Answers to readers' questions
Larry: Certainly, many things are impermanent, and its useful to know that. Why, however, make the argument that everything is? You mention mountains: although, in the long run, the mountain is impermanent, its not so in my life, nor in the life, combined, of my grandparents, parents, children, and grandchildren. I'm not talking about glaciers, which have become more changing...mountains, the weight of an ounce of gold, the color of a stone, the length of a yardstick, our need for breathing at a relatively steady rate [not talking about while running, or laying in bed, etc...and, when doing either of these, one can bet on increase or decrease, suggesting stability], the greenness of leaves in the spring, etc. And, for some of us, the existence of G!d...which is, at least, apparently permanent in our minds. Again, why argue the greater, "all things", leading to questioning, when you can so easily win the mind over with the lesser: "many things, more than you might have thought of"?
Anything that arises also leaves. It is vital regarding our meditation practice as we are directed to view --- from moment to moment --- this law in operation in our own mind and body. The dharma teachings are to be applied via observing our mind-body in action, for example, during a period of sitting. Try it! If you observe and learn, your view of and relationship to this process will be transformed. This is not an invitation for intellectual reflection (also useful e.g. your thoughts) but for ACTUAL MEDITATION PRACTICE. See the (paperback) book: "Everything Arises, Everything Passes Away" by Ajahn Chah. Perhaps it will be of some help. Finally, regarding the environment, your reflections have merit --- unless you live in Haiti, Indonesia, etc. Deep realization of all this can help us let go, get our priorities in order and if you are a yogi, inspire you to practice.
Larry, thank you for the retreat. I have a question on remorse. You spoke of remorse as a way leading to "improve and do better next time". But what if it is remorse over a singular event that can't be repeated? What if one's actions were unskillful toward, say, a person who was dying? In that case, there is no second chance. So how does one avoid a heavy burden of guilt?
Remorse is useful in that it can be used to provide us with energy to learn. Of course, if the guilt persists, then in Vipassana meditation that, there, would exactly be the best place to practice mindfulness.
Do you think that a follower of the Dharma can make substantial progress along the path without direct guidance from a teacher? Is access to to Dharma teachings and committed home practice enough to allow significant progress along the path? Does a practitioner likely need direct personal contact with a teacher, or is dedicated home practice enough?
It can be a great boost to practice to have a good teacher, but this is no guarantee --- nothing is! The FACT is that right now you do not have a teacher, so make the best of your situation. Sincere motivation cannot be overestimated. Yes, people can flower in their practice at home. You have help, for example Tricycle, books, tapes, videos, etc., etc., perhaps the company of a dharma friend or two to sit together, listen to a talk, and talk it over, etc. If a suitable teacher becomes part of your life, great. If not, in the meantime, develop your independence, and be "a light unto yourself"!