Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Fellow at Panditarama...(part 1)

     At my ordination as a bhikkhu many years ago, I was honored to have venerable Sayadaw U Pandita of the Mahasi tradition attending the ceremony. He was conducting a two-week meditation retreat at our monastery, and I attended the retreat at others' urging; but my ordination took place right in the middle of it, and I had plenty to attend to before finally renouncing worldly affairs and the handling of money, so I respectfully dropped out after four or five days. (Incidentally, one of the monastery attendants, a friend of mine who aspired to be a professional writer, said the retreat had inspired him to write a story about a mental hospital where the inmates believe that if they move slowly enough they'll disappear.)
     I noticed during the retreat that the venerable Sayadaw was stern and rather gruff, and insisted on a particular way of reporting one's meditative experiences during interviews which, however, nobody clearly explained to me. After I dropped out and was ordained he became friendlier, almost grandfatherly. Anyway, at the time I left for Burma in late 1992, I had included him on a very short list of bhikkhus I knew of who might have high spiritual attainments. 
     Several years passed, during which time I mainly lived in relative isolation in Burmese forests. I found, as a great many Westerners find, that I was having issues with uddhacca, or mental agitation and restlessness—I was thinking too much, with my mind spinning out into long chains of association, greatly reducing the quality of my meditation. I remembered U Pandita, and considered that he was wise, and that he had had plenty of experience teaching compulsively-thinking Westerners; so I figured I should try a few months' retreat at his meditation center Panditarama (or Shwe Taung Gon Yeiktha, as it is more often called in Burmese), in Rangoon/Yangon.
     So around November of 1996 I went to Panditarama to ask Sayadaw for permission to practice at his center. He was conducting meditation interviews with an interpreter, and after a few minutes asked me what I wanted. I told him that I'd like to meditate at Panditarama for at least two months, explaining that my mind was very restless, so that my meditation usually wasn't very deep. He looked at me sternly, rather like a plumber looking at leaky pipes in a flooded basement, and asked, "Have you ever taken drugs?"
     Now, most Western monks, at least those of my generation (possibly most Western meditators for that matter), have at least smoked some cannabis, so naturally I said "Yes." 
     Then he said, "That's it. Drug addiction has damaged your brain."
     I replied that I doubted that that had much to do with it, as I had never been addicted to any drug, not even tobacco. A nervous, high-strung mental constitution runs in my family, though. My mother is the same way.
     So then, not skipping a beat, the Sayadaw replied, "Then it is a combination of drug addiction and mental illness." I was marked as a brain-damaged drug addict for the rest of my stay there, but I was given permission to stay and practice for two months.
     I suppose that at this point, before I proceed any farther with this narrative, I should explain that I have bad karma with regard to spiritual teachers. This is partly due to a deep, irrational attitude I have had that having a teacher, and thus not working things out for oneself, is somehow cheating. As I've mentioned in a previous post ("It All Depends on How You Look at It," posted 25 May 2013), wise people may consider a teacher very highly advanced, but I may see his foibles and fail to see his strengths. I have no doubt that U Pandita is a master of what he teaches; and to see him meditate is a remarkable experience, as there is a very noticeable shift in his energy as he sits there like a rock—really like a rock. Furthermore, I am no authority on the Mahasi method, although I do know quite a lot about it, as it is one of the most well-known methods in Burmese Buddhism. So bearing all this in mind, let us continue with the story.
     The Mahasi method is a common form of mindfulness meditation or satipaṭṭhāna, with perhaps its most obvious difference from other methods being that instead of noting the breath at the nostrils, one notes the rising and falling of the abdomen as one breathes. It also differs from more characteristically Western versions of Vipassana by placing much more emphasis on Abhidhamma for explaining mental phenomena, and probably more emphasis on what the Burmese call nyan-zin, the standardized sequence of "Vipassana insight knowledges" that one allegedly must experience, in the proper order, if one is to attain enlightenment. The version of the Mahasi method taught by U Pandita also has a reputation for being more strictly regimented than other versions. There is also slightly more emphasis on monastic discipline, which is one reason why I chose it at the time.
     One of my next-door neighbors in the dormitory I was assigned to was a monk from Bangladesh who didn't strike me as being a very serious monk. He seldom attended the group meditations; listened to the radio in his room; hung out, giggled, and even sang with a Nepali novice (who also didn't attend group meditations); and secretly handled money (officially forbidden at Panditarama, and in the monastic code in general). In those days I was prone to find fault with "sloppy" monks, but I reminded myself that I didn't come to this place to find fault with anybody, and that I should mind my own business. Also, I had heard that Panditarama was not only a meditation center, but also a training center for teachers of the Mahasi method; and I figured he must have come for that kind of training, not for meditation. Still, watching him bounce around, or hearing him goofing around through the thin walls of the dormitory, I'd occasionally get a twinge of captious-mindedness.
     Another foreign bhikkhu, one of the only other Western monks there, was a young, starry-eyed Australian monk who apparently was trying to save himself from himself: Once he informed me that before his ordination not a day passed when he didn't break all five precepts. He gave me some excellent advice which helped me to survive, saying that Sayadaw doesn't like young Western monks, and that no matter what he says to me I should never react. One impatient retort, one sarcastic rolling of the eyes during a scolding, and I would be done for. U Pandita was something like a Marine Corps drill instructor, getting on our case again and again, breaking us down, and then rebuilding us into lean, mean, Dhamma warriors. Or something along those lines. The Australian monk told me that several months previously he had been at the verge of a mental breakdown as a result of going through a great deal of pain, with Sayadaw almost totally ignoring him. Now, however, Sayadaw had softened toward him and hardened toward me. He seemed to take an immediate dislike to me. Also, he didn't seem to remember participating at my ordination; maybe if he had, he would have regretted it.
     Like most other meditators I was given the primary object of observing the rising and falling of the abdomen as I breathed; but I had been doing more traditional ānāpāna-sati, mindfulness of the breath at the nostrils, for so long that I became confused, feeling as though I had nostrils on my belly. At an interview I told Sayadaw of this, and he said that for "ānāpāna people" it is better to try something else, so he gave me a different primary object—mindfulness of the sitting posture. I didn't like this method much, as it seemed based on imagination, sitting being only an artificial concept. (The sensation of touch on the other hand, as with the touch of air at the nostrils, is from the classical Theravadin point of view a kind of ultimate reality, and thus closer to an enlightened point of view.) The Australian monk suggested, perhaps as a compromise, that I could choose a place on my behind for noting the sensation of touch; but I disliked the idea of striving for enlightenment by contemplating my own buttocks. A convenient solution to the dilemma arose, however: The schedule involved so much sitting, many hours of it per day, that after maybe a week I was experiencing some pretty intense pain in my hips, knees, and ankles. I also started getting bedsores from sitting so much. So once the agony started I'd switch my primary object to the pain in my lower body, a good, obvious, direct sensation. Pain is unpleasant, but it is very easy to notice and note.
     U Pandita's fastidiousness regarding how one should report at meditation interviews, which I had noticed years previously, became an important issue. Sayadaw seemed to change the rules whenever he felt like it. The Western Vipassana teacher Joseph Goldstein, who had been a disciple of U Pandita for some years I think, once said that going to an interview with Sayadaw was like going to the dentist. Even some successful meditators who Sayadaw actually praised would be trembling like leaves before and during interviews. 
     At an interview one was supposed to report what one had experienced since the last time. Usually  Sayadaw would sit in silence in his chair; at other times he would interrupt to say things like, "please summarize," "don't say 'sometimes,' (i.e., don't summarize)" or, if there was no fault to be found with the words of the reporting, perhaps something like, "don't wave your hands around when you talk." He seemed to be waiting for meditators to mention experiencing something on the standard list of what one is supposed to experience, and if something on the list were mentioned, he'd write it down, sometimes with a kind of grunt. Sometimes this would give subtle cues to the meditators with regard to what they ought to report, even what they ought to experience, if they wanted to do well and maybe avoid a scolding. 
     Part of the trouble was, though, that I didn't follow the rules for interviews very closely. If I had a problem with my meditation I would mention it, and U Pandita emphatically did not want to hear about problems. He seemed to intimidate meditators into not having them. Also, I had little regard for Abhidhamma or for nyan-zin: if I experienced something from the books, fine, and if not, fine again. My purpose was not to experience what tradition said I ought to experience, but clearly to experience whatever came up. This turned out to be a problem too.
     If I would mention difficulties with my meditation, or if nothing much was happening in the way of progress to report, Sayadaw would sometimes try to embarrass me by bringing up the issue of drug addiction. On at least three occasions, always in front of a group, he asked me, "Have you ever taken drugs?" Sometimes he'd give remarks like, "Don't just sit there like you're high on drugs!" But I'm not ashamed at all that I have gotten high in the past. In fact, I may never have become a bhikkhu if I hadn't experienced such expanded states of consciousness, and wanted to experience a similarly expanded alternative without the aid of chemicals. But the Burmese have a much more conservative attitude toward such things.
     Anyway, I was dismissed from at least half of my interviews during my first month at Panditarama: Sayadaw would raise a hand and say "taw byi" (i.e., that's enough), and send me away. Once I actually experienced one of the standardized Vipassana insight knowledges, the so-called nāmarūpa-pariccheda-ñāa, "the knowledge of the discrimination of mind and matter," but I was dismissed before getting that far into the interview. By the time I finally told him about it, his attitude toward me had soured to the point that he didn't even bother to write it down, but seemed a bit irked that I had even experienced it.
     (Purely as a digression from the story, I offer the opinion that nāmarūpa-pariccheda-ñāa is not very accurately named. It appears more a discernment of feeling and perception than of mind and matter. For example, one experiences very clearly, as quite distinct, pain, and the noting of pain. The commentarial texts, upon which the standard list of insight knowledges is based, say that the pain represents matter, and the noting of it is mind. But obviously, the feeling of pain is just as mental as the noting of the feeling. One doesn't feel pain in one's ankle, which ultimately can't even be proven to exist, but in one's mind. No mind, no pain.)
     Sayadaw's scoldings became more overtly hostile as time went on. Furthermore, his usual interpreter at interviews, an older Burmese fellow, seemed to take pleasure in scolding monks too, and didn't sugar the pill at all. After Sayadaw would tell you what a no-good troublemaker you were in Burmese, the interpreter would look you straight in the eye and tell you the same in English. I once told a Chinese Malaysian monk that I thought the interpreter enjoyed scolding monks, and he replied, in English, "He delight in it." 
     The interviews were by far the worst part of the retreat. Sometimes it would take one or two days of calming down after a tongue-lashing before my meditation would get back on track, more or less. I followed the Australian monk's advice and didn't react, but there were a few times when I was tempted just to get up and backhand Sayadaw right out of his chair. I got into the habit of going first at interviews, in order to get the unpleasantness over with as soon as possible. When U Pandita would see that I was next in line, or first in line, his face would cloud over with a scowl. Once, after a particularly hostile interview, an Asian monk came up to me and said, "You're tough!" 
     One ironic thing about it was that I really was wholeheartedly trying to practice while I was there. I kept talking and other distractions to a bare minimum. I was first or second into the meditation hall in the morning, and the last to leave at night. 
     At first I was sleeping about four hours every night, but I found that I was starting to hallucinate in the afternoon from lack of sleep. (I've always been a sleepyhead.) I was essentially starting to dream before going to sleep at night. Once I found myself sitting in a living room in front of a big fireplace, and a woman was standing in front of me asking a question. Just as I was about to answer the question, I realized that I was sitting cross-legged in the meditation hall, in Burma. After that I increased my nightly sleep to about four hours and forty minutes, and the waking dreams didn't start until the last meditation of the evening, which was more manageable. Interestingly, when I told Sayadaw of these waking dreams, and that sometimes I was unable to differentiate imagination from reality, he told me that it isn't necessary to know the difference. Whether that was a wise statement or not, I can't say.
     I was still bothered by sleepiness, however, despite the increase in sleep, so I asked a supporter for some sugar, and I mixed it with water and drank a glass of it every afternoon, which helped keep me stimulated and awake. When I told this to Sayadaw he disgustedly informed me that nothing one puts into one's mouth can have any effect on the mind. I considered asking him, "What about alcohol, then?" but decided it would be better just to keep my mouth shut. 
     One peculiarity of Burmese Buddhism in general is that the Burmese put very little emphasis on the value of a quiet environment for meditation. Most Burmese people, like many people in traditional cultures, seem actually to like noise. (Why they like it is an interesting subject, but I won't tackle it here.) So, strangely perhaps, Sayadaw had a carpenter building sheet metal rain gutters under the eaves of the meditation hall; so right outside the windows a guy was literally pounding on sheet metal with a hammer—Bang Bang Bang Bang! It bothered me sometimes of course (after all, I am a Westerner), but then on one memorable occasion I had a kind of meditative breakthrough, and the sound simply passed through me, like light through a pane of glass. It didn't bother me at all. When I reported this to U Pandita he immediately sucked air through his clenched teeth, as though preparing to pounce, but then restrained himself, as I wasn't complaining at all.
     In fact, I readily admit that Sayadaw did try sometimes to be fair with me. He allowed me occasionally to recite the bhikkhu pāṭimokkha during walking meditation time, saying, "It is good not to forget." At the time I was relatively very strict in monastic discipline, and was making the transition over to small robes instead of the oversized ones that are standard nowadays: Instead of owning a lower robe, an upper robe, and a double-thickness outer robe, I owned a lower one, a small upper one, and a large, single-thickness upper one as my designated outer robe. When I washed the big one I wore the little one in the meditation hall, which Sayadaw didn't like, saying it was too small, so he offered me a jumbo-sized Thai forest robe to wear. I didn't use it though, and returned it to him. He also gave me a pair of sandals, as he disliked the old paint-splotched black ones I had which were made out of recycled car tires. But his efforts to like me, or at least to be equanimous toward me, became less and less successful.
     I assume this was partly because U Pandita was, and maybe still is despite his advanced age, an alpha male type, who instinctively dislikes cocky young men who potentially could become competitors for the position of Number One some day. My father also was like this. Also, I have found that the Dharma Teacher tends to be a territorial animal, and on his own turf Sayadaw was much more aggressive than when he was traveling through distant lands (although he could still be pretty gruff even in America). It's also possible that, since he was old enough to remember British colonial times, he might have had some small axe to grind with regard to big white people who speak English. He was notably more polite toward anyone who spoke fluent Burmese, which was not the case with me.
     Interestingly, Sayadaw was also noticeably more likely to be warm and friendly when speaking to attractive young women (especially if they spoke fluent Burmese besides). I'm not blaming him at all for this. In some way it's encouraging to know that an eighty-year-old meditation master with a reputation for being an Ariya can still like girls. Even the sharp-tongued interpreter (who might also have been a Mahasi Ariya, judging by his bold willingness to chastise monks) became all smiles when young lovelies were interviewed. I don't blame him, either.
     Bearing all the foregoing events in mind, especially U Pandita's anger and hostility, plus another issue involving the aforementioned Bangladeshi monk, by the end of my first month at Panditarama my attitude had undergone a significant change. At least once after having Sayadaw telling me what a no-good, drug-addicted troublemaker I was, a fellow meditator came up to me and told me not to be disheartened, as that was just Sayadaw's way of teaching. And it's true; it was Sayadaw's way of teaching—yet the anger, contempt, and hostility he displayed were obviously genuine. And it seemed to me at the time that anyone who gets angry just about every day and can positively dislike someone as he did couldn't possibly be all that wise. (Whether this judgement is true or not, I can't say with certainty, but that's the way I felt at the time.) So, I stopped taking Sayadaw so seriously, and pretty much stopped being intimidated by him. I didn't start making sarcastic retorts, much less start slapping him out of his chair, but I did start accepting his scoldings with a kind of bovine placidity, even considering it to be somewhat amusing, in a black humor sort of way. It may be that my unintimidated-ness caused him to become even more set against me.
     Around this same time, the starry-eyed Australian bhikkhu and I were briefly discussing Vinaya matters. He occasionally consulted me on matters of monastic discipline, and had asked if the towel, mosquito net, etc., that were standard issue in the dormitory rooms should be determined (as "accessory cloth") in order to avoid committing a nissaggiya pācittiya offense (if you don't know what that means, don't worry about it). I wasn't sure, so I thought about it for awhile. A little later he told me that he found out the answer from the Bangladeshi monk that I had been trying not to have a low opinion of. The Australian monk said something about him like, "He's a very good one; in fact he's an Ariya." 
     One of my eyebrows went up, and I said, "You think so, eh?"
     Then my friend replied, "I know so. Why do you think Sayadaw lets him act the way he does?" Then, to my amazement, he explained that all the people at Panditarama who weren't doing intensive meditation practice, which amounted to about half the population, probably more than a hundred people, were Ariyas. It turns out that in order to start the training to be a teacher of the Mahasi method one must first become a Sotāpanna, a "stage one" saint who has glimpsed Nibbana and is incapable of, among other things, deliberately breaking any of the five precepts. The Australian monk told me, "Sayadaw won't even talk to you unless you're at least a Sotāpanna."
     So about half the population of Panditarama, in the view of U Pandita, apparently, were Ariyas. And they were not very difficult to identify: They were the ones who weren't practicing. They were the ones who walked at normal speed and looked around instead of moving in slow motion and looking downward like the other yogis. They were the ones, very generally speaking, who didn't go to the meditation hall, who spent their time listening to the radio, reading the newspaper, talking, and just goofing around. I was amazed.
     This leads to a rather controversial issue in Burmese Theravada. It is my understanding that, according to the Mahasi tradition, if one "completes the course" of training in the method, experiencing everything the book says one ought to experience, then one is an Ariya, a Buddhist saint. I've been told that the Mahasi Center of Yangon, the central Center of the Mahasi tradition, used actually to give out a kind of certificate, or diploma of sainthood, to those who had finished the course. Apparently anomalies slip through though. For example, a retired surgeon who had become a bhikkhu told me that once a senior teacher at the Mahasi Center (and if he was a senior teacher he was almost certainly a Mahasi Ariya also), one fine day, went into the office, stole a large amount of money, and then ran off with one of the female meditators. Also, if telling lies includes breaking promises, like falsely promising to restrain oneself while making confession, then quite a few, maybe most, Mahasi Ariyas are able to break at least one precept. Pah Auk Sayadaw, founder and leader of one of the main rivals of the Mahasi method in Burma, used rarely to pass by the opportunity to insist that nobody could possibly become an Ariya by following the Mahasi method. Whether followers of the Mahasi method make similar remarks about the Pah Auk method I don't know.
     It is true that the Mahasi method deviates somewhat from strict Theravadin orthodoxy, although of course dedicated followers and teachers of the system may deny this. The main controversy in this regard, which has been going on since the 1950's, is whether or not khaika samādhi, "momentary concentration" which isn't even approaching jhāna, is sufficient for Ariyahood to be attained. Conservative dogmatic types like Pah Auk Sayadaw say no, with the texts backing them up. The scholars of the Mahasi method, however, have apparently appealed to some obscure statements in the medieval sub-commentaries to back up their position that deep contemplative states are unnecessary. Of course, from a Western point of view dogmatic orthodoxy is no proof of truth; and for all I know it is possible to become enlightened without being a meditation master. But that's just my perspective. I'm not inclined to take sides in the aforementioned controversy.
     But to believe that half the inhabitants of Panditarama, approximately, were partially enlightened Ariyas, especially considering their behavior, and their teacher's behavior too, was too much for my open-mindedness to handle. It caused a crash of faith in the system even more that Sayadaw's daily anger (if not at me, then at someone else) did.
     Once when I was washing my robe during a walking meditation period the notorious Bengali walked by. I asked if I could ask him a question, and he vehemently assured me that I could ask him anything. So I asked, "Do you believe you are an Ariya?"
     His eyes got big, and he said, "Oh, I can't tell you that!"
     I assured him that there was no offense in one monk telling another, but he insisted that he couldn't say. He did say, though, that he could say that "it is very difficult, but also very easy."
     Then I remarked that we're all insane, so it's difficult for us to do what is easy, and he agreed. Then he looked off into space for a few moments…and emitted a loud guffaw. He roared with laughter for a few seconds, then walked away.

     (to be continued…)

Sayadaw U Pandita, of the Mahasi Tradition


  1. "Sometimes this would give subtle cues to the meditators with regard to what they ought to report, even what they ought to experience, if they wanted to do well and maybe avoid a scolding."

    I'm glad you mentioned this.. as it's precisely the problem I have with Mahasi-method reporting. The teacher is clearly leading the student into giving 'right' answers to interview questions, and the student may then strive to have the experiences they know the teacher is looking for them to have. It seems to me that practitioners (and teachers) of the Mahasi method are at particular risk of self-deception-- especially if the mere completion of a course signals the end of progress.

    1. Yeah, and it's not just the Mahasi method either. And once a person is persuaded that she/he is an Ariya, that person becomes virtually impossible to talk to. I know of only two "Mahasi Ariyas" who sooner or later realized that they weren't really Ariyas, and one of them, or so I've been told, is Pah Auk Sayadaw. But his method involves even more coaching with regard to what people should experience. As your hero David Bohm says, to be sure of anything is mental bondage.

  2. Thank you once again for a wonderful post. I found it very interesting to learn more about the inner working of Panditarama and the Mahasi technique. I was laughing out loud at the backhanding him off the chair comment. It seems he got under your skin for a little while.

    I mentioned before that I practice TIbetan Buddhism. Before "converting", I did a Goenka retreat and a Pa Auk 10 day retreat and always wanted to spend two months in Panditarama. Now, not so much any more. :-) I never knew how much coaching was involved in the Mahasi method. When I did the Pa Auk retreat with Sister .... I didn't really feel coached. But, we were also told repeatedly not to expect Jhana in the next 10 days. :-) Well, that is precisely why I went but of course didn't get to experience any Jhana. I was 19 when I did the 10 day Goenka course and had no expectations except to learn about Chakras and Kundalini. Haha, was I in for a surprise. Anyway, now I am pretty happy with my Tibetan situation. Which bring me to your views on having a teacher.

    I find it fascinating you believe a teacher is not necessary. Although I like the idea that one sorts stuff out oneself I do believe there are so many pitfalls on the way that one's whole life one could be meditating in a way that is actually detrimental to one's progress. Also, one is bound to experience obstacles on the way. A proper teacher will see those coming or can explain why they happen or can take them away and one can progress better. I mean, you had Taungpulu Sayadaw as a teacher. Do you not wish you could have asked him about your restless mind? Though, in his presence your mind probably was not restless. :-) But, even though his mind was pacified, I am sure he would have been able to give excellent advice on the issue.

    1. Actually, venerable Taungpulu Sayadaw died back in the early 80's, years before I had ever heard of him. My main Dhamma teachers, aside from books, intuition, and trial & error, were my preceptor ven. Hlaing Tet Sayadaw, his assistant ven U Tejaniya (not the famous one), and, in Burma, ven. Kyauk Sin Tawya Sayadaw. All of them were disciples of Taungpulu. All of them were quite Burmese, and although knowledgeable of Dhamma (of course), understood it with a Burmese perspective including lots of Abhidhamma, etc., which most Westerners cannot assimilate so well. St. Francis of Assisi was no doubt very highly advanced spiritually, but all his talk about Jesus and the Virgin Mary might turn off the average modern Western meditator.

      Anyway, my take on spiritual teachers is found in the essay (on the website) "On Tarot Cards, Ouija Boards, Astrology, Spirit Mediums, and Spiritual Teachers." The idea is that a spiritual guide can't possibly teach us what isn't elicited by our own karma anyway, and our karma is already inside us. So teachers are a kind of trick or gimmick for bringing up our own latent knowledge. They may be necessary for some, or even for most.

      But then of course you have the trouble of identifying a good teacher. Teachers may mislead you just as easily as you mislead yourself. And all we have to identify good teachers is the unenlightened mind in need of a teacher! How can one know if a teacher is really wise? And even if he or she is wise, there are still compatibility issues.

      So if one can find a good teacher, excellent. If one can't, well, one may still get there. I do have teachers; it's just that they're invisible (or else in books). One thing a real teacher can do that a book can't is get on your case when you're being lazy.

    2. Thanks for that reply. I will read that essay about your take on a teacher.
      Yes, good point. I think it is very hard to find truly enlightened beings as teachers. And, like you said, how does one know for sure? But, some people seem to always end up with abusive charlatans who just spout book knowledge while others are lucky and can get close to someone who truly is advanced. Of course, saying that, I am aware it is still my unenlightened mind that judges whether someone is a charlatan or a Buddha.
      Last but not least, you piqued my curiosity when you mention invisible teachers. Can I deduce that is similar to how some yogis get teachings from deceased yogis/deva's/Buddha's or other spiritual beings?

    3. Yeah! One real mind-blower for me is the idea that a charlatan for one person may really be a Buddha for another. Even Gotama Buddha was considered to be a fraud by some. I think this applies to ven. U Pandita also. Even though he wasn't my teacher, obviously, he has been a great spiritual guide to many people. My individual karma conditions a different U Pandita than another person's individual karma conditions. It all depends on how you look at it/him/her.

      An interesting documentary on this general issue is "Kumaré," about a movie producer from New Jersey who sets himself up as an Indian guru and acquires a following of people who are sure he's the real deal. He seems really to have helped people profoundly.

  3. Thank you, Bhante, for sharing your experience!

    Your honest accounts are very much appreciated.
    I have no problem believing that these people you described may very well be ariyas.

    After reading this, I came across this posting on DhammaWheel, which I think is very much on topic, and maybe even helpful and inspiring to you:

    It is always inspiring to me to see people who are earnestly, wholeheartedly and humbly dedicated to understanding the Dhamma, going back to its source, like this woman who is the starter of this thread. She is always investigating with sincerity, sober, humble thinking, and sharing her understanding conscientiously.

    So, it was my thought that this might also be inspiring to you. As an internet addict and Dhamma addict I am always searching, searching, searching, where and how the Dhamma flows. And in some cases I find: Oh, this might be inspiring here. Oh, that might be inspiring there.

    Maybe I am a bit crazy and lost in this jungle. I am always looking around for all the divergence and diversity of thought. I think that maybe eventually the internet is leading people to be dumb and dull and confused full of profound intellectual noise, as I see this effect on myself. But those who are humble will survive. So like this woman, like a lotus in a swamp of madness, and I had the feeling that you might feel the same and feel joy.

    Otherwise I hope it can be inspiring to other crazy people who came upon this blogpost, since I found it very fitting also in response to the topic.

    This is not a critique, if it might be perceived as such, as I am not able often to interpret my own writing and how it may be perceived. It is meant for sharing awareness of what I found to be helpful, inspiring and admirable.

    So may by this sharing I find the way out of noise and madness and do my math and get my things done. Because that is important, and I need to use my brain coherently and consistently, like this humble woman is using hers for understanding and investigating the Dhamma. And may through her investigating the Dhamma she arrive at clear knowing to share humbly. And may I get done with my math with humble interest to learn, like this woman is humbly interested in the Dhamma.

    Because such humble interest is hard to find and must be protected.
    And I must do my math.

    So may all beings be protected from noise and madness and be able to concentrate humbly and sincerely on reality and what leads to clear knowing. And may the efforts of such humble people be known and protected by the devas and appreciated and followed as an example by many.

    And may I shut up now and go to sleep and then do my math. And concentrate! To get it done. And not forget it. So. Really.

  4. Dear Bhante,

    Appreciate your very interesting and insightful insights on the Mahasi tradition a'la Pandita and your very frank and sharp observations and sharings of your experience of Saydaw Pandita as a meditation master. I think our so-called masters have clay feet and ought to come down a peg or two both for their own good and that of the tradition. Thank you for your writings and sharings. I look forward to hearing more of your personal experiences and observations of the various traditions you encounter.

    1. Well, some masters are more masterful than others. I do feel that reverence for one's teacher is invaluable; although finding a teacher one deeply respects may not be so easy, especially for us critically-minded egalitarian Westerners.