Culture of silence broken
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 forty years.
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. 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 it is doubtful if Mettavihario 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.
Beginning of the end
In 2012 U Vivekananda conveyed as a message of his teacher U Pandita that ‘those in the Netherlands who want to 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 discrete manner, without any effect. Obviously the years long culture of silence had made deaf as well. That is why I finally decided tob e 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’. My appeal against this decision was settled by SIM nor according to the letter, nor to the spirit of their own ‘ethical code’. They preferred to keep silent about it, but I did not cooperate. ('Hoe de SIM mij excommuniceerde')
Knocked off his pedestal
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 Boeddhisme), who had been researching for two years. A culture of silence, which had been maintained for more than fourrty years, was finally broken.
See here a chronological reconstruction.