I think of myself primarily as a monk who occasionally teaches, who strives to convey the spirit and the letter of Buddhism through my lifestyle, through explanation, and through the imagery of storytelling in order to bring Buddhism to life for people who are seeking truth and freedom.
As co-abbot of Abhayagiri Monastery, I am deeply involved with forming a monastic community that can serve as a guiding spirit for Buddhist practice in the world. The traditional, renunciate form of the practice is the embodiment of simplicity, strength and resiliency for anyone who seeks classical training in the monastic life. It is also a hand extended to the lay community that says: come, experience the life of the forest, the chanting, the bowing, the serenity of meditation, the robes, the peacefulness of celibacy. Draw from our well and bring this spiritual nourishment back into your everyday life.
The outward structure of traditional Buddhism supports a form of spiritual living that is grounded in honesty, non-violence, and living in truth-all the qualities of inner freedom that are precious to me. Buddhist practice turns the current of attention toward an inner life, irrigating the arid internal landscapes created by the external priorities of our Western world.
Buddhist practice also reconstructs our relationship to time and space. Our fragmented world is suffering from a continually diminishing attention span as we become overwhelmed with so much to do, with so little time and so many options. The practice allows us to visit our interior landscape, slow down, pay attention to the qualities of time and spirit, to explore who we are, instead of focusing on what we do. Buddhism trains the heart to recognize happiness, not by racing onto the next thing, but by paying attention and ending suffering.
As a monk, I bring a strong commitment, along with the renunciate flavor, to the classic Buddhist teachings. I play with ideas, with humor and a current way of expressing the teachings, but I don't dilute them.
Sitting in a field of fifty to eighty people really starts my mind sparking. Since I don't prepare my talks ahead of time, I find myself listening to what I'm saying along with everyone else. This leaves a lot of room for the Dhamma to come up. Just having eighty people listening to me is enough to engage me, stimulate me, and create a nice flow of energy. The actual process of teaching evokes ideas that even I did not realize were being held somewhere in my mind.
Different teaching situations offer their own unique value. In retreat, you are able to build a cohesive and comprehensive body of the teachings. When people are not on retreat and come for one session, it opens a different window. They are more spontaneous and I'm given the chance to contact them in ways that are closer to their "daily-life mind." This brings up surprises and interesting opportunities for me to learn even more.
I'm continually struck by how important it is to establish a foundation of morality, commitment, and a sense of personal values for the Vipassana teachings to rest upon. Personal values have to be more than ideas. They have to actually work for us, to be genuinely felt in our lives. We can't bluff our way into insight. The investigative path is an intimate experience that empowers our individuality in a way that is not egocentric. Vipassana encourages transpersonal individuality rather than ego enhancement. It allow for a spacious authenticity to replace a defended personality.
Bhante Buddharakkhita was born and raised in Uganda. Meditating since 1993, he was ordained as a Theravada Buddhist monk in 2002. Now residing at Bhavana Society in WV, he teaches worldwide and in 2005 founded the Uganda Buddhist Centre.
Dharma practice is medicine for the mind -- something particularly needed in a culture like ours that actively creates mental illness in training us to be busy producers and avid consumers. As individuals, we become healthier through our Dharma practice, which in turn helps bring sanity to our society at large.
Giving dharma talks offers me the opportunity to express gratitude for my Thai teachers -- Ajahn Fuang Jotiko and Ajahn Suwat Suvaco -- in appreciation of the many years they spent training me, which came with the understanding that the teachings continue past me. Giving dharma talks also pushes me to articulate what I haven''t yet verbalized to myself in English. This in turn enriches my own practice. When you help a wide variety of people deal with their issues, it helps you practice with yours.
When giving a talk, I try to remain true to three things: my training, my study of the early Buddhist texts, and the needs of my listeners. The challenge is to find the point where all three meet -- not as a compromise, but in their genuine integrity.
For this, I play with analogy. Meditation is a skill, and our meeting point as people, whatever our culture, lies in our experience in mastering skills: how to sew clothes, cook a meal, or build a shelter. So I've found that one of the most effective ways of explaining subtle points in meditation is to find analogies with more mundane skills. Through the language of analogy we find common ground from which our practice can grow to meet our individual needs, and yet remain true to its universal roots.
Ven. Dr. Pannavati is Co-Abbot of Embracing Simplicity Hermitage. An African-American Buddhist monk ordained in the Theravada and Mahayana traditions and with transmission from Roshi Bernie Glassman of Zen Peacemakers, she is both contemplative and empowered for compassionate service. More than 70 homeless youth between the ages of 17 and 21 have resided at the hermitage over the past 2 ½ years and that effort has evolved into a separate 501(c)(3), MyPlace, Inc. which has its own accredited high school, jobs training program, youth center and residential program. An international teacher, she advocates on behalf of disempowered women and youth globally; and insists on equality and respect in Buddhist life for both female monastics and lay sangha. She was a 2008 recipient of the Outstanding Buddhist Women’s Award. In 2009, she received a special commendation from the Princess of Thailand for Humanitarian Acts and ordained the first Thai Bhikkhunis, on Thai soil with Thai monks as witnesses. In May 2010 she convened a platform of Bhikkhunis to ordain 10 Cambodian Samaneris, performing the ceremony in a Cambodian temple, witnessed by Cambodian abbots and sanctioned by Maha Thera Ven. Dhammathero Sao Khon, President of the Community of Khmer Buddhist Monks of the US. Finally, Venerable is a founding circle director of Women of Compassionate Wisdom, a 21st century trans-lineage Buddhist Order and Sisterhood. She recently ordained their first American oblate.
Ajaan Geoff ordained in Thailand in 1976, and studied in the forest tradition, first under Ajaan Fuang Jotiko, and then under Ajaan Suwat Suvaco. He returned to the States in 1991 to help Ajaan Suwat set up Metta Forest Monastery, in the hills of northern San Diego County, and has been abbot there since 1993. He has translated the teachings of many of the forest masters, including Ajaan Lee, Ajaan Maha Boowa, and Upasika Kee. His most recent books include Buddhist Romanticism, Poems of the Elders, and Noble & True. All Ajaan Geoff’s books and translations are available freely on dhammatalks.org.
Akincano Marc Weber (Switzerland) is a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist. He learned to sit still in the early eighties as a Zen practitioner and later joined monastic life in Ajahn Chah’s tradition where he studied and practiced for 20 years in the Forest monasteries of Thailand and Europe. He has studied Pali and scriptures, holds a a degree in Buddhist psychotherapy and lives with his wife in Cologne, Germany from where he teaches Dhamma and meditation internationally.
Teaching is essentially translation. It means ferrying an authentic contemplative tradition across choppy waters into our psychological and cultural realities, losing neither the vision nor the truth of what we know to be our immediate experience.
Andrea Fella is the co-teacher at the Insight Meditation Center and the Insight Retreat Center. She has been practicing Insight Meditation since 1996, and teaching Insight Meditation since 2003. She is particularly drawn to intensive retreat practice, and has done a number of long retreats, both in the United States and in Burma. During one long practice period in Burma, she ordained as a nun with Sayadaw U Janaka. Andrea is especially drawn to the wisdom teachings of the Buddha. Her teachings emphasize clarity and practicality. Andrea is a member of the Spirit Rock Teachers Council, and teaches residential retreats for IMC and other retreat centers around the country
Andrew Olendzki, PhD., is the Senior Scholar at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, which is dedicated to the integration of scholarly understanding and meditative insight. Trained in Buddhist Studies at Lancaster University in England, as well as at Harvard and the University of Sri Lanka, he has taught at various New England colleges (including Harvard, Brandeis and Smith) and is author of "Unlimiting Mind: The radically experiential psychology of Buddhism."