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Bill Hamilton Documents
Answer
7/4/19 3:14 PM
Was recently perusing the staff library at IMS and came across a copy of Bill Hamilton's Saints & Psychopaths. In the book were enclosed a few documents including a newsletter Bill sent out in 1995 and an invitation to a retreat at Whidbey Island. Figured some here may find them of interest as there aren't too many other primary source documents aside from his book out there. They lend some insight into his work and his plans for the future which unfortunately didn't see fruition. 

https://imgur.com/a/aPwYncS

RE: Bill Hamilton Documents
Answer
7/4/19 5:21 PM as a reply to Zachary.
Wow, this is great! Thank you so much for finding these and posting them!

He writes: "In the West, our monetary system is a very strong characteristic of our culture and the initial effect has been for Buddhism to take on this characteristic. However, most Buddhist meditation teachers have made an effort to establish a tradition of dana by charging only for the actual expenses of having a retreat. Usually the only compensation meditation teachers receive is dana, and as a result, most meditation teachers are very poor."

I'm sure he would be sad to know that this is no longer true and that now many teachers, including even some of his own students, now charge high hourly fees for teaching. As a result, they and their teachings are ethically and pragmatically compromised.

Worse yet, adding insult to injury, many of these teachers now call their high hourly fees "dana," even though charging a fee in exchange for providing a service is not dana in any sense whatsoever. This is an abuse of language for personal gain, to try to make commercializing the dharma sound good, and clearly an example of wrong speech.

Stepping off my soapbox for a minute, Bill Hamilton also wrote a few other books - has anyone read any of them?

RE: Bill Hamilton Documents
Answer
7/4/19 5:59 PM as a reply to J C.
J C:
Wow, this is great! Thank you so much for finding these and posting them!

He writes: "In the West, our monetary system is a very strong characteristic of our culture and the initial effect has been for Buddhism to take on this characteristic. However, most Buddhist meditation teachers have made an effort to establish a tradition of dana by charging only for the actual expenses of having a retreat. Usually the only compensation meditation teachers receive is dana, and as a result, most meditation teachers are very poor."

I'm sure he would be sad to know that this is no longer true and that now many teachers, including even some of his own students, now charge high hourly fees for teaching. As a result, they and their teachings are ethically and pragmatically compromised.

Worse yet, adding insult to injury, many of these teachers now call their high hourly fees "dana," even though charging a fee in exchange for providing a service is not dana in any sense whatsoever. This is an abuse of language for personal gain, to try to make commercializing the dharma sound good, and clearly an example of wrong speech.

Stepping off my soapbox for a minute, Bill Hamilton also wrote a few other books - has anyone read any of them?


And there are people in this world, who have extra problems added to these, because some politicians based on their people's votes, have decided to limit those people from their basic rights. I am very serious about this practice, so I would pay money for a good teacher to talk with them about my practice, or to participate in online programs of such teachers, but because of sanctions on us (Iranians), I can't, because they have decides that we can not use any international payment system (This is not a request to anyone in anyway, so don't get the wrong idea please!), so free or paid dharma is not available for all people equally. Sorry that this is not related to the subject of this thread directly.

RE: Bill Hamilton Documents
Answer
7/4/19 9:54 PM as a reply to Zachary.
Thank you very much for sharing this.

RE: Bill Hamilton Documents
Answer
7/5/19 4:05 PM as a reply to Zachary.
Thanks for posting the docs ... it’s always great to read Hamilton’s writing. Saints and Psychopaths remains one of my favorite (and entertaining) dharma books. 

A Hamilton quote from one of the uploaded docs:
“As one of my students said after reviewing the costs of retreats around the country, ‘I can’t afford to be a Buddhist.’ I hope to change this situation.”

On the topic of $100 an hour Skype private dharma sessions and retreats costing many thousands of dollars, Buddhist sticker shock continues to be a serious reality for the financially challenged practitioner. In Saints and Psychopaths Hamilton wrote, “If you are interested in a retreat longer than a month, the plane ticket to Asia might be less than the cost of a retreat in the West.” I’ve taken that advice but it should be mentioned that Hamilton also states various potential obstacles and drawbacks associated with a retreat undertaken in Asia. 

Here in the USA some retreat centers offer scholarships funded by donations from more affluent practitioners to help defray the high expense of a retreat. Some offer something along the lines off a work-study program, where a yogi puts in x numbers of hours per week in exchange for some or all of the retreat fees. There’s the Goenka retreat network which has been successful in large part to it’s economic model which is offered for free, is supported entirely by dana and service, and is likely (by a longshot) the most successful Layperson Dharma Retreat Vehicle to have ever manifested in the history of Buddhism (I'm not even sure what the runner up would be?). In one of the Goenka retreat dharma talks Goenka explains how initially his retreats were not free and they charged a fee to cover their expenses.  But in time they came to understand that this was an extremely serious flaw and was wrong.  He goes on to elucidate many of the problems that are created by charging yogis a fee and how they went about setting up a retreat system that is freely offered, indeed a system that absolutely forbids any payment whatsoever for the retreat (one can make a donation, if they chose, only after having completed a retreat). An aside: if I understand correctly the issue of making money - or using money - obtained from retreat fees was the cause of a schism between Goenka and another student of Saya Gyi U Ba Khin who had been given authorization to teach. It should be mentioned that Goenka was from a very wealthy business family and in his dharma talks he touches on his family's affluence and the impact it had on him.

Having the Pragmatic Dharma movement succeed requires pragmatic methods of undertaking not only instruction but also retreats, and I don’t see that as presently existing at all in any viable, pragmatic, or practical way ... and especially so at the lower end of the economic spectrum. Perhaps a visionary with the combination of business savvy, organizational genius, and crowdfunding voodoo will emerge to provide the missing link. 


It’s refreshing to see that Hamilton not only identified the problem but was taking steps to address it.

RE: Bill Hamilton Documents
Answer
7/5/19 7:00 AM as a reply to Monsoon Frog.
Monsoon, by what standard are you assessing Goenka as "successful"? I don't think they've been very successful at getting people to stream entry.

RE: Bill Hamilton Documents
Answer
7/6/19 3:04 AM as a reply to J C.
J C:
Monsoon, by what standard are you assessing Goenka as "successful"? I don't think they've been very successful at getting people to stream entry.


Hi J C,
Successful … insofar as providing a meditation retreat experience accessible to a large number of people for free in 94 countries (199+ retreat centers worldwide according to their website).

Successful … insofar as providing meditation instruction (anapana and vipassana) accessible to a large number of people for free in 94 countries. 

I don’t have reliably verifiable statistics (I can however provide whatever kind of unverifiable stats one desires) on Goenka’s ratio of successful Stream Enterers (say per 1000 yogis) or the total number of Stream Enterers since Goenka began hosting retreats. (I've read that some prominent Western Buddhist Vipassana instructors initially modeled their own modern retreat structure and format based on experiences of Goenka retreats). I don’t think those stats exist for Goenka or for any other retreat institution?  I don't gamble but I'd put my money down that plenty of Goenka yogis arrive as puthujjanas and depart as puthujjanas … as I’m sure is the case for most, if not all other Buddhist retreat venues associated with various traditions, teachers, and institutions. 

My comments regard affordable (in this instance ... free) retreat opportunities. Is Stream Entry in 10 days the metric of success?
What about learning to meditate? Refining one's practice? Crossing the A&P?  4th Path? Attaining a particular Jhana? 

To restate your comment: 
I don't think any retreat institution (insert favorite) has been very successful at getting people to stream entry in a 10 day retreat. If you’re looking for accounts of (any, but especially 10-day) retreats that were unsuccessful in producing enlightenment for the majority of yogis in attendance you’re going to have a tremendously long list. 

It seems to be the nature of the business (outliers excepted). If you have evidence to the contrary please share as I’d be curious to see it. 

Notably, Kenneth Folk (who as I assume you know was a student of Bill Hamilton) did not attain Stream Entry at a three month IMS retreat; nor did he attain a path in an even longer six month retreat at Panditarama Meditation Center in Rangoon taking lessons directly by the venerable Mahasi meditation master Sayadaw U Pandita. The former retreat having not been ‘very successful’ might be attributable to the mushroom factor (if one buys Folk's assesment); that accusation doesn’t fly with the latter retreat as it was a fungus free zone. 

As an aside, do you have direct experience with Goenka retreats? If so what was your experience?

RE: Bill Hamilton Documents
Answer
7/5/19 4:30 PM as a reply to J C.
J C:
He writes: "In the West, our monetary system is a very strong characteristic of our culture and the initial effect has been for Buddhism to take on this characteristic. However, most Buddhist meditation teachers have made an effort to establish a tradition of dana by charging only for the actual expenses of having a retreat. Usually the only compensation meditation teachers receive is dana, and as a result, most meditation teachers are very poor."

...

Worse yet, adding insult to injury, many of these teachers now call their high hourly fees "dana," even though charging a fee in exchange for providing a service is not dana in any sense whatsoever. This is an abuse of language for personal gain, to try to make commercializing the dharma sound good, and clearly an example of wrong speech.


Did Bill Hamilton charge a fee for his meditation instruction? I was under the impression that he did, but that he also revised his views on the relation of money to dharma instruction as time went on. But I may well be mistaken. 

Interesting point regarding language, fees in exchange for a service, dana, and right/wrong speech. 

RE: Bill Hamilton Documents
Answer
7/6/19 4:56 AM as a reply to Monsoon Frog.
Bill Hamilton never charged me anything for the many hours I spent on the phone with him, and only very rarely would even mention dana, and then in an extremely hesitant, vague way.

My extreme gratitude for his keeping things related to money clean regarding me had a powerful effect on my relationship to the Dhamma and money. I am very thankful for his example.

RE: Bill Hamilton Documents
Answer
7/7/19 1:44 AM as a reply to Monsoon Frog.
MF, I second what you have to say on the Goenka system. I’ve done tons of their courses plus served several times in the kitchen and behind the scenes, including role of male manager, so I’ve had a chance to be at management meetings and get to know a lot of the pioneers. The network is definitely ‘successful’ in the sense that their centres bring in loads of donations so they keep running and keep offering courses. One medium-sized centre in Australia alone delivers courses to over 1,200 yogis a year, not including loads of children. So in terms of turning people on to meditation and getting them into a regular routine, it works wonders. The strictness around volunteer service only, including the long-term full-time staff, and receiving optional donations at the end of courses without any pressure or awkwardness (like having everyone file past a donation desk on the way out for example) has turned out to be a successful formula for staying open and growing. In fact, I think there’s a big dose of reverse psych that happens at the conclusion of courses, where because of the ‘pay what you like only if you like’ message, people are overwhelmed with generosity and give more than they might otherwise have thought prudent. 

As for Stream Entry, I’d tend to agree that there’s a low to zero success rate on that, partly because of the 10 days thing, partly because they don’t offer the kind of careful, personalised coaching that helps a lot, and finally mainly because (I don’t want an argument here) the method simply doesn’t get one up the path to maggaphala. Simple. Sweeping sensations up and down the body is a form of moving concentration exercise that, by its nature, requires ignoring a whole host of other stuff going on, worst of all ensuring the entire field of mental phenomena is left out of close observation. Again, I don’t want to (and won’t) debate this, because Goenka-heads can be a bit cultish about it, but it seems pretty obvious to anyone who’s done a lot of Goenka time then compared it to other methods. If anyone is thinking ‘But I know a guy who knows a guy who got SE on a Goenka,’ I’d wonder if they (a) really got it, (b) really got it on that course, (c) we’re sticking 100% to the Goenka method. 

What the Goenka method does do very successfully (back me up here, Daniel ;-) is get people to the A&P. Then release them back out into the world without a clue what’s happened to them, to potentially wreak havoc on themselves and their kin, until someone explains the Imperfections of Insight and the Dark Night. I’ve said enough. Thanks to the OP for the wonderful info on Bill!

RE: Bill Hamilton Documents
Answer
7/7/19 3:41 AM as a reply to Monsoon Frog.
Monsoon Frog:

I don’t think those stats exist for Goenka or for any other retreat institution?


Hi,

Here, pg. 136. Stats from others I have not found.

Awakening as defined in Open Heart has been discussed on this forum many times. Since the definition of stream entry is not fixed, it is difficult to say whether these awakenings are valid as stream entry. Nevertheless, it works. Here is an account copied elsewhere from this forum by one of our sangha members who did Goenka for 20 years before Open Heart.

"A brief background, I've practiced mainly Goenka vipassana for the last twenty years, although only seriously for a few years in my twenties. Last ten years or so I've dabbled in other vipassana traditions but always come back to Goenka's Burmese style, although I would not say I've practiced seriously during that time, more like ticking over, regular short retreats and getting significant benefit but never really making real 'progress'.

All that changed when Kim took over an old Dharma group I used to attend and I did the 2PF guidance with him back in March 2018. Like many on this forum I was extremely sceptical but a number of the old group spoke of their significant awakenings and since I trusted their opinions I decided to keep an open mind and give it ago. It looked too simple, as like so many practitioners I had been brought up on the images of enlightenment being reserved for superserious practitioners in distant Himalayan caves (and Goenka'steaching of a long, hard path, lol). I have to say I had avery strong intuition at the time that my time had come and something special was about to happen. A kind of right place, right time sort of feeling.

I knew nothing of Kim as a person or a teacher but we exchanged emails for a few days to help clarify the practice. I still wasn't too sure what to think but I carried on practicing as instructed. Then overnight, something gave way. Not a flash of clarity, no 'dropping out' of consciousness', no fireworks. It was more like sliding down a muddy river bank into a river of jewels and beauty. I knew this was it, there was no doubt at all in my mind of the authenticity of the experience. This was what we all seek, a stunning presence and the end of seeking, it was amazing. I had no interest in anything beyond the cupboard doors in my kitchen, the clicking of the boiler or the folds in my blanket. Even the desire for awakening was gone, why seek what you have found?

The experience was so simple, so utterly obvious that I was actually embarrassed I had not seen it before. What had I been thinking all those years? Why had nobody pointed out the bleeding obvious to me before? It was absolutely marvellous. Now I can't say what elements of the 2PF caused this awakening, was it the method, the teacher, a strange energetic transmission, who knows? But for me it was a wonderful experience after so many years of seeking, practice and confusion.

Something about Kim and the technique had definitely broken through, and I was profoundly grateful. This was definitely the real thing. This clarity remained very strong for many months after the 2PF, and despite the egoic mind returning somewhat I can still sense this clarity wherever I go and whatever I do. Something has definitely been seen that cannot be forgotten and now operates as a baseline for my daily life. It feels like I've stepped into a room and cannot return to my old perception so I would say it is a permanent shift. Even in times of strong delusion that clarity remains close to the surface. Back to your original question, 'would you call this stream entry?', I would say I am not sure. I'm not that familiar with different definitions of the term, and I would say for myself I prefer to use the term 'breakthrough'. Stream entry seems to have quite a few different definitions, and honestly I don't think anyone will pin it down to a definitive experience, but maybe I'm wrong. But I can definitely say that doing the 2PF brought me a very significant breakthrough and a depth of clarity I had never experienced before."

RE: Bill Hamilton Documents
Answer
7/7/19 4:19 AM as a reply to Kim Katami.
The whole, "the defininition of stream entry is not fixed" thing is true in some senses, but very misleading in others.

First, most of the contemporary definers that get referenced in these debates didn't train well and thoroughily in traditions that use the term, aren't familiar with the textual references, haven't often even seem to have attained to stream entry, and, if they did, never got trained in its full capabilities, are poor phenomenologists, have poor criteria due to poor training or coming from a not very phenomenologically sophisticated tradition, etc.

It would be a bit like if lots of people started defining algebra and basic arithmatic as "calculus" based on the colloquial definition of the term, which is often taken to just mean "math" or even just "decision making", as in, "The calculus of that relationship just doesn't work out."

In this way, recently the term "stream entry" has been badly abused, miscontrued, misinterpreted, often by people who were primarily trained in Zen, Mahayana, or Buddhist strains that, while ostensably Theravada, were so heavily influenced by those traditions that they have lost the key meanings of the term. If you really want to be grouped into that bin of those who use the term "stream entry" that way, well, that's your choice.

So, while it is true that people can use words any way they wish, and often do, realize that there really is this attainable thing called "stream entry" that really does perform entirely as advertised, and really has all the correct phenomenology, really does empart the advertised capabilities, really does meet the traditional, functional definition as used in the tradition it actually comes from, just like there really is something called "calculus" that involves actually taking the derivatives and integrals of equations.

RE: Bill Hamilton Documents
Answer
7/7/19 4:23 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
I am happy that people are getting benefit and insights from doing various techniques, and that some of these hold up for some period of time: sounds good.

However, it is probably best to come up with your own language for it, as just adding to the pool of people who have little clue what "stream entry" is and are somehow obsessed with the loosest of weird comparisons to the term doesn't help things at all and instead just adds to confusion, which presumably is not your goal, as there is plenty of that out there already on wide display, particularly in the for-profit dharma world, out of which so many of these loose, imprecise definitions of "stream entry" arise.

RE: Bill Hamilton Documents
Answer
7/7/19 4:34 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Speaking of weird definitions of "stream entry" and Goenka, wow, do they have some extremely odd conceptions of it per conversations with some in the organization. Goenka himself got a very incomplete, limited, naive, odd transmission of a very small part of the vastness that is the Theravada in its old-school best, and then that got warped by the Boomers, who were basically swamped by massive amounts of cross-traditional idealism that got smashed together into an incomprehensible nightmarishly garish version of spiritual development, and that is what passes for a definition of "steam entry" in the Goenka tradition.

I do know a few people who may have actually gotten "stream entry" in the classical sense of Fruitions, cycling, ñana control, permanent transformations, and all of that from practicing in the Goenka tradition, though often with some custom modifications that involved going wider and more natural, but the Goenka tradition not only doesn't know how to recognize stream entry, but, despite the frequent reassurances that they are "bound to be successful", very few are, and, when they actually are, it is a total disruption to their sense of hierarchy and culture that the tradition really can't handle it within itself, which is frighteningly ironic and a seriously tragic state of affairs for the largest vipassana organization in the World.

RE: Bill Hamilton Documents
Answer
7/10/19 3:03 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Hi Daniel,

I've always been interested in the common denominator/s of buddhist insight that practitioners of many paths experience. There are technical and theoretical differences there but mostly similarities, rather than differences in the flavour of insight, I feel. Perhaps for you this perspective just blurs the lines, creates unnecessary confusion or even some harm. Each of us has karma and motivation to guide us through our paths however it may turn out, so I don't think poor use of some term is that harmful, as long as there is change in the mind of the practitioner, as long as one keeps recognising the ground state. Without the change, which is regrettably common, terms matter even less. If it matters I am not insistent on using the term stream entry and rarely use it in my teaching. In Open Heart, we speak of awakening/s, for which there are Japanese and Tibetan terms though the English one works just fine. Needless to say, terms don't matter as much as experiences do and further, experiences don't matter if they don't help us bring ethics and meaning to the world.

May all beings be free.