Rosemary and Steve
Steve (b. 1949) and Rosemary (b. 1952) have been practicing meditation since 1972, and have received instruction from many of the leading Buddhist meditation teachers of Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, India and the West.
In 1978, they developed a deep connection to the Buddha's teaching because the practices within Theravada Buddhism, such as Mindfulness, Insight and development of the Unselfish emotions resonated strongly with what they had learned from their close connection with nature and their life experiences. This was deepened by participating in intensive meditation retreats.
With the wish to learn more, they traveled to Thailand in 1979. They had the good fortune of being able to visit and practice with many famous Thai meditation teachers. It was during this trip that they were greatly influenced by one teacher who stressed the importance of having compassion, not only for others, but also for ourselves.
Upon returning to Australia, they tried to integrate their practice into their everyday life.
Realizing the need for periodic withdrawal from activities into silent contemplation, they continued attending meditation retreats, which included practice in Australia, Burma, the U.S.A. and Thailand.
In 1986, the importance of the meditative path deepened in their life and they decided to devote their life more fully to the Buddha's teaching.
Ignoring comments from family and friends that they were crazy to leave their home, land and the business they had worked so hard to develop, they sold everything.
After traveling to the U.S.A., Thailand and India - visiting teachers, practicing, and going into retreats - they settled in Thailand, living and meditating in many monasteries.
While they were staying at one center, they heard about a Buddhist Nun, Mae Chee Ahmon, being the guiding force of a small, undeveloped monastery on Koh Pah-ngan Island, Southern Thailand. Since a nun in charge of a monastery is very rare in Thailand, hearing of Mae Chee Ahmon sparked Steve and Rosemary's interest in visiting Wat Kow Tahm in 1987.
At that time, the island was much less developed. There was no pier for the boats to dock. People had to get out of the express boat onto a long tail boat and finally wade through knee high water to get ashore. Paved roads were uncommon.
What Rosemary and Steve didn't know was that Mae Chee Ahmon had been corresponding with the Abbot of the Monastery where they were staying. She had requested him to send her some experienced Western meditators to teach travelers who were coming to her Center wanting to learn meditation.
So when Steve and Rosemary told the Abbot they were going to Koh Pah-ngan for three weeks of meditation, he encouraged them to visit Wat Kow Tahm and wrote a letter of recommendation to give to Mae Chee Ahmon.
With that letter in hand, Rosemary and Steve hiked up the hill, to be met by a delighted, tiny (she is under 5 feet) white robed Mae Chee Ahmon, then 65, but looking more like 45.
Steve and Rosemary had no idea that Mae Chee Ahmon interpreted the letter as an agreement from the other Abbot that he was sending Rosemary and Steve to teach at Wat Kow Tahm.
On their second day, while Steve and Rosemary were talking together at Steve's hut, they were interrupted by a young Thai Nun who led two Westerners to them. The nun said, "Here, teach them," and then quickly walked away. A bit bewildered, Rosemary and Steve gave them some teachings. The Westerners were delighted to receive teaching in English and word spread quickly.
Within a very short time, Rosemary and Steve were teaching up to ten people, each day. Many came up just for the afternoon when Steve or Rosemary would give a talk.
Before their scheduled three week stay was over, Mae Chee Ahmon asked Steve and Rosemary to teach retreats - not an easy task indeed. The terrain is rugged, very steep with huge boulders. It was Spartan - there were hardly any substantial buildings, with the added hardship of little financial support. Unlike a Thai Nun, a Monk usually has no problem getting Thai support for such a worthwhile venture.
Rosemary and Steve began teaching 10 day retreats in May 1988. The first retreat had 15 students, and they had little help besides the nuns who cooked. Mae Chee Ahmon was thrilled and asked them to teach another, then another, then 3 more, then 3 more, then 6 more, 9 more.
An excellent reputation of the retreats spread, and numbers continued to climb, however they had no assistants for many years.
Despite the challenges, Rosemary and Steve persevered. Continuing the Buddhist tradition, they always taught (and continue to offer their teachings) for free. From doing practically everything themselves: teaching, managing, cleaning, building, maintenance, advertising, etc., gradually other dedicated volunteers joined them.
Understanding the necessity to not only help others but also themselves, Rosemary and Steve withdrew from responsibility and went into personal retreat for a month each year.
Although originally coming to Wat Kow Tahm for only three weeks to do their own practice, Steve and Rosemary, together with a small handful of dedicated nuns and Western volunteers, created a meditation sanctuary where thousands of people, from 85 different countries learned the Buddha's teaching. They also have books published in five countries, helping thousands more.
Deciding it was time to return home to Australia, in March 2013, after 25 years, they gave their final retreat at Wat Kow Tahm. The retreat had 72 retreatants and 10 Western assistants.
Rosemary and Steve arrived back in Australia in April 2013. Despite the huge change and effort necessary to set up home, they have taught and organized retreats in Australia, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Thailand.
They keep in close contact with a network of old students and past assistants around the world. And they plan to continue to teach retreats, give talks and lead workshops as long as their health and energy permit.