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.
Ajahn Candasiri was born in Scotland in 1947 and was brought up as a Christian. After university she trained and worked as an occupational therapist, mainly in the field of mental illness. In 1977, an interest in meditation led her to meet Ajahn Sumedho, shortly after his arrival from Thailand. Inspired by his teachings and example, she began her monastic training at Chithurst as one of the first four anagārikās.
Within the monastic community she has been actively involved in the evolution of the nuns’ Vinaya training. She has guided many meditation retreats for lay people, and particularly enjoys teaching young people and participating in Christian/Buddhist dialogue.
Ajahn Candasiri recently established Milntuim Hermitage in Scotland, where she now normally resides.
Ajahn Chah's simple yet profound style of teaching has a special appeal to Westerners. In 1966 the first westerner (Venerable Sumedho) came to stay with him in Northeast Thailand. The training there was quite harsh and forbidding. Ajahn Chah often pushed his monks to their limits, to test their powers of endurance so that they would develop patience and resolution. The emphasis was always on surrender to the way things are, and great stress was placed upon strict observance of the vinaya, the Buddha's code of ethics.
Ajahn Metta was born 1953 in Germany. She became an Anagārikā in ‘93 at Amaravati and took higher ordination as a Sīladhāra in ‘96. During her monastic life she has been involved in many areas of the community. She is one of the group of senior nuns leading the Sīladhārā community. For the past few years she has been teaching meditation workshops and retreats. Prior to monastic life she worked as a secretary and office assistant. She is a mother of a grown-up son and was living a family life before entering the monastic path. She has been practising meditation since ‘84 and has experience of living in other spiritual communities in Europe and Thailand (Wat Suan Mokkh).
Ajahn Punnadhammo has been studying and practicing Buddhism since 1979 and was ordained in Thailand in the forest tradition of Ajahn Chah (novice ordination Feb. 1991, higher ordination Feb. 1992). Between 1990 and 1995 he was based at Wat Pah Nanachat, Thailand. Punnadhammo is a Canadian, born Michael Dominskyj in Toronto in 1955. He began studying the Dhamma under Kema Ananda, the founder and first teacher at the Arrow River Center.
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.
Ajahn Sumedho is a prominent figure in the Thai Forest Tradition. His teachings are very direct, practical, simple, and down to earth. In his talks and sermons he stresses the quality of immediate intuitive awareness and the integration of this kind of awareness into daily life. Like most teachers in the Forest Tradition, Ajahn Sumedho tends to avoid intellectual abstractions of the Buddhist teachings and focuses almost exclusively on their practical applications, that is, developing wisdom and compassion in daily life. His most consistent advice can be paraphrased as to see things the way that they actually are rather than the way that we want or don't want them to be ("Right now, it's like this..."). He is known for his engaging and witty communication style, in which he challenges his listeners to practice and see for themselves. Students have noted that he engages his hearers with an infectious sense of humor, suffused with much loving kindness, often weaving amusing anecdotes from his experiences as a monk into his talks on meditation practice and how to experience life ("Everything belongs").
Amma Thanasanti Bhikkhuni was born in California and first encountered the Dhamma in 1979. Since that time she has been committed to awakening. On a trip to Asia she met highly accomplished meditation masters Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Buddhadasa and Dipa Ma. In 1989, she went to England where she joined the nun’s community in the Ajahn Chah Forest Tradition. After 20 years she left her monastic community to return to the USA where she founded Awakening Truth whose mission is eventually developing a Bhikkhuni training monastery integrating ancient teachings of the Forest Tradition into the modern world. Currently she is based at the Shakti Vihara hermitage near the Garden of the Gods in Colorado, where she uses wilderness as a daily part of her practice.