The Struggle to Stay Universal

One component of Vipassana that I’ve been attracted to is the universal nature of the practice. I thougth, “Everyone can observe breath and sensations to learn about themselves so there’s no reason to worry about forming a sect.” Recently, I’ve thought about how the introduction of vocabulary like “dhamma” and the idea that this is the only path to liberation introduces some sectarian tension. By introducing unique vocabulary and a specific technique while qualifying the path as the only complete path to liberation, I feel a natural separation between this path and other faiths or belief systems. When thinking in terms of “growing in dhamma,” it doesn’t feel particularly universal.

I’ve also struggled with relying on dhamma to provide all the solution in my life. Instead of actively grappling with and finding solutions to challenges, I passively wait for dhamma to present a particular path. While this has kept me out of trouble, helped me to develop patience, and has often resulted in positive life choices, I’m starting to feel a little disengaged from the rest of the world around me. While meditation is important, continuing to invest in my family, career, and community feel equally important. In order to connect with the challenges and struggles of the people in my life, I need to connect with their process. This personal connection is so important, and by hiding behind meditation, I’m missing this opportunity to connect on a human level.

Instead of viewing dhamma as the universal truth that everyone should be striving towards, it feels more universal to strive for unconditional love. Most religions, self help books, and individual adventurers are all striving in their own way for the experience of unconditional love. Each person is discovering their own path to draw closer to unconditional love, and this makes it feel universal. I can talk to Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Buddhists, and Jews about unconditional love, and everyone has a story of how it connects to their lives. I can talk about how meditation draws me closer to unconditional love and my belief that it can help others in the same way regardless of their path. Vipassana becomes a supplement instead of the belief of the Goenka sect. Life takes everyone on an exotic adventure to discover unconditional love. Some journeys may include Vipassana and some may not. The universal connection is the growth towards universal unconditional love. At least that’s my current feeling. Time to meditate.

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About Ryan Shelton

While I'm currently married to a beautiful woman while teaching physics at Padua Academy, these descriptors fail to capture the totality of my adventurous life. I have hiked over 1700 miles, traveled to 5 continents, managed a bakery, started a meditation center, counseled troubled teens, attended Duke, UNC, and Harvard, protected forests as a wildland firefighter, volunteered thousands of hours with Americorps, rafted the Grand Canyon, SCUBA dived on the Great Barrier Reef, and continues to find new adventures. I hope my writing encourages you to pursue your dreams and be the best version of yourself while supporting your communities to work together to solve the current challenges in our world.

One thought on “The Struggle to Stay Universal

  1. Ryan, thank you for this beautiful expression of the universality of our search for love. As you know, I have yet to undertake a Vipassana course, but I too am on this search for unconditional compassion. I have considered Vipassana as a tool and a guide towards this goal and looked for the right time to take the course. I find my path has lead more organically to meditation in a Vietnamese Zen style – I didn’t have to arrange anything or drop everything to encounter it, the opportunity just arose naturally and has inspired me to be more diligent in daily sitting and in finding a meditation community. If the same situation arises for me in terms of Vipassana, I will certainly take it, because I believe it is a powerful method for understanding self and others. But I agree with you wholeheartedly that we each have our own paths.

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