As for the spread of the Buddha’s teaching, historically and geographically – no matter today’s globalisation – the Netherlands are a totally outlying district. Below I briefly sketch how the Mahasi method found its way in the Netherlands during the past fifty years. Or maybe I’d rather say: did NOT found its way.
This is not a very uplifting story, with two bogus monks – Dhammawiranatha and Mettavihari – who notwithstanding have been given the credits for great authority for many years. In their isolated situation, without the potential supportive contact of any colleague monks, it could easily happen that they themselves and their environment would consider them as a genius, or as someone who might have attained a stage of holiness. All this with their supposed radiation in which the followers could cherish themselves. Read it and weep.
In 1979 Mahasi Sayadaw did visit the Netherlands. Responsible for his stay was Dutch monk Dhammawiranatha (1953), ordained in 1977 in Indonesia by Jinamitto (1904 – 1996), who himself was ordained by Jinarakkhita (1923 – 2002), ordained by Mahasi Sayadaw in 1954. In Dhammawiranatha’s own words Mahasi Sayadaw said to him: ‘I want you to teach Dhamma for a long long time.’ And that is what he did. Dhammawiranatha established a retreat centre in The Hague (Buddhayana Centre, 1986) and also a retreat centre in the countryside (Ehipassiko, 1991). He wrote and translated many books and texts, edited a monthly for 25 years and for some years also an English quarterly.
From 1982 on I was involved in this organisation. After my ordination as a monk and moving into the centre in 1990, my practice stagnated dramatically. I came across a culture of fear, meditation became less and less important and working hard all the more. There were strange changes of policy. Sometimes I had the idea to be in a sect and there was less and less contact with the outer world. In 2001 finally to me time was ripe to leave, and just my leaving caused things to be unveiled. When Dhammawiranatha’s students (me included) discovered his long time sexual (mis)conduct, they forced him to disrobe. This was the first case of breaking a culture of silence.
Mettavihari (1942 – 2007) had been ordained in his motherland Thailand in Wat Mahathat in Bangkok, and practiced also with U Asabha (1911 – 2010), a Burmese monk sent to Thailand to teach by Mahasi Sayadaw in 1952. In 1973 Mettavihari opened a Thai temple in Waalwijk, and in 1978 he established Young Buddhists Foundation Netherlands (SJBN). In 1983 Mettavihari had been sent out the Waalwijk temple because of sexual (mis)conduct. However, his Dutch students did not bother about that (‘We are not Thai, we are Westerners’) and elevated him on the shield in newly set up foundations in Tilburg, Amsterdam, Utrecht and Groningen. Therefore it is not amazing that morality (sila), the base of the practice, did not play any role in the teachings given in these centres. In general (for instance with respect to concentration) it is doubtful if Mettavihari did teach Mahasi method at all. In an obvious need to ‘broadening’ in 1998 SJBN changed into SIM (Insight Meditation Foundation). At the end of 2006 Mettavihari appointed 14 of his students as teachers. He passed away in 2007.
After the appointment of no less than 14 teachers by Mettavihari, according to my estimation the culture of silence about him would never be broken anymore. Already before this appointment, and before the Godfather’s passing away in 2007, Theravada Netherlands seemed to be governed by a hierarchic looking conglomerate of teachers 1st degree, teachers 2nd degree, assistant-teachers, managers and coordinators of local sitting groups. ‘Transmission of teachership’, as the appointment was mentioned, is a concept derived from Zen. In Zen one doesn’t appeal to the Buddha – who really did only leave the Dhamma as his successor (see Maha Parinibbana Sutta, DN 16,6) – but to patriarchs who lived more than a thousand years later. Of course then one has something to explain. But Theravadins do not need this at all.
Culture of Silence Finally Broken
In 2012 Sayadaw U Vivekananda conveyed as a message of his teacher Sayadaw U Pandita that ‘those in the Netherlands who want to start a centre and teach Mahasi method, better improve their own practice first’. Supposing that the ‘Mettavihari teachers’ and SIM felt at least connected with the Mahasi method, I carried this message to them in a considerate manner, without any effect. Obviously the years long culture of silence had made deaf as well. That is why I finally decided to be open about it.
In June 2013 Insight Meditation Foundation SIM, in various ways closely connected with the Mettavihari teachers, removed my retreats from their calendar ‘because of insurmountable opinions’.
On Whit Sunday, May 24 2015, the NOS Eight o’Clock News opened with the news of sexual abuse by Thai monk Mettavihari (1942 – 2007). The item had been prepared together with research journalist Rob Hogendoorn (webmagazine Open Buddhism), who had been researching for two years. A culture of silence, which had been maintained for more than fourty years, was finally broken. See here a chronological reconstruction:
Mahasi Teachings in the Netherlands
Anno 2019 one cannot but see that those who once have been nominated to teachership by Mettavihari either no longer appeal to the Mahasi method, either do not teach concentration according to the Mahasi method, or invite samatha teachers to specifically teach concentration.
Sayadaw U Pandita has always emphasized that – thanks to the power and clarity of the Mahasi method – the ‘first stage of holiness’ (sotapanna) can be obtained ‘In This Very Life‘. According to him it is only this attainment which offers a position of safety to teach Dhamma. He did never sanction a lay Westerner to teach the Mahasi method. In Jerome and me after every 60 day retreat confidence and insight has grown that we are making progress on the path. It is just on the basis of that that we conduct weekends, 5- en 10-day retreats according to the Mahasi method.