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Buddhadharma : Summer 2007
summer 2007| 32 |buddhadharma This Fantastic, Unfolding Experiment Reflecting on the history of the Insight Meditation Society and Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Jack Kornfield describes the challenges and tensions that have accompanied the movement to bring Buddhism to the West and the creative solutions that have emerged to meet them. Burma will say, “In Burma we have always been the carriers of the true way,” even though the ascendancy of Theravada Buddhism in Burma began only a few hundred years ago. So, in fact, the history of the Theravada, and the history of Buddhism generally, is actually a weaving of a number of dif- ferent strands. This diversity is one of the central dilemmas in my own spiritual life and has deeply informed how I have been teaching and how the dharma at IMS (Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mas- sachusetts) and Spirit Rock have unfolded. I had many teachers, but the most central were two of the wisest Theravada teachers of the past cen- tury: one in Thailand, Ajahn Chah, and one in Burma, Mahasi Sayadaw. While they were both considered deeply enlightened, these teachers did not agree at all on what enlightenment was or how you attained it. In fact, they disagreed, each believing that the other was not teaching the real way to enlightenment. When I went to Ajahn Chah’s monastery, first as a layman and then as a monk, the main form of Jack kornfield trained in vipassana and theravada Buddhist practice in monasteries in thailand, Burma, and india. he is one of the original found- ers of the insight meditation society and spirit rock meditation center. his Books include A PAth with heArt; teAchings of the BuddhA; After the ecstAsy, the LAundry; and, forthcoming, the secret BeAuty: Buddhist PsychoLogy for the west. this article is adapted from an informal talk he gave to spirit rock Board memBers. The Theravada lineage – “the Way of the Elders” – has a rich history and tremendous diversity. Anybody who is not aware of that diver- sity can learn more from my first book, published in 1976, called Living Buddhist Mas- ters. Now, they’re mostly dead Buddhist masters, so it has been retitled Living Dharma. You’ll notice that there’s a wide and often contra- dictory variety of approaches to dharma practice and liberation. If you go to Thailand or to Burma, many teachers will say, “We have the pure lineage from the time of the Buddha. We have the original sutras and the texts. Admittedly, the sutras weren’t really written down for five or six hundred years, but we have kept these teachings pure since they were brought here very early from India.” How- ever, if you take a few steps beyond the main cen- ters, you will notice that the countryside in Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia contains ancient Mahay- ana and Vajrayana temples filled with incredible iconography of the whole range of Buddhist tradi- tions. In fact, the various traditions have been exchanging teaching for millennia. Monks in ChRIStInealICInoSpIRItRoCKaRChIveS