About Sila Mindfulness:

winter meditation.jpg

Sila (or sīla to be exact) is the Pāli term for ethics or moral conduct. In Buddhism it is what lies at the very foundation of a mindful life, wisdom, joy, and ultimately awakening itself. In all of my teaching I make ethics a foundation, both explicitly in classes in implicitly in modeling a positive moral life to the best of my ability. More on the Visions, Mission, and Philosophy of Sila Mindfulness.


Our programs and offerings will be a mix of set-price, donation-accepted, and free. Traditionally, dharma (Buddhist teaching) offerings are given freely; but also traditionally those offerings would come from individuals and monastic communities supported by the state or lay community.  So long as we are not community/state supported and have expenses such as website hosting, outreach and rental costs, we will rely on paid services. Having clear fees for talks or programs also tends to work best for people in the West and is thus being adopted by many Buddhist groups.

Dana/generosity is warmly accepted and will go to program development and scholarships.

About Dr. Justin Whitaker

Retreats attended, all in Montana unless otherwise noted. This is partially for my own accounting, but also for you to see some of the range of experiences I bring to teaching:

2000, 2 nights (FWBO - now the Triratna Buddhist Community)
2001, 2 nights (FWBO)
2002, 2 nights (FWBO)
2003, 2 nights (Rowan Conrad, Thich Nhat Hanh tradition)
2004, 9 nights (Matthew Flickstein, Vipassana)
2005, 2 nights (Seeing HHDL in Arizona, not a retreat per se, but close - blogged
            2 nights (Matthew Flickstein, Vipassana - blogged)
2006, 2 nights (Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, Soto Zen - blogged)
2007, 2 nights (Matthew Flickstein, Vipassana)
2008, 2 nights (Thich Nhat Hanh tradition)
2009, 7 nights (John Travis, WY, Vipassana)
           2 nights (Michael Ciborski, TNH Tradition - Dharma name given: Serene Dwelling of the Source)
2010, 2 days (Anam Thubten, Tibetan)
            6 nights (Fo Guang Shan, Taiwan, Chan)
           4 months in Burmese Vihar, Bodhgaya India (teaching Buddhist Philosophy)
           (Bodhisattva Vows with Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, Dharma name: Changchub Thaye)
2014, Oh dear, it seems that academic life wiped out retreat life for a good long while!
           4 months in Burmese Vihar, Bodhgaya India (teaching Buddhist Philosophy)
2016, 2 days (Leigh Brasington, Jhana/concentration, Bozeman)
2017, 2 days (Soto Zen, Helena)
            2 days (Sharon Salzberg, Seattle Insight)
2018, 1 day (Anam Thubten, Tibetan)
            1 day (Roshi Joan Halifax, Zen)
            2 nights (me, Mindfulness & Buddhist philosophy)
            4 days (forthcoming, Roshi James Ford, Zen)

Justin Whitaker is the founder of American Buddhist Perspectives, an award-winning blog chronicling Buddhism in the United States and beyond. He has been interviewed by Tricycle MagazineOn Being’s podcast “Creating Our Own Lives,” the Secular Buddhist podcast, and several other outlets.

Justin has taught at several colleges and universities in the U.S. as well as in England, India, and China. His personal meditation practice began in his childhood and was re-kindled in college in 2000; it has included wide ranging experience in several Buddhist traditions, including Vipassana, Zen, Tibetan and Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing. Currently, he focuses primarily on mindfulness meditation rooted in Buddhist tradition and contemporary science, though he also sits regularly with the University Unitarian Church's Zen group on Friday mornings and also attends Sunday UU services when he isn't out in nature. Justin is also an avid photographer and runner.

Justin holds a B.A. in Philosophy (with Honors) from the University of Montana, an M.A. in Buddhist Studies (with Distinction) from the University of Bristol, and a Ph.D. in History/Religious Studies from Goldsmiths, University of London where his work focused on comparing early Buddhist ethics with the work of Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804).

He has practiced Buddhist meditation formally since 2000 and studied the philosophy, history, and practices of Buddhism for over 15 years. He began teaching meditation in 2003 with a campus sangha (community) and has continued off and on throughout the years. In 2016 Justin completed a Certified Meditation Teacher training and began offering classes in Helena, Montana at Hot Yoga Helena (owned by his friend, Nicky Twitchell). In the summer of 2016 he began collaborating with Marisa Diaz-Waian and Merlin CCC, a philosophy based non-profit. 

His most recent in-person academic posts were teaching Ethics in the Philosophy Department at Carroll College, Helena, MT in the fall of 2016 and as a core instructor for the Woodenfish Buddhism in China program in the summer of 2017. He has also served Mohave Community College, based in Arizona, as a distance instructor in World Religions and Philosophy since 2012. He is also a regular contributor of news and features at BuddhistDoor Global. In 2018, he will again teach in China in July before going to Hong Kong University as a visiting professor teaching Buddhist Ethics and Contemporary Buddhism until January 2019.


2014 - Reflecting on Meditation’s Ethics: Ignatian “Spiritual Exercises” and Buddhist “Mettā-Bhāvanā,” by Justin S. Whitaker, Journal of Interreligious Studies
2016 - Reading the Buddha as a Philosopher, by Douglass Smith and Justin Whitaker, Philosophy East and West
(text available here, audio interview discussion here)
2018 - Ethics, Meditation, and Wisdom, by Justin Whitaker and Douglass Smith, Oxford Handbook of Buddhist Ethics (April 2018)

Presentations (selected)

Montana, 2009: “Buddhist Meditation as a Moral Activity” for the Center for Ethics spring talks at noon series at The University of Montana-Missoula
Oxford, 2012: “Wriggling Eels in the Wilderness of Views: or Studies in Buddhist Ethics” at Balliol College, Oxford University for the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies
Bangkok, 2012: “Warnings from the Past, Hope for the Future: The Ethical-Philosophical Unity of Buddhist Traditions” for the International Association of Buddhist Universities
Bristol, UK, 2014: “Reflections on Pierre Hadot and Methodology in Religious Studies” as part of a Roundtable on Methodology in Religious Studies
Atlanta, 2015: “Sati, Sammā-sati, and Sīla: A historical examination of Mindfulness in the early texts,” American Academy of Religion

On Being a Mindfulness Teacher

Currently there is no "accreditation" body to oversee the many mindfulness teacher-training programs in America and around the world. Anyone can claim to be a teacher. Anyone can claim to be a teacher of teachers! I am primarily a scholar, aiming to bring both a sympathetic awareness to texts and practices and a critical one; critical not in a negative sense but in the sense of digging into meanings and reasons. Tradition is a powerful source, but it needs to be made relevant to each of us through careful examination. Science provides powerful tools, but its findings must be understood in our experience. 

So first, buyer beware!

My own training as a teacher is primarily academic - where, as an aside, we're often not actually taught how to teach. We watch, study, and emulate. I have a Ph.D. in Buddhist ethics from the University of London and have taught in numerous colleges and universities since 2006. My teaching therefore embraces academic rigor and curious skepticism about grand claims on all levels. I embrace the Buddhist moto to "come and see for yourself" and encourage students to seek out better meditation teachers, better scientific research, and better academic and historical background alongside and beyond my own teaching.

While I first learned visualization meditations as a child, my formal practice of meditation goes back to 2000, when I learned under Bodhipaksa (of wildmind.org), followed by several Tibetan Buddhist teachers, Matthew Flickstein of the Sri Lankan Theravadin tradition, teachers of various traditions in Bodhgaya, Ven. Yifa in China, Leigh Brasington,  Sharon Salzberg, Roshi Joan Halifax, Roshi James Ford, and numerous other Zen teachers, as well as many non-Buddhists.

I am currently a secular-leaning Theravadin Buddhist and Unitarian Universalist (UU) who practices Zen, in case that clarifies things. 

I am also Certified Meditation Teacher; my certification comes from Aura Wellness Center, which focuses on yoga teacher training as its primary area of expertise. That particular area is regulated by the Yoga Alliance. Aura Wellness is also registered with the Better Business Bureau and has an A+ rating.

Many Meditation Teacher training classes are popping up around the country, some under established forms of regulation, some not.

To this point, a question came up on facebook about the importance of teachers having training, to which Mushim Patricia Ikeda provided the following comment:

Many years ago, Nelson Foster, the primary Dharma heir of Robert Aitken, Roshi, wrote an article for Buddhist Peace Fellowship's journal, "Turning Wheel Magazine," about this issue. He said that, traditionally, Zen teachers became recognized as teachers in two ways: (a) the person trained under a teacher who had been given Dharma transmission, got all of their proper papers and certifications and robes and bowls and their teacher's stamp of approval: or (b) the person didn't go through an official training program, but their practice matured in such a way that people became attracted to them and said, "Would you please teach us?" and the teacher said OK and did a good job teaching people and wasn't harmful. Jack Kornfield, one of the founders of Spirit Rock, has said these 2 ways are true in his experience and that he has observed that there is approximately the same failure and success rate in both groups, so that one group is not superior to the other group. Basically, it boils down to that the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Fully certified teachers through various lineages have gone astray, created much harm and anguish. Teachers who came in through the second door of being asked to teach by people who felt they had something to offer have succeeded sometimes in establishing themselves as responsible, wise spiritual guides for the students.

 Justin Whitaker in Wutai Shan, China over the summer of 2016. While there at a religious festival he fortuitously met with Jin ho Shi (left), a Taiwanese nun who had studied alongside Justin in Bristol, England.

Justin Whitaker in Wutai Shan, China over the summer of 2016. While there at a religious festival he fortuitously met with Jin ho Shi (left), a Taiwanese nun who had studied alongside Justin in Bristol, England.

 Justin taking Bodhisattva Vows with Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche at the Mahabodhi Stupa in Bodhgaya, India, 2010. Justin lived in Bodhgaya in the falls of 2010 and 2014 and taught Buddhist Philosophy to university students also living there with the Antioch Education Abroad program at the Burmese Monastery.

Justin taking Bodhisattva Vows with Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche at the Mahabodhi Stupa in Bodhgaya, India, 2010. Justin lived in Bodhgaya in the falls of 2010 and 2014 and taught Buddhist Philosophy to university students also living there with the Antioch Education Abroad program at the Burmese Monastery.