History, Vision, Community, and Theravada Buddhism
The Bhavana Society is a community of monastics and lay people dedicated to the practice of traditional Theravada Buddhist training and development. Our name comes from the word Bhavana in Pali, the ancient language of the Buddhist Suttas, meaning mental cultivation. In our forest home, we live and train according to the methods the Buddha taught over 2500 years ago.
Located in rural West Virginia, the Bhavana Society monastery is situated on over fifty wooded acres. In this peaceful setting, we hold formal meditation retreats throughout the year. The retreats held at Bhavana Society explore the whole range of the Buddha’s teachings as preserved in the Pali Canon. Likewise, our meditation techniques come the Buddha, and include breath and body awareness, guided meditation, chanting and loving-friendliness to gradually calm and develop the mind. All Bhavana Society retreats are offered completely free of charge.
In 1976, a man showed up at the Washington Buddhist Vihara seeking some guidance in meditation. He introduced himself as Matthew Flickstein. I started teaching him meditation after that for a couple of years. Being a very good student, he asked me many questions. Once every week or so, he would call and ask me whether I would like to go with him for a drive. I would agree and he would come to the Washington Buddhist Vihara where I lived at that time and drive me for a couple of hours. During that time he would ask me more questions. As I was very busy at the Vihara, once every month or two he would take me to a motel and we would meditate for several hours.
After a couple years, I mentioned to him one of the dreams I had. Since I had come to the United States I had been travelling, giving Dhamma talks in universities, colleges, high schools, primary schools, organization and temples from Miami University to St. John’s Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada.
Bhante Henepola Gunaratana is one of the most senior monks on the planet and is the founding abbot of the Bhavana Society. Born in rural Sri Lanka, he has been a monk since age 12 and took full ordination at age 20 in 1947. He came to the United States in 1968. “Bhante G” (as he is fondly called by his students) has written a number of books, including the now-classic meditation manual Mindfulness In Plain English and its companion Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness. Bhante G regularly leads retreats on vipassana, mindfulness, metta (loving-friendliness), concentration, and other topics at the Bhavana Society.
Bhante Gunaratana is an internationally recognized author and meditation teacher. Prior to coming to the United States, he spent five years doing missionary work with the Harijanas (Untouchables) of India and ten years in Malaysia.
The Bhavana Society was created to preserve the Theravada forest meditation tradition within the context of Western culture.
Our vision is as follows:
The retreats and monastic training will be determined and run by the senior monastic residents. The Board of Directors’ function is to assist and support the monastery and monastics in the continued realization of our vision.
Formalized in July 1988
The experience of ordination begins when one hears the Dhamma for the first time in such a way that one understands the benefits one could gain from becoming a monk or nun. This experience continues when one meets monastics and learns the Buddha’s teaching from people who are practicing it directly.
The Buddha’s path of liberation is a gradual one, and so too is the path of ordination at Bhavana. Bhante G believes that it is important for people to experience living in a monastic setting for some time before taking on the robes. So the first experience one has of ordination is that of a lay person living in a monastery under the eight monastery precepts. In many ways these are the core of monastic training, excluding only the prohibition against money. Having the opportunity to work with these precepts as a lay person is quite precious as one can see the benefits of following them directly. An when you live in a community where you have to be the one handling money, you begin to see the disadvantages of that very quickly as well!
Theravada (pronounced — more or less — “terra-VAH-dah”), the “Doctrine of the Elders,” is the school of Buddhism that draws its scriptural inspiration from the Tipitaka, or Pali canon, which scholars generally agree contains the earliest surviving record of the Buddha’s teachings. For many centuries, Theravada has been the predominant religion of continental Southeast Asia (Thailand, Myanmar/Burma, Cambodia, and Laos) and Sri Lanka. Today, Theravada Buddhists number well over 100 million worldwide. In recent decades, Theravada has begun to take root in the West.
Many Buddhisms, One Dhamma-vinaya
The Buddha — the “Awakened One” — called the religion he founded Dhamma-vinaya — “the doctrine and discipline.” To provide a social structure supportive of the practice of Dhamma-vinaya (or Dhamma for short [Sanskrit: Dharma]), and to preserve these teachings for posterity, the Buddha established the order of bhikkhus (monks) and bhikkhunis (nuns) — the Sangha — which continues to this day to pass his teachings on to subsequent generations of laypeople and monastics, alike.