Sep 17-28, 2014
Vipassana 6: Serving at Battambang, Cambodia
GPS waypoint: N 13°01.670' E103°04.954'
Location: Dhamma Latthika, Battambang, Phnom Trung Moan (National Route 57), Cambodia
No. of Students: 120 (64 female / 56 male)
No. of Servers: 23 (including managers)
Teacher: Francois Kuoch (and his wife)
After having completed my 5th Vipassana sit just 2 weeks earlier in the Philippines, it's probably too soon to be doing another Vipassana. Honestly, I still need to decompress from the the last one. But the need to take my focus outside the Philippines while getting more established in the practice was compelling. By serving (instead of sitting), I lessen the mental strain on myself and be more useful to the students who are doing the most difficult of tasks - purifying the mind at the root level.
From Siem Reap, I took the 3.5 hour bus ride (170 kms, $4 / Php176) to Battambang along rural landscape of rice fields and small towns. From Battambang, it's the 30 min. tuk-tuk ride to Dhamma Latthika (18kms, $5 / Php220 per trip, not per passenger). Along the way, I met people who were also on the way for Vipassana - we split the cost of the tuk-tuk ride.
Dhamma Latthika is a sprawling land area beside a small hill in the middle of a rice field along the main road of Phnom-Trung Moan, just a kilometer away from Phnom Sampeuv, a popular mountain temple with numerous caves. The facilities are relatively new (it is only 8 years old) with permanent concrete structures. They are currently building a bigger meditation hall.
Francois Kuoch, the Cambodian teacher, had a warm, accommodating and gentle demeanor about him. He would meet all of the servers every night and ask us if everything is ok. Despite the fact I didn't talk to him, and what he said to everyone was translated for me by another server, I found his presence reassuring.
Hands-up to the kitchen manager who made the kitchen humming and going, delivering delicious meals to everyone on time. She was stern, reminding servers that talking is kept to a minimum, but was also compassionate - she would give the hardest working workers some treat that were only for the teachers. She smiles to everyone. She didn't throw her weight around. When she has some slack, she would wash the pots and pans and help everyone out. She certainly knew what she was doing in the kitchen. I wouldn't be surprised if she works as a professional chef.
All the vegetables we used were first grade. The meals are simple vegetarian dishes but the taste was fresh with hints of curry, lemon grass, mint, etc. There were no strong flavors...just subtle hints with a lingering finish. I would categorically say that the best meals I had in Cambodia was at the Vipassana Center.
Unlike my previous serve, this one was much harder work. Even though we were 23 servers, we had 120 students to feed. I admire the people I worked with. We were all volunteers, so everybody chose to be there for work. Everyone was working with acute attention to detail, providing the meditators all the care and concern - no blemished leaf should be included, the cut or chopping of the vegetables were consistent, bordering on obsessive-compulsive.
I used to regard the wandering mind to be a nuisance - it would take focus away from what I needed to do (observing body sensations with an equanimous mind). However, even though these random thoughts could be anything from past experience, fictitious events or things I hope to happen in the future, collectively, they reveal a recurring theme. They tell me what the habit pattern of my mind is. And this is crucial. This in effect is my self-image. And it is a proven fact that no one can act or behave contrary to his/her self-image. Your self-image is essentially the reality your architecture for yourself. Change your self-image and you change YOU. And this is another benefit of Vipassana - you get to know yourself a little better. Notwithstanding the monkey mind, this is the most focused meditation I've had so far, feeling more in control of my thoughts, allowing me a smoother flow from one body sensation to the next.
The recurring theme revealed by my monkey mind was "burning bridges". I readily burn bridges with people who should be dear to me - instead of staying and fixing the relationship. And I seem to burn them as fast as I build new ones. I still reel-in when I read a popular quote, "don't let a little hurt ruin a great friendship" - it's happened a few times. It's a much bigger challenge to work on the relationship than it is to rationalize that walking away is simply a part of the "clutter-clearing process".
Why Do I Serve?
S.N. Goenka (RIP, ), imparted that the servers play an important role because they dedicate 10 days of their lives in giving compassion to the students who came in pursuit of Dhamma (truth, law of nature). To a lesser degree, I am beginning to feel that. But initially, I came to serve as a way to express my gratitude. I have benefitted immensely from Vipassana - it's only fitting that I give back. However, as I continued with my service, I realized that serving is also part of my deepening practice. I begin to see it as the flip side of the Vipassana coin - on one side is to sit, and on the other side is to serve. Both play complementary roles in deepening my practice.
Like my third Vipassana where I decided to leave my last known permanent address in Dumaguete and take on the open road after the course, this Vipassana is no less different. In taking this course, I've also decided to leave the comfort and familiarity of the Philippines and let the wind take me where it takes me on a bigger stage. I am not even sure when or if I come back. Faced with all these uncertainties, plus the mortifying spectre of not really having enough funds to sustain my travel, nor the means to generate new funds in this new environment, I tried to resist the compulsion of planning everything to provide a safety net. I keep reminding myself that the more I let go, the more things will fall into place - I already know this to be so, but that's the mind talking. My primeval instinct tells me to keep my bases covered.
Less is More
I really feel privileged with what I'm doing - allowing life to unravel and reveal secrets it has been keeping. Without property, money, address or even a career, beholden to no one, there are no shackles to bind me, leaving me free to turn my life on a dime and indefinitely venture into unknown places, meet complete strangers, eat exotic regional food, and wing my way in and out of difficult or pleasant situations. Very few people have the freedom to exercise this privilege - not even Henry Sy with all his wealth, not Kris Aquino with her die-hard fans and surging popularity, not P-Noy with his presidential command. What's uncanny about all this is, I'm able to do this not because of what I have...but what I don't have. Less is definitely more.
Same Problems, Different Way of Looking at It
As Sokun, an old student (someone who has already completed at least a one 10-day sit) said, "After Vipassana, you still go back to your old life with the same problems...Vipassana will not solve them for you. The only difference is, you see the same problem differently." This is very powerful. You can come to the course utterly miserable about your failures and set-backs but come out of it more accepting of things you can no longer change. You can leave your bitterness and misery behind to start anew.
Even though the course only lasted 11 days, it felt like a mini-lifetime, taking me through a whole slew of processes from the initial awkward lost sense of bearing, to increasing familiarity with my surroundings together with the people I worked with, to one of comfort level where I begin to establish my own routine, and finally, when I thought I got it nailed, realising it was time to leave, sensing that another life chapter begins. It is Anicca (impermanence of things) in action with events arising...only to pass away to make way for new things to come.
It's interesting how asking a validating question changes everything to what seems like an optimized situation. I find this true in nearly all situations. Example. When i thought I've already done everything I can for the meditators, and can no longer find room for improvement, I asked myself a validating question, "If I were doing this for my daughter, would it still be the same?". The answer invariably was no. Suddenly the margin to make it better was there. Another example. I thought my main reason for serving was to say thank you. Validating question: "If I had money and expressed my gratitude by donating money instead, would I still serve?". Again, the answer surprised me. I would still serve. Apparently, I'm serving not as much for gratitude but serve to deepen my practice.
Art of Living
I originally planned on doing one Vipassana course every month on a different country as part of my Southeast Asian journey. But after doing 2 back-to-back courses, it would seem like too much Vipassana. I have to allow time in the real world to practise what I have learned. Afterall, Vipassana is not a rite or ritual - it is an art of living.
- in order to serve, one has to first complete a 10-day meditation sit
- Vipassana is nothing more than a meditation technique - no talk of religion, no ritual, no rites. It is non-sectarian and universal. Any person from any faith can participate.
- Cambodia will accept US dollars - even the street vendor. The change you get is likely in Cambodian riel.
- if you want to avoid the lodging in Siem Reap and want to proceed directly to the Vipassana Center, make sure you arrive Siem Reap early enough to catch the 8:00am bus in Siem Reap leaving for Battambang.
- if coming from the Philippines, best to do a temple tour of Siem Reap first before doing Vipassana, so arrive about 3 days earlier. This way, if anything happens in Battambang (like Visa expiration and you have to make a quick exit into Thailand, or perhaps you suddenly wanted to go to Phnom Phenh), you don't have to come back to Siem Reap for the temples - that was my mistake
- change your pesos into dollars while still in the Philippines (your bank preferably than money changers). It would be more expensive if you use a credit card.
To Vipassana meditators in the Philippines who wish to do their practice in Dhamma Latthika (Cambodia), here is run down of my actual cost to give you an idea. This is as cheap as I could make it: ($1 = Php44)
- Siem Reap to Battambang - Siem Reap is 170km away from Battambang. In Siem Reap, take Moto-taxi or Tuk-Tuk to bring you to Borey Sieng Nam for the inter-town bus. The cost is US$5 by bus (3.5 hours), and US$50 by a full taxi or cheaper if you can share. You can also make your hotel arrange the bus ride for you - a shuttle will pick you up at your hotel and drop you off the bus station - US$6 for both shuttle and bus.
- Battambang to Dhamma Latthika Center - Dhamma Latthika center is 18km far from Battambang downtown. By Moto-taxi, Tuk-Tuk about 20.000 riel, (US$5, ~30 mins). Tell the driver to drop you to the Vipassana center at Phnom-Trung Moan, 1Km after Phnom Sampeuv.
- - Cebu Pacific promo fare (amount depends on seat promo you avail)
- - Phil travel tax
- - Phil airport terminal fee
- - tuk-tuk ride from Siem Reap airport to city proper ($5)
- - one night at Garden Village Hotel- GVH ($3)
- - coffee ($1.5) and muesli breakfast ($2) at GVH
- - hotel pick-up to bus station (including bus ride to Battambang) ($6)
- - tuk-tuk ride from Battambang to Dhamma Latthika ($5)
- - total one way expense
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 1 (sitter): The Beginning Apr 1-12, 2009
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 2 (server): Enlightenment, Anyone? Oct 21 - Nov 1, 2009
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 3 (sitter): Forgiveness Mar 24 - Apr 4, 2010
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 4 (sitter): Getting Established in the Technique Apr 25 - May 6, 2012
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 5 (sitter): Seeing the Bigger Picture Aug. 20-31, 2014
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 6 (server): Serving at Battambang, Cambodia Sep 17-28, 2014
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 7 (server): Vipassana as an Art of Living May 5-17, 2015
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 8 (sitter): Satipatthana Sutta Vipassana Mar 16-25, 2018
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 9 (server): Storming out of Dhamma Janani on the 4th Day May 1-5, 2018
- 20 Days of Monastic Life at Wat Pa Tam Wua...Goodbye and Thank You Dec 12, 2018 - Jan 1, 2019
Sep 17-28, 2014
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