Crossing the Dharmascape: Mindfulness and Insight Practice in Burma and America
Abstract: In this talk, I analyze and compare divergent approaches to mindfulness (sati) in the work of contemporary Burmese monastic figures who have profoundly influenced conceptualizations of insight practice (vipassanā) in the U.S. (especially, Ledi Sayadaw, Mahāsi Sayadaw, Pa Auk Sayadaw, and Sayadaw U Tejaniya). By doing so, my goal is to explore how their teachings about mindfulness (and their receptions) reshape insight practice and senses of its purposes (as a therapeutic tool, as a means to escape from saṃsāra, as a secular versus religious resource, etc.). As we will see, neither forms of practice nor the worldviews that those forms entail and affect change seamlessly. Rather, arguments by these monks about mindfulness and the requisites of insight practice frequently diverge and even conflict. Such frictions produced by the movements of ideas and people across the complex landscape of dharma teachings that includes Burma and the U.S.—what I am calling the “dharmascape”—will be seen to reformulate the possibilities of practice.