You discovered Buddhism in 1977 through Japanese Zen master Taisen Deshimaru. What attracted you?
I didn't know anything about Buddhism. In a Catholic magazine, I read an article about the masters who were arriving in the West at that time. I sent a letter to the address indicated, in Nantes, before being contacted by a person who was setting up a dojo, in Brest. I thus discovered Zen. Shortly after, Master Deshimaru asked me to take over the dojo. After being in charge of it for nine years, I felt like I was going in circles. I met a friend, also a Zen practitioner, who knew a Theravada meditation master, the Venerable Nyanadharo Visuddhinyano, based at the Bodhinyanarama monastery, in Tournon-sur-Rhône, in Ardèche. We traveled together for the first weekend in 1987. I will always remember the first time I saw the Venerable. It was five o'clock in the morning. Discreetly, I peeked around the corner where he was meditating and I had a shock, the equivalent of a thunderbolt, in a split second. From that moment, I decided to go to Ardèche one weekend a month, for fifteen years.
Venerable Nyanadharo has taught you the Vipassana method of Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw, a Burmese master. What are its particularities?
I arrived in Tournon after passing through Mahasi Sayadaw at the monastery. He had proposed that his teaching be developed there. Venerable Nyanadharo had already followed an intensive three-month retreat with him in Burma. I benefited from the first lessons. Vipassana is a more austere practice than Zen: there is no text to learn, no song to recite, no folklore or special dress. The practice focuses on what is happening in the moment. It may seem simple, but it is extremely difficult.
With my wife, Marie-Noëlle, we followed the venerable Nyanadharo for fifteen years, then we went to practice for five years at the Dhamma Mahi center, near Auxerre, created by Satya Narayan Goenka. Goenka's method focuses on an area of the body, in this case on the breath at the level of the nostrils, Anapanasati, before operating a scan, a voluntary "scan" of the body, from the top of the skull to the tip feet. In Mahasi Sayadaw's method, it's very different: you don't order anything, you take whatever comes along in the most equanimous way possible. It is based on the breathing movements in the abdomen. The main thing is to return to this base of concentration between two notations of bodily phenomena – itching, pain, etc. – and bring attention to it. Everything that happens at the level of the mind must also be noted and identified – thought, imagination, intention, memory, project – before being observed as such.
What does full attention bring you on a daily basis?
Vipassana taught me to identify the phenomenon that predominates in each second, to fix the attention on it intensely, as if it were the last of which I could be aware. The Buddha's teaching says that every phenomenon that appears has never existed before and will not exist after. This perspective changes the way of understanding life, there are less worries about what could happen. It is also a way of preparing to die. Having, all one's life, learned to consider the event of the moment as the last allows one to adopt this habit when one's existence is over.
You now teach Mahasi Sayadaw's method during weekly workshops in Morlaix. Is this practice for everyone?
In Morlaix, we started these sessions three years ago. Some people stay, others leave. Many arrive with preconceived ideas, fantasies and classify meditation in the category of leisure, relaxation, relaxation. In practice, they realize that it is difficult, that it requires perseverance, but not only.
“Vipassana is a more austere practice than Zen: there is no text to learn, no song to recite, no folklore or particular dress. The practice focuses on what is happening in the moment. It may seem simple, but it is extremely difficult. »
The master Ajahn Chah, in the forest of Thailand, specified that Vipassana, in the tradition of the Buddha, is a practice reserved for adults, that is to say for people who no longer want to have fun. It is necessary to have made a process of reflection, experience of life, before undertaking this practice. There are already a lot of obstacles. We stick to the Mahasi Sayadaw method and we also offer, once a month, for two hours, exchanges on the teachings of the Buddha, the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path and the Seven Stages of Purification. It is not a question of dispersing oneself and wasting time by watering down the message of the Buddha, which is, in a way, radical.
What place does Mahasi Sayadaw's method occupy in the Buddhist world and in France?
In Burma, it is important. Less in Thailand, where the Dhammakaya method, based on concentration, with an incentive to give money, is widely used. Which is, in our opinion, contrary to the code of discipline of the monks. Mahasi Sayadaw's method is well represented in English-speaking countries, for example in the United Kingdom or the United States - notably with Jack Kornfield -, where there are important retreat centers. In France, Vipassana has developed less than Zen and Vajrayana. We can nevertheless find the method of Mahasi Sayadaw at the Sakyamuni center (Yonne) or during intensive retreats at Karma Migyur Ling, in Montchardon (Isère). There are also retreats organized by the Terre d'éveil association in Paris. The Dhammaramsi center in Belgium also offers it.