Theravada spiritual teachers & Buddhist modernism
Theravāda is the most commonly accepted name of Buddhism’s oldest existing school.
Table of Contents
- 1 - The Buddhist modernism
- 2 - The growth of forest traditions
- 3 - The spread of Theravāda around the world
- 4 - Prominent teachers of Theravada tradition
- 4.1 - Tara Brach
- 4.2 - Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu
- 4.3 - Gil Fronsdal
- 4.4 - Joseph Goldstein (writer)
- 4.5 - Sharon Salzberg
- 4.6 - Ruth Denison
- 4.7 - Dipa Ma
- 4.8 - Sujiva
- 4.9 - Larry Rosenberg
- 4.10 - Walpola Rahula Thero
- 4.11 - Stephen Levine (author)
- 4.12 - Shinzen Young
- 4.13 - Sayagyi U Ba Khin
- 4.14 - Achan Sobin S. Namto
- 4.15 - R. G. de S. Wettimuny
- 4.16 - Piya Tan
- 4.17 - Bhante Dharmawara
- 4.18 - Noah Levine
- 4.19 - Kotapola Amarakitti Thero
- 4.20 - Kiribathgoda Gnanananda Thero
- 4.21 - Kee Nanayon
- 4.22 - Godwin Samararatne
- 4.23 - Phillip Moffitt
The Buddhist modernism
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Theravāda Buddhists came into direct contact with western ideologies, religions and modern science.
The various responses to this encounter have been called “Buddhist modernism”.
After independence, Myanmar held the Sixth Buddhist council (Vesak 1954 to Vesak 1956) to create a new redaction of the Pāli Canon.
The Vipassana movement continued to grow after independence, becoming an international movement with centers around the world.
Influential meditation teachers of the post-independence era include U Narada, Mahasi Sayadaw, Sayadaw U Pandita, Nyanaponika Thera, Webu Sayadaw, U Ba Khin and his student S.N. Goenka.
Meanwhile, in Thailand the religion became much more centralized, bureaucratized and controlled by the state after a series of reforms promoted by Thai kings of the Chakri dynasty.
The growth of forest traditions
The 20th century also saw the growth of “forest traditions” which focused on forest living and strict monastic discipline.
The main forest movements of this era are the Sri Lankan Forest Tradition and the Thai Forest Tradition, founded by Ajahn Mun (1870–1949) and his students.
A number of senior monastics in the Thai Forest Tradition, including Buddhadasa, Ajahn Maha Bua, Ajahn Plien Panyapatipo, Ajahn Pasanno, and Ajahn Jayasaro, have begun teaching meditation retreats outside of the monastery for lay disciples.
Ajahn Sumedho, a disciple of Ajahn Chah, founded the Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in Hertfordshire, which has a retreat center specifically for lay retreats.
Sumedho extended this to Harnham in Northumberland as Aruna Ratanagiri under the present guidance of Ajahn Munindo, another disciple of Ajahn Chah.
The spread of Theravāda around the world
Theravāda Buddhism in Cambodia and Laos went through similar experiences in the modern era.
During the late 1980s and 1990s, the official attitudes toward Buddhism began to liberalize in Laos and there was a resurgence of traditional Buddhist activities such as merit-making and doctrinal study.
The modern era also saw the spread of Theravāda Buddhism around the world and the revival of the religion in places where it remains a minority faith.
Prominent teachers of Theravada tradition
This is a list of important teachers in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism past and present.
Tara Brach is an American psychologist, author, and proponent of Buddhist meditation. She is a guiding teacher and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, D.C. (IMCW). Her colleagues in the Vipassanā, or insight meditation tradition, include Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, and Joseph Goldstein. Brach also teaches about Buddhist meditation at centers for meditation and yoga in the United States and Europe, including Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California; the Kripalu Center; and the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies.
Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu is a Canadian Buddhist monk. He was ordained in 2001 under Ajahn Tong Sirimangalo.
Gil Fronsdal is a Norwegian-born, American Buddhist teacher, writer and scholar based in Redwood City, California. He has been practicing Buddhism of the Sōtō Zen and Vipassanā sects since 1975, and is currently teaching the practice of Buddhism in the San Francisco Bay Area. Having been taught by the Vipassanā practitioner Jack Kornfield, Fronsdal is part of the Vipassanā teachers’ collective at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. He was ordained as a Sōtō Zen priest at the San Francisco Zen Center in 1982, and was a Theravāda monk in Burma in 1985. In 1995, he received Dharma transmission from Mel Weitsman, the abbot of the Berkeley Zen Center.
Joseph Goldstein (writer)
Joseph Goldstein is one of the first American vipassana teachers, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) with Jack Kornfield and Sharon Salzberg, a contemporary author of numerous popular books on Buddhism, a resident guiding teacher at IMS, and a leader of retreats worldwide on insight (vipassana) and lovingkindness (metta) meditation.
Sharon Salzberg is a New York Times bestselling author and teacher of Buddhist meditation practices in the West. In 1974, she co-founded the Insight Meditation Society at Barre, Massachusetts, with Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Her emphasis is on vipassanā (insight) and mettā (loving-kindness) methods, and has been leading meditation retreats around the world for over three decades. All of these methods have their origins in the Theravada Buddhist tradition. Her books include Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness (1995), A Heart as Wide as the World (1999), Real Happiness – The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program (2010), which was on The New York Times Best Seller list in 2011, and the follow-up Real Happiness at Work (2013). She runs a Metta Hour podcast, and contributes monthly to a column On Being.
Ruth Denison was the first Buddhist teacher in the United States to lead an all-women’s retreat for Buddhist meditation and instruction. Her center, Dhamma Dena Desert Vipassana Center is located in the Mojave Desert, in Joshua Tree, California. She was also a teacher at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. She sometimes taught at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California.
Nani Bala Barua, better known as Dipa Ma, was an Indian meditation teacher of Theravada Buddhism and was of Barua descent. She was a prominent Buddhist master in Asia and also taught in the United States where she influenced the American branch of the Vipassana movement.
Sujiva is a Malaysian Buddhist monk (samanera) and well known teacher of Vipassanā meditation in the Theravāda Buddhist tradition. Ven. Sujiva is one of the Buddhist teachers, who are responsible for developing a keen interest in Vipassanā meditation in the Western countries. He has written many books on vipassana and Metta meditation. He has also published several collections of poems.
Larry Rosenberg is an American Buddhist teacher who founded the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1985. He is also a resident teacher there. Rosenberg was a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago and Harvard Medical School. In addition to teaching at the Insight Meditation Center in Cambridge, he is also a senior teacher at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts.
Walpola Rahula Thero
Walpola Rahula Thero (1907–1997) was a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk, scholar and writer. In 1964, he became the Professor of History and Religions at Northwestern University, thus becoming the first bhikkhu to hold a professorial chair in the Western world. He also once held the position of Vice-Chancellor at the then Vidyodaya University. He has written extensively about Buddhism in English, French and Sinhalese. He wrote the book What the Buddha Taught about Theravada Buddhism.
Stephen Levine (author)
Stephen Levine was an American poet, author and teacher best known for his work on death and dying. He is one of a generation of pioneering teachers who, along with Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg, have made the teachings of Theravada Buddhism more widely available to students in the West. Like the writings of his colleague and close friend, Ram Dass, Stephen’s work is also flavoured by the devotional practices and teachings of the Hindu Guru Neem Karoli Baba. This aspect of his teaching may be considered one way in which his work differs from that of the more purely Buddhist oriented teachers named above. Allusions in his teachings to a creator, which he variously terms God, The Beloved, The One and ‘Uugghh,’ further distinguish his work from that of other contemporary Buddhist writers.
Shinzen Young is an American meditation teacher. He leads residential and phone-based meditation retreats for students interested in learning the Vipassana (insight) tradition of Buddhism. Shinzen was originally ordained in Japan as a monk in the Shingon tradition. He has studied and practiced extensively in other traditions, including Zen and Native American traditions.
Sayagyi U Ba Khin
Sayagyi U Ba Khin was the first Accountant General of the Union of Burma. He was the founder of the International Meditation Centre in Yangon, Myanmar and is principally known as a leading twentieth century authority on Vipassana meditation.
Achan Sobin S. Namto
Achan Sobin S. Namto is a Buddhist monk who has taught Vipassana meditation and Buddhist psychology in Southeast Asia and North America for over 50 years.
R. G. de S. Wettimuny
Ramsay G. de S. Wettimuny was a Buddhist writer.
Piya Tan Beng Sin, also known as Piya Tan or Piyasilo, is a Peranakan full-time lay Buddhist writer-cum-teacher in Singapore. He actively teaches the Buddha’s Dharma, meditation and Pali to various Buddhist groups and organisations, and also works as a meditation therapist and counsellor at The Minding Centre (TMC). He is the first full-time lay Dharma worker (“Dharmacari”) in Singapore to be supported by donations from the Buddhist community.
Samdach Vira Dharmawara Bellong Mahathera, also known simply as Bhante Dharmawara, was a Cambodian-born Theravada monk and teacher who died at the age of 110.
Noah Levine is an American Buddhist teacher and author, son of American Buddhist teacher and poet Stephen Levine. As a counselor known for his philosophical alignment with Buddhism and punk ideology, he identifies his Buddhist beliefs and practices with both the Theravada and Mahayana traditions. He has written several books on Buddhism and Buddhist practice including Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction.
Kotapola Amarakitti Thero
Kotapola Amarakitti Thero is a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk and politician. He was a representative of Colombo for Jathika Hela Urumaya in the Parliament of Sri Lanka.
Kiribathgoda Gnanananda Thero
Kiribathgoda Gnanananda Thero is a Sri Lankan monk. who is the Founder of Mahamevnawa Buddhist Monastery and Shraddha Media Network.
Upasika Kee Nanayon or Kor Khao-suan-luang was a Thai Buddhist upāsikā from Ratchaburi. After her retirement in 1945, she turned her home into a meditation center with her aunt and uncle. She was mostly self-taught, reading the Pali canon and other Buddhist literature. Her dhamma talks and poetry were widely circulated. As word of her spread, she became one of the most popular female meditation teachers in Thailand. Many of her talks have been translated into English by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, who sees her as “arguably the foremost woman Dhamma teacher in twentieth-century Thailand”.
Acharya Godwin Samararatne was one of the best known lay meditation teachers in Sri Lanka in recent times. During his teaching career he was based at his Meditation Centre at Nilambe in the central hill country near Kandy. After his death in March 2000 letters and tributes poured in as many people around the world attested to the impact that Godwin and his teaching had made on their lives.
Phillip Moffitt is a vipassana (insight) meditation teacher, former publishing executive, author, and an instructor at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California.