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.
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
- inner directed (as opposed to following mainstream social directions)
- energetic expressions-extroverted
- defensive (overtly or covertly)
- alienation and often anomie
- hedonistic in a relativist kind of way
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|
|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.|
|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|
|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%
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.
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.
David Bowie-Suffragette City