I never have any idea what might come up when I enter a meditation retreat. It’s part of the form of Insight meditation that I practice – be open to and just notice whatever arises.
I spent many days on my 16 day retreat hanging out with the great hindrance of doubt. Is that a sign of my failed practice, or just something to investigate thoroughly along my path?
Beaming lots of metta to all beings ~ Dawn
Transcript below the fold.
Hi friends, it’s Dawn with Buddhist Peace Fellowship. I’m just back from a meditation retreat this week. I spent 16 nights at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, north of San Francisco. Half the retreat was on metta or lovingkindness, the other half was a traditional Insight or Vipassana retreat.
I got to sit with two of my favorite teachers I sit with at East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland – Anushka and Spring Washam. I also got to meet new teachers like Sharda Rogell, Sally Armstrong, James Baraz, Kamala Masters, Steve Armstrong, and the incomparable Joseph Goldstein.
My retreat was filled with two strong but opposing feelings. I experienced such deep love and gratitude for the teachings of the Buddha that have been passed down, generation after generation for 2600 years.
Yet I also was wracked with incredibly powerful doubt. Is this Insight tradition I have studied in for many years too focused on wisdom over compassion? Too interested in individual enlightenment over ending the suffering of all beings? Are we spending too much time in silence on retreat instead of being engaged in the world?
I sat with these big questions – Is Insight practice right for me? Is Buddhism right for me? Is it possible to work at a place like Buddhist Peace Fellowship if I have this much doubt about the path?
I spent many mornings sobbing in Spirit Rock’s gratitude hut, staring at the pictures of great teachers from many lineages of Buddhism. Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s serene face beamed endless compassion. Tenzin Palmo, the nun who spent 12 years in a cave and has since come out to start Tibetan Buddhist nunneries, smiled brightly as if to say, “You are doing great! Just keep at it!”
Keep at doubt? Shouldn’t I be working to make this path, so I can return to the world with deep faith and zeal for my practice, for Buddhism, for my work at Buddhist Peace Fellowship?
[Grabs text, In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon, edited and introduced by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi]
As I cried, I remembered a story in the suttas where the Buddha went to speak to people called the Kalamas of Kesaputta. They had heard of the Buddha and his teachings, but he certainly wasn’t the first guy who had come through town to say, “Hey, this is the way! This is how to do things!” So they wanted to know, “How do we know your teachings are the true ones, and these other guys don’t know what they are talking about?”
So the Buddha says, “It is fitting for you to be perplexed, O Kalamas, it is fitting for you to be in doubt. Doubt has arisen in you about a perplexing matter. Come, Kalamas. Do not go by oral tradition, by lineage of teaching, by hearsay, by a collection of texts, by logic, by inferential reasoning, by reasoned cogitation, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seeming competence of a speaker, or because you think, ‘The ascetic is our teacher.’ But when you know for yourselves, ‘These things are unwholesome; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; these things, if undertaken and practiced, lead to harm and suffering,’ then you should abandon them.”
And he also says, “But when you know for yourselves, ‘These things are wholesome; these things are blameless; these things are praised by the wise; these things, if undertaken and practiced, lead to welfare and happiness,’ then you should engage in them.”
A dharma friend reminded me this morning of a pithy saying from the Zen tradition. They say, “Little doubt, little enlightenment. Great doubt, great enlightenment.”
So for today, my practice if learning how to hang out with great doubt as it arises in this body, mind, and heart. To stay present with the experience rather than ignoring or pushing it away. So if you are out there struggling with small or large doubt in your life, your practice, your path – know that you are not alone. And you are doing great! Just keep at it.
Take care of yourselves!