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Buddhadharma : Summer 2007
buddhadharma| 33 |summer 2007 practice was to meditate a moderate amount – two, three, four hours a day – and then to practice the dharma of letting go of suffering as you lived in community. The basic instruction was to quiet your mind enough so that you could see when there was suffering and recognize patterns of greed, hatred, and delusion when you were entangled in the world, then let them go. Meditation was the means to support mindfulness and loving-kindness throughout the day so that you could be free in any circumstance. When I went to a monastery under Mahasi Sayadaw, figure and ground were reversed. There wasn’t any community practice; everything focused on silent retreat. Everything you did was in the service of one thing: silent meditation. You would meditate for ten, fifteen, eighteen hours a day (like we do on intensive retreat now) in order to have certain deep experiences in meditation that would transform greed, hatred, and delusion. Now, there were some particular problems in each of these systems. The problem I found at Ajahn Chah’s monastery was that while he was a fantastic dharma teacher, he was not a very pre- cise or detailed meditation teacher. The reason was simple: he wasn’t that interested in medita- tion experiences. If you developed samadhi or entered the jhanas, he could teach you about them because he had practiced all the jhanas, but he wasn’t really interested in that. However, I was. And after I trained with him for a while, I heard, “Oh, there is deeper and more systematic medita- tion training at these other places. Why don’t you go try that and see what happens?” So I went to a Mahasi monastery and trained with a famous monk, Asabha Sayadaw, who was quite skillful in teaching meditation but neverthe- less turned out to be a very problematic teacher. I began very ardently, the way young men do, sitting and walking twenty hours a day, with minimum sleep. I did this for nearly a year and a half. With his instruction, all kinds of cool things began to happen. My body would dissolve into light, and I had all kinds of classic insights into emptiness, just like in the old texts. My progress in insight grew, and my understanding of impermanence and emptiness deepened, and I thought, “Wow, I know this is what the Buddha meant.” But then I’d look out from the window of my cottage – he gave me the “nice” cottage near his, because I was a Westerner – and there he would be, Asabha Say- adaw, sitting with his feet up on the table, smoking his cigar and reading the paper, belching and yell- ing at the gardeners because they were doing the wrong thing, and throwing rocks at the dogs to get them to stay out of his garden. He obviously had deep meditation experiences, but by temperament and character he was a very coarse and, in many ways, not a terribly kind person. So I would be get- ting this refined meditation instruction from this teacher who really knew how to train the mind, then I’d look at him and say to myself, “Oh my God, even though I’m grateful, I don’t want to be like this person.” (Above, left) Mahasi Sayadaw (1904 –1982) (Above, right) Ajahn Chah (1919 –1992) ChRIStInealICInoSpIRItRoCKaRChIveS