Outside the Circle of Universality: Part 1

Written by Dan Kaminsky

In my first post on this blog, I mentioned a number of concepts that don’t feel to be universal to me. I only mentioned these concepts in passing so I would like to expand on them in the next two posts. In this post I will discuss Vibrations, and in the next post I will discuss theoretical concepts that are discussed in the discourses.

Vibrations and “purity of atmosphere” dictate a fair amount in this tradition, which I touched on in other posts. Examples of the ways it dictates regulations at centers are:
1) Gender separation of all towels, sheets, cushion toppers, cushions etc.
2) AT’s must sit the tikipatana before the course starts
3) Goenka Chanting
4) Men typically sitting on the left side of the dhamma hall
5) Sending metta – I think practicing metta is great for oneself and has proven benefits. I think this concept of sending metta is pretty out there. I genuinely don’t believe that if I send metta to someone halfway across the world who I will never see or meet, they will be affected in any way.
6) Vegetarian Kitchens – I once served a non-center course where they delivered meat along with our veggies as it was for other members of the camp. An AT told me I was not allowed to put the meat in the refrigerator as the vibrations would get into the veggies, so instead I left the meat out in the summer sun to rot. Finally, an Acariya stepped in and said while putting the meat in the same refrigerator is bad, it’s better than the camp managers being angry at us, and so allowed me to stock it in the fridge. I have had two similar interactions.
7) We aren’t supposed to meditate with people from other traditions – This one has been touched on in other posts as well.

There are four comments I’d like to make in response to these vibrational ideas.
1) They lack clarity around their rationale – It is unclear for the most part why these rules are in existence. What are these rules based on? Do senior AT’s/very old students really feel a vibrational difference depending on if there has been meat near their food (for example)?
2) They lack clarity around where these rules come from – From what I understand, none of these items stem from the Buddha or the scriptures. Furthermore, from what I understand other meditation techniques don’t have these sorts of customs or regulations. So, where are these ideas coming from? Are these things that Goenka started? If so, shouldn’t it be made clear that these aren’t from Buddha, aren’t universal among other traditions, but are specific to Goenka Vipassana?
3) There is a lack of clarity around what the rules are – While I know for example I shouldn’t sit with students from other traditions, I also don’t remember ever being told explicitly by any AT not to. I don’t think that sort of question was on any course application. And I don’t remember reading it anywhere. I know this is a custom, yet am unclear what exactly the parameters are.
4) Contradiction to experiential wisdom – I know I certainly have had zero experience with any of the above items personally (i.e. if I walk into a room after Goenka’s chanting has been played, versus if I walk into a room where Goenka’s chanting was not played I can’t imagine I would feel a difference). These ideas aren’t grounded in my experiential wisdom.

How I will end is with some discussion questions:
-What does universal mean to you?
-What does non-sectarian mean to you?
-What does dogma mean to you?
-Does this tradition have ideas that aren’t universal in your opinion (I’m not asking of their value or if they should be taken out, just if there are non-universal concepts present)?

One thought on “Outside the Circle of Universality: Part 1

  1. Anonymous

    After reading all your posts…..I feel that fundamentally., you are wrong but I dont have the energy to argue or convince you why you are wrong….if the ATs and other senior students couldn’t convince you….whom am I….

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