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.
U Pyinya Zawta is Executive Director in Exile of the All Burma Monks’ Alliance, a leader of Burma’s Saffron Revolution in the autumn of 2007. In 2008, arriving in the United States with refugee status, he and three other exiled monks created a monastery in Utica, New York, where continues to live and organize. Born in 1960 in the Magwe District of central Burma, U Pyinya Zawta was ordained at the age of twenty. After years of study at monastic universities in Burma, he was appointed president of Rangoon’s Aloan Township Young Monks Union. Arrested and imprisoned several times from 1990 onward, in January 1998 U Pyinya Zawta was arrested and sentenced to seven years in Insein prison He moved to the Rangoon’s Maggin Monastery in 2005 and opened a study center and a unique HIV/AIDS patient support refuge. Pyinya Zawta helped form and lead the All Burma Monks Alliance, which in 2007 protested Burma’s repressive military rule. Tens of thousands of monks and nuns marched in the streets alongside countless civilians, chanting the Metta Sutta. But the demonstrations were fiercely repressed. U Pyinya Zawta escaped from Rangoon by taking on a variety of disguises. Unable to capture him, the Burmese military regime arrested his mother and siblings, who were not released until he surfaced in Mae Sot, Thailand in January 2008. Since moving to the U.S. Pyinya Zawta, along with his dedication to daily Buddhist practice and meditation, works tirelessly to support refugee monks inside and outside of Burma, and to build a free nation for all Burma’s people.
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.
Venerable Metteyya Sakyaputta was born in the same place as the Buddha: Lumbini, Nepal. Though he has primarily studied under the Theravada tradition, Metteyya has also received teachings directly from the well known Tibetan Buddhist master of Sakya tradition His Eminence Chogye Trichen Rimpoche. He has also studied with the Vietnamese Pure Land tradition and has thorough comparative, theoretical and practical understanding of the various Buddhist traditions. He says that knowledge of many traditions of Buddhism has helped him to pinpoint the core and most essential Buddhist teachings.
He prefers to devote his time working for the youth and rural communities of Lumbini. Metteyya has always been involved in social service and environmental work in his community and when he was 15 he founded Metta Children's School which has now grown to two branches and provides free education to over 800 impoverished local children. Metteyya is very cognizant of the status of women in the local culture and along with his Dharma mother, built and recently began operating Sakyadhita Nunnery to provide empowering and educational options to local girls who would otherwise face child marriage. They are now working on building a girls’ college there too.
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.
Sayalay Susila has been a Theravada nun for the last 20 years. Sister started her vipassana insight meditation during her university days, while obtaining a degree in Mass Communications (1988) at USM in Malaysia. Before ordination, she practiced as a full-time practitioner for one and a half years. After her ordination, in 1991, she practiced under the guidance of the well-known Venerable Sayadaw U Pandita in Panditarama Monastery, Myanmar, until 1994, at which time she began to practice under the guidance of the Venerable Pa Auk Tawya Sayadaw at the Pa Auk Meditation Centre, Myanmar, where she remains today.
Sayalay Susila was born in 1963, in the state of Pahang, Malaysia, and was ordained as a nun at the age of 28, at the Malaysian Buddhist Meditation Centre (MBMC) in Penang, Malaysia. She speaks fluent English, Hokkien, Chinese, Malay, and Burmese. Beginning in 2000, with the encouragement of her teacher Pa Auk Sayadaw, Sayalay Susila began to teach the Abhidhamma in Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia.
Since 2002, when she conducted a 10-day Abhidhamma course in Toronto, Sayalay Susila has traveled extensively in the U.S. and Canada, teaching Suttas, Abhidhamma and Meditation. Sister Susila’s dhamma talks, which have been widely praised as lucid and precise, have been given at North American Buddhist centres such as Spirit Rock (California) and the Barre Centre for Buddhist Studies (Massachusetts).
In July 2009, she conducted a 10-day meditation course, Concentration and Insight, at Bhavana Society monastery in West Virginia, as well as a Women’s Retreat in July 2011. She has published the books "Unravelling the Mysteries of Mind and Body Through Abhidhamma" in English and "The Nine Attributes of the Buddha in Chinese."