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.
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.
Ayya Canda began meditating in 1996 with SN Goenka. She ordained in Burma in 2006 and moved to Perth, Australia in 2012 where she joined the Dhammasara community. Ayya Canda received Bhikkhuni ordination in 2014 and has since been asked by Ajahn Brahm to take steps towards developing a monastery in England.
Chris Cullen has practised and studied the Buddha's teachings since 1994 and has been teaching Insight Meditation retreats since 2010. He also teaches for Oxford University’s Mindfulness Centre and has a psychotherapy practice in Oxford.
What I teach is a reflection of the constantly changing nature of my own practice. When I give a talk it is not a set agenda, but something that I've been reflecting about. The talks tend to be in rhythm with my own practice.
At the moment, I'm reflecting on the interplay of the personal and the non-personal, on aloneness and intimacy, on emptiness and embodiment. This process of reflection is a slow one. I hold a question in the background of my consciousness and then prepare to be surprised, to see what actually arises.
I enjoy the dharma a great deal. I try to convey that meditation practice is not a pathway of endlessly overcoming obstacles, but also a path of tremendous joy. It brings a great deal of profound truth to people's ability to find happiness. I have great faith in the Dharma, and a bottomless faith in people's capacity to be wise.
The ancient traditions of Buddhism are as relevant today as they were 2,500 years ago because people's capacity for getting themselves into trouble, for confusion, alienation and separation is not so different from Buddha's time. Vipassana, then and now, offers people an opportunity to transform themselves, and in so doing, transform the world around them.
Gregory has been teaching meditation since 1980. He developed the practice of Insight Dialogue, offering retreats worldwide and authoring books including Insight Dialogue: The Interpersonal Path to Freedom and Dharma Contemplation: Meditating Together with Wisdom Texts.
Jake Dartington has practised Buddhist meditation since 1995 and trained as a meditation teacher with Christina Feldman, the co-founder of Gaia House in Devon. He began to teach retreats and meditation courses in 2007. As well as teaching at Gaia House, Jake leads daylong and evening courses at various places around the country. He teaches Insight Meditation, Mindfulness courses and yoga in Nottingham.
Jake Dartington has practised Buddhist meditation since 1995 and trained as a teacher with Christina Feldman. He began to teach retreats and meditation courses in 2007. As well as leading retreats at Gaia House, Jake teaches with organisations including Yoga London, Bahia Yoga, Sheffield Insight and Oxford Gaia House Retreats. He has also completed Mindfulness teacher training courses with Bangor University and regularly teaches eight-week courses in Nottingham.
Leigh Brasington studied the jhanas with the late Ven. Ayya Khema, who authorized him to teach retreats on the jhanas. He was also empowered to teach by Jack Kornfield. He teaches numerous jhana retreats throughout the year, at venues that include Cloud Mountain, Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, Gaia House, Vallecitos, and Southern Dharma.