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Kasma’s 30-year Anniversary Message

Kasma Loha-unchit, Monday, May 25th, 2015

This June marks the end of 30 years that I have taught Thai cooking classes in my kitchen. Up until six months ago, I was entertaining thoughts about throwing a big anniversary celebration (much like the 20th anniversary party many of you attended), but thoughts of the stresses and strains of planning, preparing for and cleaning up after such a big bash have more than changed my mind. I would like to, however, send a big thank you to all of you who have enthusiastically taken my classes over the past three decades for all the support and the wonderful times shared cooking delicious meals in my kitchen.

In about a week, I will be turning 65 and joining the ranks of Medicare. Over the past few months, I have been seriously mulling over when I would retire, especially when I see that many of my friends (and many of you) have retired and are enjoying the newfound time to pursue myriad interests awaiting them. As much as I enjoy teaching and taking people traveling around Thailand, and I know I will miss doing these things and all of you when I retire, the prospect of not having to run around to shop for classes, to push myself in the tedious and never-ending tasks of cleaning up before and after classes, and to deal with problematic students and trip members (and there have been more than a few each year) who drain me both physically and emotionally, makes retirement more and more appealing every day.

At this point, I am thinking that I will retire possibly within the next five years. So, those of you who have friends or co-workers interested in taking my cooking classes should let them know very soon. I will probably retire from beginning classes in two to three years. For those of you who wish to take all my advanced classes, I will try to cycle you through most of them before I retire. It’s possible I may add one last series (Advanced J) before I retire to give you some of my mother’s treasured recipes so that they are forever preserved for posterity. There’s no need to bury any secrets.

As for the Thailand travel trips, I will probably retire from doing them in five years or possibly sooner if Sun, my trusted helper and driver of my van, decides to quit to pursue other interests and there is a strong possibility that this can happen any time. I do not wish to train anyone new to replace him. So, if you have ever entertained thoughts of joining one of my off-the-beaten-path trips in which you will see, taste and experience things you will never have the chance to do traveling on your own, do start planning now as I will not always be around.

All said, I am actually sad to be writing this message, but I would like you to know the approximate time frame so that you can take advantage of what’s left of what I have to offer over the next few years. There’s no one I can train to take my place as what I do I learned over a lifetime of experience starting when I was five years old in my mother’s kitchen.

Thank you again to all of you for all the good times nourishing one another and sharing a sliver of your lives in my home.

Kasma


Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, May 2015

Buddhism, Ajahn Viradhammo

Michael Babcock, Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Ajhan Viradhammo, a Thai forest monk in the tradition of Ajahn Chah, is a westerner whose teachings are accessible and insightful. This blog explores some of teachings from his podcasts.

This has been a difficult period in my life. In addition to having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which periodically leaves me virtually incapacitated from exhaustion, I recently was diagnosed with pernicious anemia, meaning a severe Vitamin B12 deficiency. It was diagnosed when I went to the doctor because of increased fatigue as well as peripheral neuropathy (numbness in the legs and hands) – both classic symptoms of B12 deficiency. There’s also been a number of frustrations for various other things lately. In addition, I’ve been watching my wife take care of an ailing (91-year-old) mother; that, and turning 61, have caused me to reflect more on the process of growing old, the possibility of eventually having to be cared for by someone else.

I had fallen out of a daily meditation practice and found myself in a bit of a state, with worry and fear, that the neuropathy would be permanent and that I’d always have this debilitating fatigue.

In the midst of this, I began listening to some of the talks of Ajhan Viradhammo that are available on podcasts. Ajahn Viradhammo is one of the resident teachers at Tisarana Buddhist Monastary in Ontario, Canada, a monastary in the forest tradition of Ajahn Chah. Born in 1947, he’s roughly contemporary (I was born in 1950); he studied for 4 years in Thailand with Ajahn Chah. I’ve gotten his podcasts through iTunes, though you can find out about them here: Tisarana – Podcast: Ajahn Viradhammo.

His teachings are a good supplement to the words of Ajahn Chah. Ajahn Viradhammo’s teachings are approachable and reassuring – Ajahn Chah is sometimes a bit daunting. Ajhan Viradhammo has a practical way of talking about the teachings, one that reassures because it presents the teachings as doable, it reassures that Buddhist practice is something we can all do.

Here are some of the concepts and ideas, reported through my understanding, that have proved useful.

Understanding “Negative” States of Mind

A good meditation can bring insights and diamond-like flashes of insight and can also result in a tranquility and peace of mind that is very alluring. It’s all too easy to judge your condition on whether or not you have that clear-sighted tranquility and whether or not it persists for long periods of time.

In the midst of difficult times with massive doses of despair, fear, anxiety, worry, etc., the so-called “negative” states of mind, it’s easy to feel discouraged, to feel that all that meditation, all the awareness and hard work really means nothing. The mind set is that these “negative” states of mind indicate failure.

Ajahn Viradhammo points out that these difficult mind-states are not to be lamented and feared, rather they are to be worked with. As he says, you can’t develop equanimity if you are already equanimous. It is during the difficult times that we can actually do the work that will help to nourish positive states of mind.

This means an illness doesn’t have to be used as an excuse and an explanation for feeling so miserable (“If I weren’t sick, I could practice better, I’d be successful”). Instead, it can be used as a teacher. It’s not the illness that is causing the suffering: the illness is just a collection of bodily sensations. The suffering comes from wanting it to be different than what it is. The unpleasantness of the body can be observed in terms of sensations and the mind watched to see what it is adding to the sensation. The suffering is in the mind.

I tend to want to run away from or change mind-states that I don’t enjoy. Instead of wishing the mind-state was different, I can, instead, examine it minutely: how does it feel and what are the thoughts associated with it. How long does it persist if I just watch it?

But I think the point of it is that we have enough presence of mind to see that the very conflicts of life are also the liberators of our consciousness. Because our consciousness, . . . in the conflicting part of our life, as long as we see them as problems that we’re trying to get rid of, or that we are to be blamed for, or that we are hopeless basket cases, or whatever way we go, if we don’t see them as liberating possibilities, then we just try to get rid of them: “Get out of my way, I’m trying to get to Nibbana.” And yet if we see them as the very things where our consciousness gets localized, gets contracted, gets detached, we see that if we’re going to realize the boundless in consciousness, rather than this limited sense of self, the little body and all the rest of it, then right there, in that conflicting part, right there is the part, the source of liberation, to some extent

Ajahn Viradhammo, “Knowledge, Insight and Practice,” released 4/12/10, after about 17 minutes and 22 seconds

The Concept of a Practice

Another persistent theme in Ajahn Viradhammo’s podcasts is the concept of working on the mind as a practice.

So much of Buddhism is honing awareness of what the mind is thinking and how we get carried away by thoughts. So much of one’s discouragment from practicing Buddhism comes because it is very difficult to change habitual ways of thinking.

Ajahn Viradhammo compares practicing Buddhism or Vipassana (insight) meditation to learning of any kind. One example he uses is that a couple of times he was taught to use a computer scanner; however some time later when he wanted something scanned, he couldn’t remember how to do it because too much time had passed. Like anything we learn, if we want to retain something we need to work with it, to practice with it.

When we learn a craft (bookbinding is one of his examples), our first efforts can be pretty pathetic. That’s just how it is. With each subsequent attempt, our skill level goes up.

This leads us to . . .

It is possible to be aware of mental states and have a choice about how to react or respond to them.

Watching the mind is the same as learning a craft. An example is someone saying something that makes us angry. Often, we just react to that with anger and lash out. As awareness grows, we may notice that we are angry and then react by lashing out anyway. The next time we may hold onto the anger for a longer period of time until we fall into our habitual response. Eventually, we may even get to a place where we just observe the anger and don’t act on it at all.

Ajahn Chah says: “If someone curses us and we have no feelings of self, the incident ends with the spoken words and we do not suffer.” ( A Still Forest Pond, p. 24.) Getting to this point is a practice: over and over, as anger arises we can hone our awareness of the anger as an object (and not who we are) and habitual reaction; then we can choose how we want to respond. It is truly a practice. Even our feeling of “Oh, I blew it again” is something to be observed and practiced on.

The Gift of Repetition

Ajahn Viradhammo talks about one benefit of monastic life as the opportunity provided by repetition. If one is bored by an activity that is ongoing, you’ve got an opportunity over and over again to look at that boredom.

Well, we get that gift of repetition in lay life as well.

Recently someone who has never taken a class posted two untrue reviews obout Kasma’s classes and included a personal attack on me. This is the sort of thing that I tend to obsess about: Why would someone do such a thing? How to respond? Did we respond correctly? What should we do now? And on, and on, and on, and on: the mind can really run away with itself.

Rather than falling into this trap, of identifying with the affront and anger or trying to figure out how to make it better each time the obsession reappears, I tell myself that the recurring feelings are  not an indication of the failure of the practice: it’s an indication of the obsessive nature of the mind. They very repetitive nature provides many opportunities to see the workings of the mind and the consequenses of taking things personally. The very repetition provides more opportunities for growth in awareness.

It actually can be easier to practice in the midst of uncomfortable or negative feelings. When things are going well, when things are pleasurable, there’s less tendency to look at the way the mind operates. It’s only when I begin to suffer a little that I again start practicing awareness.

The conditioned can not lead to the unconditioned.

Ajahn Chah says: “Everything mental and physical, everything conceived and thought about without exception, is conditioned. (Food for the Heart, p. 183.)

In at least a couple of podcasts Ajahn Viradhammo talks about this – that we should not look for lasting peace and enlightenment in anything conditioned: it has to be found somewhere else.

One of the concepts of Buddhism is how happiness is followed by sorrow; how then sorrow is followed by happiness. If we spend all our energy manipulating conditions so that we’ll be happy, it will eventually turn over and result in unhappiness. Trying to change conditions will result in this endless cycle of happiness and unhappiness.

We can cultivate positive qualities (generosity, gratitude).

Ajahn Viradhammo’s teachings reinforce the necessity of replacing negative states of mind with more positive ones by cultivating positive qualities. Generosity and gratitude are sometimes said to be qualities of an enlightened being with the implication that they just flow out from such a wonder without thought.

They can also be cultivated. Ajahn Viradhammo had talked about an instance where a friend was going to be traveling to Europe. One response could be: “I’m so jealous of you.” A more generous response would be: “I’m very happy for you.” This idea shows generosity to be more than physically giving someone something; there is also generosity of spirit, something we can practice almost any time and in any circumstance.

Recently I ran into a friend who’s about to take the trip of a lifetime: he’s going to be riding (on a motorcycle) from Oakland to the East Coast of Canada. As we were talking I caught myself about to say: “I’m jealous of you.” Instead, I said “I’m so happy for you.” Fred got a big smile on his face and instead of feeling jealous, I got to share in his happiness about his adventure.

Recently I was standing at the fish counter about to order some fish. A woman came up and the guy behind the counter immediately went to help her. In the past I probably would have spoken in anger and told them: “I was here first.” They both would have felt badly. This time I caught myself: I told myself to just be generous, that it didn’t make any difference if she went first. I took a deep breath and worked on letting it go. At that point, the woman turned to me and asked if I was ready to order, that I could go first. I smiled and told her to go ahead, I wasn’t in a rush. She thanked me and the guy behind the counter smiled at me. A much better result!

One of my biggest challenges is to be generous to myself. I’m practicing not buying into all the judgments and negative opinions that the mind throws up.

This is something to explore more: the possibility that by acting generous, I can begin to feel generous. This, too, is a practice. And why not? We’re going to act a certain way in any case; if we can catch ourselves before we act out our normal conditioned response, why not try something different (like generosity) that may produce a better result?


More Thoughts on Buddhism

Written by Michael Babcock, November 2011

Wat Mahatat in Nakhon Si Thammarat

Michael Babcock, Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

Thailand is predominantly a Buddhist country and throughout the country there are numerous temples – wat, in Thai. One of my favorite temples is Wat Mahatat in Nakhon Si Thammarat. This temple is considered one of the three most important temples in the south of Thailand, the others being in Chaiya and Yala. A morning visit here is part the itinerary for Kasma’s Kasma’s trips to southern Thailand.

View of Temple

View of chedi

Its full name is Wat Phra Mahatat Woramahawihaan, sometimes abbreviated to Wat Phra Boromathat. It is found a couple kilometers from the town center on Thanon Ratchadamnoen, the long street that runs the length of the town, and is easily reached by songthaew.

This is the biggest temple in the south of Thailand. The most recognizable feature is the nearly 80 meter high chedi (stupa), which is crowned by a spire made of solid gold and weighing several hundred kilograms. The main chedi is surrounded numerous smaller black and white chedis. To the right of the chedi there’s an entrance to a sanctuary. In the middle is a stairway leading up to a platform about half-way up the chedi; this stairway is open only some of the time. The stairway is flanked by demons, apparently guarding the way. At either end of the room there are walls with interesting bas-relief on the walls.

Buddha Statues

Buddha Statues

Off to the left as you head towards the central sanctuary is a wihaan or Buddha image sanctuary. In the shape of a square, it has Buddha images on the outside around the square; there’s also an inner walkway with more Buddha images.

After you’ve visited the temple, be sure to go to the market area at the far end of the temple – they have some interesting southern crafts and snacks.

Rather than spend more time on description, I’ve put together a slide show to show some of the beautiful images found here. Photographs were taken by both myself and Kasma.


Nakhon Si Thammarat – Wat Mahatat Slide Show

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.
Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

You must have Javascript enabled to see the images.

View of Temple 1
View of the Temple 2
Entrance to Chedi
Sign Towards Wihaan
Thai Monks
Buddha Statue in Niche
Temple Roof
Temple Roof
Temple Guardian 2
Temple Guardian 1
Temple Bas-relief
Temple Detail
Buddha in Niche
Close-up of Buddha Statue
Temple Bells
Walkway with Buddha Statues
More Walkway
Inner Walkway
Temple Gong
Buddha Statue 1
Buddha Head
Temple Feature
Earth Mother Goddess
Temple Painting
Buddha Head 2
Buddha Head 2 Earlier
Buddha Image
Buddha Close-up
Buddha Close-up 2
Little Demon
Buddha from the Back
Elephant
Another Buddha
Buddha Statues

Here's a view of the chedi, which is above the main sanctuary
and several other buildings housing Buddha images

The chedi is in the right-hand corner in this view from the parking lot

The door at the end is the entrance to the chedi

Before reaching the entrance to the chedi at the end, turn
at the blue sign to enter the wihaan of Buddha statues

In 2007 we came across these novice monks leaving the area by the chedi

There are numerous interesting details in the
buildings around the entrance to the chedi

Don't forget to look up at the details around the roofs of the buildings

A view of one of the temple roofs, with its golden nagas

This demon guards the staircase leading up to the chedi

This demon and dragon guard the other side of the staircase

In the sala leading up to the chedi there are two
walls with golden bas-relief (to the right, here)

Here's a detail of the bas-relief

This is the Buddha statue at the end of one side with the bas-relief

Here's a close-up of the same statue

When the staircase is open you can go to a walkway around
the chedi, about halfway up - these bells are taken from there

This is the outer walkway in the wihaan off the entrance to
the chedi - it is lined with Buddha statues

Here's another view of the outer walkway, which has a mysterious, quiet feel to it

There's also an inner walkway, also lined with Buddha statues

At one end of this walkway is this huge gong - if you rub the
center in just the right way it makes a deep, resonant sound

One of the Buddha statues on the outer walkway

Cose-up of another Buddha statue in the outer walkway

This pillar is found at one of the corners of the outer walkway -
it shows the Buddha at the time of his enlightenment

Close-up of the statue of the Earth Mother Goddess, witnessing
the Buddha's enlightenment, from the previous image

Paintings such is this one adorn some pillars in the outer walkway

Close-up of one of the Buddha statues - painted gold and black

Here's the same statue in 2004 - before it was painted (see previous slide) -
like everything else, the Buddha statues are in a constant state of change

Here's one of the Buddha statues found on the inner
walkway, where they often are standing in a red alcove

Close-up of a Buddha in the inner walkway

Here's the same statue 4 years earlier - before restoration

Close-up (of a demon) shows some of the detail on the inner walkway alcoves

An outer walkway Buddha photographed from the inner walkway

The inner walkway has several of these elephants - the entire inner wall
has been wrapped by orange fabric, the same color worn by the monks

An outer walkway Buddha in a very different style

One last image showing several of the Buddha statues

View of Temple 1 thumbnail
View of Temple 2 thumbnail
Entrance to Chedi thumbnail
Sign Towards Wihaan thumbnail
Thai Monks thumbnail
Buddha Statue in Niche thumbnail
Temple Roof thumbnail
Temple Roof thumbnail
Temple Guardian 2 thumbnail
Temple Guardian 1 thumbnail
Temple Bas-relief thumbnail
Temple Detail thumbnail
Buddha in Niche thumbnail
Close-up of Buddha Statue thumbnail
Temple Bells thumbnail
Walkway with Buddha Statues thumbnail
More Walkway thumbnail
Inner Walkway thumbnail
Temple Gong thumbnail
Buddha Statue 1 thumbnail
Buddha Head thumbnail
Temple Feature thumbnail
Earth Mother Goddess thumbnail
Temple Painting thumbnail
Buddha Head 2 thumbnail
Buddha Head 2 Earlier thumbnail
Buddha Image thumbnail
Buddha Close-up thumbnail
Buddha Close-up 2 thumbnail
Little Demon thumbnail
Buddha from the Back thumbnail
Elephant thumbnail
Another Buddha thumbnail
Buddha Statues thumbnail

Wednesday Photos of Wat Mahatat

Previous Blogs on Nakhon Si Thammarat

  • Krua Nakhon Restaurant
  • Nakhon Si Thammarat Municipal Market
  • Written by Michael Babcock, July 2011

    Thai Novices (Wednesday Photo)

    Michael Babcock, Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

    Young Thai Novices

    Young Thai Novices

    Young Thai Novices

    At some point in Thailand you will come across the saffron-robed Thai monks; they are very much a part of Thai life, even in the cities. These young novices (not yet full-fledged monks) are part of a merit-making ceremony in Chiang Mai on the occasion of the King of Thailand’s 80th birthday in 2007.


    The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

    Thai Monk (Wednesday Photo)

    Michael Babcock, Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

    Thai Monk in Kalasin Province

    Thai Monk

    Thai Monk in Kalasin Province

    Kasma took this picture of a monk kneeling in front of the altar at Wat Phra Phuttasaiyaht Tham Phu Kao in Sahatkhan, Kalasin, Thailand.

    It’s hardly possible to travel in Thailand without coming across Buddhist monks. Monks are universally revered as representatives of the Buddha; it is the robes and “The One Who Knows” that is being revered, not the individual self dressed in the robes.


    The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

    Chaiya Buddha Statue Close-up (Wednesday Photo)

    Michael Babcock, Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

    Chaiya Buddha – Close-up

    Buddha Close-up

    Chaiya Buddha Detail

    I like that photography can let us focus in on details to let us see things in a different way. This is Kasma’s picture of a detail on a Buddha statue at Wat Phra Boram That in Chaiya, Thailand. You can see a slightly more expansive detail in Michael’s photo in an earlier Wednesday Photo blog:
    Another Chaiya Buddha.


    The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.