Steve Armstrong: Insight Meditation in America
In this episode we meet Steve Armstrong, a teacher in the vipassana tradition who has studied the dhamma and practiced insight meditation since 1975. Steve is a co-founding teacher of the Vipassana Metta Foundation’s dharma sanctuary on Maui, and guided the creation of the new book Manual of Insight, the classic collection of teachings by the renowned Mahāsi Sayadaw.
Steve begins by telling the story of how his spiritual practice began in a commune for followers of Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead located in Maine. He then shares how he stumbled upon his first meditation retreat and slowly began to see the impact meditation was having on in his everyday life. We hear about his emerging faith in Buddhist practice. Steve recounts his involvement at the very beginning of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in 1977, and shares the powerful experiences of the early years of IMS and meeting many great teachers, including Dipa Ma, Mahāsi Sayadaw, and Ajahn Chah.
Steve tells us about the first time that Sayadaw U Pandita came to the United States and what an immense impact his teaching had on the IMS community. He explains the aspects of meditation that he has found challenging. Out of these experiences, we hear how he was inspired to ordain as a monk, traveling to Burma for the first time, and how he maintained a monastic life and practice from 3AM to 11PM every day for several years. He describes the phenomenal effects this had on his practice, sensing a change within the first two weeks of his time at the monastery. Among these effects was the arising of what Steve calls “spiritual goodies” – the blissful and ecstatic states that many practitioners experience as they deepen their meditation and continue along the path. He also explains the role of the teacher in the Burmese Theravada tradition.
Steve relates the history of how the new book Manual of Insight, and edited by the Vipassana Metta Foundation, came into being. Steve also reflects on the truly transformative potential of insight meditation practice–how it can take the practitioner beyond a basic practice of mindfulness into enhanced states of being.
About the Interviewee
Steven Armstrong has studied the dhamma and practiced insight meditation since 1975. He served for many years at the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts as Executive Director, Board member and senior teacher of the annual three month retreat. As a monk in Burma for 5 years, under the guidance of Sayadaw U Pandita, he undertook intensive, silent practice of insight and lovingkindness meditations and in Australia, he studied the Buddhist psychology (abhidhamma) with Sayadaw U Zagara. He continues his practice under the guidance of Sayadaw U Tejaniya at the Shwe Oo Min Meditation Center in Rangoon. Steve is a co-founding teacher of the Vipassana Metta Foundation’s dharma sanctuary on Maui. He has been leading meditation retreats internationally since 1990, presenting the core teachings of the Buddha; and offering a variety of Buddhist mindfulness practices, encouraging cultivation of insightful awareness, and liberating understanding in all life activities. He encourages spiritual development of an unshakeable sense of well-being. On Maui he plants trees for a dhamma sanctuary and directs the Burma Schools Project building schools and clinics in Burma and supporting monastics and nuns.