Satipanya Buddhist Retreat, Shropshire, UK (Mahasi)

Liam O'Sullivan, modified 8 Years ago.

Satipanya Buddhist Retreat, Shropshire, UK (Mahasi)

Posts: 213 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Address: White Grit, Minsterly, Shropshire, SY5 0JN, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)1588 650752
Website: http://www.satipanya.org.uk
Contact email: satipanna@gmail.com

Satipanya is a small retreat centre just over the English border into Wales, dedicated to the Mahasi tradition. As the website gives plenty of practical information regarding sitting at Satipanya, I will more focus on how the centre might be of use from a pragmatic Dharma point of view.

The centre offers courses from evening meditation classes, hikes, and day and weekend retreats, to an (up to) three month summer Mahasi retreat, led by Bhante Bodhidhamma. Satipanya also offers reiki and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction courses by other teachers, but I won't be commenting on those here as I haven't experienced them.

I was at Satipanya for a two-week Mahasi retreat and found it very appropriate for anyone who wanted to go at it in a hardcore fashion; rigorous practice from the moment you wake and while you are reclining to sleep is encouraged. The eight precepts are followed at all times to focus one on the practice – reading, entertainment, speech, eating meals after midday and so forth aren't permitted – but I didn't get the sense that these were vindictively enforced (for example in the case of those with special dietary needs). Bowing to the Buddha in the shrine room is customary but otherwise rites and rituals are minimal, beyond some chanting.

The centre itself is a large, modern bungalow in between several farms, set in a Welsh valley. As such it is quiet, except for the sounds of farm work and animals. Plenty of retreatants (I recall about a dozen) are crammed in to a building with two toilets, two showers and a single kitchen, so retreatants are given times to wash and expected to take as little time as possible, especially in another of Satipanya's frequent reminders not to indulge in sense pleasures. The site is undergoing various extensions in the next few years. Retreatants are asked to discuss in advance if they would not be able to offer a minimum donation of £30 per diem. The current administrator of the centre, Martin, is efficient and unauthoritarian both in helping a prospective retreatant organise a visit beforehand or in ironing out any problems during a retreat with the minimum of disruption. Both he and Bhante are both easy to get hold of and particularly email-savvy which is a help.

Retreatants stay in single or double rooms, in which they are expected to do walking meditation if the weather is poor. Interestingly, I'd never shared a double room with another retreatant (I'd always been in a larger dormitory before this) and this had pros and cons: my roommate was a veteran of Burmese centres and so wanted to wake up to meditate even earlier at times, which required some compromise and careful noting of the 'Vipassana Vendetta' phenomenon, but the close proximity to a very dedicated meditator encouraged me to emulate him.

The daily schedule is based upon the Burmese tradition, beginning at 3:30 and ending at 21:15, with hourly alternated sitting and walking sessions, totalling 11 ½ hours minimum of meditation. Outside of those times Bhante suggests either continued meditation or 'calm abiding' in the present moment as a break. Morning and afternoon puja (Pali chanting and metta practice) are customary and an hour of light work are required on top of these. A session of chi gong first thing in the morning led by Bhante helped to establish bodily mindfulness and shake out some soreness, and some metta in the evenings calmed things down. Bhante also led a Tibetan-style healing visualisation at the end of the course.

The first few days of the course were, I felt, carefully presented by Bhante to ease newcomers to intensive retreats in, with basic meditation instructions and a discussion of early problems given as taped talks nightly. These led to more sophisticated talks on the defilements, more intricate noting instructions and an introduction to the Buddhist theory of the chain of cognition.

The teacher, Bhante Bodhidhamma is a monk who practiced in the Mahasi tradition in Burma for some years after initially training in the Zen and Theravadin Forest Traditions. His style is humorous and irreverent with a constant gentle emphasis on sustained mindfulness and practice, particularly at meal times and in noting intentions, as well as an approach full of metta rather than emphasising the precepts. He acknowledged the Progress of Insight model explicitly towards the end of the retreat and gave a minimal description of the nanas, but privately and publicly emphasised his view that it needed to be put aside when I spoke in those terms. In interviews he answered multiple technical questions and put some of his answers in technical terms, such as discussing contact, intention and vedana, but also emphasised practice instructions and not using interviews as psychotherapy. Having found the whole retreat difficult as I related in interviews, Bhante suggested techniques such as body scanning and calm abiding in the present moment as an alternative to noting if dwelling in content began to seriously disrupt practice, though with a continued emphasis on gentle consistent effort. (Edit: It's also arguable that this was classic Dark Night symptomology and 'keep going' might have been appropriate advice, but at the time noting less furiously didn't seem like a bad idea!)

To sum up, I would consider Satipanya to be the most suitable place for a pragmatic Dharma practitioner to go on retreat that I've yet been to, though any geeking out in interview regarding the nanas won't be encouraged. I feel that practitioners attempting to practice in a focused and diligent 'waking to reclining' way will find their efforts supported, while those who are not yet able to do so will be encouraged to up their game in a healthy fashion.
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Daniel M. Ingram, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Satipanya Buddhist Retreat, Shropshire, UK (Mahasi)

Posts: 3166 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Thanks! It has been a while since we got a retreat center review. It has been posted to the wiki.

Daniel
Liam O'Sullivan, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Satipanya Buddhist Retreat, Shropshire, UK (Mahasi)

Posts: 213 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Any important aspects that I've omitted? Feel free to post, folks.
Andy W, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Satipanya Buddhist Retreat, Shropshire, UK (Mahasi)

Posts: 59 Join Date: 10/13/10 Recent Posts
I did a retreat with Bhante Bodhidhamma at Gaia House last year, and wasn't particularly taken by him as a teacher. My main frustration was his lack of interest in or discussion of the maps and nyanas. I hit Re-observation in a seriously bad way on his retreat with my whole head pulsing and feeling like my brain was going to explode: it was terrifying, but he made no effort to locate this particular problem in the Progress of Insight, suggesting that I either "let it explode" or go to get a brain scan. He mentioned Stream Entry to us at one point, but in a tone of voice that made it sound like he was talking about a superstitious belief. This was rather ironic since he spent a good half of a dharma talk telling us about how he once "met" a poltergeist in his hut in Sri Lanka. I'm sure he does believe that Stream Entry is real, but he was definitely encouraging us not to entertain it as a viable option. Liberation was talked about frequently, but always with a kind of humour: as if the very idea was a bit of a joke. He also believes that Enlightenment entails impeccable moral behaviour, citing a recent example of a monk thought to be an arhat, but who was seen kicking a dog and therefore promptly denied that title among those watching. Also, according to Bhante, Mahasi Sayadaw was not an arhat, but rather an anagami.

One other retreatant brought up the subject of Daniel and MCTB in a private interview with Bhante who apparently replied: "Well, he's stuck his head above the parapet. Someone will shoot him down sooner or later." I don't think anything else was offered: no critique or analysis of Daniel's position. On that retreat alone there were at least three of us who were three because of MTCB, and I imagine many more people in the UK interested in pragmatic dharma track him down because he's really the only Mahasi teacher around. I expect that they might find themselves rather frustrated, like me.

I would recommend anyone on this side of the pond going instead to Dhammacari in Germany, which I heard about from the review here. I'll add some comments to that review when I get half a chance.
Liam O'Sullivan, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Satipanya Buddhist Retreat, Shropshire, UK (Mahasi)

Posts: 213 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Hi Andy,

If you could add some comments to the Dhammacari review, or write a new one if that seems appropriate, I'd appreciate it, as I'm considering moving to Germany. Thanks my friend!
The Meditator, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Satipanya Buddhist Retreat, Shropshire, UK (Mahasi)

Posts: 153 Join Date: 5/16/11 Recent Posts
Liam
moving to Gemany??? what our monthly meeting?
Liam O'Sullivan, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Satipanya Buddhist Retreat, Shropshire, UK (Mahasi)

Posts: 213 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
I'll come along whenever I'm in the UK, nothing stopping you lot continuing to organise London meets emoticon
Mike Gee, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Satipanya Buddhist Retreat, Shropshire, UK (Mahasi)

Posts: 47 Join Date: 3/15/10 Recent Posts
Thanks, Liam and Andy for your information!

Just out of curiosity, Liam:
Did you discuss progress in these terms with the teacher at all?

It sounds like you thought the experience was conducive for your progress?
Liam O'Sullivan, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Satipanya Buddhist Retreat, Shropshire, UK (Mahasi)

Posts: 213 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Hi Mike :-)

Yes, the experience was definitely conducive to my progress; it just mainly consisted of hard lessons, most of them only obvious with hindsight and continued practice.

In a general way, going on the toughest and longest retreat I've been on, with the most determination to practice from waking to sleeping, was always going to help practice. This is because bean by bean the sack fills; habits of momentum and concentration are carved into your brain by sustained practice (and other metaphors) and a period of doing that in a hardcore fashion is a real boost. As I've said, Satipanya is well set up to help you do that; everyone is doing a rigorous routine together with a teacher who focuses on the method, and distractions are minimal. If you're up to that, go for it. If a person was feeling like a serious headcase due to psychological or Dark Night reasons, they'd have to be prepared for a tough time at Satipanya if they were going to do even the bare minimum, and there are more gentle, if less hardcore, alternatives - the Thai Forest retreats are relatively mellow.

Specifically, I got a good handle on the Mahasi method, and technical advice from Bhante regarding objects of noting. I learned that certain attitudes aren't helpful, such as lack of patience or wanting to enter the stream to puff up the ego, and that carried through to the rest of my psychological well-being. Movement through Mind and Body, lots of dwelling in Re-Observation, and a few glimpses of Equanimity made it clear how each nana manifests - the signs and symptoms were very evident due to the intensive practice, from the whole body pain of Three Characteristics to the buzzy negativity of Re-Observation. The equanimity I experienced in, erm, Equanimity has stayed with me to some extent, so that I can now examine the Dukkha Nanas more calmly each time Equanimity is reached. The DN is fun now, sometimes!

No, I didn't discuss which nanas I was in with Bhante. I mentioned that I usually did fast mental 'tapping' whilst noting and that I had a fair idea which nanas I was experiencing in my first interview with him; his advice was to do the Mahasi method (slow it down, note consistently) and not to worry about what nanas I was in. It's debatable about whether this was good or bad advice. On one hand, I was so swamped by the content - including desperation to 'attain' - to reach Equanimity for anything but a few minutes at a time, and that advice helped me not to run away screaming. On the other hand, it might have been better to reassure me with 'don't worry, it's just Re-observation, you need to note these jagged, transient vibes quickly'- if Bhante even has different tactics for different nanas, that is. At that point it was probably better just to practice; now I'm a bit more sorted in terms of Morality and Insight (as chicken and egg as this might have been), I think I won't be so shy about thinking in terms of particular tactics for particular nanas when I'm next at Satipanya.
Mike Gee, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Satipanya Buddhist Retreat, Shropshire, UK (Mahasi)

Posts: 47 Join Date: 3/15/10 Recent Posts
Thanks Liam for a great reply!

Will definitely check it out closer for some dedicated practise time.
To get it straight, while at retreat there was no time for reading?

Cheers,
Mike
Liam O'Sullivan, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Satipanya Buddhist Retreat, Shropshire, UK (Mahasi)

Posts: 213 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
There is time, technically, but reading is discouraged, even of Dharma texts. Bhante suggests 'calm abiding' in the present moment when not noting- but this is just a different kind of practice, not really a break, obviously.

I wouldn't read at all while there, myself. Reading is one of the more disastrous things to do to scupper my momentum and concentration whilst on retreat. Ditto anything else that doesn't let you note to the best of your ability.
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katy steger, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Satipanya Buddhist Retreat, Shropshire, UK (Mahasi)

Posts: 1745 Join Date: 10/1/11 Recent Posts
Hi Andy W -

One other retreatant brought up the subject of Daniel and MCTB in a private interview with Bhante (...)


This is one reason I enjoy the book Modern Buddhist Masters by Jack Kornfield. He deliberately juxtaposes famous teachers with opposing views about 'attainments' and 'criteria' in back-to-back chapters.

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