An Open Source Approach to Meditation Practice

Posted by | August 09, 2011 | Blog | No Comments
[This is the 2nd part of a interview I did with New Zealand based teacher Peter Fernando. It appeared on his site A Month of Mindfulness.]

Peter: So another question I have relates to what you call an ‘Open Source’ approach to meditation, where there is a freedom to draw from all kinds of practices. Could you say a little about that?

Vincent: Yeah, the Open Source thing is interesting because I’m really into technology – it’s something I’ve been interested in for a long time – and one thing I know about the open source movement is that it can be done really really well, if you get the right people, or it can be a complete disaster and you end up with the worst software ever! (laughs)

But if you do get the right people involved, there’s something about the spirit of open source, a kind of attitude of experimentation, of trying new things, of seeing what works, of not getting caught in a closed, proprietary system. So, for example if you’re working at Microsoft there’s certain parameters that you have to work within, that you don’t have to use when you’re working with open source.

And sometimes the tradition of Buddhism can get like that, in an analogous way, in that it can keep those inside it from seeing beyond what’s already been done, what the parameters are. The open source model is not saying ‘let’s get rid of the core aims of practice’, but rather let’s see if we can have the software run in a more elegant or maybe more efficient way. But the aim is still awakening. What the program is for, to continue to stretch this metaphor to it’s complete limit (laughs), is awakening, and a mastering of the ability to move in and out of states of consciousness, and to not grasp them at the same time. So it’s about having that full range of experience accessible but not holding on to any one state. To me that’s the core of the trainings that the Buddha was offering, you know, a freedom to move through and access, and then let go of all these different states of consciousness.

Peter: So would that apply to forms and structures as well – seeing their transparency, but also being able to find the usefulness in them?

Vincent: Yeah, I think so. For example I have recently been using a technique, ‘noting-out-loud’, which I learned from one of my main teachers, Kenneth Folk. Although I’d been using it in the teacher-student setting, when he told me that his students were having really good results doing it out loud on their own, I felt this internal polarity inside me between the traditional Buddhist, who was like, ‘You can’t do it out loud, meditation is supposed to be silent’, and the other part of me who doesn’t really care! And I realized that I have to work with both of these dimensions.

There has to be some deep wisdom in this long standing tradition of silent meditation. There’s something to it that I don’t want to discard, but then in the same token I have to acknowledge that if something else works better for some people, then, you know ‘Why not?’!

And so I’m having to acknowledge that sometimes I have to let go of the forms, or how it’s supposed to look, in certain cases, as long as it’s not abandoning the core wisdom that we’re trying to have manifest and come alive. The main aim of what we call Pragmatic Dharma is supporting others in really seeing what’s happening in their experience moment to moment, really seeing how things are changing, and of course into all the traditional three characteristics of experience – and as a result moving toward liberating insight into the nature of identity.

And whatever techniques support that, whatever actually works is what I’m interested in using – which is kind of of the central philosophy of pragmatism – to use whatever practices work. And also to use whatever theoretical constructs support that. So its’ unsentimental in a certain way, but it’s also got that Buddhist spirit of doing whatever works to wake up!

”By whatever means necessary” (laughs)…

About Vincent Horn

Vincent Horn is a mind hacker & buddhist geek. He has been practicing Buddhist meditation intensively since his freshman year in college–including a year on intensive silent retreats–and began teaching in 2010 with the support of his own teachers, Kenneth Folk and Daniel Ingram. In addition Vincent co-founded the popular media company Buddhist Geeks in 2006. His work focuses on the fusion of nascent technology and contemplative wisdom, and has been featured on the pages of Wired, Fast Company, Tricycle, and the Los Angeles Times. Along with his wife Emily, he makes his home in Asheville, North Carolina—that is until the distinction between atoms and bits dissolves completely.

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