I’ve been sitting with a group of Vipassana meditators that have been trained by other teachers or who haven’t been trained at all to help motivating me to sit twice a day. I wasn’t sure if our goals were the same and I was pretty sure the techniques were slightly different but it didn’t matter because it was a group of people who wanted to sit with me in silence. I was quite surprised when the group organizer started talking about the balance of equanimity and awareness. I started to feel like we weren’t all that different after all. The understanding that the teachings of the Buddha have been preserved in its pristine purity in many parts of Asia started to reveal itself. So while the actual practice of the technique might be different it’s wonderful to realize that there’s a large community with the same goals and intellectual understanding of the practice that I do. Just by committing yourself to sit on a meditation cushion for some time is demonstrating that you’re trying to grow into a healthier, more peaceful, and more loving human being, even if it’s just for those 10 minutes you’re on the cushion. I think that’s noteworthy and I’m proud to share a space with anyone pursuing those goals.
There is definitely a difference in the practice. I’ve heard some discussion of observing the minds thoughts or other sensations besides touch and I have a hard time understanding how someone could start there. I mean, there are times when I can barely maintain focus on my breath so could I really observe the sense of smell for an extended period? How do you observe your thoughts without being distracted by them and wandering away with them? When I try to observe sound I end up trying to identify what I’m hearing and am immediately outside of my body. There is definitely something wonderful about the simplicity of the practice that Goenka teaches that is right for me.
At this point I’ve stayed out of the discussions with these groups. If there’s one thing this path has taught me is humility and the limitations of my own understanding. I really appreciate that Goenka’s centers emphasize allowing the technique to guide your understanding rather than just accepting the words of the teacher. I think gurus can get in the way of true understanding. But I’ve also developed in the science community where discussion is always encouraged but no ones words should be taken at face value. Students regularly question professors interpretations of data and the hope is that with ample open discussion that everyone will be able to agree on the facts that fall out of the data. I know that there are flaws with how the science community functions but I also see a lot of strengths. So far it seems healthy to have open discussions about dhamma and our practices as long as everyone can be respectful and open to each others thoughts. When I think about the alternative which is not openly sharing and therefore being close minded and judgemental to other traditions I really start feeling like I’m headed in the wrong direction. I look forward to both continuing my own Vipassana technique on the pillow and have more discussions with meditators from different teachers.