Context: Throughout this transcript, Bhante Vimalaramsi is the speaker unless otherwise indicated.


hello my name is David Johnson and I'm

here with venerable Vontae Bimala Ramsey

and we're going to be talking about a

number of topics in a continuing series

of interviews and a little bit about

Vontae he majored in history from the

University of San Diego he became a

Buddhist monk in Thailand in 1986 and

has been in the robes ever since he's

trained in Thailand Burma and Sri Lanka

he did many many retreats in the

mahasiddhas Ayodhya Edition including

under pandita but now has found his own

path that has taken him back to the

teachings found in the suitors

themselves he teaches retreats at his

Missouri Center in the US and conducts

retreats in Asia and around the world he

is the author of many books including

his major book on meditation life is


meditation is life we'll be doing a

number of interviews so we won't cover

everything in this one discussion we'll

move into other areas and I also have a

number of questions submitted from our

friends in the social media so without

further ado let's get started

Vontae hello greetings are you ready to

talk about the Dhamma let me start with

the fact that you've been a monk for

over 30 years what made you want to do

that well let's just start out when I

when I started meditating okay okay I

started meditating with straight

Vipassana without a proper teacher in

1984 No 1974 excuse me alpha time goes

fast when you're having fun

and I found a teacher in San Jose at

Stillpoint Institute and I went and did

one month retreat and then they asked me

to stay because I was a handyman and

I've kind of worked around and got

things back into shape so while I was

there the teacher that was there his

teacher who happened to be the same

teacher of Joseph Goldstein Anika Rica

Moon Indra from India was coming to

America and he was going to be giving a

retreat I think it was about a six-week

retreat it was it was a one-month

retreat and it might have been two

months another month after that I don't

remember that's what happens when you

get old well I knew there was a June

retreat is that the one you're talking

about that 1977 or some much well early

women Munro was there it was definitely

there and gave a retreat after that one

after the big retreat okay I don't

remember yeah

and it got me real enthusiastic and I

wound up staying at the Meditation

Center and doing a lot of meditation

there and helping in whatever way that I

could in 1978 I went with common-law

masters to Maui and I wound up staying

there for a couple of years and just

generally kind of chilling out a little

bit not doing so much meditation but

really enjoying being on Maui it's a

wonderful place that I would imagine I

got hooked on waterfalls there

waterfalls mangos pineapple then I

somebody sent me a book on the five

visions that happen right before death

and that got me really enthusiastic to

go back to the mainland and be with a

nursing home that my mother ran and so I

could be with people as they were dying

so I could check out whether those

visions were real or not

were they yes hmm and I helped a lot of

them to let go of the lower kind of

visions where they would reboot me

reborn and not nice places so that they

would be either reborn as human beings

or Davis

while I was there I was also teaching a

meditation class a couple times a week

I was helping set up a hospice and

worked at the hospice and I did that for

about eight months and I would that was

like okay I've seen all of this now I'm

gonna go up to San Francisco so while I

was in Hawaii I happened to hear that

Mojave sighted I was coming to the

United States and he was going to be

stopping in Hawaii and I went and I met

him and he had other teachers with him

saya dog Jonica aside Lucille Ananda and

both of these later became my teachers

after I went back to the San Francisco

area saya Mojave saya das said that he

wanted Lucile Ananda saito zeal Ananda

to stay in the San Francisco area

because there was a lot of Burmese there

and he was gonna set up a monastery and

when I heard about this I thought well I

haven't got much better to do right now

so I went up and asked him if I could be

his attendant and being his attendant is

there's a lot of work involved in that I

was I had to offer the food every day

breakfast and lunch

I washed all the dishes like vacuumed

the place I kept everything clean and

generally kept everything up and I would

take Lucille and Ando wherever he wanted

to go as a result of being there for two

years he was my teacher but he was also

my friend now Lucille Ananda as a

meditation teacher was very much like a

ballet dancer he was very light and he

would just mention things and and keep

you on the path very lightly he wasn't

over strict like some of the other

Burmese teachers yeah I remember that

singsong voice of his yeah and a little

smile I host have a little smile yeah

yeah it was an amazing man brilliant

absolutely brilliant after two years I

decided well I'm gonna be a layman again

see what it's like then I

started working as a roofer to start off

with and then I got into construction

and because of my ties to Mozilla nonde

and the Burmese community there were a

lot of Chinese that were coming that

were Chinese Burmese and they started

introducing me to people that needed

work and I met some very wealthy Chinese

businessmen in Chinatown and they

started seeing the work I was doing and

they were impressed with it and they say

the one of them said I want you to build

my house and he had the blueprints and

all of that sort of thing it was a very

expensive very big house and while I was

doing that he introduced me to other

CEOs of banks and presidents of banks

and all of these kind of guys so I

started building more than one house at

a time

and had a fairly large crew working for

me and I wanted to see if I could earn a

whole bunch of money really quickly and

I did then I said to myself well I can

do that

now it's time to figure out something

else to do so I basically gave away the

business and


decided that I was going to go to

Thailand in the back of my mind I had

the idea that I might be a monk but I

didn't want to stay a monk for very long

maybe a year or something like that and

when I got to Thailand I went to a

meditation center Mojave Meditation

Center in trumpery where one of the more

famous Burmese teachers was and it was

in December and the anniversary of my

father's death was on the 27th of

December so I decided to ordain and

share the merit with him of that and as

soon as I put the robes on they wouldn't

let go they had me and I told other

other people about this that they just

ordained I said you know I got these

robes on they don't want to let go and

they're looking at me like I'm some kind

of crazy what do you know we're not

gonna stay monks for the rest of our

lives we just want to see what the

experience is that was in 1986 and I've

been a monk every since

hmm over 30 years well 31 this is well

almost 30 this is this range retreat is

32 Oh

32 okay yeah they start at 1 they don't

start at 0 to 1 oh ok so that's pretty

much so you ended up in interest in

meditation is the thing that drew me to


mmm-hmm back in the in the 70s I was

reading Carlos Castaneda and Don Juan

and all of these kind of things trying

to figure out what they were talking

about then

I ran across other meditation teachers

but they weren't teaching how to do the

meditation they just said well just sit

and meditate this is when there was a

lot of Indian gurus that were coming

into the country and I wasn't really

happy about that until I went to the

Theosophical society that was

advertising on the radio that they would

give meditation so I wanted to go see

what kind of meditation and whether was

really they were going to give me some

instruction so we're going back a little

bit into the 70s now angle but right

kind of the early days and they happen

to have a book there called practical

Insight Meditation and that's the only

meditation that I came across that

actually told you how to do the practice

so I I was real enthusiastic about that

and I started doing the practice and I

decided to quit my job at the time I was

a manager of the store and I quit the

job and did a two-week retreat on my own

with the book and practical insight

meditation and I got to a place that I

didn't really understand and decided

well how about if I go to India or go to

Burma angrily and I

got the money together I went up to

Burma to San Francisco the night before

I was going to be leaving I went to a

YMCA downtown where they have you can

pay for shower and that sort of thing

and somebody stole all my money my

passport and this is right before you're

going to day before the day I leave and

then what happened what how did you

recover from that

well I hitchhiked back down to Los

Angeles where I had some friends and

then I started working again and getting

money together

but the thing that's really amazing

about that time was I called up an

operator and I said I want to call Burma

it's in Rangoon chanmi you know Mojave

Center and I was wondering if you could

help me do that and they called back the

next day and they said we have Burma on

the line

naked a little bit before Google that's

when they still have dial phones they

happy to talk to somebody else to find

out yeah very good anyway

so you talk to them I talked to them and

they said well if you come to Burma you

can only stay for one week because that

was a limitation at that time by the

government why don't you stay in America

there's a place on the East Coast and

there's a place on the west coast that

you can practice and because I was on

the west coast

I checked out still point Institute and

went up there and did the retreat's and

became very much hooked on wanting to do

more and more when I became a monk this

is something that I haven't said for a

long time I have done numerous one-month

retreats I've done I did a six-month

loving-kindness retreat I did an

eight-month Maha's and in Burma Mojave

SIA dal retreat I've done about a dozen

3-month retreats as I said I was very

much a fanatic and I was I was a damn

American I didn't know anything about

Buddhism I didn't really care about

Buddhism all I wanted to know was about

meditation and it's a big relief to find

out that Buddhism is not a religion

Buddhism is a way of learning how to

develop your mind I did a two-year

retreat in in 1988 I did the eight-month

re3 with Stephen Armstrong and he was he

was one of the Yogi's so we got to know

each other fairly well friend

yeah and they know this is in Burma this

is in Burma okay at the Mahathir Center

at the Mojave Center the amazing thing

is they wanted all foreign Yogi's out of

the country

and they were shooting people and they

were doing all kinds of things that that

was really not very nice in the country

itself there was they shut down all

kinds of communication there was no way

to communicate out of the country for a

period of time and they stopped all the

food from coming in to in terrain go now

what did they eat during that time well

there was rice moving the rice that's

what it was just no longer your favorite

thing I am thinking well I was in Asia

for 12 years after six years I finally

decided I'd better get used to it

but when I was leaving to go back to

back to Thailand and then I decided that

there's a meditation center that I could

stay for a long time if I wanted to at

banane in Malaysia and that's where I

decided to go do the meta retreat

nothing but net for 15 hours a day for

six months a lot of loving-kindness it


then while I was a while I was there I

was also asked to help set up a medic

monastery in Kuala Lumpur and when I

started there was I I can't remember the

exact numbers it was either 12 or 18

families when I left to go to Burma two

years later there was 600 families and

they've started building the they have

that piece of land given to them and

they started building a monastery there

anyway I went back to Burma to practice

with sido Jonica Sydow Jonica spoke

English mmm helpful Mojave Center they

don't hmm had to go through a translator

which was very frustrating at least yeah

tell us how that works I think that's a

good story how the translator works well

I would go in and I would tell them

precisely exactly what was happening

with my meditation and he would say one

sentence to the teacher and the teacher

would go on and talk about things that

might be helpful to me and all of that

and the translator turned back to me and

gave me one sentence so I didn't really

feel like I was getting a good rounded

kind of teaching the answers were a

little lacking then well I was pretty


anyway going to jammy eight and Rangoon

and being with SIA Jonica I was with him

for two years

and I experienced the insight knowledge

'as I went as far as you can go with the

insight knowledge --is these are the

Yanis the the Gianna's right the sixteen

dollars or nine dollars or twelve

dollars however you whoever you're

following yeah depends who you're

talking about

it started out with only nine insight

knowledge --is and I don't know about

twelve but the city the sixteen

knowledge is is came out of maja seaside

as sub commentary to the Vasudha maha

and that's where that meditation came

into being because it was in his

commentary yeah that's definitely in the

progress of insight right the sixteen

dollars but I wasn't satisfied with that

I wasn't satisfied as I still felt like

my mind wasn't as beer as it could be so

there's still more to do in there

there's still more to do in my opinion

and I had to start looking for a

different way cuz I went as far as I

could and it didn't work the way I

thought it should so where did you go

after that I went back to Malaysia and

they were all excited having me come

back because I'd been in yeah they knew

you really well yeah and they really

wanted me to teach him the Pisano but I

couldn't with an open conscious I

couldn't do it because I still saw that

there was some problems and there wasn't

much personality personality

development in a positive way there was

personality development and being more

critical and harder to get along with

people that bid seemed to happen

meditation and it's not only me but I

decided well I'm in Malaysia there is

Chinese there is India's Indian people

from India and there's Malay and there

are about third of the populations Malay

run everything Chinese are very very

ambitious and they get pushed down a lot

by the Malays so they're walking around

being angry all the time

so I decided well I'm going to give a

real loving kindness retreat and the

first loving-kindness retreat was for 60

people it was a lot

because I try to see everybody everyday

daily interviews yeah so 60 times 60 is

many hours yeah and did you also throw

in a talk on top of that well two talks

a day Oh two talks about yeah well okay

you're pretty busy pretty tired by the

end of that weekend I'll tell you so how

long did that was that a weekend or it

was a week it was three days three days

but they got so excited about

loving-kindness that they started

teaching loving-kindness on their own

once they did they found out a little

bit about how to do it and about about

ten months after I came back for my

two-year retreat the chief monk of the

mahavihara monastery in Kuala Lumpur it

was the biggest terror Vado monastery in

the area in all of all of Malaysia and

the head monk was carried on Ananda who

is a very famous monk because he writes

these books that are practical yeah he's

written a lot of books a lot of

interesting and there yeah you learn a

lot from him and I was quite thrilled

that he asked me to come and teach

meditation there

so hi I said yes I left the other

monastery and moved over to this one and

I started teaching meditation classes

and I was teaching meditation at

different places all over Kuala Lumpur

every night except Friday nights case

readin ananda asked me to give a Dhamma

talk every friday every other friday

night he was doing it every Friday night

at the time he was 78 years old he said

I'm getting old and I get tired easily I

want you to do it every other so it

gives me a break but I really suspect he

is more interested in what I had to say

than wanting a break after all your

experiences in Burma and in Malaysia and

everywhere else yeah so I started I

started teaching there and there was 300

to 500 people at every Friday night then

I got time to be the range retreat and I

went to go take part in the ceremony for

the rains retreat and there was a couple

of thousand people there anyway it was a

huge hall but they might have been able

to hold 3