Wednesday, 12 November 2014

"What I Was Missing Was Structure"




The following narrative continues the story of a Mexican meditator who has been in Burma for many years. This is the sixth entry, and the beginning post can be found here.


"After some time in Kalaw a Western monk came and he joined the interviews. I found his instructions incredibly skilful and clear, so I kept asking him many questions about my experiences. He was not sure if he would stay a long time at the monastery so I made sure I asked all my questions! Thanks to this interaction I could understand clearly the method of Sayadaw U Tejaniya. What this Western monk was offering was structure. He was explaining step by step how to meditate with the Shwe Oo Min method.

This kind of well organized explanation I did not find in Shwe Oo Min Yangon. So after this Western monk explained it all I immediately applied the knowledge and I started to progress a lot faster. He explained in detail that there are three yogi jobs, and he emphasized the importance of the Right View. The Right Information was coming a lot more clearly to me. Afterwards I understood why.

I asked many other Western beginners if they could understand correctly all the instructions. The majority of the yogis told me that they were very confused, the instructions were not fully clear and it was very easy to get lost in the practice. But when I asked some Korean yogis if they felt the same they said no. They liked the way U Tejaniya explained. So then I understood it was a matter of culture. I believe that in Asia, the way they teach is very different from the West. In the West it is necessary to have some structure where the student can follow step by step the teaching so she or he don't feel lost. But in Asia this is not the case, because they like the teachings to be very open, free and without strict structure. So because the structure that I was use to was not present, I got what was able to understand at that moment.

This was a very good experience for me cause I realize that the instructions are made and directed for people in Asia, with Asian habits, beliefs, behaviours and so on. So then I learned to adapt the teachings that were clear to me to one way that was more understandable for me. Mixing Western culture and Mexican culture was one thing. And Mexican culture in some aspects is similar to Myanmar, but in others it is radically different! So it was interesting and funny to figure out how to behave and how to understand the teachings and instructions.

I believe is important to recognize that the teachings in Myanmar are saturated by culture. This is completely normal. In some others countries that I had been they still preserve the teachings of Buddha but in a way that is more understandable for that culture in particular. Normally the meaning is the same. The way they perform the rituals it is different a little bit form culture to culture, country to country. So a practitioner that does not belong to any Asian culture, need to learn to read between lines.

For myself, sometimes I needed to dig very deeply to understand the actual meaning and to adapt it in a way that could be more comprehensible for me. The risk in not reading the underlying ideas behind the teachings is that it is easy to pay too much attention to the culture or forms without the meaning. In my little experience I had encountered foreign yogis who appreciated so much the practice that they stopped any sort of critical thinking and investigation. For this reason, they confused what is culture and what is part of nature or reality.

Is easy to pay much attention to the forms of the culture as a way to show gratitude to the great support that Burmese people give to the yogis, but is equally important to see that the teachings by themselves are not part of the culture, they are not part of any culture, is just how reality is. Nature or reality is non-cultural. However, some cultures preserve or emphasize more of the teachings than others. This is nature as well. Nevertheless, a degree of critical thinking should be present not to confuse nature with the culture that preserves the teachings.

This critical thinking, in my experience, is also important to balance. If faith is very strongly present, it is easy to develop blind faith and and little wisdom will arise because investigation is not present, only devotion. This faith can balance the investigation into nature, and the critical thinking in the culture. However, if critical thinking is present too much, doubts can misbalance the practice. Some degree of doubts are needed to keep the mind curious as they investigate if the teachings are true, and ultimately this is resolved by the practice itself. If the yogi practices continuously, it is possible to see that some of the teachings and instructions are really true. Nevertheless, if critical thinking is too strong, the mind can get very confused and Samadhi will be weaker. So it is a matter of learning how to balance. Balance between the beliefs of the culture and the aspects that the yogi can see by her/himself. I myself have experienced this many times and I need to learn to balance these two aspects that are very important for the practice. Getting into the extremes make the practice imbalance. Finding the middle way will allow to practice to grow smoothly."