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The Sickest Buddhist (Video Removed), Lululemon and Spiritual Materialism: So Overrated

posted by Ethan Nichtern

So Arj Barker of the great HBO show Flight of the Conchords (well, Season one was great at least) made this send-up of meditation students and people who practice yoga for all the wrong reasons.  (UPDATE: The Video is now down from Vimeo, and Youtube. If you can find it, please post in the comments section. Wonder why it’s down – it was just going viral. Complaints from the pious?) I had been emailed this clip  no less than a dozen times over the weekend. It’s funny, but it’s not the kind of humor that requires much mentally, and is super easy to achieve (yes I do think I could’ve written it better), and ultimately I think it plays into a dark and inaccurate view of mind/body practitioners. IMHO,  spiritual materialism is way way way over-emphasized. Or at least, misunderstood. First, check the video:

Sickest Buddhist from GenerateLA

When the great Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche wrote Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, he didn’t write it to make people talk sh-t about practitioners or teachers whose motivations we question as overly self-involved or rife with profit-motive. It was meant to be instructions on how to self-reflect on the dangers of the “ego” (a badly translated word, but no time here) in ourselves, on both superficial and subtle levels of life as a Buddhist practitioner. It was never meant to be a manual for going around pointing fingers at others and tearing people down.

Every time I hear a Buddhist friend calling some teacher a Charlatan or a poser  (As my friend Brad Warner sometimes likes to do on his blog) or a Yoga friend talking about how yoga has lost its purity now that Lululemon covers every single tush in every yoga studio (I love those…pants), I want to tell them to stop. Please just stop. Stop right now. I want to say “Hey guys, did you read the paper today, the part where Goldman Sachs and Exxon screwed the entire planet 100 million times as badly as any confused Buddhist or yogi ever has? Did you hear the lyrics of the latest corporate rap song that reduces humanity to its most superficially glittering impulses for millions of young people to consume without a thought? Did you see how Republicans stonewalled on healthcare reform again? Then please stop talking about Buddhists and Yogis.”

As Daniel Ingram points out, until we are enlightened, a personal mixture of awakened compassion and selfish confusion forms the basis for everything we do. The contemplative path is about working directly with this mixture, not rejecting it in self or others. The path is to notice our selfish confusion and slowly massage it away through repeated attention. At the same time, the path is to notice our already-present positive intentions and habits, and slowly cultivate and amplify these until they infuse everything we do. Spiritual materialism is not something to reject. Noticing spiritual materialism is the path.

And by the way, if anyone has tips on how to become an uber-wealthy, blinged-out, harem-having Guru – as so many poorly worded rants seem to point out that there are so many of these – I’d love to hear your advice. Myself and every other teacher I know (in every form of teaching) struggles mightily with scratching out a livelihood. So please, teach me how to be the kind of teacher who can afford diamond-studded incense. I’m sick of buying everything at thrift stores.  



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Your Name

posted August 4, 2009 at 9:42 am


I’m Blowin UP The Dharma Like What!



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Bill

posted August 4, 2009 at 9:45 am

gza

posted August 4, 2009 at 9:47 am


huh, i didn’t see this as intended to be a critique of anything, i just thought it was funny.
i opened my third eye on the first try



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Ethan Nichtern

posted August 4, 2009 at 9:51 am


@GZA, I thought it was funny as hell, but the reason it works as comedy, to me, is that we’ve all developed this view of spiritual practitioners as east-asian-mystic-seeking fake posers, which is ridiculously when put up against the real materialism of the world.
But you know, I might just be crunked off Kombucha right now.



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gza

posted August 4, 2009 at 10:02 am


i saw it more as a borat-style sendup where the character is the joke and you know it doesnt have much to do with kazakhstan



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Jerry Kolber

posted August 4, 2009 at 10:05 am


Admit Ethan your just jealous of the sick rhymes he’s laying down and those fresh shades. I think it would be funny as hell to make a video about an oil company where all the executives are required to practice Buddhism – that would be comedy. Next time you notice my “selfish confusion” would you please slowly massage it with repeated attention? That sounds pretty nice to me. Or we could just cuddle and bask in the glow of how much more enlightened we are than the people next door.



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Your Name

posted August 4, 2009 at 10:10 am


“A personal mixture of awakened compassion and selfish confusion” pretty much sums up what embarasses me most when I look back at anything I remember doing, saying or making as of 5 minutes ago, 5 years or 15 years ago. It also pretty much sums up what makes me feel pride of the personal-equanimity stripe. Oh, it’s all so messy, so humbling, and yet there’s this aesthetic pleasure, too. It’s not solid, any more than fancy yoga pants are solid.



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Kate

posted August 4, 2009 at 10:11 am


That was my post up there….I claim it!



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Mu

posted August 4, 2009 at 10:17 am


“I don’t know how or why I’m so Zen / I make the power of now look like the power of then”: LOL.
The video does a nice job of hyperbolizing the kind of discourse, seen everywhere including this blog, that is quick to identify the so-called benefits of meditation: e.g., it makes you calmer, sexier, less competitive, and so on.
Nailing a 45-minute meditation in 10 is funny to me because I see so many younger dharma kids using Ingram to do the equivalent of that. For all the disclaimers concerning “obsession with attainments, judgment, comparison and competition,” Ingram’s schemas and maps are little more than ways to measure and quantify spiritual progress in a way that only works through comparison—-between personal experience and abstractions and between persons and persons. Ingram’s discourse is thus clinical, exhorting, for example, the reader to “diagnose which ñana you are in.” The unmindfulness that underwrites so much clinical diagnosis (a point Thomas Szasz once made) is dramatized in Ingram’s speech and thought patterns, which, as anyone who has heard him on podcasts will affirm, are characterized above all by their speed and reliance on rote memory.
While I think Ethan is spot on to remind us that the world is bigger than whatever materialism appears on the Buddha path, I’m pretty sure that Brad Warner comes out much better than Ingram on the issue of who fuels the kind of spiritual materialism related to achievement, measurement, and what I call elsewhere “Buddhist athleticism.”
“Non-attachment: I just mastered it.” Funny.



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Red

posted August 4, 2009 at 10:38 am


As a Buddhist I thought it was repulsively funny, but more funny than repulsive. Very Sasha Baron Cohen.
I think you are somewhat right, Ethan, to say “we’ve all developed this view of spiritual practitioners as east-asian-mystic-seeking fake posers.” However, we all must be able to bring humor to the path. Poke fun of our selves… Not take things so seriously all the time.



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Jerry Kolber

posted August 4, 2009 at 10:38 am


@Mu – Does trying to “diagnose which nana you are in” only work if you dig dark rooms and sexy grandmas?



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gza

posted August 4, 2009 at 10:58 am


Mu, Ingram is just presenting the kinds of schemas and maps that have always been part of the Buddhist tradition.



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Mu

posted August 4, 2009 at 11:20 am


Nope, gza, not in the “hardcore” package. Ingram’s brand is the “Xtreme sports” version of Buddhist practice, designed to appeal to the latest generations who have already and seamlessly internalized the drive for speed, quick gratification, and superficiality. I’ll take, say, the Vimuttimagga and the Visudhimagga over Ingram any day, but the vast majority of dharma kids will read only the latter.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted August 4, 2009 at 11:27 am


@ MU. Gotta agree with GZA here. Brad Warner I like a lot personally, (he’s been to IDP twice), really cool guy, but his work doesn’t leave me with much meditative meat to work with. Ingram feels a lot more in depth to me in the “Hardcore” Buddhist battle. He illuminates a lot for me. Warner, perhaps due to the instructive minimalism of his tradition, doesn’t offer me personally quite as much in terms of instruction beyond his no nonsense vibe. Both are really good writers, but Ingram wins my personal Kombucha Crunk-off.
BTW, what do you have against Ingram? His book is really good. My only possible concern is that his method of distribution of teachings is a bit too public, and people might get the idea that they don’t need teachers and sangha to explore the states of practice that he presents. But to me it seems like he definitely has some realization.
Ultimately, my hardcore heart will always go to Noah Levine, because of these three, he’s the one doing the most work to build community. Warner doesn’t seem to care about the community-building aspect of teaching much (it seems), and I’m not sure what Ingram thinks about building a societal structure for the teachings.



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Andrew Bowler

posted August 4, 2009 at 11:29 am


This video is a wonderful sign of where we are. We have a community big enough to send up in a viral music video?!?!?! Awesome!
Ethan – your blog was very thoughtful and a well posed argument. I disagree with you, however, that this video is satire, it’s just insider fun. The lyrics (which are hilarious and not easy, btw) are really only funny to “us” and not really based in any substantial criticism.
I assume this was made by an insider, anyway. I don’t really know.
“I look awesome when I strike a Lotus but I’ve got no ego so I don’t even notice.” Who else could write that?



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Aimée C

posted August 4, 2009 at 11:43 am


My favourite book on the subject is J.D Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey.” Worth a read.
As a former emp. of lululemon, I’ve witnessed some behaviour pretty close to the parody of the video. Instead of ridiculing it, I still can feel empathy. We’re all trying to find our way. We all get deluded. Any steps we make (even if embarrassingly self-serving at the time) still get us on a path.



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gza

posted August 4, 2009 at 11:47 am


Mu, Ingram’s model basically is the one from the Vimuttimagga and the Visudhimagga. In fact, he is probably one of the few teachers around to have read the Vimuttimagga. He also doesn’t particularly promise fast or easy results–quite the contrary.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted August 4, 2009 at 11:49 am


@ GZA: I’m Blowin Up the Vimuttimagga like what?!



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tk

posted August 4, 2009 at 1:18 pm


I think Arj Barker does a great job in the video of providing humor and a not-so-subtle critique. He’s playing a character that doesn’t “get it”–a sendup of buddhist and hip hop cliches. The fact that the cliches work mean that many members of buddhist and hip hop communities fall into simple stereotypes. Of course GZA and Ingram aren’t them. One would hope that people wouldn’t judge a buddhist or a rap artist by the most stereotypical members of their community. But unfortunately they do. In fact outsiders judge both cultures solely by the most stereotypical members (sadly). To me, the above video is a reminder to any practicing buddhist not to fall into groupthink, material striving, mystical adventurism or simple stereotypes.



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James Spencer

posted August 4, 2009 at 1:20 pm


HILARIOUS video!!…FINALLY. a rap song I can enjoy…Part of enlightenment is LIGHTENING up…The Love Guru movie WAS horrible…



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Julia May

posted August 4, 2009 at 1:22 pm


Video was good and I agree with Andrew that it seemed like an inside job. I also very much agree with your argument about critics. If people put half as much energy into even just making themselves happy as they did into hating, oh let’s say, hipsters, we’d be getting somewhere.



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Mu

posted August 4, 2009 at 1:37 pm


I’m all for Blowin’ Up the Vimuttimagga like What; indeed, I blew that bad boy up long before encountering Ingram’s synthesis. And that’s one of my points: the vast majority of Ingramites will nevr turn to the original texts, which are far, far richer than Ingram interprets them.
Since Warner hasn’t written a practice manual, we don’t have a basis of comparison. What we can do is evaluate either on their own merits. Warner comes across zen flesh, zen bones, whereas Ingram is all flesh. By this I mean that Ingram’s clinical approach to the dharma lacks spiritual and philosophical richness. His book is thoroughly unremarkable from a philosophical point of view. His is precisely the approach of a medical doctor who can, e. g., rattle off the cranio-facial muscles and nerves but cannot tell you why a human being smiles. Ingram’s “Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book” is written, says the good doc in Buddhist Geeks 118, to help people “plunge far and fast and really get into profound insight territory relatively quickly.” This thrill-ride through the jhanas, nanas, and paths appeals most, it appears, to those whose sense of the dharma is largely ahistorical and only superficially conceptualized, based perhaps on the kind of “nice and friendly” dharma books that Ingram rejects. In other words, if you skip, say, the Vimuttimagga and the Visudhimagga, you’re much more likely to turn to a synthesizer like Ingram whose maps resemble little more than the study sheets you make before cramming for the final exam.
Just listen to Ingram, about 11 minutes into BG 118, unmindfully blitz through the 16 classic stages of insight, and you have a sense of what “hardcore dharma” apparently adds up to, or at least how it is mechanically expressed by rote. Compare Brad Warner in BG 21, where he is asked to explain the four points of zazen, and he says he needs his notes to recall them, and then when prompted by the interviewer, he goes on to explain them quite well. Ingram would have blitzed through all 4 in 1.2 seconds, but that’s more than a commentary on Ingram’s powerful clinical memory; it’s a commentary on how attached Ingram is to words and concepts. It never, I’m pretty sure, occurred to Warner that the four points of zazen were something to be memorized and put into a schema; they are, instead and properly, something to be lived.
gza: If what you say is true (that Ingram “is probably one of the few teachers around to have read the Vimuttimagga”), that saddens me.



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Damaris

posted August 4, 2009 at 1:41 pm


oh stop that Julia – many a hipster have hated on everything except anything hipster.
No one’s hating on hipters, folks are just tired of hearing how “special” they are. Please join the rest of society. No you won’t be the center of attention but we’ll will still like you.
The video is funny and an indication of Buddhism growing influence. It’s a good sign.



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Davee

posted August 4, 2009 at 1:46 pm


It looks like it was filmed at Spirit Rock near San Francisco. I wonder what the pitch was to the Spirit Rock folks to ask to film it there. Props to Jack Kornfield.



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Eliot Estrin

posted August 4, 2009 at 1:57 pm


I think the video is an excellent humorous critique of what we all face at some point on our evolution of practice. Obviously, we all get get egotistical at some stage and feel like we can nail a 45 minute sit in 10, and yet the fact that he can say that shows that he may know what that thought feels like. There is also something to be said for vipassana romances on retreats, and so it is much easier, and I think healthier, to laugh about the western sexuality merging with eastern-style retreats. Also, having been a smoker and trying to balance meditation with an occasional ‘sneak off’ leaves me laughing, especially when he blows smoke directly in the teacher’s face…its an arrogance thats hard not to laugh at.
I applaud the incredibly accurate portrait of all of us trying to be buddhist, because lets face it, its hard! He is basically making fun of our primal drives, why not laugh?



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nic

posted August 4, 2009 at 1:59 pm


@Ethan, i’m glad you feel some depth to ingram’s work. certainly there is more depth and effort involved in buddhist meditation than most popular buddhist authors would like us to believe or even care to admit to. being public like that has its pros and cons for sure, but i think it’s a self-selective process. it’s not your normal sangha chit-chat type of stuff and it tends to attract a certain stereo-type, namely the geek: “a peculiar or otherwise odd person, especially one who is perceived to be overly obsessed with one or more things including those of intellectuality, electronics, etc.” (possibly maps of spiritual practise?) … there need to be places not unlike other places on the internet to exchange practise tips and details. many of them probably have a local sangha too.
i don’t think buddhist practise only comes in one shape or form or community. it’s as diverse as its practitioners. shinzen young’s teaching style is pretty geeky too, i might add.



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Mu

posted August 4, 2009 at 2:29 pm


Just a quick comment on nic’s post: The fact that Ingram’s book is the preeminent geeky alternative to the happy dharma books that fill the “Eastern Religion” shelves at Barnes & Noble and to sangha chit-chat is ultimately a sad commentary on the superficiality of geekdom.
Ingram is superfluous if you’ve really geeked out on the dharma; Warner, in contrast, by bringing to the dharma a liveliness that few teachers can muster, can enrich anyone’s experience if you know how to read him. Ethan is like that too: he brings a liveliness and relevance to the dharma. It seems to me that you don’t turn to writers and teachers like Ethan or Brad because of their geekiness; you turn to them for other, more compelling reasons.



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Vince H.

posted August 4, 2009 at 2:58 pm


Ethan asked me to chime in here, hoping I suspect, that I would come to defend Daniel Ingram’s point of view. While I have a lot of respect for Daniel, and have benefited greatly from his work, I’ll leave that to Daniel. I’ve let him know we’re arguing the merits of his work here, and I’m sure if he wants to chime in he will.
I did however feel like there was one small point in this discussion that needed clarification. And that is whether people into Ingram’s work somehow don’t go to any of his source texts (like the Visuddhimagga, Vimuttimagga, Pali Canon, or works from contemporary masters like Mahasi Sayadaw & Sayadaw U Pandita).
Mu claims that, “the vast majority of Ingramites will never turn to the original texts” is completely ridiculous. The opposite is far more true, and I know because I know almost all of these so-called “Ingramites” well.
The group of people into Ingram’s work are far more likely to have read the source texts than your average Buddhist practitioner in the West (probably to the order of 10-20 times more likley). It’s almost always the case that when someone gets into a synthesized work (like Ingrams), they end up going back to the original source material. Plus, I’ve seen Daniel encourage that again and again. If you simply take a glance at his suggested reading list you’ll see each of those texts highlighted: http://interactivebuddha.com/booklist.shtml
On that very page, this is what he says about the Visuddhimagga:
“This is the greatest of the Buddhist technical encyclopedias of meditation. Huge, hard reading, amazing. It draws extensively from the suttas and commentaries and adds a ton of practical information as well. It is detailed to the point of absurdity, but when that is what you want, nothing else will do. I firmly believe that all teachers who wish to teach in the Theravada tradition should: a) be at least Second Path, and b) have read this book at least once. You will be astounded at how much ultra-cool stuff is in this book if you are willing to deal with what a gigantic hog it is.”
Does this sound like someone who doesn’t have respect for the source material or who doesn’t encourage others to read it?



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Ethan Nichtern

posted August 4, 2009 at 3:10 pm


@ Vince: Thanks for posting and keep up the great work with Buddhist Geeks.
On a tangent – does anyone notice that the “hardcore” dharma intensive stuff sometimes has a male bent to it? Just a thought.



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Tsepel

posted August 4, 2009 at 3:14 pm


I don’t know much about all the Ingram/Warner bookish comments… I’m just fascinated paying a little bit of attention to how quickly my mind fluctuates between being totally outraged by the video and giggling at the brilliant rhymes anj lays down. He and Andy Samberg should do some work together…



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Vince H.

posted August 4, 2009 at 3:21 pm


@Ethan : Yeah man, happy to pop in. And yes, I’ve definitely noticed that people into “hardcore dharma” (the name, not the actual depth of realization itself) tend to be dudes.
On a side note, did anyone else notice that the video was filmed entirely at Spirit Rock Meditation Center? I wonder if they know what they let happen!? If I get a chance to ask Jack Kornfield about this, I will…



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Mu

posted August 4, 2009 at 3:32 pm


Although I have a N of only about 30, I can say unequivocally that only a small minority will read and study deeply the source texts. I suspect that Vince Horn’s experiences of who actually reads Ingram’s book is skewed given he’s at ground zero of the Ingram explosion, having partnered with and built Ingram’s DharmaOverground website for him, having gently interviewed him on different occasions, and so on.
I note that the passage you quote shows Ingram recommending the Visuddhimagga to a very exclusive group: “teachers who wish to teach in the Theravada tradition” and Second-Pathers. If that comprises the majority of Ingram readers, I’d be shocked, and, frankly, so should Vince. Also, posting a recommended reading list on a website hardly constitutes evidence of 1) an integrated and nuanced understanding of the texts themselves or 2) people actually reading the books they see “highlighted” there.



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Vince H.

posted August 4, 2009 at 3:36 pm


@Mu : I never said a majority of people who are into Ingram’s work read the Vishuddhimagga (or other source texts), I said that it’s probably 10 – 20 times as many as typical Western Buddhists. And given that I’ve had a large exposure to both groups, whereas you’re just speculating, I’d say that one of us has a more accurate and useful perspective here.



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Mu

posted August 4, 2009 at 3:55 pm


Actually, your numbers are significantly more speculative than mine, but arguments about sample size and skew aside, I’m not sure what your unsubstantiated claim about readers of Ingram being 10-20X more likely to read the source texts proves. The number of serious Western dharma students is so pitifully low that 10-20 times that number means little or nothing.
Ingram has become a shortcut for a lot of younger Theravadin Buddhists, and this point is incontrovertible. If Ingram is the main vehicle for encountering a text like the Vissudhimagga, I submit that that is a sad commentary, given Ingram’s lame approach to “how much ultra-cool stuff” resides there.



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~C4Chaos

posted August 4, 2009 at 4:16 pm


@Mu, i have to agree with gza and Ethan here. i’m not really sure what’s your problem with Ingram’s presentation of the map. btw, those are only guides and it’s only one developmental map (there are dozens or even hundreds out there depending on the tradition). Ingram is hardcore Insight practitioner but he strikes me as someone who had done his homework with regards to other Buddhist paths.
another thing i like about Ingram is that he’s not afraid to discuss “enlightenment” and he doesn’t back down on dharma debates. if you’ve got a problem with his approach or you want to clarify any of his concepts, you are more than welcome to join DharmaOverground and have at it there :) http://dharmaoverground.wetpaint.com
total consciousness for yoooouuuuuuu!
~C



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gza

posted August 4, 2009 at 4:18 pm


Ingram, unlike so many contemporary teachers, not only cites his primary and secondary source texts very clearly, but is also constantly urging his readers to consult them rather than take his word for anything. I suspect that many do so, as Vince suggests, but in any case you can hardly blame Ingram for the ones who don’t.
I am not a part of the “Dharma Overground” or even a Theravada practioner, but I found his willingness to address so many unspoken taboos very freshing.



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Mu

posted August 4, 2009 at 4:23 pm


On the question of why so many dudes, I think that this is a crucial question, one that was superficially addressed on a recent BG interview with DI. I write about this question in a forthcoming essay, where I compare the dudes of the Dharma Overground to the “athletes of Christ” who inhabited the deserts of Egypt. Thus, we now have “athletes of the Buddha.”
Who were the “athletes of Christ,” you wonder? In the late-antique tradition of Christian desert monasticism, the eremites of the fourth and fifth centuries were called by contemporary historians such as Rufinus of Aquileia “athletes of Christ,” drawing attention to their commitment to endless struggle with internal and external forces that could potentially disrupt their quest of becoming, as modern historian Peter Brown has put it, “the total stranger,” a kind of arhat of the desert. Even in their most profound moments of stillness (hesuchian), or contemplative withdrawal, these athletes of Christ directed their quest for higher states of awareness oppositionally—against themselves, against non-believers, and, somewhat ironically, against the other athletes with whom they competed (see, e.g., the prologue to Rufinus’s Historia Monachorum in Aegypto). Competition both united them into a kind of wasteland sangha and highlighted the desire for private transcendence that fuels their solitary existence.
The desert monastics of 1500 years ago have been reincarnated (metaphorically, not literally) as the boys of electronic sanghas such as the Dharma Overground. The DO is socially and psychologically androcentric: it is aggressively pragmatic, not terribly diverse (with a preponderance of highly educated [read: nerdy] white males), and militantly anti-conceptual and anti-historicist. It harmonizes well with classically masculinist tendencies and practices. I interviewed a couple of female practitioners who had much to say about why this dharma men’s club holds little appeal to them.



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Your Name

posted August 4, 2009 at 5:06 pm


Mu: I am a woman and I find Daniel Ingram very inspiring and Dharma Overground very interesting. I think people can be quite silly on there, but whenever Ingram himself contributes I feel it cuts through the tendencies you discuss above. Also whenever I have posted a question it has been answered quickly and with interest and kindness.
As for why it Dharma Overground is so male, I think the real reason is the banner at the top. The Dungeons and Dragons aesthetic has never been a chick magnet.
I kid.
I’ve noticed that women in the online community as a whole (be it politically, culturally, religiously, etc.) are less likely to engage in “gotcha!”, exhaustive arguments. See, par example, this thread.



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Julia May

posted August 4, 2009 at 5:07 pm


Your name (above) is my name.



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Evelyn

posted August 4, 2009 at 5:27 pm


I know better than to stick my foot in this Brad v. Daniel debate going on here but I would like to speak a little bit about the “predominately white male” aspect of the “Hardcore Dharma” scene.
I happen to be an African-American female so I’m neither white nor male but I’d happily call myself a Buddhist geek. Like Julia, I also find Ingram’s work inspiring, although I had a hard time navigating the Dharma Overground. Finding this “hardcore” Dharma actually reinvigorated my practice after about a year of stagnation.
I just happen to think you see a lot of white male Buddhist geeks because geeks in general tend to be predominately white and predominately male. Coming up through engineering school and now working as a professional engineer, I find myself surrounded by this demographic. Add that with the predominately white makeup of convert Buddhism in the west and you get what you get.
I’m sure there are more than a few women out there who get a lot out of the “Hardcore Dharma” approach but I’m thinking Julia’s right; maybe the ladies just don’t get as much out of these debates.
There again, I’ve got no proof. I’m pretty much all by my lonesome here in Kansas where I’m the only convert-Buddhist I know under 40 *shrug*



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~C4Chaos

posted August 4, 2009 at 5:35 pm


Mu,
regarding Dharma Overground, your observation is correct. most people who are attracted there are males. we’ve lamented on this issue in the forums and we’ve even discussed how to make the place more welcoming for others (btw, i’m not white so you can count me out of your simplistic sampling.)
anyway, there are a number of reasons why members are not-so diverse. this can range from hardcore approach, technique-oriented style, and no holds-barred dharma debates on the site. well, that’s just the reality of it. more males are tend to get attracted with that approach, not to mention that more males participate more in online forums. however, everyone is welcome there regarding race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or practice style.
if you have an issue with Ingram, i suggest that you post your concerns there where Ingram can address it directly. that’s much better since you’ll have a more direct conversation.
my point: you can write essays about Dharma Overground and its members as much as you want. but most probably whatever you write will be tainted by your own projections. it’s better to get in there, get to know the people, participate in the discussions, and then draw your own conclusions.
my two cents.
~C



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Ethan Nichtern

posted August 4, 2009 at 5:48 pm


@ MU – You are right that Brad hasn’t written a hardcore practice book, so we can’t really judge him on that at all, but his approach (in his books and the 2 talks I’ve heard), even among Zen teachers (relative to someone like Roshi O’Hara or Thich Nhat Hanh) seems to be to dissuade people from thinking there even is a map.
I do love this aspect of Dogen’s lineage in a Be-Here-Now way (and Brad has written about this perspective in a beautiful contemporary way), but over years and lifetimes, presenting a map always seems more helpful to people, as long as the caveat is given to never solidify the map.
For that reason, I’ve always gotten down in study more with the Theravadan, Tibetan, and especially especially the Shambhala tradition. With respect to Daniel and others, I feel there is no greater living holder of the complete map of 21st Century awakening than Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche (i receive zero dollars for saying this, fyi, Arj).
@Evelyn – yes, having participated in some of America’s few multicultural communities, I am hoping we can do better to create a more diverse Western Buddhist community in general. It’s a hard thing to do and we have to give it time, but we also have to be pro-active about bringing in non-dominant voices. For one thing, we need more voices of color on this blog. I am hoping one of my own teachers, Dr. Gaylon Ferguson, one of the foremost African American teachers in America, will be a more regular contributor. He’s a dude, but he’s as experientially hardcore as they come, and I would say he is much more the sensitive man type.
You seem to be a TRIPLE minority in the hardcore dharma scene – of color, gender, and you’re in Kansas! Would you ever like to write a blog post about that experience?
@ Jonas – is the reason girls didn’t like me when I was 13 because I was all into D&D?
All best to everyone,
E



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~C4Chaos

posted August 4, 2009 at 6:13 pm


@Ethan said: “I feel there is no greater living holder of the complete map of 21st Century awakening than Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche (i receive zero dollars for saying this, fyi, Arj).”
i’m also down with maps though my attitude towards them are very pragmatic. i treat them as guides along the “path” but i do my best not to solidy or reify them. i just use what works in whatever context for discussion. i’m not familiar with the “complete map of the 21st century awakening by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche” that you speak of, but i tend to be very skeptical of such claims (got a link?). this is coming from someone who is familiar with Ken Wilber’s super-duper integral psychological map of development across all cultures (see the book Integral Psychology for all the developmental maps you can handle) :)
and speaking of maps, i ride with Shinzen Young’s take on this age-old topic in the dharma circles. see “Is there a best model or map of the path, including the stages of classical enlightenment?
~C



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Mu

posted August 4, 2009 at 6:42 pm


I want to thank C4 for his permission to write on the DO, where I have read every public word since its inception. It was precisely the threads where general membership issues were discussed that I found most disheartening and, as I argue, were most sociologically naive. I did not wish to intervene since doing so would have upset the organic growth of the group I was observing.
As for the utility of maps, sure, they can be mighty useful. I would argue, however, they don’t trump good and original thinking. And it’s a question of how the maps are presented that is crucial. Ingram’s is basically hack work. As for who’s got the best map of awakening, of course that question can’t be settled. At times I think Lama Tsongkhapa has got it; at other times, I roll with Katagiri. Or Dogen.



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Julia May

posted August 4, 2009 at 6:44 pm


@Ethan: Who knows? When I was 13 I had a mood ring that I called a “fairy communicator” – at lunch the other Julia and I communicated with a fairy named Margaret and recorded her transmissions. Needless to say, boys wouldn’t come within a 10 foot radius of me.



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~C4Chaos

posted August 4, 2009 at 7:04 pm


“I want to thank C4 for his permission to write on the DO, where I have read every public word since its inception.”
you’re welcome. but i didn’t give you permission. i invited you to participate :)
you said you have “read every public word since its inception”, yet you didn’t mention whether you *engaged* the members in discussions. reading (aka lurking) is not the same as engaging. or maybe i just missed your postings?
btw, the moment we start labeling people, like “Ingramites” or Brad Warner fanboys, that’s the moment we start to drag down the level of conversation. if we stick to facts, ideas, and clarify our own opinions, then discussions will be more interesting and fruitful.
~C



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MrTeacup

posted August 4, 2009 at 7:16 pm


@Mu,
“His book is thoroughly unremarkable from a philosophical point of view. His is precisely the approach of a medical doctor who can, e.g., rattle off the cranio-facial muscles and nerves but cannot tell you why a human being smiles.”
OK, but so what? You imply that Ingram shortcuts things you believe are essential, so it would be helpful if you told us what those things are and what makes them essential.



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Your Name

posted August 4, 2009 at 7:19 pm


C4: Are these words not yours: “my point: you can write essays about Dharma Overground and its members as much as you want”?
Also, you may have missed the sentence where I state I did not participate, and my reason for doing so: “I did not wish to intervene since doing so would have upset the organic growth of the group I was observing.”
Close reading is always a virtue.



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~C4Chaos

posted August 4, 2009 at 7:41 pm


Mu,
thanks for the clarification. yes, i read that part (“I did not wish to intervene…”). but it was ambiguous for me so i had to clarify. take note that when i said that you can engage members in a discussion, it can be done in a private messaging system too (without intervening the forums). now that you’ve clarified it, i guess i can safely say that you just “lurked” (this is an apt term for readers of forums without participation) on the Dharma Overground.
however, i’m not clear about your intentions when you said you “would have upset the organic growth of the group I was observing.” it sounds to me that you are playing the part of an anthropologist. i’m not quite sure how you would “upset” the group. well, i guess we can never find out because you chose not to engage the people in discussions and just assumed that you would upset the group.
~C



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Opinion

posted August 4, 2009 at 8:44 pm


I like the idea of “inviting” Mu to hold forth with Ingram and his cohort on their home turf. I mean, she’s getting such a lovely reception here.
For whatever it’s worth, Mu, you have helpfully articulated, for me, a lot of what has been bothering me about Ingram’s approach since coming across it via this blog a few months ago. As a new-ish practitioner, I can’t say I have found it to be value-less. But the maps talk leaves me pretty dry. Ingram’s wisdom seems more technical than personal.
There does seem to be a lack of critical attention given to Ingram in these parts. In one of the BG podcasts with Reggie Ray, Dr. Ray goes out of his way to interrupt the interviewer and ridicule the whole maps thing, which the interviewer quickly squelches. Granted, it was a bit off topic, but it seemed like a missed opportunity to hear an alternative view from an accomplished teacher who definitely had a point of view.



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Evelyn

posted August 4, 2009 at 9:00 pm


@Ethan: It is important to bring diverse voices to the discussion. Different backgrounds and points of view can bring so much to any conversation. I do recall hearing the Buddhist Geeks interview with Dr. Ferguson a few weeks back. I really appreciated his view on “natural wakefulness”, very interesting and insightful.
I’m relatively new to the hardcore dharma scene but I’d be happy to share my experience. I can write you an email with more information.



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Constance Casey

posted August 4, 2009 at 9:06 pm


Regarding the Dharma Overground, and Daniel Ingram’s work. I have benefited from his direct approach. I have read most all of his recommended books, I especially like the Middle Length Discourses, the Visuddhimagga… I often don’t post on DhO because of arguing, intellectualizing, overly long and vague posts to read, or what is being discussed is clearly in Ingram’s book already, therefore redundant.
And, occasionally there is a post I’ll see that fits the current need and fits for further practice immediately, or, I have an idea for someone that might help.
I only want to be useful, so it’s more likely I will respond to direct and specific questions. I feel if your going to argue, go and do it on the cushion and see how much it hurts to do so, or do something else that is more useful–like the dishes.
I enjoyed the video, it was funny to me. I like seeing them kick it up at Spirit Rock where I sat for the month of March.



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Constance Casey

posted August 4, 2009 at 9:16 pm


Regarding the Dharma Overground, and Daniel Ingram’s work. I have benefited from his direct approach. I have read most all of his recommended books, I especially like the Middle Length Discourses, the Visuddhimagga… I often don’t post on DhO because of arguing, intellectualizing, overly long and vague posts to read, or what is being discussed is clearly in Ingram’s book already, therefore redundant.
And, occasionally there is a post I’ll see that fits the current need and fits for further practice immediately, or, I have an idea for someone that might help.
I only want to be useful, so it’s more likely I will respond to direct and specific questions. I feel if your going to argue, go and do it on the cushion and see how much it hurts to do so, or do something else that is more useful–like the dishes.
I enjoyed the video, it was funny to me. I like seeing them kick it up at Spirit Rock where I sat for the month of March.



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Mu

posted August 4, 2009 at 9:47 pm


Opinion: What you say about missed opportunities on BG matches my own take on that podcast. Overall, I like BG quite a bit, but it is clear that certain figures, like DI, get the extra-soft treatment. This is unfortunate because what we end up getting from DI amounts to a verbal fire hose that the interviewers are either incapable or unwilling to shut off. It would be interesting if DI were asked questions along the lines of: So, as an arhat, is this your last body? Or: What is it like to achieve the state of no more learning according to the individual liberation vehicle? Will you extinguish with or without residue, and why historically are there differing beliefs on that question?
Also, BG is quite poor at handling controversy: they are attracted to it clearly, but once they address it, it goes intellectually flacid. A good example of this is their attempt to address Brad Warner’s critique of Dennis Merzel’s Big Mind process (BG 59 & 60), where the “Geeks of the Roundtable” curiously elided, in their tepid discussion of the Warner-Genpo Roshi skirmish, the problems of belief, authority, power/knowledge, and subservience that Brad raised.



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GA

posted August 4, 2009 at 10:42 pm


Well since Ethan challenged us “lurking” females geeks to decloak…
I found the BG Warner and Ingram podcasts completely different from one another.
As a software engineer that breaths geek talk all day, the firehose-like techno-budhi-babble of Daniel Ingram does not appeal to me. It conflicts with my goals and interests in Buddhist practice–irritating rather than calming me. There was no mindful interaction with the interviewer, nothing thought provoking. I agree with Mu, I know when someone has memorized an outline and regurgitates it. The rapid fire recitation of the 16 insights was humorous, I wonder if there’s a mnemonic for memorizing them as there is for the 12 cranial nerves… “On Old Olympus’ Towering Tops…”
I found Warners interview interesting and insightful. I actually learned some semi- “ultra-cool stuff.” He actually appears to engage the interviewer.
While Art School (yeah, it’s a left brain vs right brain thang), I witnessed this phenomenon of attempting to bi-pass the natural growth and evolution of… what can I call it, the “flow?” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)
Many beginners want to take the shortcut to producing abstract art before they have even mastered realism and suffered through the process of dissecting the visible world.
An observation from another perspective, I experience a deja-vu type of feeling when comparing this discussion with those to be found in truly g33kifying forums such as slashdot.org. Which is better, Java or C#? No way dude, Ruby all the way…



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Kate

posted August 4, 2009 at 10:51 pm


“I’ve noticed that women in the online community as a whole (be it politically, culturally, religiously, etc.) are less likely to engage in “gotcha!”, exhaustive arguments. See, par example, this thread.”
Exactly.
Exactly! Y’all need to stop taking the argument-bait here.



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Mitsu Hadeishi

posted August 4, 2009 at 10:54 pm


Hello folks! I’m going to throw in a comment from my sangha’s point of view, which is to say, essentially a Chan/Dzogchen view (represented fairly well both by Trungpa’s _Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism_ book and Suzuki-roshi’s _Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind_, as well as the view expounded by my teacher. It’s a fairly traditional view within Soto Zen (a bit less so in Rinzai Zen) and it’s the substance/basis of my practice for the last 20 years. Interestingly, we spent quite a while discussing this very issue at my last retreat.
The Theravada approach, i.e., one which involves extremely detailed mind training, point by point, I believe is itself a quite valuable and interesting approach and it is certainly one which has the weight of Buddhist tradition behind it — it’s quite representative of the approach taken by many Buddhist practitioners from the most early period of Buddhism. It is very important, however, not to throw out the extremely hard-to-grasp and counterintuitive yet profound radical view of the Mahayana and later schools, particularly as evidenced in the Dzogchen and Zen (particularly Soto Zen) view of practice.
The basic point that the Mahayana made, which can be seen clearly in classic sutras such as the Heart Sutra and other great Mahayana sutras, in contrast to the Theravada view, is that while both agree that there are very profound matters deserving of detailed and in-depth investigation, the Mahayana made the point that to approach this as a project of investigation in which the self sets up a goal of “becoming better” at meditation is counterproductive, because setting up that type of mind (i.e., attitude or approach) is using the very structures, patterns, and mental habits that are causing the difficulties we face in the first place.
In other words, the irony is that one can, in some sense, “improve” — but if you think of it as improving in the ordinary sense, you are making it a hell of a lot harder to actually succeed. It’s ironic and is one of the most difficult conundrums in practice, which I believe is one of the most difficult aspects of the Dharma.
One can compare this with the notion of grace from Christianity, however. The idea is that “enlightenment” isn’t something that is accomplished by a self. If you try to use the self to “get rid of the self”, in other words, you’re grinding the gears of practice against each other and making it difficult to really see the deepest points of the Dharma (at least this is the Chan/Zen point as well as something central to Dzogchen).
This is an extremely difficult point to take seriously because it seems so counterintuitive. However, if, in our enthusiasm to avoid criticizing other teachers or schools, we elide over this point or forget its importance, we are really throwing out the baby with the bathwater. This point is very, very profound and despite its difficulty has tremendously powerful practical implications for practice. It opens up a radically different approach to practice than the admirable and workmanlike Theravada approach — but one which is exceptionally worth preserving and respecting in my opinion. Holding to this view has been the central core of my practice for more than twenty years: as Suzuki said it is very important to avoid having a “gaining idea” — not simply because the gaining idea inflates one’s ego, but because a gaining idea is a heavy barrier to realization.



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Mu

posted August 4, 2009 at 11:16 pm


GA: Thanks for your perspective, from the technogeek and art side. What you say about short-cutting resonates with my take on DI and the Ingramites: namely, the kind of intellectual leaps to higher stages of awakening with little grounding in the historical, philosophical, spiritual, & psychological traditions that animate the path in the broadest sense. Your analogy of skipping to abstract art before realism has analogies in all disciplines: in psychoanalysis (especially as practiced in the academy), e.g., many attempt to skip to Lacan with scant grounding in Freud, or others who skip to Levinas without having read Heidegger.
The other day I Michael-Jordan-style fist-bumped a young dude, an avowed Ingramite, who came over to my table at the cafe announcing, “8th jhana, done!” That’s cool–he “owned” it, lol, and deserved the fist-bump–but then I very gently reminded him of what J. Krishnamurti would say about his jhana chasing.



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Mitsu Hadeishi

posted August 4, 2009 at 11:20 pm


@Mu I once read that of the last things Krishnamurti said to someone at one of his talks, just before his death, was as a succinct summary of his teaching: “Remain completely alert, and make no effort.”



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Mu

posted August 4, 2009 at 11:37 pm


@Mitsu: ;)



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Mitsu Hadeishi

posted August 4, 2009 at 11:42 pm


@Ethan One other comment vis a vis spiritual materialism — I suppose I’m basically disagreeing with you (with respect and admiration for what you’ve done for the Dharma :), that spiritual materialism, as a problem, is overemphasized. In fact, I’d say that, in general, the point Trungpa was trying to make (and Suzuki and others) with that term has been generally very little understood — it’s not simply that one ought to avoid spiritual materialism as a kind of way of avoiding pumping up the ego, or something along those lines. He was actually making a very important practice point, with deep implications, one which is very rarely understood by many practitioners — but one which is really quite central to the Mahayana and Vajrayana at least at the “higher” or later stages.
The picture outlined in, say, the Heart Sutra or Diamond Sutra are not merely abstractions, available only to Buddhas — they are actually very practical issues as well as exceptionally deep yet extremely present points which factor into our moment to moment existence. Attainment which is also non-attainment is not merely a strange koan to be puzzled at, but a living, breathing core of Mahayana teaching which is, unfortunately, often forgotten or missed by many practitioners.
The fact that Trungpa was extremely fond of Suzuki and Shambhala even used to use Suzuki’s book, _Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind_, as a meditation instruction manual, is not an accident. This is not to say that I disagree that maps are useful — I happen to believe maps can be extremely useful. Yet the Theravadan way of thinking about the map (which they tend to describe straightforwardly as a series of achievements on the way to the goal of enlightenment) is in fact quite radically different from the Mahayana and Vajrayana view of the map… so I don’t think it’s accurate to lump together the Theravadan approach and the approach recommended by Trungpa and other Vajrayana teachers (though I hasten to add that as others have pointed out above, the real living tradition of Theravada is to be distinguished from some of the more simplified presentations of the tradition — though typically the Theravadan description of practice is nevertheless quite different from Mahayana or Vajrayana descriptions at the highest levels).
Non-attainment as a view is extremely difficult to understand and practice, in other words, and I believe it is very much *under*-emphasized, not overemphasized. Even among students of teachers who have emphasized this point, it’s often hard to find those who really understand it! It’s a technical point, but it’s also practical, and I’m certainly saying here that I believe it’s an extremely precious part of the Dharma that should be preserved and expressed and practiced if possible.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted August 4, 2009 at 11:48 pm


@Mitsu: Very well articulated points, and if I was going to write the flipside of the coin of the article I wrote (there’s always a flipside), I would strive to make the points as well as you did. Glad to have you on the blog.
gassho.



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Mu

posted August 5, 2009 at 12:06 am


Mitsu: Lovely posts, with which I am in complete agreement. I would add the Taoist influence on Mahayana/Chan is evident in non-attainment: the Chan experience in particular functions more as a conclusion than a premise. It is never to be used as a first steps in a line of ethical attainment or metaphysical reasoning, since conclusions, as sutras such The Platform Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, and the Lankavatara show, draw to it rather than from it. Thus, the spontaneous life–the “creative life,” Krishnamurti would call it–rests on mo chih ch’u (going ahead without hesitation), wu-wei (purposelessness) and wu-shih (lack of affectation or simplicity). Parallels in the Tibetan tradition include akarma (unconditioned action) and asamskrita (uncontrived action). Maitreya’s Abhisamayalamkara is helpful here.



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~C4Chaos

posted August 5, 2009 at 12:32 am


i enjoy reading the different perspectives on “enlightenment” maps here. however, i’d like to point out that we’re only talking about Buddhist maps here so far. and let’s not forget the even Zen has its own developmental maps (e.g. Five Ranks of Tozan, and the classic Ox Herding pictures). there are also Christian maps, Hindu maps, Judaism maps, heck even Scientology maps. even nondual sages have subtle maps of development (e.g. Adyashanti’s initial awakening, maturing into liberation; abiding, non-abiding, etc.).
if we want to generalize the “enlightenment” maps, we can also categorize them as sudden enlightenment v. gradual enlightenment schools. this kind of debate had been going on since early days of Buddhism so it won’t likely to end soon.
my point is that whether we like it or not, almost all (if not all) spiritual traditions got their own version of “enlightenment” (or developmental) maps. our own practice is very much influenced by the map(s) we subscribe to. in my case, i do my best to ride with both (sudden and gradual). i like the Christian concept of Grace as well as the Theravada Buddhist approach to gradual (or mastery). so even if i have a goal-based approach to enlightenment, i drop all of it while doing my practice.
that said, one main reason i ride with Theravada style of practice (specifically vipassana as taught by Shinzen Young) is that, the Theravada approach put explicit instructions on concentration, clarity, and equanimity. developing those skills (whether one gets enlightened or not) can have very useful applications in one’s cognitive development. developing concentration skills alone could greatly improve ones learning capacity and attention skills. in short, it has a lot of practical applications in the relative world, whether one “attains” (or receive the Grace of enlightenment), or otherwise.
when everything is said and done, i believe that there’s no one-size fits all awakening technology. we all groove with what tickles our fancy.
my two cents.
~C
P.S. as far as the sudden enlightenment vs. gradual enlightenment goes, one of the best analogies i’ve encountered is the apple tree analogy. go figure.



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Mitsu Hadeishi

posted August 5, 2009 at 1:48 am


@Mu I absolutely agree that one shouldn’t confuse “no gaining idea” or the Dzogchen idea of “nothing to attain” as meaning that one doesn’t need to practice, or that one should just blob out and resign oneself to neurosis, ignorance and suffering. That would be, naturally, a very problematic interpretation of the Diamond or Heart Sutras, to say the least. However, as to whether or not one can or should attempt to apply the “no gaining idea” advice from the early stages of practice — some approaches say no (i.e., some schools emphasize the need to begin with a more preliminary approach first, before one “graduates” so to speak to the “high” teachings of non-attainment), but others have a different view, that it can and should be possible to practice with some approximate version of the non-attainment view from the beginning. For example, Suzuki’s famous book was used by Trungpa as an introductory text, and in it he emphasizes “no gaining idea” over and over again… a very difficult concept, yet Trungpa clearly felt it was something worth introducing to beginners.
In my view I agree with Trungpa’s notion that it is certainly possible to apply some version of the non-attainment teaching from the beginning. That is to say it’s possible to practice even as a beginner while trying not to restrict it to a narrow view of what you think you’re trying to accomplish. I took this approach myself, at the suggestion of my teachers, and I believe it’s been extremely fruitful (again, ironically: fruitful though I was trying to avoid an idea of trying to attain a fruit!) The very fact of practicing itself is already a gesture towards a certain kind of effort, so to speak, and naturally at the beginning one can’t really avoid making an effort in practice, despite Krishnamurti’s sage advice… but it is possible, I believe, even for beginners to get some benefit from that advice. Again, I don’t mean to suggest that the detailed, step-by-step approach of the Theravadans is not also very valuable, but to the extent it is done in a way that reinforces a notion of a self “doing” an action to achieve a goal, it can have a downside which must eventually be dealt with.
Interestingly, I think that non-attainment-oriented practice can fruitfully be complemented by step-by-step practice later on, even though many schools do it in the opposite order (i.e., “preliminary” practices are often structured in this step by step way, with the “high” view only being introduced later, but one can in fact reverse this order)… my teacher says that “reversed” order was once in fact traditional in some schools. There is an interesting advantage to the Suzuki “no gaining idea” approach, as well, which is that I believe, if one really practices in a way congruent with this approach, it can be a very useful approach particularly for lay practice (for various technical reasons I won’t elaborate on).



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Mitsu Hadeishi

posted August 5, 2009 at 1:49 am


@Ethan Oh, and thanks for your kind comments!



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anonymous

posted August 5, 2009 at 4:07 am


there is still plenty of spiritual materialism going
on, in various paths. Though, I don’t know that I
would use that word, as much as simple selfishness and
self-absorption.
The Deists tend to do better in this area than the
agnostics. Their sense of life becoming a devotion to
God, rather than a personal experience, much more
clearly gets to the heart of the matter.
We can’t cross spiritual boundaries by “just being
us.” We have to go beyond that, and beyond the
feeling of “I want to do this.” The only real way to
go beyond “I want to do this” is to really and truly
sacrifice ourselves in extreme devotion. And that
devotion has to beyond our wants…material or
spiritual.
It is good to no longer want overt material things.
But to want spiritual things, is just another “me”
experience. I have been in a spiritual community and
around a bunch of others. People can get very
protective of their “consciousness” and even reject
basic courtesy out of some supposed devotion to
“protecting their consciousness.” It is just another,
subtler, manifestation of “me first, me only, me now.”
People want spirituality to conform to them, not
conform to it. People want to practice meditation,
while working on Wall Street, doing aggressive sales
practices that destroy other people’s lives. Who even
wants to directly, overtly help others, much less
sacrifice one’s life to spirituality? Without that
kind of feeling within, spirituality is not a game,
perhaps, but certainly a very limited experience. All
the saints transcend their personal desires and live
in a state of extreme purity, where every day is one
of complete devotion and perfect sacrifice. And that
kind of life has very little connection to what common
views of spirituality are.
Like Gandhi said, that God would only come to him when
he reduced himself to absolutely zero. Whether you
are a Deist or not, the approach is the same – we are
striving for a devotion that eventually becomes
complete sacrifice.



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Kirtan Man

posted August 5, 2009 at 9:28 am


The Sickest Buddhist video is off Vimeo now, too. Can you post it, somehow? Thanks!



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~C4Chaos

posted August 5, 2009 at 11:33 am


well, while waiting for the Sickest Buddhist video to surface again, how about this intermission from badass Lama Boy, or better yet, the Hippie Yoga Farmers? ;)
~C



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M.C. Owens

posted August 5, 2009 at 12:11 pm


This is my first post on the blog, and I’ve tried to read all the above comments carefully to make sure I’m not repeating anything here, but I’d like to make an argument for the vital role spiritual materialism has played in the development and propagation of Buddhism.
Without making this a dissertation, I would argue that, from its inception in India to its spread across Asia, Buddhism has always gone through periods of being a ‘fad’ or cultural trend, blending and absorbing all the local tastes and flavors, until it looks very different from what the Buddha preached at Isipatana.
As early as the 1st century, the movement we now call the “Mahayana” was being denounced as a form of spiritual materialism, a bastardization of the true teachings. But whether you’re down with the Lotus Sutra or not, it was sukkha, not dukkha, and the ‘pulp sutras’ being produced throughout Central Asia that turned the Middle Kingdom on, and allowed Buddhism to penetrate Chinese culture and society.
Once in China, Buddhism went through another process of ‘degradation’, as some would call it. At a popular level, which would constitute the majority of Buddhist adherents in medieval China, the dharma became a vehicle for exorcising ghosts and the prescription of good luck charms. While the Buddhist monk was turned into a priest, eulogizing souls he didn’t even believe in.
But here’s the crux of my argument. The acculturation of Buddhism is a necessary process because it invariably leads to the ‘real’ Buddhists in those cultures to go searching for the ‘pure’ Dharma. This is what prompted Faxian and Xuanzang to the hit the road for India and search for and create more accurate translations. Chan/Zen Buddhism itself, described as a “direct transmission without reliance on words and letters,” was a direct response to the spiritual materialization of Buddhism in Chinese and Japanese society, and it’s really just a revival of good ol’ fashioned hinayana shamata practice.
In other words, Buddhism could never have outgrown its Indian roots had it not been for this process of adaptation, because dharma unadulterated could never have penetrated as deeply into these cultures. And ultimately conversations about American Buddhism and Buddhism in America could not be possible had it not been for the spiritual materialism of the Chinese for things Indian, the Japanese for things Chinese, the British for things Indian, the French for things Chinese, and finally, Americans for things ‘other’.
I’m happy to be in the middle of this cyclical process and I’m thankful for groups like IDP, Dharma Overground, Worst-horse, etc. for creating a virtual petri dish for it all to go down. Thanks!



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~C4Chaos

posted August 5, 2009 at 2:20 pm


M.C. Owens,
thanks for chiming in. i love the way you riffed on this topic because i think you’ve taken a bigger perspective on this one, and you’ve covered a very important point: “spiritual materialism has played in the development and propagation of Buddhism.” exactly!
from that perspective, in the same vein, the advent of New Age has become a vehicle for the propagation of the dharma.
this reminds me of an awesome lecture by Dr. Lewis Lancaster wherein he discussed that ultra-portability of Buddhism. i think he makes the same point that you’re making here, albeit from a more historical and scholarly perspective.
at the same time, i’m also reminded by Shinzen Young’s take on the three main vehicles of Buddhism. the movement from Hinayana -> Mahayana -> Vajrayana can be both be looked at as and evolution, or devolution of the dharma, or both, depending on what aspects we look at. for example, we can say that the movement from Hinayana -> Mahayana -> Vajrayana improved the discoveries of the Buddha and added more practices which were not available in the early traditions. however, it could also be argued that the movement from Hinayana -> Mahayana -> Vajrayana also ran counter to the original approach of the Buddha. for example, Zen and Tibetan buddhism had become esoteric, uber-hierarchical, philosophical, and religious, all of which ran counter to the early teachings of the Buddha. this is a generalization, but i think it illustrates my point.
that is all.
~C



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late to the dance

posted August 5, 2009 at 6:10 pm


what is BG?
I’m a woman, and I have no interest in confrontational, lets-see-who-has-the-bigger-dick arguments. I’m a journalist, and I like clear, well-organized presentations, but I found Daniel Ingram too goal-oriented. I’m interested in Buddhism as a way to live life, not as a path to run on. My progress moves at my speed, and I don’t want to have to compare it to some rubric to see how I’m doing.
I played D & D with my now-husband and his friends before we were married, although I never got interested enough that I would have played on my own. Didn’t make him one bit less attractive. a little mysterious, perhaps.



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late to the dance

posted August 5, 2009 at 7:09 pm


oh, and I’d been interested in what the techno-oriented people think of Sharon Salzberg’s book, which hasn’t generated anywhere near the same amount of discussion. another buddhist group I’m in read this book in the late spring, and the hardcore dharma types were completely flummoxed by it. one, a longtime practioner who studied at naropa when trungpa rinpoche was there, was amazed to think that people actually did l-k meditation for prolonged periods of time. l-k meditation taps into what’s often seen as a feminine energy, non-competitive and nurturing, even though it’s very hard work.



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Mu

posted August 5, 2009 at 7:42 pm


BG = Buddhist Geeks. Check iTunes or go the website. Definitely worth listening to.
DI’s emphasis is on “gettin’ ‘er done”, and, as you’ve doubtless noted, he has nothing significant to say concerning sila. He devotes 5 pages to sila, and ends up recommending, among others, Sharon Salzburg.



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gza

posted August 5, 2009 at 11:05 pm


DI doesn’t say a lot about shila but what he does say is quite practical and helpful.
I don’t think anyone would assert that a more delineated and goal oriented path model is for everyone. But there is already quite a lot of non-goal oriented, “simultaneous” Buddhism out there for people who want that. DI balances it out by providing an alternative.
Personally, what I find most appealing is not so much his particular path model so much as his willingness to confront topics that otherwise seem to be entirely avoided, such as what might enlightenment mean to modern practioners.



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Gwen Bell

posted August 5, 2009 at 11:35 pm


To which Sharon Salzberg book are you referring, late to the dance? Faith? Lovingkindness?



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Mu

posted August 5, 2009 at 11:44 pm


@gza: I’m hard pressed to think of dharma books that *do not* in some way, and often in vastly superior ways to that of DI, take up the question of the meaning of enlightenment/awakening to modern practitioners. Heck, Kornfield’s got that covered. So does Surya Das. On the more scholarly side, Geshe Tashi Tsering’s 6 books, which I just finished, may be more what you have in mind?
Bear in mind, too, that DI works hard to position himself as the iconoclast. When you see through his posturing, you’re left with not much.



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Mu

posted August 6, 2009 at 12:21 am


@gza: P.S. I know there’s a lot of crap dharma books out there, but 1) I don’t read them, and 2) I don’t see any point comparing DI to them in order to conclude his book rocks.



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Kate

posted August 6, 2009 at 11:10 am


I’m glad to see that people who can make reasoned, non-name-calling arguments about spiritual path and study have pitched in here. The point about spiritual materialism helping to spread Buddhism makes a lot of sense, and I think that may have been what I was vaguely getting at in my first post early on in this thread. I’m glad I stuck with reading the later comments long enough to get to that part.
As I read, the question of male voices dominating kept nagging me.
I think I’ve got an insight about that now: there is, in this kind of discourse, a lot of talk about how DIFFICULT the dharma is, how HARD it is to reconcile “no gaining idea” with progress towards enlightenment. This, I believe, is a “masculine” construct. Building all sorts of ideas about difficulty paradoxes like “no gaining idea” vs. spiritual progress feels very much to me like all the talk my skater guy friends did about skateboarding in high school. Guys like “hard stuff” that have increasing levels of skill and areas of higher and higher risk. I, a woman, adore doing hard stuff, but I think about it quite differently. I’m still rather competitive (my boyfriend says I’d be competitive with a fire hydrant if I could) but the flavor is different. I and most of my female friends engage in hard stuff as art, as a process that dissolves our selves in concentration. In this vein, “no gaining idea” isn’t opposed to progress. They just sort of dissolve into each other.
I still like watching boys skateboard, though.



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Thomas

posted August 6, 2009 at 12:34 pm


@Kate: Thanks for the comments on no gaining. They helped me a lot.



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LaRisa

posted August 6, 2009 at 2:16 pm


wow,
@Mu and @Mitsu, what you both said me think (and re-think).
I am in line and appreciate “late to the dance” ‘s comments, as well.
Great thread Ethan, thanks.



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late to the dance

posted August 6, 2009 at 2:59 pm


@gwen
I was referring to Sharon Salzberg’s book on Loving Kindness, which the Hardcore Dharma class is reading. Since I’ve only read Daniel Ingram through that (I am a remote listener), I forgot that this was a wider discussion of people outside that class.



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Crystal

posted August 6, 2009 at 3:04 pm


One of the hardest things for me about being a serious buddhist and yoga practitioner my whole adult life has been dealing with the misperceptions about what that means. Anyone who knows me would NEVER accuse me of being a flake. I’ll be honest: I have no tolerance for flakes. (I’m working on it.) Rainbow and light and the New Age movement are for zombies dying to be brainwashed even more than they already are. The only role any of that crap (just a little irritable judgment there) plays in genuine spiritual practice is stated perfectly by Ingram’s quote: ‘The contemplative path is about working directly with this mixture [of dualism and non-dualism], not rejecting it in self or others.’ It is something to watch as a manifestation of the tendency we almost all have to relate to mystery dualistically.
On the other hand, making fun of buddhism, dancing in the irreverent is an time-honored art I appreciate. What is more funny, in a sick and wonderful way, than “If you see a Buddha in the road, kill it”?



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gza

posted August 6, 2009 at 3:20 pm


@Mu – – I didn’t say anything about “crap dharma books.” I have no problem with non-goal oriented, “simultaneous” Buddhism, I just think the spectrum of thought should be well represented.
When I say that I mean I don’t think many are talking about what enlightenment might mean to modern practitioner, I mean specifically in light of traditional models. Is Jack Kornfeld training his students to become arhats? If so, how does he define that? If not, why not? I’m not saying that I think there is a right or wrong answer to those questions, I just don’t see them being asked much.
Certainly in the Tibetan tradition, I never see these questions asked. Have any westerners attained siddis? Reached the first bhumi and become arya bodhisattvas? Yes, there is a traditional reticence about discussing ones own attainments, for understandable reasons. But it seems to me that the fact that these topics are virtually taboo is unfortunate.



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Mitsu Hadeishi

posted August 6, 2009 at 5:18 pm


@Kate You make some excellent points, though I hasten to add that the reason I at least mention the difficulty of the “no gaining idea” view is certainly not because I think it ought to become the subject of a macho contest (it would be rather ironic indeed for someone to turn an admonition against spiritual materialism into a competition! “Check it: my non-attainment is so much more non-attaining than yours!”) but rather to draw attention to the fact that there are in fact very valuable aspects to the Dharma which may not seem to have obvious value at first glance — and to acknowledge that it is, in fact, rather difficult to really appreciate “no gaining idea” — it’s important, I think, to point out the difficulty because while the idea is simple what it is referring to is, actually, quite subtle, and just because it doesn’t seem to make a lot of logical sense doesn’t mean it’s not worth really contemplating.
To contrast with this, the story that we are striving to attain the goal of enlightenment is a story that is quite easy to understand — I think that’s quite fair to say. It’s a traditional story, it’s certainly the view presented by Theravada and even a view presented in the earlier stages of many Mahayana and Vajrayana schools. It’s relatively easy to think, well, we’re screwed up, and we need to do a lot of work, and if we follow a path we’re going to get better, and eventually we will attain something profound that will liberate us. This fits in to our ordinary picture of ourselves, who we are and how we fit into the universe — I think it’s fair to say both men and women typically have this sort of picture.
And in fact, I don’t even really dispute this view — from a certain point of view it is correct. It occurs whether you’re doing Theravada or Dzogchen or Soto Zen or Rinzai Zen or anything else. I can certainly point to my own “spiritual progress”, profound breakthroughs, insights, etc., and even make a little timeline of all of this. But there is a very important sense in which this timeline doesn’t even begin to touch in the whole story, a story which in its most profound sense doesn’t involve progress, time, a self getting “better”, etc., at all, and it’s also true (I just assert this without being able to fully explain why) that this is a very practical and present reality to us in our everyday existence (i.e. it’s not just a view from the point of view of a Buddha or Bodhisattva, but it is true for everyday ordinary people as well, though it is much harder for us to see it than it would be for a bodhisattva.)
So I completely agree that setting up some sort of macho competition is very much beside the point. But — there is a real issue here, a subtle one, and one which can really provide great benefit to many people if taken seriously as a matter for contemplation. Reconciling the koan of attainment vs non-attainment, in other words, is something I at least have found quite radically beneficial and I recommend it to others without trying to assert that I know the best approach for everyone.



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Mu

posted August 6, 2009 at 6:41 pm


@gza: I’m well aware that you didn’t say anything about crap dharma books. Sorry if I implied attribution to you. :) I was merely spiking them from any future conversation. I can speak from personal experience here and say that I know many practitioners who are all jazzed up about hardcore dharma because the only thing they read before that were the equivalents of Meditation for Dummies. I understand that Ingram’s book looks awesome from that perspective. I submit, however, there are richer perspectives available to us.
Thus when I hear arguments concerning non-attainment, I wonder what the discussant has actually read and studied. That’s the scholar in me, and I don’t see a reason to relinquish the standards that come with that identity.
Btw, I’m not, contrary to what some appear to rather naively believe, trying to score points, but, dude, this argument is totally circular: “Is Jack Kornfeld training his students to become arhats? If so, how does he define that? If not, why not? I’m not saying that I think there is a right or wrong answer to those questions, I just don’t see them being asked much.” If you define enlightenment training that narrowly, sure, your premise is confirmed. I have argued that Kornfield is furnishing his readers with a sense of what the meaning of enlightenment is for contemporary practitioners. He just chooses not use the terminology that DI chooses and invents.



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BuddhaRocks

posted August 6, 2009 at 6:46 pm


I find it hard to believe a clown called Arj Barker is creating such a big buzz with his latest misc video “The Sickest Buddhist” … More @
http://buddharocksanna.blogspot.com/2009/08/arj-barker-is-sickest-buddhist.html



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Mu

posted August 6, 2009 at 6:47 pm


@gza: I’m well aware that you didn’t say anything about crap dharma books. Sorry if I implied attribution to you. :) I was merely spiking them from any future conversation. I can speak from personal experience here and say that I know many practitioners who are all jazzed up about hardcore dharma because the only thing they read before that were the equivalents of Meditation for Dummies. I understand that Ingram’s book looks awesome from that perspective. I submit, however, there are richer perspectives available to us.
Thus when I hear arguments concerning non-attainment, I wonder what the discussant has actually read and studied. That’s the scholar in me, and I don’t see a reason to relinquish the standards that come with that identity.
Btw, I’m not, contrary to what some appear to rather naively believe, trying to score points, but, dude, this argument is totally circular: “Is Jack Kornfeld training his students to become arhats? If so, how does he define that? If not, why not? I’m not saying that I think there is a right or wrong answer to those questions, I just don’t see them being asked much.” If you define enlightenment training that narrowly, sure, your premise is confirmed. I have argued that Kornfield is furnishing his readers with a sense of what the meaning of enlightenment is for contemporary practitioners. He just chooses not use the terminology that DI chooses and invents.



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gza

posted August 7, 2009 at 10:02 am


I’m not asking rhetorical questions, nor am I defining enlightenment training at all. I have no problem with it if Kornfeld does not think the concept of arhatship is relevant today. I’m just curious to know if he has 1) dumped the concept or 2) redefined it or 3) thinks it is attainable as something that resembles what is traditionally described. That is all. I just don’t see that discussion happening much.



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Empathetics

posted August 7, 2009 at 4:55 pm


Just wanted to chime in and say that I’ve really appreciated this thread (and the threads within the thread). Lots of really great analysis and discussion here, and heartening to me to see such debate alive and kicking in the contemporary buddhist community. We don’t need Nalanda, we have the internet!



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Ethan

posted August 7, 2009 at 5:07 pm


And we have empathetics back from his retreat ready to kick some ahimsic ass!



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Andy

posted August 7, 2009 at 10:43 pm


Thanks for pointing out how “calling people out” all the time can get pretty aggressive.



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Andy

posted August 8, 2009 at 4:45 am


btw- warner brothers owns the video and took it down. do they not understand viral?



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ButterBean

posted August 8, 2009 at 11:28 am


This has been the best discussion in a long time on this blog. Nothing wrong woth debate. Western Buddhists tend to shy away from disagreement and criticism thinking they’re supposed to be above it. The problem is that so many do no critical thinking as a result. They do not question people like Ingram, who I find pretty devoid of spirit. My 2 centavos.



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Ethan

posted August 8, 2009 at 12:15 pm


@ Butterbean: Amen. Yes, please ladies and gentlemen, more discussion! Let’s mix it up. Fight respectively and love each other!
Just don’t presume to KNOW the minds of those we disagree with, and the dialogue can be nothing but fun and fruitful!
Rock on.



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Daniel Ingram

posted August 8, 2009 at 10:50 pm


Well, at least people are talking, thinking, interacting, and engaging with these difficult questions.
A few points:
I never intended my book and work to appeal to everyone, or even a more than a very small fraction of everyone, or even more than a very small niche of meditation practitioners, and state so at the beginning. By its very nature, by the limits of my personality and style, by the limits of the topic and tradition, and for many other reasons, it is going to have very limited appeal. However, it has helped a few, by their own admission, and that is what counts and I feel satisfied by that. If it doesn’t help you, do something else. There is a ton of good meditation and life stuff out there that comes at things from very different perspectives from mine, and as people come into this with such a huge variety of different needs, goals, skills and perspectives.
The term “Ingramites” is just inaccurate, as it implies those who follow me in some limited way, and I don’t know anyone that does this. Blast me all you want, I can take it, but leave whoever these people are that you refer to in this crude and broad way out of this if possible or refer to them by name, to do this under that term is both ambiguous and unfair. I have helped some people, influenced others, but every one of them that I know enough about to judge has come up in their spirituality with a relatively broad and diverse base of support, as did I. The use of that term is rhetorical, crude and I think harsh. The “explosion” at which Vince is supposedly at “ground zero” of is, so far as I can tell, measured in the 10′s to 100′s of people, so seems to be a very small thing, really, and I think whoever they are, many of them would resent being characterized as they are above, though I can’t be sure, and if they don’t, my apologies for assuming wrongly.
There are, I suspect, many millions of Buddhist practitioners out there, so this seems to be grossly exaggerating something for the sake of making some grand point, as I have a hard time imagining that I have reached any meaningful fraction of them with my particular view point, which is actually pretty traditional and standard, if you happened to run in Mahasi circles, with the differences coming at along when we get to the emotional range models of awakening, primarily. Better to critique that tradition as a whole, which is vast and contains hundreds of thousands of practitioners, many centers and strong teachers, as what I say is relatively stock in most ways, or to single out the specific viewpoints you don’t like. That would have more relevance and practicality, as well as rigor.
Mu clearly has some problem with me personally and with my work. I am not sure this is something that needs to be cleared up, but if Mu wants to talk with me about this, my email address is on my website and you can contact me there and we can set up a time to find our common humanity and also explore some of why we disagree and find that is healthy and good in that that may be of benefit to others. I find that phone communication has this radically different quality to it from printed blogs and books that brings out the human side of things, and this might be of benefit, I think. Rarely are people so harsh and unkind on the phone or in person, which is interesting and noteworthy, though if that is what happens, so be it. We may still disagree on many points, and I see some potential filters and biases on both sides that might not come down, but it might be helpful for something. If not, that’s ok also, but realize that dragging everyone else publicly through something that has a distinctly personal overtone to it smacks of something off, though a better word for it escapes me at this time.
The basic message is straightforward and traditional: I studied with people who had done something, they told me how to do it, I did that, I tell people essentially what they told me, and some of those I told have now done that also, as they will attest themselves. If I found what I was looking for and am happy with it, and they they found what they were looking for and are happy with it, all is well, and how can you criticize this? That’s all it is. If you don’t like that, everyone I think will agree you should try something else. How hard is this? It is not mean or exclusive, not dismissive or trite, but instead just makes sense. Either these methods lead to what is advertised or they don’t, and if they do, and I can tell you they do, and so can a good number of others, then what is the problem? The thing is sold as being what it is, which I will claim is rare. If you want more, there is lots out there.



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Daniel Ingram

posted August 8, 2009 at 11:02 pm


I would love nothing more than to be bested by a thousand miles on the maps and more, as I clearly state in my book. I consider the lack of good material out there to be a tragedy, a massive disappointment, as I dream there are those who know this way better than I do and I consider their lack of putting them out there to be profoundly disappointing. I poured through hundreds of books from many traditions, from the obscure to the very difficult, have had literally hundreds of conversations with many very experienced practitioner searching for them, and was surprised that when the references that were asked for above did not appear. Please, give me the links or references to those sources you recommend as putting my works to shame and I promise I will read them and if they are as good as you say they are, I will be a strong advocate for them.
I hope that the new version of the DhO will be broader and more inclusive, and that its wiki capabilities will allow a wide range of talented practitioners to work together to come up with maps that for this time and place will help guide those who wish to enter deeply into the territory of insight to do so as far as their hearts desire, and do so from many perspectives and traditions to find the truths that are practical, useful and applicable to each of our own little versions of the great experiment.
I appreciate this forum very much and am glad that these difficult issues are being wrestled with here. Many thanks to those who make it possible and engage with it.
I also thought the video was funny as hell.
I am sorry if I speak too fast on my podcasts: Vince has nicely made a text version available for those who find this off-putting.
All the best,
Daniel



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Mu

posted August 9, 2009 at 11:11 am


A couple of quick points:
1. I have nothing against DI personally. I only know him through the words he has produced. That he feels a critique of his work, his public style, is personal is something he might reflect further upon. Just a friendly suggestion. I would say this: Once you write a book, you forfeit control of it. You lose control control of who reads it, how it is read, and to what precise uses it is put. DI appears not to understand this. He wants to maintain control of his book and how it is read (e.g., thus the creation of DO). Roland Barthes once, very usefully, reminded us that the author is dead. Just something upon which to reflect.
2. I know about 30 young dharma dudes in ATX who think Mastering the Core Teachings is the bee’s knees. They have effectively bought into the “getting it done” (as opposed to “doing it”) mentality. For many, it’s an exclusivity thing: they get to separate themselves from all those sangha-sitters who are just counting their breath. I see some serious prices they pay for that feeling of false exclusivity, at least for now. I am confident most will intellectually and philosophically mature, and leave Core Teachings behind. I use “Ingramites” as a rhetorical shorthand for those who rank Mastering above other books or for whom the book has become a centerpiece of their practice. They exist–and they do not need to be self-righteously defended.
3. Really I do not wish to play a game of who’s read what or more dharma books. DI apparently thinks it is important to list, almost c.v.-style, how many dharma books one has read. (Check the “Who is Daniel Ingram” section of the book so you know what I’m referring to.) There DI claims to have read 150. In the post above, he claims “hundreds.” I claim many hundreds too, for what it is worth. While I might think it is a tragedy that DI ignores a text like the Vimalaprabha, the great commentary on the Sri Kalacakra, or that he has apparently read very little secondary literature, that’s not terribly meaningful (it just says he’s not a scholar), but what is meaningful is the fact–yes, fact–that readers of Mastering are seduced into believing that the book is some kind of scholarly text, when it is emphatically not.
4. I find DI’s statement that my critiques of his work amount to “dragging everyone else publicly through something that has a distinctly personal overtone to it smacks of something off” to be more than a bit self-serving and defensive. Several people have commented on the quality of this discussion, and others, like Mitsu, have made thoughtful contributions. DI appears to need to universalize his experience of being critiqued, thus it becomes “dragging everyone else through something,” and I would submit that that is not the best treatment for a narcissistic wound.



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Mu

posted August 9, 2009 at 1:04 pm


One additional point, in reference to typical statements of DI like these (from his website):
“[A] brief warning. I should mention that I am hardcore, into hardcore practice, into very hard-hitting dharma, and sometimes I let it out with both barrels. This seems to happen more when I talk on the phone with people, which I do on occasion, but it also happens in emails at times. I expect people to be self-reliant to a high degree, and projections both negative and positive tend to piss me off.”
5. Notice how the I’m-so-hardcore posture is deployed here defensively, as a justification for knee-jerk reactions to how others might perceive DI’s substance and style. Not only does it set up a kind of narcissistic immunity, it pathologizes the responses of others. I find this emblematic of the book as well: it is a massive self-posturing masquerading as a promotion of communal dharma. We should recall that the DO was originally the Dharma Underground, and that, though it was not actualized, the plan for the DO was to preserve an inner core underground group.



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TantaJoe

posted August 9, 2009 at 2:07 pm


@Mu
Thanks for the incisive criticism of where Dan Ingram is at. I especially like the fact that you don’t engage in the typical “my dharma teacher is better than yours” or “my Buddhist lineage is better than your Theravadan” blah blah blah. Those debates go nowhere. I think because you critique Ingram where he stands – in this style and scholarship – he gets rather put out and stung.
I love this thread! Really above the others in this blog in terms of ideas to think further about.



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Mu

posted August 9, 2009 at 3:34 pm


Thanks, TantaJoe, for the comment. I, too, believe that this thread is important and exceeds a mere “drag” on the blog and its participants. The issues are far bigger than whether you like or don’t like Ingram’s work, or whether you find it useful or not. I certainly see the futility of any debate that devolves into my school of thought versus your school of thought. The big issues include authority, verification of spiritual advancement, discipleship, group formation and identity, reader reception, scholarly integrity and depth, masculinist ideology, motivation, and so on. Other issues include: the meaning and usefulness of hardcore dharma and the hardcore label, institutional politics and sanctioning practices, and pragmatism versus historicism.



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gza

posted August 9, 2009 at 5:06 pm


So Mu, what it seems to boil down to then is that you are “about 30 young dharma dudes in ATX who think Mastering the Core Teachings is the bee’s knees” and you “see some serious prices they pay for that feeling of false exclusivity, at least for now.”
The only one I see judging other people’s practices in this thread, who seems to feel he knows better than other people what is good for them, is you. Questions of authority indeed.



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Mu

posted August 9, 2009 at 6:24 pm


@gza: Your attempt to “boil down” my arguments is, of course, a convenient way to dismiss them on your own terms. The key here is that they’re *your terms*. Until you offer a substantive argument in response, your opinions fail to trump anything I’ve said. I’m not an authority; I’m just a student of the dharma who keeps his eyes open.
For those who like hard numbers, quantitative analysis actually shows that those who are initially drawn to the exclusivity that certain hardcore dharma memberships offer will move on, fairly quickly. (Qualitative analysis further revealed the reasons, which included many of the objections I have raised.) For example, the DO, as of Aug 09, 09, has a listing of 448 members. Of those, 230 show join dates matching their date of last activity; a further 46 show no activity after one week; and when you go out to a month, 3 months, and 6 months, the actual active membership drops to about 40. In other words, some 62% are gone in the first week, and over 90% are non-participating after 6 months. When you factor in demographic variables such as gender, the rate of attrition is much higher. Interviews with a number (n=20) revealed the reasons why they saw, for example, little benefit in participating.



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ButterBean

posted August 9, 2009 at 7:04 pm


I don’t Mu judging others practice but judging the book they read. Which is exactly what Mr. Ingram does when rips on nice & friendly dharma books but not peoples practices. It would be weird to think we all don’t have opinions or judgments about whats helpful and whats hindering.



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Daniel Ingram

posted August 9, 2009 at 8:46 pm


Aright, Mu, what do you recommend instead for those who, for whatever reason, feels some inner drive to master the traditional states and stages of the path? Would you criticize this drive itself? It is traditional, standard, and seemingly very Buddhist to want to master what the Buddha was talking about. He himself seemed to talk on and on about this, and seems to have been the path he followed. These people will exist, whether you like it or not. I am sorry if they annoy you, but that’s just life. I am surprised that you would react to strongly against something that seems to be very good. I do know that when people get into this stuff it can have a very strong “I am better than you as I practice hardcore stuff” vibe, and I am aware of this in myself, and it definitely can be divisive and sometimes problematic, but there is good in that also. I am sorry if I have contributed to that beyond what is useful, and realize that just as everyone gets into their trips when they get into them, eventually it passes.
I wrote the section where I say 150 dharma books in 1998 and it just hasn’t been updated. I was simply a long time before it appeared in print and I didn’t change every little detail like that, as it didn’t seem of particular relevance at the time. Rather than nit pick this kind of stuff, how about we get to something useful?
I still want the references to better maps. If they exist, let’s look at them.
As to scholarship, I always thought of myself as a practitioner first and a scholar as I needed to be to support that. This is, I believe, the traditional recommendation: learn the theory, actualize it in practice, and go back to theory as needed to help support your practice if things get stuck, and this approach just makes sense. The same goes for the seeming rote nature of my podcast: I can’t make people practice, but I can help teach theory that will help their practice.
I do sense a deep bitterness and powerful rhetorical force behinds Mu’s posts, and I may be foolish in answering to that, as I sense that not much good will come of this, and it may just end up making us both looks worse. If this can be turned into something of benefit to others, that would be good, and I think we should try for that.



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gza

posted August 9, 2009 at 10:00 pm


Mu, your “argument” changes with every post, which is what makes it seem more motivated by something personal than anything else. You don’t like Daniels book because . . . he doesn’t seem to have read a commentary on the Kalachakra tantra? Because you crunched the numbers on his bulletin board and you don’t like his attrition rate?



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Mu

posted August 9, 2009 at 10:33 pm


Thanks, Daniel, for the invitation to go on. You are right that I can generate a certain rhetorical force if desired, but you are wrong about the bitterness you attribute to me. If I have a dominant emotional state right now, it is sadness at the passing of John Hughes. Don’t even tell me that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is not one of the greatest American films of the 20th century….
You ask what I recommend instead of your book: well, it’s the adverbial “instead” at which I balk. You see my argument is that when your book is taken to be *the* “hardcore” (a word I frankly find utterly lame) dharma practice/map book, that’s a bit of a problem, especially for certain generations that are already prone to shortcuts, quick results, and doing extreme this or that. So if I change your “instead” to “in addition to,” then let’s talk. You’re obviously not against further reading, but I would humbly suggest that it is a matter of what we–you, me, in this case–would be able to recommend to others that would most fully round them out for genuine enrichment of the dharmic kind. I assume we both want that, whatever arguments we may (or may not) have about the meaning of enlightenment. Also, before I recommend some books, let me say that I won’t engage in any argument about what dharma teachings are better than other dharma teachings, or who’s got the gnarliest map, again because I believe that these debates never really go anywhere. And, as I stated, there are many modern dharma books that are mediocre or worse but real learning, I would suggest, comes from the traditional texts. I know–I’m an antiquarian. So, for me, the proper response to your request for “better maps” is to say that they best emerge through lots of reading, study, and rereading, as you practice. Limiting oneself to *a* map seems to me counterproductive and, quite frankly, very lazy.
A NON-inclusive list might look this:
The Outline of the Jewel Mound of Instructions
The Collected Works of the Incomparable Lord Tson-kha-pa
Every Mahayana sutra you can get your hands on (certainly these: Lankavatara, Lotus, Shurangama, Diamond, Heart, Hui-Neng’s Platform Sutra, Avatamsaka, Vamalikirti, Perfect Enlightenment)
Chih-i, The Great Calming and Contemplation
The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin
Nakamura Hajime, Bukkyo Daijiten
Dogen, Gakudo Yojinshu
Of course, I endorse as indispensable the texts DI principally draws upon: the Sutta Pitaka, the Vimuttimagga, and the Visudhimagga. I see no reason to limit my recommendations, as DI does, to any special class of, say, instructors and second-pathers. Also, I would never limit the genre of enlightenment instruction to manual-like texts. Thus, I would add to the list Saseki’s teisho book, Buddha is the Center of Gravity (a book I return to again and again), as well as Katagiri’s recorded talks.
I hope that clarifies somewhat.
@gza: Impermanence, mate, impermanence. Actually what you are perceiving as change is better characterized as expansion. I have only unpacked a fraction of my argument, if you’re really interested. P.S. Have you read the commentary or the Splendid Wheel of Time? If you haven’t, get cracking. It’s a wonderful elaboration of the Perfection of Wisdom sutras. Powerful.



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Mu

posted August 9, 2009 at 11:13 pm


Let me add this: The discussion of the Three Characteristics, which is of course central to DI’s book, could be greatly, and I’ll throw in another greatly, enhanced even with the source material from the cursory list I posted above. Perhaps that is something to consider for the future in terms of collaboration.



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Mitsu Hadeishi

posted August 10, 2009 at 2:52 am


Wow, you guys are really getting down and dirty, above.
@Mu As an aside, I love the Roland Barthes quote. I myself tend to prefer a less aggressive style in expressing my contrary views, but everyone has their own style!
Regarding the value of scholarship and original source material — I’ll quibble a bit with your point. From your comments you’re far more well-read than I am, but I have a trace familiarity with some of these texts and I want to bring up the point that many of the texts which we read today are themselves taken from a small subset of the vast variety of views which were present in Buddhist thought historically. Much has been discarded or is ignored today (often for good reason) — for example, Nagarjuna’s incisive thought was in its time not that influential; but it became so later on, for good reason, and much of the thought which he criticized has now faded (again, for good reason). This is just to say that texts are not per se authoritative; we choose and interprets texts now. This is certainly true in Buddhism in particular, which has, unlike Vendanta, never had a tradition of authority stemming from texts per se (despite having many revered texts).
I’d also note that among the texts currently extant there is a tremendous amount of profundity but also a certain degree of redundancy; that is to say, I wouldn’t say that it is necessary for every serious Buddhist to read hundreds of original Dharma texts. In fact I would say that the essence of the Dharma is readily summed up in brief in many of the most profound sutras.
Setting aside that quibble, however, I do agree that it is important to delve deeply and not assume that you understand or grasp the deepest meanings or possibilities just because one has attained a certain level of understanding or experience.
For example, I would criticize Ingram’s description of “sudden enlightenment.” In the very brief treatment he gives in the book it appears he’s simply saying that the “sudden” schools believe that total enlightenment can occur in an instant. This is really a misunderstanding of the very subtle and complex view of the Zen schools in question. A better way of describing this view is that enlightenment is already attained; there is no fundamental difference between the enlightened and the non-enlightened. It is so sudden, in some sense, that it has already happened. Of course, Ingram is correct that there is also a description in many of these schools of a sudden breakthrough, but the key thing that differentiates these schools from the gradualist schools is the fundamental view that there is no fundamental duality inherent in enlightenment vs non-enlightenment. Whether this is realized in an instant or in multiple breakthroughs, etc., is really not the central issue here, but it is rather the already accomplished nature of enlightenment that is at issue.
Now, I will say that the word “enlightenment” has a lot of potential uses. One can speak of enlightenment in the sense of the original nature, which is always present whether one is experiencing samsara or any other mental state. A lot of people also use the word to describe various levels of breakthrough to other ways of being, including various levels of stability of that. However, though I completely subscribe to the Sixth Patriarch’s view of “nothing to attain” I also think from a practical point of view one can use the word “enlightenment” in a rough or approximate (not fundamental) sense to refer to people, beings, whatever, who have really thoroughly penetrated on many levels (mind, body, energy, etc.) a vast domain of appreciation of reality. I suppose I would quibble with Ingram’s book also in that he seems to be describing a certain degree of stable experience of “no self” with which I am quite familiar personally — but what I don’t think really ought to be called “enlightenment” in a more strict sense. Though I hate to get into a process language (since I believe that it is very misleading for many reasons), I would say that to the extent one can talk of “levels” of realization (which is to say, only very roughly, not in a fundamental sense), what Ingram describes in his book is, while certainly very admirable, not the limit by any means of what is possible for human beings.
In other words, there is nothing to attain, in a fundamental sense: but to the extent one can talk about what is possible for human beings, it actually is quite vast, and ironically enough, it is the “non-attainment” view which touches upon the fundamental principle which is a pointer towards that inconceivable vastness.



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Mitsu Hadeishi

posted August 10, 2009 at 2:53 am


Typo correction: Vendanta -> Vedanta



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Mu

posted August 10, 2009 at 8:37 am


Waving a lotus mudra @ Mitsu: Excellent comments, again, that deserve the best response I can muster having just gotten back (6a) from the ED of a local hospital where I was on call last night. (There’s a bit of common humanity for DI.)
Mitsu first raises some points concerning textual authority, transmission, and criticism. I have been working with original manuscripts for the last 20+ years, mostly medieval MSS, and what Mitsu says about historical versus contemporary fields of meaning is true. My own view is that if a text survived, it is potentially important to us now. An example, if you will, from western literature: There is one extant MS of the 14th c. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a metrical romance which is absolutely canonical. There are over 50 MSS of the roughly contemporary multi-genred Canterbury Tales, another canonical text to be sure. The former could have disappeared, the MS destroyed in a fire, or maybe eaten by rats if it had been stored in a vulnerable place. Its importance to us now is in no way relative to either its probable limited dissemination or its fragility. Many texts simply survive by accident, and that’s a good thing. One thinks of the wonderful book by Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, the MSS of which were found in his trunk after he died. So, in short, I agree with Mitsu that texts are not inherently authoritative, but I disagree with him in that I don’t believe history itself is the best determiner of what is or isn’t important to us now. Because a text faded or even disappeared historically is not a good argument about its relevance today or its beauty for that matter.
Also I would note that while Buddhism does not have an authoritative canon, schools of Buddhism certainly do. This is particularly true in the Chinese tradition. The Hua-yen school, which I have studied in some depth, devoted itself to the exegesis of the Avatamsaka sutra. The T’ieb-t’ai tradition was primarily focused on the Saddharmpundarika sutra; while the Fa-hsiang concerned itself with the Vijnaptimatrata-siddhi.
Now, on the issue of redundancy, which I am glad Mitsu raised, I would say this: personally, I love it. But I love it for this reason: close readings of the texts reveal less outright redundancy than repetition with variation. Authors and schools have their favorite metaphors to convey the same basic idea, and I learn something each time I encounter a new metaphor for the same old idea or set of ideas. To take examples Mitsu is doubtless familiar with: Saseki uses the metaphor of gravity and Katagiri uses time to talk about the same ideas (emptiness, non-duality). Another aspect of redundancy I have thought about is this: I enjoy it when authors deploy the concepts, which I know very well, in fresh contexts. A good example is Ethan’s book, which taught me nothing new about Buddhist ideas of, say, interdependence, but which prompted me to think more seriously and actively about the meaning of interdependence as it manifests in the real world I inhabit. David Loy is much the same for me: I learn almost nothing about the Buddhist ideas per se from him, but I learn an immense amount about how Buddhist ideas can serve as an interpretative grid for my world. So redundancy, yes, (I don’t need Loy’s discussion of the 3 Poisons, for example), but I welcome his readings of culture, as I do Ethan’s.
In sum, I say read hundreds of dharma texts, and hundreds of secondary, interpretative books and essays. There is no harm.
Lastly, while personally my views accord with Mitsu’s on the issue of attainment, I would say, more importantly really, that I too think DI needs to rethink his discussion of sudden enlightenment. This is where being scholarly helps because obviously DI is not a Zen practitioner, but he might have enriched his study of Zen if he was going to, as he did, make claims about it. If one is going to offer a summary of approaches to enlightenment, as Vince Horn has done on his blog as well, one should make sure that one understands the different schools and traditions intimately. VH makes some serious gaffes in his discussion of the approaches, which may in part be related to the idea that taxonomies of thought never quite work out as neatly as one hopes they will.



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Mu

posted August 10, 2009 at 8:41 am


Typo: T’ieb-t’ai should be T’ien-tai.



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Daniel Ingram

posted August 10, 2009 at 8:50 am


@Mu: I began trying to even find some of these works, and I have to hand it to you, you do obscure with the best of them. The first, the Outline of the Jewel Mound of Instructions, I can only find one reference to on google and can’t find the source or a source of the source. The second, the collective works of Tson-kha-pa, I find references to, but can’t find it. I began going through Lankavatara, and I must reluctantly agree with Mitsu so far, as it is all stuff I have seen in other places or so close as to be of not much significance, and, while very profound, and I mean that, it has the same problem with the other few thousand pages of this stuff I slogged through about 7-10 years ago, and that is, while the language, imagery, philosophy and pointing out aspects are top notch, trying to practice from it in a “this is how you get to the point where you see this just as we who are writing it seem to” kind of way is very difficult, or at least this is my reaction to it, and I am not alone in this. I tried to find Chih-i, The Great Calming and Contemplation, and find one extremely expensive used copy of a translation of the first chapter and can’t find the rest. Dogen I have read all his major works, many of them more than once, and he is profound with the best of them, but again, harder to practice from than he needs to be. It will take me a little while to go through the rest, but I may need some help finding some of these, as the sands of antiquity threaten to cover them.
@Mitsu: I am glad I am not the only one who had this reaction to that list. As to the sudden vs. gradual schools, I have a pretty inflammatory piece on it that you seem to have missed, which, while pretty caustic, does accurately sum up my true feelings on the subject, link here: http://www.interactivebuddha.com/bullshit.shtml, and while I fear this little piece might restart the flamewar couched in dharma discussion clothes that erupted above, it is honest.
The Three Characteristics, being the true marks of how things are, does encapsulate this and a way that is very profound and yes is so simple it is often considered trivial by those who like the more flowery language, but realize that just because we can say the true nature of reality is always the true nature of reality, there are those who perceive this well and those who don’t. Even Dogen, who was about as practice-is-enlightenment as it gets, constantly exhorted people to practice so that they understood this as he did, and reluctantly drew a very strong line on this front despite himself. As I am sure you know well, he traveled long distances and practiced very hard so that he would learn it from those who had themselves understood it, and thus, while it seems so comforting that there is nothing to get, or all this is it, until this has gotten hardwired through whatever means, it is all just beautiful ideals.



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Daniel Ingram

posted August 10, 2009 at 9:34 am


@Mu: I hope you had a good ED shift. I appreciate the love of those old and wondrous things, I really do. However, as time is limited in this fleeting life of ours, I found that simply studying the sensations of reality with the same love, the same wonder, the same meticulous care and precision and repetition that these works may deserve to finally be the thing that made the difference I was looking for. Thus, while one may advocate for a tradition or path or method that involves the level of deep and broad scholarship you have achieved, most of us, for better or for worse, won’t have the inclination, interest or time to achieve that and also achieve whatever version of The Goal we aspire to. This is, from the point of the view of the lover of the literatures of the wide range of spiritual traditions, a clear tragedy, and I understand that, and much could be added to the list above, such as the works of St Teresa of Avila, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, or the Philokalia, to name just a few. One could spend a lifetime absorbing the words of these rich treasures, but I know many great scholars whose practice and direct understanding is deeply lacking, and this, as I am sure you know, is a perennial trap. For this present world, the sensations of this moment form the first basis of inquiry, as I am sure the old texts agree, and it is direct perception, again and again, with strong concentration, broad acceptance, immediate inquiry, profound effort and a deep desire to actualize the teachings here and now that makes the difference, and finally bridges in one’s own mind the illusory but pernicious gap of doing it and getting it done, of practice-enlightenment. I have tended to emphasize this, being a pragmatist and advocate for direct perception of the truth of things above all else, and while I see how this seems limited, narrow, and lacking the massive backing of the vast body of literature on the subject from the thousands of years of writing across many traditions, yet I believe that there is something empowering about the emphases I have chosen, and something effective about the methods I love, and while there are many great paths out there, many wonderful methods, theories, conceptual supports and traditions, just because I am not the flawless scholar of the others doesn’t mean there isn’t lots of validity to the simplicity and down-to-earth you-can-do it and this is one good way approach. I’ll look through the rest of your list and see what I can make of it, and I appreciate the references. My practice really took off when I stripped it down to the absolute bare basics: six sense doors manifesting three characteristics, seven factors, five faculties, noting when I needed that support, maps when I got lost and needed them to remind me to avoid side tracks and get back to the basics, and practicing until it locked in and felt done. Out of curiosity, I will try to track down the rest your references, and I appreciate the list, out of a love of old and beautiful treasures, but I may need a bit of help, and if you know sources for the more hidden ones, please chime in.



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Mitsu Hadeishi

posted August 10, 2009 at 10:16 am


@Mu I’m impressed you could muster such an articulate post after such a difficult night at work! Hope you’re getting much-deserved rest now.
Of course I agree that mere historical survival or lack thereof isn’t a sufficient criterion for relevance today, and I certainly agree that there’s tremendous value in the “variations”, as you put it, and I’d even saythere’s much reason to think that there are an unbounded array of even more valuable texts and works as yet unwritten; despite my statement that the Dharma can be summarized by many of the most profound Dharma texts, there’s still a lot of ground uncovered not in an ultimate sense but in terms of how the Dharma can be seen to be relevant to our lives. As for the rest of your post, without responding to it in detail I’ll just say I agree with what you’re saying and didn’t mean to imply otherwise in my original post.
@Daniel Ingram You might search for Tsong-kha-pa or just Tsongkhapa rather than Tson-kha-pa. And I just read your piece linked above regarding “sudden” enlightenment, and I certainy understand why you write what you write and I don’t want to rekindle the flame war on this subject. I will say that in this case I do think you might find it useful (despite my comments above regarding “redundancy”) to do a more intensive investigation of the subject, if you find it of interest to you, via some of the texts alluded to by Mu, above, but also in terms of practice. I will say a few things regarding your post, though naturally what I say can’t carry the imprimatur of any sort of authority, but I will say that my view accords with that of my teacher and I’m speaking not from a mere intellectual understanding but based on direct seeing/participation.
As I say, I sympathize with your reaction; it does seem as though the “already accomplished” view would discourage people from practicing — this is of course something which those teachers and traditions which espouse this view, which is inherent in many Mahayana schools as well as Zen, do comment on and warn against (but of course since most of these teachers explicitly recommend practice and show by example I believe the concern you raise isn’t really the issue you think it is in practice… it’s crucial not to take this teaching out of context, it must be seen in the context of a complete teaching, including in the context of practice). As I tried to explain above, there is something meant to be referred to by the view you criticize which is very difficult to express conceptually, but is of intense importance. The analogy you draw between spiritual practice and, say, becoming a concert pianist is only apt up to a certain point. If you simply tell people that the non-attainment view has no value whatsoever, because you’re afraid that will prevent people from discovering the great value you’ve found through your own practice, you’re ironically actually serving to cut them off from this profound wisdom which is of tremendous value.
There’s far more at stake here than seeing clearly the fact that the apparent reality of the self is a false continuous extrapolation from ephermeral separated sensations (crucial though I agree this is, and I realize this is the focus of the Theravada approach which seems to form the primary basis of your thinking and practice); there are many other extremely deep insights into the nature of reality, time, personal history, notions of space and distance, energy, and on and on… which depend quite crucially on a full realization of what this “non-attainment” teaching is alluding to. While I am talking about this in terms of “insight” however, I mean to say one of the most far-reaching of these is an insight into the nature of what it even means to “have” an insight, what is going on there. Many of these insights cannot be fit in a fundamental sense into the picture of a practitioner getting better along a timeline, a la a concert pianist (although this is not to say that picture is entirely wrong, either — but it IS wrong in a way which is quite shocking.) Taking up the view that we are practitioners getting better at a skill, and holding to that view, is a heavy barrier to these deep insights (again I realize my simply asserting this is not meant to be an argument in favor of this view; I assert it merely to make it clear what is being claimed here.) Non-attainment as a view has vast implications that far outweigh the dangers you’re concerned with, in my view.
I’ll also mention as a practical matter that I at least have rarely come across the theoretical problem you mention; i.e., people who have heard the non-attainment teaching and thereby decide they don’t have to practice or whatever, and just blob out (which is of course a mistake). At least in my experience the far, far more common situation is either your case (where you don’t understand the value of the teaching at all, and don’t even try to investigate why any teacher would espouse it), or the case where people do hear it and attempt to understand it and practice it, but end up simply doing a variation of what you recommend (i.e., despite their best intentions, they stubbonly cling to the view of practice as a “getting better”, a la a concert pianist), and thereby miss out on the tremendous value in this teaching (which is, admittedly, conceptually quite paradoxical).



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Mitsu Hadeishi

posted August 10, 2009 at 10:38 am


(I want to add that when I say the “ultimate” issues have been covered by extant Dharma texts, that’s not to say that I don’t think further texts addressing the ultimate issues wouldn’t be worth writing either! Particularly from the “variations” point of view. Just that I think the ultimate view, since it is essentially quite simple — although nevertheless tremendously profound and paradoxical — is in some sense all-inclusive. But there are of course an infinite number of ways of pointing at this, naturally.)



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gza

posted August 10, 2009 at 10:59 am


@Mu – I have read the Vimalaprabha, yes, in Vesna Wallace’s translation. Wonderful though it may be, one need not read it to write a survey of the Theravada path as Daniel has done. I might add that it is rather patronizing to give someone a recommendation and tell them to “get cracking,” but thank you all the same.



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spectator

posted August 10, 2009 at 12:43 pm


yikes, send in the clowns before the picadore gets trampled and gored.



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ButterBean

posted August 10, 2009 at 12:57 pm


@ spectator. Haha. We won’t let gza get hurt.



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gza

posted August 10, 2009 at 2:26 pm


The picador is called for, the trolls arrive instead.



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Mu

posted August 10, 2009 at 3:15 pm


@Daniel: Before I pull stuff down from the shelves and provide the full references for you, let me emphasize that these texts are not mere curios from my antiquarian library. They are fundamental texts in the Buddhist tradition, and a good reading of them, which must include the secondary literature, constitutes a crucial part of what it means to practice. All of this is of course IMHO. I do not see any compelling reason to take the path of technique over the path of thoughtful engagement with the texts. The two paths should be intertwined. Your objection is that there is not enough time. In your book, you state that your total retreat time from beginning to arahatship was about 8 months, and of course it can take longer for others, but now that you’ve more or less mastered technique, it is hard for me to understand why you wouldn’t improve your book by giving it the philosophically richer and wider framework it deserves.
Let’s see:
–Tsongkhapa: you probably ascertained by now that the three-volume Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment is available from Amazon. However, I would recommend consulting the The Collected Works (gsun ‘bum) of the Incomparable Lord Tson-kha-pa bLo-bzan-grags-pa (Khams gsum chos kyis [sic] rgyal po shar tsong kha pa chen po’i gsung ‘bum), 20 vols. (New Delhi: Mongolian Lama Guru Deva, 1978). See, especially, Written Instructions on the Madhyamika View, vol. ba, 1-24a. For secondary literature, I recommend: Matthew Kapstein, The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism: Conversion, Contestation, and Memory (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000); Elizabeth Napper, Dependent Arising and Emptiness (Boston: Wisdom, 1989); and of course Jeffrey Hopkins, Tantra in Tibet (Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1987).
–Lce-sgom-pa’s Outline of the Jewel Mound of Instructions: I have two sources for this. First is the version from Sarnath, India: The Pleasure of Elegant Sayings Printing Press, 1971. Second, is the copy from the National Library in Bhutan (Inv. no. 228), which is floating around among scholars. Yael Bentor, for example has a copy he would send probably send you which is more complete than mine.
–Chih-i (Zhiyi), The Great Calming and Contemplation [Mo-ho chih-kuan], trans, Neal Donner and Daniel B. Stevenson (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993). Also you can compare Hurvitz’s translations in his translation of the Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma (NY: Columbia UP, 1976). For secondary literature, see Paul Swanson, Foundations of T’ien-t’ai Philosophy (Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1989), which has yet to be superseded; also, Ng Yu-kwan, T’ien-t’ai Buddhism and Early Madhyamika (Honolulu: Universoty of Hawaii Press, 1993).
Happy reading.



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Mu

posted August 10, 2009 at 3:40 pm


@spectator & ButterBean: Nah, gza’s alright. I enjoy his drive-by postings.
@gza: The “get cracking” was a bit of levity, dude. Two recommendations for others, even if I’m sure this doesn’t apply to gza:
1. Check out Vesna Wallace, The Kalacakratantra: The Chapter on the Individual Together with the Vimalaprabha. (New York: American Institute of Buddhist Studies, Columbia University, 2004), covering Chapter Two of the root and commentary.
2. Check out her scholarly The Inner Kalacakratantra: A Buddhist Tantric View of the Individual (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).



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Kate

posted August 10, 2009 at 5:49 pm


I keep reading a round-and-round between ideas about “what’s useful” and “what’s right” vis a vis practice and study, with what feels like a lot of confusion about how to reconcile the two. It all seems highly relative.
The texts sound interesting, and thanks for adding them, Mu, but who’s to say what’s “crucial” reading? Not a diss; I’m curious. What makes a text crucial reading? (in 300 words or less, please :~)



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Mu

posted August 10, 2009 at 7:32 pm


For Mitsu, a little J. Krishnamurti:
“A man who is committed to any particular path is immature, and such a man will never find the eternal, the timeless, because the particular path he is committed belongs to time. Through time you can never find the timeless.” (Talk at Madras, November 14, 1947)
@Kate: 300 words? Procrustean.
OK, so a crucial text meets a balance of criteria such as:
1. The text is considered conceptually and/or historically important to a particular tradition, school, or group. Example: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is a crucial text for Western Zen practitioners. (There are of course many others in the Zen tradition.)
2. The text has a rich intertextual existence, i.e., it is quoted, studied, commented upon, written about by others. Example: The Platform sutra, which has occupied the attention of Zen scholars and practitioners since its appearance in the early 8th c.
3. The text is the, or is one of the, first and/or most thorough treatment(s) of a subject, practice, or issue. Example: Keiji Nishitani’s Religion and Nothingness is a landmark philosophical study of sunyata. It would be inconceivable for anyone to write a serious piece on the subject of emptiness without having read this text. I realize this opens up questions of standards (whose, what, etc.), audience, and intent.
4. The text has HH the DL’s imprimatur. I suppose I’m half serious here, but if you want a litmus test, there ya go. Example: the writings of Krishnamurti, to which HH the DL gives two thumbs up, way up.
Less than 300 words….
@Daniel: Apologies–I forgot to add a “crucial” text:
Calming the Mind and Discerning the Real: Buddhist Meditation and the Middle View from the Lam Rim Chen Mo. This is Alex Wayman’s translation of two sections of Tson-kha-pa’s work. Publisher is New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. I think you’ll find this helpful, even if it fleshes out your existing map.



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Mu

posted August 10, 2009 at 7:43 pm


@Daniel: I’ve been checking some used vendors online for you, and you’re right about The Great Calming, unfortunately: 300 smackers for a not so great copy. I got mine back in the day for like $30. I would recommend turning to libraries, probably interlibrary loan. If you can’t get it, let me know, and I can photo it for you.



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Ethan

posted August 10, 2009 at 9:59 pm


Agree with Kate. Please NOBODY read Tsongkapa (right now) in the state of intellectual obsession that this thread finds itself in, at least. We don’t need another complex reified framework right now. Read Tsongkapa only when your conceptual mind needs a kick start into overdrive (and it probably doesn’t, 125 comments deep. Just a guess).
:~)
I for one am happy Mr. Ingram found his way here. And if I got judged by other people acting arrogant after leaving a class I lead at IDP or a Shambhala Center or after reading my book, I’d look like a damn a-hole by now, so I don’t think it’s fair to grade Mr. Ingram based on what a few youthfully arrogant folks are talking like. Youthful and arrogant have always been a well matched pair. I say, at least someone is getting young folks meditating. We need millions more.



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Kate

posted August 10, 2009 at 10:03 pm


mu, thanks! useful stuff.
very concisely done, too.
I’m a teacher; we delight in being procrustean.
I’ve always liked Krishnamurti; something about him rang true before I ever read any other Eastern philosophical writing.



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Mu

posted August 10, 2009 at 11:05 pm


@Ethan: what I enjoy doing if I really want to kick it up a notch is read Nakamura Gen’s Dictionary (Bukkyogo Daijiten) as a gloss on Tson-kha-pa. : P
@Kate: thanks…Krishnamurti is wonderful. Maybe I can blog post on him sometime….



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Mitsu Hadeishi

posted August 11, 2009 at 2:57 am


@Mu Beautiful quote from Krishnamurti, stating the issue about as emphatically clearly as it can be said!



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Sergio DuBois

posted August 15, 2009 at 3:39 pm


The next time I see you Ethan, I am going to give you a noogie, and ask you to watch the video again – it is not an indictment or challenge to the legitimacy of real teachers (like you), the character being exclusively made fun of looks like a poseur student, cruising the Sangha for chics (tongue and cheek look of shock) surrounded by what look like serious students and teachers, and it seems you have gone off on a tirade about the legitimacy and integrity of teaching, and are trying rather pointlessly I think to distance yourself from an accusation that I don’t think was ever made by the video.



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Ethan

posted August 16, 2009 at 11:22 am


@Sergio: I think u misunderstood. I do think it’s funny (better on the 2nd viewing), and never took it personally. I just think its humor works mainly because of a common misperception of so-called spiritual people, that’s all. No noogies allowed. :-)



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