Steve Armstrong: Insight Meditation in America

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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 Armstrong begins with the story of how his spiritual practice started in a commune in Maine for followers of Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead. He then shares his first meditation retreat experience and how he began seeing the impact of meditation in his everyday life. We hear how he first encountered the experience of faith in Buddhist practice. Steve tells us how he was there for the very beginning of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in 1977 and shares the powerful experiences of the early years of IMS, including meeting many great teachers like Dipa Ma, Mahāsi Sayadaw, and Ajahn Chah.

Steve tells us about the first time that U Pandita came to the United States and what a large impact his teaching had on the IMS community. He tells us about the experiences of meditation that he has found the most challenging. We then hear how he became inspired to go to Burma for the first time, where for years he practiced from 3AM to 11PM every day. He tells us the phenomenal effects this had on his practice, almost immediately. Among these effects was the experience of what Steve calls “spiritual goodies” such as bliss, serenity, and so on. He discusses these experiences in relation to recreational-drug-induced states and reflects on some of the most noticeable differences between intoxicated states and meditative states. He also tells us about the role of the teacher in the Burmese Theravada tradition.

We also hear from Steve how the new book Manual of Insight, edited by the Vipassana Metta Foundation, came into being. Steve also reflects on what the truly transformative potential of insight meditation practice is–how it takes the practitioner beyond a basic practice of mindfulness.

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.

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