Friday, August 28, 2009

Buddhism for the "modern age"

James Vernon (
Western-born monk Ven. Cittasamvaro (above); Planet Yoga CEO Eric Levine (below)

In many Western countries, meditation and yoga are no longer seen as fringe practices, and are now considered by many to be "part and parcel" of living a full and healthy life, attracting a variety of persons – from a barista to a Fortune 500 president.

So why is it that in Thailand – a Buddhist country – the connection hasn’t been promoted to such a degree?

A "change in consciousness"
Eric Levine, CEO of the hugely successful California WOW and Planet Yoga fitness and yoga centers, has made it his duty to bring about a change in consciousness – or lifestyle – to the Asian (including Thai) masses.

“The [Planet Yoga] program started so that people will improve their entire life – body, mind, and spirit…Yoga and meditation are for sure connected. It cannot be any other way,” he says.

Levine and Planet Yoga have the yoga part covered. And the meditation? That’s where British Buddhist monk of 13 years Phra Cittasamvaro Bhikkhu comes into the picture.

“This peaceful teaching [of Buddhism] was originally the Way of Wisdom, and not a matter of religion or faith… It’s true, though, that sometimes the rituals end up replacing the development of character through the meditation they are supposed to support... Even to his [five] closest friends who had undertaken harsh ascetic practices with him, the Buddha taught a way of investigation, of learning and knowing for yourself rather than relying on any teacher,” says Ven. Cittasamvaro.

Through the practice of meditation – a process of gentle watching and accepting – the heart learns what the brain finds hard to digest. As with yoga, meditation is a practice undertaken by the individual, where no one else but that very individual can do the work.

“It is a natural connection," says Ven. Cittasamvaro. “Exercising the body and resting the mind [through meditation] go together very well. Yoga lies somewhere in between the two, which is why Planet Yoga was happy to support our upcoming Way of Wisdom program and provide the facilities. Buddhism should incorporate the good ideas of the modern world.”

The "modern" Sangha (Buddhist community)
Many Western persons today come to Buddhist meditation through different interests, be they academics (the fields of psychology, philosophy, and Asian Studies have long held a keen interest in Buddhism), martial arts enthusiasts, or those looking for good health and happiness in life.

Regarding the increasing popularity of Buddhism and Buddhist meditation in the West – albeit stripped of the traditional rites and rituals – Morakot Piyakesin, a Thai lady who leads a monthly meditation group in Bangkok, says it’s due to the more "results oriented" and skeptical attitude of many Westerners.

“Westerners tend to be interested in the practical approach rather than the traditional monastic route that involves rituals, offerings, and textual study. However, once they become accustomed to meditation, the more traditional aspects begin to appeal.”

This sounds like something to aspire to.

“There is a beautiful place in the mind, peaceful, bright and aware, that shows itself when you put everything down. It is free to all who undertake the search,” says Ven. Cittasamvaro.

The upcoming Way of Wisdom program during Buddhist "Lent" (the Rains Retreat period during July-October) is hosted by Planet Yoga on the corner of Sukhumvit 23, on Thursday nights (6:00-8:15 pm) from August 6 through September 24, and is free of charge. (For more information, see Little Bangkok Sangha:


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