Continued from part – 1
Mr. Brooks’ confrontation with Mr. Nothnagel and my analysis of it was important enough to merit a separate post. Let us begin the analysis
Firstly, I would like to mention that this is a one-sided account. Mr. Nothnagel’s view is missing from the story. I have tried to find Mr. Klaus Nothnagel or his wife Mrs. Edith Nothnagel’s email address on the internet to get their side of the story, but have been unsuccessful. In case anyone has their email address, I would be grateful if you could forward it to me with their permission of course. One must keep in mind that every story has two sides. Any sincere person must carefully consider both sides before coming to any sort of conclusion. Still, we only have Mr. Brooks’ version for now. So let us analyze that version. Let us give Mr Brooks’ a hearing.
1. The Assistant Teacher (henceforward referred to as the AT), Mr Nothnagel becomes annoyed when Mr. Brooks’ gives an honest account of his experience while observing breath. He again becomes annoyed at various stages during the retreat when Mr. Brooks makes known his rather unique experiences.
My Response: If this account is true, then the AT is in serious breach of his code of conduct. A teacher’s correct attitude to his students should be one of compassion and understanding at his travails and joy at his attainment. Not envy at his attai ntments or anger or displeasure at his travails. If the account is correct, then it seems to me that the ATs annoyance springs from envy that a new student has such an experience such as this. Generally, my experience has been that the ATs are compassionate for the most part and are truly happy whenever a student experiences absorption or Bhanga. I have however, also come across ATs who are not “there” yet. So there is a chance that Mr. Brooks’ account is true. If true, this is valid criticism of the selection process for ATs, but not of Acariya Goenka himself. Certainly, Goenkaji freely admits to his mistakes in selecting ATs and has to correct his mistakes from time to time by removing ATs from their post for various violations of the code of conduct.
2. Mr. Brooks claims that it is hardly possible to ignore all the wonderful sensations he is feeling when practising anapana-sati. He asks why he must ignore some and observe others.
My response: There are times when I feel excruciating pain while practicing anapana-sati. Ignoring the pain hardly seems possible for me. At other times I feel wonderful sensations all over my body. Ignoring the also hardly seems possible for me. But I try. Why? Because the practice of anapana-sati is observing the breath, nothing else. It is generally a common and persistent habit pattern of the mind to keep getting distracted by extraneous phenomena while engaged in anapana sati. Getting distracted is fine. But to treat these distractions as worthy of observation and neglect the breath is not anapana-sati. Whatever the validity of observing these extraneous phenomena may be, I cannot comment. But I can say that it is not anapana-sati. And what Acariya Goenka teaches the first three days is Anapana sati and his teaching is in accord with the Buddha’s instructions regarding Anapana-Sati in the Suttas. If anyone can point me to a Sutta where the Buddha asks one to ignore the breath and focus on the extraneous phenomena while engaged in Anapana-Sati, please bring it to my attention.
3. Mr Brooks is un-nerved by the ATs apparent obsession with Mr. Brooks head bobbing.
My comment: Generally, one of an AT’s concern with such an event is that it is disturbing to other students. The other may be that the student is not practicing seriously. Or that the student may be intentionally bobbing his head. I have no comment regarding access concentration or Chakra meditation as I do not know what those terms mean. And they are also not relevant to the story
4. Mr Brooks is unhappy that there is no board to oversee, review the activities of the ATs
My response: I do not know the workings of the organization to comment on this. But if there is a board, this again begs the question, “Who oversees the board?” A classic chicken and egg problem. In my knowledge, Goankaji has had to remove some ATs in the past. So there “is” some sort of feedback mechanism. Since I have never felt the need to air any grievance, nor have I participated in any administrative procedure, I do not know what it is
5. The AT orders Mr Brooks to stop the Bobbing. Mr. Brooks explains his inability to do so. The AT asks Mr. Brooks to leave
My response: Mr Brooks was not very polite in explaining to Mr. Nothnegal his inability to stop the head bobbing. In fact he is quite rude. Thus Mr. Brooks is not without fault. During one of my retreats, I was undergoing excruciating unpleasantness which caused my breathing to be labored and loud enough to disturb other students. When quizzed by the AT, I explained that I was in pain and could not help my labored breathing. The AT did not ask me to leave the course. He did not reprimand me or say one harsh word. It is possible that Mr Brooks’ apparent rudeness is possibly what convinces the AT that Mr Brooks was not willing to work according to instructions. It is one thing to be unable to work as per instructions. It is another thing not to be willing to do so. The first is not a problem. The second is. If the AT sincerely believed the second explanation to be true, if he believed that Mr. Brooks was intentionally bobbing his head, he is within his rights to ask Mr. Brooks to leave. But if the ATs actions were motivated by envy or ill-will towards Mr. Brooks, then the AT is clearly in the wrong and there has been a severe breach of the code of conduct. For a third party observer like myself, it is hard to know the facts of the case. But I can say this for sure, This is still not a valid criticism of Acariya Goenka or what he teaches. It is however a valid criticism of the selection process for ATs. In the defense of the selection process, I can say with some amount of certainty, that the ATs I know would never have asked Mr. Brooks to leave. If Mr. Brooks was disturbing other students with his bobbing, at the most he would give him a separate place to meditate. Or they would tell him to continue as he is, no problem. The AT I know would let Mr Brooks continue with his head bobbing if he considered it unavoidable. So if the account is true, Mr Brooks merely had an unfortunate experience. In conclusion, this is still not a valid criticism of Acariya Goenka or what he teaches.
3. Mr Brooks alleges that Sayagyi U Ba Khin has specifically designed a method to prevent the arising of absorption states
My response: If this allegation is true, it is indeed serious. But I do not see a cogent argument from Mr Brooks’ as to why he believes this to be true. For my part, there have been times in my practice where I have been reasonably absorbed in the awareness of the impermanence of sensory phenomena (sensations). When I say I was absorbed, I mean that I did not have to make any effort to keep my mind of the sensations. Generally, my mind has a habit of straying from it’s object of contemplation an effort needs to be made to keep the mind on the object. During these time, it was effortless or at the very least, the effort required to keep the mind on the object (in this case the instability of sensory phenomena) was minimal. Whether I was experiencing Jhana, I do not know. But extrapolating from this experience, I would say that Mr. Brooks is probably mistaken. Still Mr. Brooks has not made any cogent argument explaining this viewpoint of his. It is again NOT a valid criticism.
4. Several allegations regarding Goenkaji and the organization follow
My reponse: Plenty of speculation but no conclusive proof as far as I can tell. There is no conclusive argument that a student of logic can accept. Attacking the person of Acariya Goenka instead of his teaching is what is called in logic an ad-hominem attack. As far as I know Acariya Goenka’s conduct has been spotless. At the end of a day I am interested in a man’s conduct as that is something I can readily evaluate. If Mr. Brooks can point me to that, I will consider. I am not interested in allegations and speculation.
The next post will address some criticisms of the way Acariya Goenka Teaches meditation as that is what I am really interested in.