May 5-17, 2015
Vipassana 7: Vipassana as an Art of Living
GPS waypoint: N 13°01.670' E103°04.954'
Location: Dhamma Latthika, Battambang, Phnom Trung Moan (National Route 57), Cambodia
No. of Students: full
No. of Servers: full
Teachers: Sochet Kuoch and Nary Poc
It has been over 6 months since my last Vipassana - time to serve and deepen my practice. The closest center from Vietnam is Battambang, Cambodia - the same venue where I served in Sept 2014. By taking the course there, I get to visit Battambang again, a place I hold dear to me.
Despite leaving Ha Tien (Vietnam) at 6 am, taking 5 rides altogether (on motorcycle, bus and tuk-tuk), I still arrived at the center past 7 pm - a gruelling 13-hour road trip. I was lucky to have negotiated a deal with a transport company owner - in exchange for my web service, I got to ride the buses for free, a big savings for a guy who travels with very little money. At the Battambang city center, a dominating tuk-tuk driver was charging me $15 to the center! I said I will only pay $5 - no takers from the other drivers. I started walking to the center (18 kms away). After a few minutes walking, one guy came over and agreed to give me a ride at $5 - I guess he didn't want the dominant tuk-tuk guy to lose face so he waited for me to walk away from the crowd.
Sit or Serve?
I have an option to sit (meditate) or serve (kitchen duties in the service of the meditators). I chose the latter, interspersing sitting and serving in 6-month intervals. Personally, sitting and serving are 2 sides of one coin - one complementing the other. I wish I could say I chose serving out of compassion to the meditators who chose the path of Dhamma (this is a word I keep repeating - it simply means compliance to the natural laws). Sure, it makes for a good sound byte, but honestly, I'm not there yet. I serve for my own selfish gain - deepening my practice.
The staff who recognized me from my serve last Sept 2014 welcomed me with a warm smile. I met the new servers as well, making friends with them, notwithstanding that no one spoke English, except Ksenia, a Russian female server. Noble silence applied to us, so talking was kept to a minimum. Sokun, who administers the center affairs and who I became good friends with, showed up a few times to help out.
Since I arrived late, all assignments were already handed out to the servers. Last time, I was in charge of water and cleaning the big pots and pans. Now, I just free-lanced, mostly helping the old women with food preparation. I tried to learn new skills in the process. This time, I learned how to de-husk a coconut, crack it open, grate it, and sqeeze the coconut milk out of it.
My meditation has been progressing with practice, but still a far cry from getting to a state of total dissolution. One powerful transformation I noticed is that the negative thoughts that used to anger me...and take control, leaving me simmering in my anger for hours, no longer have that much power on me. As soon as I catch myself on negative thinking, I can quickly recognize and observe it, watching it lose its grip on me. It's true what Sokun once said - that with Vipassana, the problems will still be there, but you have a renewed way of dealing with it.
Through the years, the underpinning of how I live my life has been deeply rooted in what I have learned from Vipassana. I find it amazing that a meditation technique, with no talk of God, no rites or rituals, no guru worship, can bring so much clarity to discern right from wrong in practice - not just in belief. It is also empowering in a way that you see your self-realization resting within you - not in society, not in government, not in religion or any external influence. You begin to take ownership of your destiny. It emboldens you to leave your job when it no longer makes you happy, or leave a relationship whose purpose has already been served, effectively leaving not just your comfort zone, but removing your safety net as well. In reality, how many people empower themselves to do just that? I can go on and on about the benefits I've gained from my practice, but the uncanny thing is, that's not even the goal of Vipassana. All those benefits are just side-effects - an inevitablity that happens as you deepen your practice. Vipassana doesn't demand payment (but donations are welcome), doesn't ask you to convert into a new faith (there is no faith involved, as it's only a meditation technique), won't ask you to change your name, nor make the slightest attempt to control you. What's in it for them? What's the catch? From my own experience (and I have done 7 ten-day courses), there is no catch. Like me who have benefitted immensely from the practice, I voluntarily devote my service - not as a religious zealot, but as a pragmatic individual who lives life from a position of strength. When you discover something this good and this powerful, you would want to share it to people you care about...and that's how Vipassana has grown from a teacher-to-student legacy to a global phenomenon. If I were to create a bucket-list, Burning Man and Vipassana would rank high up on the totem pole.
p.s. - new meditation picture on the masthead courtesy of Bunsy - thank you!!!
*** some pictures courtesy of Bunsy, Ksenia and Anna - thank you guys!!!
- 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
May 5-17, 2015
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