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Vipassana Server, A first timer experience @Vipassana Penang Hill East Centre

Friday, August 14, 2015


"Kooi Mei, what are the fruits for this morning breakfast?". "What salad to make for today's lunch?", ask the cute girl from Russia. "Kooi Mei, Can I make yogurt now?" ask the tall handsome guy, Gary, from Australia. "No more Milo!". "Fried rice not enough" and so on... This is the situation in the kitchen. Being a first timer, everything is new to me. "OK, I will try to make it better tomorrow," I told myself.

I volunteered to be a server at Vipassana Penang Hill East Centre a few weeks ago. My idea of Server is it will be just as the student mediators, noble silent, everyone doing their own allocated work, no complains, tensions and a service we are giving freely, willingly, unselfishly and cooperating with each other at all times. Hmm.... but just like any other work place, whenever there are more than two human beings working together, it does takes lots of tactfulness and patience. Unexpected situations do crop up from time to time such as suddenly there is no water at 3.30am. Of course, things get solved quickly and we all worked well as a team.


Making my way to this centre, I took a ferry crossing over to Penang. I was lucky to be able to enjoy the beautiful sunrise view from the ferry.


 After that, it was a RM2.00 bus fare with the Rapid Bus Penang no. 201 to Perbadanan Bekalan Air (PBA) Padang Tembak, Air Itam. Dropping off near the Padang Tembak flats, I ask around for the location of No 143 flats building. This is the waiting and meeting point. We were picked up from there to go up hill towards the centre by a cheerful Ms Lai.


We were allocated our duties, and I will be "cook". I will be cooking vegetarian food for 10 days! Me, a non Vegan and most of my vegetarian meals are from Simple Life restaurant, Be Lohas BMS Organics restaurant and Fo Kuan restaurants. The 'cook' duty falls on me because our team consist  mostly of different nationalities that is from Russia, Japan, and Australia. Ok, I will try my best.


Anyone who can cook knows that the kitchen is a very important place. Being not familiar with it, I took few hours a day initially looking for utensils. OMG, it's the first time, I am holding big ladles about 2 feet long, handling big pots, woks which my arm can't even go round. At home, I just cook only for 2-5 people to eat, here it's about 10 times more, 47 people to be exact. No wonder the first few days, food is not enough. We do not know how to estimate the amount to serve. I suppose this does not happen at some other Vipassana Centres as there are permanently employed cooks there. 

This centre is in the midst of durian plantation. Have you seen durians hanging from it's trees?
Here, we can see durians hanging from trees because it is durian season now. It's the first time I see the "King of Fruits" tree with durians on it.


This is a volunteer service, not our own home or 5 star hotel restaurant. Thus it is very challenging. For example, vegetables cut by people of different cultural nationalities are definitely of different sizes. Therefore, when cooking, the smaller pieces will all be soften and become mashed up very fast whereas the bigger pieces in the wok are still tough and not yet cooked! Another challenge for me is it's first time cooking so much food, and handling these big huge utensils that I got 8 of my 10 fingers cut.

As the Hokkien saying goes, "Pan Sai Pun Bo Eng" (too busy to even go ease oneself), I have to go to toilet only during group sitting. My apologies to Assistant Teacher Mr. Pravin Damji Daga. I welcome Group sittings for servers very much, as to me, it is the only time I can relax my aching feet and hands.

Being a first timer and including two other first timer servers, we are not sure of the rules. So, we consulted our assistant teacher, Mr. Pravin. He told us that we have to be like mothers serving/cooking for our own children. So, now it's very clear to us, give the best to the students as we would to our children. Well, as a mother, I can relate to it, as I will eat whatever my children won't eat or can't finish. Therefore, it is indeed a very good advice given to us new servers.

Serene and beautiful sceneries seen from Penang Hill East Vipassana Centre

Famous Penang Kek Lok Si Temple viewed from our meditation centre

At the end of the ten days, we all felt happy, having worked as a team. We were happy to be able to serve some other different extras to students such as Hummus from Russia with love, Masala Tea and Mashed potatoes and lastly Kheer Porridge -sweet rice milk dessert on the 11th day morning. (on the initiative of our Japanese lady server). Kheer Porridge is the porridge Buddha takes just before His enlightenment.

This is the Daun Pandan I planted next to the Lemon Grass plant (Serai). Hope it will grow to provide fragrance and flavor to the food at this Vipassana Penang Hill East Centre in future.


Photos of female students of 29 July - 9 August 2015 group with assistant teacher  Mr. Pravin Damji Daga

Vipassana, means to see things as they really are, is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation. It was taught in India more than 2500 years ago a universal remedy for universal ills. The technique is taught at ten-day residential courses. There are no charges for the courses, all expenses are met by donations from people who, having completed a course and experienced the benefits of Vipassana, wish to give others the opportunity to also benefit. There are 162 centres and 119 non centres of Vipasana Meditation Centres all around the world. All centres are run by volunteers or servers who has undergo minimum one basic ten (10) days course.

Happy group photo of female students and servers in Dining Hall

There are rules and code of conduct for Dhamma Servers given very clearly at http://www.dhamma.org. 
All students are welcome to give Dhamma Service. 
Anyway, here's my two cents worth of thoughts for future Dharma Servers:
- come with a willing heart and expect nothing
- work diligently without saying who did more work and who did less
- observe noble speech -please do not compare, "oh why other centres serve honey and we do not have it here?" or "who is incharge of what?"
- attend compulsory group sittings, if you are sick, please inform.
- serve quietly, looking inwardly and not looking outwardly at others for their faults



Happy group photo of Dhamma Servers and Assistant Teacher Mr. Pravin Damji Daga.


See the smiling faces! Meditation has benefited us! So happy surrounding course manager for this photo.

Lastly, I am glad that I volunteered for this Dhamma service because I learnt a lot from this experience, be it from the cooking skills and also personal development. A big thank you to everyone! Anyone with more photos of this 29 July to 9 August 2015 course are welcome to send to me to be updated in this blogpost. Thank you.
May All Beings Be Happy!


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