and the practices encouraged and fostered always require you move to the next step through a retreat or intensive course.
Alexander Berzin has this to say:
"Although participation in group recitation of monastic rituals involves meditation, most Tibetan monks and nuns have additional daily practices which they do on their own. Their private practices usually include chanting and performing further tantric rituals, and for some, sitting in silent meditation. Similarly, Tibetan lay practitioners also meditate on their own. Traditional Tibetan Buddhism does not employ the custom of silent group meditation, either with or without a leader. Consequently, when traditional Tibetan masters first come to the West and are asked to lead group meditations, many have no idea what Western students are talking about.
'Tibetans learn to meditate by having a teacher explain the instructions and then by practicing alone in their rooms. The teacher hardly ever meditates with the students, even at the beginning stages of the training. In contrast, most Westerners need someone to meditate with them at first, to help them overcome the confusion and barriers that may arise from engaging in a practice from a foreign culture. Thus, most Westerners inevitably begin to meditate in a group that is led by a teacher."
But if Western students continue with this guidance past the beginning stages, and do not learn how to meditate by themselves and, without the support of a teacher or group, Berzin warns of some potential pitfalls.
"In most cases, teachers lead meditation for benevolent purposes. However, since led meditation works by the power of suggestion, particularly when silent meditation is guided step by step, a teacher with a tendency toward abusing power may contribute to the overdepence. The abuse may take a gross, devious form if motivated by a self serving wish for control, such as when a teacher tries to manipulate disciples to worship the guru by including images of him or herself in the visualization. In extreme cases, the leader of a cult may even use led meditation to brainwash followers to commit mass suicide at an impending end of the world. In more subtle and benign cases of exploitation of power, a teahcer may sincerely wish to benefit disciples. Yet an unconscious drive to gain energy and fulfillment from helping others in an active, demonstrable way may underlie the persons overuse of guided meditation.
"There is no doubt that the directive energy of a charismatic teacher and a group dynamic may contribute to our gaining initial meditative exeperiences as novice practitioners...Spiritual development through meditation, however, needs to be self-sustaining. Once we gain a certain level of discipline and experience through group meditation led by a teacher, however, we need to strengthen that discpline and experience through solitary practice. Otherwise we risk becoming addicted to led meditation, as if it were a recreational drug.
'By being mindful of these points from the start, we may avoid the pitfalls of becoming overdependent on a teacher, or even on tape cassettes, for meditational practice.'
(Alexander Berzin, Relating to Spiritual Teacher
, Snow Lion Press, 2000, pages 187-189).
But..how can most students become 'mindful of these points from the start' unless a teacher tells them 'from the start'
that group instruction is strictly for early stage practice?
And unless told this at the beginning, how will novice Western students see progress as the ability to practice in a self directed way, rather than measuring their progress by how many blissful experiences they have in the presence of their charismatic teacher?
Think about it. How often, when we talk with spiritual types, have we ever heard someone say, 'At least I'm getting better at meditating in my room, rather than only being able to sit still when at the Dharma center.'
Its much more common to hear people say they are making progress because on So and So's retreat, they had a deeper silence than before. Most reports of progress we here about are linked to the guru or the group retreat experience, rather than in humbler terms of 'I'm better able to do it at home these days' or 'I got curious about my anger when in the car, instead of flipping the bird at the guy who cut me off.'
For the kind of advice Berzin gives is not at all normal in New Age circles. Most of the time we hear of friends who speak of constantly going off to lectures, retreats, or who are entralled by the guru's latest tape or DVD.
Very few will mention that they are being trained to do self conducted practice at home, and develop self reliance as practitioners.
And...how often do we hear about an outreach event entitled 'An Exciting Evening of Examining Buddhist Ethical Precepts'?
Most Dharma outreach emphasizes meditation and special experiences, with nothing said about the ethical context of Buddhadharma.
Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 10/18/2008 10:14PM by corboy.