I think of myself primarily as a monk who occasionally teaches, who strives to convey the spirit and the letter of Buddhism through my lifestyle, through explanation, and through the imagery of storytelling in order to bring Buddhism to life for people who are seeking truth and freedom.
As co-abbot of Abhayagiri Monastery, I am deeply involved with forming a monastic community that can serve as a guiding spirit for Buddhist practice in the world. The traditional, renunciate form of the practice is the embodiment of simplicity, strength and resiliency for anyone who seeks classical training in the monastic life. It is also a hand extended to the lay community that says: come, experience the life of the forest, the chanting, the bowing, the serenity of meditation, the robes, the peacefulness of celibacy. Draw from our well and bring this spiritual nourishment back into your everyday life.
The outward structure of traditional Buddhism supports a form of spiritual living that is grounded in honesty, non-violence, and living in truth-all the qualities of inner freedom that are precious to me. Buddhist practice turns the current of attention toward an inner life, irrigating the arid internal landscapes created by the external priorities of our Western world.
Buddhist practice also reconstructs our relationship to time and space. Our fragmented world is suffering from a continually diminishing attention span as we become overwhelmed with so much to do, with so little time and so many options. The practice allows us to visit our interior landscape, slow down, pay attention to the qualities of time and spirit, to explore who we are, instead of focusing on what we do. Buddhism trains the heart to recognize happiness, not by racing onto the next thing, but by paying attention and ending suffering.
Ajahn Chah's simple yet profound style of teaching has a special appeal to Westerners. In 1966 the first westerner (Venerable Sumedho) came to stay with him in Northeast Thailand. The training there was quite harsh and forbidding. Ajahn Chah often pushed his monks to their limits, to test their powers of endurance so that they would develop patience and resolution. The emphasis was always on surrender to the way things are, and great stress was placed upon strict observance of the vinaya, the Buddha's code of ethics.
Ajahn Jumnien* is a Thai forest monk who was born in the southern part of Thailand on May 1, 1936. His earliest experience in meditation was at age five. He was also schooled at an early age in traditional healing and shamanistic practices. At age 20, he ordained as a monk, fulfilling his aspiration for lifelong practice in Buddhist meditation.
Over the years, he studied and became adept in a broad range of meditation practices, including concentration practice. Now, he focuses his attention, commitment and all of his energies on teaching Vipassana Meditation (Insight Meditation) to both monastic and lay persons. * Also spelled "Jamnian" or "Jumnean".
Ajahn Liem Thitadhammo, a highly respected and revered Buddhist monk in the classical Thai Forest Tradition, is Ajahn Chah’s chosen successor. He was born in Sri Saket Province, in Northeastern Thailand, in 1941 and took full bhikkhu ordination at the age of 20. In 1969 he began training under Ajahn Chah, one of Thailand’s most beloved and renowned monks. Even today Ajahn Chah’s reputation and influence continues to grow and spread throughout the world.
Living at Wat Nong Pah Pong (Ajahn Chah’s monastery) under Ajahn Chah’s direct guidance, Ajahn Liem soon became one of his closest disciples. In 1982 when Ajahn Chah became too ill to carry on with his duties, he entrusted Ajahn Liem with full authority and responsibility to run the monastery. Shortly thereafter, as Ajahn Chah’s illness progressed and he was no longer able to speak, the Sangha of Wat Nong Pah Pong appointed Ajahn Liem to take over the abbotship. He continues to fulfill that duty up to the present day and has maintained the heritage of Ajahn Chah’s Dhamma and characteristic way of monastic training for bhikkhus, nuns and lay disciples.
For the Sangha at Wat Pah Nanachat (Ajahn Chah’s International Forest Monastery for training monks using English as the language of instruction), Ajahn Liem is a dearly respected teacher and guide in the monastic life. He has conducted every monastic ordination ceremony at Wat Nanachat for over a decade and serves there as the ordination preceptor or upajjhaya to all of the newly ordained monks at Nanachat. His Majesty the King of Thailand has twice bestowed honorary monastic titles on Ajahn Liem.
Ajahn Pasanno took ordination in Thailand in 1974 with Venerable Phra Khru Nanasirivatana as preceptor. During his first year as a monk he was taken by his teacher to meet Ajahn Chah, with whom he asked to be allowed to stay and train. One of the early residents of Wat Pah Nanachat, Ajahn Pasanno became its abbot in his ninth year. During his incumbency Wat Pah Nanachat developed considerably, both in physical size and in reputation. Ajahn Pasanno became a well-known and highly respected monk and Dhamma teacher in Thailand.
Ajahn Pasanno moved to California on New Year's Eve of 1997 to share the abbotship of Abhayagiri with Ajahn Amaro. In 2010, Ajahn Amaro accepted an invitation to serve as abbot of Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in England. Ajahn Pasanno is now sole abbot of Abhayagiri.
As a monk, I bring a strong commitment, along with the renunciate flavor, to the classic Buddhist teachings. I play with ideas, with humor and a current way of expressing the teachings, but I don't dilute them.
Sitting in a field of fifty to eighty people really starts my mind sparking. Since I don't prepare my talks ahead of time, I find myself listening to what I'm saying along with everyone else. This leaves a lot of room for the Dhamma to come up. Just having eighty people listening to me is enough to engage me, stimulate me, and create a nice flow of energy. The actual process of teaching evokes ideas that even I did not realize were being held somewhere in my mind.
Different teaching situations offer their own unique value. In retreat, you are able to build a cohesive and comprehensive body of the teachings. When people are not on retreat and come for one session, it opens a different window. They are more spontaneous and I'm given the chance to contact them in ways that are closer to their "daily-life mind." This brings up surprises and interesting opportunities for me to learn even more.
I'm continually struck by how important it is to establish a foundation of morality, commitment, and a sense of personal values for the Vipassana teachings to rest upon. Personal values have to be more than ideas. They have to actually work for us, to be genuinely felt in our lives. We can't bluff our way into insight. The investigative path is an intimate experience that empowers our individuality in a way that is not egocentric. Vipassana encourages transpersonal individuality rather than ego enhancement. It allow for a spacious authenticity to replace a defended personality.
Ajahn Sumedho is a prominent figure in the Thai Forest Tradition. His teachings are very direct, practical, simple, and down to earth. In his talks and sermons he stresses the quality of immediate intuitive awareness and the integration of this kind of awareness into daily life. Like most teachers in the Forest Tradition, Ajahn Sumedho tends to avoid intellectual abstractions of the Buddhist teachings and focuses almost exclusively on their practical applications, that is, developing wisdom and compassion in daily life. His most consistent advice can be paraphrased as to see things the way that they actually are rather than the way that we want or don't want them to be ("Right now, it's like this..."). He is known for his engaging and witty communication style, in which he challenges his listeners to practice and see for themselves. Students have noted that he engages his hearers with an infectious sense of humor, suffused with much loving kindness, often weaving amusing anecdotes from his experiences as a monk into his talks on meditation practice and how to experience life ("Everything belongs").