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Ven. Robina Courtin

Robina Courtin is a Buddhist nun in the Tibetan Buddhist Gelugpa tradition and lineage of Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Ordained since the late 1970s, Ven. Robina has worked full time since then for FPMT. Over the years she has served as editorial director of Wisdom Publications, editor of Mandala Magazine, executive director of Liberation Prison Project, and as a touring teacher of Buddhism. Her life and work with prisoners have been featured in the documentary films Chasing Buddha and Key to Freedom.

David Listen

David Listen has been teaching Chan (Zen) meditation for over 10 years, leading numerous intensive meditation retreats, classes, and activities at various meditation centers, as well as teaching at many college campuses and private institutions throughout the U.S., Europe, and East Asia. Previously known as Venerable Chang Wen, he was one of the few western monastic disciples of Chan Master Sheng Yen. He had been a monk for over a decade, and has since returned to lay life to share Buddhism in his own creative way. David holds a BS in Environmental Studies, and is currently getting his MSEd in Mental Health Counseling. He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and is working on translating Chan texts to English. He nowadays does life mentoring/coaching, continuing to guide people in their Chan Buddhist life practice on an individual and group basis.

Rev. Monshin Naamon

Reverend Monshin Naamon has been practicing Buddhism since 1970. He began formal training in Tendai Buddhism in Japan in 1989, under the guidance of Reverend Shoshin Ichishima, and was ordained in 1992. While in Japan he also translated several key Tendai texts into English. In the fall of 1994, he returned to the United States and established Karuna Tendai Dharma Center, a monastery in upstate New York. He offers ordination and training for Tendai priests, as well as regular meditation programs, retreats, and Sutra study classes for both lay and ordained practitioners.

Ven. Pannavati

Ven. Dr. Pannavati, a former Christian pastor, is an African-American nun ordained in both Theravada and Chan Buddhism. A disciple of Great Master Kuang Seng, Rinpoche Zhaxi Zhouma, and Roshi Bernie Glassman, she has been a long-term advocate of women’s rights, humanitarian aid, and social equality. Her teachings emphasize the importance of both contemplative practice and compassionate action. She conducts retreats nationally at over 50 centers each year.

The Rockaway Summer House

The Rockaway Summer House is a retreat center by the beach in New York City easily reachable via subway train.

Since December 2016 we have been offering free meditation retreats and a mix of other wholesome activities and wellness programs. Retreats are residential and the Summer House can accommodate up to 20 overnight guests.

All retreats are offered on a donation basis: there is no minimum donation, and everyone is welcome. Registration is mandatory.

There’s no shortage of events to participate in, so check out our calendar at http://rockawaysummerhouse.com/schedule/, or send us an email at RSVP@BUDDHISTINSIGHTS.COM

 

Many Teachings, One Essence

By BHANTE SUDDHĀSO  * Art AARON GLASSON *

When one first encounters Buddhism, it is not uncommon to be confused and overwhelmed by the bewildering array of seemingly dramatically different forms of Buddhism.

This is unsurprising. On first glance, it seems impossible to find common ground between the austere aesthetic of Japanese Buddhism and the byzantine visage of Tibetan Buddhism, or to reconcile the multi-stage meditation training of Theravāda with the single-step directness of Soto Zen. However, as one digs beneath the surface one begins to discern the common threads that tie them all together: the heart-essence of the Buddha’s teachings found in the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.

The question then becomes: How can we see all contemplative Buddhist traditions as only superficially different manifestations of the same core essence? And perhaps more relevantly, how can we form a clear picture in our minds of a complete and valid path to liberation?

The truth is that there is no easy answer to such questions. It is only through contact with experienced members of each tradition, deep study of their guiding texts, and dedicated practice of their contemplative techniques that we can begin to make sense of how the various traditions all come together as a unified whole. This is why our organization, Buddhist Insights, is non-sectarian: by encountering the orthodox teachings of each tradition as presented by monastics from that tradition, one can start to recognize the commonality of those traditions.

Exploring Buddhism

So when we start our exploration of Buddhism, it is useful to start by getting an overview of a variety of traditions. There may be one tradition which you feel strongly drawn towards; if so, then immerse yourself in it as completely, thoroughly, and devotedly as you can. Once your knowledge of that tradition is well-grounded, it can serve as a ‘home base’ from which you can venture out to explore other traditions in more detail: your root tradition gives you a solid point of reference for contextualizing the practices and concepts of other traditions.

For example, I started my own practice in Soto Zen, a form of Mahāyāna Buddhism. However, even after several years of practice in that tradition, I came to recognize that my understanding was still relatively shallow. While I knew a lot of Zen sayings, I didn’t have the proper context within which to correctly comprehend them; and without a basis of correct comprehension, my meditation practice was of limited benefit. So I started seeking further afield; I investigated other forms of Buddhism, and at the time I was personally drawn to Theravāda for two main reasons: it offered an ancient, profound, and thoroughly expounded intellectual framework for understanding Buddhist practice, as well as a wide variety of meditation techniques for dealing with the similarly wide variety of mental obstructions I was encountering in my practice.

So after five years of Zen, I went to study at Abhayagiri, a Theravāda Buddhist monastery. Living there for several years, diving deeply into Theravāda texts, and intensively practicing Theravāda meditation techniques led me to a solid understanding of the Buddhist path: at last I had a clear picture of what enlightenment was and what was necessary to reach it. Unfortunately, I also developed a dismissive attitude towards Mahāyāna; since my own experience with Mahāyāna had produced much more limited results than my experience with Theravāda, I concluded that Mahāyāna represented an inaccurate corruption of Buddhism and summarily rejected it.

And so I continued to devotedly practice Theravāda Buddhism; but as time went by and my practice deepened, I found the feeling of my practice was increasingly similar to what I had experienced during Zen training. I also began to draw parallels between the Zen perspective and the Theravāda perspective; in particular, it dawned on me that the Zen sayings which I had initially misunderstood were meant to be approximations of ultimate reality, whereas Theravāda teachings are focused almost exclusively on conventional reality. My failure to correctly understand Zen teachings was due to my misapprehension of them: and with the proper perspective established, they came into focus as representing a seemingly different approach to the same conclusion: namely, that whether it is Theravāda or Soto Zen, we are all trying to achieve enlightenment by understanding the Four Noble Truths, following the Noble Eightfold Path, perceiving the Three Universal Characteristics, and overcoming the Three Poisons (desire, aversion, delusion).

With this recognition, I began to examine the other Mahāyāna schools through a similar lens: instead of rejecting them, I sought to see how they could be understood as paths to enlightenment – the same indivisible enlightenment accessible through Theravāda and Soto Zen. And once again I found the same core essence could be found in each Buddhist tradition: the core essence of practice culminating in liberation through non-attachment. So while each form of Buddhism appears different, they are each aspects of that same essence leading to the same goal: Nirvāna – freedom from suffering paired with complete understanding.

 


Would you like to read more? You can find more writings by Bhante Suddhāso on www.bhantesuddhaso.com


 

Ajahn Brahm

Ajahn Brahm is the popular Buddhist teacher to a growing international audience of people keen to learn meditation and develop a deeper spiritual understanding. He is also the founding father of an emergent Australian forest tradition of Buddhist monasticism focused on being true to the original roots of the Buddha’s Teaching of Dhamma and Vinaya. www.bswa.org

Rev. Myo Denis Lahey

Rev. Myo Denis Lahey is the Abbot at Issan-ji (Hartford Street Zen Center) as well as Practice Leader at Valley Streams Zen Sangha in Sacramento, California, and has previously served as head of practice (Tanto) at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. A Dharma heir of Tenshin Reb Anderson, he serves as Treasurer for the Soto Zen Buddhist Association of North America (SZBA) and is a member of the Association for Soto Zen Buddhism of Japan (ASZB). Raised in an observant Roman Catholic home, Myo was drawn to religion and spirituality at an early age and found Zen Buddhism in his teens. He began sitting in 1969 and practiced with many San Francisco Zen Center practitioners and teachers, including Dainin Katigiri-roshi, Kobun Chino-sensei, Yoshimura-sensei, and Issan Dorsey. Myo studied Sanskrit at UC Berkeley for ten years.

Amma Thanasanti

(Amma) Thanasanti Bhikkhuni started meditating in 1979. From that time she consciously committed to awakening and envisioned living her life as a nun. She joined the Ajahn Chah lineage and community of nuns living in England where she received higher ordination in 1991. After 20 years, she returned to the U.S. as an independent nun and founded Awakening Truth, a 501c3 religious non-profit whose mission is to awaken joy, compassion, and peace through pervasive love and awareness. In August 2010, when she had been a nun for 19 years, she was ordained as a Bhikkhuni in the historic first dual Theravada Bhikkhuni ordination to be conducted in North America. Ayya Tathaaloka is her preceptor. She blends rigor with gentle loving encouragement to find your own way – finding a balance between fierce holding of the Dhamma and compassion, tenderness, humor and empowerment. She extends an open invitation to stop, inquire, and recognize what is true and liberating at the core of all existence. Currently she is based at the Awakening Truth Learning Center in Santa Rosa California.