Insight Meditation/Western Vipassana

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom
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Lazy_eye
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Insight Meditation/Western Vipassana

Postby Lazy_eye » Thu Oct 22, 2009 11:14 am

Hello:

Through the magic of audio downloads, I've been spending some quality time lately with insight meditation teachers, and am curious about where this movement fits in the overall scheme of things.

On the whole, what I'm hearing is worthwhile and reasonably consistent with canonical Buddhism, though there are some differences in emphasis -- obviously it's a more lay-oriented endeavor, there's little or no ritual, the tone is pretty ecumenical (with teachers occasionally borrowing from Vajrajana or Zen) and also less male-centered. Terms like "suppression" and "eradication" tend to be avoided with regard to craving, with the stress placed instead on noting and non-attachment.

At the same time, I see some effort being made to point students in the direction of liberation as an ultimate goal, or at least acknowledge that Buddhism is not just a self-help movement for busy professionals.

I'm sure all of this is pretty familiar to Dhammawheel members. How do you see it? As the real deal? The real deal adjusted to a Western setting? A watering down of the dhamma? Not dhamma at all?

I know Joseph Goldstein is highly regarded in these parts but are there other insight teachers who you would recommend? Which ones, in your view, are closest to the Buddha's dhamma as you understand and practice it, and which ones are less close?

Namaste,

LE

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Re: Insight Meditation/Western Vipassana

Postby PeterB » Thu Oct 22, 2009 1:04 pm

The last few decades have seen a host of the skillful means of various traditions lifted out of their context and treated as mere techniques to enhance a " lifestyle" It should come as no suprise that Vipassana should be treated the same way. The acme , the shibboleth, for me is whether any particular course or organisation features the Precepts and Sila. I would suggest a wide berth of any that do not. The inevitable result otherwise would be a severe imbalance in the psychological processes of those who attempt such a reductionist approach. Their situation is likely to be worse than that of those who do not attempt such a technique at all. They will leave this shore and flounder in mid stream indefinately.

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Re: Insight Meditation/Western Vipassana

Postby pink_trike » Thu Oct 22, 2009 6:36 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:I know Joseph Goldstein is highly regarded in these parts but are there other insight teachers who you would recommend? Which ones, in your view, are closest to the Buddha's dhamma as you understand and practice it, and which ones are less close?


It's important to factor in the concept of expedient means when looking at Insight Meditation. Joseph and Jack Kornfield start where Americans can hear and relate to them and the teachings. Judging a skillful teacher's methodology by an arbitrary ruler of dogma and tradition misses the point entirely. Theravada is big on "this is the exact way" and tends to undervalue expedient means but Jack and Joseph's target audience (Americans and Westerners) are unruly, naive, and nearly barbaric children playing obliviously in conflagration. Kudos to them for being sophisticated teachers that teach what the student needs in order to get one toe on the path.
Last edited by pink_trike on Sat Oct 24, 2009 5:11 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Insight Meditation/Western Vipassana

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Oct 22, 2009 7:57 pm

Hi Lazy_eye,

A lot of the "Insight" teachers (especially the American ones) teach essentially the style of Sayadaw Mahasi, U Pandita, etc, from Burma. That's what I practise, so I find them useful.

The non-monastic teachers that I listen to a lot are:

Joseph Goldstein: I find recent Goldstein to be fairly standard Theravada. He learned a lot from U Pandita since the early 80s and that's mostly what he communicates (very well), but with some interesting quotes from other traditions.

Steve Armstrong: He was a monk with U Pandita in Burma, and his talks are very much oriented to that meditation style.

Gil Fronsdal: Was also a monk in Burma. I find his talks useful in the way they relate to living a lay life. He's got a much "lighter" approach than the others I mention.

I've recently started listening to Jack Kornfield. He was one of the first western monks with Ajahn Chah, but returned to lay life in the early 70s. I didn't resonate with his earlier stuff on psychology, etc, but his recent talks at http://www.dharmaseed.org/teachers/ I have found very helpful. He draws a lot on the Bodhisattva idea, but I think argues it well as a skilful approach to lay life, rather than as a particularly Mahayana approach.

I also like Patrick Kearney (another former monk in Burma). But there is not a lot of his stuff on the Net, and he took the nice series of retreat talks off his web site...

Personally, I prefer to take my primary guidance from monastics. However, I also find it really useful to get perspectives on applying the principles to lay life.

Metta
Mike

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Re: Insight Meditation/Western Vipassana

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Oct 22, 2009 10:06 pm

Greetings,

In addition to the point above, re: sila, precepts, liberation... my approach would be to see how consistent their techniques are to the...

MN 10: Satipatthana Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Insight Meditation/Western Vipassana

Postby zavk » Thu Oct 22, 2009 11:01 pm

The Satipatthana Sutta is the one sutta that I've read closely (for a modern, clear analysis of the sutta I would suggest Ven Analayo's book). But I also read/listen to the teachings of teachers like Goldstein and the others mentioned above. Their approaches have helped me better appreciate the everyday implications of what I read in the suttas.

I wouldn't call their approaches 'watering down' as such. The fact that Dhamma has to be explicated in this manner is a sign that Buddhism is brushing up against the challenges of contemporary life. Buddhism must address the concerns that are relevant to modern folks, as it did for people in different cultures when it left India all those years ago.

These Western insight teachers are very skillful in doing this. I vaguely remember a similar discussion we had before... someone said--I think it was Pink--the approaches of these Western Vipassana teachers are only 'watered-down' in the sense that babies and those who are ill are fed soft, watery food. These types of food serve a purpose, there's nothing inherently 'flawed' about them.
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Insight Meditation/Western Vipassana

Postby PeterB » Fri Oct 23, 2009 10:20 am

I think that it very interesting that all the teachers cited have a strong and thorough knowledge of orthodox Theravada teachings. It is quite clear that Goldstein and Kornfield et al are imbued with that through and through. In conversation both of them refer frequently to Ajahn Chah in a way that leaves the listener in no doubt that they continue to see themselves as part of that tradition even though neither are currently in the robe.

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Re: Insight Meditation/Western Vipassana

Postby Lazy_eye » Fri Oct 23, 2009 11:42 am

PeterB wrote:I think that it very interesting that all the teachers cited have a strong and thorough knowledge of orthodox Theravada teachings.


Yes, this is important to me. Otherwise I wouldn't feel they had any business setting up shop as "Buddhist" teachers, even if they had interesting ideas. It's a truth-in-advertising sort of thing.

Anyway, thank you all for the information and feedback -- I'm just trying to sense the lay of the land and perhaps pick up some recommendations. I listen mostly to Goldstein and Tara Brach (she teaches near where I live) and really like what they're doing -- haven't checked out Kornfield yet. Mike, I'll look into Armstrong, Fronsdal and Kearney...appreciate the tips.

Namaste,
LE

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Re: Insight Meditation/Western Vipassana

Postby jcsuperstar » Fri Oct 23, 2009 5:56 pm

i think it's interesting that many of our western lay meditation teachers come from training in burmese traditions, as burma has a mass lay meditation movement.
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the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat

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Re: Insight Meditation/Western Vipassana

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Oct 23, 2009 6:38 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Anyway, thank you all for the information and feedback -- I'm just trying to sense the lay of the land and perhaps pick up some recommendations. I listen mostly to Goldstein and Tara Brach (she teaches near where I live) and really like what they're doing -- haven't checked out Kornfield yet. Mike, I'll look into Armstrong, Fronsdal and Kearney...appreciate the tips.

I'm sure there are other good ones, but as I said, I listen to those that have a particularly relevent approach. I have listened a little to Tara because a lay teacher on a retreat I went on recently mentioned her.

One of the interesting things I realised listening to Kornfield is how he doesn't make a lot of his background unless it's really relevant to the discussion. In one talk he mentioned Ajahn Sumedho. I believe Sumedho was Ajahn Chah's first western student, and Kornfield wasn't far behind, but when he mentioned Sumedho, quoted him, and mentioned Sumedo being Chah's student, it didn't seem to occur to him to boast along the lines of: "Sumedho and me go way back...". Which surprised me at first, but it really wasn't relevant, so he didn't say it.

I see Kearney has some new talks on http://dharmasalon.net/

Of course, I listen to monastic teachers as well. Ajahn Chah's western students are linked at: http://www.dhammatalks.org.uk/ for example. And there are a number here:
http://www.audiodharma.org/talks-monastics.html
http://www.dharmaseed.org/teachers/

Metta
Mike




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Re: Insight Meditation/Western Vipassana

Postby christopher::: » Sat Oct 24, 2009 5:09 am

For anyone interested, this week I've really enjoyed hearing a two part dhamma talk Joseph Goldstein did in 2007, where he described his journey over time. Was really surprised to hear him say he frequently had "temper tantrums" that created great distress for others, as a kid...

:tongue:

Joseph Goldstein's Dhamma Story
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009

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Re: Insight Meditation/Western Vipassana

Postby PeterB » Sat Oct 24, 2009 9:57 am

Why suprised Chris ?

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Re: Insight Meditation/Western Vipassana

Postby christopher::: » Sat Oct 24, 2009 10:29 am

PeterB wrote:Why suprised Chris ?


He's sooooooo mellow now....

:tongue:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009


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