Helping Dhamma To Spread

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.

10 thoughts on “Helping Dhamma To Spread

  1. Tejas

    Have you ever talked with or asked the assistant teachers in your centre or some senior students who understand the dhamma better ? Have you made some close friends who practises vipassana regularly, in your centre so he can talk with you about topics that you write constantly of which you are doubtful of or criticizing most of the time in your blogs . Have you first talked and shared your doubts, your intentions of helping to spread dhamma with the seniors in your centre ? If yes, what was their response. If no, then why not ?

  2. Hi Tejas – Thanks for your comment. I have had conversations with people at all levels of the organization about my thoughts, ideas, and questions, although these conversations are difficult to come by. The primary focus of our tradition is to conduct 10-day courses, and since these courses are often short on servers, that’s where most of the energy goes. When trying to initiate these conversations, the most common responses are: 1) It will become clear if you keep meditating. 2) These conversations can confuse newer students and introduce doubt, so we should avoid them. 3) These are the rules and guidelines left by Goenkaji. 4) You’re welcome to explore what you want, but you will no longer be functioning within this tradition. The well intentioned message becomes buy into the tradition as it is or leave, and this is what typically happens. The people who stay accept the rules without question, and those who ask too many questions leave. I don’t mean to come across as criticizing the organization. I try to balance my questions with heartfelt complements. I just don’t think it’s healthy to have an organization that’s unwilling or unable to answer difficult questions transparently. I’m not sure where this blog will take me, and it may very well take me out of the organization, but I’m hopeful that a safe and transparent dialogue will create space for more old students to stay within the tradition and progress towards truth. Tejas – Have you had a different experience?

  3. Tejas

    I just try to practice sila , samadhi and panna as much as I can. These are the only things in my control . The theories on how the course is running, the organizational parts, the theories surrounding the technique, these are in the hands of the teachers assistant teachers and the managers . The teachers , ATs are wiser n more experienced than I am in terms of spreading the dhamma.
    If you are not happy or satisfied with the answer provided by them , even after 8 years of practice, you still have doubt with the teachers and the ATs and the organisation, then maybe you should find something else which satisfies your intellectual capacity, which doesnt focus so much on practice and more on theory n arguments n intellectual sessions. I am sure there are retreats happening where they talk and discuss more n dont practice so much as in here.
    As you very well know , this tradition relies more on practice than on theory. 10 hours of meditation in the course and only 1 hour of discourse. Goenkaji himself says, if you practice sila, samadhi and panna, everything else doesnt matter.
    So, maybe the people who told you that you can go and do something else, are not wrong. Maybe this thing is not for you. Maybe you dont need to practice 2 hours a day. Maybe you need to read and talk and discuss more with others who are like you.
    You said it’s not healthy for an organization to give unclear answers. As far as I can see , all the answers are given. Just that the answers are not according to your liking. If the questions are just based on theories, the answers will be never satisfactory .
    I have tried to read most of what you have written on your blogs. Almost all the answers are given by goenkaji in his talks or the books provided by the centers. Either you have not read them or you are not satisfied with the answers.
    Anyway, I hope you dont entangle yourself in the non essential stuff n just focus on what’s needed to be done. Rest is upto you.

  4. tomwhitemore

    Excellent argument Ryan. With you and Dan advocating for Vipassana to be open to adaption and dialogue about the future, it is daunting task for anyone to come in with counter arguments to get a debate going. Is that what you would like to happen in this space!

  5. Tejas

    The goenka retreats are not for debates , arguments and dialogues. It’s mostly for practice. If the two guys who you mentioned want debates they are most welcome to go to other retreats where such dialogues happen more. The thing is, Ryan n Dan want the old students and ATs to have a dialogue. But the old students and ATs have realised that debates n arguments and dialogues dont lead to anything whereas the actual practice leads to something beneficial that can’t be expressed in words alone. But If you guys find this engaging and entertaining to debate , argue n have dialogues about things which are already explained, then who are we to stop it. You guys carry on. Cheers 👍👍

  6. Tejas – You make some very good points, but I think you should be careful oversimplifying my efforts as simply seeking debate or intellectual satisfaction. I’ve been meditating in this tradition for 10 years. I understand the value of practice, and I understand that it can be hard to describe these benefits in words. In fact, the first 6 years of my posts on this blog were attempts to put this practice into words to help inspire people to grow in dhamma and continue meditating. These questions that I bring up more recently are questions that remain after years of meditating. Despite my efforts, meditation and AT interviews alone have not resolved these questions. So now I’m trying a different strategy of sharing my points publicly to see if others can help me. An AT once told me something like this: “The dhamma is perfect, but the organization is full of flaws. You can either use the flaws as reasons to leave, or you can help to improve the organization.” I’ve been on two different center management teams and two different center trusts. I’m not trying to devalue the importance of practice or poke holes in the organization for my own entertainment. I’m trying to help myself and the organization to align with the perfect dhamma. Where things become difficult is when we try to present the organization or Goenka as perfect. If something is perfect, any challenges to that perfection are received as attacks and lead to fights. Instead, I would like to acknowledge that Goenka and the organization are amazing, but far from perfect with many opportunities for continued growth. I would like these discussions to lead to improving everyone’s understanding, not to one side being right or wrong. So again, thank you for contributing your perspectives. Your opinions have helped me to grow.

    Tom – I would like this blog to be place where people with diverse perspectives can comfortably share their thoughts. Is your comment suggesting that you don’t feel like your perspective is welcome? If so, what should we do differently?

  7. Tejas

    I appreciate what you are doing with your blog. My question is, what flaws are so glaring in the organization that you have to still discuss n try to resolve? What flaws do you find in goenka and the organisation that needs to be answered so badly that you have started asking them in your blogs ? I have read some of your blogs and from what i understand a little , you want goenkaji not the authority of this tradition, you want the ATs to give some kind of discourse n not stick with the normal answers that they give , you want them to let you go and practice other traditions, you think that 10 day course should not be the entry point? Am I correct in understanding that you have these concerns ? Are there more?

  8. Tejas – I am not a Vipassana teacher, so it is not my place demand any kind of change from the organization. I’m just one person with my own opinions. My primary discomfort is the organizational culture which is uncomfortable with people asking questions or expressing doubts. If we’re truly interested in helping people grow from where they are towards truth, we need to honor where that journey takes them. The organization provides that support for newer students, but once you’ve “committed to this path and this teacher,” it seems like there is much less room for curious inquiry. While I’m uncomfortable speaking for others, I certainly know people who have been hurt by this hard line approach. I don’t have a list of demands. My posts are simply my current opinions which are bound to evolve with time and experience. I only want my journey, and the journey of everyone else who is striving to walk on the path towards truth and love, to be respected and supported even if there are disagreements.


    Hi Tejas,
    I read your responses. Your practice is mainly on yourself’s benefits. Ryan’s intention is to spread dhamma to more people. These are two different topics.

    You suggested any unhappy old student about their growth to leave. Where is your compassion to them? Actually, hundreds (?) old students left “center”. Ryan made endless efforts to make rooms for those old students to stay in “center”.

    I don’t see the contradiction of practice and theories. On the contrary, practice and theories are both important and self – support each other. Theories of Buddhism are very resourceful, not limited to Goenkaji’s books or tapes.

    You said all your questions are answered by current practice. Good for you. However, it is not true for many other students. Do you care about them?

    Very grateful for letting me express my opinion. My intention is simple. Dhamma are great. People are suffering. They need dhamma . Please help them. Please do not reject any one.


  10. Ed CSAPO

    Great conversation, after many years of being in the dark moving to light,33year. Many paths taken to find what works and what does not work. Take what you like and leave the rest.
    What I do know a can only be a living example, attraction rather than promotion. When I have tried to bring people to the path, 99% of the time i am met with failure. So my practice is i can only help the world and others by how I am being in all matters and they may ask me. I want what you have. Then the next step opens.
    No school
    No degrees
    School of hard knocks
    What I do know is the teaching need to be as it is, people are smart rats. All organizations lead to power and prestige. Being some what not organized is on purpose. Yet perfect in nature.

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