What has always engaged me is working with practitioners who are deepening their commitment to the Dharma and then seeing them take a quantum leap in their understanding. My contribution to this commitment is working towards conveying a Theravadan practice with a Mahayana spirit.
The Theravadan practice of vipassana provides simple, direct instructions that can be immediately understood and applied in daily life as well as retreat practice. The Mahayana spirit has the beautiful attitude that we practice not for ourselves alone, but for all sentient beings. Between the two, the unfolding of liberation for ourselves and others becomes a simple, down-to-earth practice that anyone can do.
It is fun for me to take the most difficult concepts and put them into accessible language, to unwrap the mystery. So I try to find ways to explore the breadth of concepts like "emptiness" -- to see how the entire path can be explained in terms of this synonym for nibbana. One of my aims is to bring the goal of freedom into the here and now. This way practitioners get a taste of freedom, so they know what they are heading toward on their journey to liberation.
The tools of mindfulness and lovingkindness can be picked up by anyone. They are easy to understand and they bring immediate benefit to our lives. The essence of vipassana is ideally suited to western society, especially to the resonance between our psychological turn of mind and our quest for spiritual understanding.
Heather Martin has been meditating since 1972, and practicing Vipassana since 1981. Beginning with S.N. Goenka, she has since been influenced by both Burmese and Thai streams of the Theravada tradition, and by Tibetan Dzogchen with Tsoknyi Rinpoche. Most recently she has been studying with Burmese Sayadaw U Tejaniya.
Her practical and wholehearted approach embodies ease and joy, while grounded in realism.
She has been leading retreats in Canada and the US since 2001. She worked for 20 years as a midwife, and lives on Salt Spring Island, off the south coast of B.C. For more information and Heather's teaching schedule, please visit: ssivipassana.org.
The more I rest in present awareness, and don't separate myself out from life, the more I appreciate the impact that I have on others. Only when I am present am I sensitive to my connection to the world, am I able to feel how important it is to be non-harming in my words and actions. When I am lost in thought, I lose that simplicity and sensitivity.
I continually point toward this secret of the present moment, for if I am really present, I don't suffer as much, I don't cause as much suffering, and I am less afraid. I may experience intense pain or pleasure, but the degree of mental suffering lessens. Practicing mindfulness de-conditions the habits that prevent me from being centered in the present. This in turn gives me a more stable awareness, which allows me to recognize my inherent peace and freedom.
It is this taste of nowness--introducing people to the living quality of the present moment and its sense of freedom--that most engages me in my teaching practice. I find no evidence of suffering, in my mind, unless I remind myself of some event that is not in the present. Suffering arises when I am lost in my imagination, reviewing the past or fearfully anticipating the future.
I feel tremendous gratitude and love for the dharma, and the practice of awareness. Knowing my mind a little better, and being less preoccupied with my internal drama, makes me more available to the suffering of others. Consequently, I am moved to give to others rather than focusing on what I can get. In spite of being more attuned to suffering, staying present allows each day to become more joyful, compelling and intereesting. My desire to run from this moment, by running after an imagined, better future, or away from a past fear, has diminished. It is present wakefulness that helps me recover my capacity to live with balance and ease in the world.
Hugh Byrne is a guiding teacher with the Insight Meditation Community of Washington. Hugh has practiced Buddhist Insight Meditation for twenty-five years and has been teaching meditation since 2000, teaching classes, retreats and workshops in the Washington area and in the U.S. and abroad. He is a cofounder of the Washington Buddhist Peace Fellowship, the Mindfulness Training Institute of Washington and the Meditation Teacher Training Institute.
Over the years of teaching, I've found a growing need for profound lovingkindness and compassion--a transformation of the heart--to underlie the insights and understandings that come out of the practice. An opening of the mind needs to be supported by compassion from the heart if the practice is to be integrated, fulfilled, and lived in our lives.
The value of mindfulness practice is discovered in the freedom we find through awareness. Without awareness, we repeat the patterns of fear and conditioning that keep us entangled individually and collectively. Without awareness, we suffer. With awareness, we can see the contractions of the mind, how the mind gets caught and how we can learn to let go. With awareness we can reawaken to the purity of joy and freedom that is fundamental to our true nature.
As a Dharma teacher, I simply remind others how it is possible to live in this world and find freedom. I listen to practitioners and try to remind them that it is truly possible to be free.
I try to convey that the wisdom and compassion we are looking for is already inside of us. I see practice as learning how to purify our mind and heart so we can hear the Buddha inside. In doing so, we naturally embody the dharma and help awaken that understanding and love in others we meet.
I try to use the formal teachings as a doorway for people to see the truth in themselves. I feel I'm doing my job when people look into themselves to come to their own deep understandings of the truth, access their own inner wisdom and trust in their "Buddha-knowing," as Ajahn Chah called it, which is different from their intellectual knowing.
The Buddha-knowing is a deeper place, underneath the concepts, which is in touch with the truth, with our seed of awakening. I want practitioners to have more and more confidence in, and familiarity with, that deeper place of knowing. It is accessing this dimension of our being that becomes the guide to cutting through the confusion caused by greed and fear. We have everything we need inside ourselves. We do not need to look to a teacher when we remember who we really are.
Jean Esther has practiced vipassana meditation since 1982 and has worked with the Teen Retreat since 1999. She has a psychotherapy practice in Northampton, MA and has been teaching meditation since 2001.