I’d kept silent, and it may turn out to either be a boring or restless period.
This may very well be the case if one hasn’t developed stable concentration or if the mind contains many defilements.
My mind floated between quiet and noise initially, but it was probably an overall supportive environment for me. With no distraction from mobile phones and unnecessary chatter, a general sense of peace arose.
Having a history of physical injury, I was quite apprehensive about whether the living conditions (we slept on a very thin mattress on the floor) would trigger the old lower back pain. Aches did surface throughout the week, but fortunately, it was bearable and could be alleviated with regular stretching exercises during daily personal time.
The daily schedule consisted of meditations, chanting, Dhamma talk, and personal time. The depth and intensity of the practice may be determined by one’s choices.
Although the meditations were more suitable for practitioners with some experience, as they were self-directed. Of course, one can choose to sit for multiple shorter sessions if that’s more appropriate for their situation.
There were times when guilt and shame surfaced: “Why can’t I sit as long as the others?” But eventually, I accepted that this was where I started and I could only continue from there. I tried to use the bodily sensation as a meditation object: the aches are a result of the body’s condition, not something I can control. It helped to lighten the mind during practice.
I’ve always enjoyed meditating out in nature. Knowing this condition, I fully utilised the opportunity during garden meditation and walking meditation during the personal time – where I experienced deeper concentration.
While I couldn’t control the outcome, I could still find a more supportive environment to support the sitting.
Bowing is a regular activity for Buddhists. It’s common practice to bow to the Buddha statue when we enter the hall; to Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha during chanting; to the teacher before and after a Dhamma talk; to a more senior monk after a meditation session; at any time to express a sense of respect.
One may think that if they need to bow multiple times in a day, bowing could turn into an automated mindless activity.
Before this retreat, I used to find the act of bowing to the Buddha statue awkward — not quite sure how deep to bow, where to keep my hands, and how long to remain bowing. Strangely, I experienced bowing in a new light this time. For me, it has turned into an expression of gratitude, humility, and reverence.
The simple act of kneeling and lowering my head to the floor turned into a ritual of entering into the space, calming myself down, and truly expressing my gratitude. I am now more mindful of the meaning behind this ‘automated’ action.
Chores or cleaning around the monastery was also a daily occurrence. Four of us were assigned to the public toilet by the monastery gate. I was gladly surprised by the respect and good attitude of the lay visitors who used the facilities with care. The conditions were as good as or even better than typical public toilet facilities.
After a couple of days, the four of us found the best arrangement to complete the chores with little speech and quietly went about our roles.
Not many people will be particularly happy cleaning public toilets, but a light attitude can be felt by all of us.
Three of us even spent some time afterwards helping sweep fallen leaves in the entrance area. We found the act of sweeping a meditative one, not to clean the space but purely to sweep the leaves. We saw how the leaves would continue to fall even after we swept the area and we just needed to continue forward – like one of Ajahn Brahm’s famous quotes: “what’s done is finished” 🙂
There were 2 chanting sessions each day, in the morning and evening. Morning chanting verses were quite fixed, while there were slight variations for evening chanting verses.
I realised that after each chanting session, the mind was more settled to continue into either meditation or Dhamma talk.
I particularly enjoyed the evening chanting in the main Uposatha hall, where I could feel the vibration of everyone’s unified voice and energy. Even the higher-paced and longer verses didn’t bother me much, the activity sent a jolt of energy into the body and mind.
Returning home, I registered for Wat Marp Jan’s evening Zoom session to continue this practice where possible. The energy level is muted by the distance, but good enough as an anchor for me to maintain the practice.
This is the first-half of my reflection on the retreat. It may spur readers to become curious themselves, or it may turn into a deterrent. Nevertheless, I hope it can serve as a consideration for those who would like to have some insights before making their decision.
When there’s an opportunity to participate in a meditation retreat, trust the faith to guide us.
Keeping silent can turn out to be chaos or peace, it’s on us to cultivate supportive conditions for peace.
Reflecting on the purpose behind the small actions, we may find a deeper meaning to carry into daily life.
Wholesome Wednesdays (WW): Bringing you curated positive content on Wednesdays to uplift your hump day.
2 stories for you today!
January has “passed away”, how has the first month been? January was also a month that marked the passing of Ajahn Chah, a famous Thai Forest Monk. We share a story of his teaching and a simple picture on spring cleaning!
1.Our real home: Ajahn Chah’s encouragement for a dying disciple
2. Spring cleaning our social media
Our Real Home: Encouragements for a dying disciple
What’s going on here
Ajahn Chah, a renowned Thai forest monk, gives encouragement to a lay disciple that was passing away. He beautifully encourages the person to be fearless as life ebbs away. It is worth a listen and read especially for those of us who are with someone facing death.
Why we like it
Ajahn Chah uses the nature of things to skillfully cast out fear for his disciple. He makes you ponder deeper about where our true home is. We can spend this year chasing the external material stuff or this year developing ourselves. We are often paralysed when loved ones are diagnosed with a terminal illness or facing their end. Hence, this provides a balm to the questions we might have about dying.
“The river that must flow down the gradient is like your body. Having been young your body has become old and now it’s meandering towards its death. Don’t go wishing it was otherwise, it’s not something you have the power to remedy. “
Where is our real home? Are we developing it daily or are we putting energy into things that eventually fall apart? By reflecting deeper, may you find the energy to develop your mind for the rest of the year!
Ghost Month Series: This series explores different angles of the 7th Lunar Month, also known as the Ghost Month. Festivals, Cultures, and Religions often mix together in one place, offering space for different interpretations. We, like you, are keen to explore more. Discern what is helpful to your practice and discard whatever is not.
TLDR: Cultivating a harmless and blameless way of life gives you internal confidence in the face of fear. We can also try to practice compassion towards supernatural beings, in place of fear.
If you clicked on this article because you read the title and thought “that’s me!” – there is no shame. I feel like most people have some level of fear around the supernatural – even those who claim to believe in scientific evidence, who say they don’t believe in ghosts. Put anyone in a graveyard in the middle of the night and all rationality goes out the window!
When I was a kid, I was definitely afraid of ghosts.
When I told my mum this, she said something like: “If you never do anything bad, why would they need to come after you?” She always said this with such conviction and fearlessness.
Her statement was a teaching in sīla (morality). It’s the idea that when we take care of our speech and conduct, we offer the gifts of harmlessness and fearlessness to ‘limitless numbers of beings’. In return, we gain a share in this freedom from harm and danger (see AN 8.39).
I once heard a story from my Ajahn, a monk from the Thai forest tradition, who said that one shouldn’t practice in the forest if one’s sīla is not well-kept. He told of an incident where an Ajahn brought a group of monks to stay in the forest for a few days. In the end, all the monks made it out except two who had died during the journey. When asked why this happened, the Ajahn replied that it was because they did not have good sīla.
In case you didn’t know, the Thai forest Ajahns are super hardcore. They live in deep forests with nothing material for protection, putting their lives on the line to do the practice – that’s the depth of their faith in the Buddha and his teachings.
That may have made you go ‘sure anot’, but I resonate with it because I’ve seen the impact of practising sīla in my life. When I was younger, I had a lot of fear around the idea of supernatural beings. But I found that as I grew up and started practising Dhamma, that fear began to reduce and a sense of confidence began to grow. In situations where fear arises (e.g. alone in my apartment at night, in a dark forest on a retreat), I recollect my sīla. Knowing that I have done my best to keep my precepts well and to live a wholesome life helps to soothe that fear.
Since I consistently put in effort not to harm other beings, I have no reason to be harmed or to fear being harmed. It’s reassuring, and not in a ‘wishful thinking’ kind of way – it’s a sense of real confidence in my actions and their results.
Good Vibes Are Important
I believe that cultivating wholesomeness creates wholesome energy. OK, this may sound a bit like hippie flower child stuff but hear me out.
Have you ever been to a monastery or church and the energy there just feels serene and safe? I think it’s because the activities and intentions carried out there are peaceful and wholesome, and this translates into the energy of the place.
In 2019, I stayed at Wat Buddha Dhamma (WBD) in New South Wales for a retreat. This monastery was located deep in the forest of a national park and there were times where I felt fear walking from the meditation hall back to my hut in the dark of the night, with only my torch and the moon for some light. But I realized that this fear was all in my mind; there were probably no beings around that would harm me. That’s because I could feel that the energy of the monastery was light and wholesome, given that all activities there were aimed towards peace.
I think wholesome energy is important because energy attracts and influences, a bit like how we attract or gravitate towards like-minded people. If one constantly aims to cultivate wholesomeness in thought, speech and conduct, this is bound to permeate one’s surroundings. A good example is a friend of mine who has had many (sometimes aggressive) encounters with ghosts throughout their life.
Recently, they noticed that since performing more acts of generosity and wholesomeness, they haven’t been visited by such beings lately.
Perhaps a good landmark example of the importance of “good vibes” can be found in the teachings of the Buddha: In the time of the Buddha, there was a group of monks who were disturbed by certain beings when they tried meditating in a particular forest. When they went to the Buddha and informed him of this, he taught them the Discourse on Loving-Kindness (Metta Sutta) for their protection.
The monks then went back to the forest, practised this instruction, and radiated thoughts of loving-kindness, so much so that the beings were subdued by this and allowed them to meditate in peace.
What are Ghosts Really?
I think movies and stories throughout human history have created a universal perception of ghosts as scary beings that pop up out of nowhere and want to kill you for some reason. But actually, what is a ghost?
The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated every July of the Lunar calendar in Chinese culture. It is believed that during this time, ghosts are allowed to come to earth for a visit… In my mind, the concept that ghosts wait all year to ‘come out’ only to hang around for one month and then obediently ‘go back’ to where they came from is pretty funny. I think ghosts are everywhere all the time since they’re just another type of being in one of the 31 planes of existence according to Buddhist teachings.
They are born into this lower realm because of past unwholesome deeds or the lack of wholesome deeds. They are in a state of constant deprivation, equivalent to beggars or homeless people in the human realm who need help because they don’t have enough to fend for themselves.
Based on the principle of rebirth, these beings could even be people we knew, such as departed relatives and friends, who may come to us looking for help.
If we keep this in mind, then we don’t need to be afraid – what they need from us is compassion and merit.
I have another friend who often has supernatural encounters at home. It’s come to a point where we no longer speak about these beings in a taboo or fearful way; they are like any other being in need of help. Following the Buddha’s advice, my friend makes offerings on behalf of them and shares the merit with them as an act of generosity and compassion.
The Bottom Line
If you took nothing else away from this article, just remember this: continue cultivating wholesome qualities and abandoning unwholesome qualities, and trust in the strength of that for protection.
Mindfully watch the fear in your body.For me, fear arises in the heart space like a sharp, cold sensation. Centring your attention on bodily sensations can help you focus on the reality of the fear rather than the narratives in your mind being fueled by it.
Recite the Metta Sutta and emit thoughts of loving-kindness.
Handful of Leaves and Kusala Mag are in collaboration to share Inspiring stories sprinkled with Buddhist wisdom.Kusala Mag’s interview with Conor is reproduced in full here:
Kyle had the pleasure of chatting with Conor Beary, who has been actively involved with VWB, an NGO that is committed to creating opportunities for local economic development through the empowerment of community capability.
Cr: Conor Beary
How did Volunteer Without Borders (VWB) come about, and what does it mean to you?
VWB evolved from a collaboration between Track of The Tiger T.R.D (A provider of experiential education and registered tour company) a local community determined to protect their rights over their community forest, and local authorities that wished to preserve the forest from poachers and loggers.
Since its establishment in 2011, Volunteers Without Borders has partnered with Track of The Tiger and various communities in northern Thailand to provide volunteers and tourists with opportunities to improve the standard of living for many in less fortunate circumstances.
On a personal level, VWB has shown me the value of communication, teamwork, empathy and problem-solving in addressing the real complex issues which communities around us face. Through VWB I can make positive contributions to causes I hold dear and further develop as an individual. I see VWB as an organisation that acts as a catalyst for change, both internally and externally.
How many trees have been planted since the beginning?
The agroforestry project in Mae Wang has benefitted from the planting of over 6,000 NTFPs (Non- Timber Forest Products) over the last twelve months. Unfortunately, the pandemic has slowed our progress considerably, but aim to get back on track again soon.
How do you think growing up in Northern Thailand has affected your view of nature and your efforts to preserving the environment?
Growing up around Track of The Tiger T.R.D my brother and I was exposed to outdoor excursions and environmental conservation activities since young. Subsequently, it didn’t take long for me to develop a preference for the outdoors! Growing up in such an environment provided me with opportunities to develop physical skills essential to the development of a child.
The various environmental conservation activities taught me to apply empathy not only to other individuals but also to the environment.
The list of benefits derived from being around nature is extensive, and seemingly, everyone draws different positives. From my perspective, the outdoors and nature has always been a great source of entertainment. Mountains, rivers, forests, caves and seas all have their unique intrigue. Over the last couple of years, I’ve found that spending time to run activities at these sites, particularly environmental conservation activities have been eminently fulfilling.
As a result of our love for nature, one of our goals at VWB is to use our actions, whatever they may be, to make positive contributions to the environment or communities we are involved with.
Do you think Buddhist teachings can be a part of the solution to environmental issues? If yes, how can we relate that to it?
I certainly believe that Buddhist values and teachings can be applied as part of the solution for the environmental concerns which we face. Buddhism teaches us to love the world around us, and perform good deeds for the environment in which we live, just as we would for ourselves. However, to truly address the complex problems posed by environmental degradation over the past few centuries we must work with an open mind, utilising empathy and communication to integrate the teachings which are familiar to us with foreign ideas and values that may help us solve our dilemma.
Cr: Conor Beary
Can compassion be applied to nature?
Compassion can be applied to everything in life. If you’re willing to consider being compassionate to the people, animals and matters around you then compassion may become a part of your unique mindset, and may gradually alter your perspective of a multitude of subjects.
The Dalai Lama once said “ Compassion can be roughly defined in terms of a state of mind that is nonviolent, non-harming, and nonaggressive. It is a mental attitude based on the wish for others to be free of their suffering and is associated with a sense of commitment, responsibility and respect towards others.”
After analysing compassion from this point of view we can see that compassion can, and in my opinion, should be applied to others and nature.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered, and are perhaps still encountering while setting up and running VWB?
Running a non-profit organisation can prove extremely challenging. I am only a piece of the puzzle here and am fortunate enough to benefit from the help of everyone involved with us. As a volunteer organisation, we’re always looking for funding and volunteers who can help us achieve our objectives. The Covid-19 pandemic has made this task even more difficult.
In what ways can people actively get involved in your organisation?
We want to use WVB as a platform for driving change in our local communities. Eventually, I hope that VWB will be able to fund education for those less fortunate, provide economic incentives for locals to preserve their local forests and help educate student groups through volunteering activities. We want to act as a catalyst for the change we wish to see in our communities.
Any act of kindness you’ve ever experienced during your VWB activities?
I’ve been on the receiving end of kindness during VWB activities several times. It is difficult to single out any one moment as my favourite, but kindness from the members of the community in which you are trying to assist often leaves a lasting imprint in your memories.
During our first tree-planting event at the agroforestry project in Mae Wang, locals hustled and bustled all day to ensure that we would be able to perform our duties to the best of our abilities. Their genuine smiles and words of encouragement serve as ample motivation.
If there is a message for the world, what would it be?
To practice empathy extensively. To actualise the changes you want to see in your community you must first understand those within them.
Volunteers Without Borders (VWB) is a non-profit foundation established as a vehicle to provide volunteer funding and hands-on support for communities and schools, under its unique approach to Community Based Ecotourism (CBET) development. We are convinced that the solution to establishing viability for CBET lies in establishing a private sector driven pilot project that is successful in delivering: financial, social and environmental benefits on a scale that will force governments and the private sector to reconsider ecotourism and biodiversity conservation over the non-sustainable, but purportedly more profitable (short term) options of forest encroachment for agriculture, mining, logging and exploitation of the forest product.
Alternatively, hop over to Kusala Mag for more of such amazing stories!