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,

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23 comments on “Same/Different. A Response to Daniel M. Ingram & Others

  1. Gender roles are so arbitrary, but also so entrenched. They cannot be ignored, but also should not be obeyed. My 59-year-old, football-loving father also owns all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls, which literally drive me to leave the room. He made a point of reminding me when Eclipse was coming out so we could go see it together (I could have lived without and my mother flatly refused). And he’s the first person I went to when I started seriously contemplating a motocycle, which horifies my grandmother. It’s a strange, strange world, but sometimes it’s delightful that way.

    -Monica

  2. Although I personally shy away from such crass language and antagonistic discussion, by far the best line I’ve read in a long while: “It is unfortunate if discussing this topic gets into a semi-enlightened dick-measuring contest.” Indeed. I find this all quite strange.

    Thanks for the detail on both the response here and the previous post.

  3. “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.”

    In just 63 words it seems you’ve said all that needs to be said about awakening or enlightenment or whatever else you want to call it.

  4. When I was a kid I studied Tae Kwon Do and Shaolin Kung Fu. When I got older I studied Aikido and Tai Chi. These camps are sometimes distinguished as “hard/external” vs “soft/internal” styles. Some teacher or another said all styles become ‘soft’ as practitioners evolve and age. From everything I’ve read so far, I’ll wait another decade or two before I read much more Ingram.

    I just am not digging this ‘hardcore’ sort of militancy of it all. But that is just how some people roll. Pick your poison. And words are indeed often if not usually poisonous, at least when they don’t recognize their inherent tendency to cloud truth, especially when considered to be rationally “efficacious.”

    The Mahayana sutras go psychedelic fantastical to deal with this problem. The Zen masters go pithy poetically natural-ly ambivalent. Gautama was just really gentle, calm, and patient.

    Ingram goes ‘hardcore’? Is this really the best medicine for our age? I think the medium is the message – how you say it, the ‘design’ of your presentation, is in itself really the message, or at least inseparable from it. I can only speak for myself I guess, but to ‘hardcore Buddhism’ I just say ‘no thanks.’ Likewise Merzel’s hard sell, or Kelly’s “Mondo Zen (TM)” ‘rebranding’. Sell sell sell them books/cds/retreat seats etc. I join Adbusters in saying “just don’t buy things you see advertised.” Don’t follow trends. Enough punk rock revolutions in Buddhism already. How about some ongoing humble, respectful evolution?

    • Out of curiosity, Shusan, are you American?

      Your average American is likely to be way more engaging as a public speaker, TV interviewee, or casual writer than your average Finn, German, or Frenchman. Conversely, it appears to me that Americans expect much more from presentation style than most Europeans.

      In this case, I think that it’s a real shame if your aversion to Mr. Ingram’s sometimes abrasive and sometimes arrogant style is keeping you from reading his book. It really is interesting, and I’m pretty certain that almost anyone who meditates for any reason beyond simple “bompu Zen” will get something out of it—even if you don’t take everything at face value (as IMO you never should).

  5. Coincidentally, within 24 hours of posting about Hardcore Zen, I was at a friend’s house discussing stages, states, and some fine points of how to go on an intensive retreat and maximize the chances of getting out of the Dark Night and getting Stream Entry, as this was my friend’s goal.

    I happened to notice Hardcore Zen on his shelf, and I asked him what he thought of it, and he said that he had been seeking desperately for something that would help him get out of whatever he had gotten himself into (Dark Night) and found this book where an ordinary guy had said he had done it, and he says that launched his interest in Buddhism, meditation, and lead eventually to finding my stuff, which is what he currently is drawing from, as he finds it workable, but he says that was the book that got him pointed in something like the right direction. Thus, perhaps I should reconsider my position on it.

    As to this being a semi-enlightened dick-measuring contest, or possibly becoming one, I would wonder what you would call it if one of us were female, but anyway…

    It is difficult at times to overcome or transcend one’s cultural and practice background and to see other’s points of view on what is essential to Buddhism. From a Theravada point of view, as I have verified through long training and practice, the stages of enlightenment proceed in stages, starting with Stream Entry and going from there. Having conversed with well over a hundred enlightened individuals by this point about how their practice has gone, and this from many traditions, Zen among them, I have met a total of Zero people who have gone all the way in one fell swoop, and the time it takes to integrate from first awakening to something more profound and complete is generally at least a year if not decades, though faster progress is probably possible, I simply know of no living examples where careful questioning hasn’t revealed that it hasn’t been quite that way.

    Is it of value to know this? Is it of value to improve upon the maps found in Zen, which in all honesty are among the worst of those out there? Or should they simply crash around with the vague Japanese metaphors they are shackled with? I get probably 50-100 emails/year and have for about a decade of people who have just crossed the Arising and Passing Away, had their mind blown by it, and now think they are enlightened, only to crash into the Dark Night which inevitably follows unprepared and blindsided, often to unfortunate life consequences (see this link for my own experiences in this regard http://www.interactivebuddha.com/theAandP.shtml). I still believe the maps as they have come down in those traditions who have taken thousands of years to look into them carefully are worthy of taking a look at. I believe they are empowering and really help people avoid disaster.

    Is it necessarily a dick-measuring contest if high standards are involved that time and time again are verifiable and withstand reality testing? I would say it is just practical, but if you want to add that sort of cynical dark spin on it, I must say that is common, and you are in good company.

    As to the analysis of the cultural aspects and the detailed list, I must agree, there are those common cultural elements, and thus, reinforced that way with that level of fine precision, I see your point exactly and it is well-made.

    It is worth knowing that as I read through Hardcore Zen, I constantly was struck by the fact that I would probably really like Brad as a person, as our cultural, musical and paradigmatic similarities are very striking. I could easily see him coming over and us playing guitar and watching a ninja flick. That he is willing to say he has done it is great. However, and perhaps this is my own blindness, just saying you have done it is alright, I guess, but the point of that for me is to tell others exactly how so that they can do it also. I realize that this may be my own relative delusion and needless idealism, though there is an emphasis in Buddhism on helping others in this way, I believe.

    • FWIW, I found your map extremely interesting. I’m very new to this business, but after checking out that map, I suddenly find that the advice my teachers and instructors have given me makes more sense, I have a better sense of purpose and focus, and suddenly my zazen is a good deal more intense and focused as well. I think the most important thing you and Brad have in common is that both of you are saying that basically regular people can “get” it, if they just work at it with enough dedication—not just monks on mountaintops long ago and far away. That’s a major eye-opener.

      (I wrote some more on my blog, so I won’t repeat it here.)

    • Thank you Daniel for continuing the dialogue. It is useful and informative for me and those who may read this.

      I’ll just make a couple of further points.  

      As to this being a semi-enlightened dick-measuring contest, or possibly becoming one, I would wonder what you would call it if one of us were female, but anyway…

      Females do have the option of prosthetics, to put it politely. This however may give an unfair advantage.

      It is difficult at times to overcome or transcend one’s cultural and practice background and to see other’s points of view on what is essential to Buddhism.

      Quite so.  And often culture and background is so taken for granted that one cannot even see it. Like trying to look at one’s own eyeballs. That’s one of the reasons I write about culture, to picture it, dismantle it, examine it.

      From a Theravada point of view, as I have verified through long training and practice, the stages of enlightenment proceed in stages, starting with Stream Entry and going from there. Having conversed with well over a hundred enlightened individuals by this point about how their practice has gone, and this from many traditions, Zen among them, I have met a total of Zero people who have gone all the way in one fell swoop, and the time it takes to integrate from first awakening to something more profound and complete is generally at least a year if not decades, though faster progress is probably possible, I simply know of no living examples where careful questioning hasn’t revealed that it hasn’t been quite that way.

      That is one of the reasons I take your approach seriously. Training, study and practice show up in people’s work, their words and their general presentation. Their responses to questioning and criticism also demonstrate quite a bit.

      Is it of value to know this? Is it of value to improve upon the maps found in Zen, which in all honesty are among the worst of those out there? Or should they simply crash around with the vague Japanese metaphors they are shackled with? I get probably 50-100 emails/year and have for about a decade of people who have just crossed the Arising and Passing Away, had their mind blown by it, and now think they are enlightened, only to crash into the Dark Night which inevitably follows unprepared and blindsided, often to unfortunate life consequences (see this link for my own experiences in this regard http://www.interactivebuddha.com/theAandP.shtml). I still believe the maps as they have come down in those traditions who have taken thousands of years to look into them carefully are worthy of taking a look at. I believe they are empowering and really help people avoid disaster.

      The Zen maps seem to require a lot of intuitive interpretation. And guidance. In general I do find information, such as that found in the Abhidharma more generally useful, though again as written, even in English translation it takes quite a long time to get to know what is being mapped.

      Works like yours, and Rodney Smith’s are great for giving an introduction to that which is not intimidating.

      And I do find them way more beneficial than another book on how to mindfully wash my dishes.

      Is it necessarily a dick-measuring contest if high standards are involved that time and time again are verifiable and withstand reality testing? I would say it is just practical, but if you want to add that sort of cynical dark spin on it, I must say that is common, and you are in good company.

      Reality testing? I’m all for it.

      Cynical dark spin? Not any moreso than most people examining their own post-modern angst. And when one gets into the muck of that tar pit there are often gems to be found. Ask any comedy writer about that. Suggestions include George Carlin, Chris Rock, Russell Brand and about a thousand others.

      For some people it’s an effective way to engage despair in either themselves or the situations they encounter.  Some of the best jokes I’ve ever heard have come from people I’ve met who have done long sentences in prison or been on death row.

      As to the analysis of the cultural aspects and the detailed list, I must agree, there are those common cultural elements, and thus, reinforced that way with that level of fine precision, I see your point exactly and it is well-made.

      Thanks.

      It is worth knowing that as I read through Hardcore Zen, I constantly was struck by the fact that I would probably really like Brad as a person, as our cultural, musical and paradigmatic similarities are very striking. I could easily see him coming over and us playing guitar and watching a ninja flick. That he is willing to say he has done it is great. However, and perhaps this is my own blindness, just saying you have done it is alright, I guess, but the point of that for me is to tell others exactly how so that they can do it also. I realize that this may be my own relative delusion and needless idealism, though there is an emphasis in Buddhism on helping others in this way, I believe.

      Well I find Brad to be a likable character as well. I say character since I don’t know him personally and only by what he presents on-line and in books.

      There are many ways of helping others.  Maybe even in a few blog comments.

  6. “I was at a friend’s house discussing stages, states, and some fine points of how to go on an intensive retreat and maximize the chances of getting out of the Dark Night and getting Stream Entry, as this was my friend’s goal.”

    I just threw up a little…

    if this is your Buddhism, I’ll leave you to it.

    You go win that enlightenment game, Dan! Go go go! Onward and upward to that next stage! Map it! Map it! Rah rah rah! Gooooooo…map it! yay!

    • Erm, Shusan, he already did. Arahant, remember?

      I don’t get your hostility to this idea—it seems to offend you on a personal level. The Three Jewels include the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. If there’s no enlightenment to strive for, and no path to that enlightenment, what does that do to Buddha?

    • I hope that you will forgive me for enjoying and succeeding at the sort of Buddhism the Buddha clearly taught as best can be determined from what we have access to of his teachings, and I respect your right to appreciate something else, whatever that may be.

      • Dan, what you teach is clearly NOT what the Buddha taught if the Suttas, which with all their editorial shortcomings are the nearest we have to what he taught, are anything to go by.

        I have found nothing in there about ending up in a state of repetitive “cycling” through paths, fruitions and Dark Nights such as you describe as “arhatship”. It’s a state that bears little attraction for me and I can’t see why anyone would want it. I can see it in the Abidhamma and particularly in Mahasi Sayadaw, but I don’t see what it has to do with Nibbana as described by the Buddha though.

        I really appreciate your practice based approach, your open-ness about attainments, and I see no testosterone-driven chest-thumping at dharmaoverground, which I find to be one of the most informative and useful places on the internet for advice on practice. But the spirit of some of the discussions about nailing the next path seem to be similar to a discussion on trying to get to the next level in Grand Theft Auto. I mean, OK, it may be entertaining but once you’ve got here and you’re still “cycling” what’s the point? What will you do, distract yourself by trying to nail the next level?

        Has your recent experience with Actualism and the state of Virtual Freedom which you say is pretty frequent/constatnt changed your view of what you wrote about in the book you called Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha?

        Regards

        David

        • Dear David,

          Your concerns have merit and your questions are good ones. As this thread has been generally dead a while except for scattered derisive comments, care to have the same discussion at the DhO, which you seem to approve of?

          We can do it here, if you wish, but if you think on how this has gone so far in this venue, do you think the discussion will be able to occur in a peaceful and respectful manner from all sides that might chime in?

          Otherwise, if you are interested in talking about the topic in person, let me know. I am flexible in these regards and merely make suggestions as to the best way to continue.

  7. Your Buddhism seems to stop at about year 1 of the common era. If you’d like to understand my critique more intimately, please review the last 2000 years of Mahayana critique and development. Namely, a few thousand pages of Maha Prajna Paramita sutras.

    Its not that there isn’t development in individual practice, or that there aren’t stages. Its just that to focus overmuch on them, or especially to fall prey to definitely delineating and categorizing them, is deeply problematic and even dangerous. And by the way, “the sort of Buddhism the Buddha clearly taught” is widely and perpetually disputed, by practitioners for millenia, and more recently by hundreds of scholars who find all kinds of reasons to doubt the early sutras as verbatim accounts. “Be a light unto yourself.” I like that one.

    • The Mahayana is also capable of producing enlightenment and would count this among its primary goals, despite what you would seem to be implying. Inspiring Mahayana story after story demonstrates a tradition of people striving in earnest following the teachings of the best teachers they could find and then coming to realization and writing their stuff down so that others could follow in their footsteps.

      A few smatterings from across some Mahayaha traditions in no particular order that I happened to pick off my shelf, which contains many Mahayaha texts, despite your seeming to imply that I have had no exposure to the Mahayana:

      Dogen sought an enlightened teacher far and wide until he found one and studied with him until he attained enlightenment. While practice-enlightenment is his method, enlightenment is clearly his goal and was his high standard that earned him his reputation for being what he was, an accomplished enlightened being who advocated that people do the same.

      Chi Nul was a Korean Chan whose writings (see Tracing Back the Radiance) detail stages of awakening that he valued and claimed to have attained. I find his works useful for those in the middle paths.

      Dharma Paths, a book by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, details stages of practice that are nearly exactly those found in the Theravadan maps of awakening with minor name changes, and he advocates people follow steps to get enlightened.

      Tozen’s Five Ranks speaks for itself, as do the 10 Ox Herding Pictures. The (usually)10 Bodhisattva Bhumis, found various places, such as the Avataṃsaka Sūtra (Mahāvaipulya Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra), also speak for themselves.

      The book Liberation in the Palm of your Hand, by Pabonka Rinpoche, is subtitled A Concise Discourse on the Path to Enlightenment, and declares its stages of insight to be superior to those of the Theravada, not that it doesn’t praise at least becoming an arahat. Mahayana sutra after sutra rhetorically works to gain its cred not by bashing the Theravadans for achieving enlightenment, but for them achieving better enlightenment. Which is it? You would seem to advocate no enlightenment, but the whole point of buying the Mahayana party line is to be even more enlightened than us lowly Hinayana arahats. I am not saying I think this is true, but the Mayahanists clearly do, at least. Multiple Mahayana teachers I studied and spoke with, when I told them my goal was arahatship, said that was a fine and worthy goal and wished me great success with smiles on their faces.

      From Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s book The Excellent Path to Enlightenment, p94-95, English excerpts:

      “Now that I possess these freedoms and endowments, so difficult to obtain, and of such importance, May I arouse my mind by remembering impermanence of the universe and all beings, to free myself truly from the ocean of suffering of the three worlds, without confusing what is to be adopted and what is to be abandoned, may I persevere in the path… To obtain Buddhahood for the benefit of others…”

      One need only look to the development of the commentaries to extend far past year one of the Common Era, and to the revolutionary developments of the vipassana jhana technology and conceptual frameworks in the last 50 years in Burmese Buddhism, as well as the additional descriptions added by myself in the last 10 to see that Buddhism is very much a living tradition capable of delivering much to those who practice well, as well as examining many other and various modern versions of uncle Sid’s teachings to see that in this very time many get enlightened and more enlightened, which, I will still put forth, is the point of Buddhism explicitly and without doubt in any tradition you look at except the worst of the disempowering and watered-down bastardizations that have been reduced to dogma-spouting festivals of blind faith, ritual abasement and meditative dysfunction.

      To so vehemently criticize ordinary people who, through hard work and simply following time-tested instructions, have achieved the stages of insight, the concentration attainments, and the paths of awakening and then freely teach others who wish to do the same, this is very strange, and I have a hard time imagining that the Buddha would be displeased in the same way. This is clearly not for everyone, but for those who want it, it is remarkable and of great value. Take a look at the Dharma Overground and see for yourself: http://www.dharmaoverground.org. There you will find many people helping each other to understand great things and having a great time doing it. You will find gratitude, empowerment, openness, generosity, intelligence, dedication to mastery, and many who have mastery itself. Can these be such a bad thing as you would seem to imply?

      • Well said, Daniel.

        My response is the Four Great Vows for All of the Zen tradition.

        All beings one body, I vow to save them.
        Endless blind passions, I vow to cut them off.
        Countless dharma gates, I vow to enter them.
        The unsurpassed Buddha way, I vow to embody it fully.

        ~ Diamond Sangha version, with bows to Robert Aitkin Roshi

  8. of course its not a bad thing. Nor is this.

    In my experience, people who state explicitly that they are “enlightened” (as apparently you do), and who get caught up in the game of evaluating other people’s relative levels of attainment (as again you seem to do), who talk about the wealth of texts in their libraries, are prone to power trips and ego inflation. Sometimes this is reflected by aggressive sorts of expressions of a message, tending toward the judgmental, fervent, and fundamentalist (often favoring the earliest expressions of a religion over later ones). It’s a particular problem in our present society and many of its religious traditions new and old, with Buddhism having no shortage of its own cases.

    Without having read you or your book directly, but only encountering your comments in fragments, and your statements here, I would simply say that I find some evidence that gives me pause in this regard.

    Further, having studied with a number of teachers over the years in all three “vehicles” and various religious traditions, the most “evolved” in each seem invariably to downplay mention of “enlightenment”, or “kensho”, or “satori”, and simply encourage instead patience, steadiness, humor, compassion, and gratitude. It was Shunryu Suzuki I believe who said that its not that “enlightenment” doesn’t happen; it’s just not what needs to be emphasized. And like many (I’d almost say every) other great teachers have said when asked, he claimed to not have attained any special, exalted state. Frankly, I would model myself more on his likes than yours. And I don’t say this to be snotty – I think we need models of life and practice, and seeking them out is the aspirants work at times.

    I have had many extraordinary insights and experiences in my meager, fitful, foolish years of practice, and have come to see them, as I said before, as mere weather. If you practice, they will happen. The most important thing is to simply practice, to devote oneself to the benefit of all beings, and to be care-full. I think the idea that one simply traverses levels and achieves ever more “enlightened” states – well, I think that is an adolescent form of practice, which is (at best) aesthetically bankrupt. I don’t think adult practice looks, or sounds, like this. No offense. Ok, I have to go sit now before bed.
    Palms together.

    • What you view as evolution, I view as something else, obviously. Here opinions clearly vary.

      Read my stuff before making such large statements and pronouncements and hints of allegations, and after doing so, if you come to the same conclusions, at least it will be based on data.

      Check out the Dharma Overground for an hour or two and see if your fears of juvenile fundamentalist immaturity are realized.

      There is the arrogance of basic achievement, openness, clarity, and also arrogance of false modesty, mystery, and reverse-fundamentalism. Are you sure your brand of arrogance is so much superior to mine? Read my stuff and you will see I have never ever been so foolish as to claim not being arrogant, but I can tell people how to get enlightened and they do in relatively large numbers and go on to help others do the same thing, which is where the rubber meets the road from my point of view. Are you still sure this is such a bad thing and that openness, clarity, and adult conversations about the straightforward aspects of practice and attainment are such a problem rather than being a further evolution from mystery, secrecy, bad metaphors and false modesty? Whose is the fundamentalism and whose is something very current and functional?

      • “based on data” ? Whatever that is, isn’t IT. The more said in defense of all this, the clearer this becomes. Every repackaging is another ring added outside the bullseye.

        Too much Jhana juice! Levels of Ego drunk on “Dharma”.

        Paper makes tasteless tea
        Cup turned over, bottomless
        I do not drink it
        – Bai Ke Li

  9. you win you win!
    Please go enlighten (“relatively large numbers” of) the masses. I am just clearly beneath your scope or hope.

    • In this particular case, I would suspect that your assertion that I have actually won in any meaningful way is erroneous, but if you mean that you are tired of the conversation or something else facetious, there it is.

      It is interesting that, despite you saying you want this to be about something other than an arrogant competition and advocate some higher ground, when asked to debate the real issues, practice, people being empowered to do what they say they wish to do (such as actually succeed in practice), what communities based on these ideals look like in actual practice, what good maps actually look like, what the real pros and cons of straightforward disclosure and discussion of actual practice and its results are, etc., nothing good whatever actually occurred, or so it seems on re-reading this exchange.

      In this, failure has occurred without question, regardless of whose it is, failure of communication, failure of real and rational debate and discussion of ideas and concepts, failure of understanding, and failure of even common decency. This is unfortunate, but trees don’t appear overnight and changing entrenched attitudes to something more clear, straightforward and rigorous takes time, and in this regard, real victories, which in that case are victories for all involved, are few and hard to attain, much harder than awakening, strangely enough.

  10. Pingback: The Crumbling Buddhist Consensus: Overview | David Chapman at Wordpress

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