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Gaining permission for a chair

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Gaining permission for a chair
Answer
4/10/19 4:57 PM
Hi all,

I've done a bunch of retreats in the west - a couple of Goenkas and recently a 1-month retreat at the Blue Mountains Insight Meditation Centre. For the vast majority of my time on retreat I've used a chair, and more recently I've been experimenting with a bench. I'm heading to Malaysia really soon for a 5-week retreat. Initially I was going to MBMC but they are "closed for retreat until further notice", so now I'm most likely heading to Buddhist Hermitage Lunas. I've emailed and called ahead and they've confirmed it's fine to come as long as I follow the rules etc., but they tell me that I will need to ask the teacher for permission to use a chair. Lunas is a Mahasi centre, and for this reason I'm a little concerned - does anyone have experience gaining permission for a chair/bench in a strict centre? If the teacher said no, then I would probably have to leave and find another less strict centre, as my body just won't hold up, especially in light of a chronic groin injury I have. 

Thanks everyone!

RE: Gaining permission for a chair
Answer
4/10/19 8:57 PM as a reply to Jeremy.
Hi Jeremy

I totally understand your concern, but having meditated there (and other Mahasi centres), I can say with some confidence (don’t quote me!) that it won’t be a problem to get permission for a chair. Upon arrival, you can ask to see the teacher, which is the proper thing to do anyway, and point out your reasons, etc. Such teachers are pretty normal humans - haha - so he’ll be amenable. Thing is, in traditional terms, they do prefer no one sits above a monk, so if you’re willing to sit on the floor during the 15-min chanting twice a day when the teacher is there in the hall, then I can’t see why he’d disallow a chair during normal meditation hours when he’s not in the hall. 

Oh, looking back at your question - I use a bench everywhere I go including Lunas and no one has ever even blinked at it. 

All the best!

RE: Gaining permission for a chair
Answer
4/10/19 10:20 PM as a reply to Paul.
Wow Paul thanks for such a reassuring message, I feel much more at ease now! That's super interesting that you use a bench and no one says a thing. I've heard that in the main enormous Mahasi Centre in Burma, every single person sits on the floor and they don't make any exceptions - sounds horrifying haha. So you don't even ask about the bench, just start using it and it's all good?

Also that's really cool that you've been to Lunas - do you mind if I ask you some questions about it? I can do so via message if easier!

RE: Gaining permission for a chair
Answer
4/11/19 2:45 AM as a reply to Jeremy.
Hey

Firstly I’ve never found the use of a bench to be something to ask permission for. I just turn up anywhere and start using it. As for the Mahasi Centre in Yangon, the local people all sit on simple mats cross-legged and I’ve got maximum respect for that, but I can’t do it for even 5 minutes. But at that centre, as a foreigner you won’t sit in the local people‘s hall. There’s a separate foreigners meditation hall, where you can sit any way you like, including on a chair. It’s something I dig about the Burmese approach to meditation - which is that as long as you are meditating, no one cares about the details. 

Check out this blog featured around DhO that has detailed info and photos of each centre including Lunas and Mahasi Centre. That might answer your questions. Or else feel free to ask here. 

placestomeditate.wordpress.com

RE: Gaining permission for a chair
Answer
4/11/19 8:53 AM as a reply to Paul.
Paul:
It’s something I dig about the Burmese approach to meditation - which is that as long as you are meditating, no one cares about the details. 

It really is refreshing. Retreat centers like IMS in the U.S. are like this, too. 

RE: Gaining permission for a chair
Answer
4/11/19 4:57 PM as a reply to Paul.
Hi Paul, that is fantastic to hear. It's a reminder of how you gotta be careful listening to people hey. I knew a person who went to the Yangon centre and told me that they don't allow anyone to use chairs, but she was a Burmese/Australian, so probably sat in the local hall. 

With Lunas, how did you find it in general? When were you there and how long for? How was the teacher? And how was the schedule? I'm pretty intimidated by the idea of waking up at 330am every morning. I mean I've gotten close to that, doing a couple of Goenkas - but even those you can continue sleeping if you need. I get the impression with Lunas you MUST be in the hall by 4am - did you get used to that? Is it a schedule they enforce every hour of the day? As in you MUST be in the hall for all sitting sessions, and you must be visibly walking during the walking sessions? So you can't just leave the hall prematurely? I guess in the first few days if you are dying of sleepiness (as I tend to), you can nap after lunch?

RE: Gaining permission for a chair
Answer
4/11/19 9:10 PM as a reply to Jeremy.
Hi Jeremy

Please accept this response in the coach voice it was intended to be, but your questions make me wonder if you really want to be doing retreats at all. Working hard is the core of the whole thing. Getting up earlier than you normally would - is that such a big deal? Besides, what time you get up only matters in relation to what time you go to bed. If in bed by 9pm or so, you get 6 hours sleep. Within a few days of starting, you’ll do fine on that much. I get down to 4.5 hours once mindfulness is up to speed. Yes you have to be there at 3:45am for the 15-min chant prior to the first sit. And again at the 8:45pm 15-min chant. There are signs around saying you’re only welcome to stay if you stick to the schedule. So it feels important, although I rarely saw anyone checking. For the first few days I snuck a nap after lunch but then got used to it and used that time for chores instead. 

I found the demanding schedule awesome for my practice and I made quick progress in the 20 days I was there, in Sept. Weather was hot and humid during the day but inside the hall, comfortable. I recall enjoying the challenge of turning up to the hall at 1pm knowing there’d be no breaks til 9pm. It felt like facing down a marathon every day. A solid block of practice like that does wonders for your progress. 

Training the mind to see through its cherished delusions is no easy task and cannot be done comfortably, in my experience. So if you’re unsure about sticking to a pretty routine retreat schedule, you might want to keep training at home a while longer til you’ve seen enough of the dukkha in the mind to develop a strong Dhamma-canda (desire for the Dhamma). Anyway, I hope you go give it a try and get something out of it!

All the best!

RE: Gaining permission for a chair
Answer
4/12/19 10:18 PM as a reply to Paul.
Hi Paul,

Thank you again for your thoughtful response. I can see how my questions might have given the impression that I’m not ready to work hard. Truthfully, I still have a lot of aversion to excessive discomfort, such as sleepiness, and I’m sure that I need to work through a lot of this. However, from a rational perspective, it does seem that excessive sleepiness (i.e., sloth and torpor) is a barrier to practice. Some teachers seem to argue that you can work with it, while others just tell you to go and sleep because it gets in the way. When I did my month-long retreat recently, I was experimenting with different sleep durations, and it seemed like when I got down to about 6 hours (compared to say, 6.5), I experienced much more sloth and torpor, and my practice didn’t seem to progress well. But perhaps, like you say, my sleep need will continue to lower as I build more momentum. 

Whatever the case, I appreciate all of the information you’ve given me. It’s inspiring to hear how positive the experience was for you. I bought a meditation bench this morning and I’m looking forward to commencing the challenge in a couple of weeks.

RE: Gaining permission for a chair
Answer
4/16/19 5:59 AM as a reply to Jeremy.
Hey Jeremy

Thanks for the gentle response to my response ;-) You should note that sleepiness, and S&T, are just a stage along the way, and the general rule is the more you sit with it without caving in and lying down, the quicker you’ll overcome it. Yes it’s true that sometimes it’s just so excessive that a lie-down is the only solution. But it should be a last resort. Unfortunately the only way forward is to push through it. You should find, as you suggest, your need for sleep decrease gradually. (Of course what complicates that is at some later stages the need for sleep goes up again for a while.)

As for experimenting, and as you point out, it may not be so helpful. You’ll know when to sleep less because you’ll wake up long before the alarm, stay awake, and then get through the day without tiredness. In this case I normally begin to stay up and sit another half hour before bedtime, or start an extra half hour earlier in the morning, or both, or whatever works. Otherwise just sleep as much as you’re allowed within the schedule!

All the best! Why not give us all a rundown here on your experience when you’re done.