Kittisaro & Thanissara, both former monastics in the Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah, are married, teaching partners, and co-founders of Dharmagiri Sacred Mountain Retreat, in South Africa. They are co-authors of Listening to the Heart, A Contemplative Guide to Engaged Buddhism. They currently live in North Bay California where they are Guiding Teachers of Sacred Mountain Sangha, on the Spirit Rock Teacher Council, and are Core Teachers at IMS.
I find teaching to be a very deep and powerful "no self" practice. When I connect with others during Dharma talks--in the intimacy of small groups, and while holding meditation practice interviews--I am continually reminded to know, and be, in a place of clarity, spaciousness and immediate presence. Being able to offer students such a place of connection is my greatest pleasure and inspiration, as well as the most appreciated challenge in my teaching practice.
For me, the real fruit of the teaching is seeing the beauty of a gradual, and sometimes sudden, unfolding of a heartmind into its true self; seeing the variety of ways a person's essential, creative energy of being flows into the world.
On one end of the teaching, I am excited and inspired by students who are deeply committed to long-term, intensive practice. On the other end (and of course they're connected), I find that working closely with people at the grass roots level--in a co-creative process of developing and sustaining Dharma practice, study and community opportunitiies on a day-to-day basis--is equally exciting and inspiring.
From the immediacy of presence flows a wisdom that naturally connects us to the way of things. This amazing gift of mindfulness provides us with a spaciousness where we can make appropriate, healthy and creative life choices. Rather than being caught up in our old, conditioned habits, mindfulness provides us with the gift of engagement at its best. This is the Gift of the Dharma that we offer to all beings.
I find that practitioners can practice Vipassana for a long time without paying attention to the role that fear plays in their lives. Living with fear that is unacknowledged leads to fragmentation in life and practice. I encourage people to look at the energy of fear, for fear can limit our access to freedom.
It is quite possible to diligently practice mindfulness, yet keep fear at a distance. Not becoming intimate with fear creates a dualism and complacency that gives a silent nod of approval to living with fear. When we begin to look at, and become friends with, our fear, we suddenly discover a lot more space in our lives.
In the larger picture, Vipassana offers us all a practice that goes counter to the tremendous cultural momentum around us of materialism and consumerism. With practice, we can learn how to take full responsibility for ourselves, and so pay attention to developing inner qualities capable of sustaining us as we navigate the shifting sands of life.
Because I've been teaching in Burma the last three years, I've been able to see how mindfulness can be nourished by a culture that supports the ancient liberation teachings and by daily experiences of happiness arising from acts of generosity, morality and renunciation. Thus the practice of Buddhism and the living of Buddhism are woven together in a seamless tapestry.
If there is anything that is most engaging to me now, it is the desire to bring this sublime way of life into our culture in the West.
What began as a deep compassion for the suffering of the existential predicament of human beings deepened as I understood that we need not identify with our experience. It is this understanding that has led me far onto the path of befriending others on their spiritual journey. My greatest inspiration is working with students wherever they are in the moment. We are all capable of so much more than suffering; once we learn how to be mindful, it's only a matter of remembering that it is the purity of intention which frees us. Dismantling the myth that we need to be something other than what we are is so important, because if we can learn to be mindful of exactly where we are, we experience the happiness of peace, which is what we deeply are.
My deepest appreciation is for the joy of the spiritual adventure. The purity of mindfulness, which soothes our sophisticated, intellectual, analytical, and out-of-touch-with-our-bodies mindset, is the moment we remember to pay attention without embellishment, interpretation or judgment. That moment becomes overwhelmingly touching because it brings us what we most wish for, unconditional love and peace. This truth, this purity of intention is what brings us home.
So much of my inspiration and joy comes from bearing witness to the unfolding of the dharma in myself and others. My teaching is most engaging when I'm involved in an on-going relationship with students and having the opportunity, and honor, to see what's happening in their lives. We may begin our practice on our cushions; and yet, as we learn to bring practice to all corners of our lives, we get a glimmer of the true possibility of liberation.
Simplicity has been most helpful to me, so I stick with basic instructions and try to distill my words to the bare minimum in a simple, clear and precise way.
My interest focuses on how to liberate the mind. I like to explore and find different ways that are most useful to people. I'm aware that various aspects of the practice, and the teaching, resonate with different people at different times. What is that person's experience right now and what will be most helpful to them? Often the answer comes to me by looking at what has happened to me in practice, and using that experience to help someone discover their own intuitive wisdom.
In my teaching, lovingkindness supports the developmental unfolding of wisdom. It doesn't do us much good to practice in ways that perpetuate self-judgment. When we come from a place of caring and lovingkindness, we allow for the possibility of transformation in our lives. Lovingkindness and wisdom allow us to move from a life of reaction to a life of inner resonance with the world around us. They take us out of a place of reaction and into one of responsiveness.
Nikki is of Persian heritage, and was introduced to contemplative practices and yoga in the early 1980's, to meditation in 1991, and to Theravada Buddhism in 2003. She has studied with various Western and Eastern teachers, with a keen interest in intensive silent retreats. She studied jhanas and detailed analytical vipassana with the renowned meditation master Venerable Pa Auk Sayadaw who instructed her to teach. She is also a Spirit Rock authorized retreat teacher, a Stanford trained compassion cultivation instructor, and a UCLA certified mindfulness facilitator. She teaches Buddhist meditation and contemplation nationally, and in particular, at Spirit Rock Meditation Center and Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, where she also serves on their Board of Directors. Nikki holds a Ph.D. in computer science from UC Berkeley and has had an active career as an Artificial Intelligence scientist in academia and industry for over two decades.
Developing a clear understanding of the teachings and learning to fully inhabit the body have been core parts of my Dhamma practice. These areas, as well a strong emphasis on the heart, inform and shape my teaching. The few years I spent training as an Anagarika in the Thai Forest monasteries broadened my understanding of the Buddha's teachings and instilled a profound respect for the Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni Sangha. All along the way, I've been particularly interested in how other modalities like Nonviolent Communication and Somatics can support our growth in awakening.
Pascal Auclair has been immersed in Buddhist practice and study since 1997, sitting retreats in Asia and America with revered monastics and lay teachers. He has been mentored by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Massachusetts and Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California, where he is now enjoying teaching retreats. Pascal teaches in North America and in Europe. His depth of insight, classical training, and creative expression all combine in a wise and compassionate presence. In addition, his warmth and humour make Pascal a much appreciated teacher.
Patricia Genoud-Feldman has been practicing Buddhist meditation (vipassana and Dzogchen) in Asia and the West since 1984 and teaching vipassana internationally since 1997. She is a co-founder and guiding teacher at the Meditation Centre Vimalakirti in Geneva, Switzerland.
Rebecca Bradshaw is the guiding teacher of the Insight Meditation Center of the Pioneer Valley (www.insightpv.org) in Easthampton, Massachusetts, and one at the guiding teachers at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. "My passion is encouraging students to drop into embodied presence, and grounding this presence in wisdom and lovingkindness. When a sense of love and kindness underlies our practice, we can explore life deeply in a truly integrated way, bringing together mind, heart, and body. Wisdom then holds it all in spaciousness. I especially enjoy connecting with young people in the Dharma, teaching students on longer retreats, supporting sangha on a community level, and sharing the dharma in Spanish."