Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Sushi Master and the Sayadaw

Novice monks have their head shaved at a Mandalay monastery

“In Japan, there are a lot of sushi restaurants. The style of preparing sushi varies from one sushi master to the next. Every sushi master thinks that his own way of preparation is correct and all the other ways are wrong. Therefore when a sushi master meets another sushi master, they fight. Since sushi master always carries a knife for fish, when they fight they stab each other. Because of that in the prison in Japan is full of sushi masters.

In Burma, there are a lot of meditation centers. The way of meditation varies from master to master. Some master thinks that his own approach is correct and all the other ways are wrong. Therefore when a meditation master meets another meditation master, they fight. Because of that in the prison in Myanmar… (just a joke)

At first, I went to Chan Myay Monastery. Here I was taught to observe the arising and passing away of breath. Thoughts also arise and pass away; body sensation arises and passes away; taste also arises and passes away; I was told to see all mind and body feelings as “impermanence.” Especially the pain of the feet, I was told to observe it carefully. I was told to again and again persistently. I was told that the pain of the feet was “Heaven’s Door”. But I did not understand why the pain of the feet is important. So I did not observe it at all.

After a while, another Japanese yogi came. This person followed the instruction of the master and observed the pain of the feet. Then he became one with the pain and entered jhāna. And he said he has seen the energy of the origin of all things. Three months later, he had an even more awesome experience, he attained insight knowledge, and the master told him that there is nothing more that he can teach him. So he “graduated” from the monastery. Seeing that, I understood very well the reason to observe the pain of the feet. From then on I seriously observed the pain of the feet continuously. Years after years I continued. Nevertheless, I could not enter jhāna, and I didn’t want to observe the pain of the feet anymore.

Next, I went to Mahasi Monastery. In the beginning I reported to the master what I had been doing continuously at Chan Myay, and he seemed to be offended. He said, “However much you observe the arising and passing away, if you don’t have a concentration strong enough to perceive lights, it’s not good enough.” Meaning that what I had been doing in Chan Myay was all a waste. Then the master instructed me a method called “Aditana.” Aditana means first to make a wish to enter a state where “nama” and “rupa” disappeared before meditation. I thought it didn't sound logical to enter jhānajust by making a wish so I didn’t really practice seriously.

After a while, another Japanese yogi came. This person followed the instruction of the master, since he seriously practiced aditana soon he entered the state where nama and rupa disappeared, in other words jhāna. In the beginning he stayed in jhāna for ten minutes, then 20 minutes, then 30 minutes, slowly he could stay in jhāna for longer and longer periods, after two months he could stay in jhāna for two hours and after three months he had an even more awesome experience, in this way he “graduated” from the meditation center. Seeing that again I practiced aditana seriously, but I could not enter jhāna. However much I practiced, I could not enter jhāna, and I didn’t want to aim for jhāna anymore.

That’s why this time I went to Shwe Oo Min Monastery, where mindfulness meditation is practiced. Here jhāna is not an end—just be aware of what one is doing throughout the day. For me, when I meet people I become nervous, so I observed that. When I am nervous the body becomes stiff. When I am relaxed, the body becomes soft. When I am nervous the movements become cumbersome and when I am relaxed the movements become sharp. When I am greedy the movements become fast, and when I am angry the movements become rough and violent. It became interesting to observe all these throughout the day.

I started to understand well things that I didn’t understand about myself. While being mindful of different kinds of things steadily, the meditation is progressing. Although I could not enter jhāna I think I can master the method of mindfulness meditation. Although result cannot be attained in three months, I thought this method suits me best.

Just as different people prefer different sushi, there are meditation methods that suit different people. Therefore, I believe that it is important to choose a practice that suits oneself. Let’s leave the fight to sushi masters and eat the best sushi that one likes.”

--Japanese cartoonist, aged 50


Two monks and a friend tour a pagoda