Graduates of the three earlier initiate training sessions, which included an onsite gathering component at Birken monastery, will be known as Alumni Upāsikās. Beginning in 2021 we will launch a new generation of the Upāsikā program that will be completely online.
In this new iteration of the Birken Online Upāsikā Training Program, virtual teachings are provided for one year (January-December) by Luang Por Sona through monthly Dhamma talks, assignments and discussion on a password-protected website.
The central teaching theme of the first year of the program is a systematic study and practice of The Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, using a core text by Bhikkhu Bodhi (“The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering”) and corresponding Dhamma talks by Luang Por Sona. Beyond this central theme, monthly assignments deal with the broad topics of meditation, sutta study, chanting, forms and conventions of the Thai Forest Tradition, and the symbiotic relationship between the monastic sangha and lay practitioners. Meditation instruction focuses on Luang Por Sona’s methods for meditation on the breath (anapanasati), death (maranassati), loving-kindness (metta), and walking meditation. Luang Por Sona also spontaneously weaves in other essential teachings and relevant aspects of Buddhist history, with an emphasis on understanding samatha and vipassana practices in a historical context.
Participants are encouraged to foster a close relationship with Luang Por Sona as their spiritual mentor during the first year of the program, and to seek personalized spiritual advice from Luang Por Sona by asking questions in the online discussion forum. A core component of the program is also the strengthening of kalyāna-mittatā (wise spiritual friendship) between upāsikās by way of the virtual realm of the online discussion forum.
After completing the initial year of formal online training, new Upāsikās are encouraged to establish or join existing regional Alumni Upāsikā groups that are affiliated with Birken, as well as participate in the Alumni Upāsikā online program of continued study and community sharing.