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Arts & Culture > Book

Unorthodox mindfulness

For blogger-turned-writer Weerakit Achareewongpaisan, dharma is everywhere

He was born in a Buddhist society, but has never been ordained. He sometimes goes to the temple, but not in a manner that a common Buddhist does; he only goes there to take photos. And his meditation practice is not in a conventional way like that of other Buddhists as he achieves mindfulness through the lens or via paintbrush strokes.

One of the more than 3,000 photos taken during his pilgrimage to India last year, this woman and her child were among the people who made him realise how lucky he has been.

"It's my way of meditation," said blogger-turned-writer Weerakit Achareewongpaisan who has no preferred religious masters but recently released his second dharma book, Muen Ta Dharma and the Ultimate Truth. Both volumes are compilations of his popular comics posted on his blog, Kawaka, over the past three years.

Originally created as a space to share memories of his younger days, the blog featuring more than 200 dharma-related stories under the Muen Ta pen name has drawn hundreds of followers and about 300 to 400 clicks and some 100 comments every day. Over the years, the blog-memoir has turned into a philosophy discussion forum as the blogger feels he has discovered the truth of life.

The series features a character called "Muen Ta" (meaning "10,000 eyes") whose ego is as big as his ignorance. From a highly educated and successful guy who sees himself as the centre of the universe, Muen Ta later learns about the truth of life from smaller people and happenings around him.

''I used to think I was very smart,'' said Weerakit, recalling his younger days which he said were filled with ignorance and egotism. Writing a memoir was a self-reflecting process. It allowed him to look at past events from different perspectives and learn from the mistakes.

Weerakit, an A-grade student who aspired to become a college professor, was the perfectionist type and being a perfectionist blocked him from the enjoyment of life, and he ended up being frustrated. He was easily irritated with other people's imperfections.

Weerakit conceded that he never quite liked his life from school days until his early years of work. He would be annoyed by those who didn't devote enough as a team in college or at work. A month after working as an architect in Bangkok, he was called back by his father to help with the family business in Chiang Mai.

It was a tormenting experience. He had to wake up early only to spend another unhappy day with annoying customers and unsatisfying staff in the family business, and, most importantly, to work with his stubborn father who never listened to him.

After four years, Weerakit decided to go on a tour of Guilin, China. But instead of indulging himself on the holiday, he buried himself in the back seat, gluing headphones to his ears for the entire trip, talking to no one _ not even the tour guide.

But everything changed the moment he raised his eyes to the endless mountainscape of Guilin. The sight before him made him realise how small and unimportant he had been in the world.

''It was the click that changed everything,'' he said. The gigantic landscape in front not only whispered, ''How great can you be? Look at the mountains!'' in his ears, but also changed his perception of life.

He returned home with a new way of looking at life and work. From an ignorant man, Weerakit became more understanding of his father and staff, instead of trying to change them like before. ''If you want to be happy at work, you need to understand the people you are working with, not the work itself,'' said Weerakit.

But it was only a few years later he started to write his blog with animated illustrations _ as a way to stay mindful _ and gained increasing interest from a number of followers who found his comics easy to understand _ on their own level.

Taking photographs is Weerakit’s own form of meditation. This young girl, below, was one of the people in India who taught him to be satisfied with what he has.

Neither his books nor his blog are intended to provide a how-to guide for a happy life. Instead the series offer basic philosophy that is easy to read. However, one needs life experience to comprehend the message.

Reading his comics, Weerakit said, is like reading a philosophy book, with between-the-line messages. Grown-up readers may get the message more clearly than the younger ones. Weerakit said he did not get the message when he first read a book by the revered Buddhadasa at 15, but began to understand more on the third reading at 30.

Now, after getting up at 5am, he will spend the morning uploading cartoons he sketched on paper the day before to his blog, interact with friends on the blog, visit some 200 blogs of his friends, and deal with emails before opening the shop at 9am. He now also uploads photos of his son to show his progress to his friends since his birth last year.

Answering every post soon made him almost a shrink for his blog followers. Questions posted by his followers on his blog vary from philosophy to morality; and from relationships to family conflicts and love triangles. One of the most common questions is how to handle a situation when you become a third party in a relationship. But Weerakit chooses not to offer any a solution. Instead, the blogger always provides an open answer to every post and that makes his writing rational and popular.

''Everyone knows the answer too well, but not everyone does the right thing,'' said the blogger. But they only need a second opinion. All he does is to hit back with questions like: ''Will you be able to handle the reactions from people around you?'' or ''Are you really happy in the situation?''

To stay mindful in every moment of life, said the self-exploratory Buddhist, is the core of Buddhist practise.

''Dharma is everywhere, not only in the temple,'' he said. From his experience, he doesn't practise at the temple. However, his meditation begins when he lays a paintbrush on the canvas. At that moment, he said, his mind achieves serenity.

He learns from books and life experience. On a pilgrimage to India last year, he did not practise vipassana by meditating in peace with the other 120 monks and 80 faithful Buddhists who joined the trip; he chose to stay mindful through the lens. While others were meditating, he walked around the temple, with his camera and lenses, studying its archi tecture. In the one-week trip, he took 3,500 shots, half of which were of beggars on the streets. The large number of the beggars _ many were disabled _ and the emptiness and their plight, gave him a thought.

''Instead of being satisfied with a simple meal like those beggars, most of us have almost a perfect life,'' he said. Yet very few are satisfied with what they have.

''I lost most of my greed and desire in that trip,'' said Weerakit whose desire now is limited to only new lenses for photography that has become less necessary.

Dharma can't be taught, said Weerakit. Some are not ready to change. ''But it needs to be discovered and learned by yourself.''

However, he promises to continue updating his philosophy comics on his blog, his way to practise mindfulness, and to share his take on life and dharma _ until he feels it is time to stop.

Staying mindful for him is paying deep attention to everyone and everything before him, without likes and dislikes. He believes this is the essential step for him to reach nirvana _ the ultimate goal for a Buddhist to end the cycles of life.

For Weerakit, his mindfulness practises are photography, drawing and blogging. It is different from conventional meditation. But he believes it will get him there all the same, if he keeps working at it.

 

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