Ten years ago, when our small Dhamma group started to meet in Bangkok, I was inspired to write about the many questions that arose. The articles compiled in this book came out of those many discussions. As I wrote, I gave these articles to Dhamma friends to help them digest the Dhammic point of view and encourage them in their spiritual quests.
I wrote the articles to encourage practitioners learning to meditate in daily life. In this sense, the articles are presented as a “hands-on” or, more accurately, a “minds-on” training manual. Although I discuss meditation in general, the real focus is on how the Dhamma brings us into spontaneous, wholesome and creative living.
This book is primarily for beginners in meditation. I have used theory and Pali terms sparingly. The emphasis is on the process and insights into the nature of the mind. My objective in presenting the articles is to help the aspirant build up a solid foundation of mindfulness as a way of life rather than as a practice separated from daily living.
For those who have been practicing meditation in the formal way, this approach can help them incorporate their mindfulness practice into everyday experience. The process of mindfulness is the same, except in one important aspect: instead of sitting down, closing the eyes and watching the mind, the practice is done while attending to everyday business.
After the first edition of this book came out in 1992, I received comments to the effect that my teaching style is similar to Krishnamurti and Zen. When someone once mentioned it to my friend, the Theravada nun Shinma Dhammadina, she replied, “That’s because her teachers’ teachings are very much like Krishnamurti and Zen.”
My teachers are Burmese abbots, Sayadaw U Eindasara of Rangoon and Sayadaw U Awthada of Henzada. They are Theravada monks, but teach the Dhamma in a very unorthodox and dynamic fashion. They veer away from the emphasis on the traditional form of “sitting” meditation, and instead strongly emphasise “looking directly within and practicing mindfulness in everyday life.”
I was very much attracted to this approach because of its simplicity, directness and practicality in daily life. Just before I met my teachers in1973, I had meditated briefly in the traditional sitting style at the Mahasi Meditation Centre in Rangoon with the late Sayadaw U Zawana. After a few sessions with him, I began to realise I was automatically becoming aware of my feelings in daily life and was becoming much calmer without formal “sitting in meditation.” I discovered that as soon as I focused on my feelings they would drop away very quickly. Then, through some good Dhamma friends, I found out about my teachers’ method of finding peace of mind by stopping and looking at the mind, moment by moment, in daily life as a form of meditation practice. I felt immediately drawn to this style of teaching since I was experiencing exactly what these teachers taught.
When I met my teachers, I was struck by the Sayadaws’ profound wisdom and their innovative style of teaching. Their liberal interpretation of Theravada Buddhism is rarely found in traditional Buddhist Myanmar. Their teachings may sound similar to Krishnamurti’s, in an attempt to break down the mind from all conditioning to its ultimate freedom, but what is striking in the approach of the Sayadaws is that they provide a means to reassimilate the relative with a new insightful perspective. They are also exceptionally skilful in providing hands-on training which is similar to a direct transmission in the Zen tradition. This is probably why my book may appear to some as an integration of Theravada Buddhism, Krishnamurti and Zen. My teachers have not been Western-educated, and came to know about Krishnamurti and Zen only when we, their students, introduced them to these teachings. It is thus interesting to see the confluence of such apparently disparate approaches to spiritual truth in such an unlikely manner.
I am often asked what my teachers were like. They are actually an unlikely pair. Sayadaw U Eindasara is a profound mystic and poet and the quieter one of the pair. We fondly call him “the laughing Buddha.” He rarely appears or talks in public but devotes extraordinary energy to working with his students. Sayadaw U Awthada is brilliant and quick-witted and we called him “the Burmese Zen Master” in recognition of his Zen-like ability to tie up his students in knots and push them beyond the intellect.
These teachers invite comparisons with Krishnamurti in that they live a very simple life, without seeking followers, without setting up any institutions or organisations, and keeping away from publicity and fame. They still live and teach within the confines of monkhood, yet maintain an integrity and openness rarely found in Buddhist Asia.
I had the good fortune to study closely with these two remarkable teachers and I remember with fondness and gratitude the time I spent training with them. They thought I was a little tricky, as I would continuously bring people from all walks of life to be exposed to their teaching first-hand. From such close encounters I have the privilege now to share my experiences with members of my Dhamma groups and also, through this book, with many others. To these two teachers, I bow in great reverence; I also bow down to my guru, Shwe Baw Byun Sayadaw, for his kind support for this book and for my Dhamma work in the West.
Scarsdale, New York, 1995