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.
In this second talk in a lecture series on the Great Disciples, the speaker, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, talks about the contributions by Ananda to the Dharma. Because of his incredible memory, what we know in the Pali Canon today came mostly from Ananda's recollection of the Buddha's teachings. He described in detail who came to the Buddha, what were their question/problem, and how the Buddha addressed that particular question/problem. This is an important contribution to our understanding of how the Dharma was taught, because so much of it depended on who was asking what, and what kind of teaching was the best for them. Another debt that we owe Ananda is that he asked the Buddha questions that no one had asked. And Ananda's questions in turn sparked the Buddha to explain things or do things that he otherwise might not have explained or done.