In my first 10-day course, I knew I had found something that could greatly benefit American society. America has prioritized individuality, competition, and hard work which are valuable qualities, be we’ve lost our connections to each other, and that’s harming our community as a whole. In our efforts to achieve as individuals, we’re dividing and separating our society with diminishing concern for who this is harming. This 10-day Goenka course was teaching me how to reconnect with peace, morality, and compassion – all qualities that could help reconnect Americans. I hoped that simply supporting the growth of Goenka Centers would be enough to spread these lessons, but it hasn’t been that easy.
Initially, I knew very little about the dhamma. The reality that sensations in my body were connected to my past and present mind was astounding and I wanted to understand more. I surrendered to the rules and practices, and learned lessons that changed my life. While I was learning this new incredible skill, I was losing my connection to other skills that had been successful in my life like critical thinking, skillful communication, and friendship building. I was sitting 2 hours a day, following my precepts, sitting regular 10-day courses, and learning a lot internally, but with no strategies to integrate this practice into the rest of my life, my old connections were fading. I bought into the narrative that this was simply part of the process of developing a dhamma life, but I no longer believe this to be true.
Goenka’s strong protection of his courses and techniques has allowed his teachings to travel around the world unchanged, but it has also caused our tradition to isolate itself from other traditions, and individuals to separate from other incompatible components of their life. Instead of allowing differences to be opportunities to come together and learn from one another, we’ve elevated these differences as reasons to develop divisions. We’re protecting the teachings so strongly that we’re preventing the natural evolution and assimilation of dhamma into the lives of our communities.
I understand the desire to preserve and protect the dhamma, but I wonder if isolation is actually a sustainable strategy. People are attracted to what helps them live a better life. I believe dhamma has the strength to enter these grey areas of society and draw people towards the light. But if we keep the teaching to rigid, the glow of these teachings will never reach these dark spaces, and there becomes doubt about how versatile these teachings truly are. Instead of having faith that the Goenka Centers will carry the pure dhamma forward into the future, can we have faith that bright attractive light of dhamma in its many different forms will lead all types of people towards unity, truth, and love? Instead of trying to control and regulate it’s spread, what would happen if we simply gave the dhamma a little more room to breath? Maybe I’m naive. Maybe you can see pitfalls I’m missing. Let me know your thoughts.