The Mahasi approach in the West

Here is how our group founder, Lesley Lebkowicz, describes the practice:

The tradition began in Burma in the early years of the last century when there was a flourishing of many forms of vipassana. One was the style of practice inaugurated by Mahasi Sayadaw, the heart of which is paying attention to all of our experience. Study with the Burmese Sayadaws, most notably with Sayadaw U Pandita, has been a significant part of the practice of many western teachers.

The tradition was first brought to Australia from Burma and northern India by American teachers, notably Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg, and then by Michele McDonald and Steven Smith. As the tradition has settled into the West, it has gradually shed some of its more overtly cultural expressions and assumed a form which is more suited to our Western conditioning. The discipline of Burmese monasteries which supports practice there, has softened into a more relaxed form with which Western meditators are more at ease. The teaching is entirely faithful to the original teachings of the Buddha on which the practice is based, and it also addresses our circumstances now.

Though simple and easy to understand intellectually, paying attention to all our experience is often difficult. To make this easier, the practice is formalised into three areas: sitting meditation, walking meditation and mindfulness of daily activities. We practice the first two (sitting and walking meditation) and Metta (loving kindness) meditation in our weekly sitting group and all three forms of mindfulness on our monthly one day retreats and on longer retreats.

We gradually learn to see and accept our own minds, and in doing so we learn to accept others. At first we often see the conditioned nature of our minds – all our everyday difficulties as well as our joys and good-heartedness. As our practice deepens, so does our capacity for great peace. Our minds have the capacity to develop the spaciousness and equanimity which allows us to hold the joys and sorrows of a full life.

Loving kindness (or Metta) arises naturally in the course of the practice. It is also taught separately to foster its own development and the development of mindfulness.

The potential of our own minds is enormous. Realising that potential is possible – it takes patience and courage – and every moment spent in mindfulness takes us closer.