Buddhist Monastery in Woodstock
October 30, 2010
On the day we went to the Overlook Mountain House ruins (I mistakenly referred to it as “Catskill Mountain House”), Vi and I also went to a Buddhist monastery in Woodstock, NY. The monastery, Karma Triyana Dharmachakra or KTD, was just across the street from the hiking trail. So you might say it’s an added treat—or icing on the cake.

At the monastery we attended a free lesson on meditation. In a shrine still under construction (which was just a regular-looking, empty room) with about 20 other participants, we were taught the “Chennai” form of meditation. (I heard the instructor say “Chennai” but am unsure of the spelling.)

Some of you might already know meditation but I’d like to pass on what we learned from a Buddhist monk named “Charong”.

We each sat on two pillows—a flat square pillow with a cylindrical pillow on top. (Some had to sit on chairs in the back as there weren’t enough pillows.)

We were told that, ideally, we would sit cross-legged on the floor with feet on our thighs. But because we were beginners, we could sit cross-legged with feet tucked in under the legs. (If sitting on a chair, sit on the chair’s edge with the legs perpendicular to the ground and bent 90 degrees at the knees.)

The back should be straight, but not forced. It might help to imagine the spine as a stack of coins where each coin is carefully placed on top of another. There is no “forcing” involved, just “balancing”.

Place the tip of each thumb at the base of the ring finger then form a fist. Rest the fists on each knee. Keep the elbows straight. The arms may then be used for support in case the body starts swaying.

The posture might be uncomfortable at first—it isn’t a natural sitting posture—but Charong emphasized that in time our bodies will adapt.

Do not close your eyes. Closing the eyes might make you sleepy. Instead, keep them open but with a relaxed gaze at a 45-degree angle to the ground. If it helps to focus on something, place an object there. Do not analyze or judge the object. In fact, when meditating, do not be judgmental at all.

As an example, Charong pulled out his iPhone and placed it in front of him. I thought this was interesting because it seemed that Buddhist monks are not forbidden from using society’s modern implements including the über-cool iPhone.

Breathe in and out. When thoughts occur—plans for the day, places you want to go to, memories of yesterday, etc.—let them occur. But be aware that they are occurring. Watch yourself thinking those thoughts. If an issue needs to be resolved, tell yourself you will deal with it later. For the next few minutes, you just want to gaze at the floor in front of you.

That’s pretty much it. Don’t entertain negative thoughts. Don’t force positive ones, either. Feeling good is nice but—Charong emphasized—you don’t have to.

We had three practice meditations with the longest one lasting I think maybe 15 minutes.

When asked by one participant how long one should meditate, Charong said, “One minute, two minutes, five minutes. If you want to do it for 20 minutes, you can still break it down. One in the morning, one in the afternoon, one in the evening. If you meditate for one hour when you are just starting out, you would just be beating yourself up.”

When another participant asked, “How long do you meditate?” with the same hint-of-a-smile he had on throughout the meditation lesson, Charong said, “I’m a monk in a monastery.”

Charong was a white man probably in his late 20s or early 30s. He wore the traditional Buddhist garb of maroon and saffron with one arm exposed. His head was shaven bald. His every movement—hand gestures, facial expressions, even the turning of his head as he addressed questions—was slow and gentle.

After the lesson was over, Charong stood by the door as we filed out. When my turn came and I said my “thank you” and “goodbye” as curtly as I can as for me it was just a formality, I was surprised that he seemed so elated at this and gave me an all-out smile.

For years I believed the only way to be understood in the west was to act western, that is, in a business-like and to-the-point manner, something that required continuous effort on my part. But here was a white man who had embraced eastern ways. I have to say seeing a distinctly oriental smile on a westerner’s face made an impression on me and gave me impetus to not depart from my already established ways. I suppose also that Charong’s inner calm projected and so for a moment I was awash with a feeling of joy. That the whole encounter was about meditation was, as one might put it, just icing on the cake.

Click on a picture to enlarge.
Entrance to Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery. Vi took this picture.
Main temple.
The building on the right of the main temple with the arch opening houses the bookstore. On its extreme left (you can see the door) is the shrine still under construction where the one-hour free lesson on meditation was held.One thing I noticed during the lesson is that Charong was not shy to answer, “I don’t know”. For example, when one participant asked, “What is the ultimate goal of meditation?” He paused as if in reflection then answered, “I don’t know.” When another participant said, “To tame the mind,” Charong motioned his open palm facing skyward toward her as if to say, “There is your answer.” I remember him answering, “I don’t know” three times. Thinking about it later, saying “I don’t know” might actually relieve a lot of unnecessary stress on the part of a speaker.
View from the bookstore entrance. Vi took this picture.
Main shrine. We were told by a woman when we walked in that we came at a special time because it was the last day of a retreat. In this picture, the participants are practicing for the ceremony which was held later on the same day. Vi took this picture.
Buddha shrine. Vi took this picture.
Retreat participants being briefed about the ceremony. Vi took this picture.
Similar to votive candles in Christian churches, you may drop a donation and the name of a person and the monks will pray for that person. Depending on how much donation you make, the monks will pray for a corresponding number of days.One might think it suspect that the amount of donation translates to the number of prayer days. Why not just keep on praying for the person? This is my opinion only but one might need to understand how praying for someone -- or
A monk passes by while Vi was taking pictures. Vi took this picture.
Temple ceiling. Vi took this picture.
Fellow tourists. Vi took this picture.
Retreat participants rehearsing. Vi took this picture.
All footwear were left at the door. Vi took this picture.
A building under repair at the monastery. Vi took this picture.
A very tiny flower in the monastery grounds. Vi took this picture.
BACK TO: Home Gallery