Archives for posts with tag: dharma

I admit it. I am biased against the secular mindfulness movement and the more successful it becomes, the louder my bias grows. There’s a personal side to that bias and there’s also a more rational and therefore, I believe, more general side to that bias as well. I’ll start with the personal, somewhat unconscious and shadowy side first.

Having found the dharma and having found a path makes me feel better about myself; it makes me feel special. Being a meditator is a badge that I enjoy wearing because it sets me apart from the “unconscious masses”. The possibility of awakening, of becoming the “enlightened one” carries with it the promise of becoming even more special than that. This need to be special has been a driving force in my life from a very young age so it’s not an unfamiliar force. It is, however, still quite a powerful force, one that I must remain conscious of and work with. And for obvious reasons, this “special” status is threatened by the increasingly popular mindfulness movement.

As mindfulness and meditation become less “special” and more common, being a meditator becomes less distinctive as well and the part of me that relies on being special to feel good reacts against this growing popularity. This is a large part of my bias against the rise of the secular mindfulness movement. The other part worries that in the rush to make the dharma accessible and popular (and therefore simple, easy and unopinionated) we’ll also lose its transformative potential.

So when I see articles about mindfulness making us more productive employees I die a little inside. And when I see conferences bringing together Google and Spirit Rock I can’t help but feel a little dubious of their end result. I try to keep an open mind and remember that different people have different needs but I’m also afraid that wisdom 2.0 will be nothing but a shadow of its original self. For myself, the practice in this is to keep noticing my unconscious biases rising to the surface and at the same time to not ignore wise discernment and to find a way to speak my truth clearly to support and promote what I believe is important.

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From a Tricycle magazine interview in 2004:

Many teachers who were in that first generation of Western students feel that they do not embody the teachings to the same extent their Asian masters did. Can you say something about that? It’s one thing to teach the practice. It’s another thing to embody it deeply in our own lives. Our Asian teachers were the heirs of twenty-five hundred years of lived tradition and practice. We didn’t grow up with the dharma in our bones like they did. We bring a lot of personal history, self-doubt, self-judgment, and ambivalence to practice. We have to work through a lot on the way, unlearn a lot. Our Asian teachers encountered the dharma with a depth and a breadth that’s going to take us more than this first generation to catch up to.

Where does that leave us? I was talking with Joseph [Goldstein] the other day about Munindraji and about the real sense of loss we feel, for him as a person and as a teacher, and perhaps more importantly, as an inspiration for Western dharma. He got us started. He was the root teacher for a number of us, and it feels like a core piece in the mandala is missing now. We’re on our own. How are we going to manifest the dharma? It won’t be the same way he did, or Dipa Ma did. Munindra actually welcomed that difference. He had a kind of divine playfulness that refused to become codified or standardized. He and Dipa Ma never believed in a one-size-fits-all practice. They rarely taught retreats. They taught each student in an individualized way. They had a great trust in us, as well as in the dharma. They didn’t worry about it becoming corrupted or dumbed down.

As Buddhism becomes more and more integrated into Western culture and Western idioms, we’re moving away from the classical forms of the practice and its traditional goals, anyway. That’s both scary and exciting, a challenge and an opportunity.

Can you give me example of what you mean? Western teachers don’t talk as much about enlightenment now as they did thirty years ago when they first started teaching, nor do they emphasize it. True, there are risks in encouraging students to practice for enlightenment. Enlightenment can be objectified as a goal to be striven for and obtained. It can be embraced unconsciously as a narcissistic ideal. But at the same time, there’s a risk that we will lose the depth and potential transformative power of practice if we aspire to anything less than the end of suffering for ourselves and all beings. We’d be repeating what has happened again and again in Buddhist cultures: enlightenment gets deferred to a future birth because people stop believing they are capable of it now—“in this very life,” as Sayadaw U Pandita says.

If you ask most Buddhists in Southeast Asia, including monks, if they are practicing for enlightenment, most would look at you oddly. Or they’d say, “No, it’s not possible for me, at least not in this lifetime.” They don’t embrace enlightenment as a realistic aspiration for themselves. It’s Westerners who have gone to Asia and have taken up the aspiration for enlightenment in this lifetime and brought it back.

You probably haven’t noticed but starting today the contents (but not the design, since I don’t own that) of this blog are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license. Why am I doing that? Because if what I write here is of benefit to anyone, I would like it to be shared and distributed so that as many people as possible may find some benefit. I’m also doing this as an example, hoping that others, whose work may be of more benefit than mine, will follow suit.

My friend Karen and me, discussed the state of copyright in the world of Dharma after I was surprised to find very little content that I could reuse for a new website I was creating at the time. Karen wrote about this at length on her blog and I wanted to continue the conversation here as well. As a geek who cares about the Dharma I feel that it is my responsibility to educate and support the Dharma community in our use of technology. Sometimes this support is in the form of helping a friend create a website, other times it’s by taking care of my sangha’s technological needs. This time, however, I’m letting people know that we can stay more true to our values and make the teachings available to more people by making it easier to share the content we create.