Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


Meditations (Spirituality): The Retreat Industry

Meditations (Spirituality) - From Martin LeFevre in California

The Retreat Industry

A veritable retreat and spiritual guidance industry has sprung up in the last decade in the West. Apart from the ethical questions of turning spirituality into business (a practice as old as both), there is the question: To what degree are all these retreats and religious teachers actually helping people and transforming society?

Out of curiosity, as well as an urge to find like-minded people to question and awaken insight together, I’ve gone to a variety of day or weekend-long retreats over the last ten years. The only thing I’ve come away with is: 1. There is a lot of spiritual hunger out there; and 2. There are a lot of people willing to exploit it. (Not all people of course, but where there's a ‘market,’ there are manipulators.)

A possible exception that proves the rule is the Shasta Abbey Buddhist Monastery, located a few hours north of where I live, near the majestic volcanic peak of Mt. Shasta. Though I haven’t visited the Abbey, I did attend a special daylong retreat held in town with the abbot and a number of the monks.

They brought a trace of the abbey with them. With their simple brown robes and austere manner, and no doubt because of the innumerable hours spent in “Serene Reflection Meditation” (Soto Zen), the monks’ presence alone created an atmosphere of respect and quiet. (That raises another interesting question: What is the relationship between a monastery and the world?)

As I recall, we sat for about 45 minutes at a time, took shorter ‘walking meditations,’ and had two dialogues, which were really question and answer sessions, with the abbot. Naively perhaps, I asked: “How did nature evolve a mind that is so at odds with what you call our ‘Buddha nature?” Though I’ve gone into the question, my intent was to spark mutual inquiry. The abbot replied, “If you have insight into that question, you should be on this podium.” It would be great if no one needed to be, I thought.

Spiritual authority is a subtly destructive thing, and sophisticated spiritual teachers often go to great lengths to disavow it. The essential thing is not to rely on anyone inwardly. Of course, if one discovers something, one naturally wants to share the insight. But water flows wherever it goes.

I heard about a retreat center recently where people paid a lot of money to come for a week of silent sitting, talks by the teacher, and quiet dialogues. A terrific storm had blown through the week before, knocking down many trees. To clear away the debris, chain saws were employed incessantly in the vicinity, much to the chagrin of the retreatants. (My spell check wants to make that ‘retreat ants.’)

Upholding the principle of passivity to the point of absurdity, the staff did nothing, and the teacher found the situation funny, which it was if you weren’t part of it. Finally a few of the guests insisted that the staff make the chain saw crews cease and desist for at least a few hours during the day, thereby temporarily restoring treasured tranquility.

The story illustrates a major flaw in the spiritual movement—that of removing oneself from the world, taking the attitude that nothing matters but one’s individual ‘here and now.’ Believing that only our individual responses matter is the great peril of the contemplative life.

One often hears from retreatants some variation of the mantra: ‘I cannot do anything about the world’s woes; all I can do is watch my own reactions.’ That risks viewing the economic and political injustices of this world as mere intrusions upon the placid settings of one’s personal and permanent retreat.

************

- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: martinlefevre@sbcglobal.net. The author welcomes comments.


© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>

ALSO:

Buildup:

Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>

ALSO:

Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>

ALSO:


Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news