Saturday, September 12, 2009

Meditation: Right under your nose

Aree Chaisatien (Special to The Nation, 09/09/09)

Two engaging books on Buddhism remind readers that the search for truth begins at home. They were launched on the same day by the same publisher. But judging by their covers, they seem to have nothing in common. Yet the pages of these two books -- one fiction, the other non-fiction -- convey the same no-nonsense message.

Thanakan Kwamsook Saka 2 ("Happiness Bank Branch 2") by Aston27 is not a typical self-help book. Pithyakorn Leelapatra, better known in the Blogosphere as "Aston27," deftly squeezes Dharmic messages from the mundane events of everyday life.

You don't need grand themes like love and loss, he argues. An ordinary car teaches all you need to know about life's transience. However high its price, however beautiful, however much care and attention you lavish on it, a car inevitably deteriorates over time.

But most men won't hesitate to take up an invitation to a car show to check out the latest models -- cars or girls. And many women can't resist fashion shows and beauty salons. But an invitation to something as "weird" as a Vipassana (Buddhist "insight meditation") Workshop will be met with frowns, the author points out. Yet inviting people to learn vipassana is like offering them life insurance, he adds.

Wondering what vipassana is or whether it's the same as meditation? No worries. The author also includes a chapter called "FAQ Vipassana" with succinct explanations.

When he's not penning books, Pithyakorn is a marketing manager at Catalyst Alliance, a DJ, emcee, and magazine columnist. He also practices vipassana under the guidance of Ven. Luang Poh Pramote Pramojjo, a venerated monk in the Thai forest Buddhist tradition (Dhammayuttika) currently popular among young urbanites.

Vipassana meditation hall, Insight Meditation Society, Barre, Mass. (

"The true essence of Buddhism is not to depend on others," writes Pithyakorn. "As the Buddha said, his followers comprise bhikkhu, bhikkhuni [monks and nuns] and Ubasok and Ubasika [male and female lay followers]. We ordinary folk therefore make up half of the group. So this book introduces the idea that what the Buddha teaches is not something beyond our everyday bodies and minds."

The concise language makes the short chapters of Happiness Bank Branch 2 (yes, it's a sequel) easygoing and fun. Readers can flip through each in just a few minutes, getting the gist of vipassana [insight meditation] as they go.

Despite the title, Rak Por Sor Roi ("Love BE 100") is not your typical romance. Set during the time of the second revision of the Tripitaka (the three divisons of Buddhist texts), the novel intertwines the imaginary love story of a prince and a princess with Buddhist history and philosophy.

The author manages to create engaging dialogues that smuggle in heavy Buddhist terms like jetopariyayana ("knowing the mind of others") and satipatthana ("Foundations of Mindfulness"). The principal disciples of the Buddha, including Visakha and King Pimpisarn, are also woven into the tale, while sentences such as "Waves and waves of delightfulness are occurring in the mind," provide subtle keys to Dharma practice.

"The aim is to introduce Dharma to a wider range of people," says part-time writer and full-time pharmacist Wilasinee Kueankaew, who's also a follower of Ven. Luang Poh Pramote Pramojjo. She helps out at insight meditation (vipassana) workshops, too.

Written during breaks from her studies, the first version of the tale appeared online eight years ago. Its meticulously chosen words and interesting plot earned it hordes of fans, so Wilasinee decided to self-publish it in book form. The latest version comes courtesy of Prima Publishing.

Kanithaviriya T. Suwan, Prima's managing director, is also a vipassana advocate and follower of Ven. Luang Poh Pramote Pramojjo. Dharma practice, she says, helps her gain distance from the source of suffering. "I wish more people could gain the benefits that I do."

Both books offer relaxing ways to familiarize yourself or your teenager children with the essence of Buddhism. As Luang Poh Pramote Pramojjo puts it: "The right approach to vipassana is to observe your mind in tranquility." Source