What is a meditation elder?
When I first came across the term "Kalyana-Mitta" I liked it greatly, it is an admirable friend who advises and students choose to emulate. Here is a link in which Thanissaro Bhikkhu has a full discussion on what this term meant to him and giving advice accordingly. It is interesting and makes me consider the “advisory/teaching situation” that Zandtaomed offers.
I have a spiritual need, I have a limited spiritual community – Sangha, and would like to develop that Sangha. When people come on a spiritual search in Thailand they naturally go to the monasteries. I made a decision not to try to join a monastery just before I retired, and this has given me my Sangha dilemma. I don't however regret the decision as I am concerned about how within the institution and dogma there might not be presence, for me that is not the path there must be presence. Within the institution and amongst monks talking dogma will be some people on the path, but amongst other religions will be people following the path, amongst the artist and writing community will be people following the path, amongst non-religiously-aligned spiritual teachers will be people following the path. Just because they haven’t put on orange robes does not mean they are not Sangha. My decision to continue on my own has the potential for arrogance and complacency, especially writing something like this where I am critical of monks I have to reproof it several times after deeply meditating on humility. Who am I to criticise monks? Who am I to use the word Sangha differently? I hope I am being humble in offering this gentle criticism.
Mental proliferations are a huge problem in Buddhism, I am guilty of the same. As soon as there is insight the keyboard is pounded, and more proliferation is added. I am explaining what is perhaps best left unexplained but I do it – it’s what I like I enjoy it. What do I mean by “best left unexplained”? I try to explain that which language is not equipped to explain. How do you describe spirit? The only way that the use of the word spirit can have any meaning is if both parties in the conversation have an understanding of spirit. But if I am talking of the spirit that is Dhamma, if an alcoholic is talking of spirit as in whiskey there is no communication using the same word. Language relates the experiences of two people, and has meaning only if the experiences are similar.
What does this mean for my spiritual teaching? Through the diaries I am continually on the lookout for language that indicates the "student" has experienced that which I am trying to teach. What do I mean by teaching an experience? The student has the experience so what do I mean by teach? I mean create the alignment that allows the experience to happen. It is the nature of Dhamma that experiences happen if the student is not conditioned or has not created conditions that prevent the Dhamma from experiencing. Through the diaries I am looking for indications that the student is falling into alignment and that the student is moving beyond the conditions that upbringing and society has created in her/him. I will then attempt to help the student by taking those indications and creating further alignment thus increasing the chances of more experience. Successful teaching is measured solely by the spiritual experience of the student.
It is important to know what this experience is not, especially given the methodology of western education. Western education fills the mind with information and beliefs. Within that information and those beliefs is what the establishment wants them to accept. And this establishment in the West I classify as a 1%-satrapy. It is important to note that I am not describing western education as 100% indoctrination. There are different levels of agreement western education expects from students. For most of those levels the agreement is common sense, we agree to write in a certain way, we agree to speak in a certain way, we agree to cooperate in a certain way with our families and our education system. But we also tacitly agree to accept wars for profits and wage-slavery both of which are prerequisites of the 1%-satrapy and neither of which are spoken of in western education.
Within western education there are certain ideas and beliefs which are accepted and agreed with. Fundamental to western education is the exam system, it is agreed that success in education is measured by exam passes. It is conceivable although not likely that an intelligent person could attend western education and not have any qualifications to show for it at the end, and the reason for this would be that the intelligent person refused to agree with the exam requirements of western education. It is conceivable although not likely that an intelligent person could decide that all that mattered was spiritual awareness, and therefore not agree to use their intelligence to get exam passes. This is not likely because spiritual awareness is not likely to arise in the young because of nature’s cognitive development as described by Piaget and others. But for a spiritual person it is conceivable because spiritually why do those exams matter?
Western education teaches belief systems as if they can be understood as facts. In education institutions it is possible to know as facts all the different practices of Buddhism and by repeating those facts in an exam obtain a qualification that in some way describes the student as Buddhist. But such students have no experience of the practices of Buddhism so such description of the belief system is effectively meaningless. However such students “outside” the education system might be in a situation where the belief system falls into alignment and the student might experience presence. But it is important to recognise that knowledge of the facts or beliefs of the system is not the experience of Buddhism.
So in this teaching situation I do not want to ratify the collection of a set of beliefs I am only interested in whether the student has the appropriate experiences. In the diaries I look for experience instead of belief. There is a fundamental dilemma in this teaching methodology. Written language cannot possibly describe a full experience. In real life communication skills are not limited to the words that are spoken, we intuitively or instinctively react to communication that might be classified as “non-verbal communication”. Through diary writing all such communication is lost. Is it always possible to differentiate between experience and a description of beliefs? That is a skill this teaching methodology requires.
The internet lacks any form of commitment. As a teacher I could be happily following the methodology thinking everything is going well and the next day the student stops. There is no form of persuasion open because it is the internet and the virtual student has vanished into cyberspace. In most education situations there is either some form of compunction as in schooling or inducement as in qualifications. But in this teaching methodology the only means that can ensure the continued relationship is that the student is benefitting from the teaching situation. But no matter how good the teacher there are highs and lows on the path, something the teacher has no control of – nor should they have. A low could prematurely end the teaching relationship.
It is necessary to build up a connection with the inner guide so that the inner guide values the teaching even when the student themselves is unaware of the value of the teaching. This inner guide is the Dhamma, it is spirit recognising spirit, and is a process that goes on in the background of the teaching situation. It is therefore essential to this methodology that the student becomes aware of the inner guide at whatever level of awareness. Building up the inner guide is a key part of this teaching methodology.
Thanissaro Bhikkhu describes here a mutual assessment process between the teacher and student, but it has to be noted that this mutual assessment is occurring within a monastery in which both student and teacher are heavily invested. They are in the monastery first (I assume) before committing to the teacher-student interrelationship. I had a long talk with a monk/student in the UK monastery I frequented, and how he was expected to assess the qualities of the abbot who he was hoping would teach him; I presume the abbot was also making an assessment but I never spoke to the abbot about it.
In the Zandtao teaching methodology there is no such possibility of assessment because of the internet. We also live in a society where the level of personal commitment described by Thanissaro Bhikkhu is rare. There is the commitment that is love, and there is the indenture of wage-slavery; are there substantive commitments outside this? There is financial commitment, people pay for a service so they expect results, but in spiritual teaching that approach has a lot to be desired.
The commitment I seek in this teaching relationship is not a commitment to me but a commitment to the path, I hope that through the teaching the student finds the path and starts to follow it. Once the student is following the path in a sense that is job done because the path will always guide - even at times when it appears not to be such as in my own alcoholism. However I would hope that once the student is following the path they would recognise the value of my teaching and want to continue. Based on my own experience, the length of time it took me between starting the path and committing to meditation aas a daily practice, that recognition would be far quicker but maybe not what nature intended.
So my teaching objective in the meditation method of anapanasati-bhavana is the path. Through aligning the student nature will show the student the path. Through facilitating the inner guide the student will then be equipped to follow the path for themselves. That would not be the end of the relationship as I would hope I would still be able to offer advice as their Kalyana-Mitta but eventually all paths are different …. but the same
So what do I have to offer as meditation elder? On my website there are my books on the path – Treatise and Pathtivism Manual. There are my sci-fi novels as Wai Zandtao, and if that is not enough you may be interested in my discussions on “Why Eckhart Tolle is Buddhist?” and thoughts that arose as I read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” for the nth time in Pirsig Platform. My profession was teaching, and I write about this in Matriellez. There is more than enough to make some sort of assessment.
In Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s discussion the Buddha recommended four qualities of an admirable friend:-
1) Awakened Buddha “The first good quality is conviction in the Buddha’s awakening—believing that the Buddha really did put an end to suffering, that he did it through his own efforts, and that he did it through qualities that were not peculiar to him. They’re qualities that we all have, at least in potential form, simply that he developed them to a very heightened degree. But we can do that, too. What that means is that an admirable friend is one who’s convinced in the power of his or her actions, in the power of the mind to change itself in a way that can lead to a reliable happiness, just like the happiness the Buddha found in his awakening.” I very much take this approach.
Above I described the objective as following the path, in so doing personally we end suffering and we also help end suffering in others. The objective is not enlightenment, perfection or some other dubious objective. I don’t know what enlightened is so cannot possibly say I have experienced enlightenment. In my daily life I continue to learn how to improve myself and don’t conceive of a day or time in which that situation will change. I have no idea how someone can be a perfect being but maybe there is such a person, all I do is the best I can. I cannot say that the happiness I have found is like the happiness the Buddha found in his awakening, that would be a judgement and an act of belief. But I am mostly happy, and would like to help others achieve such happiness.
2) “The second quality is virtue. You want to look for someone who sticks to the precepts and encourages other people to stick to them, too. This second quality follows naturally on the first, because anyone who really believes in the power of action wouldn’t want to harm any being at all. This means no killing, stealing, illicit sex, lying, or taking intoxicants. In any situations. At all. As the Buddha says, if you can hold to these precepts without exception, you’re giving universal protection to all beings. If you make exceptions, that protection is only partial—and you’re only partially protected as well.”
Maybe I should be advising the following of the precepts as part of the methodology. But what I call sila-consciousness is essential, I think by sila-consciousness I could mean virtue – I suspect that is a language issue. Without doubt sila-consciousness is essential. This teaching is that virtue is personal. My moral integrity is not the same as yours but both include the 5 precepts. My integrity has 2 components, sila itself and sila-practice-in-daily-life. In anapanasati-bhavana Ajaan Buddhadasa talks of developing the 4 dhamma comrades:-
• Sati – mindfulness
• Panna – wisdom
• Sampajanna – wisdom-in-action
• Samadhi – concentration
Maybe there is sila-sampajanna – virtue-in-action, virtue does not have a place unless it is practised. And once practised it leads to peace of mind – end of suffering. If you know your actions will be virtuous then your mind is at peace because your actions don’t have to be questioned. If you don’t have this conviction the mind will always be out of alignment to some extent.
3) “The third good quality is generosity. Admirable friends give freely not only of their material belongings, but also of their time, knowledge, energy, and forgiveness.” Of course this quality is admirable, and it is not up to me to describe myself in these terms.
4) “The fourth good quality is discernment: insight into how suffering arises and passes away, with the primary focus on how suffering is caused by mental actions that can be abandoned by training the mind.” I agree with this wholeheartedly.
But in consideration of mental actions I want to mention shadow and fragments discussed here in detail. Shadows and fragments arise mostly in childhood, and can have a huge impact on our daily lives if not dealt with. As discussed (here) my approach to anapanasati-bhavana has a specific proviso concerning shadow throughout. In following the path shadows will arise and they need to be integrated. Good meditation practice will also lead to the arising of shadow. In this teaching methodology there is no personal contact to deal with the worst shadows, and students need to be aware of the possible need for professional intervention. If appropriate I would advise such, there is no way some healings can occur over the internet.
Unlike the mutual assessment that can occur in monasteries I can make no judgement as to the suitability of students. I ask for a commitment – daily meditation and a daily report back. As I have said I would hope to develop sufficient alignment that students will follow the path. I would hope to provide sufficient food to attract the inner guide. But of course with the internet there would be much frustration
I would love to be able to say I have all the characteristics of a kalyana-mitta - it is something I would strive for. But I am nowhere near being the Buddha, and would never dream of making such claims. To me inherent in being the Buddha are the characteristics of kalyana-mitta, in his authority, in his wisdom, in him.
Whilst I am striving for the characteristics of kalyana-mitta, I do not have his authority, his wisdom and a lot else. I am happy to call myself a meditation elder striving for the characteristics of kalyana-mitta.
Now the use of the term meditation elder has a number of benefits, a number of characteristics of its own. As a meditation elder the context of our communication is very clear - meditation. When the Buddha described himself as admirable friend, his use of the term friend had a number of tacit boundaries because he was the Buddha, I am now making some of such tacit assumptions explicit - this is concerned with meditation. Meditation is a wide and broad arena but it is meditation - clearly-defined.
Being an elder is a practice that has become completely devalued in our western societies. Elder politicians cling to their egos in power beign willing to act as puppets, and as a general rule the rest of the elderly are dispatched to care homes if they can be afforded or stuck in a chair in the family home in front of the television. Every old person has survived a lifetime and has developed some wisdom as a consequence. In my travels in Africa and elsewhere, I saw the stability that respecting the old gives. An elder African is not intrinsically more wise and knowledgeable than an elder westerner but they are given courtesy and given respect where deserved. This respect gives the elderly personal value, and by giving them value they gain self-esteem and purpose. Being courteous to the elderly brings a structure to society that is beneficial.
In indigenous cultures the term "elder" describes their leaders because they give leadership to the elder and wiser. Who doesn't get wiser as they get older? But of course we don't all start from the same place. I have an image which I don't know as being true, I hope it is not a racial stereotype. I imagine young people starting out on life's journey seeking the advice and wisdom of the elder if problems arise, seeking advice as to which path to take, in one group of nations following the red road. It is this role I offer as meditation elder.
Let us consider some of the tacit assumptions in this role of elder. An elder might be considered a friend but that friendship has clear boundaries on both sides. Could a young woman respect such an elder if he were trying to make out? Could an elder attempting to make out be trusted to deliver the wisdom of the nation? Whilst a virtuous kalyana-mitta would have these qualities, being a respected elder reinforces the need for such virtue. These are tacit assumptions of the role of elder that I make explicit here. There are other unspoken assumptions that attach to this role. I am sure I would adhere to them - if I need to make them explicit I will update this page.
So as Zandtaomed I will be a meditation elder who strives for the qualities of kalyana-mitta. In anapanasati-bhavana I give more details of the meditation approach that I advise you to adopt. Whilst this description is personalised to suit my approach – it is not distinct from Buddhist teachings in general (I have much to learn of Buddhism), and even less distinct from the teachings of Ajaan Buddhadasa (I have much to learn of Buddhadasa as well). What Zandtaomed can offer is personalised because discussion of meditation diaries is the core advising methodology. Whilst it cannot be totally personal because discussion does not take place in person, it is more personal than attending a meditation lecture and going home and practising what was delivered in the lecture – because through the diary it discusses what arises in each daily meditation. Daily feedback and discussion. In that feedback will be personalised instructions for meditation, not restrictive instructions as working with the inner guide is important to Zandtaomed.
If you look at the Treatise, Manual, Matriellez education, Wai Zandtao scifi and still wish to proceed with the meditation scheme with Zandtao as advisor, write an email explaining what you hope to gain from meditation and send it here:-