Author Topic: Hostile service environment at Goenka centers  (Read 934 times)

jujuwoman

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Hostile service environment at Goenka centers
« on: December 23, 2017, 09:13:35 PM »
I started meditating with the Goenka tradition over ten years ago and have only ever meditated with that tradition. I've sit/served many courses in Asia, Europe, and North America. My experience was beneficial, otherwise I wouldn't have come back. After many years abroad, I decided to settle down in California in 2015 and started to go to the centers there.

Over the last two years, however, I've experienced and seen things that are making me lose faith in Vipassana. In my Dhamma service, I've been repeatedly abused and discriminated against. One episode was so severe that other servers pretty much dragged me to the AT to talk about it. It turned out I wasn't the only server affected: one of the female course managers got physically pushed. One AT's stern response? "Drop it." I ended up apologizing and thanking my way through the conversation despite what I went through. People who openly display anger and aggression, go on drinking binges in between courses, have questionable herbs sent to them, tease others about masturbation, make out in the kitchen, taking cigarette breaks on a fire-prone campus, and even boast about having a rifle in the trunk of their car are welcome back with open arms and tolerated with good cheer. I usually just laugh with the rest of the crew because, in my understanding the Dhammic way to enforce rules is to be understanding of others and make sure my own actions are wholesome. When it comes to me, however, ATs who barely know me have variously told me I don't have enough metta; I'm too sensitive; I should have done better; I have no one to blame but myself; my perception is merely subjective, not objective; snapped at to cover myself, keep low, and never rise taller than the AT; get a job. When I told a server who have been jobless for years and staying with the centers for months about this, he laughed and wondered why no AT ever told him to get a job. One time an AT even apologized for being mean to me. Despite abiding by the rules and never before experiencing adverse effect from meditation, I was put on the blacklist on the grounds that I am becoming too sensitive. The decision was made without my input and with minimal explanation. I thought about the validity of the AT's concern. I know the truth is often hard to hear. But after weeks of trying to come around to the AT's point of view, something just feels off. Maybe treating me with dignity and fairness in the first place would have made me less "sensitive"? Maybe trying to address the issues I bring up instead of dismissing me would have made me more trusting in an AT's judgment? As an Asian female, it's hard not to feel that I'm subjected to some kind of double standard, that the same respect and tolerance freely given to other demographics need not apply to me. It's hard not to feel hurt when a server who goes on a three-day bender instead of showing up for a promised shift (and you're tasked with cleaning up the mess in his room) gets to feel more at home and accepted than I am ever made to feel.

For months I told myself that my practice is not mature enough, that I need to be grateful, and that it is I whose thinking is distorted. But the more I speak to friends and family, the more I realize what happened at the centers constitutes a hostile work environment. There were elements of gaslighting and false dilemmas (damned if you stand up for yourself and damned if you don't stand up for yourself). I used to have a regular practice. But for the last few months, every time I try to meditate I'm overwhelmed by anger, humiliation, and a sense of being duped. I also feel a heavy sense of failure: even the most welcoming place in the world no longer welcomes me. I still have friends who write me about the wonderful time they spent at a Goenka center. It puts me in a difficult situation: if I tell them how I actually feel about the center, I'm putting a damper on their experience; but if I make no mention of my misgivings, I feel like I'm denying my own reality. I wrote a letter about my predicament and hand-delivered it to an AT several weeks ago, but I have not yet heard back from anyone. I don't know what to make of my relationship with my sangha anymore. How can I still stay friends with friends who are still involved in meditation? Am I simply asking for more trouble if I ever go back to the Goenka centers again? How can I ever feel safe there again? This experience has been very painful, something I never thought would happen with a meditation center.

Quardamon

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    • Teachers were: P.K.K. Mettavihari, Frits Koster, Nel Kliphuis. (In the line of Mahasi Sayadaw)
Re: Hostile service environment at Goenka centers
« Reply #1 on: December 25, 2017, 11:19:30 PM »
Hello JujuWoman,

What a terrible experience you went through. On this forum we had some discussions on the Goenka method, but we never had a reason to discuss abuse at a Goenka centre - until now.

You mention a lot, and I will pick out a few things to show you the line that I see. So that you (or others on this forum) can correct me if I am wrong.   

You mention: "I ended up apologising and thanking my way through the conversation despite what I went through." I know this of myself as a last ditch defence when I know that I am right, but the powers that want to prove me wrong are far more powerful. I know it as a way of retreating with as little damage as possible. I am sorry to read that you had to go through this.

You mention: "Despite abiding by the rules and never before experiencing adverse effect from meditation, I was put on the blacklist on the grounds that I am becoming too sensitive. The decision was made without my input and with minimal explanation." It is obvious that you see this as wrong. And indeed, how you were treated is wrong. It is unfair. And it hurts, of course it hurts.

You mention: "The more I speak to friends and family, the more I realise what happened at the centres constitutes a hostile work environment." Well, that is what friends and family are for. (And, in my view, what a sangha should be for.) Indeed  if you start telling yourself that it is you whose thinking is distorted, that is a hostile environment - indeed. And not just a hostile working environment - also a hostile spiritual environment.

If I read well, then the confusion that was within yourself is now between you and your friends. Can you still be friends with those involved in meditation? Well, meditation is not the same thing as abuse. And I must say, putting a damper on (their) experience is less dangerous that denying (one's own) reality. You had quite a damper on your experience of the past 10 years yourself.
If I understand well, you are not doubting yourself any more, but you are wondering what to do with your friends. As I said, that is at any rate less dangerous.

Sigh. You lost your faith in Vipassana. That must be a great loss. Since about four years, I rarely meditate. That feels as a loss, but it was a logical result of my own process. Maybe there si a way to regain your trust, by seeing precisely what is meditation and what it is that you cannot trust. But I will not go into this now. It is late at night here. And apart from that, I have said a lot already, and you might want time to digest what I wrote.

Good night.

jujuwoman

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Re: Hostile service environment at Goenka centers
« Reply #2 on: December 27, 2017, 06:00:26 AM »
Thank you, Quardamon, for the thoughtful and compassionate input. When you do get the chance and inclination, I would love to hear about how your relationship with meditation evolved or devolved.

I am indeed grieving the loss of my practice and trust. For years, meditation is the one refuge I could always come back to in spite of life's vicissitudes, the eye of the storm, so to speak. The Buddha tells Ananda to "make the Dhamma your island and refuge, your only refuge.”  But now this refuge itself has become a source of anger and sadness for me. I agree with what you say:

Maybe there si a way to regain your trust, by seeing precisely what is meditation and what it is that you cannot trust.

While I see plenty of resources on using meditation to heal the effects of bullying and inequitable treatment as well as examples of abuse and harmful patterns in spiritual communities, however, I couldn't find any resource on what a victim can do to heal and regain one's practice when meditation itself becomes associated with these types of misery. I feel wisdom, experience, and guidance on the matter would not only help me but also others who may step into my present predicament.
« Last Edit: December 27, 2017, 06:25:43 AM by jujuwoman »

raushan

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    • S. N. Goenka switched to Samatha Forest Tradition
Re: Hostile service environment at Goenka centers
« Reply #3 on: December 27, 2017, 11:40:20 AM »
Hi jujuwoman,

In your case It was the environment and the community which was causing the distress. I would suggest to keep continuing the meditation practice. There are other available technique you can do if current one isn't suiting you. There is a meditation technique described on the home page of this forum you can download it and start practicing it by yourself. Many people are doing that in this forum. You can ask question on the various online Buddhist forums. You can read Buddhist books and also listen the online dharma talks.

Probably it won't have the same effect as directly going to sangha and meeting people there but You won't be quitting the practice. Also, try to find other group of people who is practicing vipassana in California. As, there are other traditions of Meditation and I believe you should be able to find other groups.
 

Quardamon

  • Member
    • Teachers were: P.K.K. Mettavihari, Frits Koster, Nel Kliphuis. (In the line of Mahasi Sayadaw)
Re: Hostile service environment at Goenka centers
« Reply #4 on: December 28, 2017, 12:22:28 AM »
OK. Let me try. As a starting point I will take this:
for the last few months, every time I try to meditate I'm overwhelmed by anger, humiliation, and a sense of being duped.

The meditation that I learned and that my teachers called vipassana meditation, has an instruction that is different from the instruction of S.N. Goenka. On this forum I saw, that the effect is more or less the same. I suppose that the effect is more or less the same, because the basic attitude is the same: the intention to find peace, the intention to allow reality to unfold itself, and the trust that awareness itself has a cleansing quality.

***Just an intermezzo: I have to be careful with myself. This afternoon was chaotic. I intended to write just a practical note that I will have the time and rest to react in 36 hours form now. But well, I just began writing a reaction. We will see how far it goes. End of intermezzo. ***

I was taught to name very precisely what was happening in terms of bodily feelings, emotions, thought patterns, basic attitudes. Never going with them, always to allow them come and go. And: to be very precise. That can at times give insights that one could maybe also reach with analyses.
In your original post you mention: "I also feel a heavy sense of failure: even the most welcoming place in the world no longer welcomes me." If you look at it precisely, the fact that a place no longer welcomes you, is not your failure. The sense of failure is really a separate thing. That you were betrayed is a fact. (I hope and trust that we can agree on that.) An objective fact in the outside world. And it is fit to treat the facts of the outside world in a certain way. The sense of failure is a separate thing. In the way I learned to meditate, one would allow the sense of failure to be there, while at the same time keepings one's rest, breathing quietly, remembering why one is sitting: to meet reality, to allow reality. And at that time one sees that a sense of failure is part of reality. And it is not easy to sit this through. The art is, to appreciate the strength of it and not be overwhelmed by it.
Well, I hope that this gives you material to think about what meditation is. I hope it helps you to see, that in all those years that meditation was your great friend, you learned discipline, you trained concentration and awareness and more qualities, and that those are still your allies.

I stop now. It is time for me to go to bed. Till an other time. Be well.

jujuwoman

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Re: Hostile service environment at Goenka centers
« Reply #5 on: December 28, 2017, 01:17:00 AM »
Raushan, thanks for the encouraging message. The reminder that practicing without a supportive sangha is perhaps still better than losing the practice altogether is a helpful point:

Probably it won't have the same effect as directly going to sangha and meeting people there but You won't be quitting the practice. 

But as of now, meditating still brings back a lot of pain, shame, and anger I feel in relation to the meditation centers. I often wonder how long it will take for these feelings to subside. I am, however, no longer struggling with as much self-doubt. Writing and discussing with friends and family about my experience really helps, so does reading about other people's experience. This is also when I found out there aren't too many things written on the subject of how to bounce back both spiritually and emotionally after going through something traumatic in a place that is supposed to be about healing and growth.

While I have neither found a new sangha nor a particular desire to do so, I have gone to a few Dhamma talks in my area. It's a huge confidence booster just to experience again what it's like to be in a meditative environment without feeling judged or picked on. It's also refreshing to hear a teacher say something positive about my worth as a meditator for once.

Quardamon

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    • Teachers were: P.K.K. Mettavihari, Frits Koster, Nel Kliphuis. (In the line of Mahasi Sayadaw)
Re: Hostile service environment at Goenka centers
« Reply #6 on: December 29, 2017, 04:38:52 PM »
When you do get the chance and inclination, I would love to hear about how your relationship with meditation evolved or devolved.

That is an unclear story, with several influences and stepping stones. I am not so sure that I understand it myself, and not so sure that there is a logic in the story. I find now, that if I want to tell it, I have to drop the idea that it should help you. So be it.

There is this practical thing: Somewhere in 2013 or 2014 I found that during sittings I would hear a ringing in my ears. I supposed, that I did something wrong, and I could not find what. And I supposed that the ringing could become a major problem. That was one thing. It stopped me from sitting long or often. In the summer of 2016 I sat several times in the hollow of the night under one of the trees just behind our garden. I could do that without getting a ringing in my ears. Just sitting there with the trees, a stretch of grass and bushes, and the surrounding village.
In 2011 and 2012 I had the growing impression, that the basic attitude that one comes from is crucial in what one meets with. For several years, I had had as a recurring theme in my sittings, to sense very carefully what my basic attitude was. Now I had come to a point that this would not carry me further. Like I was in a basic attitude that I could not see, not sense, not name - but that was still guiding me. (Compare walking around in circles.)
*** My narrative is going to be quite chaotic. But that is the character of what I want to describe, so I leave it like that at this time. ***
In 2015 I learned clearly what I had heard earlier, that the mediation method that I learned is about 150 years old. It claims to stem from the Buddha, and has some reason for it. But at that moment in history it was part of a a re-invention of Buddhism, to make Buddhism survive the confrontation with the West at that time.
So the variables that we have - is my conclusion - is not only our bodily experiences, our emotions and thoughts, not only out thought patterns, but even the culture that we are rooted in. Now still, reading on Buddhism and religion is important for me, to give me me a sense of background.
Over the last few years, I also picked up on movement and dance again - for me, that is close to meditation, but from a different attitude.
*** I suppose that this is not interesting for you. If it is, then let me know, please. ***
*** Also, this morning my wife and son had a confrontation about matters of the larger family and how to deal with it. In this case, that is also a matter of being misunderstood or being mistreated by those people that one would hope to be very supportive. So maybe, I am not clean and clear enough at this moment to be of much value for you. ***

Generally speaking, I picked up other things, that each could replace part of what I had lost.

jujuwoman

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Re: Hostile service environment at Goenka centers
« Reply #7 on: December 30, 2017, 03:21:31 AM »
Dear Quardamon,

I very much touched by your willingness to share and console, especially during what is normally a busy and bustling time of the year. Your posts have been extraordinarily helpful. When you mentioned betrayal, my heart melted a little because that's exactly how I've been feeling, and it felt like acid. You pretty much hit the proverbial nail on the head on all the issues I've been struggling with. This alone makes me feel a dose of calm I haven't felt in a while, an echo of what you mean by "awareness itself has a cleansing quality." So please don't underestimate the value of your advice and experience. My interactions in this forum so far have provided a much needed boost in my confidence and adjustment in my attitude toward meditation. In a Dhamma talk by Ayya Santussika of Karuna Buddhist Vihara, she mentioned that the Buddha said the most powerful thing in the universe is the human voice, which I think implies human communication in general, be it spoken or written. I'm not sure which part of the scriptures says this, but it makes sense and agrees with the importance of intentions. It goes to show how crucial it is to talk things out if something isn't working anymore. Maybe talking things out won't solve them, but it's something to try.

I'm heartened that you mentioned some of the insights gained by meditation can also be gained by other means :

That can at times give insights that one could maybe also reach with analyses.

I feel this way as well. Despite my adherence to the Goenka tradition earlier, I now feel that it's only part of the picture and that there are so many experiences out there that are complementary, not antagonistic, to Vipassana. Despite many teachers' reminder that Dhamma is universal, culture does plays a huge part in how a meditation center is run. As egalitarian as a spiritual community aspires to be, the hierarchy of the society that shapes a tradition still creeps in. Those who are unfamiliar with certain cultural elements can be coopted into these elements without even realizing it. My recent experience has prompted me to pause meditation and instead to read up on the subject. For a long time I thought practice was enough, but now I realize I would be missing so much if I shun what literature, both monastic as well as secular, has to offer. I don't yet know how legitimate a meditation teacher Lorin Roche is, but what he identifies as cultural poisoning resonates with me.

"In your outer life you are living one way – you are a citizen of the United States or France or England or Slovakia – and in your inner life, as part of your meditation, you are a low-caste serf in an 15th Century Hindu ashram, struggling to get a little bit of attention from the Master, and begging for permission to exist. It is a very different thing to be living in Tibet in 1120 A.D. and be practicing Tibetan Buddhism, or Japan in 1425 and practicing Zen, than to be living in New York in 2004 and practicing Tibetan Buddhism. There is a different process for fitting your personality and daily life into the teachings" (http://www.lorinroche.com/dangers/homeless.html).

Thanks for affirming that the meditative qualities I've developed over the years are still with me. Part of my angst also comes from the feeling that my years of practice seems to amount to nothing. This feeling comes from my deeply, socially, and culturally conditioned need for approval and permission from a mentor figure. It can be a productive need which often serves me well: it makes me willing to question myself and adopt new ways of doing things. But this openness could be and has been unwittingly subverted to permit others to treat me in questionable ways. I'm slowly coming to terms with the reality that teachers can be unbalanced, scared, and ignorant as well. I served as a course manager in a silent retreat in which there was a wildfire nearby pumping heavy smoke and haze into the air. The students and servers were scared, many of whom went to the teacher to relate their concerns. The teacher, although well-intentioned, only told the students, "Dhamma will protect us. Don't worry.” One female student, a former staff at a fire department, left that retreat. As she left, she kindly told me not to wait until it's too late to evacuate. It took a day before signs were put up to reassure students of their safety. When the retreat ended, a student who nervously but politely brought up the fire came to me and apologized, "Sorry about being the crazy woman who was scared of the fire." It pained me to hear her dismiss herself as crazy when she couldn’t be more sensible. It dawned on me that no matter how wise the teacher may be, without a firefighting background her devotion to Dhamma will NOT be sufficient to guarantee our collective safety. Moreover, a concerned attitude toward fire does not indicate a lack of trust in Buddha's teaching. If teachers can be this oblivious to common sense, they can very well be poor judges of characters and group dynamics as well. I'm also chagrined that I let my own common sense be suspended to a worrisome degree.

I hope your family can sail through this period of distrust and uncertainty with calm and aplomb. You have a very sensitive and sympathetic voice; I'm sure your wife and son will benefit greatly from your wisdom and compassion. Just the way you put things on that front was helpful. You used the word "misunderstood," which reminds me other people's understanding of me can miss the mark and I therefore need to take it with a grain of salt. A lot of this is common sense, but if we only ever rely on sense the world would miss out on a lot of creativity. So I guess the trick is to find the right tension between common sense and creativity.
« Last Edit: December 30, 2017, 04:08:43 AM by jujuwoman »

Quardamon

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    • Teachers were: P.K.K. Mettavihari, Frits Koster, Nel Kliphuis. (In the line of Mahasi Sayadaw)
Re: Hostile service environment at Goenka centers
« Reply #8 on: December 30, 2017, 07:53:22 PM »
Your reaction touched my heart, more than I had anticipated. Thank you. And thank you for pointing out Lorin Roche.

I'm slowly coming to terms with the reality that teachers can be unbalanced, scared, and ignorant as well.
That is beautiful. (I am convinced, that a teaching environment will be healthier if there are beings around the teacher who correct him/her. I am convinced, that a good teacher welcomes being corrected. That is why someone could take refuge in a sangha: It should be a living body that corrects itself.)

Well - I take it then, that you are on your way again. Welcome to this sangha, if you want to stay.
(It is funny that I say this, because I was very little active here, during almost two years. So be it. Welcome.)

jujuwoman

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Re: Hostile service environment at Goenka centers
« Reply #9 on: December 31, 2017, 01:33:24 AM »
Hi Quardamon,

I'm definitely seeing this forum now as a virtual sangha. I joined this forum because the posts in other topics were supportive. This makes me feel my vulnerabilities would be safe here.

I'm still dealing with anger and a sense of loss, but I'm no longer blaming myself, which is a huge relief. I'm not sure when I will feel like meditating again. But it would now have to be a choice based on my own agency rather than the dictates of an authority figure. Since my own worth has been subjected to repeated questioning, if I am asked to surrender to a teacher again, it's only fair I'll want proof why this teacher is worth and safe for me to surrender to.

I look forward to benefiting from your continued presence in the forum.

May you have a wonderful New Year.
« Last Edit: December 31, 2017, 03:11:04 AM by jujuwoman »

 

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