Episode #190: A carefree Australian surfer, Grahame White’s life changed dramatically on a chance encounter with Hermann Hesse’s, Siddhartha. After reading it, he decided to practice breathing based on a short line in the text. What happened next blew him away. “The mind became very bright and luminous after about five minutes and I said, ‘Oh, this is better than drugs!’” Grahame then practiced Buddhist meditation in the Mahasi style at a monastery offered by the Thai Embassy in London, before heading onto Bodhgaya and ordaining there as a monk.
At Bodghaya, he learned about an Indian vipassana teacher, S.N. Goenka, and Grahame made plans to go to the Tibetan monastery in Ladakh where Goenka would be conducting his second ever course.
Those days in Bodghaya were an amazing time. He met Joseph Goldstein and Munindra, among many other names who would become prominent in Dhamma circles. Goenka soon announced his intention to come there to conduct a series of courses. Even among all the other spiritual teachers he was encountering at the time in India, he found that Goenka stood out in a remarkable way. “I feel as though Goenkaji just had a presence about him from his meditation practice,” he commented, adding that his strong personality and humility also stood out. He spent long periods in Goenka’s presence, and listened to Goenka and Munindra converse for many hours on the Dhamma.
In those days, Goenka courses were intense, but quite relaxed. But little by little, Grahame felt an emergent “fundamentalism” in the organization as it rapidly grew in size, which made him uncomfortable, and so he returned to his Mahasi practice.
In 1973, Grahame made his first visit to Burma. With only 7-day visas given to foreigners, he practiced briefly at the main Mahasi monastery, where he studied under Sayadaw U Janaka.
Mahasi was also gaining a growing interest among Westerners, and when Grahame finally made it back to Australia, he began to involve himself with supporting Mahasi courses there. He eventually stepped into the teacher role himself, which will be the subject of Part 2 of our interview with him.