We all know there is something missing, that there is a peace and calm that is available in each moment of our existences. People sense that the mind is workable and they can change their lives for the better.
With the best of intentions, we sign up for a meditation course at a retreat center. Maybe this is found from on-line research, maybe from word of mouth, maybe from something we have read. We are excited, nervous, and mostly thirsty for some relief - maybe this will finally be “it.” We travel across the world, arriving at our chosen destination, thankful we made it in one piece with our bags, full of hope and with an open mind. We are eager to work with challenges or obstacles, nothing will stop us from trying our best, and we want to heal.
The first challenge we encounter is language. Understanding the Dharma requires a profound shift in world view. Some teaching is indispensable. We can’t just sit there and hope something magical will happen. We need instruction and guidance from someone who knows the territory and can relate to us. Teachings in Asia are generally given in a foreign language or by a non-native speaker of English. This makes the beautiful and simple teachings of the Buddha, that medicine which we so desperately seek, incomprehensible and foreign. This is an unnecessary barrier to our journey. Life is fleeting and we may or may not be able to master a new language in time to begin to understand the practice of Dharma. This is an unnecessary endeavor when crystal-clear instruction is available in English.
Buddhism is amazing in its ability to adapt to the culture to which it spreads. We find that meditation centers are often steeped in the rich and beautiful ritualistic practices of a culture and these can be enchanting and mystifying. At the same time, infatuation with external forms is not true Dharma. These forms may be a gateway to Dharma and each of the variety of religious practices can have profound effects on one’s being - if understood and performed with correct intention and a heart-felt understanding.
Without this understanding, these activities become little more than mindless memorization and recitation. We are blessed with powerful abilities and we should make full use of our gifts and intelligence, to do otherwise is to miss our own amazing potential. Your practice should be grounded in the core liberation & wisdom teachings of the Buddha and all else should come from that base, not in blindly following along with the others because “that’s what we do here.”
Another challenge is the external environment. We come from the western world of sanitation, comfortable beds and air conditioning. In Asia, we encounter food which may not be suited to our taste, completely incompatible with our digestive system, or simply unsafe. We find straw mats or lumpy beds - when our backs are already tired from sitting practice. There is no chance to stretch or exercise - only walking meditation is permitted. We meet oppressive heat, sitting in puddles of sweat in the steamy tropics. We instinctively swat mosquitoes and then feel guilty for having harmed life at a Buddhist place of peace.
What could be a beautiful experience of opening up to our being becomes something more akin to a military boot-camp. We stick it out and report to others something like: “it was tough, but I made it through,” forgetting the reason we went in the first place.
Then, there is the sense of militancy that can be prevalent at Dharma Centers or monasteries. Perhaps unintentional, there can be a feeling of “this is the schedule, these are the vows, you should not move or you’re doing it wrong…” of course, as humans, we bring our tendencies of comparison and competition with us. Nothing is checked at the door. This is the path, this is the journey. We know there is something to work on. To allow judgment, a sense of being trapped in rules or hidebound by incomprehensible ritual is contrary to the actualization of Dharma.
Loosening up, relief of tension, relaxing the mind, clarity of thought, freedom from suffering, happiness and even smiling are the hallmarks of meditation done well with understanding and perseverance.
The meditation teachers at Karuna have a wide range of experience in different meditation venues across Asia. We have participated in retreats in Tibet, Sikkim, India, Burma, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. We have lived in monastaries, visited Dharma Centers, slept in meditation caves and done pilgrimage to the remotest places imaginable. What we continually encounter in our spiritual travels is others like ourselves, who are earnestly interested in learning to meditate, but overwhelmed by the foreignness and challenges of the whole experience.
That is why we created Karuna: spot-on, crystal-clear instruction form the heart of the Buddha’s teaching delivered in a clear and comprehensible manner - practices with immediately tangible benefits - no need for faith in ritual and hope. We want you to have the most enlightening experience possible while you are here and have paved the way for you.
Be assured, the Dharma is freely available to anyone who comes to Karuna, regardless of ability to pay. At the same time, we live in a world that requires maintenance of conventional appearances, so we have a low fee for our rooms. This is inclusive of almost everything: yoga, good beds, air conditioning, delicious & safe food, a swimming pool, the forest, quiet beach, airport pick-up… we have removed the unnecessary obstacles - we want you to get what you came for.
Whatever the cost of your retreat, wherever you go, make your time well-spent. You will sacrifice a lot to be able to pursue the inner journey.
We hope you will reserve your space and join us soon for something beautiful - created with you in mind.
In Metta – Thomas