Living This Life Fully: Stories and Teachings of Munindra

A Tricycle Book Club Discussion with Mirka Knaster

Diminutive yet striking in his signature white robes and white hat, Munindra was an enthusiastic, energetic, and immensely inquisitive Bengali meditation master who had a profound impact on people everywhere he went, even on many who never met him. Those whose lives he touched remember him not only for his erudition and expert guidance but, most importantly, for his embodiment of dharma—he lived what he taught. Through his presence and actions, Munindra made otherwise abstract ideals come alive. Living This Life Fully: Stories and Teachings of Munindra focuses on those ideals or qualities that lead to awakening: mindfulness, compassion, loving-kindness, determination, conviction, integrity, generosity, delight, curiosity, one-pointedness of mind, equanimity, relinquishment, wisdom, patience, vigor, and virtuous conduct. Inspiring yet down-to-earth, poignant and humorous remembrances from nearly 200 people illustrate how Munindra embodied them. These anecdotes are from such well known teachers and writers as Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield, Daniel Goleman, Ram Dass, Lama Surya Das, Sylvia Boorstein, Larry Rosenberg, Christopher Titmuss, Christina Feldman, James Baraz, Kamala Masters, Roshi Wendy Egyoku Nakao, and others in Canada, Europe, South America, and Australia, as well as from former students of the Antioch Education Abroad Program in Bodh Gaya, family members, and friends in Asia.

Like his fellow countryman Mahatma Gandhi, Munindra was one of those rare individuals who demonstrate seamless integration, rather than conflicted separation, between daily life and spiritual practice. Through his attitudes and behavior, he held out the potential of what is attainable: to be at home in this body, in this place, in this time, under these conditions; happy and at peace with oneself and in harmony with others. For Munindra, spiritual life was not limited to meditating in silence, living in a monastery, or attending intensive retreats. Nor did a life steeped in dharma have anything to do with arcane and esoteric doctrines or ritualistic and exclusionary practices. Munindra made dharma highly accessible and himself widely available. His easygoing, outside-the-box, nonsectarian openness, as well as a no-frills, no-airs attitude, had great appeal. According to Munindra, dharma was all about “living the life fully.”

Munindra was also an illustration of what neuroscientists are now able to confirm through sophisticated technology: By training the mind, one can change the brain so that positive emotions become enduring character traits, rather than just occasional states. Based on his personal knowledge, Munindra was convinced that even nowadays people are capable of tasting what the Buddha and his disciples experienced more than 2,500 years ago. What may seem out of the ordinary or even impossible is actually within reach of those who make the effort. Yet he never pretended to be extraordinary, exceptional, or perfect. Munindra was simply a flourishing human being, not a saint. With all his idiosyncrasies and fallibility, he walked the path and enabled others to walk it too. Living This Life Fully helps readers understand how they can do so as well.

Mirka Knaster is an independent scholar and freelance writer and editor who holds a PhD in Asian and Comparative Studies. She has studied Vipassana meditation since 1981.

Basic guidelines for reading Living This Life Fully:
As you read about Munindra embodying a particular quality, try putting that quality into practice in your everyday life, even in what seems to be insignificant ways. Notice what happens as you shift between reading and living out each day. If you like, carry a small pad with you and jot down your observations, experiences, feelings. After you've finished the book, look back and reflect on any changes over the month.

Before diving into the book, consider the quality of adhitthana (unshakeable resolve, determination, vow), which is the focus of Chapter 7. Munindra was hugely determined and resolute when it came to fulfilling his deepest aspirations. You don't have to read that chapter first, just think about the following:

Without the firmness and stability of resoluteness, we cannot accomplish any endeavor, spiritual or otherwise (even finishing a book!). There's great power in making a resolution or vow and sticking to it. Naming the direction you want to head in facilitates taking the right turns whenever you're at a crossroads. Vows also help you stretch beyond perceived limits. You can make all kinds of vows, and they certainly don't have to be restricted to New Year's Eve.

So ask yourself: What is my spiritual aspiration? What am I willing to commit to?

It could be anything at all that helps you cultivate the qualities that lead to awakening, if awakening is your aspiration. It doesn't have to be. Too often, resolutions fail because there's possibly not enough truth or clarity behind them or they're more than you can handle. Maybe a particular resolution is not what you really want, but what you think you should want. At the same time, don't be afraid to reach for the stars. The Buddha didn't shrink from what he wanted, even though it took lifetimes to gain it!

Breaking down a big aspiration into small basic acts can be a more effective way to begin and not get discouraged. Each time we do what we set out to do, we feel encouraged to repeat it. That brings on a momentum that moves us forward. Some simple efforts could include these examples: Instead of expecting yourself to be mindful every minute of every day, try being mindful as you walk from one room to another. Read an inspiring passage before going to sleep. Eat one meal a week in mindful silence. Count to ten and slow your breathing before responding in a heated situation. Have a kind word or a smile for people you meet as you move through the day. Donate some time each month to help in a community program whose work you believe in. Contribute financially (even a minimum amount) to an organization whose efforts you want to support. Refrain from speaking ill of others. Wait patiently at the checkout line and send loving-kindness to those around you. And so on. You decide what you'd like to put into practice.

Then ask yourself: What gets in the way of attaining my goal?

What things distract you from fulfilling your aspirations? Each time you feel your determination waver, inquire within: What is most important right now? Which action is is alignment with my vow? What can I eliminate to help further it? For example, is it absolutely necessary to keep texting, checking email, chatting on the phone, watching TV, or whatever might get in your way?

Finally, as you work with this, ask yourself: What positive steps have I taken toward achieving my goal?

It's important to recognize and acknowledge each time you assert determination and remain steadfast. It's not ego-stroking. The Buddha recommended that we rejoice in our wholesome ways. If you hesitate or backtrack, don't beat yourself up. Simply notice what's happening and recommit to your resolution.

Don't be surprised to find how that simple acts complement and feed each another. They're all part of living this life fully, living a life in dharma.

Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

You must be a Tricycle Community member to use this feature.

1. Join as a Basic Member

Signing up to Tricycle newsletters will enroll you as a free Tricycle Basic Member.You can opt out of our emails at any time from your account screen.

2. Enter Your Message Details

Enter multiple email addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Mirka Knaster's picture

And many thanks to everyone who entered the discussion. May Munindra-ji continue to be a source of inspiration and support.
wishing you well,
Mirka

dfisher108's picture

Hi, this is Danny Fisher (dannyfisher.org). I was a student on the Antioch Buddhist Studies in India program in 1999, where I had the great fortune to study with Munindra-ji and Godwin Samararatne both. I later worked as the program TA in 2006, after both of the them were gone. I so enjoyed their tandem teaching, and was reminded of it in my friend Dan Hirshberg's beautiful picture of the two of them together in Mirka's book. I'm curious to ask Mirka and Robert to reflect on their relationship. What did you notice about their collaboration? What did they accomplish as teachers together? What was their relationship like during "down time" from teaching?

Robert Pryor's picture

Danny, you have hit on something very special with your question. From 1994 to 1999 Munindraji and Godwin taught together on the Antioch program in Bodh Gaya. At first I was not really sure how it would work out, but I just left it to them and was glad that I did. As it happened they had met first in 1980 when Munindraji taught in Sri Lanka (Godwin’s home country) so they were not strangers. Godwin was younger than Munindraji and had tremendous respect for him, so there was no competition between them at all. In fact before each meditation session Godwin would pay his respects to Munindraji by bowing in the traditional way. This was especially moving to see as Godwin was at that time a very well established vipassana teacher who taught widely throughout the world as well as in Sri Lanka. In return Munindraji always treated Godwin with the greatest respect as well. It was a real joy to watch them together as they both shared such a deep enthusiasm for the Dhamma. Their styles of teaching were also very complementary as Munindraji based his talks on the pali suttas and abhidhamma, while Godwin was more psychological in his approach. They were an amazing team and it was a real privilege to receive instruction from them both as you could readily see that the Dhamma could be expressed fully in two very unique ways.

dfisher108's picture

Thank you, Robert-ji. _/|\_

Mirka Knaster's picture

Thanks, Robert. I'm sorry I missed experiencing Munindraji and Godwin together. Your description makes me think their teaching ensemble was doubly rich and effective. I was able to meet Godwin and spend time at his retreat center on a tea estate because of the family I stayed with in Kandy. Godwin was their cousin, or I might never have known about him. Of all the places I could have landed when I arrived in Sri Lanka, somehow I wound up at their home. The Dhamma works in mysterious ways to lead us where we need to go.

Mirka Knaster's picture

Hi Danny,
I defer to Robert on your question because I never experienced Munindraji and Godwin together. I met and sat with Godwin in Sri Lanka in 1982, but never in Bodh Gaya.

metta's picture

As I re-read each story in the book, I loved being reminded by the stories of everyone’s experience with him, even my own life’s stories with Munindra-ji, because they are down-to-earth reminders of how to live my life fully. Munindra-ji was like that--very down-to-earth and practical but profound--reminding you in his own inimitable way to wake up and live your life fully with the Dhamma in your heart. I also didn’t want the book to end. Even as Munindra was in his last months of life, he was sharing the Dhamma with those who came to visit him. When I was with him in Kolkata during that time, he was weak and mostly rested in his bed, yet he couldn’t help himself and was still teaching me. I asked him, “How are you Munindra-ji? How is your body, how is your mind?” He said, “This is how it is, this is how the life is. The mind is strong, but the body is not cooperating.” He said it with complete and utter acceptance, reminding me that birth brings life; it brings with it change, pain and pleasure, joy and sorrow, and eventually there is death. It was his clear Dhamma presence that I took in more than his words, though I remember those words often. And so, at that very moment, my heart gently accepted that he would leave this plane of existence soon. Months later, his family called to let me know that he had passed away just a few hours before, and I remembered that teaching moment with him in his room in Kolkata. It helped me immensely to allow the strong feelings of my heart to pass through like a river. Though his physical presence is gone now, the Dhamma that he so beautifully shared is still going strong. This is how it is.

-Kamala Masters-

mail's picture

Since Munindra never wrote down his understanding of the Dhamma in any formal way, the stories that Mirka Knaster collected from his students have become the vehicle for conveying his words and deeds. In their own way, they teach how to become mindful enough to apply the Dhamma in any and every moment of one's life. They also help me understand the interrelatedness of the sixteen qualities or virtues conducive to enlightenment because, in the stories chronicled, I can see how Munindra applied these qualities in his actual conversations and interactions with his beloved students. No formal listing of these qualities apart from the living context could possibly be as elucidating.

This all reminds me of an important analogy to Plato's presentation of the wisdom of Socrates. Plato realized that Socratic teachings arose from and took on greater meaning through the give and take of conversations among Socrates and his many students. Plato retained this essential element when writing his Dialogues. Socrates himself never wrote down his wisdom, but Plato emphasized Socrates' insistence that there was a unity of the virtues. Similarly, the anecdotal presentation of Munindra's legacy allows us to appreciate how the sixteen qualities work together to form a harmonious unity pointing in the direction of spiritual freedom.

-Barry Semegran-

Mirka Knaster's picture

Barry,
Thanks for your observations and the interesting comparison to Plato and Socrates. Although Munindra was quite a scholar, his friendly interactions with students clearly had a greater impact than any list or book could ever have had. For those who wanted to read/study, he recommended the appropriate materials and then was not only willing but eager to address any questions that came up. But, more than anything, it was the one-on-one relationship he had with others, along with his apparently limitless accessibility and availability, that inspired, taught, and encouraged them. Having someone who embodies Dhamma by your side, someone who makes the sixteen qualities come alive, is priceless. I'm happy to know that the stories in the book convey what his presence meant to so many.

I also appreciate your recognition of the interrelatedness of the qualities. It's fairly easy to notice, once one begins to observe, that when we're expressing one quality, we can't help but express others. They feed each other, support the arising of one another.

What have other readers noticed in their own practice? What else happens when you're mindful or generous or curious?

Brucio's picture

Hi Mirka,

When I'm generous, my heart soars. I teach in a music school, and the kids are expected to take their instruments home each night to practice, and most of them love to play. One day, just after home time, someone mentioned that one of the girls had left her violin behind. She was a bus student, and they'd be leaving in a minute or two. I grabbed the violin and bolted for the door. Six buses were powering up and I didn't know which one contained this girl. I found her on my second try. She had been thinking about something else and had forgotten her violin. A big smile was plastered on her face as I walked towards her seat.

As I came back into the school, I knew that she was happy to have her instrument. But I couldn't imagine she was as happy as me. I was high as a kite. Guess I'm attached to the joy that comes with kindness.

Bruce

Mirka Knaster's picture

Hi Bruce,
What a lovely example! Isn't it wonderful how the simplest gesture of kindness can bring us happiness? Joy can come from directly giving or sharing something or from doing nothing more than removing an impediment in someone's way. One of Munindra's Antioch students told me that they were walking along the road in Bodh Gaya one day and Munindra kicked a stone out of the way so that whoever came along wouldn't stumble on it. At a retreat center in India, another person noticed that very early in the morning Munindra would sweep the path to the meditation hall before yogis got up to walk to their first sitting. This was to keep them from possibly slipping on the leaves in the dark. Such basic gestures are all acts of kindness. I believe we're hardwired to help others. Psychological research indicates that the more people participate in meaningful activities, the happier they are and the more purposeful their lives feel. Clearly, you've found how to do that.

Brucio's picture

Mirka, I would love to see Munindra kick that stone out of the way, but that won't happen. Instead, I'll just look around my world and catch people being kind to each other. Last summer, at a retreat at the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts, I watched a woman get a box of Kleenex for a yogi who was crying. It was such a simple gesture, and such a holy moment. I bet I can find moments like that every day, maybe lots of them!

Bruce

Mirka Knaster's picture

Bruce,
You're right. Our gestures don't have to be showy and majestic. Sometimes the smallest and simplest acts can have the greatest impact and mean the most to someone else. Thanks for another beautiful example

okayknow's picture

great chapter titles.

Mirka Knaster's picture

Glad you like them. My two favorites, which I didn't mention above, are "If You're Not Happy in Body, You're Not Happy Out of Body" and "There's No Pizza in Nirvana--Are You Still Interested in It?"

We can substitute the word "pizza" with anything else that we enjoy or think we must have and ask ourselves the same question: Are we more interested in that thing or in freedom from suffering? Would we rather have X or awaken? That's what Munindra did. Having a bicycle would have made it easier to get into Varanasi (Benares) from Sarnath, where he walked six miles to get the Indian sweets he loved, but it would also have meant being at the beck and call of everyone who wanted him to run errands. He freed himself from a strong craving for sweets and never learned to ride a bicycle because he didn't want to give up precious time from studying Dharma.

Is there something you're considering detaching yourself from so you have time and energy for what you've concluded is more important, whatever that may be? The Buddha said it's all about exchanging a lesser good for a higher good, which is different for each of us.

SharonSalzberg's picture

Munindra-ji's great gift of expression added a lot to his legacy. When I try to describe some of my teachers, such as Dipa Ma, it is mostly in terms of her being, what it was like in her presence. With Munindra-ji, it was all of that plus the pithy, incisive way he had, encapsulating an entire teaching in one or two sentences, fostering so much letting to and clarity. Things like, :"Why are you upset at that thought in your mind? Did you invite it?" and 'Say these martians came up to you and asked, "what is anger? that's how you should be with your anger." stay with me still, to this day.

Robert Pryor's picture

Sharon, one phrase that is always with me when I do walking meditation is “lifting, placing, putting”. Not only do these simple words remind me how one does the meditation, but they also seem to represent the essential patient observation of daily events that is so crucial to this practice. I also remember that Munindraji compared reaching Nibanna to walking to the Mahabodhi Temple at the center of Bodh Gaya. He said that the colorful bazaar around the temple was like all the thoughts and distractions in our minds. Just as one needed to walk calmly through all those things to reach the open quiet space of the Mahabodhi Temple, one needs to bring equanimity to all the thoughts and distractions of the mind in order to reach the goal of enlightenment.

Mirka Knaster's picture

Robert,
That's a great metaphor, an image I'll now carry with me. Thank you.

From the many stories people have related, it's clear that, in his unique form of expression, Munindra deeply impressed and inspired people, to the point that, decades later, they remember his words, invoke them in a time of need, and share them with others. His legacy continues not only through those students who became dharma teachers themselves, but anyone who came into contact with him.

Mirka Knaster's picture

Thanks, Sharon. You're so right. That's why I used some of his pithy expressions as chapter titles: "Be Simple and Easy," "It's All a Passing Show," "Take Care of Dharma and Dharma Takes Care of You," "Joy is a Factor of Awakening," "If You Love Your Enemies, Then You Will Have No Enemies," No I, No Me, No Mine," and so on. He had a unique way of expressing Dharma in his particular manner of speaking English. When I feel challenged in a situation, I reflect on his expressions and how he handled the conditions and circumstances of his life.

I am enormously grateful to you and other people who studied with him and brought back his teachings, remembering and sharing what he expressed. That is a gift to all of us.

ajgreen's picture

After reading Living This Life Fully I feel such a sense of exhilaration and loss. I didn't want the stories to end, didn't want Munindra to die. I never would have known him without this remarkable book and all the anecdotes of his students. What a delightful and inspiring man. I miss him.

Mirka Knaster's picture

Dear ajgreen,
Thanks for your sweet thoughts. Other people have made similar comments about wishing they'd known Munindra, sorry they never had a chance to meet him. Some people savored reading the book a little bit at a time, not wanting it to end. It's a writer's dream come true to hear this.

My question to all readers of the book: What is it about the stories, about Munindra that you find inspiring? What do you take away from the anecdotes that serve your daily life?

ajgreen's picture

What most inspired me about Munindra was his selflessness and generosity, his kindness and humor. After reading the book I find myself observing my interactions with others, checking my motives. What is my goal in this conversation? Is what I'm saying kind, useful, true, necessary? If not, maybe I'd better remain silent.

Sam Mowe's picture

I never met Munindra but I know that he affected my life. He was the teacher of a number of people who in turn taught me about Buddhism and meditation—not the least of whom was Robert Pryor who directs the Antioch Buddhist Studies program in Bodh Gaya, India. I was an Antioch student in 2005, long after Munindra had stopped teaching vipassana for the program, but I know that by that point he had made his mark on the energy of the place. [Question: when did he stop teaching at the Antioch program? I know that he started in 1979.]

At the end of the introduction to the book Pryor writes, "Although he was a living example of the power of meditation to reduce stress, he continued to insist that the purpose of vipassana practice is to attain liberation and that it is possible to do so in this life." I'm wondering if either Mirka or Robert (or anybody else familiar with Munindra) can say more about this. What did Munindra mean about taking vipassana beyond stress reduction? What did Munindra say about enlightenment?

Robert Pryor's picture

Sam, in reply to your question about the year that Munindraji last taught on the Antioch Program in Bodh Gaya, it was 2002. In fact I remember that he needed assistance to walk up the stairs to the meditation hall, but nevertheless was quite committed to sharing the Dhamma with us. It was inspiring to see the energy that he could convey in his teaching even at this point in his life. There was also a strong sense that he wanted us to really make a commitment to practice so that we could be liberated in this life. One had the feeling that he clearly saw the way for us to end our suffering and wanted to convey that to us with a sense of urgency. When he spoke in the meditation hall everyone could feel this energy and his clear optimism and certainty that true liberation is possible now.

Mirka Knaster's picture

Good questions!
I'll leave the exact date of the last time Munindra taught in the Antioch program to Robert, but I think it was 2002.

Regarding the ultimate purpose of vipassana, Munindra said, "The end of vipassana is not happiness [or relaxation] but equanimity." Yes, stress reduction is one of the benefits of meditating, but it is not the final aspiration of practice. From his teachings, I understand the goal of equanimity as being able to deal with what arises in any moment--seeing things as they truly are--and not agonizing over any of it.

Given that everything is impermanent, constantly changing, how do we handle the inevitable conditions inherent in being alive? Sickness, adversity, fatigue, sorrow, worry, thirst, all kinds of loss, aging, and eventually death visit every human being. Munindra faced the human condition in a balanced way. He often said, "If anything happens, it is OK; I accept it." He didn't resist circumstances that arose; he didn't rave, rant, or rail at what befell him. Rather he greeted the ups and downs with equipoise.

However, it's important to clarify that acceptance does not mean abject resignation. Munindra wasn't a fatalistic doormat. On the contrary, he maintained a lovable twinkle and buoyant demeanor.

With respect to enlightenment, Munindra insisted that since it was possible to awaken in the Buddha's era, then it is surely possible to release from suffering in contemporary times as well. He made it clear that awakening was not some ethereal floating around in the heavenly realms, but something to be lived in the here and now. Joseph Goldstein told me that when he used to walk through the village of Bodh Gaya with Munindra in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Munindra would point out the most ordinary-looking residents as people who had attained various stages of awakening. None of them had halos or special signs designating them as awakened. They lived ordinary lives, but with equanimity.

In addition, awakening didn't have to occur in any special place or at any special time. You could be in the middle of mindfully brushing your teeth or chopping vegetables and it could happen.

I think this is what, for many students, was so appealing. He took the mystique or confused misunderstandings out of practice. No bells or whistles. You don't have to be perfect to experience awakening. You just have to be wholehearted and diligently keep practicing.

Mirka Knaster's picture

Alex,
There's a reason why so much focus is on moment-to-moment awareness. Munindra used to say, "To develop mindfulness is the most important factor in the process of awakening." He would quote the Buddha, "Sati sabbatthika" [Mindfulness is beneficial in all cases.] That's because it brings balance or plays a harmonizing role between heart and brain, emotion and intellect, faith and wisdom, effort and concentration. "When mindfulness is there, all the other lovely qualities are nearby," he would repeat, because mindfulness is wholesome and a factor of illumination.

I can give an example that one of his early students shared with me. She noticed that when someone came into the room and told Munindra something, he suddenly grew angry. But, in the next moment, she saw that, just as suddenly, the scowl disappeared and he smiled at the person. Mindfulness of the heat and other bodily sensations as well of thoughts allowed him to realize what was happening and he made a choice. In a moment of mindfulness, we can choose to pursue any of the other wholesome qualities or follow the unwholesome ones. All of the qualities are important, but mindfulness is the linchpin, and one wholesome quality leads to another. If we're expressing loving-kindness, then we're probably also able to express patience, and so on. The factors or qualities all work together to support each other's arising. Focus on one and we see the others coming in to complement it.

Anreal's picture

How beautiful!

It makes me think of the Dzogchen understanding that everything is pure and perfect as it is, it is only our attachment and/or aversion to something that causes us to see it as anything other.
If one can exit a state of pure love, to enter a state of pure anger, and then back again to love without being disturbed, one has surely mastered the skill of dancing between faces.

There is a quote that says:
"The one who has cast off lust, hate, delusion, pride and false views is the one who has crossed to the other shore ...
The one for whom there is neither this nor the farther shore, nor both, who, beyond all fear, is free - that one I call (a true master of the way)"
- Buddha

Thank for this lovely introduction to a book that is most certainly going on my list.

Mirka Knaster's picture

Hi Anreal,
I look forward to hearing your comments once you've read the book. I'm happy to know it's on your list.

For those of you who have already read the book, what are you noticing in your daily life practice? How are the stories and teachings affecting you?

Alex Kelly's picture

I hadn't heard of Munindra before reading the above article. What struck me was the long list of skills that are said to lead to awakening: mindfulness, compassion, loving-kindness, determination, conviction, integrity, generosity, delight, curiosity, one-pointedness of mind, equanimity, relinquishment, wisdom, patience, vigor, and virtuous conduct. So often one hears that all one needs to do is practice letting go or present moment awareness or mindful acceptance and that those qualities on their own will do most of work of awakening. It's refreshing to hear of a teacher extolling all these qualities, which need to cultivated. This is exactly what ones finds in the suttas: many skills, many qualities which need to utilised at different times on the path.

Tetunney's story about the aphids is also very telling I think of someone with sharp wisdom. Meditators can sometimes get very agitated about issues surrounding the precepts, which because they are so categorical can give rise to apparent dilemmas like this one with the aphids. Munindra's answer cuts through all that doubt to the relevant issue: intention. But not just intention, it also takes into account whats possible for particular individual at that time, in terms of cultivating the eightfold path. In this case it's to do with right action, but in the case of the vineyard mentioned above it's right livelihood.

Whilst its clear that the intention to kill breaks the first precept and is an unskilful action, and the killing of aphids to grow vegetables probably also involves a degree of unskilful action.

The primary intention is to grow vegetables of course and not to kill. So there is probably a mixture of skilful and skilful action (or bright and dark kamma). The pragmatism of Munindra's answer is both compassionate and realistic: what is the best possible action at this time that I or this person can do, whilst keeping in mind the development of the Path as the priority? If Munindra had outright said it was an unskilful action and should be given up then it's possible that that person may have been divided in mind and it become an obstacle for them. But his answer makes it clear that ones priority should always be right action even if one is unable to do it that time. The same goes for the other path factors, they are something one has to work on which is going to take time and gradual cultivation, according to ones personal circumstance.

There is the case in the suttas where the Buddha has conversation with both a warrior and an actor. Both believe that if they are successful in their respective career paths, that they will go to a good destination in the afterlife. Whilst it appears obvious that the warrior is engaging in unskilful action of killing and so is deluded about the results of his actions, the actor, ironically also has similar results for the consequences of his actions. The common determining factors being wrong view and the presence of greed, hatred and delusion in those actions. This seems to indicate that all livelihoods could potentially be unskilful in action. It's up to individuals to work towards cultivating what is skilful, as personal circumstances allow.

I would like to know more about Munindra.

Mirka Knaster's picture

Greetings!
So glad to hear about these experiences. Thanks for sharing them. Wish I'd known about you to get the stories for the book. If you're willing to share more details, please contact me: www.mirkaknaster.com/.

Yes, Munindraji was not judgmental or absolutist. He looked deeply into a situation rather than categorically condemning it, and he didn't condemn individuals, only pointed out the unwholesomeness of a particular behavior or activity. No matter what, he maintained metta (loving-kindness) in his heart for all beings.

There's a story in the book by Arlene Bernstein that is similar to the aphid story by tetunney. , Other yogis in India judged her severely because she and her husband ran a vineyard and winery in Napa and they considered it un-right livelihood, a breach of the precept re intoxicating substances. Yet Munindraji, after listening to Arlene talk about her time in the garden and the vineyard, was happy for her to live a life so connected with the earth. He was a great example of profoundly living Dhamma (he used the Pali rather than the Sanskrit). As Ram Dass said, Munindraji had so thoroughly absorbed the Pali Canon, that he completely 'grokked' Dhamma.

Re digital versions and the kindle, I found out from Shambhala that books are being digitized, but no one could tell me when that would happen to Living This Life Fully. I guess the more people express an interest, the sooner the publisher will get on it.

John Bush's picture

I had the delight and good fortune to do retreats with Munindra-ji in Bodhgaya and in the US as well as his visiting my home in Cambridge.

What so deeply touched me about him was his devotional relationship to the Dharma. It was beyond sutras, practice or even the Buddha's teachings. He connected with the Dharma as a living dynamic and active guiding force in the universe. I could feel his thrill with this relationship and
when he spoke of the Dharma it was with wonder and awe. It was truly infectious and heart opening for me and deepened my practice.

Mirka Knaster's picture

John,
Thank you for pointing out Munindraji's relationship to the Dharma as a living, guiding force in the universe. Yes, he was ebullient when he talked about Dhamma, and that infectious enthusiasm helped others to become eager about practice as well. Would you be willing to share a particular story to demonstrate how his joyfulness and dedication informed your practice?

DarrellGKing's picture

This book sounds fascinating. Anyone know if there are plans to make it available digitally? Perhaps for Kindle?

D

Mirka Knaster's picture

I just heard good news from Shambhala: "Living This Life Fully" will be available as an e-book in June with Amazon (Kindle), B&N, SONY, Kobo, Apple.

Philip Ryan's picture

Hi Darrell, Seems there isn't at present, but on the Amazon page for the book you can click a link indicating you'd like to see it on the Kindle. Amazon presumably them informs the publisher of this.

tetunney's picture

I had the great good fortune of attending a retreat when Joseph had his teacher, Munindra in attendance.

Praying on my conscience was the fact that I had been spraying aphids in my green house and, I suppose, looking for absolution. Joseph's response to my confession was that I should consider whether or not having a green house was something I wished to, or should, continue. I explained the extent of my financial and emotional commitment to such and Joseph suggested that I should talk to Munindra.

Because the dictate of non-killing is unambiguous; I questioned what he might be able to do. Joseph responded that he certainly did not know but strongly suggested that I should see him.

And so I did. To begin, I was immediately impressed. He listened, questioned, questioned and finally; rather than offering solutions or indeed, condemning my actions, he became highly personally inquisitive.

Finally, looking directly and hard at me he said, "You are not killing aphids, you are growing vegetables".

And so, the element of motivation became crystal clear.