A lot of Dharma centers are struggling to survive now, and this was happening before the pandemic. Buddhist Dharma is a complex series of long analytical teachings, logic and powerful training methods, that can take quite a few years, if not “lifetimes” to learn, let alone master. Does the Buddhist Dharma as it is, really work in the west, in 2020? Is the traditional body of teachings really grabbing the next generation, the millennials and beyond? There were many scandals over the past few years and there’s a marked trend away from organized religion, the “I know and you don’t” model, in general, and I suggest we consider evolving with the times, and re-examine what really helps people to heal and grow.
My husband is from Sweden and all over Europe they have these holistic wellness retreat centers that people go to de-stress. I think it was in one of Michael Moore’s movies that in Germany, if one is having job burnout, anxiety, they are mandated to go to a healing retreat to recharge. There seems to be a trend away from just Buddhism with the focus of top down dharma lectures and long monetized levels, to healing and wellness like some of these European holistic retreat models.
There is such a need for this in society, and there is a marked tendency away from these religious institutions in general, and a tendency toward earthy, grounded, body based, nature, “tribal” and healing based modalities. Spirituality is replacing Religion. For example: yoga, breath, sitting, simple affirmation mantras, oil massage and healing warm baths, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, trauma work, conscious communication and relationship healing, rebirthing, healthy eating and weight loss, somatic, Tibetan Medicine and , open senses running, nature and grounding to help with anxiety, could be offered and emphasized more at these holistic healing centers, and indeed is already the Dharma in essence, reinvented.
Here are some proposed tracks:
• Conscious Aging/Caring for Self and Others
• Weight loss/ balanced body and mind
• Conscious communication, the art of conversation, healing relationships
• Retreat, renew and recharge, sitting and nature bathing
• Working with anxiety and depression
• Conscious parenting
• Creating a Carbon Neutral Green Home/ Lifestyle
• Trauma survivors… looking forward to a renewed life
• Addiction/ attachment working through destructive patterns
• Landscape Design/ Living Ikebana and Feng Shui
• Dharma Art and Manifesting our World
• Yoga, Body and Mind Wellness and Movement
• Engaged Dharma turning the Lotus Outward
• fitness boot camp military style strength, endurance and discipline training
• contemplative cross county and snowshoeing
Dying with no Spiritual Awareness
In Boulder, there is a famous Tibetan Buddhist teacher Dzigar Kongtul Rinpoche who is often called to be there when Boulder Buddhists were dying. At first he was looking forward to the privilege of being with us since the founder of Shambhala and Naropa University, Trungpa Rinpoche was considered a very realized teacher.
He said the he was disappointed to see that “we were dying with no realization,” at the time of death “we had not recognized the inner guru and we were looking for him to help,” at the moment he claims, “it’s too late, the winds are dissolving.” “People held on tightly to whatever moments of life they had and could not let go,” we have a lot of confusion and fear.
I don’t not want to die this way and it seems like, however powerful our current methods just aren’t working, this is a much larger problem than any provincial #metoo scandals and we could ask ourselves, why isn’t it all working? Here’s what a few of us came up with:
1. We externalize our Gurus and spiritual teachers and, even if practicing and devoted and tons of effort, I presume we aren’t training in the subtle ground of letting go, our root practice. The mind is facing outward still, spiritual materialism, solid reification.
2. Powerful Buddhist/ Tantric teachings are proven technologies to have us become realized, but, even our root practices were created thousands of years ago, and people and times have changed since ancient India and Tibet. Lama Zopa, in the book Balanced Body, Balanced Mind, said that almost all westerners have tsok lung, a very serious wind disturbance.
In the west we call it trauma or P.T.S.D. and it comes from unprocessed grief. We all seem to have so many sad things happen, loss, deaths, divorce, and our speedy “back to work, look outside for distraction,” culture doesn’t allow us to grieve, learn and heal, so these experiences compile.
It’s like in the west, we often come into the Dharma with already so much of this disturbance as Rinpoche noticed. If say, any animal has been abused or was in trauma, would having them sit in a room alone silently, heal them? No, even silent sitting, called shamatha/vipassana might not be effective right away, it could feel like solitary confinement and exacerbate trauma, and certainly not higher yogas and tantras, these could be very dangerous actually. We have all heard of Kundalini Syndrome.
It might be better, in 2020 and going forward to at first, for all of us to connect to and teach earthy, body based element things: eat well, exercise, play, have gentle friends and conversations, connect with elements, fires, water, sun, snow. Certainly not “crazy wisdom” or the tough love, confrontational style of EST from the 70’s. More trauma can be created with a wrathful Rinzai stick or Milarepa’s shoe whacking or openness evoking “bliss sex” from a teacher, this is *not* what broken hearts need.
We do need to update.
These challenging days, there is so very much healing we can share and have to offer and learn from each other, and these wellness retreats are invaluable. We can even create community and wellness support online. Our world is in perpetual trauma and P.T.S.D., and we have modern professional healing modalities that can help. The healing and helping modalities are still powerful and can be brought into maturity. This model I’m suggesting as a new way forward for Dharma Centers is also financially viable. We need: self care, massage, campfires, nature walks, a trauma retreat for survivors, or a two week weight loss, hiking, 5 Elements Balancing, retreat. You get the idea.
Please see ideas from these holistic retreat centers:
We do thrive with support and spiritual community, now more than ever. I have relied daily on the kindness of my lifelong Dharma friends, even as everything is changing rapidly. We could get really grounded, heal, become kind again, before even shamatha/vipassana sitting meditation. This is why there’s such a business now with the retreat and renewal model globally, it’s hot, it’s needed and it’s what works.
Warmly and with bravery, into the new days to come,
image courtesy of pexels Retha Ferguson