Sunday, January 13, 2008

learning and teaching

Hard to find a people of great wisdom;
They are not born everywhere…
Happy is the teaching of the Sublime Dhamma;
Happy is the unity of the Sangha;
Happy is the devotion of the united ones.
Dhammapada, 193-194

Monday, 14 January 08

The retreat went well and was well received. Again it is interesting to experience giving this material in an Asian context. Folks were taken by and no one seemed to be shaken by the inter-religious subtext and, of course, understand references to Buddhism and Hinduism, not to mention Taoism, not in an abstract way. We had packed a lot into less than two full days so certainly by the time Mass was over on Sunday after lunch I was tired of talking and hearing myself talk and so gave the last session, which was supposed to have been another question and answer period, over to singing. It was a lot of fun and great relief to get into that part of the mind and body. Afterward I met with Pat and Richard from Malaysia who are to be my hosts there when I get back from India. The plan they have formulated now that they saw me work was to take me on a week-long trip up the peninsula of Malaysia, performing a “recital,” as they called it each night of the week and then ending up on the island of Penang where I will lead a retreat. It sounds like a very full week but one that will afford me the opportunity to get to know Malaysia more than from a plane trip.

After the retreat I had tea with Peter Ng who is the head of the WCCM and Mediomedia here in Singapore. He is quite an impressive man, having worked now for 30 years for the Singaporean Government Investment Corporation, not far removed from the past and current Prime Ministers. It is hard to describe just what an influential position this is, if you know anything about the economic savvy and influence of Singapore. He was telling about a multi-billion dollar bank deal that will certainly have an effect on the global ecomony that he was brokering this past weekend, the reason he couldn’t attend the retreat. And yet the practice of meditation seems to be the very center of his life. He is very close to Laurence Freeman and a huge supporter of the WCCM. Then, just as I got home, there was a call for a group of young people. There is a young meditators group here in Singapore, a handful of whom had been at the retreat and with whom I had already spent some time talking. They wanted to take me out for dinner and pick my brain a little. They whisked me off to a local hawker area––outdoor vendors, which are the typical way of eating here––and plied my with both local food and dozens of very intense, earnest and intelligent questions about many things spiritual––all the way from the practical mechanics of meditation to some very deep existential questions. In the case of one young man, he was anxious to learn more about this notion of “spirit, soul and body,” and “Why don’t we ever talk about this in Christianity?” Two of them kept pulling out notebooks and writing down phrases and names of books while we spoke. I rarely have encountered this level of intelligent enquiry and existential hunger in America. It was pretty exhilarating. I’m not sure I was up to the task of satisfying their hunger, but our conversation might have made them a little hungrier yet, and me too.

Today Leonard is going to take me to one more session of hot yoga (Bikram), and then he and John have arranged for me to meet with a Jesuit in his regency here in Singapore, while I wrap my stuff up and prepare to head for Chennai tonight. The Taylor took a good smack en route from San Francisco––the risk of traveling with a soft-shell case; they wouldn’t let me take it on this time. So Leonard and John insisted I get some bubble wrap, just in case that happens again. They, along with Clare Ong, have been marvelous hosts. I am now looking forward and am physically ready for my time in India. I am anxious to seeing what this time has in store for me. Learning and teaching, learning and teaching.