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Other meditation places

Waalwijk, 1973

Back in the Netherlands, I heard about the Buddharama Temple in Waalwijk. It was not hard to find. The resident monk Mettaviharee and his assistant monk Nu Pom gave a friendly reception. A week later I came back to meditate, guided by Mettaviharee. His English was not so easy to follow. He kept speaking on something like `mightfulness'. This was not what I was interested in. Moreover the Temple was totally different from the Zen places in California. Bad taste wall-paper and tinsel everywhere. Nevertheless I kept coming. Sometimes I had to wait an hour because a Dutch-Thai couple came with marital problems. At other times I had to be a translator between the monk and the Dutch husband, who did not know how to handle the escapades of his Thai wife. Many `travel-agent mariages', at first the dream of the less succesful Dutch on the personal relation market, ended this way. The waiting time I saw as an exercise in patience. In the meantime I finally understood that it was not `mightfulness' but `mindfulness' that was being exercised.

At some point a Dutchman became monk. In the Theravada tradition to which the Buddharama Temple belonged one needs at least five already ordained monks to ordain a new monk20. The ordination of the Dutch monk attracted many Thai people, mainly women. When the man's head was being shaven, the women were fighting to get some curls of hair as a precious relic. After that there was a walking procession through the town of Waalwijk. I was asked to walk in front with a Buddhist flag. ``It is the first Buddhist procession in Europe'', said Mettaviharee. Back in the Temple, the actual ceremony started. Chanting, speaking, chanting, sermons. After that the monks got food. Only then the lay people were allowed to eat. It was interesting Thai food, something new to me. The happening had a high social content. The men were sitting outside, smoking cigarettes. The women could have been walking out of a brochure on Thailand of travel-agent Neckermann. Some of the women were naive and respectful to the monks. Other women were less naive and still respectful to them. In the Thai culture one can become monk for only one or two weeks. An easy way to get so much female attention I thought.

At a ceremony for the birthday of Buddha the happening was similar. I was not sure wether I would continue to go to this Tharavadin Temple.

Berlin, 1974

For my work I was a couple of days in Berlin. It was the first time I flew Pan Am, as only the four nations of the Allied Forces were allowed to land there. The touch-down was impressive: not a usual airport in fields outside of town, but one in the middle of it. We landed on an island between appartment buildings. It was cold war as usual. After my work was over I went to the Theravadin Temple of Berlin. It has been there since 1923. Was it the influence of Schopenhauer who was one of the first Europeans who wrote about it? From the Temple in Waalwijk I knew it was customary to bring something for the monks. With flowers and bottles of orange juice I arrived at the Temple. The monks from Sri Lanka received me warmly and showed the place: meditation hall, sermon hall, library, sleeping places. At the end the older monk asked: ``Would you now like to meditate?'' Looking on my watch I said: ``Well, in two and half hour my plane is leaving so that is not possible. But in a couple of years I will come back and then I will meditate.'' The monk felt what went through me. Making a bow he said in a friendly way: ``Very well, we have all time,'' thus relieving my embarrasment. I did come back to meditate, but only in 1989 a few months before the Berlin wall fell. The monks were no longer there, a sign of non-permanence, one of the fundamental characteristics of life, but I felt that I kept my promise.

Zürich, 1975

During a two months visit at the ETH Zürich I saw a poster saying ``Zen, Schloss der Nicht-Angst''. Although I found the addition ``Schloss der Nicht-Angst'' a bit odd, I did go. The location was in the building of the Masons, rented out to the Zen meditators. A friendly attractive Swiss woman and her husband were running the Zendo. During the first evening I saw what I knew from the many Zen books I had read. The woman leading the meditation started halfway the session to walk with a stick. Every now and then she would hit someone on the two sholders, making a loud ``katz'' sound. Later she explained that it was to prevent people to fall asleep. She only would hit someone on request, which was done at the moment one feels that she walks behind us (we were sitting face to wall) by making a bow with folded hands. During the next sit my curiosity overcame my slight fear and I made the bow. While she kneeled behind me her black Zen robe made a crips sound of freshly starched linnen. With gentle femininity she first put my sholder-long hair on the left side. Then with firmness came the hit on my right sholder: ``katz''. The procedure was repeated left and I performed the instructed bow to finish the small ritual. It was not painful at all (something like clapping in your hands, also making a loud sound), but refreshing indeed! The woman told me that the Zendo, she called it Dojo, was founded by Deshimaru Roshi (1914-1982), a Dharma brother of Susuki Roshi.

next up previous contents
Next: Tassajara Up: THE QUEST Previous: Sanzen in LA
Henk Barendregt