Author Archives: Yael

Time for Metta Bhavana

By Yael Wasserman


Metta, loving-kindness, is a term most yogis at BMIMC are familiar with. It’s something we all aspire to. Something innately good that we would like to see more of, in ourselves and in those around us. Often a metta chant is recited at the end of the day during retreats before the yogis retire for the night. Teachers sometimes talk about it in dharma talks. Some teachers include metta sessions in their retreats. Metta meditation (metta bhavana) appears in many suttas. Yet unlike vipassana there are not a lot of opportunities for intensive metta bhavana practice.

It seems the reason for this is in the way that meditation was introduced to the West. Many of the first generation of western Theravada dharma teachers trained in the insight meditation (vipassana bhavana) systems that came out of Burma. It’s not by accident that our Centre is called the Blue Mountains Insight Meditation Centre or the famous US centre the Insight Meditation Society is so named. And of course we have the almost mainstream “Vipassana” organisation of S.N. Goenka. These were conceived first and foremost as places for insight practice. As such metta, while revered, has tended to present as something peripheral to the main game. Yet metta bhavana is a practice in its own right. And as with vipassana, it can be practiced for sustained periods in retreat as well as in daily life.

I have been fortunate enough to practice intensive metta bhavana both at BMIMC and in Burma under the guidance of Ariya Baumann, Venerable Virañani and Sayadaw U Indaka. They teach the classical form set out in the Visuddhimagga where the yogi starts by radiating metta towards themselves, then to a benefactor, followed by a dear person, a stranger, an enemy and culminating with radiating metta to all beings.

My initial impression of this style of practice was that it felt mechanical. Repeating the phrase “May they be well, happy and peaceful” ad nauseum felt forced and artificial. But after a few days the practice started to feel more authentic, spacious and joyful. Compared with my experience of vipassana, metta bhavana is far more gentle, and is often profoundly pleasant. I have never experienced the level of contentment or feelings of unconditional kindness for others that I have experienced on a metta retreat. Even though I’m not at a stage where I can sustain this outside of retreat, seeing that these qualities of mind can be cultivated to such an extent and experienced repeatedly proves that we do have the ability to transform and to become better human beings.

People I talk to about metta practice often report an aversion to the Visuddhimagga form similar to what I experienced when I first started. Sadly, many conclude this means metta meditation is not for them. I suspect in some cases this is because they haven’t given the metta the time it needs to arise. Possibly they have practiced just for a few sessions in a predominantly vipassana retreat. But for many people, perhaps even most, it takes several days of continual practice for true metta to arise, so for this reason I encourage people who want to explore this amazing and beautiful quality of the mind to sign-up for a metta retreat.

Of course, a metta retreat is not all roses.  Just like vipassana, it is in its own way, hard work and there are good days and bad days. But I have found the gentleness of metta allows me to be much easier on myself which, as someone prone to striving, makes finding the sweet spot of right effort far less of a struggle.

Practice Interview with Sayadaw with Ariya translating.

If you are interested in exploring metta bhavana further, Sayadaw U Indaka is leading a nine-day metta retreat at BMIMC in December. He also hosts and co-teaches two two-week metta fusion retreats with Ariya Bauman and Ven. Viranani at his monastery in Pyin Oo Lwin in northern Burma during January and February every year. If you would like more information please refer to the Chanmyay Myaing Meditation Centre website.

May you be well, happy and peaceful!

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Yael Wasserman is member of the BMIMC Management Committee and former resident staff member.

 

 

Bhikkhu Anālayo’s Study Practice retreats 

By John McIntyre


A number of us with connections to BMIMC were fortunate enough to attend a week-long study-practice retreat with Bhikkhu Anālayo, who is well-known for his commentary on Satipaṭṭhāna: The Direct Path to Realisation. An esteemed scholar with a gift for lucid expression, he is also an inspiring teacher and practitioner. In a number of books since Direct Path he has explored the ‘thought world’ of early Buddhism. We owe a great debt of gratitude to Jill Shepherd for bringing about Anālayo’s visit and singlehandedly organising and managing the retreats.

The retreat involved mornings of study of texts, employing a group process examining the implications for practice. Anālayo’s scholarly methodology followed his Perspectives on SatipatthanaThis compared the Theravadan text of the Sutta with later versions preserved in Chinese, making it possible to estimate what was added and changed over the centuries. The point of this scholarly work is primarily to inform meditation practice, by revealing the earliest elements of the Suttas.

We were privileged to be given an entirely fresh understanding of Satipaṭṭhāna meditation, an approach that challenged some commonly accepted and fixed ideas about the practice, including those we have inherited through the Goenka or Mahāsī traditions.

Anālayo’s approach emphasises Satipaṭṭhāna meditation as a practice of open awareness informed by a range of specific contemplations of the body, mind and dhammas included in the four Satipaṭṭhāna domains. The afternoons and evenings were given over to practice with guided meditation of these specific contemplations, growing ever more complex as each day introduced more elements.

New insights into Satipaṭṭhāna practice emerged in small group discussion of the texts, and the various philosophical issues that arose. There was an emphasis on recovering an understanding of the Satipaṭṭhāna meditation as an open and flexible practice. It was striking how mindfulness was understood as ‘embodied mindfulness’ and ‘knowing the presence of the whole body’ as the ‘hub’ of an entire schema of Satipatthana practice in ten specific contemplations.

As an example, Anālayo recommends a specific contemplation of the anatomical parts of the body simplifying the classical ‘32 parts’ in a series of body scans contemplating ‘skin, skin’, ‘flesh, flesh’, ‘bone, bone’, with awareness of the unattractiveness of the body. There are further contemplations of the elements in the body, and its impermanence, culminating in the contemplation of death. Details on these practices with guided meditations by Anālayo are generously made freely available.

A sense of Satipatthana as an open and dynamic field of practice was (in passing) contrasted with the way the Theravada over centuries systematised the Buddha’s teachings, as in our own time, the ‘modern vipassana movement’ has further systematised the teachings on Buddhist meditation. Thus Anālayo challenges the strict Theravadan distinction between samatha (tranquillity) meditation and insight (vipassana) meditation, as a restriction not found in early Buddhism. It is a later development to simplify transmission.

In any system, there is a reification of qualities. This certainly seems to be true of mindfulness, in our own time, when it is abstracted from its doctrinal context to play a part in Western psychotherapy. There is a loss of the understanding of the dynamic relationship of sati to other qualities in different contexts (as a Faculty, as an Awakening Factor, as a factor of the Noble Eightfold Path). This complex understanding of sati is well-developed in The Direct Path to Realisation and one of the book’s distinguishing features. It was a joy to have this come out in the discussion.

In another philosophical aside, Anālayo  remarked that in early Buddhist thought, mindfulness’ (sati) and ‘clear knowing’ (clear comprehension, sampajañña) were regarded as distinct and cooperative qualities, just as they appear in the Sutta’s refrain, whereas in later Buddhism, these qualities became conflated (literally, fused). It has been observed (I think by Joseph Goldstein in his talks on the Satipatthana) that the Sutta mentions mindfulness in the beginning, but it is the ‘clear knowing’ of the meditator that is continuously emphasised in the various contemplations.

Also in this philosophical vein, Anālayo remarked that early Buddhist thought did not hold, as our thought-world does, with a mind-body dualism where mind is equated with brain rather than the entire nervous system, There is an important implication for practice—what understanding can replace Cartesian dualism? Anālayo held up the five fingers of his right hand, and signified it was the Five Aggregates (form, feeling, perception, volition and consciousness).

In the treatment of the other three Satipaṭṭhānas, Anālayo gives some emphasis to the contemplation of feeling (vedanā nupassanā), recommending a body scan, exploring pleasant, unpleasant and neither pleasant nor unpleasant feeling, its impermanence and therefore dukkha.  The third and fourth domains are practised together. Contemplation of Mind  in terms of the presence of mindfulness, the presence or absence of distraction due to desire, aversion or delusion, leads on to Contemplation of  Dhammas, the investigation of the Five Hindrances and the transition (with their overcoming) to the contemplation of  the Seven Awakening Factors. This focus finds justification in textual criticism that reveals that certain doctrinal elements, notably the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, were later inclusions in the Sutta.

There is much more to be told, but happily this is to be found in full in Anālayo’s most recent book on Satipatthana Meditation: A Practice Guide. Again, we thank Jill Shepherd for making this rare experience available, and hope that Bhikkhu Anālayo will return in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John McIntyre has a long association with BMIMC since his first introduction to the Mahāsī tradition thirty years ago. He now lives in Canberra and assists Lesley Lebkowicz with the Canberra Insight Meditation Group and coordinates its Dhamma Discussion.

The Way One Lives

By Jill Shepherd


At the end of a recent nine-day retreat, one of the participants asked a common question about readjusting to post-retreat life: “How can I transition back to the world of devices, stressful jobs, and ‘no time’ syndrome, and infuse mindfulness and metta into daily life?”

Over the years, I’ve heard dozens of meditation teachers respond to this kind of question by talking about the importance of maintaining a regular meditation practice, as a way to mitigate the challenges of daily life. But this time, something about that standard response felt inadequate.

This particular retreat was held at an off-the-grid retreat centre in the middle of the New Zealand bush.  Perhaps because of the quietness of the setting, by contrast, the relative insanity of ordinary life felt acutely obvious. I started to think that instead of trying to adjust ourselves back to that insanity, a more sane approach would be to question the assumptions and norms that we’re living by. Because if the way we’re leading the rest of our lives is basically hostile to the qualities of kindness, compassion, calm and clarity that we so value on retreat, then a few minutes of metta and a few moments of mindfulness each day is probably not going to have much effect.

In the way that the dharma has come to the West though, so far, more emphasis has been placed on meditation practices than on what we do off the cushion. As a result, most people who come on retreat have a sense that they’re meditating in order to change their lives, but they don’t always understand that they might need to change their lives in order to meditate more effectively.

On one level it’s obvious that meditation doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and that what we spend the rest of our lives doing will have an effect on our minds when we do sit down to meditate. The recent mainstreaming of mindfulness seems to have given many people the impression that a meditation practice of 15-20 minutes a day should not only be able to reduce all the stress of being hyper-busy, alienated, and exhausted, it should also bring us into states of deep calm and transformative insight! Then, if the practice doesn’t produce the expected results, they either blame themselves for not being good enough meditators, or blame the practice for not working.

If we look at the Buddha’s teaching of the Noble Eightfold Path though, three of the eight path factors are about how we live in the world: Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood. All of these have a direct impact on our meditation practice, but Right Livelihood in particular has a strong effect. It’s what we spend most of our time and life-energy engaged in, so it conditions us more deeply than things we do only occasionally.  Therefore, if we want to experience the deeper benefits that insight meditation promises, then looking more closely at how we live the rest of our lives is crucial.

Livelihood in this context doesn’t refer just to paid work. According to Gil Fronsdal, the Pali word for Right Livelihood, sammaajiva “means the way one lives,” so it encompasses more than one’s job or occupation. “It includes such lifestyle choices as what we buy, consume, use for housing, and rely on for financial support. It also includes how we parent, care for our family, or live in retirement. When walking the Eightfold Path the question regarding Right Livelihood is whether or not the way we live moves us toward more compassion, peace, and freedom. Is it nourishing? Does it support the development of ease and insight? Does it help us become a better, happier person? Does it help others?” [1]

If it doesn’t, then we might need to make some difficult choices and difficult changes; ones that bring us into closer alignment with our deepest aspirations, and support us to experience the full benefits that this path of practice offers.


[1] Gil’s study guide on the path factor of Right Livelihood includes many other helpful reflection questions, and suggested practices for exploring this aspect of our lives. https://media.audiodharma.org/documents/Right_Livelihood_Study_Guide.pdf

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Jill Shepherd is a regular teacher at BMIMC and former Centre manager

Beavering away the Winter Recess

By Margie Sampson


Winter Native Bloom

Before I was on staff at BMIMC, I used to hear ‘Winter Recess’ and think of it as a  cosy time, maybe staff roasting chestnuts around an open fire, blankets,  pink cheeks-  a time for contemplation and regrouping, while outside, the grounds were still and white with frost.

Well, the BMIMC grounds ARE still and white with frost, but otherwise the centre has been a hive of activity over this winter break.  After the one month retreat with Sayadaw U Vivekananda came to a close, the house was stripped of all of its furnishings preparatory to the carpet being pulled up. Our Vesak Appeal this year raised money to re-carpet Sasana House, where the carpet was becoming threadbare in high traffic areas and thoroughly munched by carpet beetles in the teacher’s sunroom. The original carpet was laid in the late 1980s/ early 1990s (by our collective reckoning), and had served well over 20 + years.  Daniel put in a super effort with Bugs to move all the furniture out and then pull up the carpet exposing some lovely floorboards, which, unfortunately due to the cold, will have to stay hidden. A beautiful pure wool new Berber carpet was laid  ( it matches the old one in quality, so we know it will last just as long!) with extra thick underlay for better insulation and reduced heating costs. Yogis mindfully walking through the house now will note how very bouncy it is…. ‘noting springy, noting woolly….’….   Moving all of the furniture, the office and the linen cupboard also gave us an excellent opportunity for some spring…(well, mid-winter) cleaning  and re-organising.  Funds kindly donated for Vesak have covered half the cost thus far, with the rest coming from the Centre’s building fund from previous Yogi donations. Saddhu Saddhu Saddhu

Other fun winter activities have been the continuing re-stumping of the staff verandah, which on inspection had been laid down with no foundations on bushrocks, and had rotting crossbeams and had dropped so much so that we could see daylight peeking under the wall in verandah room 1! Daniel, our wonder handyman and jack-of-all-trades has put in new brick foundations, dug proper drainage and replaced some of the floor timbers. The wall along the teacher’s sun-room has had damp issues for a long time, so Daniel & Bugs have also dug a trench alongside that wall, laid geo-textile and filled the trench with gravel, so water will flow away from the wall and down under the house.

It’s been a messy, clay-ey job in quite low temperatures, slowed by inclement weather – however, the winter recess works perfectly for infrastructure projects like these before we ramp up again for the retreat ‘season’ in the second half of the year.

With grateful thanks to our hard workers onsite and the generosity of BMIMC donors.

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Margie Sampson is the BMIMC Resident Centre Manager

Online Booking – Coming soon

Keep Calm and Book Online

To help make the retreat booking process simpler for yogis and staff, we will soon be introducing an online booking facility on our website. The new booking process is very user friendly and will mean you will be able to…

  • easily check if places are available on the retreat
  • reserve a space and get instant email confirmation
  • securely pay your deposit and final payment by credit card
  • add your name to the waiting list if the retreat is full
  • redeem cooking credits for time served in the kitchen
  • and (dare we say) more!

….all with just a few clicks

We know this will be music to the ears for many. However we also know that not everyone is  comfortable paying by credit card so for those who prefer, we will still be accepting cheque and direct deposit payments.

While we are in part doing this to streamline our administration and free up staff, we don’t see it as a substitute for a friendly human voice when people need to talk. The office will continue to be staffed if you have questions or enquiries about retreats, or need help getting familiar with the new process.

We will be in touch with you over the coming weeks with more information. In the meantime, if you have questions, please feel free to contact the office by email or phone 02 4788 1024.

 

Dhammavihārī – One Living by the Dhamma

The Buddha taught the Dhamma as a means to liberation, to achieve lasting happiness and peace, to become free from dissatisfaction, or to become free from all kinds of suffering. The essence of his teaching can be summarized as follows: suffering and the end of suffering.

All the teachings that the Buddha gave during his ‘career’ of being a spiritual teacher, which was for 45 years, were handed down from generation to generation. At first it was an oral tradition as has been the case for other spiritual teachings at that time. Only later, after the fourth Buddhist Council held in Sri Lanka in 29 BCE, the teachings were written down on palm leaves and stored in three baskets. That is why the Pāḷi canon is called Tipitaka, the three baskets.

Throughout the ages nuns, monks, and lay people have committed themselves to study and practise the Buddha’s teachings. Already at the time of the Buddha, five different approaches were distinguished:

  1. Learning and studying the teachings (memorizing)
  2. Teaching the discourses (suttas), monastic rules (vinaya), and higher teachings (abhidhamma) to others
  3. Reciting, chanting the texts (for recollection or to commit to memory)
  4. Pondering, intellectual thinking, analysing
  5. Actual practice of meditation (samatha or vipassanā)

In one of his discourses (AN V:73), the Buddha said that only one who actually applies him- or herself to the practice of meditation can be said to be a Dhammavihārī, one who lives by the Dhamma or one who dwells in the Dhamma.

If one just studies and learns the teachings for the sake of studying and passing exams, one is not a Dhammavihārī. A Bhutanese nun I once met at a Buddhist conference in Lumbini had said that such a person is like a donkey carrying the Buddhist scriptures on its back. Even if a person holds a PhD in Buddhist Philosophy, the person is not necessarily a Dhammavihārī.

If one just teaches the Dhamma by giving nice, impressive, or entertaining talks on the Dhamma, one is not necessarily a Dhammavihārī. Of course, it is much easier to entertain people with pleasing subjects than to confront them with the challenging facts of life and reality. For example: to talk about the happiness and freedom that can be attained without mentioning that this involves facing and overcoming anger, greed, jealousy, or ill-will within oneself. And even if it is explained that the unwholesome mental states need to be weakened and overcome, this does not mean that the practice is actually done.

If one just recites or chants the texts for the sake of enjoying the recitation or for the sake of showing off, one is not a Dhammavihārī. For many people, meditators included, it is much easier to feed the mind with anything than to face the reality of the often wild, restless, and capricious mind. Hours of recitation can be an elegant way for avoiding to face the unpleasant or challenging thoughts and emotions.

If one simply ponders on the Dhamma, thinks about it, analyses it, or speculates about it, one is not a Dhammavihārī. If an analytical and intellectual approach were possible to become free from all forms of dissatisfaction, I am sure that the Buddha would have told us! Our modern scientists have made incredible discoveries; like the discovery that there is no lasting material unit that is unchanging and eternal. The Buddha had made the same discovery which led to an inner freedom that is unequalled. Unfortunately, we cannot say this from our modern scientists. Because their discoveries are not based on a direct and personal understanding, they do not have the power for inner transformation.

Only if one actually puts the teachings and instructions into practice, if one applies oneself to meditation practice, only then is one a Dhammavihārī, one living by the Dhamma or one dwelling in the Dhamma.

With this discourse, the Buddha stressed the fact that his teaching is one that needs to be applied and seriously practised. The transformation and liberation of the mind does not come about by simply learning, teaching, reciting, or thinking about it. The teachings need to be applied in such a way that a deep and penetrating understanding of reality comes about. Only then is liberation possible.

However, this is not to say that learning, teaching, reciting, and thinking about the teachings are all futile and completely unnecessary. On the contrary, the Buddha also said that learning, teaching, reciting, or thinking about the teachings can be a base of liberation (AN V:26).

But the learning or the recitation must be done with the understanding that the final goal is the release from all kinds of dissatisfaction or suffering. One should not be content by simply having memorised the whole Tipitaka. By the way, in Burma there are still a few monks who have memorised the entire Tipitaka. If they are realized practitioners, Dhammavihārī, I do not know.

The Buddha was only satisfied when the nuns, monks, and lay disciples actually applied and practised the teachings in such a way that they became liberated from all bondage.

For me it is always incredibly heartening to see people who actually attend a meditation retreat, be it for a weekend or a month-long retreat. With their presence they show a willingness to face and understand the true nature of all things and to transform their heart and mind. During a retreat a meditator is inevitably confronted with her body-heart-mind processes, sometimes pleasant and exhilarating, at other times unpleasant and painful. However, if one is able to be mindful of these experiences and understand their nature, then one develops liberating insights. In this way, one becomes a Dhammavihārī, one who lives by the Dhamma or one who dwells in the Dhamma.

Ariya Baumann

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Ariya Baumann (formerly Ariya Ñani) is a long time visiting teacher to BMIMC. Ariya will be leading a one month retreat at BMIMC in August.

Staff Changes

Just as we wave goodbye to 2017 so too do we bid farewell to two of the Centre’s much loved team members Edwina Dawson and Judy Swan who moved on from their respective roles in December. At the same time we warmly welcome our new onsite team Margarita Sampson and partner Bugs (Stuart) Robertson.

Farewell Edwina and Judy
After six years of service Edwina resigned from her position as Centre Coordinator in December. Edwina will be known to many as the friendly and reassuring voice at the end of the phone, for her infectious laugh, admirable patience and kind listening ear. Edwina has worked hard over those years to help ensure that teachers, meditators and volunteers have been looked after during their time at the centre and applied a steady hand in managing retreat bookings.

Judy Swan joined the centre team in Jan 2017 as the resident caretaker. During this time Judy played an important supporting role preparing the Centre for retreats, and worked skilfully with other staff, volunteers and trades people on major maintenance projects including the electrical rewiring of Sasana House and the repair and upgrade of the centre’s heating systems. Judy has also done a wonderful job keeping the grounds verdant and the flowers blooming in a year with little rain.

Both Edwina and Judy will be greatly missed. And while they may have left the Centre physically they are still very much part of the broader BMIMC community and we look forward to seeing them back at BMIMC in the near future, whether that be on the cushion, volunteering or just stopping by for a cup of tea.

Welcome Margie and Bugs

We’re thrilled that Margie Sampson has accepted the new role of Centre Manager. Margie and her partner Bugs moved in to the Centre over the Christmas break and have been busy getting the place ready for the year ahead.

Margie has been involved with BMIMC since 2006 and has been one of the stalwarts in the kitchen cooking for retreats. Margie has meditated under the guidance of a number of BMIMC’s teachers including Steven Smith and Sayadaw U Vivekananda.

Bugs will be taking a voluntary role as caretaker bringing with him a range of talents, including IT and building skills both of which are invaluable to the Centre.

Margie and Bugs hail from Norfolk Island where they were active members of the Island’s close knit community. Amongst other endeavours they helped build their own home, Margie ran a café & bookshop there for several years and Bugs has played a major role in the development of the Island’s telco infrastructure. Anyone who has spent time with them being regaled by their experiences of Norfolk Island life will appreciate how well suited they are to resident positions at the Centre. Both communities are small, idiosyncratic, and have a folklore that is cherished by its members. Bugs and Margie place a high importance on community cohesion and service. They are generous but also thrifty, open and accepting of newcomers and always good humoured.

Margie says that one of her first tasks is to fill the 2018 retreat schedule with volunteer cooks. Those who have been around the Centre for a while know that the volunteer cook tradition is one of the pillars of the BMIMC community and is an essential part of the make-up of BMIMC’s unique character. I can’t think of a better way to show your support than by offering assistance in the kitchen either as a head or assistant cook. I can say from experience working with Margie that you’ll get whatever level of assistance you need. And you will have fun!

As a former resident staff member and friend, and on behalf of the broader BMIMC community, I wish Margie and Bugs all the very best as they embark on this new chapter in the Centre’s history. I hope that everybody gets to share in the benefit that their fresh eyes, enthusiasm and commitment bring.

Yael Wasserman

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Yael Wasserman is a current member of the BMIMC management committee

How the Buddha Came to Medlow Bath

If you look at the “History” page on the BMIMC website you’ll see that in 1982 “an American friend called Joseph Goldstein was invited to lead two retreats in May & June”. These retreats were held at Wat Buddha Dhamma near Wisemans Ferry and at Bodhi Farm near Lismore.  At the time, some of the participants probably viewed these retreats as part of the hippy counterculture movement.  However, from the perspective of 2018, they can be seen as marking the beginning of a lineage transmission of the Buddha’s teachings to Australia.  The interest generated from these two meditation retreats resulted in further retreats being organised and created a momentum that ultimately led to the establishment of a permanent teaching centre in Medlow Bath.

It is important to recognise that the history of the Buddha’s teachings is one of transmission from teacher to students – a history that dates back to the time of the Buddha over 2,500 years ago.  The Buddha did not present his teachings as a complete unified doctrine that had to be accepted as absolute truth.  His approach was to respond to questions in a way that was meaningful to his audience.  This meant that over time, a body of teachings (discourses) developed that was both diverse and adaptable to a variety of situations.  As a result, the teachings have been able to continue to adapt and remain relevant to the ever changing environments in which they operate.  This is particularly important when the teachings are introduced to a different language or cultural group – as is the case with the teachings coming to Australia.

Related to this process of personal transmission from teacher to student, is its interaction with the historical discourses of the Buddha.  Since the time of the Buddha, various versions of his teaching (known as the Dhamma-Vinaya or Buddha Dhamma) have been passed from generation to generation.  The Theravada tradition is grounded in the discourses recorded in the Pali Canon, which are commonly recognised as the oldest surviving records of the Buddha’s teaching.

Traditionally monks in the Theravada tradition have memorised significant portions of the Pali discourses and used these as a reference to ensure that what they taught was consistent with the tradition. Although oral transmission of the discourses may seem unreliable to us, it was regarded as a very effective method of preserving the integrity of the texts long after written forms were made.  This is because recitation of the texts was done in groups and hence any individual’s mistake would be picked up and corrected.

The teachings offered at BMIMC form part of this Theravada tradition and are in the lineage of a Burmese monk widely known as Mahasi Sayadaw.  The Mahasi lineage can be traced to Burma in the 1940-50s.  Around this time Burma gained its independence from Great Britain and there was a surge in interest in Buddhism as the national religion.   The new Burmese government promoted this interest and encouraged the practice of meditation by lay people.  In this environment two teachers stood out – a layman called U Ba Khin who was the first Accountant General (equivalent to the Treasurer) of the Union of Burma and the highly respected monk Mahasi Sayadaw.

Both of these lineages have become influential in Western countries.  The meditation teachings offered by U Ba Khin are taught today at hundreds of centres around the world as “Vipassana Meditation as taught by S. N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin”.

The meditation teachings offered by Mahasi Sayadaw have also been adopted in many Western countries and are the lineage on which BMIMC was founded and which continues to evolve.  The Mahasi lineage has been taught in Australia by monks, nuns and lay teachers.  The following tables show some of the most significant monastic and lay teachers who have brought this lineage of teaching to Australia.  All of the following teachers (other than Mahasi Sayadaw) have taught retreats at BMIMC or at a venue organised by the BMIMC.

Lineage of Monastic Teachers at BMIMCLineage of Monastic Teachers at BMIMC

The following lay teachers have been significant in the development of BMIMC and all of them have studied under at least one of the monastic teachers that followed Mahasi Sayadaw  – mostly with Sayadaw U Pandita (Joseph also studied under Mahasi Sayadaw and was authorised to teach by him).Most of these lay teachers have also studied and practised in other traditions including the Thai Forest, Zen and Tibetan. This makes their teachings a more diverse mix and may mark the beginnings of a new lineage should a lay teacher tradition become established in the West.

Lineage of Lay Teachers at BMIMCLineage of Lay Teachers at BMIMC.

Acknowledgements:

Grahame White & Lynne Bousfield played a very important role, as they were primarily responsible for organising all of the early retreats including those by Sayadaws U Pandita, U Lakkhana, U Pannathami, U Kundala, Joseph Goldstein, Alan Clements, Sharon Salzberg, Steven Smith & Michelle McDonald.

Other significant foundation supporters were Tara Frances, John & Sheila Hale,  Elizabeth Gorski (now Sister Nirodha), Patrick Kearney, Malcolm McClintock, Chris MacLachlan, Viveanne McClintock and members of the Sydney Burmese community including U Aung Kyi & family, Henry Chan, Alfred & Brenda Myatt, Daw Pyone, Ko Ko Latt, Roger & Khin Khin Myint and Dr Kay Wain.

From the early days onward there’ve been many other people who have volunteered to cook, manage, clean, shop, raise funds and do all of the countless other tasks associated with running a retreat and a meditation centre.

To all of you – Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu!

Graham Wheeler

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Graham Wheeler is a regular BMIMC teacher and current member of the BMIMC management committee

Notes:

Sayadaw –  is a Burmese word used to refer to a senior monk or abbot.

Mahasi Sayadaw – is the name usually used to refer to U Sobhana and comes from the name of a monastery where he was residing that was famous for having a big drum – which in Burmese is called a “Maha Si”.

U – is a Burmese honorific used to indicated seniority.

Ven. – is an abbreviation of “Venerable”.

Sadhu – means well done or well said and traditionally is chanted three times after a dhamma talk.

BMIMC has primarily relied on visiting teachers since 2003.

Sanana House Essential repairs

A heartfelt thank you to everybody who donated to this year’s June Appeal

We raised a total of $8,155  which just covered the cost of the Sasana House electrical rewiring. This had initially been quoted at $4,000 but closer inspection revealed the decay and damage was far more more significant than we realised and the bill for this work came in at $6,890.

The remaining funds raised went towards the replacement of the steel mesh fire proofing under the yogi accommodation blocks, which cost $1,440.

Building maintenance requirements seem endless at BMIMC, and while the retreat fees help us cover some of the essential building and repair costs there are always unexpected expenses with much of our infrastructure reaching the end of its life-cycle.

For example, last month we lost the heating system in the Dharma Hall. September still gets very cold in Medlow Bath so we were unable to avoid an immediate replacement of the boiler for a cost of around $4,000 to ensure we could keep our courses running.

Perhaps you’re in a position to help us recoup some or all of this cost. By doing so you’ll be helping keep yogis warm in the hall for many cold winters to come.

If you can help, please go to our donations page

Unplanned $4,000 to replace the heating system boiler for the Dharma hall. Can you help us cover the cost?

 

Farewell Marc Allas

This year I resigned from the BMIMC Management Committee, and I was asked to write a few words about my experience on the committee which I joined in 2007.

I became associated with BMIMC in 2000, and started attending numerous retreats with teachers such as Patrick Kearney, Ariya Nani (now Ariya Bauman) and the late Sayadaw U Lakhana.  I have always wanted to contribute to an organisation that I believe in, so I was very pleased to join the committee which has responsibility for managing BMIMC.

Staffing 

During my 10 years on the committee, I have witnessed several important changes around how staffing is managed at the Centre, including:

  • We now provide our staff higher rates of pay than in the past.
  • Key work responsibilities have devolved away from one centre manager, to several part time staff.
  • Committee members are now more aware of the occasional challenges that staff face in a centre. Even when yogis are mindful, they can still be very demanding!
  • Committee members and cooking staff have to contend with greater food intolerances

Meditation retreats

Whilst mindfulness-based activities have blossomed in western culture, BMIMC continues to provide a niche market for those who want to go deeper in their practise of understanding the mind. The growing marketplace of meditation will help refine and distinguish what it is that BMIMC does well, in particular teaching ‘mental cultivation’ (or bhavana in Pali) as opposed to just teaching meditation. I hope that the BMIMC continues to offer a pathway to attract serious yogis to the Mahasi tradition, particularly as it exists in Burma, to Sayadaw U Pandita’s retreat centre for instance, the one I am familiar with.

A key feature of Mahasi approach is walking meditation, and on my wish list is a hope that one day BMIMC has a bigger undercover space dedicated to walking meditation. I also notice that there is a tension between BMIMC accommodating a wider approach to Buddhism, and sticking to a Mahasi only based approach.

In the wider community

There are some things that have remained the same at BMIMC: the higher praise we receive for the upkeep of the Centre, the sense of inviting conditions suitable for meditation, the stable body of the sangha willing to volunteer and attend retreats, the equally stable ranks of world-class teachers we invite…and the great food.

As BMIMC is a centre that owns its own land and has experience running retreats, there is an increasing demand from other meditation and wider community groups to utilise the centre’s facilities, and this is something the committee has to grapple with.

During my time of the committee, I have often wondered whether and how BMIMC’s activities could be promoted to reach a broader audience, particularly a younger one.  Meditation based on clear method is much needed in the current dilettante age that lacks methods of knowing what is real.

Being on a committee itself has been an honour. I have always enjoyed the professionalism of how the committee is run; it achieves a lot and every committee member is listened to and respected. Most of all, I feel I have significantly contributed to on-going running of meditation retreats at the Centre, and all the good that that provides to the community.


Marc Allas is a former BMIMC resident staff member and committee member