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Smithfield's First Meditation Session with Chief Monk Bhante

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November 23, 2019 12:00 AM
By: Rev. Sylvia Morris, Chaplaincy Director

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By Rev. Sylvia Morris, Chaplaincy Director, and Caroline Cuff, Juniata College Intern

"Meditation is mental, yoga is physical"

"We cannot see in muddy water. When it is clear, we can see reality."

These were the words of Chief Monk Venerable Chandrawansa Bhante to a group of 30 inmates gathered in the SCI Smithfield chapel. For that evening the chapel became a place of meditation and mindfulness. Some men took Bhante's suggestion and sat comfortably on the floor, while others chose to go through the session seated in their chair.

Bhante, who was born in Sri Lanka, said he had a calling to become a monk at the age of 7 or 8. His mother supported him while his father did not. At the age of 14, he realized his dream by entering a Buddhist Monastery as a novice Buddhist monk. He later received his higher ordination as a Buddhist monk in 2008, and from that time on he has continually led the life of a Buddhist monk and teaching Buddhism and meditation. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Buddhist Philosophy from the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka. He is fluent in English.

At the age of 24 years old, he started his practice. He gives much credit to his teacher, a Myanmar Monk. Bhante told the inmate group that in Buddhism, Buddhists have their own perceptions and teachings. Bhante's states that he himself is still seeking the truth, and his mind still gets entangled after all these years. It doesn't matter where we are. When the realization is within us, we can find happiness, and from there we find wisdom.

The four foundations of mindfulness that he teaches are: 1. Meditation on body, 2. Feeling, 3. Consciousness and 4. Phenomena. In response to a question from an inmate wanting to know the difference between Contemplation and Meditation, he replied, "Contemplation is stillness, and meditation is cultivating that stillness."

"Meditators become strong when they don't move their body position (something that is mastered by practice). It is impossible to control our mind," he said. "Meditators closely watch their minds working, and 'watch the process'. We watch sensations arise, they come to a peak, and then they go down."

He stressed to the men don't give up when having trouble focusing or concentrating

"You must not dwell on the lack of focus/concentration but acknowledge it and let it go." 

After the talk, Bhante led the group through their first Meditation Practice.

Following are the steps:

  • Close your eyes
  • Maintain your position, keep still and relaxed
  • Lower your head
  • Be mindful of your body
    • Forehead, nose, face, shoulders, neck, chest, hands
  • Feel your heart beats
  • Feel the rise and fall of your abdomen
  • If there's any feelings/pain in your body, be mindful of them
  • Scan your body from your head to your toes, from your toes to your head
  • If there is a thought, recognize it, come back to the body
    • Don't cling to unkind thoughts
  • If it's possible, see your breath, be mindful of your natural breaths
  • If you hear sounds, be mindful of them, don't dwell on them
  • There is no judgement or comparing within yourself
  • If you're are thinking, label the thoughts as "thinking" 3 times
    • To refocus, count 10 breaths
    • Be mindful of the rise and fall of your abdomen
  • Don't let your mind tangle in memories of the past, or the future
  • Recognize wondering mind, thinking mind, and planning mind
  • If you feel an unpleasant feeling, don't move, just notice the sensation
  • Be mindful of the appearance and disappearance of thoughts

Chaplaincy Director Sylvia Morris said of the session, "We had a very enlightening and engaging Art of Meditation Session last night."

Morris was very surprised at the interest level and question asking of the men to Chief Monk Bhante and Patti Hall. Men of all faiths including Muslim, Christian, Native American, Jewish, Rastafarians and Buddhists were in attendance.

Some men in attendance already had some type of experience and knowledge of meditation prior to coming to the session. Chaplaincy Intern Caroline Cuff said she noticed that many of the men want to incorporate meditating into their life and you could feel the energy in the room. 

Bhante and Hall are interested in coming to Smithfield on a weekly basis as volunteers to teach a 1½ hour session that would include: 30 minutes of practicing meditation, 30 minutes of discussion and 30 minutes of question and answering. Bhante said to get the most benefit out of meditation and mindfulness it should be taught on a weekly basis and thus becoming a way of life and constant state of being mindful.

For the men that were unable to attend the session, they will be able to watch it on the television in-house channel.

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