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Living This Life Fully

Talking About Munindra

Munindra (Bodh Gaya, 1974). Photo: Roy Bonney.

This past Monday I had the pleasant experience of engaging in a conversation about Munindra with Paul Swanson for his podcast "Contemplify." I appreciate every opportunity to share what I can about Munindra's life and teachings. This occasion was especially welcome since Paul is the kind of interviewer authors are so fond of--easy to speak with because they're both interested and prepared. I've been quite fortunate over many years to meet with people who take their work as interviewer or reviewer seriously. But I also can recall a couple of interviews about an earlier book. Not only did I provide the answers, I also had to come up with the questions because the person had not bothered to read what I'd written.

It was clear from the beginning that Paul was moved by Munindra and what he still offers--even though he's no longer with us--to anyone of whatever religious background. It never mattered to Munindra what spiritual path people followed. They didn't have to be a practitioner of Dharma, for he taught anyone who was willing to listen. In a similar way, Paul, who is an educator at the Center for Action and Contemplation, supporting the ecumenical ministry of Richard Rohr, OFM, readily "got" Munindra's essential wisdom.

Part of what made Munindra's teaching so universal was his nonsectarianism. He never said that Buddhism had a monopoly on such qualities as loving kindness, compassion, patience, and so on. He made the ordinary extraordinary. A simple gesture of generosity took on a deeper meaning with a greater impact than one might imagine. By embodying those qualities, he taught others how they, too, could embody them in their daily life.

Every time I have a chance to talk with someone about Munindra or reread sections of Living This Life Fully: Stories and Teachings of Munindra, I am reminded yet again of what I can do, what any of us can do, to transform how we live and how we interact with others. Yes, on a technological level, things have changed dramatically from the world that Munindra grew up and lived in. However, the simple truths he espoused have not changed. They're as relevant today as they were when the Buddha first shared them 2,600 years ago.

Click to listen to the interview with Paul.  Read More 

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Intention is everything

Although I interviewed nearly 200 people around the world for Living This Life Fully, much to my delight, more individuals who knew Munindra keep popping up. I have the pleasure of learning new stories that reinforce what I have written about his qualities. It’s curious that I did not hear of these students when I was working on the book, but maybe that’s to my advantage. Otherwise, I would have had to interview hundreds, even thousands, more! How would I ever have completed the book?

Since Living This Life Fully came out last October, readers have been giving it as a gift for others to enjoy. That’s one of the ways I keep hearing about more students of Munindra. When I’m invited to give a talk, sometimes people come up afterward and introduce themselves, recalling their time with him. I’m also in the middle of facilitating a month-long discussion of the book at Tricycle’s online book club: [no longer available]. You’re welcome to join in. You might even reconnect with someone you once knew through Munindra.

Some of the participants’ comments reflect an understanding of what it means to embody wisdom rather than simply accumulate knowledge or memorize rules and regulations. When students posed questions to Munindra, he didn’t simply give them a yes-or-no/black-or-white response. He delved deeply in order to fathom the person’s true motivation. That’s where the answer lay.

For example, since the first precept is to do no harm, to not commit violence toward other beings, is it okay to kill aphids when they’re destroying your garden? The simplistic view would say it’s never okay. Munindra investigated the student’s intention and found out that it was not to kill aphids but to produce food that would sustain others. Similarly, when another yogi described her daily life in a garden and vineyard, he did not condemn her for producing a product that has the power to intoxicate and thus break the fifth precept. Rather, he was happy for her to live a life connected to the earth and the seasons.

Having fully absorbed the Dharma, Munindra did not have a one-size-fits-all mentality. Like the Buddha, he faced each individual and each situation in the moment to discern the wisest or most appropriate response. At the same time, that did not mean anything goes; that did not mean carelessness in holding to the precepts. It did mean not reacting with instantaneous judgment and condemnation; it did mean treating each person with kindness and compassion.

It’s so easy to fall into a knee-jerk reaction, but Munindra chose not to. We have the same option. Read More 

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