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Lions Roar : January 2003
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2003 45 grew up.” Then Salzberg tells the story of meeting a friend of Dipa Ma’s—anoth- er female Indian teacher whose father-in-law had forbidden her to med- itate. “I asked her, ‘How did you accomplish what you needed to accom- plish to be a teacher?’ and she said, ‘I was very mindful when I stirred the rice.’ ” Salzberg looks at you with soft green eyes, raises her eyebrows and smiles. She says, “I think we have the ability to seize that possibility for ourselves, and we don’t do it.” SALZBERG CAME BACK to the States in 1974, finished school, and— because Dipa Ma told her to, saying that Salzberg “really understood suffering”—she helped Joseph Goldstein teach a class in meditation at the Naropa Institute, which had just opened its doors in Boulder, Colorado. Though Salzberg was practicing, and now beginning to teach—and even starting to lead retreats—she was still incredibly hard on herself, full of self-judgment, straining, she says, all the time to change herself, be better, get somewhere with her practice. Ram Dass says of Salzberg in those years, “She was quite lost.” Ram Dass agrees, however, with others who say that Salzberg must have built up stores of merit in other lifetimes, because, though lost, straining, self-critical and at first all for herself, she worked diligently to stay on a difficult path that would eventually have a huge impact on a lot of people. When she was only 23, she and Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein, joining with a group of friends, bought, with very little money, an old building from the Catholic Church, and started the now well-respected and very successful Insight Meditation Society. IT WASN’T UNTIL 1984 that Salzberg and Goldstein met Sayadaw U Pandita, the Theravadan teacher from Burma who would turn Salzberg’s life around once again. U Pandita had a reputation for being very, very difficult. “Oh, boy—he was a tough guy,” says Ram Dass, who met U Pandita in Burma during an early retreat with Salzberg and Goldstein. Ram Dass laughs. “I was happy to leave there. I felt like I escaped.” Ram Dass says it was at this time, 1985, that Salzberg started doing metta inten- sively. “I watched her change,” he says. “She went from being in her mind, to being very soft, loving, sensual, actually. Because she was coming into herself.” Between 1985 and 1991, U Pandita worked with Salzberg on two practices: mindfulness practice and loving-kindness practice. Though she’d been meditating for fourteen years, and had been at IMS for nine, it was a new beginning. “I was seeing him six days a week when on intensive retreat,” Salzberg says, “and I’d go in for an interview, and describe something, and he’d say, ‘Well, in the beginning it can be like that,’ and I’d think, ‘I’m not a beginner!’ ” She laughs. “And I’d come in the next day and describe something completely different and he’d say, ‘Oh, in the beginning it can be like that.’ You know?!” Salzberg says, and, feigning infuriation, looks at you, “ ‘I’m not a beginner!’ And it went on that way for a very long time,” she says, “until I got it: It’s good to be a beginner. It’s good not to have all these ideas—‘I shouldn’t experience this, I should be doing more of that.’ It’s good to just see what’s there, to say, ‘Wow! Look at that!’” One of the resident teachers at IMS, Amy Schmidt, is laughing Top: Salzberg in Calcutta in 1973. Bottom: Dipa Ma (seated), her daughter Dipa and student Roy Bonney. PHOTOBYROYBONNEY.