What I teach is a reflection of the constantly changing nature of my own practice. When I give a talk it is not a set agenda, but something that I've been reflecting about. The talks tend to be in rhythm with my own practice.
At the moment, I'm reflecting on the interplay of the personal and the non-personal, on aloneness and intimacy, on emptiness and embodiment. This process of reflection is a slow one. I hold a question in the background of my consciousness and then prepare to be surprised, to see what actually arises.
I enjoy the dharma a great deal. I try to convey that meditation practice is not a pathway of endlessly overcoming obstacles, but also a path of tremendous joy. It brings a great deal of profound truth to people's ability to find happiness. I have great faith in the Dharma, and a bottomless faith in people's capacity to be wise.
The ancient traditions of Buddhism are as relevant today as they were 2,500 years ago because people's capacity for getting themselves into trouble, for confusion, alienation and separation is not so different from Buddha's time. Vipassana, then and now, offers people an opportunity to transform themselves, and in so doing, transform the world around them.
My engagement in teaching the dharma, to point to a free and liberated life, has remained the same since the first day I started. It is my unwavering commitment to inspire people that such a life is accessible to us all, here and now. This is what sustains me and gives me enthusiasm.
With contemporary language, I endeavor to address the depth of the Dharma, to go into the inner experience by using one of the contributions to the great wheel of the dharma, insight meditation. Insight meditation is a respectful and healthy practice. It gives us meditation techniques which, when practiced, lead to real insight into the whole of existence as well as our life in particular. It speaks to what it means for us to be a part of this world.
I also pay attention to the breadth of the Dharma by attempting to address every possible life endeavor, leaving no stone unturned: materialism, consumer culture, livelihood, environmental resources, love and respect for sentient beings, relationships, all the issues of daily life.
Most important for me is to keep the priority and focus on striving to live the awakened and liberated life and not be sidetracked by any particular feature, no matter how noble its contribution. A liberated and awake life is the center of the Dharma, and I find that I am simply unable to settle for anything else.
I am intrigued by how we can live the 'holy life' as lay people. How do we erase the imaginary line between formal sitting practice and the rest of our lives? How can we bring full engagement to formal and informal practice? Is it possible to embody, in our lives, the understanding and insight that comes with intensive training? And can we live our lives in a way that expresses and continues to deepen our realization? These questions fuel my practice and my teaching.
I place a lot of emphasis on the Buddha's teaching about mindfulness of the body. The body is a powerful dharma gate. I encourage people to deeply investigate the body and use it as a place of recollection in daily life.
Our individual and cultural habits, our confusion, all require a sincere and ongoing commitment to spiritual life and practice. In order to mature our 'layastic' practice, we need to develop a palette of practices: mindfulness, loving-kindness, inquiry, reflection, precept practice, service, sutta study, etc.
I believe passionate engagement is the foundation of the spiritual path. Spiritual life blossoms when mindfulness is woven with a heartfelt sense of loving-kindness and compassion. With warm mindfulness as the basis of practice, our attachment to identity, roles and experience begins to loosen. As our experience and understanding matures, faith develops. This nourishes a devotion to practice which further deepens our insights.
It is precious to be born in the human realm and have an opportunity to practice and awaken. May we appreciate our inheritance and bring to life the teachings of the Buddha.
Fred von Allmen has studied and practiced under Tibetan and Theravada teachers since 1970 in Asia, Europe and the US. He has taught retreats worldwide for 25 years. The author of several Buddhist books in German, he is a co-founder of the Meditation Center Beatenberg in the Swiss Alps.
Gregory has been teaching meditation since 1980. He developed the practice of Insight Dialogue, offering retreats worldwide and authoring books including Insight Dialogue: The Interpersonal Path to Freedom and Dharma Contemplation: Meditating Together with Wisdom Texts.
What has always engaged me is working with practitioners who are deepening their commitment to the Dharma and then seeing them take a quantum leap in their understanding. My contribution to this commitment is working towards conveying a Theravadan practice with a Mahayana spirit.
The Theravadan practice of vipassana provides simple, direct instructions that can be immediately understood and applied in daily life as well as retreat practice. The Mahayana spirit has the beautiful attitude that we practice not for ourselves alone, but for all sentient beings. Between the two, the unfolding of liberation for ourselves and others becomes a simple, down-to-earth practice that anyone can do.
It is fun for me to take the most difficult concepts and put them into accessible language, to unwrap the mystery. So I try to find ways to explore the breadth of concepts like "emptiness" -- to see how the entire path can be explained in terms of this synonym for nibbana. One of my aims is to bring the goal of freedom into the here and now. This way practitioners get a taste of freedom, so they know what they are heading toward on their journey to liberation.
The tools of mindfulness and lovingkindness can be picked up by anyone. They are easy to understand and they bring immediate benefit to our lives. The essence of vipassana is ideally suited to western society, especially to the resonance between our psychological turn of mind and our quest for spiritual understanding.