Outside the Circle of Universality: Part 2

Written by Dan Kaminsky

In the last post I began by talking about questions I had about vibrations. This post will elaborate more on other concepts that feel to me to be contradictory to the mission of a universal tradition.

Enlightenment has the possibility to be sectarian in the same way heaven and hell is. A preacher tells his congregation do as I say, keep coming back here, and you’ll have the opportunity to go to heaven. If this same mindset is present in even a single student (“I need to keep coming back, keep following this tradition, keep trying hard in this one way as this is the way towards enlightenment”) then I think we need to cast a questioning eye towards how enlightenment is being presented. Considering Goenka literally says “this is the only path towards enlightenment” on the long courses, enlightenment (knowingly or unknowingly) gets presented in a sectarian way.

On a personal level, the reason I don’t believe in enlightenment is I have zero experiential wisdom to base the concept off of. I am not enlightened. I have never met anyone who is enlightened. I have never met anyone who has met anyone who is enlightened. Our digital teacher wasn’t enlightened, nor are any teachers or senior teachers. The only source I have for discussing such a state are scriptures about a person who lived 2,500 years ago who claimed to have reached this state. That to me is not enough to go on, especially in a tradition that puts emphasis on not believing unless experienced.

This tradition has this notion that 2,500 years ago there was this prophecy. And the way it is told, our teacher is the person helping to fulfill this prophecy. By extension, we, as meditators in the Goenka tradition are part of this prophecy. Such a notion can be intoxicating to believe in. It makes one fully believe in the tradition, in Goenka and in this one approach to meditation. Because of that it feels to be a dangerous philosophy to include.

Death is one of life’s great unknowns, and thus finding answers to it has been one of the central missions of many religious and spiritual organizations. There are numerous theories on what happens after we pass, but all of them are just that; theories. Many of these theories contradict; i.e. if one sect believes in heaven, they will not believe in reincarnation. There is real appeal in joining a tradition that seems to have the answers to life’s great questions. Steering clear of dogma and sectarianism would also mean steering clear of providing answers to unanswerable questions and pushing them as universal truth.

While I am on the subject of reincarnation, I must admit there feels to be an intellectual contradiction here with the idea of Annata. If there is no soul, there is no you, we are just massive constantly changing bubbles, then what part of “us” gets reincarnated?

A few others
This post has already become lengthy so I will not elaborate more on other concepts, although I do believe there are many more that deserve public discourse, for example Karma, Deva’s, 37 planes of existence and Celestial beings. None of them feel to be rooted in universal truths to me personally.

I’d like to address a few predictable responses that this post may illicit. I predict for some, the concepts above may be deeply held beliefs, and people will respond with their importance for meditation. Or people may demonstrate why these concepts should be kept in the tradition.

In response, I’d like to emphasize that I am not saying we need to remove these concepts from the tradition. In this post I am simply attempting to highlight why these concepts are, in my view, sectarian concepts. That doesn’t mean they aren’t important or that they should be removed, just that they are in tension (in my opinion) with ideas of universality.

Secondly I expect some to try to show why these concepts are true and why they believe in these concepts. Here, I’d like to say I can’t claim to know for sure that these concepts aren’t in existence. There is no way for me to possibly know that. Any individual can and should believe anything they want. The issue for me is not with individual beliefs, but rather organizational ones.

The final response I expect is that I should treat these objects like black stones and still take what I can from the positive aspects of the tradition. I wrote a whole post on this response here. Here, I will say it is not about how I personally navigate this, but the deeper question of are we misleading meditators by telling them we are universal? This to me is the central question that I am hoping to explore.

3 thoughts on “Outside the Circle of Universality: Part 2

  1. Tejas

    The path is universal….not the tradition……
    When did goenkaji say that this is only path to enlightenment
    You are using your own ‘not understanding ‘ the whole thing and sticking it to the organization and goenkaji and the ATs…..
    What you are posting is your inadequacy of understanding the path n you are using it to say in a subtle way how they are presenting the path in a bad way…
    Change the name of the site from living vipassana to criticizing vipassana on grounds that I dont understand

  2. Dan K

    Hello Tejas!  

    Nice to hear from you again and as always, thank you for writing in with your thoughts. I’ll respond line by line here since your comment was short:  

    You say “The path is universal….not the tradition……” 

    That kind of sums up what I think this post is getting at.  The path is truly universal and anyone can benefit from this practice.  The tradition has elements (described in the last two posts) which feel to me to detour from that universality.  It is exactly this that I have been hoping to discuss.  

    You ask: “When did goenkaji say that this is only path to enlightenment?”

    I am not sure if you have sat a long course yet.  If you haven’t (or even if you have and may not have noticed) on day 1 Goenka says “you are here because you know this is the only path to enlightenment.”  

    You say “You are using your own ‘not understanding ‘ the whole thing and sticking it to the organization and goenkaji and the ATs…..” 

    I see this differently.  I don’t feel that I am  trying to stick anything to anyone, but rather be very open about the potholes I have fallen into during my time in this tradition.  It is more than OK if you don’t agree with some of my concerns about the organization.  Yet, considering we strive for humility, I think being humble enough to acknowledge the organization isn’t perfect is an important starting place.  From there, having honest, open, humble dialogue about what the areas for improvement are (even if we disagree) becomes imperative so that we can help pave the way for future students and ourselves.

    You say “you are using it to say in a subtle way how they are presenting the path in a bad way…”

    In line with the above answer, I wouldn’t say I am trying to say the path is bad.  Far from it, it is one of the things that I am most grateful for in my life.  Moreso, I am trying to openly discuss areas where I believe the tradition can improve.  Others may disagree with the areas that I believe to be blind spots.  That is OK!  I just hope we can all discuss these and other topics to create as helpful a tradition as possible for future (and current) generations.

    You recommend “Change the name of the site from living vipassana to criticizing vipassana on grounds that I dont understand”

    To be fair to Ryan, he started this blog back in 2013 or so.  The vast majority of the posts on here are his thoughts on trying to bring Vipassana into his daily life.  Only in the last three months have the posts more explicitly started focusing on areas of potential improvement for the tradition.  These conversations are happening in a few other venues, and we are hoping to make them more widespread and more open.  We likely will only post a few more that are within a questioning framework.

    I hope I have adequately addressed your comments. And, in the spirit of truly wanting to create a dialogue with a range of perspectives, I invite you to write a post of your own about Vipassana, and if it feels compassionate, Ryan will likely post it.  Thanks!

  3. Anonymous

    I agree on anatta and reincarnation. But still it is very confusing because if you read this story that Gautama was living at the time of the ancient Buddhas and one of them predicted that he will become a Buddha too, it is totally contradictory with the concept of anatta…
    What I understood is that only aggregates (sankaras) come back…

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