Featured Teacher - Featured Teacher: Anagarika Munindra


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“One of the first things that Munindra said to me when we met [in Bodh Gaya, 1967] was that if I wanted to understand the mind, I should sit down and observe it. The great simplicity and pragmatism of this advice struck a very resonant chord within me. There was no dogma to believe, no rituals to observe; rather, there was the understanding that liberating wisdom can grow from one’s own systematic and sustained investigation.” – Joseph Goldstein

Anagarika Munindra (1915–2003) was a Bengali Buddhist master and scholar who became one of the most important Vipassana meditation teachers of the twentieth century. Unassuming, genuine, and always encouraging, Munindra embodied the Buddhist teachings, exemplifying mindfulness in everything he did. He also taught many notable teachers including Dipa Ma, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, and Surya Das.

Anagarika simply means a practicing Buddhist who leads a homeless life without attachment in order to focus on the Dhamma. Munindra was born in Chittagong, Bangladesh, to the Barua family, descendants of the original Buddhists of India forced east by the eleventh-century Muslim invasion.

He was an active member of the Maha Bodhi Society whose purpose was the resuscitation of Buddhism in India and the restoration of ancient Buddhist shrines there. Munindra was the superintendent of the Maha Bodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya from 1953 to 1957, the first Buddhist to hold this position in modern times. From 1957 to 1966 he lived in Burma where he was a close disciple of Mahasi Sayadaw, who authorized him to teach vipassana meditation. While in Burma he also studied the Pali canon thoroughly, before returning to India where he taught vipassana for many years in Bodh Gaya. Admired for his gentleness, wisdom, and insatiable curiosity, he had a deep knowledge of the Pali canon which he made accessible to Westerners. He was also known to be very open-minded and relaxed in the way he taught. He would encourage his students to study with other teachers, and investigate other traditions.

Joseph Goldstein, cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, shares his memories of Munindra:

I met Munindraji in Bodh Gaya in 1967, just a year after he returned from Burma. In those days there were very few people practicing Vipassana in India, and I was one of his first Western students. Although he didn’t have any of the “enlarged” qualities one would expect of an Indian guru (he didn’t immediately strike me as embodying profound peace or great charisma), Munindraji’s deep understanding of the dharma and his total ease with his own eccentricities captivated my interest. Whatever would come up in our lives or in our practice, he would always tell his students, “Be ‘simple’ and ‘easy’ about things.”

One time a few of us were at the bazaar in Bodh Gaya, and he was going from stall to stall, bargaining for a few cents’ worth of peanuts. When we asked him, “Munindraji, why are you getting so caught up in bargaining for a handful of peanuts? We thought you told us to be simple and easy,” he replied, “You need to be simple—not a simpleton.” He also had an enormous curiosity about things. When he visited the States, we took him to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and he read the captions on every single exhibit he passed by. After about six hours, we were exhausted! I was lying down on one of the couches, and Munindra was still going—his energy was phenomenal. He moved and spoke very quickly, but he was always in himself, in his body, and just watching him do things was a great teaching.

Munindra also had a tremendous openness of mind to different meditation methods. When he finished his training with Mahasi Sayadaw, he traveled around Burma and studied with about twenty-five different teachers, all teaching different techniques of Vipassana practice. He always said that he felt there was no conflict among any of them. His openness was a striking example of a deeply nonsectarian attitude that would be so helpful in the world today.

I had known that Munindra was ill for much of this past year, and so his death was not unexpected. Still, in the moment of getting the news of his death, it felt like the passing not just of a beloved teacher and a great presence in my life, but of a certain pivotal era in the transmission of Buddhism from East to West.

~Joseph Goldstein, 2003

(Source: Tricycle Magazine online)

 


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