Tag Archives: sangha

A sangha of two

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Note to self: When going on retreat, drop all expectations about what you think or want to happen on that retreat because no matter what you want or expect, you’re going to get something completely different.

A little over a month ago, I went on a ten-day retreat at Spirit Rock focusing on concentration practice.  Ever since I had my surprising and wonderful samadhi experience at the my last retreat in December, I’ve been quite interested in concentration/samadhi and, as one teacher called them, the spiritual goodies that come with a highly concentrated mind.  The focus of my practice for the last four months had been concentration (vs vipassana/mindfulness) in anticipation of this retreat.  I was approaching my practice with almost an athletic vigor (as athletic as you can be sitting on your ass and focusing on your breath).  My motto going into the retreat was “jhana or bust”.   (Who me? Striving?)

I got to the retreat shortly after registration opened so that I could get my pick of “yogi jobs” (a daily chore either in the dining hall or general housekeeping) and find a good seat in the meditation hall. At my last retreat, after being assaulted from behind by a serial cougher, I found myself  moving my seat to the very back of the room against the wall. There I was safe from anyone stabbing me in the back with their germs. Call me misanthropic, but I found the relative seclusion quite comforting and safe.  So, this time I immediately looked for a suitable space in the very back of the room. I found one nestled between a credenza and a pile of cushions. Yes, this will do nicely.  So, I grabbed a zabuton, a zafu and a couple of knee cushions and secured my space. This would be my meditative home for the next nine days.

By the second day the wall of cushions had been dismantled by the other yogis in this sold out retreat. My left flank was wide open. You can guess what happened next.  I’m not the only one who has the impulse to move away from the herd, so soon I had a neighbor.

For most of the retreat, in my mind (it was a silent retreat, after all), I called my neighbor Mike. I don’t know why. To me, he  looked like a Mike. He wasn’t a bad looking fellow, but his face looked etched with sadness or worry. And while after a day or two of retreat, most of us do appear a bit grim, Mike seemed pained and lost.  Of course, I say this in retrospect. At the time I didn’t see his pain, I just saw him as a pain in the ass.

To say Mike was a tad restless is like saying Glenn Beck is a tad crazy. While it takes most everyone a minute or two to settle into their meditation posture at the beginning of a sit, Mike’s preparation took much longer.  Of course, that could have to do with selecting among, and placing his vast collection of meditation props:

a kneeling bench
two zafus
two gomdens
two knee pillows
two meditation shawls
two chairs
three zabutons
four specialty pillows from home
an extra pair of socks
a wad of dirty tissue

When Mike initially moved into my space I found his shenanigans really annoying. In fact, even outside the meditation hall, I found reasons to be annoyed with him. I found fault with how he moved about on the trails outside, and the amount of food he put on his plate and the speed with which he ate it. At one point I saw him with a bag of groceries, and I even found his choice of food and beverages annoying.  I was developing my first VV – Vipassana Vendetta – a common retreat phenomenon whereby you project a whole awful story upon a fellow yogi whom you find unpleasant. My retreat journal, rather than filled with insights or ruminations about the dharma, was filled with complaints – nay, rants – about Mike and his noisy-ass self.

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Relying upon refuge

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“I . . . go for refuge to Buddha, dharma and sangha.”

With  everything that has been going on at some of our local centers, and in the upper echelons of our tradition, I am not that only one who has been questioning the status quo in the NKT.  Ours is perhaps one of the most controversial Buddhist groups due to Geshe-la’s open opposition to the Dalai Lama back in 90’s regarding the Dorje Shudgden controversy.  And there are also many other allegations, rumors, and possible lies are floating around the internet.  After a while you learn to tune them out and trust your own experience.

My own experience tells me that the NKT is a human institution.  And while the goal may be noble, it is run by people who are filled with delusions, like any other human institution. Monks and nuns whom we admire, some of whom we love as teachers, and are held out as living examples of moral discipline, can fall from grace and disrobe, often leaving in their trail devastated and confused students.  There are rules, roles and by-laws that are made and changed on a regular basis – not unlike the constant re-organization that goes on in a corporate environment.   At some centers (can’t speak for all) there is an unspoken division between those who are committed to the NKT and others who are not.  Sometimes  it can feel like high school with the cliques of the “in” kids who look on with pity (disguising itself as compassion) at those on the outside.  Even though we may all be striving for Buddhahood, it’s evident we’ve got a loooooong ways to go.

Lately, things have gotten hairy enough that it has caused me to question my reliance upon my spiritual guide, Geshe-la.  Normally, in my mind, he has been shielded from all the mistakes that are made in his name.  I know we’re supposed to have pure view, but that doesn’t mean we put on blinders.  

Part of the problem is my relationship with my own teacher.  Communication has broken down and the heart connection has been severely damaged.   I have stepped away to protect my own mind from what seemed like immenient implosion.  We still communicate.  I still help in areas where I can.  But, right now it feels like we’re on either side of a chain link fence – we can see each, talk to each other, but there is a protective distance.  Maybe at some point we can take down the fence, or maybe not.  It’s hard not having a teacher you can trust.  Yet, in some way it is a blessing in that I have to figure out what is right for me. 

When I meditate on all this, I always come back to refuge.  Neither Buddha nor dharma have let me down.  And while individuals may have let me down, I would also say that sangha hasn’t let me down either.  So, amidst all this turmoil, it is to the three jewel that I go for refuge, and find some peace.