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


hello my name is David Johnson and I'm

here with venerable bhante 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 Mohave

SIA doctor Edition including under

pandita but now has found his own path

that has taken him back to the teachings

found in the sutras 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

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 Wow time goes fast when you're

having fun

and I found a teacher in San Jose at

Stillpoint Institute and I went and did

a 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 the 1977 or some much well earlier

women Indra was there I was definitely

there he 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 I've 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 reborn in not

nice place 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 was there 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 Siyad 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 dojo

naka aside Lucille Ananda and both of

these later became my teachers after I

went back to the San Francisco area saya

Mohave saya das said that he wanted

Lucille Ananda Sato Zeeland andhe 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 Anandi 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 Anandi 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 always had a little smile yeah

it was an amazing man brilliant

absolutely brilliant after two years I

decided well I'm going to 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 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 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 chonburi 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 ever since

hmm over 30 years well 31 30 this is

this range retreat is 32 oh okay yeah

they start at 1 they don't start 0 to 1

oh okay

so that's pretty much so you ended up in

interest in meditation as the

that drew me to meditation back 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 it was really they were gonna

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 happened to have a book they're

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 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 and for me

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 a shower and that sort of

thing mm-hmm

and somebody stole all my money my

passport and this is right before you're

going today before I leave and then what

happened what how did you recover from


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 a little bit

before Google that's when they still had

dial phones they had 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 mahasin in Burma maja see

saya dobry tree I've done about a dozen

three-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 retreat with Stephen

Armstrong and 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 it

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 into Rangoon now

what did you eat during that time well

there was rice rice that's what it was

just no longer your favorite thing I I'm

thinking well I was in Asia for 12 years

after six years I finally decided I

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 Penang in

Malaysia and that's where I decided to

go do the Mehta retreat nothing but net

for 15 hours a day for six months a lot

of loving-kindness

it is

then while I was a while I was there I

was also asked to help set up medet

monastery in kuala lumpur and when i

started there was 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 were 600 families and

they've started building the they had

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 side ioniq spoke

English mmm it's 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 lost

anyway going to Jami eight in Rangoon

being with saya 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 mountains

right the sixteen knowledge azure nine

knowledge as or 12 knowledge as however

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 sixteen the sixteen knowledge is

came out of maja cease iodized 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 dollar gist

but I wasn't satisfied with that I

wasn't satisfied as I still felt like my

mind wasn't as pure as it could be so

there was still more to do in your

there's still more to do in my opinion

and I had to start looking for a

different way because 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 Vipassana 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 develop

in a positive way there was personality

development in being more critical and

harder to get along with people that bid

seemed to happen that meditation and

it's not only me but I I decided well

I'm in Malaysia there is Chinese there

is India Indian people from India and

there's Malay and there 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 interface 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


it was 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

Malaysia and the head monk was carried

on Ananda who is a very famous monk

because he writes these books that are


yeah he's written a lot of books a lot

of interesting and yeah you learn a lot

from him and I was quite thrilled that

he asked me to come and teach meditation

there so I 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

read on 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

was more interested in what I had to say

we've been wanting a break after all

your experiences in Burma and

everywhere else yeah so I started I

started teaching there and there was 300

to 500 people at every Friday night then

it got time to be the range retreat and

I went to go take part in the ceremony

for the range 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