A Silicon Valley Scientist, Aravind's FoQi Experience in FoQi, Buddha's Name Recitation Retreat at Wei Mountain Temple.
Aravind came to Wei Mountain Temple and stayed for one week to participate FoQi Buddha’s name recitation retreat. FoQi literally means “Buddha Seven” and this is a #PureLand Dharma door to recite #Amitabha Buddha’s name all day. FoQi schedule is very hard. It starts at 4am and participants attend ceremonies and Buddha's name recitation all day until 10pm.
My name is Aravind Natarajan (male, 41yr). I work as a data scientist at #Fitbit, which is a health and wellness tech company in San Francisco. I grew up in India, and came to the U.S. to pursue my doctorate in Physics, and then as a research scientist. I later got interested in data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, and came to the bay area.
I got interested in Buddhism because I found Buddhist prayers to be peaceful, and I liked the message of non-violence, and compassion towards all living beings. In 2014, I volunteered as an English teacher for a short time at a Buddhist monastery in Ladakh (Ladakh is in India, but very close to Tibet), organized by the #Avalokitesvara Trust, and it was my first experience in a Buddhist environment. I later went to Japan on a research trip, and got the chance to visit Kamakura including the Hase Kannon temple and the famous Amida Daibutsu statue. Closer to home, in Ukiah, we have the large and beautiful City of Ten Thousand Buddhas with peacocks and deer. I found that I liked the chanting at CTTB and joined in when I could. I also like to attend the Saturday morning service at the Berkeley monastery.
When I started at Fitbit nearly 2 years ago, we had mindfulness classes at the company that I attended every week. They were pleasant, but I felt there was more to meditation, and started looking for a good book for beginners. That was how I found Master's Chan book which is an excellent resource for beginning students. I feel lucky to have met Master and his lay and monastic disciples at a #meetup event in San Francisco where Master spoke more about meditation and its ability to improve our physical and mental well-being, and to make us better human beings.
I participated in a 3 day #Amitabha recitation retreat at the Berkeley Monastery during Vesak (#Shakyamuni Buddha's birthday) this year. Last year, I went to the 3 day Amitabha recitation retreat during Thanksgiving, also at the Berkeley #Monastery. CTTB organizes Guan Yin name recitation retreats three times a year, and I attended these sessions on Sundays and Saturdays. The #FoQi at Wei Mountain #Temple was the first time I participated in a 7 day retreat, and the first time I stayed at the temple during the retreat.
When the first day concluded, I was extremely tired and had to drag myself downstairs even to brush my teeth - I was wondering what I had signed up for, and how I could finish the week! I got used to the schedule after a couple of days. Interestingly, I found it easier as the week progressed. Towards the end, I found myself having much more energy than usual, even though I was eating less and sleeping a lot less! The #recitations and meditation sessions help us attain a peaceful state of mind. I benefited greatly from the retreat and encourage everyone to give it a try.
At Fitbit, I worked on a project to investigate how the heart rate, breathing, and skin conductance change during #mindfulness experiences. Here is a photo of me, meditating while being connected to a machine that measures these different bio-signals.
The transformation of the mind and body from sitting in full lotus for over one hour. Billy Tiet’s experience.
Billy Tiet is a regular volunteer at Lu Mountain Temple and Wei Mountain Temple. He started to come to the temple regularly since two years ago. He is a heavy smoker and he is his only own boss. Nobody can tell him what to do. He often fires his own boss at work and he is very proud of himself doing so. But because of his bad temper, his life has not been easy.
He is a single dad. Since he separated from his wife, his younger daughter chose to stay with her dad. He was always worried how to support his young daughter. Since he can’t hold his job for a long time, he constantly had to struggle to look for a new job and pay the bills.
His health was bad too. He smokes cigarettes heavily and didn’t eat much. He was skinny and had back pain too. He also had heart problem. He always felt so tired and not motivated to work hard at his job.
He once stopped by Lu mountain temple many years ago. When he was troubling for his life and his health was getting worse, he remembered the temple. He decided to visit the temple again about 2 years ago. When he first started coming to Lu Mountain Temple more often, he wasn’t really putting much efforts to sit in full lotus. He only listens to Dharma talks and cleaned around the kitchen, washed the dishes and helped around whenever he had chance.
Billy started sitting in meditation for 10~20 minutes only and listened to Master’s dharma talks. It already helped him a lot. He was able to worry less and his health was getting much better just being around temple more often. He continued to help around when we started to do more activities at Wei Mountain Temple too.
One day, he walked into the Buddha Hall before the lunch time. Like he always did, he bowed three times to the Buddha. One of the nuns shouted at him, “You come back here, and sit!”. This was out of his expectation. He didn’t have chance to think or say no. “oh okay.. let me go and bow to Master Hsuan Hua’s altar too. I will come back”.
So he came back to Buddha hall. He sat in full lotus. The nun asked “how long can you sit? What’s the longest time you sat in full lotus?”. Billy said “10 minutes .. maybe 15 minutes”
The nun firmly said “okay from now on, you don’t unbuckle, you hear me? I will do the lunch offering and I will be back. You don’t unbuckle until I say so. okay?”. Billy replied “okay”
The nun finished the offerings and sat right next to him. He already sat for about 20 minutes. Billy started complaining about the pain. “I am sweating. I can’t do any longer, Something is poking my heart!” The nun says “is that so? it’s normal. just sit. don’t unbuckle”
After another 10 minutes, Billy said “my arms are feeling numb. I can’t move.. my back hurts”. The nun says “oh is that so? that’s normal. Keep sitting. You don’t unbuckle until I say so”
He really was in pain. But the nun wouldn’t turn her head. She was staring at him the entire time. The nun told him “Do you love your daughter? How old are you now?”, “I am 48 years old”, “Your daughter is still young. Don’t you want to get better and stay healthy until your daughter grows up?” and he said “yes of course I do”, “well then you have to sit. You have to learn to get better. you hurt so much because your body is sick”
The nun continued “It’s already lunch time. You know I don’t have dinner so I am very hungry so you should be grateful that I decided to stay and watch you. I am still here to help you so you better not unbuckle. You are almost done so just endure!”
When he sat for one hour, suddenly his face looked brighter. He was calmer and better. The nun said “okay now you can unbuckle. Do it very slowly and make sure that your legs feel normal before you walk downstairs so you don’t fall”
Billy was a different person after the sitting. The next day Billy came back to the temple and told us “I feel different. My body feels stronger. Legs were sore for a while but I had so much more energy. I wasn't tired at work anymore, I was motivated to work harder the next day after the one hour sitting.”
Billy said that he was feeling more energetic every day ever since the one hour sitting. Even when he can sleep less hours at night, he wasn’t feeling tired or sleepy the next day. He is much happier and his mood is better. He always felt that his problems are not from him. They are all from other people. But from that day of sitting in much pain, he doesn’t care as much when people give him problems. His temper got better and he feels much more at ease.
Billy came back to the Buddha hall and sat for over one hour and fifteen minutes the next day. His daughter says she is proud of her daddy!
Written by Ven. XianAn
When we visited Korea in early 2019, we met a monk, Seok-Du Sunim, at BongEunSa. BongEunSa is one of the biggest temples in Seoul city. After the retreat ended, I (at that time, Shana) visited BongEunSa again to help with English translation for their temple introduction catalogue.
Seok-Su Sunim called a laywoman who practices vigorously and introduced her to me. He and I encouraged her to learn how to sit in full lotus. After that, she contacted me through Messenger and began a daily practice of sitting in full lotus.
She blamed herself for not being able to concentrate well when she meditated. She had been instructed to do Hua-tou by a Korean master but was having much difficulty. I explained to her that not being able to concentrate was normal because she didn’t have the proper foundation.
It was challenging because she was in so much pain. She had not broken through the pain barrier even when sitting for over an hour and a half in full lotus, but she wasn’t giving up. She kept practicing and followed the instructions. She endured and endured.
Last night she texted me that she had finally sat for 2 hours. She said, “The pain is too much. It’s unbearable, but in this extreme pain, for some reason my mind is more clear.” She practices at BongEunSa Seon Center, but their sitting duration is only 50 minutes. I encouraged her to continue to sit through their normal break time, which she was able to accomplish, with a lot of tears and sweat.
She can feel her concentration has improved, and her mind is much more clear than before. I understand that this was not easy without our support in person. She is strong and determined to cultivate!