John. My name is John Awe and I grew up in Long Island, New York, and I first started my meditation practice through Integral Yoga Institute in New York City. And after practicing there for a year, I decided I wanted to pursue the Dharma more full time. And so I traveled through Southern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and then across to Asia. And when I arrived in India in 1971, I went up to the Himalayas and did a trek from outside of Katmandu to the base camp of Mount Everest. And during that trek, I there were no hotel walls or roads, just paths and the Tibetan villages. And so one could either stay in the home of a Tibetan family and you could sleep on the floor and share their food, or you could stay in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. And so that’s where I first got introduced to Buddhism was on that trek to the base camp of Mount Everest. And along the journey, I met another Westerner who told me about about Gaya in north central India, which is where the Buddha was enlightened. He said it was a great place to visit. And so I went there and there are many Buddhist temples from the various traditions. There was a Burmese temple, Tibetan temple, Sri Lankan, Japanese, Korean and all these temples were in the architecture of these various countries. And I walked inside of the Thai temple, and there was this huge bronze statue of the Buddha. And as I looked at it, all of my chakras opened and I realized that I had found what I was looking for my entire life.

So I started taking meditation classes in Bulgaria and doing some study, mostly Theravada, at the Thai temple in Bulgaria, and decided I wanted to pursue Buddhism more fully. And so I went to Southeast Asia, first to Burma and then to Thailand. And when I visited the north of Thailand in Chiang Mai, there was a what, a temple there in Thai. The what’s the temples are called what’s. And outside of the temple they had some books that. For what? For sale. And one of them was a book entitled Handbook for Mankind, written by a Thai monk named Buddha Dossa. And I read the book, and it spoke very deeply to me. It was about the foundational teachings of Buddhism, about the four noble truths, the aid for power. But one, he talked about suffering and how suffering arises and the fact that there’s a possibility of the cessation of suffering. That spoke deeply to my heart, and I decided that I wanted to visit this monk. So I took a train all the way from the north of Thailand, all the way to the southern peninsula to Sir tiny province, which is where his monastery, which he called Wat Suan Mok, was located. And I went to him and. And fortunately I jam. Buddha daughter could speak English, which was unusual at that time. Any way for a Thai to to to speak English as well as he could. It was very, very learned, man. And he gave me some of his pamphlets that were actually transcriptions of talks that he had given in various places in Thailand, all related to to Buddha Dharma, but also some dialogs that he had with between Christians and himself as a Buddhist meditation master. So he gave me a t a hut to stay in. And many of these pamphlets to read, including one on UN upon a certain mindfulness, would breathe in. And so that’s where I started my practice in the forest in southern Thailand at our Jam Buddhist US monastery. He was available to me for any questions that I might have. And very cordial. I the monks. We go in on this round and when they returned from and had their meal, they would give me the leftovers. So I had food to eat. And after spending a couple of weeks there practicing, I needed to to leave the country to renew my visa and I was on the way to on the way to Malaysia. I stopped in a province called the Quincy Tamarod. And someone who I had met at Swan Moak, who was an English nun who had ordained as a monk, told me about this monastery in the Quincy Tamarod province that he ordained at and lived at. And so I visited there, and that’s where I ultimately ordained first as a novice and then as a full monk. The name of that monastery was what Pell? And the teacher there was John Donne. Madero.

I had finished a cycle of being a Buddhist monk in Asia,
and that for my own learning that it would be better for me to be a
layperson and to and to teach as a layperson as well.

And so that’s really that’s where I started my really first intensive practice of meditation and stayed there for some time and then ultimately went to the north of Thailand, to the northeast of Thailand, to stay with John Cha at his monastery called what na na chard, what pa na na chart. And I lived in Thailand for six years, ultimately went back to southern Thailand, where I stayed with Arjun Buddhist also for several more years. I practiced in India as a monk as well. So in 1975, I did intensive meditation practice with the Indian teacher named Ehsan Goenka, and at that time, Goenka Ji, as we called him, didn’t have a meditation center of his own. So he would travel in various parts of India and give these ten and 20 day intensive meditation retreats. And so his I traveled with his students from one state in India to another, attending these retreats, connected very deeply with the meditation practice that he offered, which was, you know, mindfulness of breathing, and then the sweeping meditation where you move through your body part by part, getting in touch with very subtle sensations. Veda Na, as he referred to it as. M And it really helped to deepen my meditation practice where I had struggled some previously with the meditation doing. I practice mindfulness for breathing previously, but when I did it in conjunction with the sweeping meditation, which was very body oriented, body sensation oriented, in which I got in touch with very subtle sensations within my body and my meditation practice deepened considerably. So I practiced for almost also about nine months altogether in India with Goenka JI and also I practice for several months in Sri Lanka, spent the monsoon season there in Sri Lanka and then returned to Thailand, practice some more in Thailand and then returned to the United States in 1979. And when I returned to the States in 1979, I returned as a monk. So I was still ordained. And I on the way back to the US, I stopped in England to visit some old friends who had previously been monks with me in Asia, and one of them was leading a meditation retreat. His name was Christopher Titmus, a dear friend who ordained and lived in the same monastery that I did in the Quincy Tamarod. And well, while I was attending that retreat, I just happened to share a room with Joseph Goldstein, who was also there and was sitting that retreat. And Joseph invited me when I returned to the US to come to the Insight Meditation Society in Barry, Massachusetts, where I could stay. I took him up on that offer after returning to New York and stayed with my family for about ten days. I fled up to Massachusetts, sits to immerse and and practice there for oh about five months I attended there the three month retreat and that was in the fall of 1979. And then at the end of that retreat, Joseph Goldstein and Jack Cornfield invited me to teach with them, as well as Christopher Titmus, who he and Christina Feldman came to the US, I think at that time, maybe a couple of times a year to lead retreats at IMC and they they invited me to teach with them as well. So that’s where I first started teaching. In fact, my first teaching assignment was with Sharon Salzberg at I Am Mass. It was in the winter of 1980 and I was not ready to teach. That was not something I did return to United States with the intention of teaching. I returned to the United States with the intention of visiting my family, who I hadn’t seen in eight years. And my parents were getting older. They were retired. They wanted to see me again. So that’s why I returned to United States. And I was unsure whether I wanted to remain in the United States or go back to Asia. And which is where the reasons why I still was in robes. But after staying in the US for a couple of years, I decided that in teaching I decided that it would be better for me to practice and to teach. As a layperson that I had finished a cycle of being a Buddhist monk in Asia, and that for my own learning that it would be better for me to be a layperson and to and to teach as a layperson as well. And that’s where it all started for me. So I taught at the Insight Meditation Society for nine years until 1989. And also during that time I taught in various places, other centers in the United States and also in England at a house in southern England. And that’s where it all began for me as far as my teaching was concerned. And my of course, my introduction to Buddha Dharma was very much Teradata. I was drawn to the Terra Vada, even though as I previously said, you know, I met the Tibetans initially and was really impressed, you know, with their monasteries and the cleanliness of them in a quietude, especially compared to some of the yoga ashrams that I had visited in India. But when I, you know, when I went to Southeast Asia and got introduced to to the Teradata lineage, to the teachings, to, you know, the life of the monastics, I was very drawn to that, almost as if I had done this before, you know, that this was familiar to me. Being in robes felt very familiar, something that I was more or less comfortable in doing. Although initially it was, you know, I had to learn Thai language. I had to learn I was right in the middle of the Thai culture, surrounded by Buddhist dharma. There was a lot of adjustments, obviously, to be made in that kind of situation as a Western person. But it was it was marvelous. It was really I always speak of those years as being the best years of my life in terms of just being in Thai culture, their hospitality, you know, how welcoming they were to me, supportive of, you know, a Westerner, young Westerner, because I when I ordained, actually ordained, I was it was my 24th birthday. So I was quite young. And, you know, they gave me everything that I needed, all the requisites, the robes, the bow, the alms bowl. You know what? If I needed medical attention, I got that, you know, a place to live, you know, food to eat. Wonderful teaching, you know, a supportive sangha community. So as very rich, beautiful, wonderful experience. And I learned a lot from the Thai people, learned a lot from my teachers. Each of them offered something a little bit different in terms of their style of teaching, what they emphasized, and also the kind of center or monastic environment that they provided. It was all a little bit different, much of it familiar, of course, but they each emphasize something different, like the first teacher, Arjan Damodaran, what he emphasized was a meditation technique or method and intensive practice, you know, which was a small place. But a lot of monks, a lot of nuns, and we did a lot of group practice together, whether it be group standing meditation, walking meditation, sitting meditation in the chapel, a lot of practice together, which is what I need needed in the beginning, because I had never done intensive meditation. I had done some meditation in the yoga tradition at the Integral Yoga Institute in New York City. Was Swami situated under my teacher here, my first teacher, but nothing as intensive as what we did, you know, in the monasteries in Thailand, especially that first monastery. So it really kind of pushed me very deeply into the practice. The emphasis was not on study, it was on the practice from early in the morning, 4:00 in the morning until you went to bed at night. And where the practice with John Cha at his monastery up in the northeast of Thailand and urban province. The emphasis, a lot of the emphasis was on the Vinaya, on the monks discipline on Selah. And so at that monastery, which was a forest monastery, I really learned what it meant to be a monk and how to live out as a monk and you know how to follow the benign discipline and to refine that and to really use that as part of my practice, I was an amazing person. Human being is right there smiling at us. It was unusual for him to be smiling because that was his nature. He was just a happy Buddha, a happy, awakened one, and just to be near him, you could feel, you know, that loving, you know, wise, awakened energy. It it it just it he personified it and there were some other Westerners at that time or that which were also listening, living at that monastery. And so we kind of supported each other, you know, in our practice as well. It was a very strong discipline kind of place. We got up at 3:00 in the morning in depending upon the time of the year, they would either be chanting in the morning and meditation before the arms round and eating one meal a day, which was around 9:00 in the morning in the wintertime and cold in the in the cooler season. You know, the monks, the Western monks, we gather together and meditate at 3:00 in the morning together, supporting each other in our practice. And they were Dharma talks by Agent Cha in the evening work around the monastery. He didn’t emphasize so much method, meditation, technique and method. Like in the first monastery that I was ordained and lived in. He did. We did practice mindfulness of meditation, but there was a lot more emphasis on moment to moment mindfulness through the course of the day. So no matter what it was that you were doing, whether it was chanting or whether it was going on a alms round preparing for the meal, eating the meal, cleaning up afterwards, doing your chores around the monastery, sweeping. There was no electricity or running water in the monastery. So, you know, we had to carry water from the wells in buckets to various locations in the monastery. So people had access to water. We had to fill oil lamps for lighting. So, you know, sweeping leaves in the monastery, there was, you know, some work to be done as part of our practice as well. Would there be washing our robes or dying our robes, anything that you did during the course of the day, the emphasis was doing it with mindfulness. There was a very strong emphasis on this. So there wasn’t so much a separation between the formal meditation practice, a sitting practice or walking meditation that we did. There wasn’t a separation between that and being mindful all through the course of the day, and that was very helpful to kind of it really kind of fleshed out my practice before it was more the formal practice where the emphasis was. But this moment, a moment mindfulness practice really helped it to deepen my meditation and it helped me to look at meditation and the Dharma in a more expanded way in both the first monastery at what? Hillcoat with our John Damodaran, also at Waupun on our chat with our John Char, there was very little emphasis upon study, much more. The emphasis was on practice. In fact, they didn’t really want us to study the you know, they were all they wanted us to do was put that all away, you know, and just really focus upon our meditation practice and mindfulness. And I think that was especially helpful for us Westerners because those of us who are ordained and there was at the first monastery, there were about three other Westerners who were staying there besides myself and John Charles Monastery. There were eight of us Westerners that were there. And so most of us were educated. Of course, you know, and many of us had gone to college. And so we you know, the study part could be a diversion somewhat. It was much more difficult just to practice, you know, to put all the books aside. Anyway, there were only many books anyway. There weren’t a lot of books to talk in here in the, you know, early to mid seventies, there weren’t a lot of Dharma books in English that were published at that time, very few. And of course we didn’t have access to many of them in Thailand because of because of where we were. There was two books, one that were helpful for me. Ultimately, one of them was a book by Joseph Goldstein called The Experience of Insight that found its way into my hands at some point during my time in Thailand. The other was Zen mind, Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki Roshi, and that was very, very helpful. We kept passing that book around to all the Westerners, even though it was in practice in other ways. Teachings in there were very helpful. It wasn’t until later on when I spent several years with Arjun Buddha Dass. After my time in India with Goenka Ji and I returned to Thailand from India and stayed once again at what? Suan Mote where I, you know, visited the early on in my time in Thailand. It wasn’t until I returned then that I realized that I needed to spend more time studying the sutras and Buddha. Dasa was not only a meditation master, but a scholar, and he was helpful in that regard. And that’s what I did. I just had a quickie in the forest that I spent a lot of time alone, you know, practicing by myself and studying, not in an adjunct booth. Buddha Doses Monastery. There wasn’t a lot of group practice as there was like with Arjun Shah or with Arjun Dharma Dero. So which is one of the reasons why I wanted to stay there. I didn’t feel like I needed the group support as much, that I really just needed a place to quietly practice on my own and to study it. It was also during that period that I started to live in caves and practice in caves, and I lived in a cave, one cave for five months during the rainy season in the south of Thailand, and also practice what we call in the Tai Forest tradition to dong and to dong is a when you just have your basic requisites of your robes and your bowl and, you know, basic things that you need, and then you just kind of wander from village to village. And there was another monk who was from New Zealand and myself, and we did a two dong to the north of Thailand to north of Chiang Mai into the Hill Tribe country in the north of Thailand would stay in caves primarily and the Hill tribespeople are don’t speak Thai and they’re not Buddhists and they’re not familiar with a lot of the Buddhist customs. They’re more like semi-nomadic, you know, and they have, you know, their own spiritual practices, probably more similar to separatism into the relationship with the spirit world, which was what was the spiritual practice of before Buddhism was introduced to Thailand. And so my friend David and myself, as we were walking into the Hill Tribe’s country, we visited a village there and and explained to there was only one person in the village that spoke Thai. It was a village heads. And so we went to the village has men and, you know, kind of introduced ourselves as Buddhist monks. They had seen Buddhist monks had known about Buddhist monks before, but didn’t have much understanding of the of the Buddhist tradition. So we described to them how we were going to in the morning, that our tradition was that we were going to go on alms around, and then we were just going to walk silently through the village. And anyone that wanted to offer us food were welcome to not required, but they were welcome to if they wish to. And so he told some of the villagers about this. And so in the morning we left the cave and we went into the village. And it was a remarkable experience. You know, the I think it was the village had been himself who met us at the entry entry to the village to begin with and put some food in our bowl. And then we walked a little further and and then other people were standing. Besides, there are very simple huts up on stilts that they lived in, very simple dwellings, usually with pigs and animals kind of running underneath their, their, their houses. And they were waiting outside. They would give us some rice and pork usually is what they had to offer. And they we walked some and then after they put the food in the bowl, they they followed behind us. And then as we walked through the village and other villagers saw us, the people who had given us some food would tell the other villages what we were doing and they would go up into their house and come down with some rice and some pork fat and or for that to us. And then they would follow behind us. And there was a whole kind of entourage as we move through the village. And the children were laughing and everybody was smiling and everybody was happy. It was really a remarkable experience to, you know, go to this place where people probably never offered Donna to Buddhist monks before. And, you know, it wasn’t the most nutritious meal they had ever eaten, but it was one of the most satisfying just because, you know, the the whole experience of of meeting these people and going on the arms round. Yes. So let’s take a pause, because I think we kind of bring it back a little bit because there are.


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