The Bodhi Mirror Presents

Sumedho Bhikkhu

      Sumedho Bhiksu is American-born and raised and by 1963 was a student at the University of California, Berkeley. At that point in time, for various reasons he decided to leave the country and find some teacher who could instruct him in meditation. As he explains it:

I had spent many years studying the teachings at universities and I had read many books. My ideas and views on the subject were numerous, but no matter how much information I acquired, I still found out that I was suffering all the time. I still had fear and worry, greed and delusions. So I felt there was no need to acquire more inュformation, but that I should try to put into practice the basic teachings葉he four noble truths and the eight-fold path.

In Northeast Thailand, Sumedho Bhikkhu was ordained but was still without a teacher. He spent a year trying to practice on his own but was aware of his inability to govern his own mind and behavior葉o change his tendency to climb on conditions and take advantage of situations熔n his own. Eventually he met a teacher of the dhuta (ascetic) tradition whom he felt was immediately responsive to his needs and became a disciple. His teacher, Venerable Chao Khun Bodhinyana Maha Thera, known as Phra Achaan Cha, believed in the benefits of simplicity, and the monastery was run in a primitive way, part of the daily life involving such tasks as sweeping, carrying water, and begging for food. Of this alms custom, Bhikkhu Sumedho speaks in some detail:

The Thai people usually wake up before dawn to cook rice for the bhikkhus, who go begging right after sunrise. From our temple about 60 monks went out in groups to various villages and towns walking in lines with bare feet and bear heads bowed. We did not look at or speak to the donors, who, in the Northeast of Thailand were still very respectful and would kneel or squat to offer their food for our bowls. It was an impressive custom葉his silent act of giving.

When the Buddha set up this discipline it was to make the Buddhist monks so that they were in no way a burden to society and to make them, as members of the Sangha, available to the laity, to act as "fields of blessings" for them, so they could amass merit from their acts of giving to the Triple Jewel.

Ordained now for 14 years, Bhikkhu Sumedho discusses his life as a monk:

During these years in robes sometimes I would get bored or discouraged or depressed and then I would try to think of other ways that one could live. But I always knew that this was for me the finest way that I could live out my life as a human being. Living your life by giving yourself up to a moral discipline cuts through so much suffering, that the accumulation of years of practice has very wonderful results.

I saw the necessity from the beginning of giving myself to it rather than just trying to do it as an experiment. So many people come to Thailand and ordain just to accumulate another kind of experience in their lives. They go to the famous teachers in Thailand, learn the methods, get the information they want, and then leave, disrobe, and become meditation teachers in the United States. In coming back to the states now and meeting all these people, I begin to see the results of having done that. Compared to my own choice to stay a monk, remain faithful to the tradition, the vinaya, and the teacher, their choice to expose themselves briefly to ordained life and then renounce it, leaves them wrought with problems which are not my problems. Things fall apart for them because they have not given themselves up, they just acquired more kinds of information to increase their egotistical yearnings, rather than letting it all go.

In the practice, it's all in this letting go of self, of emptying out, of not being attached to what you experience through your senses葉hrough your body and mind. In the Theravada practice, the emphasis is on seeing the characteristic of change in all the conditions we are experiencing here and now. It is seeing the impermanュent nature of the body, the consciousness, and all experiences thereof, no matter what the qualities might be: pleasant or painful, high or low, inspired or depressed, wonderful or miserable The qualities of the conditions make no difュference, we just observe: they are not self葉he Pali word "Anata" 預n that begins and ends is not self.

At present Bhikkhu Sumedho resides in England, where, by the direction of his teacher, Phra Achaan Cha, he makes the teachings available to those who are interested. He teaches meditation at the Hampstead Buddhist Vihara, and travels by invitation to Buddhist groups throughout the country. At present Bhikkhu Sumedho is helping establish a monastery in West Sussex with the help of the English Sangha Trust, an organization which acts as stewards for the Sangha.