Life as Story-but not quite so fast…

It’s the terror of knowing
What this world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming ‘Let me out’

And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is ourselves 

Under pressure

-Under Pressure- songwriters-Mercury, Taylor, Deacon, May, Bowie

Many writers have put forth the idea that our lives and identities are a story we are telling ourselves. David Loy has a new book out called The World is Made of Stories and I hope to be reading that some time in the near future.  These stories can be related to the concept of shunyata in some ways.  (later)

This life-story concept tends to encompass things like we are not who we think we are, identities change, everything changes, the solidity of the social person is not all that solid, the conditioned being as illusory, the function of the aggregates and so forth.

In a Shambhala Sun article Loy wrote:

In other words, our normal sense of self-consciousness is the delusion at the root of our chronic unhappiness, because it involves a misunderstanding of what the self really is. But this type of dualistic self-awareness is what has distinguished homo sapiens sapiens from the other primates, and has been responsible for our extraordinary evolutionary success. Today, however, we can also see more clearly than ever before the limitations of such deluded self-awareness, and the collective need to go beyond it.

from “A collective awakening?” (Buddhist reflections on Copenhagen)

This theme seems to be reflected in his new book as well as in the works of many others.  And the increasing urgency with which it is stated is accurate. However to rush headlong into dismembering the ego or conventional sense of self without understanding it can bring up quite a number of unpleasant and even dangerous scenarios. There are some New Agey types who hold expensive courses with the express purpose of killing or dismantling the ego in one weekend seminar or whatever and should that actually come about for anyone I would hope they have a room reserved in the nearest Psych ward because that would be as catastrophic without appropriate preparation or aftercare as any natural disaster. The ego is something we can’t “kill” (I so dislike that erroneous notion) because it’s not a thing but a process, a necessary process.

I am not suggesting that killing or dispensing with ego is what Loy is putting forward. From what I gather the book is more of an exposition on the necessity of these stories which make up our social and psychological frameworks. And that perspective is similar to the viewpoints that most responsible Buddhist teachers hold.

Much of this might fall under the rubric of “dispositional narrative” and its various dysfunctions which are terms Clarke Scott has used in presentations and which I have mentioned a couple of times before. So in some ways I’m examining and unpacking that term here so I get a better grasp of it. Here is an abstract of the paper Clarke presented on this topic at a recent conference.

The stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, often lead to dysfunctional cognitive states that may lead to misunderstanding our place in the world. Because this dispositional narrative is rooted in a misconception, the question may be raised: can meditation effect dispositional narrative in such a way as to lead to a flourishing life? Clarke’s talk will present current research that suggests this is indeed the case, and details the efficacy of meditation as both a diagnostic and therapeutic tool used to extirpate dysfunctional cognitive states that obstruct genuine happiness.

from Workshop on Dysfunction, Dispositional Narrative and Meditation

There’s a  lot of people looking into these topics right now, particularly at a scholarly level. It is only a matter of time before more generally accessible works become available. Perhaps Loy’s work will further that. I really look forward to the time when these aspects of Buddhist teachings become more widespread.

This “kill the ego” thing is just another sort of delusional self-consciousness. But a real tricky one for people on the Buddhist path. What I’m talking about here specifically is that notion of “no ego” or “no mind” (as Osho Rajneesh puts it) in that it’s gone, kaput, finished but much of it also applies to the normal view of self we have been conditioned to adopt. It’s all about trying to hold onto a solid thing which is not solid at all, nor is it a thing. A “no ego” person is the same as an ego person if they are holding onto and trying to reify that concept. I don’t actually think that a “no ego” person is possible.  It seems to be a bit of a semantic game to use that kind of descriptor.

The story of the self, when clung to in an allegedly solid form, as ego, is a complex and interrelated phenomenon and some problems arise mostly  from the clinging part. Identity or ego itself has a function within a larger scope. That scope is outlined in Buddhist doctrine. *

Scope encompasses both the individual and the social. For this post I’m going to write mostly about the individual situation.

This story situation  is founded on Buddhist theory.  I mentioned shunyata above, which would be the third item on the list you’ll read in a moment,  but it is only a part of an interrelated set of theories that properly contextualizes how the stories can be explained. This set of theories are the Four Seals of Buddhism.

The Four Seals of Buddhism or the Four Seals of Dharma, that is those things to which all Buddhist schools subscribe, and according to  Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, in his book What Makes You Not a Buddhist? are the set of beliefs or teachings which comprise the theoretical core of Buddhist practice. Here is a summary of what he expounds in that book Buddhism in a Nutshell: The Four Seals of Dharma

These are, in summary form:

  • Impermanence of all compounded things
  • Unsatisfactoriness of attachment and clinging
  • Emptiness of self-existence of phenomenon
  • Nirvana offers cessation of the suffering caused by conditions and attachment to conditions

Barbara O’Brien at About.com has supplied an accessible description of these items in her article The Four Seals of the Dharma:Four Characteristics That Define Buddhism  And here is a further explanation by HH Dalai Lama The Four Seals.(pdf)

The “ego killing” or separation from one’s story by way of suppression is not nirvana. Some seem to think it is and that doing such psycho-emotional contortions is a necessary prerequisite to enlightenment. It’s not.  One can read about the effects of this kind of suppression in a lot of places. It can be depersonalization or any number of other psychological states that occurs if one attempts to escape from the ego (which doesn’t actually exist as a thing) without understanding it.

You can’t “kill” the ego. It’s that simple. To be without “ego” would be to live in a state of catatonia and confusion in a manner similar to an infant. It would mean one is mentally rather blank or perceptually disorganized and simply perceiving without being able to make any sense of anything beyond perception. Once one has grown up and developed the apparatus of consciousness to “drop body and mind” or simply perceive is not a position of difficulty because we have understanding of what is going on. We don’t have to mindlessly react.  But without that consciousness, where the ego plays out its role, either beyond our understanding (the delusional self) or with our understanding (the enlightened or insightful or whatever view),  one would be rather like a zombie. [I’m not saying an infant is a zombie-infants are way noisier] There would be little we could identify as consciousness, in the Buddhist sense in an infant. [There’s a blog post a Wildmind which sort of relates to this and includes some interesting comments.  It is called Is meditation about making your mind go blank? ]

If we were to “lose the ego” suddenly it seems to me it might also be something like a really strong drug trip or to be  sooo wasted that there is only undistinguished perception left. Both those states-trippy or wasted- can be pretty uncomfortable. (And I’m not saying infants or zombies are tripping either)

Chogyam Trungpa stated:

If we regard meditation as just getting into a fog so that you do not see, you do not feel, something is terribly wrong. In that case meditation would reduce one to a zombie. The enlightened man would have to be rescued. Someone would have to feed him and take him to the bathroom. We would have to have an enlightenment ward.

in Glimpses of Abhidharma

So you get where infants/zombies/really tripped out individuals might have a few things in common. The main one being an inability to fully interface with the rest of the world. And the second one would be the inability to perceive one’s self in any sort of context. 

Shinzen Young made this observation when being interviewed:

When we first come into this life we form a self in order to cope with the world. The baby has rather scant self and commensurately little ability to deal with the world. We develop a self to deal with the world, but we also develop the habit of solidifying that self, and that solidifying habit congests the flow of nature, leading to suffering.

from Meditation and Consciousness: A Dialogue Between a Meditation Teacher and a Psychologist

I tend to think of the ego as something like a computer interface. If we were all dealing with each other’s “code”  directly on a neurological level, well we’d be a hive mind. But we’re not, so something has to be constructed to bridge and facilitate interaction between consciousnesses. And that interface and the symbols used have to be mutually intelligible. They do not have to be consensual however. [Here I disagree with those who would posit that shared reality is a consensual state- that’s another blog post tho] That’s where we get into conditioning and such. The ego is an input/output system in a larger interactive social system in this rather mechanical view.

So the story is part of the social interface. We can use it to locate ourselves within some social situation and adopt the appropriate behavior for that scenario and we can understand the situation itself. It would be quite horrid to have to learn everything anew in each situation every time. Memory is part of the story too.

Losing some or part of the story suddenly might be like losing your operating system on your computer when you’re in the middle of a video conference. Maybe there’s some pictures still on the screen but they’re all pixilated so you can’t figure out what they are and maybe there are some sounds but they have no meaning to you. Maybe you sort of remember what the conference was about, or at least you don’t have a hostile feeling towards where you are or what’s going on but you don’t know what to do about it.

On another level maybe that stuff is all intact but it has no personal meaning to you or you are having the sense of being very distant from it. So distant that you don’t remember what’s been said for the last 30 minutes. Not even like watching a movie but more like when the TV channel shuts down for the night (do they still do that?) and there is just a test pattern and a high pitched hum. 

These are the kinds of things I mean if one were to suddenly lose their ego. (There’s stuff about alzheimers, brain damage and psychological problems like amnesia which could fit into all this too but I won’t go there for now)

Now disowning one’s story my not be the same thing as seeking to enter a state of depersonalization wherein one is detached not only from surroundings but from one’s own reaction to surroundings. But to rapidly attempt such a feat is a step in that direction.

There is a huge difference between realizing something and distancing from it. They are actually quite opposite. To realize the self from the perspective of the Four Seals requires going right into it and as has been metaphorically stated coming out the other side with the understanding of it. (symbolized in enso, ox herding pictures etc from the Zen side) It’s an immersion versus an escape.

Joko Beck Roshi has a great video where she talks about the teacher helping the student to turn a curve and return to themselves. It’s here if you want to watch it.

To distance from the self is to try to get outside it without ever penetrating its essence. It is to try to divide one’s self in two-the distanced (the villain) and the distancer (the hero). That only gives double the problem because there is a constant war then of the distanced as they attempt to express the fact that there is no division, it is completely illusory. That approach also further enhances the notion of solidity of self, that is the independent self-existence because if I can distance from myself then myself is a something/somewhere identifiable, like a dot on a map as representing a real place. The dot and the place are different but if we try to make the dot into the place mentally we get pretty lost.  It is a further process of reification of the unreal.

Some other related things came to mind when considering the efforts we make to try to disown our story or the collective story by which we all live and in which we all participate. These are just sort of random notions that came up.

It’s a strange kind of paradox but one actually gets more involved with a dysfunctional story the more one tries to escape from it rather than face it and take the time and make the effort to understand it. Until people understand just “how” one’s life and identity is a story there is the chance of distancing one’s self from important people and life events.  Probably you’ve encountered the story of a Zen monk, which appeared in an official Soto-shu publication,  who when faced with the choice of remaining with his dying father and going to a special retreat decided upon the retreat. A lot of people got quite disturbed when they read about that.  I dug it up on Brad Warner’s blog. The piece on it that Brad wrote is called Fuck Institutionalized Zen . Brad wrote about that situation:

What I am addressing here is the presence of an article like this in an official publication of the Soto organization and the utterly fucked message it sends. Got that? I know some of you don’t. But I’ll keep going anyway.
I have no idea what this guy’s relationship to his dad was. For all I know maybe dad beat him with a coat hanger every day until he was big enough to hit back, and that’s the real reason he skipped out on him during his last moments on Earth. But even if that was the case, all of us have a far bigger commitment to our families — our real families not our fake “spiritual families” — than to some big corporate religious institution that’s throwing a jamboree.
The article makes it sound as though our friend was so dazzled to be one of the elite few allowed by the Masters in far off and oh-so-truly-Zen Japan to participate in the event that he lost sight of his real duties. . The Soto organization seems to want to promote the idea that we should run away from the suffering and frustration of our real lives and hide in the warm and protective bosom of big mama Sotoshu. This is what whacked out religious cults do.

…There is no place for this kind of nonsense in Buddhism.

So that’s the kind of disconnection that can happen that I’m talking about. The likelihood for future regret, guilt and resentment for many people in this kind of scenario is huge.

When we try to reject the identity that has been collected over the years and all the attached story lines involved we have no choice but to live more in our heads than ever. This is because we are always on patrol trying to guard against that sneaking up on us. So we spend time worrying about what to do about it, making plans, formulating opinions, constructing oppositions to counter it, rather than just opening up to ourselves, letting it be as it is and observing the ebbs and flows within the context or social sphere in which we are at that moment enmeshed.  We become frantic with trying to distract ourselves from ourselves in exactly the same way that the various “-holics” (alco-, shopo-, worko-, etc.) do. We become the hero struggling with that villain of the self and its story (the evil ego) which we wish to elude. It becomes a dramatic epic rather than just an ordinary drama.

Kill the ego often means suppress that which arises and replace it with another, more idealistic set of behaviors. That can be a little bit disconcerting not only to the person but to those around them as well. Sometimes it leads to a lot of self-righteous holier-than-thou kinds of behaviors but it can be like living a lie. We see that an awful lot from the highly homophobic types for example who later either come out or are revealed to have been actually warring within themselves in just the way I described above.  This can happen to the “holy” Buddhist too though maybe not so dramatically. It usually consists of “Bad Buddhist” admonishments regarding details of behavior though explanations of context tend to come up rather short. “Because Buddhists don’t do that!”  OK.

Monks, nuns, teachers and others who have leadership roles and are…well professional Buddhists if I can put it that way…generally adopt some kind of behavioral code for themselves knowingly. It is a role. We all have dozens of roles in the collective story. Hopefully leaders have sufficient understanding both of the dharma and themselves to navigate within that adopted framework as well as a certain maturity with which to encounter and interact with the general public who don’t have the benefit of that insight.  That isn’t always the case though, but that reflects upon their own ignorance, immaturity and perhaps pathology in some cases, and not on some gigantic flaws in the dharma. 

The “professional” case is quite different from the average lay Buddhist who likely has not had lengthy training or study or practice time or personal mentorship in order to find some kind of balance and insight. In the “amateur” case there is plenty of room to misinterpret things such as the need for the appearance of “holiness”.  [Personally I find “holiness” and excessive piety highly suspect in pretty much every case. I have a friend who used to be a reporter in Calcutta and met Mother Theresa numerous times. He says she was holy alright and when she didn’t get her way she was a “holy terror”. She didn’t “act” like a saint in other words but just was who she was. ]

Sometimes I wonder if that need for putting on the holy show is a particular problem with converts. In order to get some distance (that word again) from previous religious experience/indoctrination etc. (a former part of identity) a certain amount of exaggeration and pronounced demonstration of the new belief system or practices is desired. It’s like trying to convince both the world and one’s self that this is the new truth.  In converts of many kinds this seems very common. An overcompensation.  Sometimes it settles down and sometimes it doesn’t. (Would be kind of interesting to test the degree of that in a controlled experiment.) I’ll call it The Zeal Factor.

Something else that can happen when we depersonalize or disassociate or try to disown the ego is that others in our lives become objectified and replaceable. People become characters or props in our dramas rather than actual people.  They are recruited to play roles that neither we nor they understand but that support what we might think an “egoless” or “spiritual” or whatever kind of person would be like.  This can get really bad when it involves whole populations. I see it in India a  lot. The spiritual tourist setting up a line of locals with whom they might be photographed and then making a big report about it to whomever will listen. I wrote something about that kind of junk here Poverty Porn, Dilettante Charity and a Holiday in Cambodia.

One also sees this in some spiritual teachers who set up a situation to support their own delusions of grandeur, which often includes a lot of claims of egolessness which itself comes to be a grandiose descriptor in many religious circles (same as “enlightenment”). Strange how something so small and ordinary can become such a great prize and attractive lure for so many. Seems to me when that is the case there is some huge distortion going on.

This feigning egolessness or dropping the story  (which is really constructing another more insidious story) can happen in one’s personal life as well.  Partners as spiritual decorations, collections of photos of great teachers with whom one has studied displayed prominently, friendships limited to some ethereally defined enlightened clique, criticisms of partners or friends for not sharing in the “spiritual” life and so on.  Spiritual materialism and enlightened achievement and sacred prestige, the latter being subsets of the former, on the home front tends to consist of spending a great deal of time taking everyone else’s spiritual inventory “for their own good” in an effort to avoid one’s own inventory process.

On a smaller more domestic scale the apparently egoless person can become so self-involved with their attachment to their own image that partners, roommates and friends often live in a state of being constantly evaluated, judged and found wanting in the purity department. I’ve run into this situation personally.  I once had a close friend, a yogini, who studied with quite a number of well known teachers around world for a couple of decades. I liked her a lot when we met and we became very close. At that time she had a realistic viewpoint about her “professional” activities as a teacher and the rest of her life. But over the years she became more and more rigid in terms of attempting to become what I can only describe as a warped personification of compassion and enlightenment. She got overtaken by her idealization of that saintly role as egoless caregiver to the world and started to become rather insufferable. After a few more years of “advice” and “suggestions” the friendship became rather stifling.  I couldn’t help but to take note of those uncomfortable elements.  In private, and especially if there wasn’t any audience around to capture her generous tutelage of all and sundry, she generally had quite a sneer on her face. And a lot of behavior that had been labeled by her as “practice” became highly judgmental passive-aggressive nastiness. It became hellish to spend time with this newly minted “saint”. It’s really unfortunate because she was a great yoga teacher and friend. I miss her but the only thing I encounter when meeting her now is this shell of a person with little warmth or depth left.  I did try a few times to bring up some of these changes but even to broach the topic met with such resistance and hostility I knew there was just no possibility of going there to discuss anything.

To disown our story, or attempt egolessness is a lot like trying to exercise some kind of option to become godlike. We then choose what is and is not relevant both within ourselves and with regard to others. This viewpoint allows morality, although relative, becomes passé.

And it leads to a certain kind of nihilistic perspective wherein nothing really matters. If we disown our story we also disown any and all social connections to it. That means no one else’s story is relevant or important or even to be acknowledged either. Some spiritual teachers (Andrew Cohen I am thinking about specifically but others as well) operate on this kind of twisted level.

There is an inability to distinguish in an specific situation what is and isn’t important to someone else. This lack of discernment comes from a lack of empathy and compassion. For without the ego we cannot fully appreciate human experience. Discarding story or ego, that is remaining outside of it also causes us to remain outside of empathy. There is no place to connect with other human beings. There is only something of a bubble in which we then live.  And we can’t even penetrate to the heart of that bubble for that would mean engaging in the aspects of the human story which we wish to discard.

So without entering our stories fully and working through them and understanding them we are left with a rather shallow existence and no way to make a deep connection with the rest of humanity.

Another thing that gets distorted is the concept of intention. If we do not thoroughly know ourselves and our stories it is not possible to formulate realistic intentions. We end up with half hearted efforts to do “the right thing” or whatever everyone else is doing that is similarly labeled but we don’t get to know how that actually applies and we end up with mixed results, to put it mildly. Consider the implications for karma in that instance.

Authenticity  is another version of the self that we hear thrown about a lot.  Being “authentic” 24/7 is a lot like being “egoless” 24/7.  Authentic is kind of a code word for being in touch with some ultimate truth or absolute state of understanding. The “real you” underneath the story in other words. We cannot relate to each other in the absolute on any kind of lasting basis since we cannot share consciousness space with anyone else. We may be able to momentarily touch the same point of understanding with another but that is fleeting and not sustainable. This is because our consciousnesses are enmeshed/immersed in the social/material whole of the universe. Other stuff will always interfere with those moments. I’m thinking like dokusan moments or a connection between lovers or a parent and child reaching some kind of breakthrough in understanding and such-maybe there is a passing second of understanding where that sliver of consciousness is shared-it can never be wholly shared except in fragments-but then it’s gone-a noise outside-the sun shifts to change the light in the room-an itch-about a million things can happen as the big boiling universe keeps on moving.

Authenticity, in its popular format, tends to be about self-indulgence and disregarding the reality of others. By example, here’s a silly video about The Authentic Man, which is a real program for jerks who are trying to pick up more women.

Another thing that comes up is addiction to the story of one’s self. This seems to be the way most of us operate in the world. Craving more and more in order to bolster up who we think we are. That more and more can be anything from material objects to spiritual endeavors to huge numbers of Facebook friends or lists of sex partners. That’s the clinging to the story part I discussed at the beginning of this post. 

I also think of the catch phrase “We are already Buddhas” or however it goes as something similar to the authentic self or the notion of egolessness. While we all have a Buddha nature that doesn’t mean it’s expression is without distortion without quite a bit of work on clarifying exactly what is meant by “Buddha” .  That seems to be where a lot of confusion arises.  Buddha is not a set of behaviors. Being Buddha is not adopting a false persona based on something a teacher says or is written in a book. Being Buddha is not about pretending. It’s not about rejecting anything in one’s experience.

Dogen wrote:

What was given to him was given solely for the purpose that he might master the wise perception of a Buddha. It was solely the wise perception of a Buddha which he was to master

from Shobogenzo, Butsudo  quoted in The Sole Purpose of Zen Buddhism

Being Buddha is about mastering the wise perception of a Buddha. That wise perception is what provides understanding for the stories we are, we enact and we react to. So trying to “be” something or someone else is a big waste of time and effort. Being Buddha is about seeing things as they really are.

I’ve rambled in a circle, with a few byways explored, as is my habit. Have close to 5400 words here, written over a couple of days in between making tea, doing laundry, having a bath, going for a walk, fixing the bed, eating meals etc.-that’s why I get so rambly by the way.  I could probably go on a lot longer but will save it for another time.

*This is for another blog post probably but for now I’m saying doctrine not dogma, there’s a difference which some people don’t seem to get. Doctrine means dharma-teaching. That is something provided to assist with deeper understanding. It is to help with the unfolding of realization. It is one of a number of methodologies to relieve people of a deluded perspective. Dogma means parroting phrases without knowing their meaning, context or applicability in general or to a specific situation. An example, “…if it agrees with you accept it otherwise reject it…”  allegedly from the Kalama Sutra, used to justify nearly anything. The quote, however garbled, has a context which when ignored renders it as an excuse for hedonism, self-indulgence and shallow understanding. Following that, and only that, invents something that may superficially resemble Buddhism but isn’t. There are way too many of these snippets to get into (ie. Be Here Now, Kill the Ego, Just Sit, Text is Dogma and so on)  Dogma is what you hear when people are too lazy to challenge their own understanding of something and then try to force that ignorance upon others.

Musical Accompaniment

David Bowie-Annie Lennox-Under Pressure

 

Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you no man ask for
Under pressure – that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets
Um ba ba be
that’s o.k.
It’s the terror of knowing
What this world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming ‘Let me out’
Pray tomorrow – gets me higher
Pressure on people – people on streets
Chippin’ around – kick my brains around the floor
These are the days it never rains but it pours
People on streets – ee da de da de
People on streets – ee da de da de da de da
It’s the terror of knowing
What this world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming ‘Let me out’
Pray tomorrow – gets me higher high high
Pressure on people – people on streets
Turned away from it all like a blind man
Sat on a fence but it don’t work
Keep coming up with love
but it’s so slashed and torn
Why – why – why ?
Love love love love love
Insanity laughs under pressure we’re cracking
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance
Why can’t we give love that one more chance
Why can’t we give love give love give love give love
give love give love give love give love give love
‘Cause love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Under pressure
Under pressure
Pressure

Same/Different. A Response to Daniel M. Ingram & Others

Creating medication out of my own tribulations. K’Naan

Drawing on the comments made by Daniel M. Ingram on my previous post Back to Suffragette City?  I offer this response.  His comment is quoted. Ennumeration is mine.

[1.] A simple point: Why I continue to somehow be associated with Brad Warner I will never understand. Aside from the fact that the word “hardcore” is associated with both of us for obvious pure book title reasons, our approaches, emphases, and paradigms are very, very different.

Clearly I am not the first one to lump approaches together.  It is a natural psychological process to categorize stuff even in broad strokes in order to approach it. And for those who do not delve too deeply, similarities are more apparent than differences. Here’s a couple of quick lists:

Similarities

  • based on personal experience as well as training
  • same generation
  • outspoken perspective
  • punk and hard core labels
  • claiming some kind of enlightenment
  • empowered/permitted to teach formally
  • book title words
  • rejection of fluff and New Age
  • rejection of ritual
  • rejection of Asian cultural accoutrements and formalities
  • rejection of formalist language
  • rejection of over-intellectualization particularly regarding the dharma
  • rejection of elaborate hierarchy
  • rejection of conventionality
  • rejection of non-English language terminology
  • rejection of institutionalization
  • avoidance or rejection of psychologization of Buddhism
  • occasionally combative
  • occasionally arrogant
  • focus on meditation
  • opposition to self-help approaches
  • alleges openness and honesty but derides critics
  • purist
  • secular
  • rational
  • populist
  • critical

That’s a start. Some points are more shallow than others.  Many of these could also be applied to Stephen Batchelor, Steve Hagen, Shinzen Young, Noah Levine and many others. Hence taken together the notion of a “movement” or general categorization emerges.

Differences

Subject Brad Warner Daniel M. Ingram
Background Soto Zen Theravada
Place of Study Outside of U.S. Japan Burma
Approach zazen specifically shikantaza meditation with focus on insight
Emphasis zazen insight
Paradigms -sitting as actualization
-focus on no-self as entry to realization
-ethics de-emphasized or secondary or resultant of practice
-process based meditation
-3 characteristics impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and no-self as entries to realization
-emphasis on ethics as a distinct part of the path
Realization sudden or sporadic progressive, continuous
Leadership/Teaching/Writing  Style mellow, artistic aggressive, technical, analytical
Occupation (only because both mention it in their works or in bios) musician, writer ER doctor
Theoretical Foundations Dogen
Nagarjuna
Pali Canon, Buddhaghosa, Vasubhandhu and related works

 

Those are only some of the differences. I hope that people will take note of these. When people encounter the work they will notice many more.

[2.] I read “Hardcore” Zen and found nearly nothing practical in it at all. I consider it among the worst wastes of paper on my dharma shelf. It didn’t seem to be anything one could actually follow and instead seemed mostly about him.

My reading of Brad’s books is that they are primarily autobiographies rather than practice manuals. That is how they’re written in any case and that is what he has stated about them. I’ve not read them to get advice related to practice but as both a viewpoint of a person’s experience with taking up and practicing the dharma for himself and also as  Zentertainment, if you will. Biography and autobiography are descriptive means to tell a personal story not prescriptive technical texts.

[3.] Try to practice from that book and see what I mean. Try to do a retreat from that book. Try to actually get enlightened from that book. Try to sort out what side effect of your practice is screwing up your life from that book and see how well you do. Try to do something “hardcore” from what is written in that book and see how far you get. What a sad joke.

One could try and practice from a phone book too and it would also be a sad joke. That’s not why it was written.

 [4.] To me, and this is just one opinion, “hardcore” should be about real mastery, real practice, real results, real empowerment to do all this stuff. How that book gets away with calling itself that is baffling.

The term “hardcore” does imply a certain rigor, effort and intensity. I agree.  It is just as likely that Warner’s use of it is in relation to the punk rock elements since he did play in a hard core punk band and as most of us know that is often abbreviated to “hardcore”.  His intention in the use of “hardcore” is not immediately evident. It is an apt descriptor for both the music and the dharma. Since his public writings in books and blog form generally use both music and dharma as subject matter it may be an attempt to indicate that.

The definition of hardcore is quite varied and that is one reason why some socio-cultural analysis and deconstruction may be useful, even in it’s “needlessly limiting way”.  But more on that later.

[5.] I am beginning to see this particular list (Ingram, Folk, Brad Warner, etc.) being codified into something that people just repeat as if we are all the same or even coming from the same place, and while Folk, Open Enlightenment, the Dharma Overground and I are very closely linked in many ways, though we all have our differences also, how Brad got on this list is beyond me except that people must not have read his stuff or simply didn’t understand either what he wrote or what I wrote or the others on the list are about, though I should be careful and let them speak for themselves if they wish.

Quite likely many people have not read the material, or not read it thoroughly, or not read it critically. It is convenient, as I mentioned, to categorize things in broad strokes. When those things are related to popular or fashionable trends, meaning quite a number of people are talking about them, certainly some people will latch onto the jargon without understanding the substance simply for the “cool” factor. It is to their own detriment not to the detriment of the people who are offering their perspectives.

This is true in any field and quite often true in Buddhist-related interactions. Plenty of jargon, little comprehension.

[6.] Regardless, stop associating Bradley and I in this way, please, without at least some differentiation and explanation.

The similarities are of the most superficial nature. One paragraph in the introduction of my book that uses the word “punk” and one word in the title hopefully doom me or the others who are associated with this sort of practice to be perpetually affixed to that guy’s stuff.

I do hope the differentiation and explanations outlined above are sufficient for a blog post.  The purpose of the previous post was to examine large scale groupings of counter-cultural instances of Buddhist-labeled viewpoints as they are presented and perceived in popular culture.  Since the author is quite capable of speaking for himself rather eloquently and straightforwardly,  I did not go into detail about the composition of that particular grouping. Considering my penchant for long-windedness that may not have been a bad thing.

The further point is, that if it is different, people will realize that once they get into it. And yes there will always be those who don’t want to realize that (or anything else), who don’t care or who simply don’t get it at all. No point in explaining things to a bag of rice, to paraphrase an old Zen metaphor.  

 [7.] I remember reading the line where Brad said that in one fell swoop he was just as enlightened as the Buddha: what a travesty of confusion and absurdity.

I too doubt that many people grasp all of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness  and no-self completely in one gulp. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible but even as separate conventional conceptual experiences they are somewhat overwhelming.

Dogen, patron of the Soto Zen sect wrote:

Those who have not illuminated each dharma, dharma by dharma, cannot be called clear-eyed, and they are not the attainment of the truth; how could they be Buddhist patriarchs of the eternal past and present?  (Shobogenzo, Zazenshin, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross) [quoted in Zen – Enlightened Wisdom, Delusion, and Confusion By Ted Biringer, on May 4th, 2010-read Ted's commentary on that line for some serious hardcore Zen.]

This is very similar to the “noting” process that MCTB outlines, though on a somewhat progressed level.  Dharma here is used in it’s meaning of “things” or “aspects” [the word dharma has at least 4 meanings-Buddhadharma being only one]. There are reasons that 84,000 dharma gates get mentioned.  Even Tozan discussed 5 stages or ranks.

Glimpses via some kensho experience are common with dedicated practice. Lots of people have them.    And quite a few in the Zen community have said so, in one way or another. If one reads what they write carefully it is evident. Dosho Port and James Ford Roshi have said it, as has Ford’s teacher John Tarrant Roshi to name only a few. There are dozens, and certainly not all of them are teachers.

And in the Theravada based communities this is true as well. I just reviewed a book by Rodney Smith called Stepping Out of Self-Deception. It is quite unlikely that such a work could be produced merely by studying texts. It is extremely insightful and also pretty hardcore.

The opening of that awareness is the opening only, not the whole territory by any means. Many have said that the first glimpses are when the real work starts. I think that’s quite true. Some traditions talk about the 10,000 petaled lotus opening and others about examining the various aspects via visualization. I’m talking about Pure Land and Vajrayana [both Tibetan and Japanese versions].

It’s like ice breaking up on a frozen river. Cracks appear in the solidity. Movement ensues. But it’s not all clear and flowing in 5 seconds.

That kind of over-simplification does not benefit students. Watering down either the Dharma or the resultant experiences of long practice tend to introduce an unnecessary layer of mystification to the whole process. It’s not mysterious or mythical or magic. It is only a shift in perception. And it is a lot of work.  It’s fairly ordinary though, in that what is, still is, only perspective and experience of what is, shifts.

My impression of the realization process would render it to be more of a multi-dimensional fractal than a map of progression or stages. I think it is more subjectively fluid than clearly demarcated states. 

I don’t know Brad or his teacher personally and have only exchanged the occasional email with both of them  over the years. My impression though, is that Nishijima Roshi is considerably more “bookish”  [and knowledgeable] than Brad.

Brad tries to pretend to downplay the thing. Many of the hardcore set seem to play it up. There’s plenty of middle ground.

It is unfortunate if discussing this topic gets into a semi-enlightened dick-measuring contest.

Here is something related that Alan B. Wallace wrote:

“If our practice does not diminish self-grasping, or perhaps even enhances it, then no matter how austere and determined we are, no matter how many hours a day we devote to learning, reflection, and meditation, our spiritual practice is in vain.

A close derivative of self-grasping is the feeling of self-importance. Such arrogance or …pride is a very dangerous pitfall for people practicing Dharma. Especially in Tibetan Buddhism, with its many levels of practice, the exalted aspirations of the bodhisattva path, and the mystery surrounding initiation into tantra, we may easily feel part of an elite. Moreover, the philosophy of Buddhism is so subtly refined and so penetrating that, as we gain an understanding of it, this also can give rise to intellectual pride.

But if these are the results of the practice, then something has gone awry. Recall the well-known saying among Tibetan Buddhists that a pot with a little water in it makes a loud noise when shaken, but a pot full of water makes no noise at all.

People with very little realization often want to tell everyone about the insights they have experienced, the bliss and subtleties of their meditation, and how it has radically transformed their life. But those who are truly steeped in realization do not feel compelled to advertise it, and instead simply dwell in that realization. They are concerned not to describe their own progress, but to direct the awareness of others to ways in which their own hearts and minds can be awakened.” – B. Alan Wallace [via Rev. Danny Fisher]

[8.] Otherwise, the pointing out of the masculine and counter-culture elements is all fine enough and has its obviously valid points, though as you say, I hope that just because I happened to have a “masculine” writing style won’t keep anyone from being able to utilize whatever useful information I present and the other strains of this “movement”, which is to say that…

Having been excluded from activities and once even losing a job assignment due to my gender this concerns me greatly. That it still occurs in Buddhist circles is unfortunate and therefore merits some consideration and discussion.

When people get all literal and say women can’t get enlightenment or can’t even become monastics at higher levels it reeks of hypocrisy. Gender bias is a social construction, sure. But one that is ominously pervasive and destructive not only to women but to men as well. It is one of the millions of things that act as an obstacle to complete freedom.

It would be nice to just dismiss it since it’s all relative anyway but as delusional as it is on a massive level the effects are still felt.

By bringing it up and discussing the tone and encouraging everyone to familiarize themselves with the information I am actually trying to get that apparent obstacle out of people’s way. It’s not a real obstacle, only one if the reader wishes to make it so.

[9.] …I hope that people will focus more on reality and actually understanding what is happening than all this superficial socio-political-academic-gender-whatever, not that this isn’t an important part of the causal web in some unfortunate and needlessly limiting way.

We live in a needlessly limited world. We deal with the causal web every second whether we are enlightened or not. To discuss these matters, to take them apart, dissect them, examine them is not much different than what we do in meditation. Since we engage with no-self [awkwardly phrased I know] we also realize that the sense of solidity in conventional thought is bolstered by and in fact created by apparent, though ultimately unreal, social reality. 

So “this superficial socio-political-academic-gender-whatever” is as relevant as and indeed is as great portion a portion of that constructed illusory solid self as what we cling to in mind since that is part of it’s origin. It is not superficial by any means.  

From a larger, or more enlightened viewpoint let’s say, certainly these things are limiting. But for the majority of the population who do not currently have access to that viewpoint that’s all there is. To disassemble that, and particularly belief in the authority of the social, is to, in one way, see and demonstrate the constructed aspect of conventional reality.

And from Daniel M. Ingram’s essay Why The Notion That You Cannot Become What You Already Are is Such Bullshit

“…while the universal characteristics are always manifesting in all things and at all times, there are those that can perceive this well and those that cannot, and meditative training, conceptual frameworks, techniques, teachers, texts, discussions and the like can all contribute to developing the internal skills and wiring to be able to fully realize what is possible, as thousands of practitioners throughout the ages have noticed.”

and from Chapter 5 of MCTB

“From the conventional point of view, things are usually thought to be there even when you can no longer experience them, and are thus assumed with only circumstantial evidence to be somewhat stable entities. Predictability is used to assume continuity of existence. For our day-to-day lives, this assumption is adequate and often very useful.”

Superficiality is one aspect of reality. Unfortunately it is the one aspect that most people are entangled with.  So some may deem it to be a waste of time to acknowledge but without acknowledgement and demonstration of it’s lack of substance it remains an obstacle.

[10.] Just got done seeing Twilight Eclipse, by the way, and loved it, which my wife can’t understand at all. People who try to make gender stuff so straightforward are really missing something.

That was kind of my point. No one fits precisely into any codified gender definition. I personally enjoy martial arts and high altitude trekking and mountaineering. In this instance I am a woman who is advocating for other women to read this “masculine” toned work, to be bold and not feel intimidated by that superficial label, which I am not the first to point out. That is a statement in itself.   

The satire presented in my previous post is not to further entrench some either/or gender viewpoint but to illustrate the ridiculousness of it. So yeah, maybe some people did miss something.

In General 

Frustration with the misconstruing of the dharma and of personal viewpoints, commercialization, half-assed explanations,  feel-good platitudes, social nicening projects, self-help indulgence, cosmetic attempts at Buddhist practice, co-opting dharma to build intellectual Babel towers in part explains a lot of people’s interest in alternative viewpoints.

Sometimes though such viewpoints can become as entrenched and rigid as the scenes they wish to supplant.  Many that present these viewpoints also can spiral off into their own little world of “rightness” and certainty that precludes further progress and cuts off those who may benefit the most from the information presented.

Musical Interlude

K’naan Take A Minute

{Chorus}:
And any man who knows a thing knows, he knows not a damn, damn thing at all,
And everytime I felt the hurt and I felt the givin’ gettin’ me up off the wall,
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it ride,
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it breathe,
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it ride,
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it breathe,

How did Mandela get the will to surpass the everyday,
When injustice had him caged and trapped in every way,
How did Ghandi ever withstand the hunger strikes and all,
Didn’t do it to gain power or money if I recall,
It’s to give; I guess I’ll pass it on,
Mother thinks it’ll lift the stress of babylon,
Mother knows, my mother she suffered blows,
I don’t know how we survived such violent episodes,
I was so worried, and hurt to see you bleed,
But as soon as you came out the hospital you gave me sweets,
Yeah, they try to take you from me,
But you still only gave ‘em some prayers and sympathy,
Dear mama, you helped me write this, by showing me to give is priceless.
{Chorus}
All I can say is the worst is over now,
We can serve the hard times, divorce is over now,
They try to keep us out, but they doors is open now,
My man Akon is gettin awards for covers now,
This is K’NAAN, and still reppin’ the S
Comin’ out of Mogadishu and still draped in the mess,
And no matter how we strong, homie,
It ain’t easy comin out of where we from, homie.
And that’s the reason why, I could never play for me,
Tell ‘em the truth, is what my dead homies told me,
Oh yeah, I take inspiration from the most heinous of situations,
Creating medication out my own tribulations.
Dear Africa, you helped me write this, by showing me to give is priceless.
{Chorus}
Nothing is perfect man, that’s what the world is,
All I know is,
I’m enjoying today.
You know, ’cause it isn’t every day that you get to give.

And any man who knows a thing knows, he knows not a damn, damn thing at all,
And every time I felt the hurt and I felt the givin’ gettin’ me up off the wall,
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it ride,
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it breathe,
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it ride,
I’m just gonna take a minute and let it breathe,

Back to Suffragette City?

The Hardcore Dharma Movement, a post on Brooke Shedneck’s Wandering Dhamma blog as well as the excellent comments there, is part of what prompted this post. That post was based on Daniel Ingram’s book Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha (available online) and approach to awakening. There are a number of people including Kenneth Folk involved in this viewpoint of the Dharma. The central focus is awakening.  Many involved claim to have had awakening experiences.

But those experiences themselves are not what I want to write about here much. There are quite likely a lot of people who have had some glimpse of that. As to it’s depth or the depth of the understanding of it by said individuals is debatable.  Since no one can really know what it would be like until they personally experience it there is only conjecture. Quite likely many have reached the gate and maybe even stepped through but may not even recognize it as such.  Or they just may not care to acknowledge that. Or they may realize what every sensible Bodhisattva does “Holy shit there’s an awful lot of delusion and greed and aversion going around” and just get on with it. Or they may realize, in the words of the great Bodhisattva, Chris Rock:

Ignorance is bliss. Awareness is hell.

quote from an episode of the PBS.org series Make ‘em Laugh

Not unlike Maezumi Roshi’s statement, when asked “What’s it like to be enlightened?”:

“Very depressing,” Maezumi said.

from About.com

For an interesting take on enlightenment you might want to read the short e-book available from Open Enlightenment.

So back to the hard head body hat core dharma issue. One of the threads of discussion on Brooke’s blog post had to do with what some perceived as a masculine approach to dharma. Mastering the Core
Teachings of the Buddha, on which some of this nascent Hard Core movement is based is a rational, results oriented style that the author in the introduction states is “utilitarian and pragmatic” and there are lots of sports, video game and barroom metaphors as well as  “combative and abrasive” (quote from section 13)commentary in the book (Parts 2 & 3). Subsequently the author, Daniel Ingram, in a later interview calls it the way of ““dharma cowboys, mavericks, rogues, and outsiders” . These descriptors elaborate a classically male oriented view as well as being very embedded in American popular culture. But you know the book was written by an American guy so both the cultural and gender references are framed from that orientation

Here Ingram states his approach in the Introduction:

It is the unrestrained voice of one from a generation whose radicals wore spikes and combat boots rather than beads and sandals, listened to the Sex Pistols rather than the Moody Blues, wouldn’t know a beat poet or early ‘60s dharma bum from a hole in the ground, and thought the hippies were pretty friggin’ naïve. It is also the unrestrained voice of one whose practice has been dedicated to complete and unexcelled mastery of the traditional and hardcore stages of the path rather than some sort of vapid New Age fluff. If that ain’t you, consider reading something else.

That sounds like something of a Dharma manifesto. I kinda like it. Fluff gets up my nose. How though will Hard Core manifest in popular culture?

Guys on their eco-Harleys, crossing the rugged terrain, roping cattle (to release them into the wild) between waving sabers-both light and metal, or electric guitars in the name of realization and possibly saving all beings as they tear through the towns full of timid mid-western residents who are used to blowing bubbles in sharing circles and whispering transcendental mantras proffered by gurus in Mercedes. The patron saints are rugged individualists, defiant of authority and not afraid of plain or loud speaking. Robes in this mosh pit are made of denim with studs. Tattoo mantras cover brawny shoulders. Shaven heads signify the testosterone fueled energy of practice rather than the removal of the  “ignorance grass” of the Zen Buddhist.

Well I suppose I’ll have to get into my pleather Daisy Dukes, Doc Martens and sleeves-torn-off T-shirt in order to examine this phenomenon.  No, don’t picture that.

Why Buddhism Outside the Establishment?

The Buddhist objective is one of enlightenment. There are lots of side roads and alleys people like to take though. Refocusing on the objective, in the larger socio-cultural sense is common in many contexts.

Sometimes this manifests as fundamentalism and sometimes as a reaction to perceived fundamentalism and/or entrenched stagnant institutionalism.

Some folks have interpreted, not without reason, that the Hard Core Dharma movement is an example of the latter case particularly as Buddhism is presented in Asia. One commenter to Brooke’s post wrote:

“it breaks with some monastic and cultural traditions that people have interpreted very literally.”

I’ll just put my response to that here:

Am not convinced that literal interpretations are all that representative of monastics or cultural traditions. Some of the most literal minded have been converts. And the literalism seems to be baggage carried over from previous religious exposure. My sense is that it is more of an intra-cultural situation (North American convert Buddhist) rather than an inter-cultural one. And the hard core Dharma “masculine” approach is a reaction to that.

It strikes me in that respect to be a reaction against the “feminization” of North American Buddhism, which at times does resemble psychotherapy rather than Buddhist endeavor.

It is not the first time such a trend has occurred. The popularity of Zen benefited greatly from a backlash against the “softness” of much of the counter-culture of the 1960s. Many hippies left that scene to join Zen groups with their hard (Japanese) masculine forms. And the attendant minimalism that accompanies the aesthetic involved [was a stark contrast to the overblown psychedelic cultural forms]

I wasn’t old enough to be a hippie but the effects of that era still presented themselves as I was growing up. That’s one of the reasons I took up Zen as well as punk lifestyle.

This seems to be something of a cyclical cultural phenomenon.

I will delve into this further but for now the thesis is that whenever something becomes established a contrasting view or contradiction will emerge. This is the basis of dialectical analysis of which I may be overly fond. [This approach has nothing to do with Spiral Dynamics (Sarkar etal. redressed) or Integralist approaches, which have appropriated a lot of already-thought-out-ideas (think mashup), but it is grounded in traditional sociological and philosophical theory, as well as theories of historiography such as Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar's Theory of Social Cycles which attempts to account for social change, and the dialectical materialism of Marx etal. and even harkening back to Hegel and others]

The Gender Thing

Buddhism has always been a man’s sport. What constitutes “manly” attributes varies from culture to culture. But wherever religion has become institutionalized it has taken on the patriarchal tones of the culture in which it has appeared. Merit, accomplishment and ability in women are irrelevant. It could even be called a conspiracy if it were a conscious effort. [See the links at the end for Professor Joseph Gelfer's work]

It is perhaps inevitable that the hard core dharma viewpoint is put forward in contrast (or is it backlash) to all of the fuzzysoft, elaborate or bookish approaches. It is minimalist. Which I think not uncoincidentally is very much in vogue at the moment in North American culture.

Getting entangled in lofty complex philosophical discussions or creating endless artistic diagrams to chart progressive spiritual states isn’t part of the picture nor is working with self-indulgent explorations of “feelings” and hyper-sensitive sharing sessions.

To some people certain Buddhist places of practice might seem a little on the Rococo side, design-wise. It is also possible that holding up flowers and ringing bells may not have the punch that some would desire in their dharma practice. Sharing feelings, resolving personal problems and getting directions on life management issues may not seem to have much to do with awakening.

Dogen doesn’t strike me as much of a UFC fighter though Hakuin might have done well in local MMA tournaments. Tsongkapa and Nagarjuna likely weren’t into Iron Man training.

Brad Warner and his dharma punk posse frequently lament the lack of chicks in the Zendo.   And when they are there, the purpose seems to trend towards the social.

This is hardly a new trend. During the first wave of Zen popularization in the 60′s men took to it in significant numbers. We see evidence of this today when we consider the membership of the AZTA(American Zen Teacher’s Association)-the last time I calculated only 30% of teachers were women and of those many are of subsequent generations. Perhaps this was, in some cases, a reaction to hippy softness, flower power and the rise of the feminist movement.  Zen can be seen to offer a certain masculine, minimalist aesthetic as well as stereotypical male environments that include discipline, obedience to authority, structure and individual effort.

Late 80′s and 90′s Buddhism began to open up and the New Age-a hippy resurgence of blissed out peace and dancing.  OK there’s a little more to it than that but it’s kind of boring and you can encounter it yourself in most New Age bookstores.

These alternating counter-cultures in America vis a vis Buddhism reflect the larger social trends in counter-cultures that most intersect with convert American Buddhist practices.

Characteristics Common to Counter-cultures

  • outsider status recognized both by participants and observers
  • minority viewpoint
  • relative economic powerlessness
  • discontent with status quo
  • idealism
  • inner directed (as opposed to following mainstream social directions)
  • explorative
  • fluidity
  • energetic expressions-extroverted
  • defensive (overtly or covertly)
  • alienation and often anomie
  • hedonistic in a relativist kind of way
  • escapist

Here are a  couple of tables that summarize the discussion of the progression in recent decades because I don’t feel like writing it all out:

Historical Trends/ Characteristics Beats Hippies Punks New Age
Era 50s, 60s 60s, 70s 70s, 80s 90s, 00s
Intellectual Yes Yes No No
Commercial No No No Yes
Hierarchical No No No No
Populist No No No Yes
Political Yes Yes Yes No
Activist Yes Yes Yes No
Associations and Representation Ginsberg, Kerouac etal Alan Watts None at the time. Emerging in the current Hard Core Dharma trend. Deepak Chopra, Adyashanti, Osho Rajneesh and many others
Additional characteristics Angry, disenchanted Exploratory Angry, escapist, pessimistic Hedonistic, blindly optimistic
Notes Related to the arts, particularly literature Music replaces literature as a central cultural pivot Music continues to tie like-minded people together

Currently there is a divergence in trends among enlightenment seekers outside the mainstream and to some extent attempting to move into the mainstream.  Here is a rundown of three of the more prominent streams.

Current Trends/ Characteristics Hard Core Integral and related movements Buddhist flavored self-improvement and self-help includes some kinds of psychotherapy, encounter groups, ecological and dietary groups and general social nicening.
Intellectual Mixed-critical thinking encouraged regarding experience. Theoretical or analytical examination not so much. Some anti-intellectual tendencies. Yes-with highly with specialized jargon. Theoretical/analytical examination within a controlled framework. Critical examination of self and others within the controlled framework. No-critical thinking about programs/ideas is not overly encouraged. Negative critical examination of the self is sometimes encouraged particularly be self-help marketers.
Commercial No Yes Yes
Hierarchical No Yes-complete formal structure, with labels. Levels of attainment are clearly demarcated. Yes regarding leadership. Not much formal structure regarding followers
Populist Yes No due to convoluted high-level language and monetary access barriers Yes
Political No No Yes- soft leftist
Activist Concerned with Social Justice Yes. The whole point is availability to all. Not directly. Theorizing on certain issues only. Mixed but tending towards No
Class Based Yes-mostly working and middle Yes-elites Yes-middle and upper
Cult-of-Personality Driven No Yes Yes
Associated Personalities and Movements Ingram, Folk, Open Enlightenment, Dharma Overground, Brad Warner, Noah Levine, [Stephen Batchelor, Steve Hagan to a lesser extent] Genpo Merzel,Diane Hamilton influenced by Ken Wilber, Andrew Cohen etal Some of the mainstream Buddhist press, elephant journal, Osho Rajneesh, The Secret, Lenz Foundation, some aspects of Integral, Byron Katie,many other self-help gurus, Bill Harris and Holosync, “Tantric” sex programs and retreats
Notes Rejection of “cultural” aspects.  Rejection of “soft and mushy” expressions. At times equating the two which leads to scapegoating and stereotyping of Asian expressions of Buddhism. Traditional  Asian Buddhism at times seen as effeminate. Attempts a theory of everything which includes self-help, transcendental awakening and attempts to meld social sciences, philosophy, religion into a rigid framework of developmental phases. Highly structured, self-validating and Also includes attempts to meld science or pseudo-science with Buddhist inspired therapies. There are other related movements such as techno-humanism (enlightenment via technology), techno-shamanism and  entheogenics (enlightenment via chemicals or drugs) which overlap with the Hard Core viewpoint to varying degrees.
Origins Beats, Punk Hippies, New Age, Self-empowerment, Positive thinking movement, Academia particularly philosophy, psychology and religion Hippies, New Age

The cultural gender contradictions-the male/female dialectic play out in these movements. Is it becoming Desperate Housewives vs Mad Men in the popular portrayals of dharma approaches? Coordinated pastel cushions clash with dark wood seiza benches? Not necessarily and I’m not trying to frame it in that kind of antagonistic fashion. There is no sound reason for women not to participate in the Hard Core Dharma approach and there is no sound reason for men not to participate in non-Hard Core Dharma approaches. It comes down to preferences, many of which are culture driven. There is yet to be an approach that isn’t gender or culture bound.

There are those who claim to have been “freed” of the cultural aspect but the error is usually one of not recognizing their own enculturation and its influence on the work. No one is culture-free. It is a massive delusion to consider one’s self in that category. If one speaks a language, interacts with others, participates in a society, culture is present. Always.

And the gender baggage that comes with culture is present as well. The best we can do is to try to recognize that when it presents itself and mitigate the effects so that inclusiveness can become a pro-active rather than a reactive result.

As to the effectiveness of the above mentioned approaches in reaching awakening here’s my opinion.

Regarding Self-Help and Psychotherapeutic Approaches as a Methodology to Enlightenment

Buddhism isn’t therapy. It’s purpose is liberation. Liberation is a result of effort.

My points of disagreement are based on the point of Buddhist endeavor. If one is looking for therapy and life skills there are other endeavors better suited for those ends.

So my score for Self-Help is:
strongly agree 10%
somewhat agree 30%
no opinion-not likely
somewhat disagree 40%
strongly disagree 20%

Regarding Integralism

It is no secret that I am not a fan of many of the Integralists and their occasional reactionary stance on gender as well as intellectual elitism and crass commercialism. Some of this I will be bringing up in future posts especially where Buddhism is being co-opted to serve the Integral cause.

So my score for Integralism is:
strongly agree 10%
somewhat agree 20%
no opinion-not likely
somewhat disagree 40%
strongly disagree 30%

Agreement is only based on the amount of material co-opted and reworked from already established sociological, psychological, religious, philosophical disciplines.

Regarding Hard Core Dharma

This is a view of the movement as a whole and not just on Ingram’s book.

Most of the objectives of the Hard Core Dharma people I agree with. The more people who can awaken the better.

And I agree with, and have written extensively about, most of the same criticisms the author voices about “Western” Buddhism. Particularly section 15 Content and Ultimate Reality in the Hard Core Dharma book contains some rather blunt statements that I’m inclined to agree with.

It strikes me that what is outlined in the Hard Core Dharma book corresponds very closely with classical Theravada approaches. It covers the same territory in any case.

My reservations come though with the scapegoating of Asians as impetus for the minimalist movement when it is more likely a pre-existing condition within the movement’s culture itself. The intra-cultural issues that are more reactions to previous religious exposures rather than inter-cultural factors.

And the masculine tone that it takes harken to very stereotypical American masculine imagery. And it does have a masculinity and I’d even go so far as to say an American cultural style of masculinity to it in terms of effort, attainment, individuality, defiance. But clearly women have these attributes as well though are not socially encouraged to manifest them. We can change that.

So my score for Hard Core Dharma is:
strongly agree 20%
somewhat agree 65%
no opinion-not likely
somewhat disagree 10%
strongly disagree 5%

Hard Core Dharma As A Future Buddhist Movement

Just because someone attempts to deconstruct the cultural significance of a particular strain of thought in order to understand it better doesn’t make what’s written necessarily a condemnation of it. Or a condemnation of masculinity or of all emerging movements.

In fact of the three approaches I’ve identified above, this one is actually very much in sync with my own approach, maybe because of familiarity with the counter-culture which engendered it, maybe because of the focus on awakening rather than some other objectives, maybe because of the straightforwardness of expression, maybe because it accords with and respects Buddhist history and thought (with some reservations), maybe because it’s not trying to reinvent the Buddhist endeavor but merely restate it more clearly for a contemporary audience, maybe because it’s minimalism, unlike that of Stephen Bachelor and others, isn’t all that minimalist.

And maybe because the list of characteristics noted upon reading, which include anti-authoritarian, political, aggressive, informal structure, experience overshadows but does not discard doctrine, disenchantment with established traditions, skeptical, exploratory, boundary breaking and transgressing, individualist, creative, DIY, non-hierarchical, are also part of my world view.

In general though, it is far more likely, given the current Zeitgeist, that the New Age/ Self-improvement paradigm will prevail if only because of it’s consumer appeal and apparent ease of acquisition. It demands little or often nothing but a certain economic status.  And it is also apparent that the Integral approach is rapidly becoming folded into that commercial project at the high priced end. This means as long as people remain deluded enough to think that money can buy happiness with relative ease, the actualization of awakening will escape most.

In Chapter 16 of Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, Adobe/.pdf version, Revised 2008 version, the author provides an overview of many obstacles to learning and actualizing the Buddhadharma. One such is the general misunderstanding of what enlightenment entails and what a teacher actually provides:

[Students] may think, “After all, they are enlightened, aren’t they? They must be completely sane and balanced. They must know about how to have the perfect relationship, how to find the prefect job, how to invest in the stock market, how to talk to their mother, how to end world hunger, how to rebuild a carburetor, and all other such details of wise living on this Earth. After all, isn’t enlightenment about understanding everything?” Gadzooks!

… enlightenment is about understanding the fundamental nature of all things, and what they happen to be is ultimately completely and utterly irrelevant to enlightenment. Thus, very enlightened beings understand something fundamental about whatever arises or however their lives manifest, i.e. its impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and emptiness, as well as all of the stuff about the True Self…

However, they have no more knowledge about the specifics of the world, i.e. content or subject matter, than they have acquired in just the way that anyone else acquires knowledge about the specifics of this world.

For people who are on the Buddhist path, meaning that the objective of awakening is their objective, then the whole book may be quite helpful to eliminate some of the obstacles and misunderstandings that abound. Women are permitted to read it too. I would encourage that.

Related Links

Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, Adobe/.pdf version, Revised 2008 version

A relatively new blog Masculine Heart discusses men’s issues in an interesting, rational and non-reactionary manner (meaning I haven’t read the word Feminazi there just because a woman comments). There are numerous contributors and it is curated by the very well read and reasonable William Harryman of Integral Options Cafe. It offers the same good quality and well researched viewpoints. It does incorporate some Integral content but that is not the principle focus.

The End of Men by Hanna Rosin. Published in The Atlantic magazine, this article outlines some of the issues that are appearing as gender roles and the emerging shifts are more closely studied, particularly related to economics and education. There were many reactions on-line to this article but you all know how to use Google so I won’t look them up.

Joseph Gelfer is a professor of religious studies as well as gender studies focused on the male. There have been Women’s Studies departments in academia for quite a few decades, although many now have been renamed Gender Studies yet still focus almost exclusively on women, so it is long overdue that men are given the opportunity to examine their own roles and relationships in culture and all it’s aspects.

Joseph Gelfer’s works include:

The Masculinity Conspiracy-which is a book in progress that is available online

Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy-a print book in which the author re-frames the issues of patriarchy and men’s spirituality.

Joseph Gelfer’s blog- which looks at various issues related to the subjects of Religious Studies, the Masculine and Spirituality

Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality is an online, scholarly, peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary journal. Joseph Gelfer is the executive editor. The articles range through all types of spirituality and men’s relationships with spirituality. Issues of class, institutions, gender relations, queer expressions of spirituality, race and many others are subjects of this interesting journal.

Musical Accompaniment

David Bowie-Suffragette City