Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Brief Meditation Retreat

Scooted out to the outskirts of the city for a 4 day meditation retreat. My friend Yuqi works at this Buddhist centre which is NOT a meditation retreat centre, but he said i could spend some time there. Two Tibetan lamas had just vacated the place, so i didn't have to sleep on a couch.

Too bad, I just missed this one 26 yr old lama who is apparently the 7th incarnation of some important lineage, and all these people were bustling to pay their respects. Yuqi was impressed by the number of China's filthy rich who were present to pay homage.

One lama was still around. He struck me as a slightly grumpy fellow, and I was amused to hear the sound of television commercials sneaking out of his bedroom. "Don't judge," I ineffectively advised myself.


Nice place. i was informed (several times) i shouldn't pay anything to stay; just help out.

In the end, i didn't get in half as much sitting as i'd hoped. i was busy cleaning and resetting hundreds of candle jars.

And one day we went out to purchase $300 worth of fish, eels, frogs and turtles to be released in a lake to celebrate the anniversary of Buddha's first teaching. We went to some fish market drenched in horrible stink and selected the lucky SOB's who would taste freedom for the second (first?) time. A couple workers lugged our blue bags of fish, amphibians, reptiles and chunks of ice into a van and headed out to the lake with us.

“Hey Yuqi, if we buy these fish, then the store will just be happy and buy more fish to sell, right?”
“Yes, this is a problem.” Yuqi redirects to how these fortunate few turtles were saved from having their bellies sliced open, clawing the air as their blood spouts into a pot of boiling broth before being plopped whole into the pot for a writhing public execution.

“Do these workers think we're weird that we're buying these fish to set them free?”
“No. After the cultural revolution this is a common Buddhist practice.”

And of course i had reviewed carefully in my head the dangers of introducing non-native species into local ecosystem and shared my insight.
“Oh yes. Food chain...” Yuqi gave a rather insufficient explanation of how these species wouldn't fuck things up so bad, but i didn't press my case.

At the lake, the lama led the present Buddhists in five minutes of prayer before pouring some blessed water into the squirming bags which were carefully lined along the sandy bank.

It was cool to see those turtles sprint out of the bag and swim into the depths out of sight. I dedicated the turtles' liberation to that poor bugger back in the mandarin school. The frogs who were clawing their way up the walls of the bag were less climactic to watch. Once they'd tasted the air and sun and water they seemed content to lounge. Which is fine, but the few frogs who didn't survive the journey sadly tainted the scene with their limp limbs and pale bellies.

The next day, i had offered to cook dinner since at the centre there seemed to be some interest in western cuisine. Oh! You like potatoes! Fried potatoes! That was their understanding. I concocted a menu of mushroom cream pasta, salad, and (for them) potatoes.

However the list of ingredients i'd requested weren't all available. Nobly, I held my tongue and said, “Great! No problem.” I prepared the meal for seven, which admittedly was not stellar. The lama in particular seemed unable to eat what i'd prepared. Others smiled and said “Delicious!” Internally i rolled my eyes and said a not insincere “thanks.” My suspicions were later confirmed when later bottled peaches and apricots were bust out to ensure the lama or anybody else didn't go to bed hungry. However, in fact i think i did a decent job at trying my best to make a decent meal, and in not beating myself up so much when it didn't pan out according to plan.

On my last day there, some cute woman arrived to attend the lamas' prayers. As soon as i saw her, i felt conflicted. In general i avoided her and made evasive comments before going off to whatever i was going to do. Later we ended up working together cleaning more candle jars. She was super friendly and interesting, explaining about how she had turned to Buddhism after she was diagnosed with cancer, and survived the experience. It was all pretty fascinating, but i did my best to stay somewhat aloof 'cause i thought she may be interested in me. Anyhow, I need to figure out how to be open and friendly with open and friendly people while keeping within appropriate boundaries. In the end I think I probably came off as a touch rude. Sorry, lady.

I sat less than 1/2 the hours i'd planned, and certainly did't get to the depth of meditations i'd hoped for, but coming home afterwards, i disembarked the subway and walked through Beijing alleyways while listening to a guided meta (loving kindness) mp3, and could feel this field of positivity emanating from my core as i strolled along. But I still avoided eye contact w/ passers by. Just in case.