Inside Level One
25-Feb: 2015


I am in Bangkok. The room number of my hotel is 379, numerologically a 1. I arrived here Thursday night, to a room with no desk, barely enough floor space for yoga, and a window that looks out at a concrete wall. Now I'm looking again at the meaning of 1. I'm looking at it four days later, after I taught a meditation weekend to fifteen people, mostly Thai, but also Western expatriates working in Bangkok. I'm looking back before I more forward - in two days I'll have departed, and this room and these four days will be a dream. But first, here is the meaning of 1: The 1 is a doer, a powerful force that produces results. The 1 is always in the forefront, directing and leading others. Strong, determined and unwavering, the 1 can turn dreams and ideas into reality.

All of these qualities now seems true. During the course of the meditation weekend I was an agent for the 1, finding its qualities coming through me (though I wasn't exactly aware of it at the time). The teachings of the weekend are a set of primordial truths brought into modernity by Chogyam Trungpa. As curriculum, the weekend is typically referred to simply as "Level One." Chogyam Trungpa brought these teachings into a cogent and unique form, called Shambhala Training, a tradition that is now almost forty years old.

Each day of the two-day program I walked along Prahon Yothin Road to our temporally procured meditation hall, the one we had carried mediation cushions and banners to on on Friday. The BTH metro line runs down Prahon Yothin Road, often obscuring the sky. And there is naturally much more concrete to the sides and underneath one. The highlights along the way are glimpses of sky, people passing by, street vendors selling street food and the numerous cats, foraging, hunting, or asleep underneath plastic chairs. The cats exist in insouciant cat-hood, seemingly indifferent to where the next meal will come from or the potential of being accidentally squashed underneath someone's shoe. The cats are thin, dirty and often surprisingly affectionate.




Level One does embody the numerology of 1. Level One talks about "basic goodness" a seemingly innocuous term that refers to the true scale or dimension of life and so is as powerful and profound as, say, the startling truths of quantum physics. Basic goodness existed before and after the big bang. Flowers are among the best teachers of basic goodness. Basic goodness can't be stopped, owned or manipulated. It is traffic, rain showers and a cat's footstep. It is the number 1, but also 2. As number 2, basic goodness is feminine energy: gentle, tactful, diplomatic, forgiving and understanding." Level One teaches us to pay heed to basic goodness, least we be ruled by the temporary and confusing.

Each day I was initially confused planning my talks. I was just waking up, taking breakfast in the cafeteria of my small hotel (a dive I become fond of). I had three cups of coffee, an omelet, croissant and fruit (not a very Thai breakfast) and watched the street come alive outside the window. Eventually confusion gives way to insight. Chogyam Trungpa taught us to teach like that, to let the confusion be seen, but not to succumb to it, to be seen as a vulnerable teacher, not quite knowing what to say next, but being steady, letting the insights arrive. To stay in touch with all the energy of #1, the masculine, but also of #2, the feminine (in Shambhala these are called the "father and mother lineages" of courage or fearlessness and gentleness).

I never took a photograph of people sitting on the meditation cushions, but of course they did. We all spent time in silence together, just sitting or just walking, being mindful of our breath or footsteps. For each of us the internal dialog of thoughts would thin from time to time, or we would not listen to it in the way we normally do. Basic goodness comes forth in large and small ways. Between the thought we've just hand and the one we haven't had yet (and also in the thoughts themselves) are moments that glitter like rain in sunlight, like marigolds around a candle, like brotherhood and sisterhood.




Now the Level One program is over, and I'm back in room #1. Before me is my computer, my yoga mat and inflatable meditation cushion (a cloth bag covering a beach ball). Looking out of the window is merely to see a second wall inches beyond the first wall of my room. The experience of basic goodness is sometimes likened to a dot in space, infinitely small (or large). This room is a dot in space, a few cubic meters within the immensity of Bangkok. There is nothing on the walls of the room, save for a large clock with a second hand. It's seventeen seconds after 9:55 AM.

I miss the people who attended Level One. We were just getting to know each other, and then it was over. That longing or sadness is also basic goodness. It's not sentimental, but strongly alone, the way a planet is alone, and different than a star or meteorite. Basic goodness. Alone, within the immensity and freedom of space. That seems to be true even in Bangkok, a city with so many people. That seems to be true even in room #1, a room made of concrete. A room you might seemingly reject, but once you put the key in the lock and open the door you are inside the numerological truth of basic goodness.




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This is one of a series of essays under the overall title, Cambodia 2015. - Bill Scheffel

What Makes Something "Cambodian"?

Durian, Food of the Future?

A Morning Walk

The Cambodian Market: Wheel of the Quivering Meat Conception

Inside the Temple Grounds

Inside the Chinese Shrine

Inside Saigon

Inside Level One

Inside Hanoi

Buddhism and the Khmer Rouge