You do not have the roles required to access this portlet.

Message Boards

On Retreat Centres, Mushrooms & Barriers to Progress

thumbnail
Bagpuss The Gnome, modified 9 Years ago.

On Retreat Centres, Mushrooms & Barriers to Progress

Posts: 706 Join Date: 11/2/11 Recent Posts
Is progress on the path at odds with mainstream buddhist retreat centres?

After careful evalution of my recent retreat experiences I'd have to conclude that in my case at least that's exactly right. After presenting Dark Night symptoms I was advised to take it easy, go for a walk, relax - don't do the vipassana if it was causing me tension etc.

This has cost me months. If it wasn't for the DhO and Daniel's book I'd never have known. By specifically ignoring this advice (and not seeking any further help) I've made it through (for now!) the DN.

So, what's the deal? Is this the same all over?

I've read MCTB and Daniels thoughts on the "Mushroom Factor" and I know I was in the midst of the DN when I was so angry about this I wouldn't trust myself to bring up the subject. But even now, fairly deep into Equanimity I am still completely amazed that so many people do not progress because of stuff like this.

(Perhaps even more amazing though is the realisation that many of the meditators really don't have a drive to progress either. I questioned a few of the senior people about their practices and got the impression that most were not that far along the path either) --I anknowledge I'm an as yet unacomplished Dhamma geek and I could well just be missing the point entirely here however.)

Based on my own experience I can only conclude one of the following:

a) The centres goal is to get people to the A&P then have them level out there. Further progress is for some reason seen as beyond the scope of the course.

b) The teacher (teachers assistant) hasn't made enough progress (or just doesn't have enough experience) to recognise dark night symptoms and meant well, but advised poorly. (i have heard the same advice given to many other students)

c) They don't have any goals further than teaching people some basic techniques to fund their lifestyle and own meditation progress.

None of those scenarios is particularly appealing. I don't have an answer to this, and don't expect to get one, but I thought it would be good to open up a discussion on this topic and compare notes with a few of you.

Note: I waited to post this as I didnt want it to be a whine or a rant in the heat of the DN - i was livid during the course, but knew enough to realise I coudlnt trust any emotions during that stage.

PS: No, I wont name names. Im not sure a witch hunt would make what I believe (from MCTB and other comments here) is a pretty wide-spread problem any better.

[edited for clarity]
thumbnail
Jane Laurel Carrington, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: On Retreat Centres, Mushrooms & Barriers to Progress

Posts: 196 Join Date: 12/29/10 Recent Posts
What I've encountered is that some teachers don't seem to believe in the maps, or else they'll say there are lots of maps, and we don't really know what's causing x or y symptom, it could be any number of things. They also seem to be opposed to any view of progress as a form of grasping and striving. What we should do is settle into tranquility, or else don't worry about whatever technique we're using. I see a lot of people whose "practice" consists of 30 minutes daily focusing on the breath as it goes in and out of the body, which is calming and makes for a nice half hour but it isn't really insight, nor will it even lead to jhana a lot of the time. Maybe at the end of a week-long retreat like this someone will have gotten to the point of steadying the mind and experiencing some relief from the barrage of input we get with daily life, but after going home everything will revert to whatever was going on before. Then the obvious next step is to find another retreat ASAP. Yes, I hear you. From now on my intent on retreat is to use the time to do hard-core insight practice and make some real progress.
m m a, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: On Retreat Centres, Mushrooms & Barriers to Progress

Posts: 153 Join Date: 6/9/11 Recent Posts
As brilliant as MCTB and Ingram are, EVERY tradition has a mushroom factor, including practical dharma.

Lets not be so quick to dismiss the 3000 year old teachings of anapanasatti as a useful tool.

As far as concentration vs insight, I've come to understand them as different manifestations of the same thing. Be areful not to shit all over all kinds of zen teachings just because you FEEL that they are not as helpful to you as other methods. I had one zen master convince me offhand in a very satisfying way how one-pointed awareness and insight are not so different.

For thousands of years, monks have ONLY watched their breath for years. and ended up in nirvana. Who are we to claim otherwise?

Perhaps your fellow yogis, your teachers on retreat are in fact lacking in some way, are not resolve in their practice, are not 'englightened'... but so what? Is your buddha-nature somehow disturbed by the guy to the left of you seeking a moment of tranquility, not understanding really what its all about?

Are you putting yourself above others, saying 'my technique, my teachings and understanding are BETTER than these peoples' '?

I've gotten more out of MCTB than any other single volume of buddhist teaching, but all teachings have their place.

I fell HARD into the trap of suddenly becoming aware that everyone in my sangha was totally full of shit, not interested in the 'right' stuff, could benefit from certain teachings and not others... and it took me a while to climb out of that hole.


If you're SURE you want practice in the Theravada/MCTB tradition, finder a teacher in it. But lets not be so hasty to put ourselves above others.


Bagpuss: I have a blog post from my first retreat that is basically the same rant. Its true its associated with dark night, and its also true that it is an observation that will in time lead to wisdom.

Protip: realize that this feeling, this urge to right this wrong, to help your fellow yogi, the disdain for the reatreat center, all arises out of pure compassion, your True Self, whatever you want to call it. It can be difficult, but you will realize it is a 'skillful' urge.

Jane: I see in your brief post some of the very things that lead to your mushroomed co-yogis, and therefore I know that this hippocracy I see in your practice must exist in my own. even now reading your post, I catch my brain thinking, 'she doesn't know what she's talking about, she's missing this or that aspect of practice... her negative emotions are misplaced, she should practice sila... needs to reread MCTB morality etc.'. but i realize that particular brain-static is a vestigial structure... a structure that exists from before a time when i came to the crucial, non-conceptual understanding that the path is NOT about self-betterment, its NOT about making your life easier. I love your resolve to 'use retreat time effectively', but we must avoid the trap of inflating our ego, our sense of self, with these notions of putting ourselves above others. We destroy ego, not feed it. Trungpak's book, 'cutting through spiritual materialism' is apropos, and a great read.





A finger, a moon, etc.


-max
thumbnail
Jane Laurel Carrington, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: On Retreat Centres, Mushrooms & Barriers to Progress

Posts: 196 Join Date: 12/29/10 Recent Posts
Let me clarify: I'm not at all dismissing anapanasati, but that wasn't what was being taught at the retreat. What was being taught was the four foundations of mindfulness, which I absolutely support. There wasn't much specific about technique, however, and I'm not sure how valuable the instruction would have been to people who were new to practice.

But I should come out and say that there's a back story to my comment, several, in fact. When I tried to discuss my practice in an interview with a teacher at the retreat it was summarily dismissed as snake oil. There was no effort to place what the teacher was saying in a context that would help me understand that person's perspective. It was very confusing. I was told to ignore all the maps, forget about them, put them out of my mind. It was "my way or the highway" all the way.

And then back home when I tried talking to people about my practice at my local meditation center (a big mistake), a couple of people jumped all over me and made me feel like I was some sort of pervert. I wish I were exaggerating, but I'm not. They said this kind of thing was "dangerous," others said it sounded "scary," and I never, never said one single word to judge or criticize other people's practice. On the contrary, I was supportive and positive, open-minded, but in return I wasn't even treated with simple courtesy. People told me to avoid going on the internet (as if the medium itself were dangerous), they scoffed at me and told me I was dabbling in stuff that was far removed from the true dharma. I kid you not. I'm not upset about it any more, but at the time it was extremely off-putting. I guess I now have a hard time feeling at ease at that place. Talk about one-upsmanship, these guys acted like they had the real deal, and that was the end of it, and they also dismissed any talk of hoping for enlightenment or even stream entry as crazy (not that I even ventured to confess such audacity to them).

So please forgive me if I come across as dismissive of others. I guess maybe I feel inclined to criticize the way these people handled my questions and testimony only because they were so dismissive of me, and yet they didn't seem to offer anything concrete in return to win my confidence.
thumbnail
Mr. Jake *, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: On Retreat Centres, Mushrooms & Barriers to Progress

Posts: 698 Join Date: 5/22/10 Recent Posts
Jane Laurel Carrington:
[...]
And then back home when I tried talking to people about my practice at my local meditation center (a big mistake), a couple of people jumped all over me and made me feel like I was some sort of pervert. I wish I were exaggerating, but I'm not. They said this kind of thing was "dangerous," others said it sounded "scary," and I never, never said one single word to judge or criticize other people's practice. On the contrary, I was supportive and positive, open-minded, but in return I wasn't even treated with simple courtesy. People told me to avoid going on the internet (as if the medium itself were dangerous), they scoffed at me and told me I was dabbling in stuff that was far removed from the true dharma. I kid you not. I'm not upset about it any more, but at the time it was extremely off-putting. I guess I now have a hard time feeling at ease at that place. Talk about one-upsmanship, these guys acted like they had the real deal, and that was the end of it, and they also dismissed any talk of hoping for enlightenment or even stream entry as crazy (not that I even ventured to confess such audacity to them).
[...]


Jane, stories like this are a real bummer! I wish I could say I don't have my own. There are two factors which I've found important to remember here:

1) It's easy to forget, once you've started doing it to whatever degree, that the whole point of this stuff is to be a loser in some way. We're losing cherished illusions, well-protected blind spots, and self-deceptive stories... especially when we take the plunge through DN into EQ and beyond. I think people who aren't ready for this sense it and are afraid, and they throw up defenses to protect themselves from facing it (which is fine if that's what they have to do... but it sucks to get slapped in the face with those projections when we're in the midst of our first DN, when we're usually reaching out for connection and support).

2) It's normative for humans in our post-modern society to adopt various cultural artifacts-- clothes, ways of speaking, books, places to go and things to do-- in order to construct a diy identity since there is no overarching monoculture to provide unquestionable ready-made role identities and since there *is* a pervasive consumerist ethos which suggests that we are *free* to engage this diy identity project in any way we see fit (as long as we don't stomp on others as they do the same). Lots of folks use dharma or even teaching dharma to do this, and they are quite pleased with themselves for being able to generate a pleasant half our sit on a daily basis, acquire the proper outfits, opinions, manners of speech, and etc. They have the reaction 1) above when faced with someone who is actually engaging in practices that undermine the assumptions of identity which confer the illusions of security that most humans generally crave.

It's a damn shame but it is what it is. Thank goodness for the interwebs :-)
thumbnail
Seeking enlightenment, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: On Retreat Centres, Mushrooms & Barriers to Progress

Posts: 23 Join Date: 12/10/11 Recent Posts
Hi Jane,

Just a small note. Vipassana as taught in the Burmese tradition, particularly Mahasi is only a small section of the broader Buddhist meditation styles. If you are going to a centre that is not Vipassana then likely they will discourage talking about it because they have no experience of it. They want to focus on what they teach only, which I guess is fair enough.

So when you talk about insght meditation path or maps at best they might think you are a little misguided or at worst that you are a bit fruity. The number of teachers that run centres who have experience in more than one meditation style is limited.
thumbnail
Jane Laurel Carrington, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: On Retreat Centres, Mushrooms & Barriers to Progress

Posts: 196 Join Date: 12/29/10 Recent Posts
Actually, though, the center I was at--oh well, I might as well break down and say it; it was IMS, which brought Mahasi Sayadaw to the U.S. in the first place years ago. There were wonderful things about the experience, and the dharma talks were extraordinarily inspirational and packed full of ways to rethink oneself and one's life. But as I said the instruction was not specific about technique, and the teachers I talked to, one in particular, didn't want anything to do with maps. While an obsession with maps can be the dark side of pragmatic dharma, ignorance about them can be dangerous, especially when people hit the Dark Night. That is what prompted Bagpuss to write in the first place: his sense of outrage that people were feeding him unhelpful information about coping with Dark Night.

Willoughby Britton has posted on this forum about the work she is doing at Brown University, trying to raise people's awareness about Dark Night, especially in some of the larger retreat centers. She's working with Jack Kornfield, among others, to address the problem of retreatants who have difficulty when symptoms arise on retreat and afterward. At the time of my retreat last summer I was just inching into it, and didn't have too bad of a time with it while there. When I got back I was Skyping with Kenneth Folk, so I had expert advice from him and later his wife Beth. But as Bagpuss asked about other people's experiences, I thought I'd mention mine.

I have to admit to this day I'm still confused over how the various traditions compare to one another. I have tried not to tie myself up in knots over it and lose focus on my practice. On the whole, at this point in my life what I want most is to commit to a practice and see it through. I've had a chance to get to Equanimity, but I still get thrown back into Dark Night and am in a strange situation now where I keep going back and forth. All of this seems to me to be par for the course, although it's not much fun going through it.

As for IMS, it's a wonderful place and I will definitely be going back there at the first opportunity. I do think, though, that retreats are not a substitute for good, steady instruction off retreat, because teachers come from all over the world, see students once or twice for a few minutes, and then jet back home again. Some people over on KFD have actually said recently that retreats are an unnecessary luxury, and I can see their point. They can help get a practice moving, but unless you know the teachers and how their point of view stacks up against your own, you stand a chance of getting confused, which is what happened to me. I think it's best to approach them with an awareness of what you want to accomplish and know something about the teachers or tradition you'll be encountering.
thumbnail
Bagpuss The Gnome, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: On Retreat Centres, Mushrooms & Barriers to Progress

Posts: 706 Join Date: 11/2/11 Recent Posts
Jane it does appear we have to attend these retreat centres and kind of do our own thing!

Thanks for sharing your experience here. I strongly suspect this is pretty much the norm. I don't mind if people don't want to practice the way I want to practice but I think to ignore, or be ignorant of what actually happens after A&P is dangerous/negligent and non-trivial to say the least.

Daniel really said as much in MCTB but it was a real shock for me to discover this to be true first hand. Like you, the funny thing is that I'll probably go do another retreat like this even knowing that talking to the teacher would be a waste of my time!

Madness..

Announcements