Serving at Dhamma Pubbananda
Anecdotal Reflections from Sit/Serve and Long-Term Servers
If you’re interested in the Sit/Serve or Long-Term server opportunities, please email at [email protected]. Someone will be in touch with you to answer your questions, explain the guidelines for the above service opportunities and to discuss options.
This newsletter is from old students who were Sit/Serve or Long-term servers. their perspectives help us all reflect upon the importance, value and growth that occurs when we develop our practice in both sitting and serving. Below, you’ll find various anecdotal responses to the question, “Why do I serve?” We hope you find them as inspirational as we did.
Andrew Chelius, Reflections of Pubbananda as a Long-Term Server
(June – December 2014)
“Buddha said that 100% of the path is about friendship. The growth of the Center would not be possible if it weren’t for our friendship and community.”
I remember so vividly the first time I visited Dhamma Pubbananda. I went with Tim and Sosimorn on one of the coldest days in February 2014. Tim, Sosimorn, and I had just come back from a thirty-day course at VMC. Tim wanted to show me the property. It had just been bought the year before. Renovations hadn’t started yet, but I felt so much joy knowing that this would soon be a place where there would be courses. We built a fire in the old fireplace in building three and I sat so close that I nearly burned my knees. After we sat, Sosimorn unpacked Tupperware containers from grocery bags and we ate Cambodian tomato and pineapple soup.
Renovations began that summer. There was a need for servers to be on site to look after the property. There was no running water or electricity then. I stayed in a tent between buildings one and three and helped with smaller construction and landscaping projects. It was also my job to develop the first menu and ordering guide.
It was an amazing learning experience. I had been practicing for three years then. I remember how hard it was to let go of a sense of control. There were three of us staying at the center. Lallie and Ryan worked with the contractors and set up new systems for the center. I wanted to be a part of the organization and operations too, but I was needed in other areas. It ended up being an important practice of letting go and doing what was needed. Goenkaji says it’s important to try to not have preferences when serving. This can be difficult—especially early on in the journey!
On one afternoon, I was having a challenging day, and after making lunch on the small, gas range stove in the trailer I remember brusquely putting down the food and and storming away. My agitation must have been read, because later, after we ate, Lallie told me with so much kindness, “You need to find a way to be with that anger.” I needed that kind of feedback and guidance from someone I looked up to. Lallie was good at helping me see things about myself that I couldn’t see. I’m so grateful to people who have helped me in that way in Dhamma. I can be stubborn!
It was also an opportunity to develop the parami of strong determination, and to strengthen my devotion to the practice. Some days it felt like I was squatting on some abandoned property. I sometimes questioned my purpose and usefulness. Sittings could difficult. More sankaras came to the surface. Other days I wondered if courses would ever begin. But overwhelmingly, I felt a deep trust and gratitude for the privilege to be there.
Renovations kept delaying, and predictions for when we would begin courses got pushed back. Sometimes workers showed up sporadically and at inopportune times. During one of our first group meditations in the Dhamma Hall, I remember feeling my breath with fleeting awareness to the sorrowful sounds of Mexican boleros and a steady flow of expletives as two workers struggled to carry a hot water heater up the attic steps. Talk about a practice of developing samadhi! But there was also so much gratitude, because we knew that soon we would also have hot water!
The building permit got approved hours before we began the first course. It was a two-day course with only a handful of students and servers (photo attached here). Jon Penn, Dave Hopkins, and I served in the kitchen, and Lallie conducted. Ryan worked behind the scenes. The work felt so purposeful, and our intentions were so clear. It was time; courses had begun. In a few weeks, new students would come to Dhamma Pubbananda to learn Vipassana for the first time. Our hard work had paid off.
The Center has developed and changed so much since then. I remember walking into the industrial kitchen for the first time. Hearing the whir of the dishwasher and seeing the smiling faces of servers in colorful bandanas. A gong hung in the corner. Nutritional yeast and PG Tips tea. Oatmeal and prunes. Sounds and smells of coming home.
Buddha said that 100% of the path is about friendship. The growth of the Center would not be possible if it weren’t for our friendship and community. We sustain each other. Each time I return to the Center I try to remember that our community and commitment to the development of the Center and to our meditation practice allows our Center to grow, and that makes it possible for more people to benefit from the Center. I feel so grateful that I have that in my life, and so fortunate to have been connected to the Center over this period of time.
Lallie, Jon, Ryan, Deborah, Dave, Andrew, ?, ?, Sosimorn
Adam Novak, Sit/Serve Server
(May – July 2021)
“I just wanted to invest in myself as a person – not just building professional skills, but developing valuable interpersonal qualities. We all know people who are negative and others who are so full of kindness and warmth – you somehow feel happier just from being around them.”
For Adam Novak, it all started when he sat his first 10-day course in the Philippines during a gap year at college. He volunteered throughout East and Southeast Asia. Adam shared that this opened his eyes to the incredible beauty, complexity and diversity of our world; the ability we each have to explore it, if we’re willing to try. After that first 10-day course, he wanted to traverse the inner terrain. He says, “I wanted to invest in myself as a person – not just building professional skills, but developing valuable interpersonal qualities. We all know people who are negative and others who are so full of kindness and warmth – you somehow feel happier just from being around them.”
Thus he spent the summer of 2021 as a Sit/Serve student at Dhamma Pubbananda. Since sitting and serving, Adam stated, “I have more gratitude and positivity. When I pause and really reflect on what you have to be thankful for, the list grows far longer than you could have imagined. This leaves you feeling so fortunate, joyful and energized. Then you want to share this good fortune with others. The attitude of patience, loving-kindness meditation, has helped me build a newfound feeling of real inner contentment, which I now find invaluable.
As you meditate and serve for longer and more consecutive periods of time, you begin to develop an understanding of the difference between intentional thought of the conscious mind and the anxious thought of the unconscious mind. The practice is utilized when you serve. It can help cultivate self-awareness and self-control.
This newfound mental self-control with the practice helped me notice when I’d entered anxious thought territory sooner than I would have before and, using the breath and sensations, it helped me enjoy life with those around me. Adam summarizes, “After three months of living like a monk and countless hours of meditation and service, I am certainly no saint. But even the slightest growth is huge. By giving intentional effort to growing in these qualities, you’re ensuring that you are taking the path towards a better you rather than a worse you!
Adam, Mike, Dr. Jain, Deb, Sarah, Becca, Loza
Long-Term Service in Dhamma from Becca and Mike
(May – August 2021)
“Being at a Center greatly improves your meditation practice. Getting to sit three times a day in a Dhamma environment is powerful and provides you with a safe place to process what it is we need to in order to further purify our minds.”
Never in my life have I felt more complete, more at ease and freer than when I’m living my life in the service of others. This last year my partner and I seized the opportunity to serve longer term in Centers in Idaho, and short stint in Delaware, serving around nine months in total. We had done sit/serves before, serving a course or two and then sitting a course, and we always felt so happy with our experiences. Long-term service gave us an even greater opportunity to correlate our sitting practice into our day to day lives.
Having been on the path of Dhamma coming up on five years, I have learned that Dhamma is a way of life, a constant practice, and the more immersed one is in that practice, the more benefits one receives. Also, learning that when I stray from Dhamma, and my practice, how quickly I become miserable and confused.
After my first course I had so much hope, so much belief that I had found exactly what I was looking for and nothing could get in my way, that I would feel this “blissful and at ease” for the remainder of my life….Ha! Well, so begins the process of purification and how wrong I was to believe it would be that easy..
Soon after my first course, I found it difficult to correlate my practice into my day-to-day life. I let so much get in the way of my practice, work, relationships… simply telling myself I didn’t have the time. In truth, I found out that nothing in my life habits supported Dhamma; when I would sit, it would help with my anxieties and reactions a little bit, but I felt like a puddle in the desert…bound to dry up quickly if I didn’t change my environment and habits.
Therefore, my partner and I have slowly been making changes in our life and aligning them with the Dhamma. Service has given us clear insight into how to live a happy fulfilled life. That in service, the doing matters more than the outcome and/or reward of what one does. When I’m serving others, I find joy in whatever it is I’m doing at the time. We’ve realized that this life is about contributing to the world. Finding what you can do to benefit the world instead of finding what the world has to offer you. When you live solely for your own benefit, nothing fills you; you’re left feeling sad and empty. I now know this from my direct experience.
Being at a Center greatly improves your meditation practice. Getting to sit three times a day in a Dhamma environment is powerful and provides you with a safe place to process what it is we need to in order to further purify our minds. However, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies; stuff does come up, naturally. Situations and people will trigger you, but being in a space, where only Dhamma is practiced, gives you a greater chance to observe and process what comes up instead of just reacting. You also have full support from the teachers around you and from the students you get to serve with. I cannot express how refreshing it is to be with peers who are in full understanding that life is about taking responsibility for oneself. When one switches their perspective from outer to inner, one feels so much love and compassion towards one another, instead of hatred and blame. Everybody I meet is so real and nobody is fronting or faking, “We are at war together, fighting our own fight!” a friend once told me.
My partner and I continue with our practice and do our best to be a light in the darkness. Through our actions, may the world become a more harmonious place!
Sit /Serve by Lillian Zhang
(February – April, 2021)
“The practice was there to help me face the things in my life, not be another burden I had to accomplish in my day.”
I never intended to do a sit/serve. The opportunity only presented itself to me when I wanted to sit a course and had the open schedule to do so. The course I originally signed up for was full, and Alta reached out to ask if I could serve. If this was possible in my schedule, then I could join an open course a few weeks down the road. So, I went to Dhamma Pubbananda in February of 2021 for my first Sit/Serve period.
The service period was hard. Between the shortage of help, the delicacy of human interaction, and the intensity of the schedule, there always seemed to be something testing me, pushing my limits. Each course came with its own set of challenges, and the saving graces were the daily group sittings.
As the time was as much of a course for servers as it was for students, no matter what came up, servers had to partake in the group sittings in their schedule. Three times a day, I was required to join everyone in the Dhamma Hall to decompress, process, breathe, and observe. What started as a difficult time for me became a source of comfort, a constant I could rely on. A constant that reminded me over and over – this too will pass. Everything is temporary.
Feeling indignant at the servers strolling in while I run back and forth passes. The anxiety of getting everything done for the next meal passes. Desire for the cute guy working in the kitchen passes. Frustration when something doesn’t go as planned passes. No matter what the issue was or what I was feeling, the universal truth remained. It comes and goes.
A month and a half at a Center allowed me to cultivate a daily practice and see the benefits in a real-world context. During my 10-day course, I got a chance to understand the practice and deepen mine. I went home, though, feeling like it was too idyllic. I believed the benefits were impossible to replicate in my life. It was obvious why I got such good results during my 10-day, why it all worked. Everything was done for me. My meals were prepared and all I needed was to show up on the cushion. How was I supposed to squeeze in two hours of meditation into my life? With all of my obligations?
Serving at a Center showed me how. In the midst of a crazy day, sitting for an hour was possible, and I’d say even necessary. As long as I prioritized it (or I had to), I was able to get it done, and I could see how it made a difference in my ability to be equanimous. The practice was there to help me face the things in my life, not be another burden I had to accomplish in my day.
From Nehal Pawar, Long-Term Server
(Various periods from 2018-present)
“This experience is not just about maintaining a daily practice and serving, but bringing Dhamma and understanding its course in your life.”
I am an old student who has been able to serve at Dhamma Pubbananda multiple times for 10-day courses and as a Long-Term part-time server.
Due to studies and work, I was not able to maintain my practice after my first Vipassana course. This is why I was trying to find ways to get involved in Center activities and group sittings as much as possible: to strengthen my practice. Hence when I got a remote job, I stayed near the Center for almost three months and this experience benefitted me a lot. I worked during the day, but in the early morning, I could serve and sit for the evening group sittings. I also helped in the kitchen whenever possible, especially at the start and end of the courses.
Other than seeing a drastic growth in my practice, and getting to meet fellow mediators who I had met previously while doing courses, the experience of being a part of the entire 10-day course as a part-time Long-Term server, is a direct experience of how Dhamma works at the Center and in your life. This experience is not just about maintaining a daily practice and serving, but bringing Dhamma and understanding its course in your life. This has encouraged me to go to other Vipassana Centers and continue to develop myself.
Brandon Curtis as a Sit/Serve Server
“Serving others transformed my life, my practice, my health, my habits, my home, and my relationships. It helped me understand how to find that thing we call real happiness.”
Vipassana Sit/Serve has been one of the most transformative experiences of my life. My name is Brandon and I am a Midwest-born, 38 year-old, former executive who has spent the past six years researching wellbeing. After sitting two courses which helped pull me through healing and understanding of grief, I wanted to serve to pass the healing benefit of Dhamma on to others, especially now, when so many are feeling the physical and emotional toll Covid has taken on us individually and collectively. Spoiler alert… I could not have imagined the healing benefit I, myself, received through service. I was not expecting this.
Serving others transformed my life, my practice, my health, my habits, my home, and my relationships. It helped me understand how to find that thing we call real happiness. Looking back, I now see why Goenka nudged us to consider giving Dhamma service.
Service provides a side of the practice which I would not have fully understood otherwise. Through the lived experience of serving and sitting, I realize how to bring sila, samadhi and panna back into my life at home, for the benefit of others. Wellbeing finally just…clicked. And I am so, so forever grateful.
Brandon, Phein Kim, and Shrinivas
Jason Zimmerman, a very long-term Dhamma Server
“I started serving regular courses and when the time opened up in my life for longer-term service, I did it because it tremendously strengthened my practice. It kept me inspired, moving, talking with like-minded individuals, and you get a different level of access to more experienced meditators and are able to develop more casual relationships with those experienced individuals.”
Jason, who has supported Dhamma Pubbananda since February, 2020, and the Center’s evolving procedures throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, has some unique insights into this type of service.
Jason shared, “I started serving regular courses and when the time opened up in my life for longer-term service, I did it because it tremendously strengthened my practice. It kept me inspired, moving, talking with like-minded individuals, and you get a different level of access to more experienced meditators and are able to develop more casual relationships with those experienced individuals. This can be immensely rewarding in unexpected ways. In summary, I did it for community, friendship, and to strengthen my practice.”
“Also, the structure helped me establish a regular, daily practice which was difficult to maintain prior to long-term service. I knew if I immersed myself in a Center, I’d be more likely to maintain my daily practice on the other side.”
“Long-term service needs to be approached differently than a regular 10-day course service. When serving a course, you are immersed in the course bubble, but in long-term service you are a member of the management team, so it’s more comparable to a regular job with a higher service calling. That mindset can help develop the boundaries you need to be successful at long-term service and prevent burnout. I’ve seen long-term servers who apply a 10-day course mindset and that can really lead to burnout because there’s a lot of pressure without much space for balance. Ten-day course service is analogous to a sprint, but long-term service requires a marathon mindset.”