Warning!! Remember the Diamond sutra Warning!!.

Prajna Z-Quest on a Secular Path

A Culture of Awakening?

Ch14 A Western Independent Autonomy

What do you see when you look at the forefront of western spiritual teachers? Independence from traditions. If you listen to their histories (Batgap) many have gone East, but how many return to the West and function as ambassadors for the practice of a particular eastern religion? There are Eastern monasteries run by western monks but the leading lights in the West are usually independent – at best associated such as Sharon Salzberg. This might be of financial origin but unlike monks, say of the Forest Sangha, teachers are not of the traditions.

As an unfair generalisation the eastern perspective on western seekers is a reflection of their societies, within the traditions these seekers are seen as far too egoic and the first part of their training is to get rid of the ego – focussing almost completely on strategies for releasing the ego. One might consider this as making western minds eastern. In daily life the opposite is happening, Asian people want western education for their kids. This might simply be put as independent critical thinking, spiritually this might be reflected in part as autonomy. When we examine eastern and western societies, it is very evident that the ego of western society is destructive and the ego of eastern society might be seen as conforming. Whilst the conforming society is more peaceable and harmonious, it can be argued that Asian people do not fulfil their potential by western standards. Spiritually these standards might be completeness and integrated, and it would be reasonable to accept that the conformism of eastern society does not encourage this. From a cursory view when zandtao looks east he does not see complete integrated people even though he does see people who live in pleasant societies and who conform to their lifestyles without too much overt dissension. This pattern follows over into spiritual circles in which spiritual conformity is the norm, and this conformity characterises the institutions.

The threshold of autonomy was very key in zandtao’s development. As an overview prior to the threshold zandtao was a Buddhist who had developed the practice of zandtaomed through following teachings of Buddhadasa. One of the 7 core components of practice is wise enquiry, and up to the threshold zandtao’s enquiry was to learn and understand Buddhism. After the threshold it was to learn about his autonomy. Throughout his Prajna z-quests has been the increasing realisation as to how spiritually damaging patriarchy is. For zandtao it is necessary to stand up and denounce patriarchy, and he can’t do that as a Theravadin Buddhist. Theravadin Buddhism is no different than other religious institutions and propagates patriarchy whether by intention or by compromise - zandtao cannot know because he is not an insider. But whichever way, within the institution zandtao is compromised by a patriarchal institution whether that institution intends to be or is compromised.

Not only this but zandtao has found himself more and more in conflict with the institutions of Buddhism, having to argue one institutional point against another; in other words he found himself arguing about institutionalism rather than developing and following his path. This is reflected in discussion of the traditions of Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. With autonomy there was a key distinction not reflected in the teachings; for zandtao autonomy became a requirement for awakening yet within the institution questions might be asked “Was autonomy just an ego trickster? How does autonomy fit with anatta?"

When his understanding of the patriarchy took him towards the feminine way, association with Buddhism became a compromise. Given how little he was personally invested with Buddhist institutions zandtao now chooses to be seen as independent of Buddhism; he does not support patriarchy and only supports the institutions of Buddhism in part. Yet as with many seekers zandtao respectfully acknowledges the role of Theravada Buddhism in his path.

The women teachers who have helped him break ties with institutions that support patriarchy tacitly if not implicitly have also been interested in non-duality. Is that a way to go?

The institution tends towards one way of development whereas independence considers there are “many ways up the mountain”. For zandtao the eclectic is not such a way up, and he focusses strongly on the need for daily practice – his Prajna practice. And he takes that Prajna practice with him when he determines the direction of his autonomous path.

Let’s be honest zandtao has never been deeply involved with Buddhist institutions. The closest involvement was with Harnham where annually retreating was part of his contract breaks. At that time, following his Wat Phra Keau conversion to Theravada at the end of 1999, he was studying Theravadin teachings a little, but his life at that time was dominated by work. With the death of his parents he was financially able to retire early, and that possibility became linked with further study of Buddhism. Retiring to Thailand he did become involved with a western Buddhist group (within Thai Buddhism) but he did not attend wats – zandtao attends wats for funerals. Around the time that western Buddhist group finished was also the time he began to follow Buddhadasa - individually not institutionally. Living in Thailand has been within a society associated with Buddhism but that Thai Buddhism has not been part of his daily life. In his daily life there has been Buddhism through study and the development of practice but not really institutional connection. Now that is severed.

Let me reiterate reasons for this non-institutionalism. Firstly there is the institutional compromise with, or even acceptance of, patriarchy – particularly imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. Secondly there has been the increasing need to rationalise different traditions that felt uncomfortable and nit-picky, yet because of his association with the Theravadin tradition it felt necessary. From now on he might refer to a teacher eg Buddhadasa but that will be because it is Buddhadasa and will not reflect anything to do with the wider Theravadin tradition. One of the upadanas is ditthupadana that includes accepting creed or dogma, there is no creed or dogma that zandtao accepts other than what is written at the website.

And finally there are conflicts that arise because of his Prajna practice. Let zandtao be specific about what this Prajna practice is. There is the anapanasati bhavana of Buddhadasa – "Mindfulness with Breathing" by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu - MwB; whilst this is based on Buddhadasa’s study of the Buddha’s teachings zandtao only has allegiance to (most of) Buddhadasa’s teachings and not to the teachings of Buddhism itself – unless specifically referred to. When zandtaomed began teaching meditation he found there were certain understandings that he added to the teaching and this he wrote as the Companion. But most importantly within the teaching was the seeker’s need to release egos from their personal history, and this he detailed in the Seeker Story. At this point zandtao wishes to note the feminine way that has now been included in the Seeker Story, a way that zandtao now sees as important in counteracting patriarchy as well as developing Prajna. If you examine this Prajna practice you can see Buddhist influence, but would it all be accepted by the institutions? Especially the autonomy and the feminine way!

Crossing the threshold of autonomy freed zandtao from institutional restrictions, whilst at the same time this meant that he cannot hold up the institution as an authority for his approach. Zandtao has never called on this authority but maybe others have seen Buddhist authority in his work. Zandtao intentionally follows the Buddha's recommendations in Kalama Sutta - do not accept unless it is part of your experience; zandtao asks that this be the seeker's appraoch when looking at zandtao. Now it is his autonomy alone, his Prajna practice, his work that is authority – if there is any authority; there might be references but not with the purpose of using the authority of the tradition. As zandtao journeys into the unknown the risks are his, there is no underlying acceptance of Buddhism to defend his journey.

Most significant in this autonomy is the need for humility, the need for ego-awareness. But at the same time there is a freedom, a freedom to demand autonomy in seekers without offending Buddhism’s anatta, a freedom to see patriarchy as restricting love without being concerned as to offending institutional structures. If a seeker asks for a Buddhist advisor that is not zandtao, zandtao has no Buddhism to defend his advice now; it is the contents of the website that is the authority.

To begin looking at his independent western autonomy zandtao is going to look at this SAND (Science and Non-Duality) talk on Living Realisation. The convenor asked Adya “What is Living Realisation and what were his processes?”, zandtao will consider that. What is zandtao realising? Is he living that realisation? In zandtao’s terms this would be path, what is his path – is he realising his path? Is he following his path? And his processes would be how did he follow his path?

But this is still semantics because path brings no clarity to such a discussion. Zandtao first touched his path at upheaval, it was a partial awakening but it was characterised by unconsciousness. Whilst the upheaval changed his life zandtao fell into addiction so his life was not one of developing this awakening. Further awakening began in his retirement as he became dedicated to Buddhist studies, and then a slow change from Buddhism. This started with “His Centring Summer”, then his greater understanding of patriarchy that grew from his “Dedication to bell hooks”, and finally the crossing of the threshold of autonomy. These were the processes that have culminated in his path using Prajna practice.

Throughout this process at different paces zandtao has disidentified with ego and developed integration through his Prajna Practice that has these core components:-

Through this practice awakening has developed, and through his practice of sampajanna awakening has become part of his daily life. Is he fully awakened? No, at best he doubts it. Has he realised all that he can? No. But his autonomy and Prajna practice hopefully will give him all the realisation he was meant to have. Can he ever know what that realisation is? Only when he has developed awakening and realised in daily life through sampajanna and Prajna practice can he know what that realisation is. So realisation is an ongoing journey into the unknown of his path of realisation using the processes of writing and Prajna practice.

As he began listening to the panel he became confused, it was all too much; it was talking of understanding then infinite – for zandtao it was zandtao-avyakata. What is infinite and requires no understanding is that there are infinite paths and infinite approaches – a fundamental of the mystery of consciousness. Each seeker needs to find their position/path within this infinite space, and that requires a practice. The patriarchy or kilesa conditioning is part of the mystery of consciousness that is creating egos as a process of self-esteem in upbringing, and it is necessary for the seeker to let go of that self or separation and find their autonomy within consciousness. Different traditions have approaches for building that practice through their institutions. Zandtao learnt his practice through Theravadin Buddhism but has often talked of the Toltec approach as spoken of in the 4 Agreements. These are not the best way to build practices, but they are the best way for him and he will continue to help seekers through what has been described as practice by zandtaomed.

Given that, zandtao can continue his journey into the unknown by considering this non-duality. Talking of the totality is intellectual; humans trying to understand total being, for zandtao this is just an avyakata-ego. Is it appropriate to have a description of the infinite without trying to understand? And this is the same question as for Buddhists – trying to describe emptiness or sunnata.

Does this consideration help? Knowing limitations helps, recognising the possibilities for the journey helps, and being free from institutional restrictions helps. This is a possibility for going beyond the Buddhist institution, as apart from the intellectualism there did seem to be an understanding of truth; and Prajna practice is concerned with truth:-

Of course the convenor set the intellectual tone by asking the question “what is living realisation?”, a question that is asking for the finite to discuss the infinite and in truth the panel didn’t like to start there. Maybe the panel can move out of that, and provide something that will help zandtao move forward – an intellectual appreciation of the infinite is not too constructive.

This is basically leading to helping zandtao find wise enquiry. There was a clear truth that he had not heard before, paraphrasing:-

Awakening is the easy part, how do we bring it into daily life?

This is a comparative statement, and perhaps would be better stated as “Awakening is the relatively easy part”. But in truth awakening is not an easy experience. Zandtao usually describes bill’s partial awakening as upheaval because letting go of the insubstantial self that conditioning had given him was great but difficult. It was easy because the path drove him and gave him great joy at the time – the joy of awakening (phala). But it was years before his awakening was consolidated in his daily life, the consolidation truly beginning with mid-life review. In fact it could be argued that the consolidation only truly began in retirement where he began to be dedicated to the path.

The process of bringing it into daily life zandtao is essentially calling consolidation, and that is the role of the Dhamma comrade sampajanna. Now effectively zandtao’s meaning of sampajanna is that comrade which brings awakening (wisdom or insight) into daily life. Buddhadasa called it a Dhamma comrade, and it feels to zandtao that this faculty is so important because if awareness or awakening stays on the stool what is the point? In other words sampajanna is what we are given to avoid spiritual bypassing – the tool of engagement. Sampajanna is the tool of embodiment of awakening (if that is a suitable use of the word embodiment).

And this then brings the answer of what Adya talked of as difficult “bringing awakening into daily life”, and that answer is practice – for zandtao Prajna practice. And this answer increases the scope of the term Prajna practice because zandtao's main tool for bringing awakening into daily life off the stool is writing; writing is zandtao’s sampajanna-vehicle. So this opens up a huge question, what is the totality of practice that brings awakening (wisdom and insight) into daily life? Is he being unfair in saying that the institution answers this with meditation? That is certainly the answer that zandtao has given in the past. But the path is far more than meditation although without meditation (or an equivalent practice) do we get to first base? For zandtao now Prajna practice is his MwB meditation, z-quests and writing.

Following his upheaval his first practice was initial erratic jhanas and writing that led to compassion. His sampajanna then took him into houseparenting and then education. Because he lacked meditation that path became stagnant (not developing) especially because of his alcoholism, and his practice of path waned until the mid-life review. Yet at the same time seeing that period after upheaval as 2nd childhood is undoubtedly integral because he was too immature for his awakening to have anything to contribute.

Awakening is a legitimate term but what does it mean? When zandtao (anyone?) thinks of awakened beings (to whatever extent), don’t we think of wise people? Yet at 23 bill was far from wise. His awakening opened a door to understanding that made what bill had to say of interest to the Arts people – and conceivably to spiritual people. But he had nothing to offer daily life because he was immature and his awakening was not consolidated.

It is worth highlighting this dichotomy – daily life and spiritual life, or the stream of consciousness and conditioning within that stream. The creativity of the arts people gave them some sort of transcendence that gave them their artistic vision, applying their creativity was their sampajanna – it was their practice.

Path must include sampajanna; for zandtao it is z-quests, for artists it is their creativity. For Mother Teresa it was love; and for Nicola? The daily life component of Prajna arises from love or creativity, is there anything else? What is creativity? How does it connect to love and wisdom? Without sampajanna what happens to love and creativity? Is there creativity without expression? In creativity the creator connects to the Muse, but would it be considered creative if there was no expression - no writing, no work of art (this is not the same as being commercial or socially recognised). With love there needs to be expressions, in a sense love and its expression loving occur simultaneously. Can there be love without its expression even if that love is unrequited?

Arising as Dhamma comrades there is love-wisdom, arising through connection to the Muse there is creativity. With sampajanna these arisings become in-action whether they are valued by the patriarchy or not. Despite the Source of their arising love wisdom and creativity can all be in conflict with patriarchy. If we see wisdom, we can see the compromise within institution through detachment. When we see love-wisdom there is a natural arising that is balanced, through equanimity this balance concerning the feelings of love can become the egos of rage as love and compassion can often be in conflict with patriarchy. For institutions these feelings of love can be bypassed through the becalming of detachment.

For creativity arisings-into-action, embodiment or sampajanna, are controlled by patriarchy through finance. The creative turns their connection to Source into action through dedication, it is the art that matters, expressing the art that comes from Source is that dedication. Patriarchy cannot affect the genuine dedication so art is controlled through finance. Art is not valued because it comes from Source – the Muse; art is controlled through commodification. The art world is celebrated as a social lifestyle in which the art is given finance, money to the artist who participates in the lifestyle. For the dedicated artist whose time is not wasted in that lifestyle, they might never see any money.

The arisings of love, wisdom and creativity are all different forms of awakening – arising from Source (inc Muse). Whether they are in conflict with patriarchy or not they are awakening. When there is no attachment to institution it is easier to see these arisings as awakening because on the path there is no compromise. Within patriarchy wisdom-as-awakening is accepted although not always put into practice – embodiment. Within patriarchy love and creativity are not as easily recognised as coming from Source because they can be in conflict with patriarchy. Through autonomy this limitation from patriarchy disappears, and we can fully recognise the arisings of love wisdom and creativity (the 3rd part of the path of compassion, insight and creativity) as coming from Source; they are awakenings.

We could see the process of awakening as creativity, love is created from Source, insight is created from Source, and art is created from Source. As love, insight and art arise from Source, they are awakenings. Rather than being a category of awakening (like love and wisdom) creativity can also be seen as the process of awakening itself – arising from Source is creating. How fascinating that as soon as zandtao steps away from the institution of Buddhism through the ditthu cracks comes the realisation that awakening, loving and creativity are the same process. Yet from within the institution insight was seen as creative without any resistance but there is resistance to love and creativity. In upheaval creativity arose with the awakening that partially transcended conditioning and with the love that became the compassion for his teaching; loving creating and awakening are one - the process of Prajna that leads to love, wisdom and seeing truth. Awakening (as loving creating and awakening) is an ongoing process that happens throughout the life of the autonomous, realising that awakening (in daily life) is ongoing sampajanna. Avoidance of awakening as our practice in daily life is bypassing, this avoidance includes avoidance of love, wisdom and creativity.

Leaving the institution of Buddhism behind allows for a better understanding of awakening. A different area of Buddhism that he was always confused about was stream-entry, this is connected to awakening but how? Equally there are the questions of awakening related to the Buddha, Buddha nature and wanting to be fully awakened or enlightened. In many ways it feels that these questions are falling away with the institution.

Awakening is reconnecting with Dhamma, touching sunnata and conscious awareness – arising from Source. Awakening happens through love and creativity, a focussed mind allows for insight – awakening of wisdom. These awakenings happen when there is no attachment – when there is disidentification and an ensuing process of integration. Most importantly they happen with autonomy, when there has developed a reconnection, touch or conscious guide. When we talk of awakening there is intensity that arises through the connecting channel. In religious description that awakening intensity is described through religious experience, for meditators through the experiences of jhana, for the creative the wondrous contacts with the Muse, and for real human love that loving intensity that appears most powerful in romantic love but with attachments removed becomes the intensity of spiritual love. When we see awakening in this way it is part of everyday experience and not a spiritual or religious elite.

If it is everyday experience for so many people why isn’t our society more spiritual? Because of the lack of embodiment. The wider spiritual community needs to recognise this, it is not simply awakening that is the issue because relatively speaking so many people have awakening experiences; it is making that awakening real - part of daily life. If your awakening is not part of your daily life then there is some process of bypassing or avoidance, some reason for this bypassing or avoidance, some reason for this lack of embodiment. Awakening can be so joyful – jhanas, but what happens when we want to bring awakening into daily life ie make awakening real. Then we meet difficulties. It is understandable if someone who has awakened takes refuge in a monastery or as a recluse up a mountain or otherwise, bringing awakening into daily life can be so difficult. The distance from the states of mind required to function in society (daily life) and the state of mind that develops awakening is huge. In bill’s case he was not capable of beginning to reduce the distance between these two states of mind until he stopped teaching. In upheaval he had no investment in the computer jobs and this allowed for upheaval. However after upheaval there was the return of alcohol addiction, retrospectively it sometimes feels as if the awakening of upheaval was too powerful for daily life and he drank away the conflict. Bill could not cope with the compromise of having a partially-awakened state of mind and being in society and the world of work, and he had no discipline or practice to maintain the more awakened state of mind so he turned to drink. By the time he stopped drinking awakening was occasional through creative writing, but there was no dedication to the path of awakening and realisation until he retired. In retirement zandtao started to build the path-dedication through his practice of meditation study and writing – leading to a path of awakening and realisation with Prajna practice through autonomy and the 5 Dhamma comrades.

Zandtao cannot envisage how he could bring his current practice into the daily life that was his world of work. Now his path does not impact on patriarchy so he can follow it, because of his time in the world of work he has sufficient money to retire and develop this Prajna practice. He hopes his path is not bypassing because his body cannot undertake the required physical interaction with the patriarchy; he has the website open to all. However true this lack of bypassing is he is constantly questioning; love, creativity and sampajanna wants action against patriarchy but wisdom recognises futility. The balance of equanimity is hard, embodiment is hard.

But the truth that arises from his Prajna practice is that there is not sufficient realisation of our collective awakenings because of bypassing that can be caused by patriarchy. Some spiritual teachers promote awakening, some then question embodiment but how many spiritual teachers question the limitations imposed by patriarchy? There is even an approach amongst some that claims it is ego to attack patriarchy concerning spirituality. When we read spiritual books how many discuss the realisation of awakening? And even less how many discuss the reality that patriarchy can prevent that realisation?

When we examine awakening and realisation as immanent transcendence, transcendence can find it easier to compromise with embodiment and patriarchy through bypassing. Immanence through love cannot make such compromises with patriarchy, and this has led to immanence through love as not being dominant within awakening and realisation. To help with problems of embodiment within patriarchy institutions offer refuge whilst protecting their wisdom. Whilst refuge and the protection of wisdom are important functions within their own rights, the bypassing that results from the lack of embodiment leads to patriarchy and the harm patriarchy causes – suffering through war and death and the risks to human life on the planet caused by the exploitative 1%-satrapy of patriarchy. By compromising with the heinous accumulation of wealth by the 1%, the bypassing caused by the limiting of awakening and embodiment in the patriarchy together with the majority of awakened experience not being realised leads to the suffering we live amongst. To be blunt when we see bypassing in its totality, then avoidance through bypassing is why we have patriarchy and why we have dukkha. Nature's path of awakening and embodiment for all would end dukkha, bypassing that is not following our paths and embodying them in daily life is the cause of dukkha. Before zandtao began his dedication to bell hooks he was working on zanshadtao, and that was concerned with his then understanding of spiritual shadow and bypassing. Since then he has become increasingly conscious of the connection between spirituality and patriarchy, reaching the stage now where he considers bypassing a primary cause of the world’s suffering. He had already planned to go back to finish zanshadtao, his greater understanding of bypassing has reinforced that plan.

Now that he is free from institution he asks why isn’t there tathata of patriarchy? Why isn’t understanding the personal impact of patriarchy part of any seeker’s path? Why isn’t understanding patriarchy part of any Seeker Story?

For Nicola the answer lies in the patriarchy of the masculine way of spirituality, and her direction is to promote the feminine way. Promote the immanence of love within consciousness, and it cannot then be possible to ignore or avoid patriarchy preventing awakening and realisation.

It becomes a duty of realisation of awakening to find ways to “end patriarchy”, avoiding that conclusion is bypassing. Being free from institutions allows for writing to be free, it allows for development to be free, it is a step towards liberation. But there cannot be liberation without discipline and practice, and that practice is perhaps best to arise out of tradition and expertise. But in the end the path must have autonomy – free from institution. So a z-quest that began with an investigation into secular paths produced 7 components of a core practice, but basically has reached a common secular approach in which the autonomy asks for the leaving of institution once discipline and practice has been established. For liberation there needs to be autonomy, how can there be autonomy and liberation within institutions? The secular path is this liberation!!

And being free from institution liberation can say that awakening and realisation of awakening are restricted by patriarchy, so for autonomous people on the path we can ask which part of their realisation is concerned with dismantling patriarchy? This is also secular.


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