One of the wonderful things is that today you don’t have to travel to start from the beginning again. One of the wonderful things about the introduction to the Dharma these days is that you don’t have to necessarily go to Asia to begin a practice. There are a lot of opportunities to begin with. Meditation and the study of Buddhist dharma in the West. Many people start with the Mindfulness Stress Reduction Program that John KABAT-ZINN started many years ago at the Medical Center at UMass in Worcester, Massachusetts, doing the basic a week mindfulness meditation course. That can be a very helpful way of learning to practice meditation as a good introduction to Vipassana meditation. Let me get 1/2 here. So many of them. That’s a good way to start. The practice is to do something like that where you have support right from the beginning with a teacher to help to guide you. This is non-secular. So you’re not necessarily learning about Buddhism with some type of a personal being. The emphasis on tranquility and insight, which is, you know, a central feature of Truvada Buddhist meditation, but that it’s really helpful to balance that with heart centered practices so that one is increasingly in touch with the innate kindness and compassion and equanimity within themselves. Because for a lot of people, you know, beginning meditation is not easy. It requires a certain intention, you know, to to do it and to stay with it, even through some of the more difficult things that will arise in one’s practice. You know, for example, heavier emotions like fear or anger, judgment, habit patterns or energies like feelings of unworthiness or inadequacy, self judgment, judgment of other people or other habitual patterns like feelings of feeling being unsafe in the world or fear that one’s needs are not going to be met, one’s material needs are not going to be met, one’s emotional needs are not going to be met that all of this kind of thing can come up for people in their practice, sometimes early on in their practice. Certainly somewhere along the line, a lot of this, you know, more ego oriented mind and emotion experiences will arise for people. And this is why, you know, having a teacher, you know, having a community and also, you know, study, whether it be, you know, more study of the books that I recall that I spoke about earlier or study of sutras can be very helpful because it gives us some pointers about how to work with these various things that may arise in our meditation practice. And it also is a source of inspiration as well, because these people are my teachers, for example, that I spoke about or you know, or some of what we, you know, can read in books or in this who is, you know, the inspirational words of the Buddha, you know, and what he experienced through his practice and how he became awakened that all of that is supportive for for someone. So I, I would say for somebody that’s beginning that it’s really helpful to find a center or some source of teaching and practice that one connects with. And sometimes that means shopping around a little bit, you know, that it may the first meditation center that you go to or the first teacher that you mean that you may meet, that may not be the one that is most helpful for you, you know? So, you know, like anything else, sometimes you have to do a little shopping, you know, to find out what is the right teacher in practice for you. And if you don’t find the teacher that you connect with right away, it matter. You know, there are resources such as, for example, the Access to Insight Dawg, which is a website that people can go to and they have a lot of the sutras there. You know, the English translation of those who is, you know, in practice can study in that way or go to various websites. For example, Deep Springborg One of the centers that I teach with at in Ann Arbor, Michigan, they have a website there where there are, you know, guided meditations and insight meditation and loving kindness. Meditation, for example, you know, so that you can hear recordings of these, you know, various guided meditations to work with Dharma Tape Library, which is, you know, put out by some of the folks related to the Insight Meditation Society. Lots of Dharma talks on there as well as guided meditations as well. You know, so even if you live in a place where, you know, there isn’t a teacher or a community to practice, there’s so much online now that you can have access to that can be helpful for somebody who’s not only beginning, but somebody you know who’s further along on their path. Because there’s lots of teachers inside meditation teachers, for example, that, you know, have given a lot of teachings that have been recorded that people have access to, you know, and that’s quite wonderful. Another aspect besides the meditation practice and taking refuge in Buddha and Dharma and Sangha is Selah is the precepts. This is emphasized right from the beginning, like the five basic precepts in terms of Buddhism are often recommended as part of practice because they emphasize non harm, non harm to oneself, non harm to, you know, relationships with other people, non harm within our communities, families, you know, other communities, spiritual communities that we may be a part of non harm to the earth, you know, which is increasingly important in this day and age. You know, our relationship with the earth and climate change, etc., that this emphasis on non harm is another key aspect that is emphasized for people who are at entry level into Buddha dharma, but something that is refined as one moves through one’s process or path through Bodhidharma. You know that various aspects of Selah, for example, take on increasing importance, you know, for example, you know, just how we relate to our partners or to our children or to our coworkers. If there’s the intention to non harm in terms of how we relate to other people or what we say to them, you know, how we act towards them, you know how we, you know, use our sexual energy in relationship to other people, that if there’s that intention to non harm along with the meditation practice and mindfulness where we’re aware of for example, of the arising of fear or anxiety, you know, or anger, you know, or judgment that we’re aware of, you know, the arising of the these various mind states and emotions and at the intention is the non harm then, you know, using restraint in terms of not expressing that fear and negativity in a way that’s going to cause harm to somebody else, it’s going to cause pain to them not to enact the mind states or the emotions in an unskillful way. I mean, in my practice, when I first started practicing in Thailand, a lot of strong emotions were arising, you know, and there was they was so powerful and so strong. And it was in living in that kind of contained and intense environment. You know, there was a part of me that just wanted just for that to come out, you know, to be able to express my anger. But, you know, more than likely to do it in an unskillful way, you know. So if there is that intention to non harm and using restraint, then I had to kind of work with a lot of those stronger emotions within myself. Just using the meditation practice, I will admit, would have been helpful to have a counselor or a psychotherapist or a psychologist to speak to about some of this, but that wasn’t available in those days anyway. You know, in a monastic situation, in a in a Buddhist country, but here in the United States that is available. So I think that, you know, for some, especially for somebody beginning, but also others, as they move through their path, it can be helpful to combine, you know, the meditation practice and the study of Buddha dharma, you know, with, for example, in conjunction with working with a counselor, for example, because there are different ways to work with mind states and emotions. I mean, Buddha, Dharma and meditation insight. Meditation is one effective way of doing it, but it’s not the only way, you know. So it’s not an either or type of thing. And and that is one thing that I found, for example, when I first started teaching at the Insight Meditation Society was many of the people who came to their retreats where people in their thirties, in their forties, fifties, 30 to 50 range, like in the 1980s, 90 period, for example. So a lot of those people were psychologists, for example, or psychotherapist or social workers, people who were working, that were involved in the working helping profession of some kind, nurses, doctors, etc.. And a lot of these people had already been in years of psychotherapy, you know, or other modalities in which they were working with them and working with themselves psychologically, which was eye opening to me, you know, because I had not been exposed to that at all in my growing up when my years as being a monastic in fact, there was only one psychologist in Bangkok when I was in Thailand. His name was Dr. Burns, and he was also interested in Buddhism and would come to, you know, Agent Childs Monastery, for example, and ordained there for a while. But there was besides him, there was nothing in that realm. And so it was really interesting to when I came back to the United States that there were, you know, these people coming on retreats that already had this background, but it wasn’t enough for them. Obviously, they were searching, they were wanting more. And so the teachings of the dorm, as well as the meditation practices, fulfilled that need for many people and for myself. Ultimately, you know, as I progressed on my path as a layperson in the United States, I mean, especially when I came here, moved here to North Carolina, that was in 1983 that I moved here. I worked with a psychologist in therapy, individual therapy, group therapy. I studied hypnosis was part of a a group of professionals that work with hypnosis, with their clients, for example. So there was a need for me to be able to explore my mind, you know, with somebody else in the realm, you know, who had, you know, experience in, in psychology. So I think that this is, you know, for Western people, this is not unusual and can be very helpful for them. There are differences between, you know, for example, Buddha, Dharma and meditation and psychology. And however they can be compatible with each other, especially, I think, in terms of exploring, you know, certain things like trauma, for example, PTSD, you know, working with heavy emotions, various ways of working with heavy emotions. And that was in the early days of IHMS. That was a kind of a place of exploration, because here we were taking this Asian, you know, practice and teachings into a Western setting where psychology had already taken root within the culture. So what was this interface? How much emphasis to give to that at a place like the insight meditation Society, you know, where some of the teachers had more of a psychological orientation, you know, some of them had some people have more of a philosophy, ethical orientation, you know. So how did all of this come together in a way that is most useful for the people that we come to a meditation Buddhist meditation center and not deluded or whatever the teachings and the practices of good it down to the point that it would not be so helpful or effective. You know, and I think that over time, this was this kind of worked itself its way out, so to speak, in terms of the interface of all of what I’m speaking about here. And you know, what what is emphasized, for example, a spirit like you might find a little bit more of the psychological aspects of things in relationship to the Buddha Dharma. As we were talking about previously, the California Buddhism, so to speak, you know, versus a more traditional Buddhist center, you know, where that doesn’t that places there’s very little emphasis upon that. So in terms of, you know, people beginning in their practice, you know, finding a center, finding a teacher, a finding a meditation practice that works for them. And now it’s not a one size fits all. I think a lot of this has to do with people’s karma. For some people, they’re just drawn to a certain lineage or a meditation practice or whatever because it feels familiar to them. Well, it’s not familiar in this lifetime, but maybe they practice this in previous lifetime. And so when they meet a certain lineage or practice, they feel more comfortable with it, which is what happened to me. You know, when I was in Asia, you know, I first met Tibetan Buddhism, you know, which was fine, wonderful. But then when I met the Truvada, I just felt much more comfortable in that particular tradition. And so that’s the direction that I went in. But when I came back to United States and got in, there was the availability of studying and practicing some Zen or Tibetan Buddhism or Daoist yoga and meditation. You know, I availed myself of those opportunities to do that because it helped to expand my spiritual practice, and it also helped in terms of my working with students because a lot of people who came to example to the Insight Meditation Society were people who had practice in these various different traditions. And so they weren’t just focused on Theravada and insight, meditation. Adam Cohen Practice, or they had done research in meditation or mahamud your practice or some other kinds or Christian prayer, contemplation, centering practices, etc., within the within the Christian tradition. And so it doesn’t matter. It’s in my in my mind it doesn’t the practices and the tradition don’t matter as much as one sincerity in practicing and the continuity of one’s practice. To me, that’s more significant than a particular practice or particular lineage. Because, you know, in my own experience, I have gone off, you know, since I returned to United States and, you know, done work with lots of different teachers and lots of different practices again, and flesh things out for me. And it really expanded my spiritual path. So I think that’s what may happen for a lot of people as they kind of move through this progression of beginning with a teacher, with a practice, with the community, you know, and it fulfills a certain need for them at that particular time in their lives. But people shouldn’t feel reluctant to branch out or to explore from there because they might find another teacher or another practice that is more appropriate for them and helpful for them as they move through this progression of beginning to middle to more seasoned practitioner. I mean, that’s in part what happened for me even in Thailand. You know, each of these different teachers that I work with, Agenda Madero and his technique of meditation and the intensity intensive group practice, they gave me one thing practicing with our Jan Cha, the emphasis on the Vinaya, the monk’s discipline, living in the forest, you know, really refining the way of life of a monk. That was what I got from him, you know as well, his his wisdom and love with our joint Buddha does it. It was a study, you know, as well as the meditation practice and an environment in a forest environment that I really needed at that point in terms of having more quiet solitude type of practice time, you know. So it don’t necessarily it’s rare that someone will start with this one teacher, one kind of practice and stay with that for the rest of their life. It’s you know, some people may do that, of course, but it’s not as common as it is for people who, you know, tend to branch out more now. That being said, one important thing here is that it’s important not to dig a lot of small holes, so to speak, in the ground. If you’re looking for water, you know, you have to drill down deep enough into the ground to be able to contact that water as a source for yourself. You know, if you just dig small hole, small holes, you’re not going to get to where you need to be in terms of the water. What’s more important in terms of these various practices from various traditions is that you go deep enough to really benefit from what that teacher or what that meditation, practice or lineage, you know, teachings, what it has to offer so that it is most helpful for you. So it’s not to me, it’s not so much the teacher, the lineage, the practice as it is staying with it, going deep within it, as you go deep within it, you know, and really receive the fruits of that teaching and practice that’s going to better inform a person along their path in terms of other teachings and practices that they meet. Do you see because it will make more sense to them. You know, for example, when I was in Thailand, I came back from Asia from I’m sorry, I came back from India back to Thailand in the kind of the for the last two thirds of my monastic experience in Thailand. And I had done a lot of Vipassana meditation. And in using different techniques, you know, and including the go week technique of meditation. But I found myself, I got too attached to the meditation technique method and the experiences that I was having with that particular meditation practice. Ultimately, it caused me suffering any kind of clinging, grasping to anything, even clinging to a certain teaching teacher practice, meditation practice, when there’s a clinging attachment to it, it’s going to cause suffering. You have to be like a child with a Vinay. He would say, get, get a little attached to it because you get a little attached to it. You gonna it’s going to take root within you as part of your spiritual practice. Get too attached to it. It’s going to cause problems. That’s what happened to me when I was in India as a Buddhist monk, as a mendicant Buddhist monk in India. You know, I got attached to Vinaya ultimately, of course suffering for me. I got attached to the meditation technique, a method that in the experiences that I was having in those meditation experiences in India with Goenka G, ultimately it caused suffering for me, do you see? And so that when I came back to you, back to Thailand in 1976, when I returned to Thailand from India, that is when I went to Arjun Buddha Doctors Monastery and just decided I needed to be alone. I don’t need any more teachings necessarily. I don’t need any more meditation technique or method. I need to let go of all of that. And so I spent a whole year just sitting on the porch of my study looking at the forest, you know, and the sky, doing an open air meditation, which I now understand was ocean meditation called sky gazing or pure awareness meditation. I had no teaching around that or direction around. It just seemed that that’s what I needed to do, was just to sit and have this open, expansive kind of awareness. And every time that I wanted to bring my attention to my breath or sweep my body doing a technique of meditation, I refrained from doing it, and I just let my attention move out, move out, move out, expand, expand, expand into this sky gazing, pure awareness practice, which really helped me to get in touch with the nature of mind itself. And it wasn’t until I returned to United States and then in the 19, in the 1980s, I started doing some retreats with Land of Syria DASS and some of his Tibetan teachers, and that’s what they did. It was zocchi meditation and I, I, I didn’t have a name for it, but when I went to those retreats that I started doing it, Oh, I’ve done this before. Do you see? I might have even done this in previous lifetimes. This is why I did it in Thailand. I had no one to teach me how to do it. It just came spontaneously as part of the unfolding of my practice. And so this is why, you know, it’s helpful to trust one’s self. You know, in the beginning we need a lot of support. We need the support of teacher, of the teachings, the practices, the community. That’s really, really helpful. But then at a certain point, as we start to get more in touch with, you know, this innate wisdom and love, you know, inside of ourselves that, you know, then let that take over, so to speak. Let that kind of lead you. Because the title of Lama story does his book Awakening the Buddha Within, I always have felt is very appropriate. Appropriate cause that Buddha nature or that consciousness is within ourselves to see. And our practice is just to help that to awaken within ourselves. It’s not something that we get outside. It’s something that is already there within ourselves. The Buddha nature, the Buddha mind, or the Christ consciousness, the divine God, whatever one terms one wishes to use that’s already there. That’s the essence of our being and all the meditation practices and the teachings are, is to point us to that which is already there within, and to nurture it in the way that we nurture it is through, for example, a daily meditation practice, you know, and another way of nurturing it is, you know, to awaken, to nurture the loving, kind, compassionate heart is to do the Brahma Vajra practices, you know, the meditations that focus upon the heart, those, those qualities of kindness and compassion and wisdom and love, they’re already there. And so whatever supports them to to emerge more into the light, into our consciousness, attention is really what the path is about, you know, all the way from the beginning to the middle to the end. Now, one of the things that you know, along the path that I have found in my own experience and also in working with people through the years here, because I’ve been teaching more than 40 years, I’m an old guy, you know, oh, I’ve been doing this for a long time, my whole adult life I’ve been doing it. But we get snagged at various places, you know, like as I, as I mentioned to you when I was in India and I really connected with, for example, the go into a technique of meditation and experience a lot of Jana or absorptions takes a lot of concentration meditation, you know, as a result of getting so in touch with this dated or really subtle sensations, physical sensations within myself, that I get attached to it and I get attached to the pleasant quality of these experiences. And that’s ultimately what caused suffering for me, because as I travel through India with no money as a mendicant monk, I got very sick, ultimately got malaria and wound up in the hospital in Sri Lanka and all of that samadhi, all of that, you know, that beautiful meditation and concentration and absorption it all just kind of fell away, you know, and it just disappeared because it’s impermanent. And that at that point was when I really thought about returning to the United States, because as high as I got, I dropped down into, you know, states where we have malaria. You know, it’s it’s very difficult. You can’t eat and you feel depressed. High fevers. I just wanted my mama at that point, you know. But fortunately, fortunately, there was a month there named Bantay severely, who was the meditation teacher at this particular monastery. And he kind of thought she’d be back to health. And he started teaching me the sutras, you know. And so that was I then that’s when I realized I needed to study more. And that’s when I went back to Thailand and stayed with Asian Buddhist doctor for several years and incorporated more study as part of my practice. But the point is that I had to go through that. I had to go through the attachment to the meditation, technique and method that was you know, that really helped me in my sitting practice to become more still, more concentrated and more focused. And in a sense, I had to get a little not a little bit attached, but really attached to it. I realized that, you know, this was not the end, that the meditation experiences that I was having was not the end of the path. And I think for people who move through this progression from beginning to more middle to more end stage or later stage of their spiritual practice that many people experience, similar to a teacher, become attached to a teaching, to a meditation practice, to meditation experiences, and that, you know, it’s helpful to stay in touch with, for example, teachers or people have a little bit more experience, you know, in all of this so that they can recognize that, you know, and help a person in terms of, you know, helping them to recognize if, for example, they really getting too attached to something in terms of these different things that I’ve been describing.
I mean, I dropped out of college because I knew what I was looking for. I was not going to find it in college. And during the Vietnam War, actually, I was just going to get drafted in center Vietnam because they had a lottery and I had a low number and they were going to send me. But I realized I was just in college to get out of the draft and I didn’t, you know, go to Vietnam. I didn’t think that was a good reason to be in college. So I left. That’s when I went back to New York and, you know, started practicing yoga out of a book and then attending the Interview Yoga Institute and got introduced to Eastern Practices and meditation, etc.. Do you see? And when I was in Thailand, I was in between two worlds. I was a Buddhist monk, but I was a Western Buddhist monk. I was not. Didn’t look like you in Buddhist robes. I look like a white guy in Buddhist robes. I was in between two worlds, so to speak. When I returned to the United States as a monk, I was in two worlds. I was walking around, you know, in Massachusetts, for example, or in New York in Buddhist robes with a shaved head feeling like a fish out of water. Do you see? I was again. I was in two worlds. But sometimes we need to be in two worlds and feel that sense of separation or duality as a part of moving further, deeper into the experience of non duality. You know, so for, you know, in, you know, as humans we live in a dual universe, male and female. For example, I mean, there’s, there’s a sense of duality that’s almost inherent in living on this material plane earth that we live on. But it’s true to the Dharma, for example, or whatever spiritual practice it is that we’re engaged in that is helpful to us, that we come to that place of non separation or non duality. It’s a it’s a process. Some people have, you know, a spontaneous awakenings early in their life in which they see this, this. For me, I experienced first with psychedelics when I you know, when I was in college, you know, it opened up a whole dimension to me of awareness and non duality and really seeing the essence of who I was much more clearly, but I couldn’t hold onto it. Do you see when the drug would wear off? I was back into more my dual consciousness or my conditioned mind. This is one of the reasons why I had to pursue something that would enable me to be able to awaken to the truth of my nature in such a way that I became more stabilized in it. Do you see? And then in the process of that, not seeing so much the sense of separation or duality, you know, really being able to more really imbibe and live the body. Saba Which is that I’m a part of all beings. I’m not separate from all beings. And this is one of the things that’s very difficult for me now and seeing the divisiveness within our culture and within the world where there’s such a sense of divide and separation that really pains my heart, you know, to experience how profound that is. Now, not that it’s not been there before, but right now it’s more accentuated, you know, in not only in our country but around the world. You know, and this is why Buddha Dharma is relevant. So is it as relevant now as it was 2500 years ago, as it was 40 or 50 years ago? You know, when when I started when I started with this, it’s because, as out of that sense of separation and duality, we suffer in addressing that suffering within ourselves. We start to awaken more to this universal consciousness or Buddha consciousness or Christ consciousness within ourselves, which helps us to connect us to all beings. You know, the other thing, you know, for people who are watching this is not only the the the personal practice and but also the heart center practices of the problem of warriors. That is very important to stay connected to our hearts as we move, you know, through this whole process of awakening. Because in doing that, we tap into the innate loving kindness and compassion and forgiveness within ourselves, which is what connects me to you, which is what connects me to my my cat baba, which is what connects me, you know, to others that I that I, that I’m in contact with is that we all share this this universal love and compassion within ourselves. And this is something else which is really important. Part of the whole body soft path, you know, is that we are connected through love. You know, we are connected through compassion. This is that this is the universal mantra, the mantra of the heart, the mantra of love is what connects all of humanity. And that in the end, it exists within all of humanity, no matter how many tyrants are out there, you know, trying to create authoritarian beings that are trying to create more and more separation and division and fear and hatred in their countries or in the world that there also is that seed of kindness and compassion and love that is within us and is within them. And that’s what we can connect together. That’s where we can, you know, relate to with within one another so that we’re not getting caught up in this separation and divisiveness the way that easily can happen these days.
Teachings On Emptiness
No, it’s very much included within the teachings and practices. So for example, the Buddha teaching dependent origination in the terrible, it’s called per teacher some. That’s what dependent origination is. And so dependent origination means that one thing is the cause of the condition for the arising of something else that then becomes the cause and the condition for something else to arise and then something else to arise. So, you know, for example, you know, if, if I’m, you know, if I’m looking at the snow as it’s falling down from the sky as it was this morning, and pleasant feeling arises because I see that it’s snowing, you know, and then from that pleasant feeling in the mind that’s arising because I’m seeing that it’s snowing, then some maybe some grasping arises from that, wanting it to snow more wanting the snow, a lot of would be more snow on the ground, for example, do you see? And then it stops snowing as it did, you know. And then all the weight that we had on the ground this morning has disappeared and sense of unpleasant feeling arises because all this snow has disappeared. This is just a very simple explanation of what how dependent origination works. That one thing is the cause, the condition for the arising of something else, and that everything is interrelated or interconnected because out of these causes and conditions that we experience, you know, so the Buddha, when he talked about, for example, the truth of suffering, and then one way to watch how suffering arises within ourselves that arises through this chain of dependent origination. You know, for example, if I if I’m experiencing if I’m experiencing a tummy ache, you say because I ate something that is causing some indigestion. And so I’m experiencing some unpleasant sensation, you know, in my intestines as a result of what I ate, unpleasant feeling arises. That gives rise to a sense of discomfort, not just physical discomfort, but also gives rise to some kind of mental discomfort, you know? And then judgment of myself arises because I ate something which I shouldn’t have. Eight That contributed to the indigestion that I’m feeling right now. And through that self judgment, further anger at the self, the sense of self or I or me becomes more solidified in my my mind and my consciousness as a result of these different steps or unfolding of the chain of dependent origination as it arises. And, you know, the sense of self or I or me becoming more substantial arises and I get caught in that old mind, old fear, all negativity, all judgment of myself, you know, feeling like I did something wrong, etc., etc., that all of this is. This teaching of dependent origination shows me the times when I’m moving into this sense of duality and separate self. Do you see, as I tend to that within myself, as I’m experiencing it anywhere along this chain of dependent origination, as I become aware of the unfolding of it through my Vipassana practice, I can essentially arrest this movement into a separate self identity in which I am separate from others. And so when I do this within myself, within my practice and I’m not moving into this old mind sense of separate self, then naturally I’m more connected with other people, I’m more connected with the environment, I’m more connected with my body. I’m doing things that are more kind, for example, to my body, more compassionate to my body as a more kind and compassionate to my self, to my the expressions of my body and my mind. And and I see that in other people in terms of how they’re judgmental towards themselves, for example, or how they’re getting more caught in their own feelings of unworthiness or another ability, then I can have more kindness and compassion for them, so there’s less separation between self and other. And I’m feeling more this sense of interior relationship or interdependence that is the truth of ourselves and the world that we live in. You know, I mean, this is very obvious, for example, in relationship to climate change. Yeah, you know, what’s happening around what I do here in my home and the carbon footprint that I’m emitting is is affecting the melting of the glaciers and the lives of the people that live in the, you know, in far off places or the animals that inhabit those places. So there’s much more of a sense of interconnection and the interrelationship that happens with as a result of my pretty dharma, my understanding of Dharma and my meditation practice and how I work with that within myself. But it’s not limited to anything personal where it’s in connection with life and with others. Yeah. So to give you another example of this, for most people when they’re starting out in Buddha, Dharma, and with the meditation practice, it’s usually more focused upon themselves. Do you see? Because that’s where they’re starting out from. But as the teachings and the practices take deeper root, you know, within ourselves, we see, for example, I mean, I can see this with my partner Linda that if I’m in a place of fear or contracted energy or anxiety and I relate to her from that place of fear or contracted energy or negativity, that that’s going to affect her in a negative way. Essentially, my energy, my fear, my negativity and how that is expressed is being expressed not even verbally or nonverbally, that it affects her, that there is this interrelationship up of body and mind between me and her, do you see? And that it’s my willingness to pay attention and to be mindful of what’s arising in me at any given time, and my intention to work with that as skillfully as possible when it arises, which is what mindfulness is about, that my willingness to work with anything that’s arising inside of myself, that is going to create pain or negativity as it touches other people, that my willingness and intention to work with that within myself is what is more deeply connects me with somebody else from that place of non ego and love and compassion within myself. This is, you know, this is why if I’m just this is this is why it’s universal. This is why it includes everybody, you know, it includes our pets and how we’re relating to them. It includes how we’re relating to, you know, this piece of earth that we’re living on right now. And what is a benefit for everyone and for everything, not just for myself. And so, you know, this is, you know, for example, in the Theravada, in the Buddhist sangha, one of the the emphasis is that we had, for example, as monks in a living in a monastic community together and some of the rules that we needed to follow was that if I am expressing my anger, you know, towards somebody else and unskillful speech towards somebody else, that’s not only affecting me or the person that I’m speaking to, it’s affecting the whole community that we’re a part of. Do you see that? We’re all interrelated. It’s very much that sense of not just the individual but the collective. And within Thai culture, this is very deeply ingrained within Thai culture. This is one of the things that really big differences that I found between the Western psyche and, for example, the Thai psyche is that our conditioning as we grow up is focused upon the individual. It’s focused upon, you know, ah, what’s good for me and you know, what, what I can get and you know, very much focused upon more the individual being educated, being successful, making money, etc., etc. in Thai culture and perhaps in other Asian cultures as well. The emphasis is not upon the individual. It’s more in the West is upon standing out, you know, being successful, full Thai culture. It’s more fitting in with other people within the culture. You know, for example, the Thai students, they all were the same clothes. You know, the boys have blue shorts and white shirts. The girls have white shirts and blue skirts. Some you know, have khaki color, but everybody is dressed the same. You see, the emphasis is on not standing out there, being a part of the whole, you know, and to me, this is really the spirit of the body. Sad for is that the focus is not just on me and me being successful. Me being enlightened, but in all beings being enlightened. Because if you’re not, then there’s going to be dissension within the community, there’s going to be disharmony within the community. And you go all the way back to the Buddha’s time. And this was the emphasis, the emphasis, for example, the Buddha in is part of his teachings within the Vinaya and the Buddhist community is not to speak about certain meditation experiences that you had. For example, because in doing that it could cause this separation or dissension within the community itself. If I’ve experienced this, you haven’t experienced it. Do you see that creates a sense of separation between self and other and so he, you know, warned against the the monks doing this because it would create disharmony within the community separation. So to me, there was a lot within the tenor of our lineage and within the monastic system and, you know, Thai culture is at the center of it is Buddha dharma and it’s affected, but it dharma has affected the culture in so many ways. Do you see the, for example, the sense of generosity and, you know, and hospitality and welcoming that you find within the Thai culture? A lot of this is a result of Buddha dharma. It’s not just inherent in the Thai people, it’s part in many ways. It’s a result of the teachings and the practices, the spirit of Buddha, Dharma, and how it’s affected individuals and into the community and into the country as a whole, do you say? And so it’s there. It may not be explicitly, you know, expressed as the bodhisattvas, you know, where the Buddhist staff vow, but it is inherent within the Theravada and within the countries that practice Theravada Buddhism.
Formation of lineage in America
So like myself, Joseph Goldstein and Jack Cornfield and Sharon Salzberg, many of the early Vipassana teachers, you know, in the United States had also practiced in Asia and Joseph Goldstein, their practice more with manager Jaji in India and with the Burmese Maharshi Sayyid tradition. Jack had practice also in the Maharshi side or tradition in Thailand. But also state with our John Cha as well. And and Sharon had also practiced, you know, in the Burmese Maharshi Sadar tradition. Many of these people had also done retreats with going Koji in India. And so when they returned to the United States and first formed the Insight Meditation Society, it was various various veins of personal practice. Within the Tara tradition was what was offered to Westerners who came to the Insight Meditation Society for meditation retreats. And it was not a monastic situation. It was a meditation center for laypeople. In fact, when I showed up there in 1979, initially I was the only monk that was there. And then another Western monk came back to United States and American came back who was still in robes, stayed there for a short period of time before going out to the West Coast. But it was, you know, a lay sangha, a lay community. It was not a monastic community, which for me initially was difficult because I was in the middle of a monastic community and then all of a sudden, I after eight years of not being in the United States, I was surrounded by laypeople instead of monastic. So that was a big transition for me. However, you know, the the meditation practice itself and the Dharma, of course, was the emphasis at Aiims, and that was something that I was deeply entrenched in for for a number of years to that point. So the big difference between, for example, practicing Buddhist dharma as a monastic in Asia, especially in a Buddhist country like Thailand or Burma or Sri Lanka, Buddhist countries, Theravada Buddhist countries versus the Dharma, as it was first introduced in the United States, for example, at the Insight Meditation Society, is that there there wasn’t the there wasn’t the ritual, there wasn’t that chant thing. There wasn’t so much emphasis on Selah, you know, on the precepts. There was some emphasis on it. But of course, in, you know, as a monastic and in Asia, there was a heavy emphasis upon it, whereas it was just another part of the teaching and practice when it was introduced, for example, at the Insight Meditation Society. Whereas in Asia, there’s a big emphasis on Darna, on generosity, on giving, selfless, giving. In fact, in, in, in Buddhist countries, laypeople really start with offering Darna and, and Selah and the precepts and working with that usually before they start meditating. Meditation usually comes a little bit later, whereas the Insight Meditation Society right from the beginning, the emphasis was on meditation with some emphasis on generosity and upon Selah and the precepts. But by far the most important focus at times was the Vipassana practice, meditation practice and as a result of and I think that reason that there was such a strong emphasis upon that is that that’s what Americans really needed at that time. Many people came to the Insight Meditation Society, like in the 1980s, for example, were people, you know, who grown up as Christians or as Jews, you know, or some other religion. So they they already had another religion. They weren’t looking for another religion necessarily. They were looking for the meditation practice they were needing in some way of being able to have more calm and focus, you know, an insight in the development of wisdom and open heartedness that the various meditation practices within the terrible out of tradition and other Buddhist traditions as well could offer them that that’s really what they needed, I think, initially. And so that’s why there was that emphasis, you know, from the beginning at a meditation center, like like in mass. But over time, what happened? I believe, is that it the Western meditation teachers started to see that there was a need to expand the offerings within Buddhist dharma to the people that were coming to these meditation centers. So, for example, right down the street from the Insight Meditation Society to the Barry Center for Buddhist Studies was founded. And there the emphasis was on the sutras and study, you know, and, you know, not just intensive meditation retreats, but, you know, more than that, that was included as part of what was offered at the Barry Center for Buddhist Studies. But, you know, teachers would come in and, you know, and introduced the sutras and and work with students in that in that capacity. And also at that time, like in the 1980s and into the 1990s, various Asian teachers like Maharishi Side and who Pandit and Arjun Cha and other Asian teachers were invited to come to offer retreats at IMS. So, of course, when these Asian teachers who are monastics, many of them, not all of them, but many of them would come, you know, to immerse, you know, the students, their got to see a different part of Buddha Dharma, the more religious aspect of it, you know, the chanting or offering Donna to the monks, you know, or the emphasis that the monastics gave to, you know, at a meditation retreat, you know, which was a little bit different than what the Western teachers were offering. And so I think that was very helpful. You know, for the students to be more exposed to a broader experience of Theravada Buddhism in the United States, because many of them would never have the opportunity to go to Asia and practice or to ordain as a nun or a monk. You know, in the in the Buddhist tradition. You know, they were laypeople. They were householders. Many of them have families, you know, children, jobs, etc.. So I think that it enriched the practice for them, you know, their understanding of tarot, a lot of Buddhist, as you know, not just the meditation practice with, you know, the Dharma teachings to support that, but it kind of, I think, again, fleshed things out so that, you know, they had another perspective and another lens to look through in terms of their understanding of the Dharma.
Role of Teacher
Okay. So that’s a good question. You know, what to look for in a spiritual teacher essentially is you know, is the question. Well, for me, one of the most important things in terms of the people, the teachers that I have met and practice with is, you know, how involved are they in their ego, in relationship to being the teacher? Do they have my welfare and benefit at the forefront in terms of their relationship with me? And you know that it may not be recognizable right away. You might need to spend a little time with the teacher, you know, and with the other students or people in the Sangha community that are around or with that teacher before you recognize, you know, where the teacher is kind of coming from, you know, are they coming from, you know, the place of, you know, a deeper wisdom and understanding as a result of their practice and of course, you can kind of discern that from the presentation, the way that they speak to you, you know, and the teachings that they give. That is one indication. You know, for example, has this person really done their practice? Have they deepened in their wisdom and their love and their compassion? You know, if a teacher, for example, is very demanding, you know, of their students or if they’re any way abusive, you know, physically abusive or, you know, or feeling like they’re needing something from the student in order to feed their ego, you know, their teacher ego. Or, for example, if a teacher is more controlling of the student, you know, in terms of how they relate to them or they expect of them, these are all indication signs that this may not be the best person to take on as your teacher. You know, and depending upon the student, this might be recognizable and obvious right from the beginning, in which case you may want to pull back, you know, or it may take a while for you to recognize this in terms of the teacher and how they’re relating to the students. A good indication of whether this is a community of people and a teacher that you may want to be involved with or not is the students around the teacher, you know, how are they? You know, are they kind or they understand, you know, are they is there a willingness to help, you know, especially the senior students of the teacher? You know, if you recognize that the senior students of the teacher, you know, well grounded in the Dharma, you know, in their practice and their understanding and, you know, in their kindness and how they relate, you know, to others, that that’s probably an indication that this is a teacher in the community that may be helpful to you. But, you know, having said that, that might not be immediately noticeable. You know, it may take some time to be able to kind of discern that, but it will be, you know, over time. But ultimately, what is most important here, as I described earlier, is what kind of impact is it having upon your own mind and your own practice? Where is this teacher practice community leading you? If it’s leading you to more wholesome, positive states of mind in terms of you’re feeling more at ease, you’re feeling you know, you’re feeling more open hearted, you’re feeling, you know, there’s an increasing depth in terms of your understanding of the Dharma and the basic teachings of the Dharma. If you find that you’re not so reactive, you’re not getting so caught in emotional reactivity, etc., there’s more equanimity with the arising of emotions or that particular habit patterns of mind like feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy. You’re starting to recognize them more, and they’re not. You’re not getting kind of pulled into kind of being the unlovable, unworthy one that needs a certain kind of teacher or community to feel okay about themselves, but rather that you’re experiencing less, you know, of these habit energies, as we call them. These are all indications that, you know, that this practice, this teacher teachings is working for you and something that you can continue to pursue. You know, those are wonderful insights and trying to of bring it back to, you know, serve that self-inspection in terms of ways leading to yeah, yeah. Ultimately you’re ultimately you’re the you’re the guide that the Buddha is awakening inside of oneself. It’s all really there. You know, one of the kind of misunderstandings or misconception ones that people have, you know, first of all, when we first start out, we need the outside help. No one can really grow in a vacuum. This is one of the reasons why we need a sangha, why we need a community, and why we need a teacher. For the most part, you know, sometimes the teacher is the sangha like did not on one time express that the next Buddha is the sangha. Well, you know, as we talked about this horizontal relationship with our spiritual friends, we can learn an immense amount from other people, you know, who are practicing as we are sincerely. And we learn together and we kind of move along the path together. That’s one of the powers of the song, is that it enables us to do that. And also, you know, we need to look at ourselves in contact with other people. Give you an example of this. When I was in Thailand, it was very easy to get along with the times. They spoke a different language. They have a different orientation psychologically. You know, they were very you know, this is an expression in Thai called Choy Choy Church, which means take it easy. They’re not intense. You know, it was very easy to live with the Thais, you know, and and also, you know, because I, I learned Thai, but I didn’t learn it in terms of being conversant with them all the time, you know. So there was some space there psychologically, but what I noticed was being around other Western monks or when laypeople, Western laypeople would come to the monastery and I would have discussions with them, it would bring up a lot more of the deeper conditioning within myself, you know, could bring up a lot more anger or reactivity or judgment within myself when I was, you know, kind of relating, communicating, interacting with other Western people. Do you see and because the conditioning is similar, their way of speaking, you know, their references, etc., would touch some of the deeper mental emotional conditioning within myself. And there were there was the fear, there was the anger, there was the negativity, there was the judgment. You know, there was the grasping, whatever the case may be. Do you see? And so while this was more challenging and difficult, it was also very helpful because it helped me to see my conditioned mind more clearly. And this is one of the reasons why I came. Return to United States after being away for eight years is that you’re living in a cave, you know, meditating by myself, you know, it was wonderful and beautiful and I was not suffering, do you see? And I wrote a letter I received a letter from a friend of mine who was formerly a monk who had read this road and returned to his country. And, you know, he told me how hard it was, how difficult it was in going back to his homeland and how much stuff started coming up for him. You know, his condition mine started really got stirred up a lot. And I realized I needed that. That was one of the reasons why I returned to the United States, because I was spiritually falling asleep and I needed that kind of push. Do you see? I needed to explore my history, my language, my, you know, relationship for me to continue to learn on my path. Do you see? And this is one of the reasons why practicing with others in a community is so helpful, is because it’s like a mirror to ourselves, you know, and you know, and looking at what I need to look at. So even though it’s difficult and challenging to do that, ultimately that’s where I needed to go. And, you know, on my learning and what other people was helping other people in terms of being in community and learning from others and having a relationship with the teacher as well, you know, is because it helps us to look at our conditioning, you know, and learn because we’re in a relationship, you know, we will best learn when we are in relationship to others there. It can be helpful to practice on one’s own and to deepen one’s practice in that way. That can be very helpful as I express. That’s what I did in Thailand. But it can also be helpful to learn in relationship to others and being in a community that makes sense.
Let’s begin with a little bit of a historical perspective on this, which is that Goenka JI, as a layperson, learned this meditation practice in Burma, which is where he lived at the time. And from a teacher, a late teacher named Hubert Khan. And Rubashkin himself, also a layperson, not a monastic, taught this at a center in Rangoon, the capital of what was then Burma myanmar. And that Kawika gee, that’s going kanchi as well as moon in drag, who was an Indian man, and Deepa Ma also who was an Indian woman layperson. All of these are Lee. Lee practitioners are not M.S. monastics necessarily. I mean, M.G. was what they call a park now where white cloth. But he was not ordained as a monk. And Deepa mom was not a Buddhist nun. And so this really this about Ken and Goenka ji. This really has deep roots within the lay tradition, starting in Burma, coming to India, you know. And then various Western teachers started first initially practicing as laypeople with Goenka in India as he gave these different courses throughout India and then established a center in E got portrayed in Maharashtra state in India. You know, where people could come and do is say a ten day a course or a 20 day or longer period of this kind of intensive meditation, technique and method. Again, can be very, very powerful, not for everybody, but for certain people. And so as a as a result of this and other centers started getting established around the world. For example, the first one in the United States was in Massachusetts, in Shelburne Falls, which is not that far from Barrie. You know, so some of the people that, you know, were practicing in the Goenka tradition would come, you know, to IIMs. In fact, when I was first starting. The founders of Aiims Joseph Jackson and Jacqueline Schwartz that they invited Goenka Ji to teach retreats, had inmates however going to g did not want to do that. He wanted to lead his own retreats in other places. And not just that, not at the insight meditations Society. And he also Goenka G also wanted his students just to practice within his tradition, his meditation technique. He didn’t want it to be mixed with other meditation vipassana meditation techniques and methods. So it became a little bit exclusive in that sense. And, and it created a certain sense of separation because he did, you know, a group of people that were practicing Goenka. His technique, say, together they were not really inviting of other people who did other kind of meditation techniques and methods to practice within their circle, within their little community. Nor did he want the people, you know, within his Vipassana community to practice in other centers with other teachers using other techniques. And so it was a little bit, I would say sectarians, shall we say it was sectarian and but it’s what is its relevance today? Well, as far as I know, it’s quite relevant. I mean I mean, as a teacher, you know, leading retreats in various centers, you know, around the country, you know, I will meet people who have practice in their whole Goenka tradition, you know, who done that and really have benefited greatly from that form of meditation. However, within that lineage, you know, the Goenka lineage, you back in tradition, they referred to it as Vipassana. This is Vipassana meditation. And so sometimes people who have practice at those retreats, they say, well, you know, I’ve practiced for Passover, not necessarily recognizing that at other centers and retreats, for example, they also practice Vipassana insight meditation. So they kind of equate Vipassana with the technique or method of the mindfulness of breathing and then the sweeping of the body, do you see. And so that’s what they identify as being vipassana, but actually the word vipassana means insight or clear seeing into the present moment. So the Buddha, when he was referring to the meditation practice within a matter of lot of tradition, refer to it as summertime vipassana. So if you look at the terawatt of scriptures when he’s describing the meditation practice, he always used those two words summertime, vipassana, summertime meaning tranquility, calmness, vipassana meaning clear seeing insight into the present, moments arising or experience, whatever that might be. And that these two things, they work together to that tranquility, calmness as well as insight and wisdom that they work together. Now, in the terrible tradition, even in Asia, for example, in Thailand, there are teachers and centers, monasteries, where they just focus upon the development of summertime or calmness or tranquility, the more concentration based practices, you know, where they’re working more with the one object. You like being aware of the breath, but in exclusion to other objects now paying so much attention to say, you know, other body sensations or thoughts or emotions or images or pleasant and unpleasant feelings, etc., where it’s more of a concentration, focus more upon one object rather than including other objects. And so in some places and in Thailand, you know, and this is kind of, you know, was kind of mirrored as well within the Glinka tradition, where in the first ten day, the ten day retreat, the first three days are just given entirely to mindfulness of breathing. Do you see? And then from there, the practice widens out into scanning the body part by part, going down, going up, being in touch with, you know, with different sensations in the body, for example, or thoughts or seeing more deeply into the changing nature of objects and impermanence of the objects, conditioned objects of body and mind as they’re arising and ceasing, for example. So then it expands out more. Do you see in Thailand there are some teachers that just focus more on concentration for a period of time with the student. Even like in Sri Lanka, they work with a casino, you know, or a circle called circle. You just focus upon that casino or colored circle until it becomes more of an image in your mind that you’ve concentrated on, you know. And then from there, after that, they start to move, to move more into an awareness of a more expanded experience of the body in the mind. So there’s different ways to approach, you know, the persona or somewhat of a persona in my with my teachers. I don’t cha I jumped in Asia right from the beginning and my teacher, my present teacher, Aron, also the emphasis was is much more on developing summertime vipassana together the tranquility and the insight wisdom together and not one and then the other. And that’s just a different way of approaching all of this. But, you know, come back to the Goenka tradition, you know, they in these retreats and they still hold them, you know, Chagrin Falls here in Georgia, they also have a center in California. They have a center and perhaps others here in North America that it’s still very relevant practice. Probably the reason you don’t come so much in contact with those people, those people tend to practice more within that particular lineage within the Theravada, within Vipassana. Do you see that’s why you don’t perhaps meet them so much at, say, Spirit Rock, you know, or some other Theravada centers that you might visit is because they tend to be a little bit more exclusive in terms of how they go about their practice, which is fine. Do you see it really what’s most helpful? It doesn’t matter how you get there, how you become more realized, how you become more awake, and what techniques, methods, teachers, teachers you use. It really doesn’t matter. What matters, again, is this sincerity is the intention is going deeply within. And at the same time, as you go through this whole process of the evolution of one’s practice, to always recognize where is this particular teaching and practice leading me? What kind of effect is it having upon me? Because the Buddha said that, you know, a teaching or a meditation practice, you can tell if it is really helpful, if you are expanding, if you’re experiencing states of mind, of, for example, in deeper kindness, you find yourself being more compassionate, more understanding, more loving. You’re able to see things more clearly than before. You’re not so caught up in emotional reactivity that as we whatever practice we use, as we move along our path, if the states of mind that one is experience saying are wholesome states of mind, that is the guide for one. Ultimately, if you find yourself becoming more enclosed, more, you know, more a more kind of attached to whatever it is that you’re practicing less open hearted. If you’re more, you know, you find yourself becoming more judgmental, etc., then those can be signs, really warning signs that you know, that whatever that you’re doing, you need to reassess that. And that’s where it’s helpful to just check in with the teacher. You know, check in with somebody or a spiritual friend. You know, in our traditional matter of a lot of tradition, we’re not a guru lineage. Like, for example, in some of the Hindu yoga traditions or even in Tibetan Buddhism, where there’s more of a sense of a hierarchy or more vertical relationship that you might have with a lama, with a teacher. In our tradition, it’s more horizontal, so it’s called the co.ltd or spiritual friendship. So we look at our teacher, for example, as being spiritual friends rather than as being groups. And, you know, for example, in Thailand, you know, with our John Charger, Buddha dancer, my teachers, you know, these are people who, you know, they’ve been monks their whole life, essentially, you know, their whole adult life being dedicated, you know, to being ordained and practicing within the in the Troubadour tradition and have a lot more experience. But they have to keep the same Vinaya the same discipline as someone who’s only been a monk for a few days. Do you see that they have the same responsibility, the same Selah, you know, the so to speak and so and so our relationship with them tends to be more of a horizontal relationship and the view of them as spiritual friends. So even my teacher, Aron, my present teacher who I met in 1989, and so he’s been my core teacher now for more than 30 years. He’s a disenchanted peon, but the relationship is the same. He doesn’t want me to look at him as being higher in some way. He wants me to look at him as a spiritual friend, as somebody obviously, you know, who’s a little further along the path than I am. But not somebody up here, but somebody who’s walking beside me, you know, along the path and who can help in me at points where I may get stuck or need some advice along the path. This is much more the kind of relationship that we have with our teachers in the terrible sort of tradition.