In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, we hear stories and teachings from Joseph Goldstein, one of the most well-known Buddhist teachers in the United States. Joseph Goldstein has been teaching meditation for 40 years and founded the Insight Meditation Society in 1976 with Sharon Salzberg and Jack Kornfield, a center that has since introduced thousands of people to meditation. He also has recently begun teaching meditation to, and with, ABC News anchor Dan Harris.
Joseph first tells us how he came across Buddhism at age 21 while in the PeaceCorps in Thailand. He describes his first meditation experience and what about that made him want to keep meditating. He also tells us about the book that influenced his early practices and reflects on whether he could tell at that time whether he was pioneering into uncharted waters for a Westerner.
We hear what Joseph’s early practice looked like and what inspired him to spend more time practicing in Asia. He shares experiences and stories from traveling in India in his early 20s, including meeting his first teacher, Anagarika Shri Munindra, who had been studying with Mahasi Sayadaw. We hear how Joseph was so powerfully drawn to meditation, despite the fact that it was not at all easy for him at first.
We hear how in the fall of 1970, renowned teacher S. N. Goenka came to Bodhgaya and Joseph began to practice body-scanning meditation with him. Joseph highlights the difference between mindfulness practice and concentration practices, and then goes on to share his experience being a student of beloved teacher Dipa Ma.
In 1974, Joseph returned to the United States and was invited by Ram Dass to teach with him and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche at the first summer session of the Naropa Institute. This led Joseph to be invited to lead retreats all around the country, and shortly afterward, he joined Sharon Salzberg and Jack Kornfield in founding the Insight Meditation Society. Joseph tells of IMS’s early days and what teaching alongside Trungpa Rinpoche was like.
He also tells of his experience practicing with Tibetan teachers Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche, underscoring the contrasts between the various practices he’s done. He shares with us a profound teaching he received from Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche on compassion and emptiness.
Finally, Joseph shares the realizations that set his mind at rest when he was struggling with some of the central philosophies and teachings of Buddhism, and offers his thoughts on how the Dharma has taken root in Western culture.
In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, we meet Theravada Buddhist teacher Shaila Catherine, author of Wisdom Wide and Deep and Focused and Fearless. Shaila was introduced to transcendental meditation in high school, and then later entered the path of Theravada Buddhism. She shares the difficulties she encountered on her first meditation retreat as well as what she encountered on that retreat that inspired her to continue practicing. She then shares how she spent a decade practicing in India, studying with meditation masters including H. W. L. Poonja (Poonjaji). She shares what it was like to study with Poonjaji and the phenomenal mind-to-mind connection he had with students. Shaila then reflects on how important the “ordinary” is as a part of spiritual practice. She also tells us about how she began going on longer retreats, during which time she began exploring the jhana states. We hear about the powerful and useful application of jhana practice, and how it enhances insight meditation and brings stability to the mind—as well as some common misunderstandings some people have about jhana practice. Host Daniel Aitken and Shaila then discuss how a practitioner can move from using the breath as the anchor to using mental states as an anchor through the “precise technology” of jhana practice. They also discuss how to use the breath as a focus for concentration. Shaila then describes in depth the first jhana and how it can be used for insight meditation, and how concentration practice illuminates the causes of suffering. Shaila also reflects on the difference between conceptually understanding impermanence, and really understanding it on a deeper level. She also shares her thoughts on the conditions needed to enter the jhanas, and whether we can access the jhanas in the midst of our busy lives, rather than simply on long retreats.
In this episode we meet Steve Armstrong, a teacher in the vipassana tradition who has studied the dhamma and practiced insight meditation since 1975. Steve is a co-founding teacher of the Vipassana Metta Foundation’s dharma sanctuary on Maui, and guided the creation of the new book Manual of Insight, the classic collection of teachings by the renowned Mahasi Sayadaw.
Steve Armstrong begins with the story of how his spiritual practice started in a commune in Maine for followers of Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead. He then shares his first meditation retreat experience and how he began seeing the impact of meditation in his everyday life. We hear how he first encountered the experience of faith in Buddhist practice. Steve tells us how he was there for the very beginning of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in 1977 and shares the powerful experiences of the early years of IMS, including meeting many great teachers like Dipa Ma, Mahasi Sayadaw, and Ajahn Chah.
Steve tells us about the first time at U Pandita came to the United States and what a large impact his teaching had on the IMS community. He tells us about the experiences of meditation that he has found the most challenging. We then hear how he became inspired to go to Burma for the first time, where for years he practiced from 3AM to 11PM every day. He tells us the phenomenal effects this had on his practice, almost immediately. Among these effects was the experience of what Steve calls “spiritual goodies” such as bliss, serenity, and so on. He discusses these experiences in relation to recreational-drug-induced states and reflects on some of the most noticeable differences between intoxicated states and meditative states. He also tells us about the role of the teacher in the Burmese Theravada tradition.
We also hear from Steve how the new book Manual of Insight, edited by the Vipassana Metta Foundation, came into being. Steve also reflects on what the truly transformative potential of insight meditation practice is–how it takes the practitioner beyond a basic practice of mindfulness.
This week on the Wisdom Podcast we meet Gerry Stribling, the author of Buddhism for Dudes. Gerry shares how he got into Buddhism when he was volunteering Sri Lanka. He first worked at a nonprofit that protected elephants and soon came across insight meditation. He reflects on how Buddhism helps people become tough and shares what about Buddhism appealed to him, a “tough-guy” ex-military man. He talks about his work with veterans and addicts. He talks about the theme of sacrifice in Buddhism and the military. We also hear Gerry’s thoughts on what a Buddhist’s response to violence might look like. Gerry shares his personal experiences of sitting with dying World War II veterans, and how he sees them relating to death. Gerry and host Daniel Aitken also discuss different ways to respond to ideological violence such as ISIS and the November 2015 attack in Paris. Finally, Gerry shares the incredible international response he’s received to his book Buddhism for Dudes, and what his writing schedule looks like.