How do we study and what do we learn

Laura Romano

“Truth has a simple language”
Euripide

About Truth Gandhi has said: ”What seems truth to one person, may seem a mistake to someone else. If we sincerely commit ourselves to truth, we will see that different truths are like the leaves of a tree which seem different but are yet on the same tree.”
Sumarah bows in front of the mystery of truth in an attitude of devotional obedience towards what in Javanese is called Kasunyatan, the Ultimate Reality. What is ‘true’, is only what the Law of Universe wants for us in a certain time and place. To recognize and to accept truth in this sense is one of the things that we learn with meditation. And here again Sumarah would agree with Gandhi when he says: “Truth is the only God I know.”
From the point of view of Sumarah, truth is either relative or absolute. It is relative because each of us receives the directions of the Law according to the point of the path in which she is and absolute because the Universal Law is one by definition.
Sumarah teaching is extremely accessible and in a way available to everybody, exactly because its truth can be received on many different levels. It is essentialy esoteric, but also very simple. Such is in fact the spiritual path: simple, but not easy.
This which follows is a conversation I had some years ago with a Danish young man who didn’t have any experience about meditation, but was very open and sincerely searching about the meaning of life.

Q. Hi, what can I do for you?

Q. I would like to know more about this meditation school that is called Sumarah. From the little I have read in “The Lonely Planet” I felt attracted. Someone has told me that you practice and also teach this type of meditation. But is this really a school?
A. Yes and no. It is a school in the sense that people definitely come hear to learn something. On the other hand what one ends up learning is seldom what one has come to study and often it is just the opposite. In fact in a sense Sumarah is a technique to unlearn. Sumarah litteraly means total surrender. One of the first things that we need to learn is to surrender our being in its totality, therefore to accept how we are in every part, in the ’good’ and in the ‘bad’. For example the one who comes here because of a need, will have to accept what he misses; who comes because of a desire will eventually have to learn renunciation; who comes here to overcome her pain will have first of all to recognize her attachment to it. And so on. Paradoxically we can say that the first lesson of Sumarah is about letting go of the desire to learn and relax in the being as it is. 

Q. In this way the learning process can be very long ...
A. Yes, it`s true. We could say that this is the weak point of Sumarah practice, but as one of my teachers often says, ten years to us seem like a very long time, but for the Universal Process they are just the space of a breath. Aren’t we, after all, searching for Truth?

Q. If I understand right, you have said that the first thing to learn is to relax towards our wishes and desires, so also towards the desire to learn and that before we can learn we have to unlearn. Now my question is: what do we need to unlearn?
A. What we are trying to ‘do’ is to open a new white page, a tabula rasa. To forget and to forgive. To say “a rimortis” as children do in their games when something goes wrong. In a way we have to become children again. Certainly it is not easy to recuperate the original purity, nevertheless if we are not prepared to take off these colored glasses that we are wearing since years and most of the times without even knowing it, we won´t have much hope to see the colors the way they really are.

Q. If to unlearn is the first thing to learn, which is the second one?
A. If  I wanted to be completely faithful to Sumarah philosophy and practice, I should not answer this question. In fact, if the only actual ‘role’ is the one of `here and now´, there is no need to speak about the future. Since you are a beginner we should talk only about the beginning and not loose ourselves into vague future possibilities that could even be misleading.

Q. If I say I´ll take the responsibility, can we make an exception? Unfortunately we have only 2 days in Solo.
A. Well, you know, 17 years ago, the forst time I arrived here in Solo, I had only one day and one night ... But yes, of course we can make an exception ... I like exceptions!
Once this new inner attitude has been established, th epractice is first of all th eone of deeprelaxation: first on a physical level and then on the emotional and mental levels.
The second teaching – and this is only a way of speaking – will be about learing to keep th elevel of relaxation that we have reached during the meditation sessions, i.e. in ideal conditions, also during the daily activities. This is what in Sumarah is called sujud harian (`daily´ meditation) as oppsoed to sujud khusus (`special´meditation) which is then the very moment in which we `stop´ and physucally sit to meditate. Ideally the state of meditation should be a continuum. Th ereality is that the gap between the two is usually bif and often a real chasm. We practice to reduce this gap.

Q. It seems to me that what you are saying would need a continuos alertness, a continuos control of one´s condition, so, in a way, a continuos tension. Isn`t this a contradiction with th epractice of total surrender that you have been talking about?
A. Pak Hardo, Pak Wondo’s teacher, used to say: “Yes, right, like this, but do not do like this.”
Not only the division line between positive and negative, good and bad is very fine, but, in reality, one already contains the other, just like in the Taoist symbol of yin and yang. It is extremely difficult to define a sensation, to describe a certain state to someone who never had the experience of it at least once. There is a deep difference between a condition of tensed control and alertness and the one of a relaxed mindfulness which at the same time also accepts the present condition. In this way we also leran to overcome the tension towards change. But, as I was saying, it is difficult to speak about a state of being. Just imagine a person who, not knowing what is the taste of salty, would ask you to explain it to her. You could probably tell her what salty is not. Salty is not sweet, ist is not bitter, neither sour...but in this way that person will not have much more clarity about how salty really is. The only solution would be that she tastes a liitle bit of salt. Only then you will see the light of understanding light up in her eyes. At this point there will be no more doubts and that person will for ever know what is menat by salty. It is enough one only time. This is just a simple example, but the same is true for the rest of the world of feelings, not only concerning the physical sensations. The mystical experiences are a little bit like this one of the salt. Simple, but impossible without the direct experience.

Q. Correct me if I am wrong: what you are now saying is that you cannot actually explain to me what has previously seemed like a contradiction, until I will have direct experience of it.
A. Well, let’s say that it will never be a complete answer. What I was hinting at when I talked about reducing the gap between ‘special meditation’ and ‘daily meditation’, is a condition of awareness which doesn’t find its roots in the mind, but in the universe of feelings, that space that the Javanese call rasa, a word that you’ll hear quite often if you stay around for a while...
It is a condition of relaxed awareness where at the end the one who watches and what is watched will not be separated anymore. Th econtinous practice of mental and emotional relaxation will gradually create a new habit. From there change can happen. But these, again, are only words.
Pak Wondo has often defined Sumarah a “ilmu kira-kira” which means “science of th emore or less”. It is a science because it is real knowledge for who receives the direct experience, but at the same time it is only ‘more or  less’ because in Sumarah some space is always left to the benefit of the doubt. The wisdom of the ‘may be’ (mungkin) is taken in high consideration.

Q. Until now you haven’t yet spoken about enlightenment. Isn’t this the aim of meditation?
A. If anything, enlightenment could be the aim of a life time or of several lifes. Meditation is just the stick for the walk. According to Sumarah the fact of reaching or not reaching liberation or enlightenment doesn’t depend so much on the intensity of our practice, but more on th epoint that we are at in our process or, at least, on a combination of the two.
But it is true that in Sumarah we do not speak as much as in other traditions about the issue of enlightenment and especially Pak Wondo does that very rarely. More often the teachers mention the ‘Light’ (Pepadang), which manifests itself in moments of grace ans as divine gifts. Accoring to Sumarah enlightenment is nit that leap of consciousness often mentioned in other spiritual traditions, a state that ones reached cannot be lost. Enlightenment in Sumarah is more like a gradual process of opening of the horizon. In this sense then, it becomes more appropriate to talk about a widening of awareness/consciousness.
There are many different levels of understanding and experimenting of the problems and the knots that we meet in our growing process. Not only they can be more or less deep, but also more or less overwhelming, involving all our being or only some aspects of it. The type of understanding in which we have been trained and educated is mainly intellectual and rational, it has very little to do with enlightenment  and doesn’t have much power of transformation. Since it is in itself partial, it is then unable to influence the totality of our being. A more whole understanding would need to need to involve also our body and the emotional-sensitive level of rasa. Such a kind of ‘understanding’, when fully experimented, has tremendous power, makes your body shake, your heart cry and your head spin. It brings change because ittakes you in a state of consciousness which goes beyond reason(s). Somewhere in us th elight goes on. Emlightenment means ‘to shutter light upon’, in other words to make manifest, to bring into the light. The path, when it becomes enlightened, becomes also easier. Maybe then there will be light in our whole being, then we would be able to say that it is enlightened. Personally I am still very far from that point of the story, therefore I cannot tell it to you. Besides, probably it will be different for each of us.

Q. For every answer you give me, another of my certainties breaks down, together with the expectation that I had concerning what meditation could give me. I was planning to come back another time and to stay for a period of 2 weeks to study meditation. I thought that would have been already a lot. In the West a workshop of 15 days is considered already quite intense. I am beginning to realize that here the ‘timing’ is very different... Isn’t there any hope to be able to learn something in a short period?
A. Yes, definitely. Everything is possible and nothing is certain. The ‘tempo’ of the spiritual practice is not th eone established by the human law. The search for truth has a different schedule and a different calendar altogether.
It is like in that story in the Bible where Jesus, whom a crowd of hundereds of people had been waiting for since days and days to receive a miracle, when he finally arrives calls the last person who had arrived and does the miracle on him. What does he answer to the complaints of the crowd? That man was ready...his time had come. The same is true in the practice of meditation. If you have arrived at the shore of the river, then meditation can help you to cross it even in one single jump. If you are a hundred meters from the river, then meditation can help to reach the shore and to not turn in the wrong direction at the last minute. If you are a thousand miles from the river, lost in the forest, then meditation can give you comfort and support and perhaps can reassure your heart by singing the words of that old songs of the American Indians: “If you are lost in the forest, don’t be afraid. The forest knows where you are.” The practice can help you to appreciate where you are and perhaps also to hear the far away sound of the river. This is why the process seems to be sometimes so long and other times so sudden: it is because we see only a small part of the picture. Another thing that we need to keep in mind is that the process towards awareness and spiritual maturity is not necessarily an ascending graphic. On the contrary it is an ondulatory line, sometimes thick, sometimes fine, at times with small and short waves, at times with huge ones. Sometimes it goes up and sometimes it goes down. The process is not predictable, it cannot be pulled back and it can not be pushed forwards. Also it cannot be stopped.
Pak Wondo often gives the example of the alphabet and says that the spiritual alphabet doesn’t go from A to B and then from B to C and from C to D, etc., but from A to B and then from A to B and to C and then from A to B, to C, to D, etc. In other words we always begin again from the beginning over and over. In the spiritual path anyway we are always beginners. Sometimes after many times of practice it can happen that we forget that and Life finds usually a way to remind us...It is important to always remember the base: there is always a beginning, precisely because there is always a present. Perhaps the content of the beginning will be different, but the ‘beginning quality’ is the same. Just like in school. Is it more a beginner the student of the first grade of elementary school or the one of intermediate school? There is no difference: both are having their beginning and the difficulties that the first student meets are not inferior to the ones of the second one. They are simply proportional to their age. I enjoy to speak about Sumarah with someone like you who doesn’t know anything about it. It takes me back to the beginning, to the base, and it forces me not to take and give anything for granted neither with you nor with myself. After all what does it mean to be a beginner? Which one is the beginning anyway? In reality there is no starting point or, I should better say, it is not fixed and its position changes. Perhaps there are many starting points... Similarly, I suppose, it also doesn’t exist a point of arrival. I think, it is better not to talk too much about these kind of things. When you look at it for too long, truth disappears.

Q. In almost every religion or spiritual belief there is a teaching about being good, doing good deeds and acting generously towards the others. Qualities like forgiveness, self sacrifice, kindness, altruism are usually central in a religous way of life. Are these teachings also part of Sumarah practice?
A. I can feel a not of sarcasm in your question and I think I also understand what is behind it: a basic disappointment and disillusion for the idealism (and often the hypocrisy) that you might have met in the so called ‘spiritual world’ in the West. In Sumarah the main ‘subject’ of study and exercise is the reality, in all its levels, from the most ordinary ones to the most extraordinary ones. The main ‘tools’ of work are honesty and acceptance. Honesty with ourselves and acceptance of the presence of negative and positive in every aspect of life, either on the microcosmic or on the macrocosmic level. Positive and negative are always together everywhere and continously. True justice is to learn the neutrality of being in both. To be good is good, to do good is good too (most of the times), but this is not a teaching, it is just a priciple and, as such, there stays as a point of reference. On the other hand the teachings, and therefore the practice, is about recognizing the ‘bad’ and ‘good’: most of the time Positive and Negative go around with a mask on their face, hide themselves, seduce, cheat, but our little heart (ati kecil) would actually always be able to recognize them if we just would listen to them and let them talk.
Through the practice of deep relaxation we can create the silence that is needed to hear the voice of our inner teacher who dwells in the ‘little heart’ and who always knows the truth. To became brave explorers of the heart and of the mind: this to me seems to be not only a noble practice, but also the most fascinating adventure.

Q. I know that this is a stupid question, but, more or less, how long do we need to practice to enter in contact with our inner teacher?
A. You are right, it is quite a silly question...The why did you ask it?
D. Well, I don’t know exactly. I suppose just like this...one never knows.

A. Maybe you are a little tired, you didn’t know what to ask or you didn’t have anything more to ask. This question is then an act of laziness and also, in some way, an act against your inner teacher who already knew the answer and had already given it to you. In this way you hav esomehow “offended” and dismissed him. To be ignorant is no guilt, but to pretend to be is. This, of course, is just a small example, nothing important, but it is interesting that it should happen now. In Sumarah practice we learn to give equal importance to big and small, positive and negative events.
We have so many habits who become obstacles to our development! The one of pretending to not understand, to not know is one of them: if we do not become aware of it we may very well end up as insensitive and stupid as we sometimes pretend to be. Often we don’t realize how much certain mental habits block our process of liberation by creating blocks. To realize that is part of mindfulness. Reality is continously changing. There is a time for staying and a time for going; there is a time for talking and a time for being silent.

Q. I have the impression that now we are going a little too far. I cannot quite follow you.
A. You are right. This time your inner teacher has been more awak ethan mine.

Q. One last question then. What is the role of the guru in the Sumarah teaching?
A. In Sumarah we never speak of guru. We use instead the word pamong, which means guide. This because in Sumarah the ‘teacher’ doesn’t have the task to teach you something that s/he knows and you don’t. S/he will will instead just guide you on a path which is your path, only still a little dark. The pamong will the guide you making light where there is darkness, taking you by the hand in the moments of fear and pushing you when you become lazy.

Q. This is about the ‘outer’ teacher. What about the ‘inner’ teacher?
A. Basically, truly it is a matter of silence. The more we will be able to create silence inside ourselves, th emore often we will hear the voice of the inner teacher. And also the more often we’ll obey to it, the more often it will speak to us. The final ‘proof’ will anyway always be in the reality, which is our battle field and also our laboratory.

Q. If you should define in two words Sumarah practice, how would you call it?
A. Seni hidup, art of life.

Q. I like it. Thank you very much: this afternoon has been very important for me. And also pleasant!
A. Same here. Thank you.