By Jeewaka Manamendra.

It’s a very peculiar subject when you think about it.

Day in and day out everyone goes about their lives trying to accomplish something, meeting new people, or just finding a way to survive in this world. But one thing is certain for everyone who enters these doors, they will cease to exist.

Even though death is certain, human life is always harder to obtain, especially a life where the doors of Dhamma are wide open.

In fact, the Enlightened One had spoken about the rarity of obtaining a human life in the Kanakacchapa Sutta. “Bhikkhus, there is a blind turtle in the depths of the ocean. There is also a yoke of a cart that is floating on the ocean surface which is held in a way in all directions by tide, current, and wind. Thus these two go on throughout an immeasurable space of time. One day when the turtle comes up to the surface, the yoke arrives at the same precise place and time when the turtle puts up his head, and yokes on to it. Now, Bhikkhus, is it possible that such a time might come ordinarily?”, as described by the Buddha. With the same notion, as soon as one of us enters this world, we tend to forget the reason for our existence: the hope of ending our Samsara Cycle. Instead, it has become human nature to indulge in the six senses, and swing in the pendulum of hatred and greed. The ultimate question is how does one end their ride on the pendulum?

Fortunately, the Georgia Buddhist Vihara has always been a backbone in our Dhamma knowledge and for providing a balanced guidance in leading our lives. And the annual retreat is one of those priceless opportunities to explore Dhamma in a calm and concentrated mind setting, away from all the hustle bustle of everyday life.

Day 1 
For our first lesson of the retreat, Dr. Deeptha Jayaratne began to teach us the importance of Abhidhamma and how knowing and understanding Abhidhamma will greatly help us in our daily lives. However, in order to begin to understand the effect of Abhidhamma we learned various cittas including Kusula, Akusala, and Ahetuka. These 3 types of cittas are usually associated with the kamavacara plane, or otherwise known as the sensual plane of cittas. For instance, kusula (meritorious) cittas are derived when we have a good feeling or do something good, which in turn is referred to as alobha (non-greed), amoha (knowledge or wisdom), and adosa (loving-kindness). Thus by being selfless, knowledgeable, and compassionate we create virtuous merits, which results in good kamma for this current life and for future lives. Comparatively, akusala (unmeritorious) cittas occur when lobha (greed), dosa (anger), moha (delusion) arise in the mind, causing immoral cittas. Lastly, we are left with ahetuka cittas, or cittas void of roots (hetu), which include both kusula and akusula roots resulting in 6 roots. The best way to explain an ahetuka citta is that although these cittas do not interact with sensual roots, they occur due to our past kamma, namely kusula vipaka (result of meritorious thought) and a kusula vipaka (result of unmeritorious thought). Therefore, depending on whatever merit you committed in the past, unmeritorious or meritorious, it can still arise in this current life due to the kamma ensued. By understanding these mental factors and their results, one can begin to really live in the present since one realizes how and why certain thoughts emerge and watch over them (mindfulness). Another topic brought up in the discussion was the idea of Jhanas (concentration levels) which is associated with the rupavacara plane, or otherwise known as the plane of existence from insight. The rupavacara cittas are basically classified into five according to the five jhanas. Furthermore, within jhanas we can begin to burn nivarana or hindrances, which include greed, anger, lethargy, anxiety, and doubt. In order to combat this, the jhanas help us to realize concentration, joy, and happiness.

After the enlightening Abhidhamma discussion, Venerable Wajirobuddhi held an impressive sutta discussion discussing the Kimsuka tree sutta, which describes a monk in search of purifying his mind. In order to achieve this, the monk discusses with other bhikkus as to how to purify the mind and become mindful. In return, the answers he receives range from learning and comprehending the four elements to controlling the six sense doors. Dissatisfied with these answers, the monk visits the Buddha for an answer to his question. On hearing this the Buddha refers the monk to a kimsuka tree or more known as a riddle tree. The name riddle tree was given to this tree since the tree is known to change greatly over time. This monk quickly found out when he asked other residents what the kimsuka tree looked like, and he was given many different answers like before. Returning to the Buddha, the monk realizes the men gave different answers because of the time they focused on the tree and how it looked at that certain time. Moreover, the sutta goes on to say that our mind is like a fortress surrounded by six gates, gate guards. In using this simile, the Buddha referred to the six gates being our six sense doors, and how they bring in information. However, all gates need guards; these guards can be referred to as mindfulness, since they have to pay special attention to who and what (thoughts) enter the fortress/mind. If we have many guards to protect the gates, then our fortress will never be polluted with ugly surprises and bad things.

Day 2
Being a poya day we did not have a full discussion with Dr. Deeptha about abhidhamma and cittas or a sutta discussion with Venerable Wajirabuddhi Thero, however we did get a chance to discuss with Mr. Steve about how we should live with Dharma and act upon Dharma. For instance, many of us and others get angry at times which turns to heedlessness, and we begin to do things we will regret in the future. Thus, we can counteract this by staying calm in the direst of situations, which is parallel to being mindful. Furthermore, by living with compassion and loving kindness we begin to become nicer human beings and more helpful and understanding towards others. All in all, we as Buddhists must strive to be patient and kind in order to help us live a more balanced and all-around better life.

Day 3
Since today was the last day of the retreat, the schedule was cut short a bit, and in the morning we visited a Burmese temple. While at the temple we had gone through the usual lunch puja process, and got to meet some of the Burmese kids who were roughly the same age as us. In fact, the Burmese students reminded me of myself and others in the sense that they too had the hunger and potential of learning dharma. Furthermore, since the students were new to the dharma scene, we only had a lighthearted discussion based on an introduction to Abhidhamma. We discussed about the importance of Abhidhamma, and later on the other retreat students and I had to answer a volley of questions about what we learned in the past 2 days, in order to give an impression to the Burmese students. Some of these questions were based on various cittas and how they function (kusula, akusula, and ahetuka), as well as mindfulness and meditation.

Before the evening puja, we had our last lesson of the 2016 annual retreat by Venerable Wajirubuddhi. This lesson was based on a very important sutta in Buddhism, the Mangala Sutta. The Mangala Sutta was discoursed as a means of being a checklist for lay people and their daily lives, and how to lead an honest, hardworking life. Although the entire sutta is very important, I feel that some of the more important points included not associating with the foolish, to live in a suitable location to live and grow, to be generous to others, and to be respectful, humble, patient, and grateful. For us lay people, it is vital that we should always and only associate with those who are knowledgeable and wise, instead of those who live foolish lives, seeing as there is a possibility that they too can drag you down with them. Furthermore, it is basically a given to find and live in a suitable location with good neighborhoods and schools. If we live in unfortunate settings we can begin to live a life of anger, hate, and crime. Lastly, being respectful, humble, patient, and grateful will help us become more mindful, concentrated, and compassionate. However, I still encourage those who are reading this to read the Mangala Sutta, since just knowing it will help us all day to day in our lives.

Overall, the Annual 2016 Youth Retreat was a great experience for myself and others, and gave us a golden opportunity to expand our knowledge of dhamma by learning about it as well as living it. In truth, during the retreat we realized the answer to stopping the ride on the pendulum. Simply put, we can only end the ride by practicing, understanding, and implementing dhamma in our daily lives. In essence, by living in dhamma we can help ourselves to terminate or reduce our past bad kamma, and achieve the ultimate goal: Nibbana.

In conclusion, I would like to end by thanking Venerable Wajirabuddhi Thero for providing this wonderful opportunity of learning dhamma, as well as devoting his valuable time to teach and accommodate us. Thank you, for your patience, guidance, and unlimited kindness to make the retreat more inviting. Thank you Mr. Steve for being such a great friend in dhamma, as well as watching over us and making this a more enjoyable experience. Thank you, Dr. Deeptha, for spending your precious time and resources to teach us Abhidhamma. I would also like to thank all of the parents for encouraging us to attend this very rare opportunity around the world, as well as attending to our needs so we can pursue our dhamma goals. Last but certainly not least, thank you to Venerable Wajirabodhi Thero, Venerable Dhammaloka Thero, and all of our dear uncles and aunties in the Sri Lankan Community for providing dana and facilitating our needs. More Photos

With Metta,
Jeewaka Manamendra

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