An interview with Bhante Sanathavihari from our “Meet a Teacher” series in the March 2022 issue of Lion’s Roar magazine.
I grew up in the ethnically diverse neighborhoods of Koreatown and Hollywood in Los Angeles. My father was a Marine Corps veteran and my mother was from Jerez, Mexico.
My parents had an affinity for Asian cultures, and my first school was a private Christian Korean school. In my teenage years, I attended Hollywood High School, where I was part of the Junior Reserve ROTC, performed in the school hip hop dance team, and sang in a rap crew.
My first encounter with the dhamma was reading the Dalai Lama’s book The Joy of Living and Dying in Peace. After I graduated from high school, I visited my local Thai Buddhist temple to learn more about Buddhism. There I was given a small book in English, which I read over many times.
A few months later, I enlisted in the Air Force Reserve and began a long service in the military. At the time of my second six-year enlistment, I came across Ajahn Brahmavamso’s dhamma talks on YouTube. I listened to the same talks over and over again, annoying my girlfriend at the time.
About a year into my Ajahn Brahm obsession, I discovered there was a Sri Lankan Buddhist temple just around the corner from my house. There I meet Bhante Madawela Punnaji Maha Thera, who would become my most influential teacher. In 2015, I received ordination as a new monastic and three years later I received full ordination at Maharagama Bhikkhu Training Center in Sri Lanka.
During this time, I was asked to start an online Spanish meditation group, and this grew into the Casa de Bhavana, an online community dedicated to bringing Buddhist teachings to Spanish-speaking people. I am currently working on a degree in counseling psychology with a certificate in providing counseling in Spanish to the Latino community.
What is your practice tradition?
While the majority of my practice is based on the Pali suttas and Vinaya, I like to expand my understanding of different traditions, which currently includes a touch of Chan Buddhism.
Bhante Punnaji and Bhante Kolitha.
What is your current or next project?
My current project is to continue sharing the dhamma via Casa de Bhavana. I have a desire to open up a Buddhist center in Mexico in the near future.
Favorite meditation practice?
I am torn between Anapanasati and Metta Bhavana meditation practices.
What dharma books do you recommend?
First, I would highly recommend reading the suttas. Then I would recommend Letting Go of “Self”: Lessons in Buddhist Psychology, by Bhante Punnaji, and Satipattana: The Direct Path to Realization, by Bhante Analayo.
Your favorite virtue?
It is definitely patience (khanti).
Your chief characteristic?
Comedic, which I believe helps me connect with people.
Your idea of happiness?
Akuppā-ceto-vimutti (unshakeable serenity of mind).
Your idea of misery?
Repeating unskillful habits.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Working as a security guard at Home Depot.
If not yourself, who would you be?
I don’t know.
Name three of your heroes.
The Buddha, Batman, and Aang the Airbender.
The natural talent you’d most like to have?
Your favorite musician or group?
Above and Beyond.
Your favorite current TV show?
What’s for dinner?
A motto that represents you?
Be the person that my younger self needed.