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Lions Roar : March 2016
The ten-day retreat was led by S.N. Goenka, a former Indian businessman and famed teacher of vipassana (insight) medita- tion. He told the participants that the point of the practice was to see, and free themselves from, old patterns. Salzberg was sur- prised at the emotions that began to surface. “Did I know I felt afraid? Or angry? Probably not, until I went to India, and then I was like whoahhh!” she remembers. “Even though it was hard, from the moment I started, I thought, ‘There’s truth here. This is it.’ There was a deep sense of rightness.” Salzberg found a sense of community among her fellow seekers. That famed Goenka course included many Westerners who would become leading figures in the growth of Eastern spirituality in the West, including Ram Dass, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, Mirabai Bush, Krishna Das, Dan Goleman, and, of course, Salzberg herself. “Many of my close friends are still people I met at my first retreat in January of 1971,” she says. “When I say all beings want to be happy, what I actually think I mean is we all want some sense of belonging.” Putting her faith in a tradition and a body of knowledge gave Salzberg a sense of confidence. “I took refuge in the Buddha very happily,” she says. “There was an authenticity or integrity to what you were learning. There was a sense that you’re not alone—there’s wisdom here, people have done this, they have walked this path.” On the final day of the retreat, Goenka introduced the prac- tice of metta, or loving-kindness. “I had never been so at home, never been so happy,” Salzberg says. “This is what I had longed for, not surprisingly—a sense of unconditional love.” She experienced another kind of love when she met Dipa Ma, another Indian-born teacher in the Burmese meditation tradition. Dipa Ma would set the course for Salzberg’s adult life. “She was an incredible model, someone who had suffered so much personally, far more than I, and had emerged with such huge compassion and strength.” With Dipa Ma, Salzberg felt the maternal love she had been craving since her mother’s death. “An incredible love would come forth from her. It was restorative. It was incredibly heal- ing.” Salzberg says good teachers become like good parents and can help students re-parent themselves. “What’s that saying? It’s never too late to have a happy childhood?” IN 1974, SALZBERG WENT to say good-bye to Dipa Ma because she was going back to the U.S. for what she thought would be a brief visit. Joseph Goldstein was already teaching meditation at Naropa Institute in Colorado, and Dipa Ma told Salzberg, “When you go back to the States, you’ll be teaching with Joseph.” Salzberg said, ‘No, I won’t,” and Dipa Ma replied, “Yes, you will. You really understand suffering. That’s why you should teach.” Salzberg says this was the first time in her life she thought her suffering could be of value. “It’s very, very hard to look at pain. For her to say that to me really meant something.” Salzberg was twenty-one years old when she returned to the U.S after four years in India. There she joined some fellow medi- tators from the Goenka retreat who were teaching at Naropa, creating an informal community that would produce some of the most recognizable and influential names in American Buddhism. Burmese vipassana master Mahesi Sayadaw (back row center) conducts a teacher authorization ceremony in 1979 for IMS founding members Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, and Jacqueline Mandell-Schwartz. Salzberg at IMS with insight teacher Anagarika Munindra, who told her, “The Buddha’s enlightenment solved the Buddha’s problem—now you solve yours.” LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2016 69