When the Thai teacher Achaan Su Wat visited the U.S. last year, he commented on the fact that traditionally the teachings are presented in a particular order: first, an emphasis on generosity, then on morality, and then on wisdom. Here, he noted, the order was reversed: first, wisdom, then morality, and only then generosity. He found it quite strange!
For those of us involved in first bringing the practice over from Asia, this was a nearly conscious decision. We wanted to present the heart-essence of the teachings without cultural overlay; we wanted right understanding to come from personal practice and guide people’s commitment to loving action in the world.
In fact, this emphasis on “just the meditation practice” seems to have been at least partly responsible for the widespread interest in vipassana in the West over the last fifteen years. It has allowed many people to have confidence in this approach, as compared to one where faith comes first and understanding later.
All in all, it seems it was the right thing to have done. However, we are now reaching a turning point. For this practice to actually flourish in the West, it needs to be viewed as a way of life and not just as a mind-training, and for this we look to its traditional roots. It didn’t just spring into being as a modern workshop for seekers—the meditation practice has been nurtured by and protected by the contextual practice within which it is done. It must be a truly integrated path, or it will not reflect the truth of our lives.
The reason the Buddha taught the dhamma in a particular order is fairly easy to see—with generosity we learn relinquishing, letting go, and ultimately a generosity of the spirit. With morality we learn integrity and fearlessness. Each of these is practiced for the peace they bring, the clarity they bring and the sheer joy they bring. It is meant to be a path of very great happiness.
We have reached this interesting crossroads because the time has come for all of you to claim the dhamma as your own, the truth as your own, and to protect it in all its various manifestations.
We have always relied on generosity—the teachers are supported by donations, the staff at IMS contributes their time and energy, as does the board; many wonderful people help us out and we have the ongoing support of the membership. For this we thank all of you.
Often we face a particular dilemma—something comes along that would serve the dhamma in an important way. How do we fund it? Do we arbitrarily add to the daily rate at IMS and support these projects, or do we maintain our strong commitment to keeping the teachings accessible by keeping the rate low, and count on your further generosity and connection to fund something? If we just increase the daily rate, it feels somehow institutionalized—a small group of people, rather than all of you, deciding what to keep alive and what is important to the entire community. On the other hand, if we wish to return these decisions to you, with the chance to practice generosity, it means we have to let you know about the various opportunities to give, and that feels a little awkward. Do we ask you too often? Do you think we’re greedy? Do you get tired of it all?
This year we have had to raise the daily rate at IMS to cover all of our costs, but the income does not go beyond that.
We could double the daily rate at IMS and support Inquiring Mind, have a fully-funded scholarship program for people with terminal illnesses, and have enough money to send teachers to countries that cannot supply air fare, such as South Africa and the U.S.S.R. We could triple the daily rate at IMS and have enough money to do these things and also refurbish the building in a way that it is badly beginning to need. Or we could quadruple the daily rate, do all of these, and be able to do some creative things as well, like putting huts in the woods to allow people to engage in forest practice. These choices are faced by other retreat centers as well.
We continually make the choice not to raise the daily rate to this extent, but to turn to the community to make all these things possible. We have had to ask more frequently in the past few years for additional help and we will probably have to continue to do this. It essentially feels right, because it is reflective of the sangha “growing up,” taking the responsibility (and knowing the joy) of upholding this transmission, and deciding what will serve their own practice and the continued existence of the teachings in the world. Along with your continued support, we ask for your understanding and for your willingness to accept this responsibility.