Tuning Out and Tuning In: The Root Institute for Wisdom Culture

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The last Buddhist teaching I received was in Kalimpong, in the tiny “Road to Lhasa” eatery, whose Tibetan owner, Ola, espoused the Buddha’s teachings while Tay and I dined on momos, thukpa, and Sikkim rum. Buddhism is about recognizing suffering, trying to overcome it, and calming the mind, said Ola, as he shifted excitedly from foot to foot. Before that, my learning was equally informal: reading books, occasionally trying to meditate regularly, and once, participating in a winter weekend retreat at Northern California’s Shasta Abbey.

So it is with great anticipation that Tay and I begin a ten-day introduction course this afternoon at the Root Institute for Wisdom Culture, whose compound resides in a quiet, cricket-chirping corner of Bodhgaya, surrounded on three sides by rice paddies-a sanctuary of peace within an already tranquil island in hectic India. The course’s aim is to “Develop mindfulness and concentration, in motion and in silence, combining yoga, meditation and the Buddha’s teachings.”

Sounds simple, right? And yet, I know how difficult it is to just sit. It is hard on the body, but harder still on the mind, especially mine, for whom “just sit” means ignoring its usual desire to stay occupied and productive. Buddhism teaches the opposite-that the mind’s natural tendency is, in fact, to be calm. This is the Buddhahood that resides in everyone, the supremely still waters beneath the choppy waves of everyday thought. This is the vast, uncertain territory in which we will be traveling–in silence (no talking for 10 days!), within enclosed walls, on the edge of Bodghaya.

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My urge to record and share my travels is never-ending, not only because I enjoy doing it but also because it is my job. That makes it difficult to draw a healthy line between work and play sometimes: sitting in an Internet café when I can be sitting under the Bodhi Tree, for example. Writing about Nicaragua, which is known to me, rather than exploring further into the unknown India outside my door. I don’t have the discipline to make this kind of clean break on my own, which is why this course will be so perfect.

I will be offline, yes, but the blog will be on autopilot, so enjoy, and I’ll see you on the other side.

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