Ehipassiko in the media
Februari maart 2011 Gazet van Zurenborg
February March 2011 Zurenborg Gazet
Paul Van Hooydonck spent twelve years in Buddhist monasteries in Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand and England. He worked as a meditation teacher in a Tibetan center in Nepal, in the Nilambe meditation center and the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka. In 2007 he decided it was time to return to Belgium. Three reasons motivated his decision: the civil war Sri Lanka was facing, the growing interest for Buddhist spirituality here in the West and the relationship with his mother, who was then 80 years old.
Already in August 2008 Paul Van Hooydonck put away his monk’s cowl. "A monastic life is hard if you are not supported by a community," he says soberly. People at the supermarket used to give him a weird look as he was at the vegetable stand into his monk’s cowl. He also noticed the difficulty to keep on following the many strict rules and regulations of the monastic life: not to eat after noon, never drink alcohol, etc. Working on the expansion of Ehipassiko however was a challenge he easily dedicated himself to.
The Buddhist Center in the Zurenborg district (Antwerp, Belgium) now operates at full capacity. The silent meditation on Monday evenings is attended by an average of twenty to twenty-five people. The guided meditation on Wednesdays, mainly aimed at beginners, has about a dozen participants. The lecture on Friday evenings is even more successful. Sometimes the auditorium of the British school is just packed, especially if there is a well-known guest speaker invited. This year the famous Jotika Hermsen is expected. The full program is available on www.antwerpen-meditatie.be. On Sundays, there is also mindfulness yoga. Contrary to the other activities, mindfulness yoga does not take place in the British school, but in the Luisbekelaar sports hall in Borgerhout. Besides the weekly activities there are also the always-appreciated meditation days and the local and abroad retreats in Huy, Cadzand, Portugal, Sweden... and of course in Sri Lanka. The latter destination appeals most to the imagination. From 1 to March 31 Paul Van Hooydonck and eight people goes back to his dream place in the mountains, above the tea plantations of Sri Lanka. There he always feels at home. This retreat is a unique experience which is unfortunately already booked for this year.
SENS OF PURPOSE
How does Paul Van Hooydonck explain the success of his center? “There is in our Western World tremendous need for peace and tranquility”, he says. “People are less religious but have certainly not become less spiritual. They actively search for a meaning.” To those in search, Van Hooydonck tries to provide with the spirituality of Theravada Buddhism (literally: the Tradition of the Elders), known as the oldest and most unadulterated form of Buddhism. “According to the Buddha, it is clinging to the impermanency of things in life that is the cause of suffering. The point is to let go of these things in order to find your true nature and your inner peace.” How to reach that state of mind? “Essentially, they key is not to hold on to your thoughts,” says Van Hooydonck. “That is very difficult because we are thinking beings who have never trained ourselves to stop thinking. If you succeed in consciously not thinking, you reach the natural state of your mind, you come home to yourself, you discover your essence. It’s like trekkers, runners or artists who get so into their activity so that they are no longer runners but only running, no longer dancers but only dancing, no longer singers but only singing. Then they return to their deepest essence.”
How do you start this search to oneself? For Paul Van Hooydonck the guided meditation on Wednesday evenings is a good stepping stone. You get instructions and learn to master the techniques to concentrate on your breathing, particularly on the up and down movement of your stomach. Does your attention get lost? Not really. You learn to identify the causes: you are angry, happy, satisfied, tense, you feel an itch... Then you return to the movements of your stomach. Gradually, the impact of your subconscious mind creates space between your thoughts. There you also feel the benefits on your everyday life.
The running of the Buddhist Centre implies a lot of time and energy. For Paul Van Hooydonck the challenge is to lead this growing organization in the right direction and balancing it with enough peace and quietness in his own life. Fortunately other people gradually came along to help so that he is no longer alone. Meanwhile, he continues to dream of the hilltops of Sri Lanka. It is much easier to be a Buddhist there. You live more in harmony with nature, you are surrounded by plenty of kind spirits and you are just a small part of a larger whole, so you have more time for what really matters: the inner peace. Van Hooydonck has always considered moving to Asia definitively. Before that, he wants to share his time evenly between Sri Lanka and Belgium. We hope to keep him here a bit longer.