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Buddhadharma : Winter 2013
36 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY WINTER 2 0 1 3 This revolutionized practice. The jhanas were only for those with time to spend months, if not years, in seclusion. Now, people with busy lives could meditate. This pure method can be found in the canonical texts, but in the past it had been considered less than ideal and was little taught. Suddenly, it became the norm. To this day, it is the standard mode of insight meditation taught in the Burmese practice traditions. The implications of this approach went far beyond meditative insight. In the path proposed by Ledi Sayadaw, the meditator, by internalizing Buddhist teachings, preserved them; like a monk, the layperson became a sort of lineage holder, a protector of the dharma. Alluding to verse 142 of the Dhammapada, Ledi Sayadaw explained, in fact, that a layperson who followed this dry path could be called “a monk in the world, even though a normal layperson.” But this sort of monk held a lineage based not on ordination but on practice. This notion would radically alter laypeople’s understanding of their place in the tradition. By the time of his death in 1923, Ledi Say- adaw had promoted meditation to thousands and thousands of Burmese and, in so doing, sparked a lineage of practice that now transforms lives all over the world. Teachers after him set up the institutions that gave this new concep- tion of lineage its full flowering—first in Burma, then eventually around the globe. Not all who trace their teachings back to Ledi Sayadaw’s have stressed study as much as he did, but they have explicitly linked meditation and study; it is that connection between learning and practice that made mass meditation possible. Indeed, study was so important to his own formation as a young man at Thanjaun that it formed the basis of his vision of practice for laypeople. He believed Abhidhamma learning, in particular, established the proper sensibility and the basic tools for meditation. In his writings, he continu- ally explains that the layperson who studies, even if only at a basic level, prepares herself for insight. He encouraged learning in detail the four elements (dhatus) of earth, wind, fire, and water and believed such concepts were accessible to any educated person. Ledi Sayadaw explained, “If knowledge is ripe, the insight into imperma- nence may easily be accomplished while listening to a discourse, or while living a householder’s ordinary life.” One could bring the deconstruc- tive approach of Abhidhamma analysis to all experience. Although Ledi Sayadaw claimed to have fin- ished the path of the jhanas, the approach to meditation that he presented to the laity did not require them to aspire to such states. Using just the minimal mental training called “momentary concentration” (khanikasamadhi), one could begin full insight practice by focusing attention on the breath or sensations in the body. This is called “pure” or “dry” insight practice (suddha- vipassana or sukkhavipassana). He was the first to lay out this option in detail to a wide audience, a path made possible through study. (Left to right) Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, and Jacqueline Mandell- Schwartz become authorized teachers in a ceremony presided over by Mahasi Sayadaw (back row, center) at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, 1979 IMS/EMILYCARPENTERPHOTOGRAPHERUNKNOWN