An interview with Thanissaro Bhikkhu

So I was surfing the web the other day, looking up information on Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Basically I heard a personal anecdote about him from a friend in Boston, and I had to find out if it was true. Thanissaro Bhikkhu (or “Thaan Geoff”) is a Theravada Buddhist monk who lives at Wat Mettavanaram outside of San Diego. I first met him on a club field trip to Wat Metta in 2004. His writings have had a huge influence on many of my friends. I came across this delightful interview in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine, and I thought I’d share it with everyone: Being a Monk: A Conversation with Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

The interview is great in part because it asks many of the questions that I have always been too ashamed to ask because I know I’m not supposed to ask monks those types of questions. But it’s also always great to hear Thaan Geoff’s perspective on Buddhist practice. Here is one quote that really struck home for me:

The Forest tradition places a lot of emphasis on concentration practice, getting the mind to stay with one object. So that’s a lot of my time. And of course, if you’re sitting for long periods of time, pain is going to come up. Then the mind creates issues about the pain. Dealing with that is the Buddha’s First Noble Truth: There is pain in life. There is suffering in life. I think the reason he focused on that is that if you sit with your pains and suffering, if you have the tools of concentration and mindfulness, you start seeing these issues in your mind.

Vietnamese Theravada?

Recently, I was cleaning up the list of Theravada Buddhist monks on Wikipedia. Sometimes names get accidentally sorted by their honorific. For example, Ṭhanissaro Bhikkhu should be sorted by ‘T’, and not ‘B’, since bhikkhu is a title, not a last name. I was making sure each name was sorted right. It’s fun because you have to visit each page, and then you get to learn about monks you’ve never heard of before.

One such monk was Bhante Kassapa.

He’s described as the “first non-Vietnamese Monk in the Vietnamese Theravada Sangha in America”. I didn’t read on because I was still hung on the first question that popped into my mind. There’s a Vietnamese Theravada Sangha in America?

See, I regularly attend a Vietnamese temple, but my practice is more in line with what I’ve learned from my Theravada teachers. For me this means that I could actually merge my temple and my personal practice! Anyway, I did a search, and found an article by Binh Anson all about the history of the Theravada Sangha in Vietnam (also here). I’d previously thought that all Theravada Buddhists in Vietnam were Khmer Krom, but Vietnamese in fact have their own recently conceived Theravada sangha. How cool.

Now all I have to do is find a Vietnamese Theravada temple in Southern California.

Ordination of a new Vietnamese monk
Photo of Vietnamese Theravada ordination from Bhante Kassapa’s site.