I am writing to give you all a guideline on how you might develop your practice going forward.
The time of Covid has been a unique moment that required a specific response. I felt from the outset that the Buddha Dharma and the practices of meditation could offer a refuge to many people in a time of enormous challenge. I still stand by this conviction. It is for this reason that I started to offer these teachings more publicly than I have done in the past.
As a teacher I sometimes find it hard to live up to the expectations that people might, understandably, place on me. I want to be clear. I am no special being any more than all of you are. I am simply someone who has the knowledge and understanding and experience of meditation to share these teachings with you. At times I find my situation difficult to manage skilfully, and of course I realise that I make mistakes.
I do not wish to be seen as a guru or a master. I am as human as each one of you with my own frailties and imperfections. Whilst I am passionately committed to sharing these teachings, I do not have any desire to become a public figure. I feel there is always a danger in situations like the one I find myself in that people tend to put their focus upon the teacher more than the teachings and the work that they must do themselves. I am not a figurehead of an ancient tradition or a lineage holder. I am in essence just a meditation teacher.
I have shared considerably more with you in this short time than you would have learned if you had attended retreat and learned from me gradually in that way. I have done it because I felt there was a great need for the refuge that these practices can give at this time. As a result, many of you have only been learning from me for the past year, and so are not familiar with the way that I normally teach.
In truth what you learned in the first two online retreats (the foundation and concentration weekends) will probably take two years to reach a level of genuine competence. This has always been the usual requirement for those who wish to join the Foundations in Vipassana retreat with me. And yet some of you are already contacting me saying you are wanting to start sharing these teachings with others. This is something I strongly urge against. I did not start teaching until I was requested to do so by my teachers and then only after years of intensive training. It would be a disservice to the teachings and others to try to pass them on only as hear-say without the necessary expertise. To this day there are practices that I learned that I do not feel qualified to teach to others and that is even after over 20 years of teaching.
Please remember that the true heart essence of what I teach is the Buddha’s Dharma. It is not me. Your faith should be in the path and the teachings. I am well aware that my knowledge and understanding of both meditation and the Dharma far exceeds my qualities as a human being and I have always felt uncomfortable that people might perceive me to be something more than I am simply because I have this knowledge.
I will continue to support those of you already committed to your practice, while stepping back from the public space for a while. I will also stay committed to our group efforts to provide Loving Kindness support to others who need it as this is so important for so many. I want to encourage you all as a group to keep growing and developing this.
Beyond that, I feel it is appropriate that each of you take the time to thoroughly ground what you have learned by going back to the beginnings and building the foundations that lead to genuine transformation and insight. Understanding alone, especially partial understanding, is not a testimony to the path having been walked. Those of you who have worked with me for years know that I am very insistent that you practice sufficiently and for long enough to remove at the root the causes of suffering.
Momentary relief is not the same as the end of suffering. I am sure all of you are still experiencing how you can ebb and flow between highs and lows. So I urge you to mark your progress by how you manage and transform the low points and not by what you perceive your peaks to be. There are many who have thought themselves to be liberated only later to find themselves still in the clutches of suffering and conflict. This is a lifelong path, even many lives. Be honest with yourselves and tread humbly upon it. In this endeavour I am wholeheartedly behind you.
I must admit that at times it has been challenging for me to hold the space from a distance. The last retreat (on loving kindness) I found very challenging. That is understandable because we are working in some of our most challenging and often painful areas. While it has been an honour for me, I want to take some time now to reflect on how I might improve the quality and long term sustainability of this work now that in-person retreats look unlikely for some time to come.
For those of you who are genuinely committed, I will be looking into how to provide you with a structure and ongoing support to your practice in the long term, and in a way that focuses more upon your own sustained practice and efforts and less on transmission. And so I ask all of you not to try to run too far or too fast before you can walk with confidence. I encourage you all to spend time now laying down your own foundations so that your house is built upon rock and with strong mortar. Please don’t build upon sand and with straw. We all know where that leads. More consciousness is only of real value to us when we have learned how to ground it with discernment into the context of our ordinary lives. I have seen the failure to do this lead to many difficulties later on. This is not a path to be rushed through like a page turning novel. It needs to be imbibed carefully and in a timely way.
Please also be aware I cannot heal you or take away your difficulties and challenges. These each of us must transform for ourselves. I will give what support and encouragement I can but always I will look to the Dharma as the bedrock and foundation of any guidance I give. As always I encourage each of you to see your challenges as your invitation to evolve and wherever possible try to meet them with love for yourself and others.
It has been an honour to share the Dharma with you. I ask your forgiveness if in any way I have offended any of you at any point.
I send you all boundless Metta.