Alan Clements

Alan Clements

Boston born, Alan studied pre-law, art history, and clinical psychology at the University of Virginia before dropping out at the end of his second year to go on to become one of the first Westerners to ordain as a Buddhist monk in Burma, where he lived in a monastery from 1979 to 1984 — when forced to leave the country by the dictator, with no reason given. 

While in Burma, Alan trained at the Rangoon Center for Advanced Buddhist Studies, specializing in Buddhist psychology and mindfulness (vipassana) meditation, under the guidance of  the late Mahasi Sayadaw, and his successor, Sayadaw U Pandita, teachers of great renown.

Alan has also led a revolutionary life, working as a journalist, photographer, human rights activist, and the author of a number of books and films.

In addition, he is the co-founder of a nonprofit organization, The Buddha Sasana Foundation, and its sister organizations, The Burma Project USA and World Dharma with World Dharma Publications and the World Dharma Online Institute dedicated to the exploration of human intelligence, freedom, and the imagination with the arts and activism.

He has toured widely as a presenter and retreat leader, and also as a theatrical monologist, specializing in spiritual and political satire and comedy that ignites conscience. His presentations confront a central question of our time: how to live an authentic conscious life while transforming the real conditions of the world through compassionate action.

Alan’s real-life experience of spiritual revolution—his quest to bring freedom, dignity, and human rights into a dynamic interplay with conscience, creativity, and compassion—has brought him international recognition. Jack Healy, a former director of Amnesty International and founder of the Human Rights Action Network, calls Alan “one of the most important and compelling voices of our times.”

Alan is no stranger to struggle. In 1990, he undertook a dangerous two-month journey into the dark heart of Burma—at a time when Burma’s ruthless military regime had closed the country’s borders, prompting the BBC to call Burma a “land of 40 million hostages.” There, he spoke with hundreds of ordinary citizens, as well as freedom fighters and with Burma’s Prime Minister, who had fled with other elected officials fled into the mountainous jungles of northeastern Burma. Alan thus became the first journalist to witness and document the grave human rights atrocities perpetrated by the military dictatorship, including the “ethnic cleansing” of the country’s Karen and Shan minorities. Alan’s experience during these months led to his first book, Burma: The Next Killing Fields? (with a foreword by the Dalia Lama).

Soon after, Alan was invited by a senior officer of the United Nations to travel to the former Yugoslavia, where, based in Zagreb, he consulted with NGO’s and U.N. personnel on the possibility of achieving spiritual, social, and political change through an understanding of human consciousness. Also at this time, Alan was commissioned by Robert Chartoff, the producer of The Right Stuff, Rocky, and Raging Bull, to write Burning, an original screenplay exploring the complexity of love and nonviolence in the context of terror and war.

In 1995, the French publishing house Editions Stock contracted Alan to reenter Burma  to try to  make  contact  with  Aung  San  Suu  Kyi,  the  elected  leader  of her country’s pro-democracy movement and the 1991 Nobel Peace laureate, who had just been released from six years of incarceration. The goal was to invite Aung San Suu Kyi to tell her courageous story and to illuminate the philosophical underpinnings of her country’s feminine-inspired, nonviolent spiritual revolution, a nationwide struggle for freedom known by the people of Burma as a “revolution of the spirit.” The transcripts of six months of conversations ultimately became the book The Voice of Hope. Translated into 11 languages, The Voice of Hope offers penetrating insight into the psychology of totalitarianism and nonviolent revolution. Said the London Observer: “Clements is the perfect interlocutor.... whatever the future of Burma, a possible future for politics itself is illuminated by these conversations.”

Clements is also the co-author (with Leslie Kean) of Burma's Revolution of the Spirit: A Nation’s Struggle for Democracy and Freedom, a large-format photographic book (Aperture Foundation, New York), and he served as script revisionist and advisor for Beyond Rangoon, a feature film depicting Burma’s struggle for democracy, directed by John Boorman.

In 1999, Alan founded World Dharma, a nonsectarian, multicultural organization of self-styled seekers, artists, writers, scholars, and activists dedicated to a trans-religious, independent approach to personal and planetary transformation by exploring the integration of consciousness and conscience with one’s life expression through the arts, activism, and service. He writes: “What is most urgently needed in the world today? A revolution of consciousness born from the conviction that true and lasting change occurs only when one first learns how to overcome one’s own fear, ignorance and apathy.”

In 2002 Alan wrote Instinct for Freedom—Finding Liberation Through Living (World Dharma Publications), a spiritual memoir about his life in Burma and chronicles his pursuit of truth and freedom while illuminating the underlying framework of World Dharma. Instinct for Freedom was nominated for the best spiritual teaching/ memoir by the National Spiritual Booksellers Association in 2003 and has been translated into a numerous languages.

His most recent book, A Future to Believe In—108 Reflections on the Art and Activism  of Freedom  (World  Dharma  Publications,  2011) has received  distinguished praise from numerous leaders, visionaries and activists, including Dr. Helen Caldicott, Joanna Macy, Dr. Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben, Paul Hawkin and Derrick Jensen (the renowned environmental poet laureate), who wrote: “This culture is killing the planet. If we are to have any future at all, we must unlearn everything the culture has taught us and begin to listen to the planet, to listen to life — the core intelligence of nature and the human heart. This book not only helps us with the unlearning process — the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced — it provides the essential wisdom, the spiritual intelligence, to open ourselves to finally start to hear.”

In his work as a spiritual activist, journalist and teacher, Alan has presented to such prestigious organizations as Mikhail Gorbachev’s State of the World Forum, the Soros Foundation, the United Nations Association of San Francisco, and the universities of Harvard, California, Toronto, Sydney, and many others; and in 1991 he gave the keynote address at the John Ford Theater for Amnesty International’s 30th anniversary.

During the course of his career Clements has been interviewed on numerous television and radio programs, including ABC’s Nightline, CBS Evening News, CBC and SHAW TV in Canada, German National TV, ABC TV in Australia, Voice of America Radio, Radio Free Asia, the BBC, and in the New York Times, London Times, The Guardian, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Time and Newsweek, Yoga Journal, Utne, Yes, and scores of other media worldwide.

“How to describe Alan’s presentations? A tall order. Love poems/riffs/odes/chants to the goddesses of compassion, deeply inscribed with the blood of Burmese slaves, soldiers in Iraq, Palestinian children, freedom fighters anywhere. A momentary entry into an internal tête-à-tête, ad infinitum; a glimpse at all that inner discursive dialog which marks us unequivocally as members of the human race. Just in case we get too spiritual, let’s not forget that we are required to, by nature, include everything. To paraphrase the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hahn’s  poem, “Please Call Me by My True Names,” I am both the 12-year-old raped girl and the pirate who raped her. It is difficult to reconcile seeming opposites, and it takes the heart of a poet. Thich Nhat Hahn is a poet; Alan is one as well.”

—Marcia Jacobs, a psychotherapist specializing in victims of war, rape, and trauma; a senior U.N. representative for refugees in Bosnia and Croatia, 1993–1997; and a former officer of the International War Crimes Tribunal

“Alan’s life is material for a legend. An intellectual artist, freedom fighter, former Buddhist monk, he shares his insights and experience with a passion rarely seen and even more rarely lived. He’ll make you think and feel in ways that challenge your entire way of being.”

— Catherine Ingram, In the Footsteps of Gandhi and Passionate Presence

“I have known Alan for well over two decades. He is my first call when I seek insight and candor concerning personal and professional advice. As a speaker, his eloquence moves audiences to ask the questions behind questions about how we live, why we work, and how it fits together. Alan’s presence—his remarkable ability to engage an audience, connect with their heart—stands alongside the best talent I have seen in the world.”

— Robert Chartoff, Producer of Rocky, The Right Stuff, and Raging Bull.

“One of the most important and compelling voices of our times . . . Alan Clements is a riveting communicator — challenging and inspiring.  He articulates the essentials of courage and leadership in a way that can stir people from all sectors of society into action; his voice is not
only a great contribution during these changeful times, it is a needed one.”

— Jack Healy, former director of Amnesty International, founder of the Human Rights Action Center.