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Monk Bhikkhu Cintita
Monk Bhikkhu Cintita was born John Dinsmore in San Francisco, California in 1949. His father, a building contractor, and mother, a homemaker with a passion for acting, were not particularly religious, and attended a local Presbyterian church less than a handful of times while Cintita was growing up. This lack of interest and attention to religion remained a part of Cintita’s life until his 40s when, looking back on a career in academia and research into artificial intelligence, he felt disappointed. Although he had a successful career and stable job, he felt as though he was lacking the wisdom about what in life he should truly value and what way of living would bring him satisfaction. A lifelong academic, he turned to researching different religions believing that what he looked for could be found.
Initially, he continued his work and studied religions in a fashion similar to a hobby, learning about Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Judaism, and Buddhism. However, he admitted that he might have had a bias toward Eastern religions due to the fact that he had been practicing meditation non-religiously since the age of 30 as a way of relieving stress. While studying the Buddhist tradition, he found that he felt a deeper connection to the simple logic about the human condition, the dilemma of suffering in the world, and the solution of the Four Noble Truths. It was at this time that he realized that he was more invested in learning about Buddhism than the AI research of his career in Austin, Texas.
At the time he was learning about Zen Buddhism, which he now attributes to the fact that it is the most established form of Buddhism in Western society. He became a regular attendee of the Austin Zen Center, focusing on improving his meditation and adding a spiritual component. Eventually, in 2001, he left his job and fully devoted his time to studying Buddhism when he was advised to study at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California. This monastic retreat was the original site of the same organization that founded the Austin Zen Center, the San Francisco Zen Center in the Japanese style of Suzuki Roshi. He spent a year and a half there until he became dissatisfied with what he felt were weaknesses in Japanese Buddhism.
He explained that in Japan, monastic practice had been largely phased out except for novices training to become ordained. Instead, once ordained a monk was eligible to marry, found a Zen temple, and start something akin to a family business. He also noted that in Japan, Buddhist temple were primarily gone to for funerals, making the life of a monk too akin to a middle class life than Cintita was looking for. Being that he had left behind an unsatisfying life similar to this with a focus on the secular and worldly, he sought something deeper with more of a focus on monastic, spiritual life.
At this point, he moved back to Austin and traveled around, visiting as many different Buddhist traditions as he could and learning about Tibetan, Mahayana, and Theravada Buddhism. During one of his visits, he met four Burmese Theravada monks living in a house trailer that would go on to found the Sitagu Buddha Vihara.
After spending more time with these monks and their abbot, Ashin Ariyadhamma, he inquired about the monastic practices of Burmese Theravada monks. In response, the abbot insisted that he go to Burma and see for himself. A short time later, Cintita began his 13-month stay in Burma, learning under Dr. Ashin Nyanissara who would ordain him in 2009.
He is currently living at the Sitagu Buddha Vihara in Austin, Texas, but visits Sitagu Dhamma Vihara for a few weeks at the beginning of each summer. He spends his time teaching and writing about his experiences of becoming a monk and currently compiling information about the life of Sitagu Sayadaw. He is also beginning to lead a session for meditation for Westerners. In Austin, he keeps a regular schedule with the other monks, waking up at 5:30 am to chant, meditating at 6:30 until breakfast, and then going about daily chores or duties until another chanting session at 8:00 pm. He also leads public meditation on Sundays, where visitors staying at the vihara can join and be led. Currently, they have 36 cabins for visitors to stay for a time at the Sitagu Buddha Vihara.1
Bhikkhu Cintita (Sitagu Buddha Vihara Monk), in discussion with the author, June 5th, 2016 ↩