Who is Ron?

I am an American psychologist living in Europe who teaches meditation. I am a new dad (that picture is of me and my little boy), and a pretty ordinary guy. I began teaching meditation while living in Hawaii, and at the time named this site Aloha Dharma to emphasize how relaxed and open the teachings can be. You don’t have to be conversant in Pali or have been on a lot of retreats to learn meditation and even wake up.

So what does Ron actually teach?

I teach insight or “Vipassana” meditation. There are several techniques for doing this, but the most useful one is the “noting” technique. Meditation with noting means that the practitioner literally makes a “note,” either silently or aloud, of what they are experiencing in that moment. As the meditator begins to master this practice there are specific states and stages that they go through. These are the insight stages or “nanas” and concentration states “jhanas.” My job as a teacher is to help students navigate through these parts of the path.

Ron’s Bio

I started meditating around 1998 for reasons that I can’t remember. I think I saw some people on TV doing it or read an article about it. I had read a few Buddhist books before this and was really interested in the intellectual aspects of it, but hadn’t really put it into practice. I was living in Alaska, and during the long dark winters there the meditation gave me something to do with my time and helped me to shake off the restlessness of cabin fever. For a number of years (perhaps 3) I continued in a spotty way, just doing it to relax. It worked. I felt better and could handle stress with more ease.

At some point I got involved in a Sri Lankan temple in Washington DC, where I had moved to start college. As a volunteer project I was teaching the monks conversational english, and started taking meditation classes and going to Dharma talks. Getting ever more involved, but not in a purposeful way. It just happened. Eventually I even went to Sri Lanka and meditated in a monastery for a couple of weeks. I learned to meditate by concentrating the mind on the breath to the exclusion of all else.

It was around this time that I began to have more mystical type experiences: lights, exciting feelings running around my body, tingling, tickling sensations around the third eye area… I was hooked! Problem was, I had no idea what was happening. It was just about this time that I moved to Chicago to go to grad school, and lost contact with my monk friends.

For a few years, during breaks from studying and research, I prowled the internet and book stores trying to figure out what was happening to me when I meditated. I was now meditating regularly, and experienced the lights and other fireworks daily. It was like I was living a secret life. Mild-mannered grad student by day, mystical cosmonaut by night. I didn’t share any of this with anyone (who would believe me?) and I was really hungry to know more. To my surprise most of the books I found on meditation had nothing in them about what I was experiencing. Sometimes authors would speak of “light” or other things, but it was impossible to tell if they were speaking metaphorically or if they were referring to my experience. It was pretty disheartening and invalidating. After all, if none of these big name meditation gurus were describing what I experienced, how important could it really be?

Finally I ran across a description of the Jhanas. That sent me into a fit. I found a small number of authors who explained that symptoms like the ones I had were a prelude to entering into “Jhana.” They explained that there are eight Jhanas that meditators access in order and that these are the blissful states that progressively clarify the mind and set the conditions for enlightenment. I read everything I could and became a big fan of Ajahn Brahm, Ayya Khema, Leigh Brasington, Bhante Gunaratana, Tina Rassmussen and Steven Snyder. I still am a big fan. I became convinced that what was happening was that I was getting strong access concentration and that I was beginning to experience a “samadhi nimita” which is the sign that you are about to enter the first jhana. For about three years I tried and tried to get first jhana. I concentrated my butt off. Still, all I got were lights and a few fireworks. No jhana.

Then, when I was listening to the Buddhist Geeks Podcast I heard a meditation teacher explain that he knew for certain that “ordinary people can get enlightened… because it happened to me.” He went on to explain that he did it through following the insight meditation techniques and the maps laid out in the progress of insight. The teacher’s name was Kenneth Folk, and I was shocked that he claimed enlightenment. I was also blown away that he did it with a technique I had never even tried. I had heard of vipassana, but hadn’t really given it a sincere try. By this point I felt so stuck in the mud that I was willing to try anything to make progress. I sent Kenneth an email and asked if he would teach me. My first real teacher.

With the guidance of a teacher I learned that along with the jhanas, there was another roadmap of the path to enlightenment called the “nanas”, or stages of insight. While there were eight jhanas, and I couldn’t access the first one, there were sixteen nanas, and by sincerely applying the technique I accessed the first four right away. In addition, I learned that the map didn’t end at the nanas. The first 16 nanas comprised the first section of four larger sections, or “paths”. According this map, also known as the “four path model”, once a person has worked their way through the fourth path, a shift in perception takes place, a deeply profound shift, and this shift is enlightenment. Under the guidance of a teacher, I navigated the traditional insight stages and found that they are real, and that awakening is real too.

  1. Thanks David! Now I’m going to get back to eating nachos.

  2. A very nice read indeed. 🙂

  3. Your site is a godsend. i never fit into a traditional buddhist mold and this site is leading me in the direction i need because you strip it down to the bare bones.

    i do think we can have enlightenment- ( likely u attained it – and i can understand it is no big deal as i had a wierd experience which lasted 2 weeks veils pouring off my eyes- bliss state combined with a deep wisdom i no longer have-) after this spontaneous experience of something big- like i was rendered a child = hungry for life, and in love with life- and eden was here on earth kinda thing–)

    the thing that happened in this experience was that at the end of my 2 week awakening of some kind- even laughing when i saw friends fight cause i knew that it wasnt real like they were play acting and didn’t know it–
    but i was lonely- or convinced myself i would be lonely. because although nobody was bothered by me- i was worried my happiness and understanding i suddenly had would be misunderstood and that i would be in a way cut off.
    so i consciouscly went back ! like coming off ecstacy ( the drug) for 24 hours it was a rough ride !!!! and a stupid decision !! no turning back.

    this is a memory now, im sleeping again, but i want to awaken fully—i dont know that i was fully awake-
    but i felt like i was but i didn’t know what to call it at the time. the thing was in that state i did behave selfishly kind of once ( left one guy i didn’t like for someone i liked better) so therefore i dont know what the hell experience to name it.

    regardless- my fear is that if you get enlightened can it be lonely at the top ? ( for lack of a better word or expression i know it’s not a ladder)

    also can you please list a few books that you would recommend regarding help with the map and the journey if one must venture alone for awhile ?

    thanks again,

    and i love that you dont carry around beads and robes or hippy dress by the way – your incognito !! haha.

  4. I’m hoping to go to Sri Lanka in the fall and while there I would like to do a few long retreats. Do you by chance have any recommendations for good retreat centres there? I’m particularly interested in developing my Shamatha/Metta but also learning some Vipassana techniques. Thanks

  5. Ron, what is the statue from this image: https://alohadharma.com/2011/08/14/loving-kindness-meditation/mahamudra-metta/

    It’s beautiful, I’d like to learn more about it.

  6. how can I get copies, or audio cd ‘s of your ( Ron’s )
    talks? (for remote retreat location). and thank you very much for your teaching . Very much appreciated.

  7. Thank you for sharing your experiences, insights and information Ron. I really appreciate the straightforward, no-nonsense descriptions and writing style. I am just starting out and have read many books, listened to lots of podcasts/video/audio recordings an although many of them cover the sort of material you have here, yours is the clearest for me to understand. I feel a great deal happier with my practice having now read the material on your website. Thank you very much.

  8. Suhasini Ram

    Dear Ron,
    What a wonderful website sharing your insights and understanding. I really appreciate it. I am a beginner meditator. I am a student of Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche and follow the Dzogchen/Mahamudra teachings mostly. I am probably in the first physio cognitive stage that you have explained. I really loved the way you said that insights do not leave an imprint on us at a cognitive level. I have recently found myself behaving in odd/strange ways (strange to myself as I know me), being less judgemental or more kind etc. And I havent been able to explain any of these. I do notice that I sometimes cling to these new versions of my mind… I can see it. But it must be the meditation. I cant seem to put it into words like you said. Its just a shift in perspective. I do so much appreciate what you’ve written. The details of the stages or states are not what concern me, but the fact that we do change in ways we cant imagine. Thats very motivating for me. My heartfelt thanks for your input.


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