Greetings fellow Vipassanators,
I’m writing this post in collaboration with my partner Hannah Joy.
Throughout our Vipassana journeys, we both have been inspired to deepen our practice via the sit-serve program and leadership roles within the organization. During our experiences, we too have encountered some challenges and have come to develop some of the same questions as Ryan and Dan, along with several other serious and long-term meditators of this tradition. In this blog post we attempt to bridge the gap between these challenges and questions, and the comments that suggest leaving the practice or finding something else if the rules & regulations aren’t to one’s “liking.”
Let’s pause for a second, take a step back and go to the beginning of our personal Vipassana journeys. Let’s reflect on the time when you first heard about Vipassana, decided to sign up, and successfully completed your first 10-day course. If you’re here reading this blog, chances are you’ve sat more than one course, perhaps even served a few. People who keep coming back to sit and serve have a couple things in common:
- they recognized a deep enough suffering in themselves that lead them to sit a course
- they find immense value in the technique and therefore make the practice and service a part of their lives
Due to these and other reasons, leaving the practice isn’t a desirable option or a practical solution. For many people, vipassana provides immense healing and becomes a catalyst for future life choices. When one finds something beneficial enough that it changes their entire life, leaving is the last thing to consider.
As a wise AT once said to us, for a serious vipassanator, one’s relationship to the practice can be compared to a marriage. Successful marriages don’t have the option of leaving as one of their pillars; communication, empathy, and growing together is what makes a lasting marriage. The understanding of anicca and non-resistance to anicca makes a happy marriage. The suggestions of leaving—whether by a life-partner or through comments on this blog—to us, come across as a disinterest in opening oneself up to truly listening. Are such suggestions really aligned with the practice of empathy, compassion, and most importantly—anicca—the very core of this practice?
Furthermore, center management and ATs are constantly encouraging long-term servers and center operations to take a deeper look into the systems at play, analyze them, and suggest improvements. The goal is to make the center, the organization, and its various moving pieces more and more effective. From this perspective, taking a deeper look at, and questioning and deliberating ways to improve the teaching model is also imperative. After all isn’t teaching itself another system within the organization? We as students may not have the authority to implement changes to the teaching model. However, since we are receiving the teaching, we are the ones in the position to provide feedback (we might write more on this in another post).
The following statement is the root of many challenges that arise for many old students.
I don’t think it is fair for the tradition to ask of serious old students that we make a commitment to this and only this path, but then not give students making that commitment the support they need.By Dan Kaminsky from a comment on The Rigidity of the Tradition
What really adds to the frustration is the fact that on the surface interest is shown in wanting to hear about the challenges and possible solutions–at Old Student Meetings there’s even acknowledgement of and agreement with what’s brought up–but in the same breath there is no accountability or closing of the feedback loop to show what is being done to address the challenges. It appears that talking about challenges is just an “exercise” with no actionable follow through.
The organization says it wants to know how to better support old students; from our perspective, this blog is honoring the ask by bringing up concerns, challenges, and possible solutions out in the open, by creating a wider dialogue, and maybe even attempting to create accountability.