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« All that is conditioned is impermanent »
(French version: plus.google.com/+DharmaHouseFrance/posts/55WRfgxuzPf)

Dharma.house is no longer able to operate in its current form. When the causes disappear, the consequences disappear…

It seems that too many people are content reading an article or two about meditation, and then talking about it without ever actually practicing (let alone deepening the practice). The collaboration with the magazine Regard Bouddhiste did not help, when it is fashionable to judge "too complicated" any article a little more detailed than superficial recipes for well-being or pretty photos. The anti-sectarian posture did not help, at a time when only caricatures and certainties reassure, when people seek "Zen retreat" or "Tibetan Buddhism" without really knowing what one or the other , and when what attracts are celebrities rather than content… Every person who came left satisfied, both about the material conditions and the content, but too few came to keep Dharma.house running any longer; too many people showed interest but eventually decided they would come "later". It is now too late.

The following retreats are canceled (and their French versions):
Zen and martial arts ... or how to go beyond fear?
26th–27th August 2017
Peaceful Relationships
25th–26th November 2017
Zen Retreat (bilingual)
26th–30th December 2017
Developing mindfulness in everyday life
20th–21st January 2018


The project (helping our fellow sentient beings to appreciate the life they are given, not to suffer unnecessarily, to overcome conflicts…) underlying Dharma.house is not dead; but it will be necessary to find another form, another place, other methods.

Individual guidance for 'direct' students, remotely (video calls, emails ...) or on site, is maintained.

Individual visits / retreats are still possible, for a few months.
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In large public settings, it is responsible to have first aiders, AED defibrillators, etc. You don't know "who" might have an emergency, but you know it's likely "someone" will.

Any teaching taken out of context, repeated in loop by ignorant parrots, can be dangerous… The Buddha's words have been used e.g. to attack an ethnic and religious minority in Myanmar, or e.g. to minimise the guilt of Japanese soldiers during WWII (« there's no self, there's no being truly being killed »)… The words of an experienced and sensitive teacher can become an insensitive, insensible hammer when quoted and yielded by less qualified, less awakened repeaters.

Retreats in the Goenka traditions are based on the traditional teachings of the spiritual leader Goenka, who died in 2013. His daily lessons have been videotaped and are played nightly for meditators at retreats. So there is no "main teacher" on site. Volunteer "assistant teachers" are supposed to guide meditators, but their qualifications are unclear (read: usually none, the only requirement is that they have attended at least one previous meditation course). There is generally one "lead" assistant teacher who is supposed to be trained… if you're lucky… but that doesn't even mean (s)he will speak your language well enough to understand, let alone discuss, a subtle change of mindset (which might later snowball into devastating madness).

By now, I've heard of enough cases of psychosis (including one of my friends), heard of enough bad advice given, heard of enough ludicrous assertions (the Buddha only taught the (mahā)satipatṭhāna sutta, really?), and met enough people who needed serious post-retreat psychological help, in order not to recommend the vipassana retreat in the Goenka tradition. And yes, I know of some people who got a lot from these retreats, and who will sound like enthusiastic supporters, good for them, but « it went well for me, therefore it should go well for you too » is very flawed and self-centred logic!

And this is not because I doubt of Goenka's attainments, but because of the way the teachings are now spread, without a qualified and experienced meditator to help people go through the difficulties that may arise. This is irresponsible, in my view: it's too easy to wash one's hands and say it's the problem of the meditator going crazy. Blaming the victim and denial of personal responsibility go against "right effort".

In large public settings, it is responsible to have first aiders, AED defibrillators, etc. You don't know "who" might have an emergency, but you know it's likely "someone" will.
In the same way, if you run meditation retreats, you ought to be trained enough in psychology (ideally both Western and Eastern versions) and in meditation techniques to cope with the inevitable troubles that "someone" will experience. You also ought to run retreats in languages you're truly fluent in.
No teacher is perfect, no one makes no mistake, but "right effort" certainly calls for refraining from complacency or negligence… Running retreats without sufficient proficiency in the side-effects of what you prescribe is negligence.

Passing information (by playing tapes) is not the same as understanding, which itself is not the same as manifesting wise appropriateness…
One has to remember that the student's circumstances dictate what's appropriate, the teacher's preferences don't (one of the founding principles at +Dharma.house)!

If you don't experiment with powerful medication (without the supervision of some doctor, who knows more than his own health history), then don't experiment with powerful mental techniques (without supervision of some qualified practitioner, who knows more than just his own spiritual history)!

#Buddhism #meditation
ANOTHER MEDITATION RELATED SUICIDE
As we have discussed before meditation [sometimes] has a darkside, and while such tragic outcomes are rare, there is a growing body of research that highlights the dark side of intense meditation.

Vogt wasn't the first to die by suicide after a meditation retreat, according to experts who are aware of other cases. And she wasn't the first to go into psychosis or experience serious mental issues after taking a a course of intense meditation.

http://www.pennlive.com/news/2017/06/york_county_suicide_megan_vogt.html
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Zen and martial arts… or how to go beyond fear?
August 26th–27th, 2017 CANCELLED
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Ère de l'information : derniers jours du Dharma ?

Slightly dramatic title, as I was asked to write in a more "journalistic" style… You know: not too difficult to read, avoid serious references, avoid any requirement to think by oneself, attention-grabbing headlines, click baits, etc.

Anyway! This piece is in the « Ère de l'information » section of the #23 (july–august 2017) issue of the first francophone magazine inspired by Buddhism and its philosophy of life, www.regardbouddhiste.com

The next retreat in French at +Dharma.house is « Zen et arts martiaux… ou comment dépasser ses peurs ? » (23–24 septembre), http://fr.dharma.house/retreats/retreat16.htm

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As 2016 comes to a close, it seems the need to promote kindness, openness, inclusiveness is as strong as ever. Reform is urgently needed and, while destruction is easy, ‘building’ and ‘amending’ are what requires courage, patience and “impressing through quiet dedication” (as the Queen of England would say).

In 2017, Dharma.house will start with the same retreat twice, run in French then in English (http://en.dharma.house/retreats/retreat9.htm), to support anyone having a “new year resolution” around meditation: to avoid the usual fate reserved to such resolutions, put all the odds on your side and ensure a promising start to your practice! Alternatively, if you know of people who are interested in exploring meditation, please let them know that we can help ensuring a good start.

In March, we'll run a women-only retreat (http://en.dharma.house/retreats/retreat11.htm), on how to free oneself from the pressure of expectations (notably gender-based expectations); this should be interesting! The rest of 2017 is not formalised just yet, but the ideas in the pipeline are around supporting people beyond the ‘initiation’ step.

Subscribe to our newsletter at http://secret.dharma.house/newsletters/

With mettā (benevolence),
Denis
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Samaññaphala sutta (DN 2)… or why some monks definitely motivate me to keep +Dharma.house both non-sectarian and lay!

Recently a monk wrote about the 5, 8 and 10 precepts… and telling people to "feel free to share". I hope not too many people will do so.

After listing them, and making explicit the differences between the three lists of precepts, he started his conclusion with something that made some sense, but was nonetheless seriously tainted:
« We could say that one can be defined [as a lay buddhist, a serious buddhist or a novice monk] by the rules they follow. So it is important [for monks] to not use money. If you do, you are only [sic] following the rules of a serious Buddhist lay person. There is only one rule that separates the serious lay practitioner and the novice monk and that is using money. »
This is heavily tainted by conceit, with the view that monks are automatically 'superior' to serious lay people, regardless of the facts that one doesn't 'attain' anything automatically by becoming a monk, and that lay people who support the monks may well be stream-enterers, once-returners or non-returners who generously offer their support for others to indeed attain the same, in a supportive environment… Typical self-serving institutional fallacy! It takes monasticism to believe that being a monk with no attainment is somehow better than being a lay non-returner, it also takes dismissing (not appreciating) the support received from lay people or taking it for granted / due.

Righteousness is a hindrance, so I'd call on people not to fall into righteous beliefs about who's a (self-proclaimed) "serious" buddhist and who's not. Precepts are a guidance for oneself, never to judge others (of who we don't know the karma, in particular as long as we're not free from biases, i.e. as long as we're not buddhas). The following is therefore the wrong attitude, even when applied to oneself since it presents the holy life as a competition of righteousness:
« However, if you eat after NOON, you are no longer even following the rules of a Serious Buddhist Lay Person. You are just [sic!] following the rules of a regular “run of the mill” Buddhist Lay person. »
Sure, the Buddha used such "run of the mill" expressions, but taking them out of context is what's ignorant here. What's an expedient means in relation to an audience of monastics is not to be spread to an audience of "general public" as a generic, contextless truth!

« The Buddha said, “In the same way, Rahula, when anyone feels no shame in telling a deliberate lie, there is no evil, I tell you, he will not do.” (MN 61). Therefore, although breaking both eating and money rules are bad, we can say that eating after NOON is worse because the monk is not even following the morality of a serious Lay Buddhist practitioner. He is only [sic!] following the precepts of a “run of the mill” lay Buddhist person. »
Following precepts is a matter of intention, and of cultivation: trying again and again until one succeeds to reform unwholesome tendencies. This is not about judging people! This is not even about breaching, or not breaching: that's why there are penances defined, after a breach, to move on because everybody has breached these rules countless times over countless lives! The event of a breach is not what it's about, it's about the lessons you draw, it's about the renewed intention that arises… The monk working hard to reform himself, who keeps trying with perseverance after every misstep, is more meritorious (in line with « right effort ») than the monk who easily respects a precept simply because this particular temptation is not part of his conditioning.
And if a monk is on the path then, when he sees someone else breach a precept, he should encourage this person to be mindful of it and to amend the situation, but he should also enquire into his own failings, at the very least the failing to support the person who just breached a precept! The monk should ask himself how he could support others better, and take responsibility for not having done so enough (or not in the appropriate way)! Sure, admonition can be appropriate at times, but one has to be extremely clear as to both the goal and the execution along the way…

Now, if we're to play with quotes, then the Buddha said «
It's a cause of growth in the Dhamma and Vinaya of the noble ones when, seeing a transgression as such, one makes amends in accordance with the Dhamma and exercises restraint in the future.
» — Samaññaphala sutta (DN 2)

He also said: «
These two are fools. Which two? The one who doesn't see his/her transgression as a transgression, and the one who doesn't rightfully pardon another who has confessed his/her transgression. These two are fools.
These two are wise. Which two? The one who sees his/her transgression as a transgression, and the one who rightfully pardons another who has confessed his/her transgression. These two are wise.
» — Bala-pandita sutta (AN 2.21)


But this monk wrote what amounts to the opposite of « right speech » in my view (not the first time I disagree with this monk), and therefore I think this doesn't qualify at all as wholesome "admonition" but it simply is conceited insults:
« About the classes of offenses. Lying is simply “only a confession classed rule (Pācittiyā).” Do you agree that a monk who lies is below the morality of a monk who eats after NOON and below a monk who uses money? Of course, because he is no longer classed as following the rules of even a simple Buddhist lay person. He is sub-humane. »

First, the offences are already classified, and a Theravadin is not in a position to say that rules should be amended… if it's a 'minor' offence, it is a 'minor' offence, end of the vinaya conversation! Handling gold and silver? Nissaggiya Pācittiya. Lying? Mere Pācittiya These are clearly not in the same category and lying is minor compared to handling money.

Second, to invert the hierarchy by fallacious logic here is an example of a classic error of "priority inversion", or not keeping the eyes on the ball. If such logic was correct, I could use the tiniest of offences among the 250 or so rules that a full-fledged monk should follow, one of these offences that a monk doesn't even have to disclose to others (he only has to admit it to himself), and I could consider that the tiniest breach would make the "senior monk" fall back to "novice monk" (a level at which the rule breached doesn't exist)… even though the vinaya is explicit that such a breach doesn't matter as long as one takes notice and tries again, since a sekhiya rule exist solely to help the training of "24/7 mindfulness"! So, no, breaching a rule does not make anyone fall down to a level where the rule doesn't apply! The logic is the other way round: merely trying to follow the rule, rather than not trying, is meritorious. It's better to succeed than to fail, but it's also better to try than not to try!

And, finally, wow, how judgemental can one get? Like thinking only buddhists (who took precepts) are 'humane'? Like all other religions or atheists are animals? Even for the most 'missionary', this is breaching « right speech » since such words would repel people rather than motivate them to enquire about Buddhism! This is exactly what's wrong in Myanmar (or Burma) at the moment, and how the genocide of Rohingya muslims is justified… To endorse any "sub-humane" narrative is clearly delusional, lacking compassion, and being blind to the damage (possibly death!) that one's words will lead to.


Let's get back to the Samaññaphala sutta (DN 2):
«
Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech. He speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm [so admonition might be on the menu, fair enough], reliable, no deceiver of the world. This, too, is part ["part", not the whole: no excuse to ignore the rest!] of his virtue.

Abandoning divisive speech he abstains from divisive speech. What he has heard here he does not tell there to break those people apart from these people here. What he has heard there he does not tell here to break these people apart from those people there. Thus reconciling those who have broken apart or cementing those who are united, he loves concord, delights in concord, enjoys concord, speaks things that create concord. This, too, is part of his virtue.

Abandoning abusive speech, he abstains from abusive speech. He speaks words that are soothing to the ear, that are affectionate, that go to the heart, that are polite, appealing and pleasing to people at large [well-executed admonition is considered "pleasing" in the long-term…]. This, too, is part of his virtue.

Abandoning idle chatter, he abstains from idle chatter. He speaks in season, speaks what is factual, what is in accordance with the goal, the Dhamma, and the Vinaya [without cherry-picking what's self-serving, without conceit] He speaks words worth treasuring, seasonable, reasonable, circumscribed, connected with the goal. This, too, is part of his virtue.
»

I'm not against admonitions, or shaking up comfortable certainties, excuses or narratives. It has to be kept to a minimum, in order to remain effective (no permanent rant is taken seriously…), but even if compassion is 99% 'smiling', it's not a caricatural 100%: cf. the notion of wrathful deities or some discourses of the Buddha! So I have no difficulty with admonitions as an expedient means.

Yet, it's very important to contextualise! Co-dependent arising, anyone?

It's also important to aim for bringing people into the fold: it's about guiding them to do better, not locking them outside "the meritorious ones". The path is not about a social status or monasticism, the Buddha indicated clearly that a 'Brahmin' is not so by social norms nor good karma (not even buddhist monastic norms nor buddhist karma) but by how one acts: « By birth one is not an outcaste, By birth one is not a Brahmin; By deeds alone one is an outcaste, By deeds alone one is a Brahmin »!

Admonitions should not end with calling 'others' sub-humane but with « the good news is that, if you recognised yourself in what was criticised, then you can change! And this is what it would take: …… »

It's about change, about responsibility, about empowerment, about Liberation. And responsibility and empowerment are about consequences, not mere training rules… It is about rejecting self-identification ("this is what I do, what people-like-me do"), avoiding self-based fallacies ("this person is good, that person is bad, this cannot change"), it's about discerning wholesome and unwholesome behaviours / conducts / "deeds", in the context at hand.


#Buddhism
DN 2: www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.02.0.than.html
image: a bronze statue of Shakyamuni (Thai)
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Confusion

Buddhism considers three "fires" which burn sentient beings, three "fires" which cause dissatisfaction: greed, aversion and ignorance (or confusion). Sometimes, these fires affect retreat bookings.

Someone who should not come to a retreat at +Dharma.house  (e.g. due to not agreeing with the ethical behaviour expected and required) might nonetheless desire to book attendance to a retreat… and the greed (for whatever they imagine they'd get) might be so strong that they'll try to bully us, try to force us to comply to their wishes, if the booking is not accepted fast enough for their taste.

Of course, anyone minimally informed about Buddhism will know that it is common for teachers to test the resolve of prospective students… Everyone's life is finite; wasting time and running into walls are unwise. There are many ways to get to know a person, and seeing how one reacts to "maybe" —or to "no", even— can often be instructive.
For the ignorant though, the frustration (dukkha) arising from a delay —or the rejection— might be enough to combine greed and ignorance in complaining and decrying a supposed lack of "professionalism". It might become the perfect occasion to lash out, based on projections and unexamined expectations.

Except, of course, it is in fact perfectly ethical to consider what consequences one's lack of restraint might have on other retreatants! Only self-obsession can make someone limit "professionalism" to accepting them regardless of their behaviour, regardless of others, regardless of circumstances, just because they ask.
The FAQ on Dharma.house's website clearly explains the reason for agreeing on some ethical standards for the duration of one's stay: « In training according to such rules, one offers to others the freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression. » The rules are key to “offer" physical and emotional safety to others (from our ignorance, our mistakes, our biases…): this is the first form of "offering", of "generosity", of dāna, which spiritually counts!
Ethics are not an optional part of the training provided at Dharma.house: several spokes of the eightfold path are about virtuous living, precepts are about virtuous living, i.e. the Dharma includes ethics!

The very idea that any booking should always be immediately accepted (no matter how disruptive the participant might be) is ignorant on many counts:
• 1/ there's nothing professional in compromising the safety of other retreatants for the sake of some extra audience or income — there's nothing ethical in letting greed override other concerns;
• 2/ Dharma.house is not a hotel, it's a training center: if someone's circumstances are clearly not supportive of learning, there's nothing wholesome in accepting a payment or alms for a service which cannot be provided;
• 3/ That reality doesn't comply to someone's wishes is not enough to cry wolf about "discrimination": not only "discernment" of dangers can be professional in any case, but also it is a "duty" when one offers anything in relation to mental well-being. Improvisation in relation to mental health is dangerous amateurism: at times, referring someone to another form of counselling might be the only valid option, whether the prospect likes it or not.

Dharma.house puts the safety of retreatants at the top of its priorities. This is because learning requires vulnerability: learning requires admitting that one doesn't know, it requires seeing and accepting one's mistakes, it requires lowering one’s guard and welcoming other perspectives… Thus, ensuring the safety of retreatants is supportive / constructive (to say the least): too few would learn while being on the defensive.
Therefore, Dharma.house will not be bullied into accepting whatever or whoever might endanger this safety; that's using our freedom wisely and taking our responsibility in relation to what we offer. If it displeases some, we'll do our best to minimise the anger, but we'll still not blindly accept the unacceptable: to condone the unwholesome is never helping anyone in the long run.


Some might suggest that "we should be the better people” when facing ignorant behaviours, or might call for “equanimity", for "restraint in judgement", for "unconditional acceptance", etc. This also is a confusion.

Equanimity is not indifference. On the contrary, equanimity is what allows someone not to accept the unacceptable because of ignorant bias, self-centred fear, unfounded guilt, peer pressure or simply greed. Equanimity is the relinquishing of the eight "worldly winds": gain, loss, status, disgrace, censure, praise, pleasure, & pain (AN 8.6). Equanimity is what frees from righteous stupidity, from expectations blindly attached to labels regardless of circumstances, from the “as a …, I should …” Equanimity is what allows not to let someone’s tantrum or threats sway a well-reasoned decision.

Discernment is not automatically judgemental: discernment is the root-cause of ignorance, yes, but it’s also the root-cause of wisdom. The difference lies in how one “grasps" what’s discerned, in particular how one might abusively generalise lessons out of context or ever stay mindful of current conditions (thus keeping lessons from the past in mind, but never applying them blindly —always checking first whether they’re appropriate for the situation at hand, or not). Blindness, blanket answers, prejudices, naïveness and lack of sensitivity to nuances are not signs of maturity or wisdom.

Unconditional acceptance is about accepting reality-as-is as the starting point of engagement: by focusing on engagement, it certainly doesn’t dictate passivity or blindness. To accept unwholesome phenomena doesn’t make them any less unwholesome: unconditional acceptance precisely requires not to brush unwholesome phenomena under the carpet —the good, the bad and the ugly are all equally considered! While we don’t have to condemn, we don’t have to condone either!


Unless explicitly stated, all retreat participants at +Dharma.house are requested to train in accordance to the five precepts (pañca-sikkhāpada) during their stay:
• to refrain from killing (from harming),
• to refrain from taking what is not given,
• to refrain from sexual misconduct,
• to refrain from harmful speech,
• to refrain from intoxicants clouding the mind.
Any exemption from these precepts will necessarily be mentioned in the relevant retreat description; in such a case, either the bodhisattva precepts (from the Brahmajāla bodhisattva śīla sūtra) or the esoteric samaya precepts (from the Mahāvairocana tantra) are likely to be requested instead —and they're more demanding, not less, than the classical five above.


#Buddhism   #DharmaHouse  
Image: a calligraphy of Bodhidharma, a Zen master who wasn't exactly renowned for his cheerfulness or for easily accepting the unwholesome… As it happens, the calligraphy hangs in the main room of +Dharma.house, a gift from a generous Dharma friend.
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Love and detachment, together?
is the translation in English of my long and recent article « Amour et détachement, ensemble ? »

One of my students protested that the previous article « Kamma » was only in French… but, of course, now that the more recent one is translated, it's amply clear that deeply researched articles are not what's fashionable on the internet ;-) Surprise, surprise!

Because this is not content particularly appropriate for social media (in particular with the push toward a heavy use of mobile phones when on social media), in order to get content of such depth, you need to sign up for the newsletter of +Dharma.house (e.g. from the page http://en.dharma.house/retreats.htm) and make sure that emails from contact@dharma.house don't go in your spam folder.
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Amour et détachement, ensemble ?

Extended version —or the « author's cut », by analogy to the « director's cut » in the film industry— of my article for the #19 (november–december 2016) issue of the first francophone magazine inspired by Buddhism and its philosophy of life, www.regardbouddhiste.com

The next retreat in French at +Dharma.house is « Gestion du stress et équilibre travail / famille » (19–20 novembre), http://fr.dharma.house/retreats/retreat6.htm
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