teaching styles

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teaching styles

Postby PeterB » Mon Jan 10, 2011 4:28 pm

I would request politely that answers come only from members who have attended Buddhist retreats , including two day introduction retreats.

When attending retreats has it been your experience that the style of the instructors made a difference to the quality of your retreat ? If they were warm, cool, " spiritual " business like. Did it make a difference to you ?
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Re: teaching styles

Postby householder » Mon Jan 10, 2011 7:35 pm

PeterB wrote:I would request politely that answers come only from members who have attended Buddhist retreats , including two day introduction retreats.

When attending retreats has it been your experience that the style of the instructors made a difference to the quality of your retreat ? If they were warm, cool, " spiritual " business like. Did it make a difference to you ?


My first 10 day retreat was taught by Ven. Antonio Satta - http://www.venantonio.com/

I have no frame of comparison as my next retreat is not until April.

Ven. Satta is a curious mix because he is a Mahayana (Tibetan) monk who teaches Mahasi-style meditation around the world.

With hindsight, the retreat was a mix of Mahasi-style instruction and practice but with Mahayana devotionals, including daily recitation of the Heart Sutra. We also ate 3 meals per day and kept the Noble Silence. Ven. Antonio touched extremely briefly on Mahamudra, but only to the extent that it was made abundantly clear that an exceptionally large amount of preparation and purification is required before one actually practises it.

The monastery, very close to KTM, is beautiful and very well-serviced, a short walk to Boudhanath Stupa. I feel this immersion certainly helped enthuse me.

Each evening Ven. Antonio gave a dhamma talk, which was based on the instructions given for the days practice. They were well-timed, as they dealt with matters both practical and dhammic that arose during the course of the retreat, and built on the previous day's dhamma talk.

The discipline was rigorous and several people dropped out as the retreat progressed. Ven Satta is very strict and professional when it comes to the meditation practice. For example, I had a flash of insight during walking meditation (which I can't describe in words) which I got excited by, clung to and was so enthused that I broke my meditation, found Ven. Satta who was nearby and excitedly gabbled (in a whisper) of what had just happened. He told me quite assertively that I was clinging, to note it but not to dwell on what had just happened and return to the practice and his instructions.

Due to the large number of retreatants (around 60), the interviews were short, between sessions. During the interview I focused solely on my progress, obstacles that arose and practical advice for readjusting post meditation and ways to continue the practice. He gave down-to-earth advice that was most certainly suited to my particular questions and circumstances.

In all, I'd say that for my first retreat it definitely set me in the right direction. I verified for myself the benefits of vipassana. I discarded the Alan Watts/Hardcore Dhamma/self-proclaimed materials I had previously been referring to (and as Ven. Antonio pointed out, gave me a lot to unlearn and let go of, as I'd built up my own conception of a framework in which I was expecting to measure my practice and progress by) and focused on (at the time) Mahayana, though various events conduced to inclining me to practise and study in the Theravada tradition. That I am considering ordination, directly influenced by the retreat and my subsequent practice, is testament to the start and benefit this retreat has given me.

What I will say, however, is that for practising Theravadins on this board, the Mahayana elements of the retreat will most certainly be a turn-off. Alternatively it could be beneficial exposure to some of the Mahyana thought, particularly sunyata. Then, I didn't understand anything. I still don't, but I now have a better understanding of what and how much I don't understand. For a complete novice to Buddhism, meditation and vipassana, however, I highly recommend it.
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Re: teaching styles

Postby PeterB » Mon Jan 10, 2011 7:44 pm

So was "strict and professional" what you needed at that time householder ?
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Re: teaching styles

Postby householder » Mon Jan 10, 2011 7:47 pm

PeterB wrote:So was "strict and professional" what you needed at that time householder ?


Yes, as a complete beginner who fancied himself a bit after reading Daniel Ingram (serious mistake due to it building expectations etc.) and the like, I was being guided by everyone else rather than finding out for myself and focusing on what the Buddha actually said and taught. I still need that I feel - I tend to learn better when I realise my own mistakes or they are clearly pointed out to me without lots of padding, preamble or meta-language. I tend to work out my own solutions then feel the need to run it past someone for reassurance/verification. Sometimes this is appropriate, sometimes not. My worry is that on retreat if I don't have bad habits and mistakes identified and rectified early on then I'll be spending ages on a tangent that is not in accordance with instruction. Once I've got it worked out and have got into the momentum of a routine/discipline, I can then practice on my own.

Summary = I benefit from a style that includes early and frequent, then occasional, kicks up the backside.
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Re: teaching styles

Postby PeterB » Mon Jan 10, 2011 8:33 pm

Interesting householder...thank you.
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Re: teaching styles

Postby Goofaholix » Mon Jan 10, 2011 8:38 pm

PeterB wrote:I would request politely that answers come only from members who have attended Buddhist retreats , including two day introduction retreats.

When attending retreats has it been your experience that the style of the instructors made a difference to the quality of your retreat ? If they were warm, cool, " spiritual " business like. Did it make a difference to you ?


I've attended a lot of retreats in different teaching streams both in SE Asia and the West. I haven't found the style of the teacher has made much difference to me as it's more about what I'm working on and my state of mind at the time. If I haven't felt much of a connection with the teacher I've been able to draw on what I've learned in the past, if I have then I integrate that with what I've learned in the past.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: teaching styles

Postby PeterB » Mon Jan 10, 2011 8:42 pm

Thats been my experience too Goofaholix.
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Re: teaching styles

Postby householder » Mon Jan 10, 2011 8:47 pm

I like what you've written Goofaholix. Given I've only been on one retreat, I may well find on my next few retreats that I connect with a teacher with a different style. If it progresses my practice, then that's what matters, is it not?
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Re: teaching styles

Postby Goofaholix » Mon Jan 10, 2011 9:02 pm

householder wrote:I like what you've written Goofaholix. Given I've only been on one retreat, I may well find on my next few retreats that I connect with a teacher with a different style. If it progresses my practice, then that's what matters, is it not?


Absolutely, I think it's good to experience different teachers and styles then you ae less likely to get attached to one teacher or one style, you are more likely to be self sufficient and able to learn no matter the circumstances. Then if later you are lucky enough to find a teacher you want to be with long term your relationship won't be defined by attachment or dependancy.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: teaching styles

Postby householder » Mon Jan 10, 2011 10:23 pm

Goofaholix wrote:
householder wrote:I like what you've written Goofaholix. Given I've only been on one retreat, I may well find on my next few retreats that I connect with a teacher with a different style. If it progresses my practice, then that's what matters, is it not?


Absolutely, I think it's good to experience different teachers and styles then you ae less likely to get attached to one teacher or one style, you are more likely to be self sufficient and able to learn no matter the circumstances. Then if later you are lucky enough to find a teacher you want to be with long term your relationship won't be defined by attachment or dependancy.


At this very early stage, with just one retreat, self-taught practice and quite a bit of dilution due to information overload and lack of understanding, I don't have the discipline or experience to draw upon previous learning, hence my current view that a strict/professional teacher is quite important. But then, this view is perhaps wrong. I may well hold a different view after my next retreat.
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Re: teaching styles

Postby Ben » Tue Jan 11, 2011 12:05 am

Hi Peter

I've practiced exclusively under the guidance of SN Goenka since 1985, so I'm not sure whether my observations will be of as much value to you than from someone who has practiced under the guidance of a number of teachers. My only other experience with non-goenka meditation was from attending a pan-tradition workshop at Chenrezig Inst. in Queensland nearly 25 years ago and non-Buddhist meditation as part of Aikido which I did over 25 years ago. Neither experience I would consider as serious.

As you know, the (introductory) ten-day courses have a strict code of conduct which I think benefited me greatly in developing a depth of practice as well as self-discipline in being able to maintain my practice in day-to-day life following the retreat. Goenka's teaching style of giving instruction at different times of the day as well as 'checking' practitioner's progress at regular intervals I think is excellent for new students and those struggling to get established in the practice. I think also the discourses where he throws humour into the mix is also good for the same reason. After a long day of silent meditation the mix of humour and Dhamma is a good combination to get people to relax but still be engaged.

The teaching style of the old-student-only courses and particularly the long courses is a little different. There is less of a hands-on approach by the teacher/assistant teacher and students are encouraged to work out their problems on their own (when appropriate) and only seek an audience with the teacher when its absolutely necessary. Goenka also encourages long course participants to be as independent as possible and to use their own judgement when it comes down to many things from what technique they use (dependent on their experiences) to how long they spend on breaks; "You are your own master now, you work it out!" The general tenor of the courses is much more serious than the ten-day course. Participants are reminded to 'work!' and to maintain focus on the meditation object for as long and as continuously as possible (24/7). Except for deep-sleep, one's awareness and sampajjana should be maintained continuously! Students are also given a meditation cell to work in so as to maintain intensive practice. Mind you, students who have completed a long-course are given a cell when they attend ten-day courses (if the centre has them).
The evening video discourse is replaced with an audio tape. Participants continue to meditate through the discourse and the content is on technical aspects of the Dhamma with the odd cautionary or explanatory tale taken from the suttas or commentarial literature.
The exception to the rule is that the Teacher's Self Course (where the teacher does a self-course and invites students to practice with him), there is no instruction and no discourses and one meditates exclusively in one's cell (no group sits). I did my TSC (15-day) with Goenka 20 years ago in Dhammagiri in India. It was an amazing experience.

Ben
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Re: teaching styles

Postby Modus.Ponens » Tue Jan 11, 2011 12:21 am

Hello Ben :)

This is off topic, but could you create a new thread telling how was your experience in Burma, including the pilgrimage?

Metta
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Re: teaching styles

Postby Ben » Tue Jan 11, 2011 12:26 am

Hi MP,

Modus.Ponens wrote:Hello Ben :)

This is off topic, but could you create a new thread telling how was your experience in Burma, including the pilgrimage?

Metta


I would love to. Its going to take a little time and the camera where I have in excess of 300 photos - I left at home and I won't be back home until Friday night (now living on-site at work).
It was one of the most extraordinary and profound times of my life. But I am glad to be back.
with metta

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Re: teaching styles

Postby zavk » Tue Jan 11, 2011 12:29 am

Yes, of course Peter. As I've shared in the other thread on the IMS, going from a background of a few years of Goenka practice (and having only attended Goenka courses) to a stay at a Forest Hermitage quite radically changed the way I approach my practice--not just towards formal meditation but my approach towards the Dhamma in general. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with Goenka's approach. As I have suggested in that thread it is a thoughtful approach which can be very effective for some. If anything, the problem lies with me. I have a tendency to get caught up in projections of time and hence, expectations. Goenka's approach was very helpful when I was starting out because, well, I needed the discipline of a strict timetable to establish myself in the Dhamma. If not for Goenka's courses it would've been hard for me to truly understand the importance of viriya.

At the hermitage, however, I wouldn't even call the abbot an instructor as such. He didn't 'instruct' me on anything. He was really there as a kind of supporting presence, as someone I could turn to for a listening ear should I need to speak to anyone whilst I spend time in solitude, exploring the Dhamma on my own terms in a secluded, natural environment. If anything, I learned from him not so much through 'instructions' but by observing his conduct. If he 'instructed' or 'taught', it was by example--by his behaviour, his presence more than anything else.

(Welcome home Ben! :hello: )
Last edited by zavk on Tue Jan 11, 2011 12:30 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: teaching styles

Postby Goofaholix » Tue Jan 11, 2011 12:30 am

Ben wrote:Goenka's teaching style of giving instruction at different times of the day as well as 'checking' practitioner's progress at regular intervals I think is excellent for new students and those struggling to get established in the practice.
...
The teaching style of the old-student-only courses and particularly the long courses is a little different. There is less of a hands-on approach by the teacher/assistant teacher and students are encouraged to work out their problems on their own (when appropriate) and only seek an audience with the teacher when its absolutely necessary.


Actually the Goenka retreat is by far the most hands off format I've experienced, I think you're showing your lack of experience of other retreat styles here ;)

The 'checking' of student progress constitutes every few days by asking the student in a manner requiring a simple yes or no answer things like "can you feel the breath at the tip of the nostrils", of course there are opportunities to go and see the teacher if you have problems but this isn't compulsory. On Goenka style retreats I've felt much more on my own, which is ok with me.

By contrast in Mahasi style you have compulsory face to face interviews with the teacher each day or few days where you are expected to describe in detail your experience and ask questions. Or if westerners with western teachers I think these interviews quite often turn into counselling sessions, or asking questions about life the universe and everything.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: teaching styles

Postby Ben » Tue Jan 11, 2011 12:44 am

Goofaholix wrote:Actually the Goenka retreat is by far the most hands off format I've experienced, I think you're showing your lack of experience of other retreat styles here ;)

I thought I made that abundantly clear by the first line in my post...
I've practiced exclusively under the guidance of SN Goenka since 1985, so I'm not sure whether my observations will be of as much value to you than from someone who has practiced under the guidance of a number of teachers.


My observations were in relation to the teaching style of SN Goenka's 10-day courses and comparing that with the teaching style of his long courses.
"One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs."

- Heraclitus


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Re: teaching styles

Postby Ben » Tue Jan 11, 2011 12:48 am

zavk wrote:(Welcome home Ben! :hello: )


Thanks Ed!
Its great to see you here! Great to be back!
"One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs."

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Re: teaching styles

Postby PeterB » Tue Jan 11, 2011 5:56 am

Modus.Ponens wrote:Hello Ben :)

This is off topic, but could you create a new thread telling how was your experience in Burma, including the pilgrimage?

Metta

Seconded,,,but in your own time Ben... :smile:

:anjali:
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