Warning!! Remember the Diamond sutra Warning!!.

Prajna Z-Quest on a Secular Path

A Secular Path?

Ch2 Nature - Metaphysics and Interpreting the first discourse

As soon as zandtao wrote about nature at the end of the prequel insight gave him Rupert Sheldrake’s “banned TED talk”. Here is the talk, apart from using the word “banned” to search for the talk is there anything more than internet hype to banning? At one stage as part of an investigation into the Path of Scientific Enquiry (little more than started), zandtao wrote a blog concerning Sheldrake’s work. Basically Sheldrake says that academic science makes unwritten assumptions concerning nature as written in his 10 dogmas:-

Sheldrake poses the question (amongst others), are these assumptions sound assumptions? As can be seen in 1,2,3,5, according to Sheldrake science makes assumptions about nature. Such assumptions could be seen as intellectual scientific ego if they are untrue.

According to Buddhadasa they are untrue and therefore egoic. Here, Buddhadasa describes idappaccayata as comparable to a Buddhist God, and talks of nature as Dhammajati. In Awakening the Inner Light (discussed in zandtaomed advice here), Eckhart describes consciousness as a fundamental mystery with both purpose and evolution. Both fundamentally contradict the scientific assumptions that Sheldrake describes in his banned talk. If what Buddhadasa and Eckhart describe is truth, then science and its egos are severely limiting. As they are so far from Buddhadasa’s and Eckhart’s truth there is a great deal of truth about nature that science cannot investigate as it stands.

In a certain way the process of science could be considered a secular process:-

So secular can be limiting if its purpose is not that of seeking truth. Within Sheldrake’s approach is an indication that science is not seeking truth but supporting itself – aspects of academic institutionalism.

Is what Buddhadasa and Eckhart describes as nature and consciousness metaphysics as they are part of cosmology and ontology(?):-

Does Stephen accept what Buddhadasa and Eckhart have said?

Zandtao does although not as theories but as a partial understanding of the way it is – tathata. Through MwB zandtao has begun (stress begun) to experience nature as Unity, nature as Dhammajati, and the mystery of Eckhart’s consciousness and the evolution of wisdom. Especially in tetrad 4 of MwB these are beginning to have some reality. On the beach he has watched the waves rising and falling, and has seen the white manes of Trump and Boris raising their heads before they disappear back into the sea. Note – zandtao used the word beginning. He is convinced of the truth of what he has experienced, chooses to use the capitalised word Gaia to describe life on earth of which we are all one – have one consciousness. Is this a theory? No, it is based in experience. Has zandtao experienced consciousness the way Eckhart has? No. Does he understand idappaccayata and dhammajati the way Buddhadasa does? No. Is what zandtao has experienced of this Unity real? Yes.

Was it real to bill in his childhood, first and second? First childhood, definitely not. Second in a much more limited sense of reality than now. What is the difference? Youth, then conditioned youth of first childhood; conditioned adulthood, beginning to move beyond conditioning - second childhood. As zandtao has made efforts along his path, he has started to remove his conditioning and has begun to see what is what; this includes beginning to see nature for what it is. As the conditioned attachments have dropped away, SEEing with clarity has grown.

Firstly zandtao does not ask anyone to accept what he sees with tathata as truth, it is part of the seeker’s journey to determine what is the truth. But there is truth in the process. Conditioning – it is part of life that we have been conditioned. Removing conditioning helps us see the truth by removing attachments that prevent this seeing. Do we all see the same truth? No. Does it matter? No. What matters is that we have faith in the truth that we have found - conviction in what we have SEEn.

For zandtao there is no theory to aspire to. What Buddhadasa describes as idappaccayata has some truth for him, what Eckhart describes as consciousness has some truth for him; but when zandtao quotes them in their entirety they are theories. What zandtao has experienced in line with these teachers’ truths is also true, what he has not experienced is a theory. This experience is always changing – developing, as it develops there is greater understanding. How does one talk of secular Buddhism with such anicca?

But what is clear is that false assumptions are limiting. If we look again at Sheldrake’s 10, science has set limitations that affect what is generally accepted as knowledge through false assumption. Does Stephen have such limitations when dismissing metaphysics? And importantly dismissing by metaphysics per se might well dismiss zandtao’s experience of nature, if Stephen is doing this in his search for secular Buddhism it is a mistake. This secular Buddhism is such a risky road to follow.

Excellent, zandtao cannot answer this question .... he hopes yet. In his MwB meditation practice, siladhamma arises during the tetrad of reconnecting with Dhamma, stage 15 – interbeing, stage 16 faith reconnecting vinnana with consciousness. Is the MwB practice real or does it have theoretical constructs based on Thay’s and Eckhart’s teachings? Excellent, again. There has to be real answers. First impressions (overnight) - both of these practices in his MwB matter whether they are constructs or not, by mattering zandtao means it improves his meditation. But impressions is not enough for a z-quest, it is however enough for continuing using these 2 stages in his MwB. This is only the beginning of the z-quest though, these impressions need some form of substantiation.

To the book. Stephen avoids the use of non-English except for dharma. In his preface Stephen says ““dharma” refers to the teachings of the Buddha as well as to those aspects of reality and experience with which his teachings are concerned. “Dharma practice” refers to the way of life undertaken by someone who is inspired by such teachings.” [Stephen's BwB 10.3 ]. As a word dharma is Sanskrit and Mahayana tends to use Sanskrit; Theravada uses Pali so zandtao usually uses dhamma. Zandtao’s use of the word D/dhamma is similar to Stephen’s, but there is a capitalisation that is important especially with MwB. Zandtao talks of the 4th tetrad as “reconnecting with Dhamma” (as does Buddhadasa), so Dhamma capitalised has far more significant meaning in terms of path, sunnata, consciousness etc. It might be summarised as the purpose of dhamma practice is reconnecting with Dhamma – note the capitalisation.

Zandtao embraces the use of Pali because using Pali means that conceptually the word is “new” not described by pre-Buddhist experience. Dukkha is dukkha, an understanding of dukkha. Stephen’s translation is anguish, is that what dukkha is?

Stephen's book begins with the Buddha’s approach to learning as described in the Kalama sutta – note "Kalama Sutta Help" by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu here. Basically learning is individual – not following, not intellectual but mindful grappling with teachings and making them your own; Stephen and zandtao are very much together on this.

Then Stephen speaks of this mindful grappling “As long as my vision was not fully clear . . . regarding four ennobling truths, I did not claim to have realized authentic awakening. . . . —The Buddha”. Mindful grappling needs to lead to clarity, if it is not clear, it is not your understanding but some form of intellectual quoting.

In describing the Buddha’s teaching of the 4NT of dukkha, samudayo, nirodha and magga he says it has been appropriated by “Awakening has become a mystical experience, a moment of transcendent revelation of the Truth.” Zandtao accepts Stephen’s understanding that in the Dhammacakkappavattana sutta (see Appendix B) – the presenting of the 4NT – there is no discussion of awakening and transcendence.

How Buddhism has turned this teaching into a description of awakening and transcendence zandtao does not know, but it does not mean that there isn’t awakening and transcendence. To be explicit:- the Buddha presented 4NT, and there is no awakening or transcendence stated in the sutta, but that does not mean that there is not awakening and transcendence. Awakening and transcendence have been central to zandtao’s experience – in the prequel zandtao has already discussed awakening, he will add transcendence.

So what does transcendence mean to zandtao? Transcendence is a word like enlightenment that zandtao avoided because of mystical affectations, however during viveka-zandtao, it took on more of a meaning with lokuttara – Pali for transcendence. At this point transcendence was accepted as having a clarity that was not wrapped up in potentially illusory mysticism. But what is transcendence? When we transcend we go beyond conditioning, for zandtao this is a gradual process that is far from complete. Going beyond conditioning began with upheaval and has continued ever since. Zandtao understands lokuttara as a state of being beyond conditioning, and zandtao has glimpsed this state – in the same way he has glimpsed Nibbana (lokuttara-dhatu and Nibbana-dhatu). These glimpses (dhatu) are real to zandtao, and the way he understands them from Buddhadasa they show you the possibilities; in line with dhammajati we get spiritual rewards as part of these dhatu. In the Chiswick loft bells and banjos which were meditational states came with such a spiritual joy they were never forgotten. What was this spiritual joy? Some call it bliss, a powerful experience of bliss. Zandtao accepts these blisses-from-dhatu as real, and in his experience they fit in with the phala of dhammajati. These blisses are real and have been associated with both awakening and transcendence, and lines up with the teachings that bliss comes as a reward for following the path – dhammajati. The power of bliss cannot be dismissed and needs to be accounted for – and accepted as different for different seekers; experiences of bliss differ but bliss is real.

In the prequel zandtao described various awakenings, most significantly in terms of bliss – bells and banjoes – the awakenings of upheaval. Zandtao sees this as the awakening of the path, and this awakening of the path is letting go of conditioning – going beyond conditioning. He has called upheaval a partial awakening, and sees this awakening as a significant partial reconnection with Dhamma – the path, consciousness or sunnata. The theory is that enlightenment is when the seeker completely awakens – when s/he completely reconnects with Dhamma; apart from the dhatus zandtao doesn’t understand this because it is not his experience.

Zandtao has felt awakening and transcendence as bliss, he has experienced the gaining of wisdom through insight with the clarity of insight. All of these he now calls prajna – love-wisdom, sometimes bliss is associated but others it is just the gaining of wisdom – prajna. There have been powerful times such as the centring summer, and when he crossed the prajna threshold in which there has been a concerted ongoing gaining of wisdom – reconnecting with Dhamma, with varying less levels of bliss. Zandtao talks of this as path, and promotes pathtivism (path activism) as a way forward socio-politically; pathtivism is simply sampajanna – wisdom-in-action. For zandtao this reconnecting state is real.

Does Stephen mean that all these states of wisdom with differing names are not real or experienced – that they are a form of theoretical metaphysics? Does he not see differing levels of bliss as real? If so that would not be wise . But the questioning so far has led to some clarity – an enquiry into the acceptance of wisdom and associated bliss. Interestingly ignorance is the root of ego as described by paticcasamuppada, ending ignorance is going beyond conditioning – the state of wisdom in all its forms or descriptions of awakening, transcendence, insight and mindful grappling of Kalama sutta.

Prior to starting this z-quest zandtao had heard criticisms of Stephen being “selective”. [Stephen's BwB 14.2]. “LET’S GO BACK to the beginning” is how he started the chapter on Awakening. He began with the Buddha’s first talk focussing on the 4NT (see App B). “Only through knowing these truths, knowing how to act upon them, and knowing that he has acted upon them can he claim to have found “authentic awakening”” [Stephen's BwB 14.4]. “DESPITE THE BUDDHA’S own succinct account of his awakening, it has come to be represented (even by Buddhists) as something quite different. Awakening has become a mystical experience, a moment of transcendent revelation of the Truth”[Stephen's BwB 14.6 ]. Stephen continues in this vein until reaching “The four ennobling truths become principal dogmas of the belief system known as “Buddhism”” [Stephen's BwB 14.8]

It feels like what Stephen has done in this chapter is crucial to his “Buddhism without Beliefs”. His claim is that he has gone back to What the Buddha Taught in the Dhamma-cakka-ppavattana-sutta, and concluded that Buddhism has changed the teachings into a Buddhism belief system with mysticism. What is zandtao’s relationship with this interpretation? Does zandtao accept the interpretation of Stephen’s selection? That is highly relevant to this z-quest.

So zandtao has to do something that he hates – play “sutta snap”. Stephen, as an academic, is of course sound with his “source notes”, zandtao is far less academic as academia can be full of intellectual ego. “This chapter, a reflection on the Dhammacakkappavatana Sutta, is indebted to the writings of Nanavira Thera (Harold Musson) collected in Clearing the Path (Colombo, Sri Lanka: Path Press, 1987). [Stephen's BwB 48.11].

““As long as my vision was not fully clear . . . is from the Dhammacakkappavatana Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya LVI: 11). A complete translation is found in The Life of the Buddha, trans. Nanamoli Thera, 43–45” [Stephen's BwB 48.10].

In Appendix B there is Nanamoli Thera’s translation of Dhammacakkappavatana Sutta, zandtao will refer to this. When Stephen says he is indebted to the writings of Nanavira Thera, zandtao cannot be sure how Stephen has interpreted the book “Clearing the Path”, but somehow Stephen has gone from the translation of Dhammacakkappavatana Sutta in App B to his first chapter on Awakening containing the above quotes. Through his studies he has selected interpretations, nothing wrong with doing this – we all make selected interpretations. The whole process of finding the common denominator of secular Buddhism is concerned with this selected interpretation; so quite simply does zandtao accept the way Stephen has selected and interpreted?

Based on zandtao’s interpretation of Stephen’s writing and using the quotes above, is it reasonable to conclude that Buddhism is “dogmatic beliefs and unjustified mysticism”? Zandtao has some sympathy with that, but can he accept Stephen’s selected interpretation? Hence sutta snap, going back to the source Nanamoli Thera’s translation of Dhammacakkappavatana Sutta and seeing what Stephen has not included. What a horrible process! This is not what Buddhism, zandtaomed and the path are about for zandtao – this just feels like academic nit-picking. But it has to be done. Zandtao hopes it only needs to be done once, then he hopes that this z-quest will become secular Buddhism with provisos, a greater clarity on the provisos, an understanding of what this means as path.

Above zandtao reached a succinct breakdown – wisdom (prajna) with bliss and where they fit into the practice of MwB. On 15/7/22 zandtaomed gave advice on integrating the 4NT with zandtaomed; rereading this advice fits in well with Stephen’s task-based morality for the 4NT. It does not however discuss the stage 15 and stage 16 of zandtao’s MwB practice – the wisdom and bliss – that is central to this z-quest so far. In this advice there is no belief just practice, siladhamma – being a better person. But zandtao’s understanding and zandtaomed’s advice are predicated on wisdom and bliss, they cannot be selected out of (removed from) zandtao’s way of life and zandtaomed’s advice. We must hone in on this, and to begin this honing zandtao has to grapple with the sutta (Appendix B) and Stephen’s selective interpretation.

From Dhamma-cakka-ppavattana-sutta “The middle way discovered by a Perfect One avoids both these extremes; it gives vision, it gives knowledge, and it leads to peace, to direct acquaintance, to discovery, to nibbana.” This talks of more than a task-based morality, then it describes the Middle Way as Magga, the Noble 8-Fold Path. After describing Magga, the Buddha repeats “That is the middle way discovered by a Perfect One, which gives vision, which gives knowledge, and which leads to peace, to direct acquaintance, to discovery, to nibbana”, and by that repetition zandtao takes importance.

After describing the 4NT the sutta says “"'Suffering, as a noble truth, is this.' Such was the vision, the knowledge, the understanding, the finding, the light, that arose in regard to ideas not heard by me before. 'This suffering, as a noble truth, can be diagnosed.' Such was the vision, the knowledge, the understanding, the finding, the light, that arose in regard to ideas not heard by me before. 'This suffering, as a noble truth, has been diagnosed.' Such was the vision, the knowledge, the understanding, the finding, the light, that arose in regard to ideas not heard by me before.”

“Such was the vision, the knowledge, the understanding, the finding, the light, that arose in regard to ideas not heard by me before” was then repeated several times as “Such was the vision ....” as the Buddha described 3 stages for each of the 4NT (“Such was the vision ….). Stephen focusses on the 4NT being the focus of the Buddha’s awakening. Here is what the sutta says “But as soon as my knowing and seeing how things are, was quite purified in these twelve aspects, in these three phases of each of the four noble truths, then I claimed in the world with its gods, its Maras and high divinities, in this generation with its monks and brahmans, its princes and men to have discovered the full awakening that is supreme.” Awakening arose from the 12 aspects of 4NT after knowing and seeing how things are. Knowing and seeing how things are arises from the Middle Way of “it gives vision, it gives knowledge, and it leads to peace, to direct acquaintance, to discovery, to nibbana”, and the Middle Way arises from Magga.

Stephen begins his selective interpretation with this “first” sutta – very sound. Going back to this sutta and to be faithful to how the Buddha describes awakening there was a minimum of:-

1) Knowing and seeing how things are.
2) The 4NT (12stages as 4x3)
3) Middle Way (the Path of Magga) of “it gives vision, it gives knowledge, and it leads to peace, to direct acquaintance, to discovery, to nibbana”

Zandtao is comfortable with considering a secular Buddhism connected to these 3, but if Stephen ignores the Middle Way and the “knowing and seeing of how things are”, his selective interpretation of the 4NT starting from this sutta lacks rigour.

Each of the 4NT is accompanied with vision. At the beginning of the sutta, the path is described as Magga and the Middle Way inc vision. [Note: in the interim until zandtao investigates, vision means SEEing - tathata]. And there is something western Buddhists avoid on the describing of his awakening – “I claimed in the world with its gods, its Maras and high divinities, in this generation with its monks and brahmans, its princes and men”, what does zandtao make of this description of the world? Zandtao so far has never discussed “gods, Maras and divinities”; in fact “gods, Maras and divinities” raises a difficulty for zandtao. In the prequel zandtao described the possibility of zandtaomed’s advice tacking onto other religions including Christianity and Islam. In this sutta it reads "At Benares, in the Deer Park at Isipatana, the matchless Wheel of truth has been set rolling by the Blessed One, not to be stopped by monk or divine or god or death-angel or high divinity or anyone in the world", and later describes “all the gods in turn in the six paradises of the sensual sphere took up the cry till it reached beyond the Retinue of High Divinity in the sphere of pure form”. Zandtao, and zandtaomed’s advice, makes a proviso, the advice is intended to be of use to all people irrespective of religion. At the same time he must not fudge the issue of where there is contradiction such as ditthupadana ie accept there are limitations in zandtaomed’s advice for all religions.

This brief examination of the first sutta has not taken zandtao closer to Stephen but it has brought up questions concerning what zandtao has previously avoided. Zandtao is a pathtivist (his coining), in many ways Buddhism has guided that pathtivism but the “gods, Maras and divinities” of Buddhism makes no contribution to zandtaomed advice. If this makes zandtao not a Buddhist that is no problem. When it comes to Stephen’s secular Buddhism zandtao is of the opinion that Stephen’s selective interpretation at this stage cannot be justified. If all he takes from this first sutta is that the Buddha’s awakening is from the 4NT without considering all 3 of :-

1) Knowing and seeing how things are.
2) The 4NT (12stages as 4x3).
3) Middle Way (the Path of Magga) of “it gives vision, it gives knowledge, and it leads to peace, to direct acquaintance, to discovery, to nibbana”

then for zandtao, Stephen’s selectivity is not concerned with being faithful to this sutta - the suttas. As it stands zandtao is not willing to accept the claim that Stephen’s secular Buddhism is what the Buddha intended - based on his study of this sutta only. There is of course nothing wrong with choosing aspects of Buddhism, making that choice as part of his teachings and even calling it secular Buddhism, but for zandtao there isn’t justification for saying that it is what the Buddha intended; saying so would be clinging to an intellectual ego based on what zandtao understands so far.

Examination of this sutta undermines one of zandtao’s own Buddhist pillars, the pillar of Buddhadasa, and he questions how Buddhadasa is a slave to the Buddha. Clearly in this sutta the Buddha is talking of “gods, Maras and divinities”, yet he cannot recall Buddhadasa talking of these; in terms of God Buddhadasa speaks of idappaccayata.

Honing in has spread out – so far; nothing wrong with that.

Conclusions so far are slashing with a big blade, but by no means is that to become fixed and the core of this z-quest. They are based on first impressions of this one sutta, it is not based on knowledge of Stephen’s secularism nor has it any understanding of Buddhadasa’s “No Religion”. Initially zandtao raised questions of wisdom and bliss, and asked whether Stephen accepted them. What is the relation of wisdom and bliss to the Buddha’s vision sentence (“it gives vision, it gives knowledge, and it leads to peace, to direct acquaintance, to discovery, to nibbana”) in this sutta? Is there a coalescing of vision and the siladhamma of 4NT in this first sutta? Is Prajna this vision?

Measuring the first sutta against Stephen’s first chapter on awakening has been eye-opening but not in an expected way. Again there is nothing wrong with that but there is a need for zandtao to re-evaluate the chapter, and consider whether the “initial ego” (it is by no means fixed ego) in his slashing blade has been sweeping.

And the first thing zandtao reads is Stephen quoting this from the sutta “As long as my vision was not fully clear” [Stephen's BwB 14.1 ] presumably with a purpose, how is Stephen incorporating vision into his secularism? If for Stephen there is a coalescing of vision and siladhamma, then for zandtao considering Stephen and the first sutta the question is more “what is Stephen’s vision?”. Is vision metaphysics?

When zandtao rereads Stephen’s summation of the Buddha’s awakening there is no description of vision – reading from “Let’s start to “authentic awakening”” [Stephen's BwB 14.3 & 14.4]; in the run-up to this clear description of the 4NT he talks of the Middle Way between indulgence and mortification but at no time does he mention the visions sentence - "it gives vision, it gives knowledge, and it leads to peace, to direct acquaintance, to discovery, to nibbana". Nor does he include “Knowing and seeing how things are”. And he does not include “gods, Maras and divinities”. If these omissions represent a generalised approach to the suttas then his selective interpretation is not complete, and when he talks of going back to the Buddha himself “LET’S GO BACK to the beginning .... the Buddha himself” [Stephen's BwB 14.2], he is not going back to the totality of what the Buddha Taught (represented here by the first discourse). Rereading only confirms what zandtao describes above.

Let there be clarity on selective interpretation. When we write discuss or even just quote (from the suttas or any text), we choose and then we interpret. These selective interpretations can be close or far from the content and intention of the original but they will always be selective. When zandtao was being selective above, he was choosing and interpreting but zandtao’s intention was to summarise yet include all that the Buddha taught in the discourse. His selection includes teachings that are not part of Stephen’s summary. At first glance these differences appear significant to zandtao. It does bring into question the completeness of Stephen’s summary of the discourse.

“DESPITE THE BUDDHA’S own succinct account of his awakening, it has come to be represented (even by Buddhists) as something quite different. Awakening has become a mystical experience, a moment of transcendent revelation of the Truth” [Stephen's BwB 14.6 ]. The succinct account of his awakening, perhaps the best that history bequeaths us given the history of sutt/ras, is the first discourse of “Setting Rolling the Wheel of Truth”. From this point on it appears that Stephen’s understanding of this succinct account is his selective interpretation of focussing on the 4NT. Is Stephen correct in how awakening has come to be represented, as he says “Awakening has become a mystical experience, a moment of transcendent revelation of the Truth”? At this point Stephen offers this as a reason “Religious interpretations invariably reduce complexity to uniformity while elevating matter-of-factness to holiness”, and later attributes it to institutionalism. For zandtao this leap to mysticism and transcendence can also be linked to the aspects of the first discourse which Stephen has selectively interpreted to ignore. Zandtao has great sympathies with Stephen’s focus on the practice of the 4NT but questions whether what has been ignored is significant teaching. At this point Stephen focusses on his own application of the 4NT, and zandtao accepts that for the moment; the legitimacy of omitted teaching will be discussed later.


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