Let me tell you exactly how Buddhism brought me back to life. I can remember the instance clearly.
My breathing is smoothened out. I can barely feel it now. I can hear the sounds of silence. Everything seems to be in stillness. I am feeling a nice warm breeze gently lingering on my skin. The smell of fresh green grass and dirt after the rain are flowing in. My heart is radiating out warm loving energy. I slowly open my eyes and smile. The bright blue sky is appearing.
I experience connection. The vibration, yet so subtle, somehow it is becoming more and more cleared. Isn’t it nice to become alive after all these years?
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Where Was I?
I grew up in one of the most well-known countries for Buddhism, Thailand. I learned very well the life of Buddha. I hardly missed attending any religious day ceremonies. Not only could I memorize many chants but I was also fluent at them. I often visited temples to make merit and pray. What is merit? To be honest I was not sure. It was something that a decent Buddhist was supposed to do. If I kept on making more merits, it would bring prosperity, stability, success and wellness to my life.
What did I think of my knowledge about Buddhism? I was confident that I knew all about it. If I did what I should as a decent Buddhist it would lead me to happiness. That was good enough. What about Vipasana? I did not buy into that. It was not productive and very time-consuming. Only people who were different did that. I had to move on to other goals in my life.
All the stars in the sky were so beautiful. I wanted to catch them all. I did not have much time to waste on something vague as Vipasana.
Why Was I Still Unhappy?
I felt so voided. I did not get it. I kept asking myself, “What is wrong with me?” I thought I had always been a successful person the entire time. Everything I did was right and I always achieved my goals. Since I was a child I had been among the top-notch students. There was hardly anything that I stepped into that I could not succeed at. Competitive sports, art, music, literature, math and science, you name it, I did them all. When I succeeded I felt elevated and high. There were many ravishing stars glittering inside my chest. It felt like happiness.
However, It was such a shame that it never lasted. Soon they started vanishing from me. I kept losing them all the time. So I had to seek out new ones to cover up hollows inside of me. Success, accomplishment, being recognized, winning, they were my pride, my precious stars. I wanted more of them so I would finally be fulfilled.
At that time, I was an intern doctor working at the university hospital near Bangkok. It was very competitive to get into but I managed. It sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? I made money, had many friends, lived a decent life, and had no trouble finding relationships.
My chest was supposed to be full but something was not right. I felt irritated more easily. I wondered why there were so many annoying people everywhere I go. I found myself become more and more aggressive when I was angry. It was like igniting an explosive device. I could feel the heat and the burning inside. I did not like and enjoy being myself anymore. It was the first time I didn’t feel confident and certain about my life.
Finally, I came to realize that I was unhappy, but why?
What Was This Emptiness?
The feeling of emptiness was growing bigger and bigger inside. There were hollows everywhere. I was too exhausted to constantly keep filling them up. I did not think I could do this anymore. I stopped and I looked deeper inside. Maybe I was missing out on something. How was I going to find out?
What about Vipasana? Could it be the way?
I vaguely recalled that my best friend used to mention it when I was not really interested. So I reached out to her for advice. She recommended two retreat centers that offered different styles of teaching: relaxing or tough. I was the kind of person who always goes all the way. I had never feared difficulties. So the next thing I knew, a week later, I was flying south to the Surathani, heading to Suan Mokkh International Dharma Heritage.
Who Was I?
To me, the first three days of Vipasana, practicing absolute silence was an experience like sailing in the storm that derived from utterly being with myself at all times. I was surrounded by hundreds of people and I could sense that we were all struggling.
Nevertheless, strong will and positive energy from new friends who mostly traveled from far away helped supporting me. We were encouraging each other through our practice and our intention.
Why was it so difficult to be with myself? Because I got to really know more of me. Sometimes I saw myself in a nice light and sometimes I saw myself on the dark sides. I had never realized how much I had suppressed and hid most of the ugliness inside of me. I did so it well that I used to be so proud and full of myself until I was here.
It was not a pleasure to get to know who I actually was at all. To be more precise I felt ashamed of whom I had been.
On the fourth day, all my chaotic thoughts suddenly stopped twirling. The storm subsided. Under the big beautiful tree where I was meditating, I became alive. All kinds of emotions were overwhelming me but I was at peace. It was ironic that it took me 28 years to be able to truly live my life. In the end, it did not matter. My emptiness had disappeared. I forgave, was kind to and embraced all of me. I accepted who I was. I was whole with love toward myself and toward all beings around me. We were all connected. We were not different. We were all suffering in the circle of birth-death (Pratītyasamutpāda).
How Was I doing?
Since that day I discerned that I knew nothing about the essence of Buddhism at all. I started my genuine learning about teaching, practice, and wisdom from Buddha. This was just the beginning and there would be much more to come. I regretted all the lost time but at least I discovered the path. Furthermore, I did not have to travel so far away. It was here and now. I came back to myself to “Breathe, practice and explore”.