Dharma practice is medicine for the mind -- something particularly needed in a culture like ours that actively creates mental illness in training us to be busy producers and avid consumers. As individuals, we become healthier through our Dharma practice, which in turn helps bring sanity to our society at large.
Giving dharma talks offers me the opportunity to express gratitude for my Thai teachers -- Ajahn Fuang Jotiko and Ajahn Suwat Suvaco -- in appreciation of the many years they spent training me, which came with the understanding that the teachings continue past me. Giving dharma talks also pushes me to articulate what I haven''t yet verbalized to myself in English. This in turn enriches my own practice. When you help a wide variety of people deal with their issues, it helps you practice with yours.
When giving a talk, I try to remain true to three things: my training, my study of the early Buddhist texts, and the needs of my listeners. The challenge is to find the point where all three meet -- not as a compromise, but in their genuine integrity.
For this, I play with analogy. Meditation is a skill, and our meeting point as people, whatever our culture, lies in our experience in mastering skills: how to sew clothes, cook a meal, or build a shelter. So I've found that one of the most effective ways of explaining subtle points in meditation is to find analogies with more mundane skills. Through the language of analogy we find common ground from which our practice can grow to meet our individual needs, and yet remain true to its universal roots.
Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni is Thailand’s first fully ordained Theravada Buddhist nun and abbess. She is the spiritual leader of Songdhammakalyani Temple located about an hour southwest of Bangkok. Ven. Dhammananda offers a unique perspective as both an ordained Theravada Bhikkhuni and a feminist, and has been internationally recognized for her work on women in Buddhism and environmental conservation. Prior to her ordination, she was an Associate Professor of Buddhist Studies at Thammasat University for 27 years. She is a tireless crusader for women’s ordination and has traveled the world speaking to audiences about the need to restore the “fourth pillar” of Buddhism.
Ven. Dr. Pannavati is Co-Abbot of Embracing Simplicity Hermitage. An African-American Buddhist monk ordained in the Theravada and Mahayana traditions and with transmission from Roshi Bernie Glassman of Zen Peacemakers, she is both contemplative and empowered for compassionate service. More than 70 homeless youth between the ages of 17 and 21 have resided at the hermitage over the past 2 ½ years and that effort has evolved into a separate 501(c)(3), MyPlace, Inc. which has its own accredited high school, jobs training program, youth center and residential program. An international teacher, she advocates on behalf of disempowered women and youth globally; and insists on equality and respect in Buddhist life for both female monastics and lay sangha. She was a 2008 recipient of the Outstanding Buddhist Women’s Award. In 2009, she received a special commendation from the Princess of Thailand for Humanitarian Acts and ordained the first Thai Bhikkhunis, on Thai soil with Thai monks as witnesses. In May 2010 she convened a platform of Bhikkhunis to ordain 10 Cambodian Samaneris, performing the ceremony in a Cambodian temple, witnessed by Cambodian abbots and sanctioned by Maha Thera Ven. Dhammathero Sao Khon, President of the Community of Khmer Buddhist Monks of the US. Finally, Venerable is a founding circle director of Women of Compassionate Wisdom, a 21st century trans-lineage Buddhist Order and Sisterhood. She recently ordained their first American oblate.
Akincano Marc Weber (Switzerland) is a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist. He learned to sit still in the early eighties as a Zen practitioner and later joined monastic life in Ajahn Chah’s tradition where he studied and practiced for 20 years in the Forest monasteries of Thailand and Europe. He has studied Pali and scriptures, holds a a degree in Buddhist psychotherapy and lives with his wife in Cologne, Germany from where he teaches Dhamma and meditation internationally.
Teaching is essentially translation. It means ferrying an authentic contemplative tradition across choppy waters into our psychological and cultural realities, losing neither the vision nor the truth of what we know to be our immediate experience.
Alex Haley is the Director of Mindfulness Programs at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality & Healing where he teaches, assists with research and sets the strategy for the mindfulness program area. He has been trained by the Center for Mindfulness, the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, the Insight Meditation Society and the Coaches Training Institute. He has practiced meditation for over 15 years, including many months of intensive retreat practice, and worked for start-ups, mid-sized companies and large multinationals both domestically and internationally in legal and business roles. Alex is a founding member of the Mindfulness for Students network and leads residential retreats around the country. For more info visit www.alexanderhaley.org.