Over the last 2+ years that I’ve been practicing Vipassana I’ve wondered how the community of meditators could become stronger because I felt like I was on an island facing the challenges of this practice alone. Goenka expresses two foundations of Vipassana that I think foster this lack of community but I don’t believe that’s his intention. He says that after a 10 day course you know the technique well so you don’t need a guru to continue on the path, and that you can only liberate yourself through you own personal meditation practice. Both of these aspects can lead someone to believe that other people can’t help them on their path but I don’t think this is the correct interpretation.
We get support in all other aspects of our lives. As children we have parents and teachers who educate and lead us. In sports we have coaches. At work we have bosses. For mental health we have counselors. At the gym we have trainers. We have friends so we can share experiences like travelling, eating out, movies, sports, and hiking. It’s so much easier to progress in life and to enjoy life with the support of friends, family, and mentors.
We all know this but for some reason it seems like the support of the Vipassana Community is weak. I’ve been to 4 different group sittings and their not particularly well attended. I’ve only ever heard of 1 Vipassana social event. I just read a statistic that less than 2% of old students who have taken at least 3 ten-day courses in the Boston area attend group sittings. It seems like everyone is just meditating at home, alone, facing the difficult challenges within by themselves. This doesn’t seem like the best way to help ourselves or the people around us.
I think that experienced old students have a responsibility to support the newer old students. Of course we won’t have the same answers that an assistant teacher may have but that’s not the most important kind of support. People need friends who can relate to the struggles their facing and who can encourage them that facing these struggles will help them in the long run. Experienced old students who attend or host group sittings and engage the newer students become those friends.
It seems like there is also a fear that newer students might be harmed by hearing about the experiences of an older student. I’m not sure why the Vipassana community has this hypersensitivity when our society is constantly teaching us that we can’t trust everything we hear. We are attacked by a barrage of advertisements telling us that their product will provide us with the dream life but do any of us believe it? We live in the age where uneducated people don’t trust their doctor’s diagnosis without looking it up on the internet after their appointment. There is so much information out there that we are all well-trained to filter through information so we can determine what is helpful and what isn’t. With all of this experience doubting what people say I feel like we can trust new meditators to listen to older students objectively. If I had to choose between hearing an experience that was 80% accurate and not hearing anything at all I would go with the 80% every time.
There’s no way to get through life without other people influencing us so I want to surround myself with as many positive influences as I can. As an individual who wants to support positive change in this world and believes this technique can help, I want to share my personal journey with as many people as I can. This is a very difficult path but it’s pointed in the right direction. Let’s figure out ways to help each other walk along it, not as gurus, but as friends. Let’s meditate and live our lives together so we can help role model the healthy lifestyle this technique brings to people who walk the noble path.