Bhante Khippapanno

There is a great monk currently leading a course at the IMS Forest Refuge. Ngài Kim TriệuBhante Khippapanno, alternatively known as Hòa thượng Kim Triệu (his lay name), is a well known meditation teacher in the Vietnamese Theravada community. A year ago when we started this blog, I’d never even heard of Vietnamese Theravada monks in the United States. But because of my post on this topic, one of the Dharma Folk pointed me to a local Southern California center. I went there and found that most of the monks, though Vietnamese, spend significant time studying meditation in Burma. So my own journey comes full-circle.

I’ve since developed friendships with some of the monks and practitioners at this temple. It’s a bit out of the way, but I try to go there every other month. A friend who had done a retreat there with Bhante Khippapanno encouraged me to go visit, and Bhante gave a valuable lesson on friends and practice.

There are four important factors the lay person can use to structure his practice, but it’s the first two that have to do with friends. In short, you should have good friends and you should listen to them. This advice may not sound particularly earth shattering, but it points to an area of my life that I haven’t worked on much.

The term good friends may be better known by its Pali equivalent, kalyanamitta. Your good friends are the ones who have admirable qualities that you can aspire to. Just as we imbibe bad habits when we hang out in the wrong crowd, so too hanging out with good friends leads to acquiring good habits without much conscious effort. The second factor is to listen to these friends. It’s not enough to just absorb their good traits. Your good friends are the ones with the proper discernment to point out the blind spots of your mind. We all have these blind spots, the habits that you don’t notice in your daily speech and actions. By listening, we’re allowing ourselves to turn and see them.

I’ve had great teachers and been part of good communities, but I’ve been pretty lousy at keeping in touch with the good friends that I’ve met. Beyond this simple advice, Bhante talked at length about meditation and qualities of concentration, but the advice on friends was a good reminder that I won’t make my life better just by sitting on my ass (so to speak).

I don’t know if there still spots open for the July retreat, but if you have the time and interest, you should definitely consider going.

Bhante Khippapanno is a very special monk, held in high esteem. Other monks and laypersons refer to him as ngài, which is a term of extremely high respect in Vietnamese, usually not used for your everyday monk. And when I talked to him, he first referred to me as em, which is perhaps the most kind and gracious term that any senior monk has ever used with me. For me this says a lot about both how he’s looked up to, and also about his down-to-earth qualities.

On a side note, the Forest Refuge refers to Bhante Khippapanno as Vietnamese, but anyone who’s spoken with him will quickly pick up on his accent. Although he speaks fluent Vietnamese, Bhante is actually Lao Khmer. But this gets me thinking again about identity. How is he not Vietnamese? He is a senior monk in the Vietnamese Theravada sangha, his dominant language is Vietnamese, and Vietnamese people refer to him with one of their highest terms of respect. Perhaps even seemingly rigid “ethnic” categories like Vietnamese and Chinese are much more fluid than we’re used to viewing them as being…

Update: No one’s called me on this (yet), but I do actually happen to believe that just meditating (above I wrote, “just sitting on my ass”) definitely can make life better. But good friends help a lot too.

13 Replies to “Bhante Khippapanno”

  1. I’m sitting at the Forest Refuge (near where I live) in July and look forward to Bhante Khippapanno. His recent talks are on dharma.org right now (June ’09). Insight Meditation Society posts their latest 15 dharma talks. It’s a great resource.

  2. I just sat a portion of the July course with Bhante and it was very inspiring to be around a monk whose been doing it for 60 years rather than just reading about them.

    It was cool, he gave 1-on-1 interviews and really gave sincere advice that was uniquely from his head.

  3. @dude: Thank you for the props and your recollections of the retreat. One of Bhante Khippapanno’s attendants recently told me that Bhante was enormously impressed with the meditators at the retreat. To hear that from Bhante means a lot! Thanks also for posting a link to the talks. It’s a great resource!

  4. random info;

    “Khippa-Panno” is how it’s actually spelled in the book “dipa ma, life and legacy of a buddhist master”.

    There is a brief account of his history with Dipa Ma in that book

  5. @dude: Thank you for your comments. In emails with his attendants, they have also sometimes used the two-word form. I’ve chosen to write Khippapanno as a single word in adherence to a general English convention where Pali ordination names are rendered as a single word. For example, Gunaratana in lieu of Guna-Ratana. Now, the morphological composition of Khippapanno differs from most Pali names, which certainly provides some justification for breaking convention and inserting a space here. Nevertheless, to the average reader unversed in Pali, this nominal distinction is opaque and the space thus adds no value. To the learned student of Pali, this distinction is evident even without orthographic help, and the space is superfluous. Were it the case that I had written this comment in Lao Khmer (i.e. ខិប្បបញ្ញោ), Bhante’s native language, there would be no space by default. But you should feel free to write his name however is most congenial to your tastes! I’m sure he doesn’t mind either way.

  6. Thank you for this post, I’m Samuel from Vietnam and I’m 17. Well, I really respect ngài (similar to ‘sir’ in English) Khippapanno . It was thrilled for me to know he used to be trained by The Great Dipa ma! 🙂
    I think you’re right, having a good friend is as essential as meditating everyday. You were so lucky to meet him! I wish I could join a retreat one day as I’ve never been to one before.
    And hope this email will help me to have another noble friend!
    May all the good things happen to you!
    Sam.
    p/S: It is interesting when he called you ’em'(= ‘young brother’ in English!^^).

  7. As far as I know, Bhante Khippapanno was born in South Vietnam of Khmer ethnic origin. There is a large ethnic Khmer population in South Vietnam (the Mekong delta region) who follow the Theravada tradition. “Khippapanno” is his ordained name, while “Kim Trieu” is his lay name.

  8. @budsas: Thank you for your correction. It was a monk at his temple who told me bhante was Lao, and I didn’t think to ask him in person. As for the use of Kim Triệu, it is a name I’ve heard frequently used in the Vietnamese community to refer to him—I’ve decided to keep it in the post for this reason.

    1. That’s a common custom among Theravada Buddhists in Southeast Asia. Usually, the Pali ordained names are too long and hard to remember, the monks are usually (and informally) called by their lay names (and sometimes, their nick names).

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