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Buddhadharma : Summer 2007
summer 2007| 36 |buddhadharma was the International Meditation Society, founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi of the Beatles fame, and they said, “Oh, sure, how much money do you want?” They lent us the money based on a complete misunderstanding! When we started, the first principle that we got right – partly out of necessity (or out of desperation) – was that we would do collective teachings. One can see that the centers that have had the most difficulty have invested all the power in just one teacher. Often that person gets terribly isolated, and, as you know, many dharma centers in the West have suffered in some fashion or another due to the misconduct of their primary teacher. When we started IMS, I was twenty-eight, Joseph was twenty-nine, and Sharon was only twenty-one. As Sharon likes to say, “It all happened without adult supervision!” In our wisdom, combined with abject terror, we said, “Let’s hold hands for this one, guys.” And as a result, we created the team teaching model that has saved us so many times. It offers a much more intelligent way of holding power, espe- cially in a new culture here in the West. The second principle that we got right – and I was a passionate advocate for this – was having multiple lineages. Even though there was a Mahasi lineage through Munindra, Mahasi Sayadaw, Dipa Ma, and Asabha Sayadaw that we shared at IMS, it was very important from the beginning that we invite other lineages and teachers. So early on we invited Christopher Titmuss and Christina Feld- man – people who had studied with Ajahn Bud- dhadasa, Ajahn Dhammadoro, Ajahn Chah, and other teachers. From my own experience, it was healthier for both students and teachers alike to have access to a range of dharma teachings and perspectives. This is an underlying principle at Spirit Rock as well. The Buddha is often described as the master of many skillful means. Gradual and sudden, outer and inner, form and emptiness were all aspects of his teaching. A wise teacher, and a wise center, needs to offer a whole range of skillful practices, because people come along at different stages of their inner development, with different tempera- ments, and with different sets of problems. If we limit ourselves to one technique, it will only serve certain people and it won’t be helpful to others. Diversity of practices is an underlying vision at IMS that has also been carried through to Spirit Rock. On our retreats, though we use the basic instructions from Mahasi Sayadaw, we also draw from the teachings and perspectives of Ajahn Chah, Buddhadasa, U Ba Khin, and many others. By adopting the retreat model rather than Ajahn Chah’s wise way of communal dharma living, we paid very little attention to the integration or the embodiment of dharma outside of retreats. In the beginning, we had no integration period at all. At the end of the first three-month silent retreat, we just said, “Three months are over; see you later.” Two days later, we saw one of our yogis in her pajamas doing walking meditation in the general store in Bucksport, Maine. There was no real inte- gration and care. In fact for a number of years, James Baraz, now a teacher himself, ran a kind of halfway house in Berkeley for people coming out of the three-month retreat. It became clear to many of us that we needed to establish a way of practice that was not just focused on retreats, because people would come back after doing a ten-day retreat or a month-long retreat, or even a three-month retreat, and say, “I’m having so much trouble integrating what I learned on retreat into the world out here. How do I embody this practice in my everyday life?” After the first ten years at IMS, a group of us – James Baraz, Sylvia Boorstein, Anna Doug- las, Howie Cohn, and many others – wanted to create a wider dharma stream that focused on more than retreat experience and that would help people embody the dharma in their lives. This was the vision that drove a committed group of West Coast practitioners in the mid-eighties to look at property for a center. We found cheap, beauti- ful places far out in the country, and some board members thought about buying them. But a bigger group held out for a center near the city, where silent retreats, classes, and community could grow together. Thus Spirit Rock was born. Just as at IMS, the founding of Spirit Rock involved some amazing karma. For $900,000 we bought almost a square mile of land in a gorgeous secluded valley in Marin County (some say it’s a Native American sacred site) from the Nature Conservancy, giving them money to save rain forests in the Amazon. Another problem we had encountered at IMS concerning our dharma diversity influenced how we set up Spirit Rock and how our entire com- Front row, from left: Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, Jacqueline Mandell-Schwartz. Back row, center: Mahasi Sayadaw. Insight Meditation Society, 1979. SpIRItRoCKaRChIveSSpIRItRoCKaRChIveS