“Speak of Zen only after the third request.”
So say the Zen masters regarding telling others about the wonders of Zen meditation. In the Vipassana world, there’s no clear rule such as suggested by the ‘third request,’ but there is a similar feeling that it’s best to be circumspect about sharing your experience – a topic which seems to arise frequently here, I suppose because we are compassionate people who want to help others.
Years ago, a young high school student of mine asked me to ‘teach him about Zen,’ so I asked my teacher what I should do. He explained that the ‘three requests’ rule is just Zen’s way of suggesting that one be sure of the serious interest on the part of the questioner, rather than a numerical index.
Similarly in Vipassana, the advice from experienced assistant teachers is that you should use good judgment about talking of the course, and of your own experience. It is clear that proselytizing and aggressive promotion of the practice is not in keeping with the teachings or the practice. Certainly we are encouraged to be open about the fact that we are practicing Vipassana – and indeed, since there is no advertising or promotion by the organization, and very little in the way of books or magazine articles circulating, word of mouth is the way nearly everyone finds their way to Vipassana. And a lot of people are finding their way here!
But what to say and how to say it is sometimes a difficult question to answer.
I don’t have official advice on that, only my own experience of what seems to work well.
In a word, equanimity is the key.
When I arrived home after my first course, I discovered that my wife had made plans for us to attend a gathering of friends that very afternoon. I wasn’t exactly in the mood for socializing, especially as there were to be new friends there, and quite a few of them, but I wanted to re-integrate into my life easily, so I went.
I suppose some of the people at the party knew I had just come from this strange course thing, but most of them did not. During the evening, most of my friends noticed something different about me, and asked what was going on. I found that simple, calm answers usually satisfied people. (I probably used the word ‘wonderful’ a lot.)
Over the years since, this has continued to be the case. People seem to notice something different, and often ask about Buddhism or Vipassana, and simple answers seem best.
I have not actively recruited anyone to the practice. My wife, one son, his girlfriend, my daughter, and another son’s wife have all come to do courses, however. I hope because my example has been encouraging. To be fair, they all had met others who are in the practice, so there have been enough examples beyond me to take the pressure off!
I make it a rule never to say to someone, “You should do a ten-day course!” Even though I often think it! Usually I don’t even say that I think it would be good for them. Maybe I’ll say, “You might like this.” Usually I stick to saying how good it’s been for me, and – when someone says they could never do ten days of silence – that I think anyone could do the course if they really want to.
There are, of course, lots of reasons not to talk too much about Vipassana. The first is that it is best to come to the course without too many expectations, so you don’t want to talk about the details of the practice or your experience because that may create expectations in others that will hinder rather than help them in the course.
A second is simply that everyone’s experience is different, so how it seems to you may not even be relevant to another person. A third reason is that too much excitement about sharing can in fact become a difficulty for you in your own practice.
It’s always a good idea to refer people who seem serious to the website for descriptions of Vipassana and the course, and there are a few media presentations available now to share with others, as well as a metta practice video to give them a taste of it. Most are available through Pariyatti.
As with most questions regarding the practice, it’s always good to talk to an assistant teacher if you’re not sure how to tell others about what you’re doing.
And – Be Happy!