Michele McDonald co-founded Vipassana Hawai’i in 1984 with Steven Smith. She has taught Insight meditation for forty years throughout the United States, in Canada, Burma, and around the world. Michele has been a quiet pioneer having been the first woman to teach a formal retreat in Burma, side-by-side with a senior monastic figure, Sayadaw U Lakkhana, Abbot of Kyaswa Monastery. Having worked with a wide range of Asian and Western teachers, Michele is most inspired by her practice with Dipa Ma, Sayadaw U Pandita, and Mya Taung Sayadaw. Her style of teaching emphasizes helping individuals find entry points into stillness that are natural for them. She encourages an understanding of the path of insight and a gentle strengthening of mindfulness and concentration so that, ultimately, people can access the peaceful depths of their experience in every moment.
Steven V. Smith co-founded Vipassana Hawai’i in 1984 with Michele McDonald. In 1995, he founded the MettaDana Project for educational and medical projects in Burma and helped establish the Mahaathularamsi Retreat Center, headed by Sayadaw U Lakkhana, then Abbot of Kyaswa Monastery. This partnership helped usher in the beginnings of Vipassana Hawai’i’s Fusion Dhamma approach combining traditional and contemporary teaching styles in the same retreat. Anchored in the Theravada Buddhist Burmese lineage of Mahasi Sayadaw since 1974, he was trained and sanctioned as a teacher by revered monk and meditation master Sayadaw U Pandita. Steven divides his time teaching Vipassana and the Divine Abodes (loving-kindness, compassion, joy, equanimity) meditation retreats around the world, and assisting Burmese refugee communities along the Thai-Burma border.
Grahame White has been involved in Buddhist meditation practice for over 40 years. He began his study in England in 1969 before being ordained as a Buddhist monk for one year in BodhGaya, India in 1971. He took a primary role in the establishment of Vipassana meditation in the tradition of Mahasi Sayadaw in Australia and co-founded the Blue Mountains Insight Meditation Center outside Sydney. Now, Grahame leads introductory and day long courses in Sydney and regularly teaches longer intensive retreats in the US. Grahame has been leading and co-teaching retreats with Sayadw U Lakkhana, Steven Smith and Michele McDonald, as well as helping to guide the Hawai’i sangha in its ongoing practice. He has also helped pioneer a workshop format that enhances the transfer of mindfulness from the formal sitting practice into daily life. Grahame returns to Myanmar (Burma) each year in order to deepen his practice and study of the Buddha’s teachings and at times assist in the teaching of Vipassana retreats for foreigners. Grahame teaches a classical tradition of insight meditation with a relaxed, accessible style.
Jesse Maceo Vega Frey’s teaching aims to inspire the skills, determination, and faith necessary to realize the deepest human freedom. He is a student of Michele McDonald and his approach is rooted in the tradition of Mahasi Sayadaw of Burma. As a teacher of Vipassana (insight) meditation within the broader context of Theravadan Buddhism his teaching encourages an exploration of the relationship between ethics, insight, and action. Perpetually intrigued by the dynamics between inner and outer change, Jesse is a writer of numerous essays and author of Insurgent Heart: A Vipassana Manual for the Guerrilla Yogi. Links to his writing can be found on his website: www.dolessforpeace.org as well as links to his weekly musical radio show, Mind to Mind: The Transmission. He is a spoon carver who loves to teach people about how to work with their hands and explore the relationship between labor, ownership, and kamma. He is the resident teacher for Vipassana Hawai’i and teaches around the world.
Teaching Assistants and Trainees
Jake Davis began practicing at age 14, with Steven and Michele, and went on to spend nearly a decade practicing, studying, working as an interpreter, and training as a monk under the eminent meditation masters Sayadaw U Pandita and Sayadaw U Lakkhana of Burma. He brings together a deep experiential understanding of Buddhist practice with an intellectual training including study of the Pāli texts, a Ph.D. in Philosophy and Cognitive Science, and ongoing research on meditation.
Darine Monroy has been a student of Michele McDonald and Steven Smith since 2011. She has taught for Mindful Schools and has completed the Hakomi Comprehensive Training. Darine was born and raised in Mexico, and meditation retreats have been among the most meaningful experiences of her life.
Sayadaw U Pandita was one of the foremost living meditation teachers in the world. As successor to the late Mahasi Sayadaw he was the guiding teacher at Mahasi Meditation Center until 1991 when he founded the Panditarama Meditation Center in Yangon, Burma. Sayadaw has been a devoted monk since taking novice vows at the age of 12 and full ordination at age 20. He came to prominence in the west when in 1984 he led a 3-month retreat at IMS in Barre, Massachusetts. He is the author of In This Very Life, and is the sanctioning monk behind Vipassana Hawai’i Founder Steven Smith, to becoming a leading teacher of Dhamma in the west. Sayadawgyi passed away in the spring of 2016. His impact on contemporary Dhamma teaching cannot be overstated.
Sayadaw U Lakkhana: Sayadaw U Lakkhana served as the Abbot of Kyaswa Valley Monastery in Sagaing Hills, Burma. He developed several programs of study for Kyaswa and under his guidance, the monastery became a focal point for western meditators to experience the full transmission of the Dhamma in a classical teaching setting. Like U Pandita, Sayadaw was a devoted monk since taking novice vows at the age of 12 and full ordination at age 20. He received all major honors that can be bestowed for scholarship in Pali Buddhist studies and meditation, including the highest award for meditation instruction, the title of Agga Maha Kammathanacariya, or “Most Noble and Distinguished Meditation Teacher.” He practiced Satipatthana Vipassana meditation under the tutelage of Mahasi Sayadaw and Sayadaw U Pandita, eventually returning to Kyaswa to supervise the meditation center and numerous health and education projects run with the support of Vipassana Hawai’i. Sayadaw passed away in 2014
Vipassana Hawai‘i frequently invites and sponsors other teachers in the Vipassana tradition. Teachers who return regularly include:
Sayadaw U Thuzana is the Abbot of Tathagata Meditation Center (TMC) in San Jose. He has been a monk for 30 years and speaks fluent English. Before coming to TMC in May 2011, he was the chief meditation master at Malaysian Buddhist Meditation Center (MBMC) in Penang, Malaysia from 2003-2010. From 2000- 2003, he was an assistant to Sayadaw U Panditā at Hseminegone Meditation Center in Bago, Myanmar. In this capacity, he taught Vipassana meditation to many local and foreign yogis..
Sayadaw U Paññananda is Kammatthanacariya (meditation teacher) at the Malaysian Buddhist Meditation Centre, Penang. From 1982 to 1994 Sayadaw was a Dhamma Lecturer and taught Pariyatti at Mahabodhi Pariyatti Temple in Yankin Township, Yangon. In 1994, Sayadaw practiced Vipassana Meditation at Panditarama Shwe Taung Gon Sasana Yeiktha, Yangon under the overall guidance of Ovadacariya Sayadawgyi U Panditabhivamsa. After his practice and further study under Sayadaw-gyi U Panditabhivamsa’s guidance, Sayadaw U Pannananda taught Vipassana Meditation and gave Dhamma talks as an assistant meditation teacher while living at Panditarama Yangon and was the religious advisor and resident monk of Vipassana Meditation Centre in Singapore from 1999-2012.
Sayalay Ma Kamalañani was born on April 24, 1967, in Thaton, Mon State, Myanmar. She got M.B., B.S at University of Medicine, Yangon in 1993 and ordained under Sayadaw U Panditabhivamsa at Panditarama, Yangon in 1994. She achieved Sasanadhajadhammacariya in 2001 and worked as a teacher in Pariyatti Program for nuns and Buddhist Cultural Training Courses for children at Panditarama, Yangon, for 9 years. She has taught Abhidhamma, Burmese, Visuddhimagga and Meditation in Taiwan in 2011, 2015 and has been teaching Buddhist Theory and Meditation at Buddhist Culture Courses in Malaysia and in Panditarama Htauk Kyant Branch Center since 2012. Ma Kamala currently resides at Nirodharama Meditation Center, Htauk Kyant, Mingalardon Township.
U Hla Myint trained from a young age in the Burmese monastic tradition, becoming an accomplished scholar and a meditation teacher before leaving the monastic life to be a husband and raise two children, now in their teens and twenties. His delightful, unassuming personality makes U Hla Myint’s presentation of the Theravada Buddhist teachings very practical and accessible, while at the same time students benefit from his deep mastery of both scholarship and practice.
During his 22 years of monastic training, U Hla Myint earned many degrees in Buddhist Studies and Pāli language, including the Ph.D. level Abhivaṃsa degree, and he became an assistant meditation instructor at Mahasi Meditation Center in Burma. After leaving the monastic life, U Hla Myint continued to be a close disciple, translator and teaching assistant of the late Sayadaw U Pandita. Under the sponsorship of Tathāgata Meditation Center (TMC), San Jose, California, he has translated numerous Burmese dhamma books and has authored many books such as Meditation Lectures, Conditional Relations in Daily Life, Pali Language Lessons for English readers, Great Observing Power, Abhidhamma for Meditators and others. Since 2000, he has also taught the Theravada Tradition to the students of Buddhist Studies Program in Bodh Gaya, India organized by Antioch College and Carleton College, Ohio, USA.
Honolulu Practice Leaders
The Honolulu Sangha is further supported by a team of dedicated practice leaders, including:
Thanh Huynh is a radiation oncologist in Honolulu. He has been practicing Vipassana for over 20 years with several renowned teachers including Sayadaw’s U Pandita, U Kundala, U Lakkhana, Sri Munindra as well as Steven Smith, Michele McDonald, Kamala Masters, and Grahame White. He has a particular interest in the direct experience of the classical understandings of the Buddha’s teachings. Thanh has been coordinating the Oahu Prison Dhamma program since 1992. He was trained as a Community Dharma Leader at Spirit Rock Meditation Center and currently does research on the medical benefits of mindfulness practice. He frequently offers free mindfulness workshops for the community as well as an ongoing free online course.
Xuan Huynh studied with the renowned Sri Munindra several years ago and was greatly impressed by talks about two particular students of his in India. Both women yogis had attained deep dhamma experiences practicing at home after attending a 10 days Vipassana retreat. Deeply influenced by Dipa Ma and Michele McDonald’s wisdom and metta, Xuan’s goal is to achieve a seamless mindful awareness between daily life activities and formal meditation practice.
Mark Nokes has been practicing Vipassana meditation since 1996, when he was introduced to the Dhamma, with the encouragement of his wife Paula, by Gil Fronsdal. He has engaged in extensive periods of intensive practice in Hawai’i and California as well as in Burma at Mahasi Buddha Sasana Yeiktha. In addition to Gil Fronsdal, influential teachers include Grahame White, Carol Wilson, Guy Armstrong, Joseph Goldstein, and Jack Kornfield. Mark retired from his job as a Silicon Valley physicist and engineer in 2002 in order to pursue his meditation practice more fully. He is currently interested in relating the discoveries of neuroscience to his meditation.
Paula Nokes began practicing transcendental meditation in 1994 for health reasons, and discovered a lasting interest in Buddhism and mindfulness meditation after attending a series of introductory Vipassana classes taught by Gil Fronsdal in 1996. She has practiced with several teachers in Hawai’i and California as well as in Burma at Mahasi Buddha Sasana Yeiktha. Some of the teachers who have helped to shape her practice are Gil Fronsdal, Grahame White, James Baraz, Carol Wilson, and Sylvia Boorstein. Paula is a watercolor, painting, and print artist, and has lived in Honolulu since 2002.
Harry Palmer is a medical physicist currently working in the area of radiation safety. He began Vipassana Meditation in the early nineties when he was introduced to it by Michele McDonald. His practice has continued to the present with her, Steven Smith and Grahame White. Over the years other teachers and influences include Sayadaws U Pandita and U Lakkhana, and Dr.Thynn Thynn. Recently, he has been profoundly affected by his retreats with Sayadaw U Thusana. He is particularly interested in applying mindfulness, loving kindness, and compassion to daily life practice.
Quynh Nguyen first encountered with the Dharma 32 years ago while taking care of family and practicing as an internist in Honolulu. She initially sat with Aitken Roshi, then Michele McDonald and Steven Smith. Now retired, she enjoyed sitting with the inmates at correctional facilities and Halfway Houses. She is an eternal optimist, firmly believing that we all have the capacities to purify our mind.
Catherine Hage began Vipassana and Metta meditation practice in 1997, and completed Spirit Rock’s two and a half year Community Dharma Leadership Program in 2008. Her life is devoted to releasing suffering and embracing happiness for herself and those she is graced to engage with in the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual relationships we have with ourselves, our path to freedom, fellows, and world. She is a licensed Mental Health Social Work Counselor (MSW, LSW), dedicated Iyengar Yoga practitioner since 1993, certified instructor since 2005, and first Performance Art graduate from U.H.