Warning!! Remember the Diamond sutra Warning!!.

Prajna Z-Quest on a Secular Path

A Culture of Awakening?

Ch1 Zandtao’s path story

Throughout his writing zandtao often discusses his path from different perspectives, here he will discuss his path story from the perspective of a possible culture of awakening.

There was no culture of awakening in his upbringing of middle-class conformity. No surprise that amongst such a middle-class upbringing awakening was not discussed, but fundamentally that is the point of this zandtao enquiry. Why had a person brought up with an education imperative never come across awakening? This is a cultural weakness.

Was there potential for connecting with awakening at uni? It was towards the end of the hippies 69-73 but through his conformity bill didn’t make connections. His lack of self-esteem sent him to the safety of the lads in the hall (of residence), to drinking, to failed relationships – to the mainstream conditioning. There was no possible recognition of awakening with that mindset even though he recalls a strong desire for diverse experience within bill’s insecurity.

After a year of the world of work came the upheaval. Whilst on reflection it was clearly a partial awakening, it wasn’t experienced as awakening, the full blown “wow I get it” kind of thing. When you are disturbed during sleep, you wake up bleary-eyed. You are still half asleep, rub your eyes, and slowly you begin to see something. During upheaval he was seeing something but it was never perceived as awakening. He connected with the Arts Centre; what those people said made sense and apparently he had things that made sense to them. They reinforced and encouraged the experience he was gaining from jhanas and writing. It is only in retirement where he had developed a Dhamma practice that he had the understanding to call what happened a partial awakening. Technically it could be called an awakening but as he was not wise or mature describing bill's upheaval as "awakening" would only take authority away from the importance of awakening. But he can attest that quite simply his awakening gave him no platform for expounding awareness - or any sort of real wisdom - at the time.

This upheaval led to two things:-

A compassion that took him into teaching.
A fledgeling spiritual enquiry.

As it turned out in daily life these two aspects of his partial awakening grew into a conflict. Compassion turned bill's teaching into a vocation. It was demanding and his vocation led to an exclusive dedication, this is the way teaching was (and is); despite bill's compassion there was no spiritual aspect allowed in his teaching life. Spiritual enquiry was mostly relegated to the holidays because of the way bill lived this life.

But what really eschewed awakening was that bill became an alcoholic. Despite the wonders experienced during upheaval and the formative year or so afterwards, bill chose alcohol. In those years up to the age of 36 when he stopped drinking, no culture of awakening could enter except on 2 occasions. There was the year of theosophy when he stopped drinking and first tasted Dhamma practice. But whilst the path and wisdom he found in theosophy grabbed him the society of theosophy was dreary; many of the people reminded him of the catholic church he had rejected. Old people would be fascinated that bill was putting theosophy into practice as a teacher; of course mostly he wasn’t - education was societal training not the education for awareness that theosophy wanted. On reflection he met some good people but alcohol took over him again after a year, and such a level of alcohol and the spiritual life do not mix.

But there were still the holidays, and he didn’t usually drink then – by choice not a pledge. Theosophy had opened up the spiritual world to some extent, and in the holidays he would look around – he would be on the surface of the alternatives, books interested him, but his ill-disciplined erratic eclectic approach (no practice) meant that awakening wasn’t part of his awareness.

For a few years a friend took him to Brockwood Park to listen to Krishnamurti annually, he was always sparked by this although bill never got then from Krishnamurti what zandtao gets now. Holidays usually took bill back to nature or travelling alone, either of these took him out of the mainstream of teaching and centred him to some extent. Occasionally in the holidays would also be the times when he reconnected with the Muse through Wai Zandtao, but back at work such centring was soon replaced by the wage-slavery conditioning of daily teaching tied up by the delusion of "leading-out education".

When failed romantic love and ill health finally led to the end of his addiction, bill became immersed in grassroots political struggle. Whilst for bill at its core the struggle was to enable all to be spiritual, in practice his immersed approach to the struggle also eschewed spirituality. The struggle even relegated his vocation; as a result he was focussed enough to gain a Marxist education, and Marx’s understanding of economics was a great step forward in his tathata. This seeing however was also confused with socialist pipedreams such as 99% rising up together against the 1% either violently in revolution or electorally, and for a long time his mind was gripped with socialist ditthupadana.

But the struggle (not the ditthupadana) ended when he started to travel, and travelling was such a great release. On the tarmac of Gaborone airport as the blazing heat rose off the ground it took with it many of the egos that conformed to British life; even though he had previously struggled against UK establishment there were still many British life egos that he had unconsciously accepted that rose away with heat. And bill has never wanted to live in Britain again.

Now there was room for awakening (no alcohol, no politics) but it didn’t begin to happen for a while. As he settled into Tswana life in his mind grew a gap that he filled with a distance M Ed; that M Ed process taught him writing and learning together. Bill had begun this approach to writing in Belgium 6 months after upheaval. Arts people had connected him to a pleasant guy (who bill misused – sorry), and in a cottage, he thinks near Baissy-thy, bill immersed himself in writing to learn. He would get a book from the British Council library, read a bit, and “bounce” off into writings to release conditioning and understand the way things were. The awareness he gained there began to substantiate the path upheaval had awoken him to. Bill used a similar bouncing process to get his M Ed; he thought he was being encouraged to go for a Ph D, but gatekeepers quickly ended that delusion.

However the M Ed learning process, once finished, also opened up his mind to a mid-life review that started his first website - here. This review brought together the influences that had contributed to the path that had started at upheaval. He began to think more about meditation that previously had been erratic – the jhanas (bells and banjoes) at upheaval, the guys of writing – connection to the Muse, and occasional meditative experiences that he now mostly associates with times when he was walking – not on the walks themselves. Bringing all these together did not make him think of awakening but it quickly led to conversion to Buddhism that then meant the beginning of Dhamma practice – beginning with insight meditation.

There were 7 more years of travel and teaching, and by that time bill's centre was greatly distanced from teaching and he wanted to learn more of Buddhism. So he retired early. Zandtao was still not aware of awakening, but there was path awareness. As he developed his studies he became more aware of the path, but it was only with this z-quest that zandtao is finally committed to calling it the path of awakening.

So what does all this mean for a culture of awakening? From upheaval bill felt an awakening process and could have been drawn into a culture of awakening but his addiction and then politics pushed that possible culture out of his awareness. However he was always on the periphery of the mainstream, alternative lifestyles, and within this alternative there was a culture of awakening available. It was not available to bill initially because of his addiction, and by the time he had come out of addiction upheaval was too distant in the past (13 years) and he immersed himself in politics – good learning but not about awakening per se. Travel broadened his mind (13 years), and he eventually retired to study Buddhism (16 years).

Only now does he consciously accept he is on a path of awakening. One reason awakening was rejected was because he has been exposed to people who have set goals of enlightenment, and because of these goals enlightenment has been distanced for them. Zandtao can now accept a path of awakening because he knows the path will make him ready for the next stage of awakening. Will there be 100% awakening? That is something zandtao doubts but doesn’t know, and can only speculate about; instead he follows his path through the 3-memes:-

This is a representation of zandtao’s Dhamma practice that will lead to some form of further awakening.

What made bill aware of the existing Culture of Awakening was his mid-life review that was the beginning of his Dhamma practice. Bill had not previously been ready to beome a part of that Culture of Awakening. Whilst being on the periphery of mainstream society he was also on the periphery of the Culture of Awakening. Society does not need to develop a new Culture of Awakening, it is there. This Culture does not reach out but is there when seekers are ready. On one level the question is not whether there is a Culture of Awakening (CoA) but whether seekers are ready.

What began to make bill ready was Dhamma practice. He began this Dhamma practice when he converted to Buddhism. As part of his conversion he accepted daily meditation, visited Harnham Buddhist monastery, and began studying Buddhism. When he was ready, and when he had sufficient money, he was able to retire early and focus on studying within the CoA until zandtao has finally been able to accept he is on the path of awakening.

So despite a very positive partial awakening at 23, bill took 20+ years before he accepted Buddhism and Dhamma practice. Although he had been peripherally aware of the CoA he had not released sufficient of his conditioning to develop a Dhamma practice. This conditioning manifested itself primarily with addiction, but then he clung to political activism only for a while before travel opened him up to the possibility of Dhamma practice through his mid-life review.

His lack of Dhamma practice prevented access to conscious awakening and further awakening possibilities. At the time of upheaval his contact with the Arts Centre drew him into the world of creativity, and he felt in harmony with an alternative culture for a while. Whilst he now knows that Dhamma practice was the key, zandtao still wonders whether bill would have taken as long to accept his path of awakening if an awakening culture had been more pervasive - more mainstream. There are many "what ifs" to be asked concerning this question of CoA, but any such culture would have had a daily practice as part of upbringing. Perhaps a habitual practice from childhood might have developed into a Dhamma practice for bill that could have resisted the addiction?

Bill had to be ready, and what made him ready was Dhamma practice. It was not the lack of CoA that was the main problem - although availability of a CoA does need examining including the contribution of religious institutions who advocate paths and awakenings.

Does the Dhamma practice have to be Buddhist in order to accept awakening or at least become part of the CoA? It is in the answer to this that zandtao can see fruitful secularisation. Do seekers need to be Buddhist to awaken? No. Seekers do however need to accept some version of the first of these 3 prongs to become part of the CoA:-

They need to accept that there is some form of awakening, and they need to practice some form of the “Dhamma practice” – and zandtao means the 2nd, Dhamma practice, in a secular way.

It is in the understanding of awakening that can begin the process of secularisation. Here is an example, we can integrate to awaken, and here is Teal talking about integration. She calls the clip “Integration: the true mission of God”, that is not Buddhist.

This integration is a form of wholeness – integrating the whole person and integrating that into planetary wholeness. Teal used the term oneness.

Let me go back to my own Dhamma practice that starts with MwB – Buddhadasa’s meditation method of anapanasati bhavana. This MwB has 4 tetrads that correspond to the 4 foundations of mindfulness (Buddhist sutta). These foundations could be seen as body, emotions and mind, and the 4th is integration. Such foundations are secular, and recognising integration as an awakening process is also secular. This could be the basis of a secular (Dhamma) practice leading to awakening:-

The dominant process is integration, so in terms of Teal’s approach we want to end fragmentation. This means we want to integrate what has been fragmented because of trauma often in upbringing – big or small. In terms of the first Teal clip we want to love all who we are, so the act of love is to integrate. But what about egos – I or mine? These can be called attachments. We observe, release and let them go. In Teal’s terms there is disidentification with egos, we observe and they get released. This is a core of a secular (Dhamma) practice.

When do we do this disidentification? Quite clearly for zandtaomed this would be in meditation, and zandtaomed has an appropriate meditation practice for this as part of his Dhamma practice. But it is not meditation per se that is important, it is the release of the egoic attachments. Can you do this outside of meditation? No reason why not – for zandtao it is easier in meditation but it is not a requirement. Couldn’t they be released in prayer? The requirement is the release of egos, a release that can eventually lead to awakening. This disidentification is core activity for a secular practice.

What we can see in this is that there is no institutional or religious requirement to enable awakening, the secular (Dhamma) practice is simply that of integration and releasing egos.

Buddhadasa’s method is called mindfulness with breathing (MwB), and that is the translation given for his anapanasati bhavana. But anapanasati can also be translated as MwB, so why is there bhavana? This word can be translated as development, and this is a key aspect of your method for integrating and releasing egos – it is developmental. For example, if you use a meditation method that is static and does not progress towards awakening there is no development. So a characteristic of secular practice is developing.

As the seeker moves towards integration as a person then there develops from the Whole a drive to reconnect – this is autonomy.

Connected to autonomy is dedication, and dedication is the only component of zandtao's core secular practice that was not initially included in the writing of this chapter; that is because zandtao's own dedication is weak. Path requires 100% dedication. Zandtao saw this with teaching in which his paid vocation prevented path access, and in retirement even part-time voluntary teaching restricted development. This has implications for the world of work.

Within this dedication needs to arise a practice that is 24/7 mindfulness. Zandtao's meditation currently is not leading to 24/7 mindfulness, but he considers that his practice helps promote a state of mind that does last for much of the day. Throughout the day zandtao notes his discipline decreasing but he can take mindful moments. Zandtao has tried and failed with 2 meditation sittings in a day. Zandtao associates his warts'n'all with his lack of dedication - his lack of determination. From Jac (part 3) this dedication is better understood as abiding in true nature 24/7 - this is an important core practice "Abidance".

And a characteristic of all paths is a moral code, people on the path value moral integrity. A moral code arises from the practice so zandtao has not considered it a component.

Is there a secular component to the other 2 prongs? Seer-consciousness. As the seeker develops along the path s/he begins to know and see the way things are. Becoming conscious that as a seeker this knowing and seeing will happen zandtao is calling seer-consciousness.

There are important aspects of the last prong that zandtao has not discussed in this z-quest, but are common to good practice – wise enquiry. In good practice there is an ongoing enquiry whether to accept thoughts or perceptions that arise. Do they arise from conditioning or can they be accepted and processed? Without wise enquiry there is no acceptance. At the same time, do we accept all questioning? Are some questions pointless?

This core secular practice fell out rather easily:-

Integration individually leading to integration as a whole.
Disidentification with attachments.
Wise enquiry.

As zandtao just said this core secular practice fell out easily with the exception of dedication that became abidance, but clearly it is not a complete practice - they are guidelines or a blueprint. As zandtaomed he would ask of himself whether his practice fits these guidelines.

As a seeker s/he could ask whether the practice they are following includes each of these components. When zandtaomed looks at his meditation advice in terms of these 7 components he sees advice that adds flesh to this blueprint or skeletal structure. If he were to evaluate other practices he could imagine that such practices would include personal cultural and institutional components that are added to this blueprint practice. Zandtao is not trying to suggest that this means that such a practice is not a good practice, any practice that leads to awakening (complete integration) fulfils its purpose and is therefore a good practice.

These components of practice might be helpful for a seeker to recognise that certain personal cultural or institutional practices are not core. There is no suggestion that these personal cultural and institutional practices should be ignored or rejected, they are part of the seeker's current path. But the seeker using the core secular practice could ask how essential these personal cultural and institutional practices are if s/he were to work on their own.

But for zandtao the most important aspect of this core secular practice is that it is unifying. If we examine practices that can lead to awakening and see that these practices contain the 7 components of core secular practice, then there can be seen unity. Particularly amongst institutional paths such as religions, there are forces that seek division eg a focus on different moral codes, different rites and rituals. Such institutional practices can be important for the particular religion but might not necessarily be part of an awakening practice. Such institutional practices might bring their communities together, and quite obviously that is mostly beneficial. But if core secular practice is essentially the same then this is unifying across religions and beyond, this can be perceived as unifying and good people can work together for Unity whilst continuing with the institutional morality, rites and rituals.

It is in the absence of these core components that that recognition of these "7 components" has value, if a component is absent the practice needs to be questioned. With regards to cults the principles of integration and autonomy would be questioned, and the arising moral code would lead to questioning of deviant sexual practices. Disidentification of self is important but in cults the leader can replace that self with him or herself. This has neither autonomy nor integration with the whole, and would the seeker be proceeding with wise enquiry?

For zandtao he has always considered Guru practice dangerous, as zandtaomed he encourages the development of autonomy throughout his advice. With Guru practice it is zandtao's understanding that the seeker is to let go of all egos, replace the self that comes from upbringing with that of the Guru, so that the seeker has good practice – the Guru’s practice, and then finally replace the Guru practice with their own practice and autonomy. In the end awakening arises through autonomy. But zandtao is frightened for the lack of autonomy during this process, and the very risky reliance on the integrity of the Guru. Extreme caution must be carried out if a seeker is to let go of autonomy.

In this chapter zandtao searched for a Culture of Awakening. Despite the time that he spent separated from such a culture he accepts that there is an existing CoA, it was his own weakness in reaching a Dhamma practice that was the source of his lack of consideration of awakening.

Through consideration of Stephen's book that promoted secularisation focussing on a Dhamma practice, zandtao developed these 3 prongs concerning Dhamma practice and Awakening:-

By consideration of these 3 prongs zandtao developed 7 components of a core secular practice:-

Integration individually leading to integration as a whole.
Disidentification with attachments.
Wise enquiry.

Core secular practice is not meant as an actual practice but as a series of components that would be present in good practice. If they are not present in your practice, then ask questions of yourself and if appropriate of your teacher. Asking questions does not mean reject but the answers could lead to wise decision-making. It is quite clear that with cults not sufficient questions have been encouraged or asked.


Books:- Real Love/Viveka-Zandtao/Treatise, Pathtivism Manual, Pathtivism Companion/ Wai Zandtao Scifi/ Matriellez Education.
Blogs:- Zandtao, Matriellez, Mandtao.