I returned last month from the United States. I first visited San Francisco and New York in 1977. At the initial invitation of Jack Kornfield, I taught twice a year for 25 years at IMS, the Vipassana centre, in Barre, Massachusetts and for 25 years in the Bay Area, namely Spirit Rock starting in 1982.
Earlier this year, I decided to cut down on my overseas travel from four continents a year to three continents. I have the wish to spend more time serving the Dharma in Totnes, reducing carbon footprints and give more time to dharma writing.
Elsewhere in the world, I have much more contact with teachers and practitioners throughout the year whereas in the USA, I fly in, teach a retreat, offer workshops and fly home with little contact between the visits. Besides, it’s very hard to get a decent cup of tea in the USA. Spirit Rock doesn’t even have a teapot. The milk has additives and doesn’t taste like proper milk. Mind you, it is vegetarian cuisine for breakfast, dinner and evening meal.
The board, teachers and staff of Spirit Rock very kindly gave me as a farewell gift in the form of a beautiful Thai standing Buddha statue and a Kashmir shawl. I was invited to take any number of books from their bookshop. I ran off with five books – Wei wu Wei, Rumi, John Wellwood etc. One of the senior teachers also gave me a personal dana of $500. At the end of the retreat, I held that standing Buddha statue up for all to see. One retreatant thought I had been awarded an Oscar.
I thought it would be easy to say goodbye to America. Staff at New York Open Centre and Spirit Rock have always been exceptionally kind and supportive. I felt a little regret about saying goodbye – although the decision is not carved in the rock.
The dana was breathtakingly kind. I am always a little taken aback with the generosity of Americans. I tend to bite the hand that feeds. “Most lawyers are not interested in truth but in winning an argument.” “Psychotherapists spend far too long in their client’s story, and what really matters has nothing to do with the story.” “SUV’s stands for Simply Useless Vehicles.” “America is still living in the 1970’s and 1980’s.” “Lawyers have gagged Buddhist centres from real discussion between the board, staff and sangha on behaviour issues.” Not all in the same talk, of course. Nor even in the same retreat.
At Spirit Rock, I gave a health warning at the beginning of the retreat. I said that if I give anyone too much attention, too little attention, say anything in the hall that upsets you, infuriates you, then please write a formal letter of complaint to the Board of Directors and Teachers Council and they can pass it on to the other centres.
God Bless America.