In the Birken Upāsikā Training Program for New Initiates, teachings are provided by Ajahn Sona at three mandatory Upāsikā gatherings at Birken, and 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 Ajahn Sona. Beyond this central theme, monthly assignments and gatherings 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 focus on Ajahn Sona’s methods for meditation on the breath (anapanasati), death (maranassati), loving-kindness (metta), and walking meditation. Ajahn 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 Ajahn Sona as their spiritual mentor during the first year of the program, and to seek personalized spiritual advice from Ajahn Sona by way of interviews at the monastery and asking questions in the online discussion forum. A core component of the program is the strengthening of kalyāna-mittatā (wise spiritual friendship) between upāsikās who are affiliated with Birken, by way of regular gatherings both at the monastery and in the virtual realm of the online discussion forum. Between and beyond the mandatory gatherings at Birken, upāsikās are encouraged to establish or join existing regional upāsikā groups that are affiliated with Birken (including many that are now well established by “alumni” from previous years).