Friday, January 23, 2015

Our Forest Meditation Experiment

Pat Macpherson, Seth Auberon, Pfc. Sandoval, Xochitl (, Dhr. Seven, Wisdom Quarterly; Bhikkhu Khantipalo (Laurence Mills), With Robes and Bowl (
The forest and the woodland sprites (bhumi-devas) call out to us! (GWR/

Bring it on, Mara, bring it on.
Did you ever want to meditate, I mean really meditate?

Find a bodhi tree to sit under, a green spirit rooted deep in the ground and extending high into the sky, bridging heaven and earth, and proclaim, "Let my blood dry up and my body wither up, but I will not move from this spot until something happens!"?

Siddhartha sees invisible woodland beings.
Our editor recommended this amazing pamphlet by a Western man -- Laurence Mills, who became Bhikkhu Khantipalo, author of With Robes and Bowl (Wheel No. 83/84, Buddhist Publication Society, 37 pages) -- who went to Northeastern Thailand to ordain in the old school Buddhist dhutanga* (thudong) tradition that was revived there.
  • *literally, "means of shaking off (the defilements)," "means of purification," sane ascetic or austere practices. These are strict observances recommended by the Buddha to some monastics to cultivate contentment, renunciation ("letting go"), energy, and so on. One or more of the 13 practices may be temporarily observed
The Plan
Above the treeline: There are wild beasts and ghosts and cryptids above Los Angeles! But we fear nothing...except the endless rebirths and redeaths of samsara (Gwillhickers).

Angeles Nat'l Forest, Los Angeles County
The four of us will be going into the Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles foothills in search of peace, quiet, and meditative inspiration. Food will be brought to us once a day after we find a firm drop off point we can walk to each morning and retreat from to our meditation stations.
High desert soon becomes alpine forest.
One will take a rock incline or cave (abandoned goldmine shaft), another the foot of a tree, another a sandy clearing by the river, one a pile of leaves and grass or a treehouse platform. Our only technology a camera -- but no phones, GPS, lighters, radios, tablets, or computers. Even a camera seems unnecessary and burdensome. All we will be doing is meditating and walking, practicing mindfulness and reading sacred texts. Something's gotta give, some insight dawn.

Daily Life in the Forest
Bhikkhu Khantipalo (Laurence Mills) edited by Wisdom Quarterly
Maybe practicing meditation in a green backyard would be a better way to start before heading out into the forest and leaving all civilization behind (
“Control of the senses, contentment, restraint according to the Disciplinary Code and association with noble friends who are energetic and pure in life -- these are the very basis of the supremely pure life for the wise recluse.”
Dhammapada 375
“The recluse who abides in the Dharma, who delights in the Dharma, meditates on the Dharma, and who bears the Dharma well in mind (heart), does not fall away from the sublime Dharma.”
Dhp. 364
It is not easy to write about the ascetic recluses’ daily life as the conditions in which they live are so different. However, there are certain features of this life which are general, and these may be taken as a basis for this outline.

San Gabriel river meandering through the forest down to Los Angeles (Sgranf).

This material is composite in origin, some of it being experience heard from others and more again being stories told of others. Therefore, we shall speak of "the recluse" and present all these varied sources under this one anonymous label. While doing this, it should be borne in mind that much of what is said is quite common experience for those following the ascetic life.
Gaia/Bhumi devi, help us in our efforts.
Wherever the recluse is -- whether in the forest, a cave, or some other solitary place -- the day begins early and with stirred-up vigor. All is quiet except for the night sounds of some insects and perhaps the swishing of bats or owls -- and at such a time, long before dawn, say 2:00 or 3:00 o’clock, conditions are excellent for the practice of forest meditation.

Of course, the recluse, unless already very skilled, will have to shake off Māra (the personification of defilements) in the guise of sloth-and-torpor (sleepiness and apathy), for this aspect of the Killer would urge one to loll in bed until daybreak. [Other killers can be kept at bay with metta and protective chants.]

Instead, one rises, moving very, very slowly, refreshes oneself, and fixes the mind upon a meditation-subject (maybe the breath at the tip of the nose) that had been put down the night before on going to sleep.

There are lions, like P-22, in them there hills!
Making three bows to the Three Guides, the Triple Gem, quietly intoning, “Namo tassa Bhagavato arahato sammā sambudhassa” and, “Buddham saranam gacchāmi, Dhammam saranam gacchāmi, Sangham saranam gacchāmi,” the recluse, mind rightly directed and guarded, settles into solemn meditation.

The extent to which one is able to fix the mind on this subject, to prevent the arising of The Five Mental Hindrances (Wheel No. 26)
  1. sensual desire
  2. ill will
  3. restlessness-worry
  4. sleepiness-apathy
  5. skeptical doubt
and make the mind more and more one-pointed, will depend of course upon individual progress and ability. The two greatest obstacles one will encounter will be the sleepiness-apathy already mentioned above, and distraction (a form of restlessness). And between these two the mind is liable to vacillate like Odysseus’ boat dodging between Scylla and Charybdis.

We should invite our friend, Adam Eurich, to film us, and we can all live in a giant sequoia hollow in Yosemite National Park to stay safe and warm (
Monks under the Bodhi tree, Bodh Gaya, India
Being wrecked upon one or the other will be a common experience in the beginning. When one finds the mind to be like a fountain bubbling up with ideas, fantasies, memories, anticipations, and so forth, one sits firmly upon a meditation seat unmoving, employing mindfulness (sati-paṭṭhāna), until the mind becomes quiet.

But when sleepiness creeps into the mind and interferes with bodily posture, then it is time to get up and practice meditation while walking up and down, pacing back and forth on a short path. If one is settled for some time in a cave or forest, it is good to create a short walking place (caṅkamana).

Pacing steadily up and down, sleepiness leaves both mind and body, and after some time, with the mind made one-pointed, it is possible to practice standing meditation. After bringing the mind to a fully quiet and one-pointed condition in this position, it is possible to return to a fruitful practice sitting down. More
With Robes and Bowl
Glossary (pg. 2), Verses for Thudong-faring (3), From the Sutta-nipāta (3), With Robes and Bowl (5), Preamble: The Bhikkhu Life —The 13 Austere Practices (5), Daily Life (9), The Hand of Death (12), Thudong Abodes (15), Wandering (23), Companionship and the Solitary Life (27), Postscript (31), Appendix: Ariyavaṃsa Sutra (34), Introduction (34), Discourse on the Noble Lineage (34)
Q: Hey, you guys aren't doing this because you just saw (Reese Witherspoon's) "Wild" or (Afghanistan) "Lone Survivor," are you?
A: No. Okay, then. We'll bring you vegan food.
Q: What will you do when you all are not meditating?
A: Walking.
Q: Walking?
A: "Walking meditation," which Ven. Khantipalo calls cakamana (slowly pacing up and down), but which we call hiking. It's interesting, really, because the Cankamana Sutra ("The Discourse on Walking," SN is all about good friendship, noble friendship, wayfarers wayfaring (Dharma-faring) together.
Whose afraid of the "fairies"?
Wisdom Quarterly wiki edit 
Female yakshi, Vijayanagara
Yaksha (Sanskrit, यक्ष yakṣa) is the name of a broad class of nature-spirits, usually benevolent, who are caretakers of the natural treasures hidden in the earth and tree roots. They appear in Buddhist literature as well as in Hindu and Jain texts. The feminine form of the word is yakṣī (यक्षी) or Yakshini (yakṣiṇī, यक्षिणी).
Male yakṣa, Mathura
In Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain texts, the yakṣa has a dual personality. On the one hand, a yakṣa may be an harmless nature-fairy, associated with woods and mountains. But there is also a darker version of the yakṣa, which is a kind of ghost (bhuta) or ogre similar to the rakṣasas that haunts the wilderness and waylays and devours travelers.
In Kālidāsa's poem Meghadūta, for instance, the yakṣa narrator is a romantic figure, pining with love for his missing beloved. By contrast, in the didactic Hindu dialogue of the Yakṣapraśnāḥ or "Questions of the Yakṣa" (reminiscent of the Buddhist Alavaka Sutra), it is a tutelary spirit of a lake that challenges Yudhiṣṭhira.

What if it gets cold at night? We'll retreat into an ice cave or a mystical/magical dimension.
Thai Buddhist temple yaksha.
The yakṣas may have originally been the tutelary gods/spirits of forests and villages, and were later viewed as the steward deities of the earth and the wealth buried beneath.
In Indian art, male yakṣas are portrayed either as fearsome warriors or as portly, stout, and dwarf-like (Buddhist kumbandha). Female yakṣas, known as yakṣiṇīs (dakinis?*), are portrayed as beautiful young women with happy round faces and full breasts and hips. More

*The dakini (and male daka) appeared in medieval legends in North India (such as in the Bhagavata Purana, Brahma Purana, Markandeya Purana, and Kathasaritsagara) as a demon in the train of Kali who feeds on human flesh. They are comparable to malevolent or vengeful female spirits, deities, imps, or fairies in other cultures, such as the Persian peri.

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