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I am very impressed by the thoroughness and care with which Dr. Thynn Thynn explains the path of mindfulness in daily life in her book. This has not been emphasized as strongly in the monastic and meditative teachings of Buddhism that have taken root in the West. In fact, much of Buddhist practice in Asia has followed the intensive model. But clearly, that will not work for those of us who are householders in the West. And anyway, the wonderful experiences of intensive practice often lead to less transformation of our lives than we might hope, so that after intensive meditation practice we are back again in the midst of our lives with the question of how to bring the Dhamma to bear in everyday life. I am so pleased when I see a book like Dr. Thynn Thynn's that speaks directly to this situation.
I applaud her clarity and courage for teaching in the straightforward way that she does.
Spirit Rock Center
Years ago when I came to Thynn-Thynn's small Dharma group in Bangkok, I was a newcomer to Buddhism. Thynn-Thynn opened the door to her home and welcomed me with warm eyes and an infectious laugh. Several of her friends joined us and began asking her questions about Buddhism. Smiling, she answered them in a casual way, often using personal anecdotes.
As the years went by, the group grew. Friends invited their curious friends to come. Thynn-Thynn responded by offering more structured sessions. We literally sat at her feet as she gave a discourse, drew diagrams, and defined Pali terms. After a lunch filled with laughter and talk, we met again for lively discussions. Someone would ask for clarification of a point. The discussion would roll around to: How can I apply this in my life? How will it help me be mindful around my little toddlers? How can I practice equanimity with my rebellious teenagers? How can I share this with a closed-minded spouse? How can I be more compassionate to a friend in need?
Thynn-Thynn would gently offer, in a soft voice, her insights. Rather than suggest a specific solution, she would propose a Dharma way of looking at a problem. The questioner would return home and try "stopping and looking" and "letting go." That was our practice. Go home and try it out.
Over the years, we became a support group, but one with a difference. The Dharma propelled us forward in our lives; it held us together as a group. It wasn't always easy. We were all so different -- or so we thought at first. We came from many countries -- Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Switzerland, Russia and the United States. We were an eclectic mix of religious backgrounds -- Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and atheist. And we had very different personalities -- devotional, intellectual, artistic, out-going and contemplative. In a sense, we were speaking different languages: the logic of the intellectual left the devotional unmoved; dramatic insights overwhelmed those with more reserved temperaments. Sometimes sparks would fly at meetings. But Thynn-Thynn leavened these delicate situations with her ready humor and perceptive awareness. The social interactions within the group itself also became part of our practice.
Going one step further, Thynn-Thynn customized the practice for each of us. She matched, point for point, the heated arguments of the intellectual. She urged artists to delight in the beauty of the moment. Nurturing each person's natural tendencies, she encouraged each person to open up and blossom. Acutely sensitive to each person's needs, Thynn-Thynn sought to balance our rigid conditioning. She prodded the lazy, shocked the arrogant, and relaxed the compulsive. In doing so, she revealed many different paths to understanding.
Gradually, each of us softened into Buddhism. We found we smiled more, laughed more and loved more. We slowed down and had glimpses of things as they are.
Recently, Thynn-Thynn has moved to the United States; new friends gather around, eager to learn the Dharma and apply it to their daily lives. The Bangkok group still continues. Those of us who were in the original group remain friends and continue to practice, although we are separated by years and miles. Despite our differences, we found we have a lasting commitment to living the Dharma, and an abiding love for the woman who showed us it can be done.
Preface to the Second Edition
Ten years ago, when our small Dhamma group started to meet in Bangkok, I was inspired to write about the many questions that arose. The articles compiled in this book came out of those many discussions. As I wrote, I gave these articles to Dhamma friends to help them digest the Dhammic point of view and encourage them in their spiritual quests.
I wrote the articles to encourage practitioners learning to meditate in daily life. In this sense, the articles are presented as a "hands-on" or, more accurately, a "minds-on" training manual. Although I discuss meditation in general, the real focus is on how the Dhamma brings us into spontaneous, wholesome and creative living.
This book is primarily for beginners in meditation. I have used theory and Pali terms sparingly. The emphasis is on the process and insights into the nature of the mind. My objective in presenting the articles is to help the aspirant build up a solid foundation of mindfulness as a way of life rather than as a practice separated from daily living. For those who have been practicing meditation in the formal way, this approach can help them incorporate their mindfulness practice into everyday experience. The process of mindfulness is the same, except in one important aspect: instead of sitting down, closing the eyes and watching the mind, the practice is done while attending to everyday business.
After the first edition of this book came out in 1992, I received comments to the effect that my teaching style is similar to Krishnamurti and Zen. When someone once mentioned it to my friend, the Theravada nun Shinma Dhammadina, she replied, "That's because her teachers' teachings are very much like Krishnamurti and Zen."
My teachers are Burmese abbots, Sayadaw U Eindasara of Rangoon and Sayadaw U Awthada of Henzada. They are Theravada monks, but teach the Dhamma in a very unorthodox and dynamic fashion. They veer away from the emphasis on the traditional form of "sitting" meditation, and instead strongly emphasize "looking directly within and practicing mindfulness in everyday life."
I was very much attracted to this approach because of its simplicity, directness and practicality in daily life. Just before I met my teachers in 1973, I had meditated briefly in the traditional sitting style at the Mahasi Meditation Center in Rangoon with the late Sayadaw U Zawana. After a few sessions with him, I began to realize I was automatically becoming aware of my feelings in daily life and was becoming much calmer without formal "sitting in meditation." I discovered that as soon as I focused on my feelings they would drop away very quickly. Then, through some good Dhamma friends, I found out about my teachers' method of finding peace of mind by stopping and looking at the mind, moment by moment, in daily life as a form of meditation practice. I felt immediately drawn to this style of teaching since I was experiencing exactly what these teachers taught.
When I met my teachers, I was struck by the Sayadaws' profound wisdom and their innovative style of teaching. Their liberal interpretation of Theravada Buddhism is rarely found in traditional Buddhist Myanmar. Their teachings may sound similar to Krishnamurti's, in an attempt to break down the mind from all conditioning to its ultimate freedom, but what is striking in the approach of the Sayadaws is that they provide a means to reassimilate the relative with a new insightful perspective. They are also exceptionally skillful in providing hands-on training which is similar to a direct transmission in the Zen tradition. This is probably why my book may appear to some as an integration of Theravada Buddhism, Krishnamurti and Zen. My teachers have not been Western-educated, and came to know about Krishnamurti and Zen only when we, their students, introduced them to these teachings. It is thus interesting to see the confluence of such apparently disparate approaches to spiritual truth in such an unlikely manner.
I am often asked what my teachers were like. They are actually an unlikely pair. Sayadaw U Eindasara is a profound mystic and poet and the quieter one of the pair. We fondly call him "the laughing Buddha." He rarely appears or talks in public but devotes extraordinary energy to working with his students. Sayadaw U Awthada is brilliant and quick-witted and we called him "the Burmese Zen Master" in recognition of his Zen-like ability to tie up his students in knots and push them beyond the intellect.
These teachers invite comparisons with Krishnamurti in that they live a very simple life, without seeking followers, without setting up any institutions or organizations, and keeping away from publicity and fame. They still live and teach within the confines of monkhood, yet maintain an integrity and openness rarely found in Buddhist Asia.
I had the good fortune to study closely with these two remarkable teachers and I remember with fondness and gratitude the time I spent training with them. They thought I was a little tricky, as I would continuously bring people from all walks of life to be exposed to their teaching first-hand. From such close encounters I have the privilege now to share my experiences with members of my Dhamma groups and also, through this book, with many others. To these two teachers, I bow in great reverence; I also bow down to my guru, Shwe Baw Byun Sayadaw, for his kind support for this book and for my Dhamma work in the West.
Scarsdale, New York, 1995
I am deeply indebted to my dearest Dhamma friend, Pam Taylor, who was the very first person to suggest that I should get my writings published, and who also took it upon herself to better organize my random writing and restructure it into a manuscript. Without her valiant efforts and superb editing, my manuscript would still be lying on a shelf in my basement. My thanks also go to Marcia Hamilton, who edited the first draft manuscript, and to Ashin U Tay Zaw Batha, who edited the text. Then it was my illustrious husband, Dr. San Lin, who succeeded in nudging me to complete the manuscript and who was enormously helpful in preparing the final version.
It is not only to my husband, but to my wonderful children, Win and Tet, that I owe many insights into myself, human nature and family life. Many friends ask me what my meditation is and I always reply, "My family is my meditation." It is mostly through my family that I have learned to practice what I preach. It is the family that compels me to sharpen my wits, to train and retrain my own mindfulness. In fact, my family is my greatest challenge and training ground.
I am very grateful to my old Dhamma friends from Bangkok for the memorable and joyous times I had with them and for their candid and challenging questions which resulted in this book.
Many thanks to John Hein and Charlotte Richardson for their careful editing and revising, to Nee Nee Myint for retyping, and to David Babski for formatting the manuscript.
Lastly, I would like to thank John Bullitt for putting it on-line.
[0. Contents] [1. Introduction] [2. Freedom to begin]
[3. Living Meditation] [4. Reflection on Meditation] [5. Creative Living]
[6. Appendix] [Back to the Buddhasasana Home Page (English)]