Warning!! Remember the Diamond sutra Warning!!.

Prajna Z-Quest on a Secular Path

A Secular Path?

Ch6 - Becoming Conscious

Stephen describes awakening through 4NT practice and metaphysics, in the last chapter zandtao developed a similar approach with:-

Awakening through MwB practice
Awakening through being conscious of following the path of wisdom and tathata
Metaphysics of avyakata - not being studied

Zandtao follows his path as can be seen through the 3-memes:-

His MwB practice does the best he can to prepare the 3 viharas, and with his faith in the path zandtao continues z-quests into his unknown seeking to become conscious of the path of wisdom and tathata.

“ANGUISH EMERGES FROM craving for life to be other than it is” [Stephen's BwB 24.9], for zandtao it would be dukkha not to consider the first 2 stages of awakening above; equally it would be dukkha to study the avyakata with a view to finding conclusions. The way life is is for zandtao to become aware of wisdom and tathata – “knowing and seeing the way things are” (from the first discourse).

[In the reviewing process zandtao became uncomfortable with leaving the above having love absent from the approach. By the end of this z-quest love is recognised as an important part of the approach, but for zandtao it feels wrong to leave this without noting this later development. Zandtao's approach to awakening includes

Awakening through being conscious of following the path of love-wisdom and tathata

"The way life is is for zandtao to become aware of love-wisdom and tathata – “feeling, knowing and seeing the way things are”"

Zandtao asks the seeker to be aware that these changes are developed within this z-quest on the secular path?.]

“In the face of a changing world, such craving seeks consolation in something permanent and reliable, in a self that is in control of things, in a God who is in charge of destiny” [Stephen's BwB 24.10 ]. This is description of the 3 characteristics of Buddhism – anicca (nothing is permanent), anatta (no-self) and dukkha (anguish from the craving); in addition Stephen has added a God who is in charge of destiny. Zandtao likes this addition because it indicates the importance of autonomy – becoming conscious of the path and directing that path; a seeker needs agency. For zandtao this does not preclude the upadana of God unless that belief takes away agency as Stephen has described “in a God who is in charge of destiny”. This autonomy also brings into question practice in monasteries, perhaps the Vinaya has guidance on this autonomy?

This again brings into considerations a theme that is arising in this z-quest – the need for autonomy for awakening to happen. As discussed throughout Viveka-zandtao, zandtao’s path has been centred in solitude. The teachings he has studied have usually arisen from institutions, but his awakening has arisen from his autonomy - usually in solitude. In upheaval there was not even awareness of the institution of Buddhism and all its teachings, and until retirement further awakenings were connected with creative writing or on occasions nature. Since retirement there has been a strong institutional input especially through the teachings of Buddhadasa. [The way Buddhadasa is part of the Buddhist institution requires examination as he often speaks of "No religion"]. Through those studies there arose insight in zandtao, but it was the study and meditation – not the institution – that gave rise to that wisdom. Personalising the study, grappling using his own mindfulness, gave rise to these wisdom moments. For zandtao what guided that study arose in meditation or through a z-quest, the teachings were central and integral to any insight but the guide was his own autonomy.

Therefore the autonomy of the inner guide is essential to zandtao’s path – a personal truth. Do all seekers need that inner guide – that autonomy? For zandtao the answer is yes, but how can he speak for others? Crossing the threshold of prajna for zandtao was the threshold of autonomy, the threshold his quest for the unknown took him.

Zandtao is not widely-read, what he personally has read is belittled by the scope of people like Stephen; often he is limited by his lack of reading such as the autonomy and Vinaya question above. But reading is not awakening, it might not even be awareness if the reading has not been engaged by mindfulness. Awakening is not correlated with the breadth of reading, there will be a greater correlation with depth of reading (of quality texts) but that greater correlation is far from 100%. But when an individual seeker is 100% dedicated to her/his autonomous path such correlation increases if there is appropriate practice.

This is leading to questions about Gurus. For zandtaomed a key practice of the elder is to develop autonomy. Whilst there are times when following can facilitate development (eg directing texts to be studied), it is autonomy that leads to the path developing. If not why aren’t all the widely-read Buddhist scholars in academic institutions throughout the world not awakened? Some of those scholars have their own autonomy so autonomy is not enough, MwB seekers need the 5 Dhamma comrades (other practices their own requirements) and attachments released together with that autonomy. Can autonomy be given? For zandtao the answer is no, but then some teachers practice transmission and zandtao does not know about that so cannot comment. What is definitely the case, for zandtaomed’s practice the seeker needs autonomy. Does that produce awakening? He cannot answer for other seekers, but he does say that his own awakenings have arisen out of autonomy. Can he ever answer the question as to whether seekers need autonomy for awakening? For zandtaomed it is part of his methodology.

With autonomy taking on this importance then it needs to be investigated. What is autonomy? How does it arise? What is its connection to self? Autonomy is the faith, the magnetism that attracts the seeker to follow the path. It arises from the nature of path - or Dhamma’s nature – and its need to reconnect with itself. As we experience the path and we learn of its nature and import, then we develop faith in the path and become motivated to follow the path. Autonomy is integral to the 3rd of the 3-memes – “have faith in the path”.

The path’s autonomy that we experience is not self but that does not mean that self cannot arise connected with autonomy especially as autonomy starts to question guru methodologies and the like. In a seeker the quest is powerful, the need to find and follow the path is powerful. When that need meets an individual teacher there can be a clash as the teacher quite rightly advises the release of egos. But the need to find and follow the path arises from the path itself and is not a self or ego arising from seeker’s attachments and conditioning. It is wisdom that can discern autonomy from self, and initially a seeker might have to consciously release their own ego in order to learn from an adviser or teacher. But the seeker must also use their wisdom to hold onto their autonomy, their own aspect or experience of the path’s need to find itself – their own faith in the path. That faith as recognised through wisdom starts with the path, uses the wisdom of the path to discern what is path and ego, and at the same time guides the seeker to increased engagement with the path using the consciousness of released egos to follow the path. Autonomy is not ego, but we need wisdom to ensure that our faith in the path is not influenced by egoic attachment.

This is interesting. “Awakening is the purpose that enfolds all purposes. Whatever we do is meaningful to the extent that it leads to awakening, meaningless to the extent that it leads away from it” [Stephen's BwB 24.14]. If zandtao accepts this, it has implications for secular zandtaomed; how can his advice have meaning if the seeker is not seeking awakening ie other religions?

It feels like the unnecessary application of the Stephen scythe – drastic – awakening only. From the time of upheaval zandtao (as bill then zandtaomed) has sought to follow the path to varying extents, and as he has followed the path his understanding of path increases but as yet that path is not the path of 100%-awakening; it would best be described as a path towards awakening. His path is doing the best he can to be the best he can be, this is not an absolute of awakening (3-memes). It is a cycle of reinforcement. Doing his best improves his potential as the best he can be, and this then asks of him to do his best to improve. It is not the absolute because the absolute creates frustration – and can lead to giving up. The goal of his path is ongoing improvement.

So how does he know he is improving? Because of the method he uses – MwB (no reason it could not be 4NT). MwB has the 4 tetrads, perfecting the vihara of the 1st 3, and then reconnecting with Dhamma. But zandtao surmises Buddhadasa’s purpose would have to have been 100%-awakening – Nibbana, so is zandtao’s purpose 100%-awakening? No. Because Buddhadasa’s MwB does not say you have failed if you have not awakened 100%. MwB as a method has ongoing changes, the seeker makes improvements, and maybe at some stage the seeker would say that the method has to lead to 100%-awakening. But before that the seeker is following their path, doing the best they can, and improving; improving is sufficient for the path.

How does this fit with Stephen’s scythe of awakening? “Awakening is the purpose that enfolds all purposes”, but for the individual seeker that purpose does not have to be conscious. That purpose can be improvement in line with MwB – 4 foundations of mindfulness. Following the path brings improvement with awakenings as insight and wisdom moments but it does not require the conscious goal of 100%-awakenings. What is meaningful is whether there is improvement or not.

“Dharma practice is the process of awakening itself: the thoughts, words, and deeds that weave the unfolding fabric of experience into a coherent whole” [Stephen's BwB 24.14]. Dhamma practice by its nature leads to awakening eg the 4NT of the Buddha or Buddhadasa’s version of the teachings as MwB; so it is true for Stephen to say it is the process of awakening itself. But this is an absolute, and opens itself up to an interpretation of failure. Zandtaomed describes his Dhamma practice as “doing the best you can to be the best you can be”, the practice is ongoing and not goal-directed. In the end presumably it would lead to 100%-awakening because that is where Buddhadasa’s interpretation of the Buddha’s teachings would lead. In some senses, the fact that it is not consciously about awakening is not important because the practice is doing the best – and that is 100%. But avoid complacency.

It is a Dhamma practice because it leads to an integrated whole – integrating the 4 foundations of mindfulness for example. And a 100%-integrated whole would presumably be awakening. But for zandtao following the Dhamma practice does not initially require the objective of 100%-awakening. This would be a beat-up-seeker goal. Complete integration would be a similar beat-up-seeker goal. Why zandtao uses “do the best you can to be the best you can be” is that “doing the best you can” is immediately realisable. “To be the best you can be” has the potential for change. When you keep doing your best, what you can be changes; you can make improvements. But are those improvements about 100%-awakening? How can they be because you do not know what 100%-awakening is? You rely on the Dhamma practice being designed for eventual 100%-awakening, and that within that practice sufficient glimpses illuminate the next step and presumably the ultimate goal.

It is not constructive to describe it as a 100%-absolute to be achieved – now?, because in so doing failure is introduced. This is an intellectual scythe of dichotomy – all or nothing. Buddhism is gentle not harsh. Attachments are released gently, concentration gently controls the mind. The middle way between the ascetic and indulgent is a gentle path of release, and for zandtao that means a gentle gradual path of improvement that will produce short-term awakenings, insights and wisdom-moments. Maybe in the long term that will be 100%-awakening; zandtao assumes that is true and offers it as a likely truth based on the Buddha and Buddhadasa. However Dhamma practice is gentle not based on a beat-up absolute.

There are far too many absolutes in the mystical and metaphysical Buddhism, zandtaomed’s advice leads to a gentle path of gradual awakening. Are there absolute ways? Maybe so, zandtao doesn’t know and doesn’t practice them. Isn’t Zen an absolute way? Zandtaomed avoids these absolute ways, if you want them look elsewhere.

Stephen then talks of a gradual path after the undergrowth of conditioning has been left, a path that has been worn by previous seekers. “What counts is not so much the destination but the resolve to take the next step” [Stephen's BwB 24.16 ]. This fits in with zandtao’s gradual path. But the path includes the quest into the unknown, the path that the Diamond sutra requires greater adherence to your Dhamma practice whilst the seeker moves into the unknown – crosses the threshold of autonomy. Is the destination known? No, but there is the resolve.

Stephen then discusses the path as having different phases, what might be called the inner and outer, and in our daily lives these phases will have different priorities at different times. “COMMITMENT TO THE most worthy purpose is of little value if we lack confidence in our ability to realize it” [Stephen's BwB 24.19]. Where does this confidence come from but the path itself? Confidence is a measure of how close you are to your path, so conversely if you lack confidence then your actions must be questioned in terms of the path.

This issue of confidence is one pathtivist imperative. Given the state of the patriarchy at the moment, in the struggle there will be many times of failure. If we measure our struggle in terms of success in any way, then we will soon become deflated and even alienated. The path brings with it confidence so if we are following our path then there are no confidence issues. At the same time if there is no confidence and we are usually following our paths then this will bring a rightful questioning of our actions. Following our paths as early as possible in our lives is a good way to live – in struggle or otherwise.

Perhaps the most important of the kilesa is delusion. Around us we can recognise greed and hate, and for most people simple recognition is enough to want to end either. Delusion is significant because it enables people to say that society is acceptable – for whatever dubious systemic reason; delusion is the lynchpin of patriarchy. Do we know if we are following our paths? Again the answer is a straightforward yes, but delusion allows sufficient confusion not to be honest with ourselves. Of course the biggest issue that prevents us following our paths is the imposed actions or duties within patriarchy, but when we examine those closely with tathata and without delusion we can find ways around to follow our paths. How these delusions appear to us are manyfold, holding to the path enables a clarity of vision that allows sampajanna through – clear and wise action on the path. It is perhaps useful to know the myriad ways that delusion tries to trick us so that we recognise this tricking for ourselves, but the path is the path and what is to be done has its own sense of truth. The tricks zandtao faces are not the same tricks Stephen faces nor are they the same for any seeker, but if they are not path then they are just the kilesa, delusion. A commitment to dhamma practice develops the tathata that sees through delusion.

Zandtao is concerned with issues that arise from the path and awakening. “We can be aware that even when we gain insight into these things, we rarely behave differently in the future. Despite our overt resolve, we are still creatures of habit” [Stephen's BwB 24.20]. Is Stephen observing this to resolve a change? It is important not to allow this lack of change to happen. Buddhadasa talks of 4 Dhamma Comrades arising – mindfulness/sati, wisdom/panna, concentration/samadhi and sampajanna/wisdom-in-action. [Zandtao uses the term Dhamma comrades from Buddhadasa. Zandtao speaks of 5 Dhamma comrades above as he includes compassion/love/karuna as a 5th Dhamma comrade added to Buddhadasa's 4 - discussed later in this z-quest]. Here zandtao wishes to focus on sampajanna - embodiment, with sampajanna new wisdom means new action. Buddhadasa places sampajanna on the same level as the other more usual meditation outcomes, and by calling them Dhamma comrades he is giving them importance. We can focus on developing sampajanna, the ability to convert wisdom into action.

If there is not sampajanna then questions must arise. Why are we not acting through insight? Giving the answer as habit is not enough because habit is part of conditioning – conditions apply and habitual actions arise. But the path is going beyond conditioning so we want to examine habit and create change, that is the creative aspect of wisdom together with the discipline of sampajanna. The seeker needs to question habit, and if the habit is not a wise decision then wisdom needs to change that habit through sampajanna. Noting that habit occurs is mindful but it is not the path without sampajanna.

With the 2nd aspect of Awakening - “awakening through being conscious of following the path of love-wisdom and tathata”, we need to be conscious of insight, and if that insight does not become part of our daily life we need to apply sampajanna. Applying sampajanna is a conscious process, it doesn’t just happen automatically especially if an insight conflicts with prevailing conditioning – habit. Through our Dhamma practice sampajanna develops, to begin with we might focus on making sampajanna happen, but once we have developed a “wisdom means action” approach sampajanna happens in our lives. Accepting habit, means accepting conditioning, means accepting ego and dukkha. Resolve that when wisdom arises we act with sampajanna if it is required because of habit - prevailing conditioning.

“Self-confidence is not a form of arrogance. It is trust in our capacity to awaken” [Stephen's BwB 24.22 ]. Zandtao talks of faith in the path, does this mean trust in our capacity to awaken? Or is it trust in glimpses of awakening – insight or wisdom-moments? But where does this faith come from? Dhamma practice. It is necessary to develop awareness of the nature of these glimpses and an awareness that these glimpses happen. Buddhadasa describes these glimpses as nibbana-dhatu – nibbana elements, and through these glimpses we build up our path towards awakening.

But we must be conscious of these nibbana-dhatu because given the hostility of the patriarchy these dhatu can pass us by. With the pervasiveness of bill’s upheaval it was not possible to let his firstgrace pass him by, but how many people does nature give these first graces and the people themselves are not conscious of these dhatu? With religion there is a socially acceptable level of discussion of path for that society – institutional acceptance, but beyond that institutional level the path is often mocked and people discussing the path are at best marginalised but more often questioned deeply marked as “different”. This marginalising of the different is a function of patriarchy, through conformity the aims of patriarchy are consolidated. When we experience firstgrace we can be mocked, and rather than embracing it as the beginning of the path it is relegated or sometimes suppressed to memory. This is why “awakening through being conscious of following the path of love-wisdom and tathata” is an important aspect of awakening to develop. We use our Dhamma practice to release attachment but we must become consciously aware of the awakening-dhatus that arise. We must KNOW the glimpses of awakening that arise for all of us.

With integrity (next chapter) Stephen begins to talk of what zandtao calls siladhamma. Sila is a term given to 3 of magga – Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. Sila has been translated as moral integrity, and for zandtao siladhamma is the practice of government that society needs to follow. But siladhamma is also individual, in terms of the 4 NT it focusses on the individual. Siladhamma arises with the path, as the path awakens in us so does siladhamma. Wise actions have sila, sampajanna is putting sila-into-practice.

With love-wisdom and tathata (feeling, knowing and seeing the way things are) the 5 Dhamma Comrades act with siladhamma. But there has to be wisdom present in a patriarchal society where profits are put before people and therefore sila is not a priority. On a daily basis sila is compromised, and we need to be mindful rather than righteous. Given the entrenched kilesa of patriarchy it is not always possible for sila to be practiced and sila can give rise to conflict with the patriarchy; the individual will be lucky not to lose such conflicts.

Whilst Stephen does not talk of patriarchy although he recognises this “That we are isolated, anxious creatures in a hostile world may not be a conscious philosophical view but a gut feeling buried beneath the image of the compassionate and responsible person” [Stephen's BwB 26.3]. With MwB zandtao became conscious of tathata, recognised the hostile world of patriarchy, and through the Seeker Story began to unfold and release the trauma that such a world creates. As part of Dhamma practice, do we not want to make such a gut feeling conscious?

As isolated creatures how do we survive against the patriarchy? Not through successes because they are rare, it is through the conviction of the path that we hold to sila in the adversity. In the grassroots struggle many groups and organisations compromise with this sila thus enabling the patriarchy to focus on the lack of integrity amongst the grassroots. Ironically the patriarchy that enshrines a lack of integrity uses that same integrity to argue against the grassroots, and they win not because of a moral position but because they have the power. There is sufficient power with the path and sila that if we all follow paths then the kilesa of patriarchy will be overcome - pathtivism; unfortunately that is even more of a pipedream than the class-change of socialism when the 99% are supposed to unite.

Kilesa (defilements) – greed, hate and delusion – arise from our conditioning individually, and have become entrenched in the core of patriarchal conditioning. We become conscious that such egos arise and through the siladhamma on our paths overcome these egos thus not acting with defilement. Through the wisdom of siladhamma we know not to act out through kilesa. It is not an intellectual noting of kilesa, but using the 5 Dhamma comrades we become mindful of the kilesa and through our love-wisdom we act with siladhamma; the path directs us not to act harmfully. But there can still be attachment blocking sampajanna and we must become mindful of such attachment and use our sampajanna to act with sila.

It is through our conditioning that we cause harm. From birth we are conditioned, develop selves and self-interest, and then the kilesa that lead us to cause harm to others. Through releasing attachments and following the path – going beyond the conditioning, we build up the sila that prevents us from causing harm. This is not a moral weighing up of intellectual checks and balances, the path is an imperative that is blocked by attachment. Nor is it an adherence to social law although good laws beneficially control the conditioned. Whilst it is a convenient compromise to follow the law, in patriarchy the law favours the 1% and some law practices lack sila. We need wise sampajanna to navigate such situations – such social compromises.

“Ethical integrity originates in empathy, for then we take the well-being of others to heart and are moved to be generous and caring” [Stephen's BwB 26.7 ]. Ethical integrity as siladhamma originates with the path, our integrity is a measure of how close we are to the path. A sound Dhamma practice is the building of the 4 brahma-viharas – compassion – karuna, loving-kindness – metta, empathy – mudita, and equanimity – upekkha. Zandtaomed’s MwB practice develops these in stage 9; zandtaomed advises the development of these 4 brahma-viharas. Siladhamma comes from the path but the 4 brahma-viharas gives it a helping hand. As part of our Dhamma practice we can build up the wisdom and sampajanna that enables our “Ethical intelligence … (to be) cultivated by learning from concrete mistakes” [Stephen's BwB 26.9 ].

Zandtao embraces the 2nd aspect of awakening becoming conscious of the path and its attributes. For Stephen his focus is on awakening through dharma practice – the 1st aspect ( 3 "bulletted" aspects at beginning of this chapter 6). His discussions of sila are concerned with detailed examination of characteristics in play, it appears that he does not rely on path; does he have Dhamma comrades to develop - wisdom and sampajanna? It is good to have both practice and love-wisdom especially if moral actions contain difficult dilemmas – to have the path overview as well as the detailed analysis of the human factors of daily life.

Here is where there is strong agreement – “Ethical integrity is not moral certainty” [Stephen's BwB 26.14]. Siladhamma is not concerned with rules and laws; whilst each situation cannot arise through reinventing a siladhamma wheel every time it is not rules that decide a wise and moral outcome.

“A friend asks our advice about a tricky moral choice .... we say something that we did not know we knew. Such gestures and words spring from body and tongue with shocking spontaneity .... Compassion has dissolved the stranglehold of self. And we taste, for a few exhilarating seconds, the creative freedom of awakening” [Stephen's BwB 26.16]. Initially zandtao could not recall this type of creative freedom of awakening before, because he had not seen it in terms of a moral discussion. There have been a number of Dhamma conversations in which feeding off each other has led to creative expression whether as a moral insight or just insight generally. Specifically he recalls this being more through chance meetings when travelling, but Dhamma conversations generally can lead to insight – developing wisdom. Dhamma conversation can be a good source of insight, and such awakenings need to be recognised.

Stephen’s next chapter is titled friendship but for zandtao it is not so much about friendship as concerned with the best way for a seeker to develop their own autonomy to follow their own path. But is there some form of avoidance as it is actually about teaching - teaching as friendship.

So we enter the world of teaching methodology, and because teaching is in the field of intellect there is all kinds of confusion. No matter what all kinds of academic job-creators describe, teaching is concerned with what works for the student – in this case the seeker. Before this z-quest zandtao would have said that the seeker needs to learn how to follow their own path. Based on the first discourse that objective would have been influenced by awakening, but finally the objective is neither and both – love it, Buddhist paradox.

What has changed all this is the realisation during this z-quest that awakenings arise from autonomy, awakenings cannot be taught. That kind of changes the whole ballpark of methodology of awakening.

Interestingly zandtao’s 1st awakening (firstgrace) involved no teaching or learning, it was that his natural conditioning had failed and he had such low self-esteem that there was no self blocking the path. From that moment on he did maintain some closeness to the path, did look at some spiritual teachings, but bill’s life was a 2nd childhood of further conditioning including overcoming alcohol addiction. Through the creative process there were some awakenings with Wai Zandtao as a writer, but for maybe 30 years there was limited learning, limited interaction with books, and limited progress on the path.

After 25 years bill started to look inward in a mid-life review leading to a conversion to Theravada Buddhism at Wat Phra Keau. This meant meditation and some teaching from Harnham Buddhist monastery. On reflection Buddhism was very important in the years between his conversion and retirement, it was a period when there was some meditation and studying yet limited awakening but of course bill was working and teaching took dedication.

On retirement he had limited teaching but because of the increased dedication to the path there were more awakenings. What he learned was directed by his “inner guide”. In terms of awakening zandtao went to another level when he became more dedicated to the path leading to his centring summer in 2019. And insight and wisdom has progressed since then leading to Prajna where he crossed what he has termed a threshold of autonomy. When his personal history is looked at in this way the key factor is autonomy, but he is not foolish enough to think that is all that matters. But he questions whether there would be the awakenings without his autonomy.

So where does this leave the teachings – the dhamma? Even that is not straightforward. How does a seeker learn what is in the dhamma teachings – how does a seeker get to understand what is needed to be understood of the Dhamma?

And this question needs to go hand-in-hand with dhamma practice? We need to understand what the purpose of the dhamma practice is – what the purpose of Dhamma practice is. The one cyclically enforces the other, what we understand of the dhamma helps the seeker with their practice that then helps the seeker develop understanding - bhavana. Equally we could have said - what we learn in the dhamma practice helps the seeker understand and with that understanding that then helps the seeker develop their practice – bhavana helping practice.

But what does understanding mean? Look at the discussions in this z-quest alone concerning the first discourse (App B ). Stephen and I have an understanding of practice that appears very close to zandtao, yet we have very different interpretations of this sutta. Where does understanding come from? At an instant new facts or information or a previously not read sut(t/r)a are taken in by sankhara-khandha and held in the mind of sankhara, then mindfulness grapples with this new sankhara-event and produces some understanding. What leads to that understanding? Firstly mindfulness. Secondly the prior wisdom held by the seeker and whether the new sankhara-event is connected to, and then adds to, existing wisdom. Can the seeker hold sufficient focus on the new sankhara-event for the mindfulness to successfully grapple? In education this process is described as internalising understanding. And finally this understanding must be put into practice for it to have meaning – sampajanna. And for understanding we have the Dhamma comrades leading to the internalising of understanding and putting it into practice in daily life – to complete an understanding and practice cycle. Where do the Dhamma comrades come from? For zandtao, meditation; maybe they arise in different situations for other seekers.

If we study the dhamma teachings do we have understanding? Can this understanding, this gaining of wisdom, come from a teacher? No, it comes from the seekers own use of the Dhamma comrades.

For zandtao autonomy and the Dhamma comrades are connected. Through his dhamma practice zandtao developed from within the Dhamma comrades, an inner guide that gave him his autonomy and direction. This inner guide also arises from the path by whose nature wants to reconnect with itself, it is the nature of Dhamma or consciousness or sunnata to reconnect with itself. Following the path gives the autonomy and direction for reconnecting with the path.

From a teaching point-of-view the objective is for the seeker to develop autonomy, love-wisdom, which can arise from the Dhamma comrades, and the path needing to reconnect with itself, the natural desire for awakening. Can the teacher instill this?

So for the teacher we have to ask - are they trying to develop autonomy and understanding? And for the seeker we ask - are you developing autonomy and understanding? Are you experiencing awakenings?

But before we can consider whether a seeker can develop autonomy, understanding and awakenings, we need to know that the teacher has some form of autonomy, understanding and awakening themselves; these are the characteristics of a good teacher on the path.

Such a teacher is of course the Buddha. The Buddha gave us the dhamma teachings of the Pali Canon and according to Stephen said this was enough. Basically this means that studying and appropriately learning from the Pali Canon can lead to autonomy and understanding and eventually full awakening. Following Buddhadasa - slave to the Buddha, zandtao readily accepts what Stephen says about the Buddha and the Pali Canon here.

So we have the teaching situation clearly defined. We have objectives – in zandtao's approach the 3 objectives autonomy, love-wisdom and awakening, and we have the seeker and teacher who possesses these 3 to some extent. And we have the teachings of Gautama Buddha in the Pali Canon that the Buddha said was sufficient – zandtao will address non-Theravada teachings later.

Now let us consider the seeker. At some point the seeker decides to seek, and this itself requires a level of awareness not shown by most people. This is the path seeking itself and emerging from within the seeker. It is important to understand that previously the seeker has been blocked, and where these blocks have come from? Conditioning and the miseducation of kilesa conditioning, of patriarchy. The conditioning creates attachments that block the seeker, but fortunately for those seeking the path has emerged to some extent and the seeker seeks. It is important to understand that seekers are blocked from learning and awakening by attachments, because it appears to zandtao that this understanding is what has created the teaching methodologies emphasising the release of egos within Buddhism.

Whatever our teaching objectives we must start from where the seeker is at. Historically teachers within Buddhist institutions have said that seekers are too full of ego, so the first thing a seeker must do is release attachments. This, or similar, has given rise to the different teaching methodologies within Buddhism, the priority teaching strategy is to release egoic attachments. Hence we have Gurus and other ego-defeating approaches often involving severe self-denial (almost ascetic) in the hope that anatta will arise.

And we need to start with “ego-defeating” because that is where the seeker is at, yet we need to be conscious of the objectives - for zandtao autonomy, love-wisdom and awakening - as opposed to just releasing attachments. Monasteries have been established using the Vinaya that the Buddha gave us. But let us also be conscious of two other things the Buddha gave us. Firstly the Buddha spoke of the Middle Way, in the Vinaya the Buddha was establishing institutions of the Middle Way. A monastery is a place of retreat from the indulgence of daily life, but are they meant to be places of ascetic discipline? Zandtao’s own limited experience of monasteries has indicated that the lifestyle is not indulgent but nor is it ascetic.

Is this also true of the teaching methodology? Is there an ascetic approach to the ego-defeating – the release of attachments?

The Buddha also gave us the notion of Kalyana Mitta – this is the wise friend who follows the path. Although Stephen did not speak of Kalyana Mitta (as he refused to talk Pali in this book), zandtao assumes this is where friendship came from. The teacher is a wise friend advising the seeker – kalyana mitta.

So we now have the full teaching situation. We have objectives, and the teacher who possesses these objectives to some extent, follows the Middle way, and acts as kalyana mitta. The seeker has emerged from the world of conditioning and miseducation with a notion - vague or otherwise, that there is something to seek as the path tries to find itself. And we have the teachings of Gautama Buddha in the Pali Canon that the Buddha said was sufficient.

It would appear that the Guru approach has the benefit of removing attachment but does it produce autonomy and wisdom? There can be transmission but zandtao does not know what that is. Does transmission give autonomy, wisdom and awakening? That is for those teachers to decide.

In the Theravada monasteries zandtao has seen that the focus of the teachings is the conveying of the Pali Canon, after all the Buddha said that was enough. But is the objective the knowing of the Pali Canon? Is all of the Pali Canon required? In the first discourse the Buddha taught that awakening arose from the 4NT, all of the Pali Canon is not about the 4 NT alone. Will understanding of the Pali Canon bring autonomy, wisdom and awakening? Zandtao thinks so because that is what the Buddha said, and the Buddha is the only fully-awakened being zandtao knows of. (Please note that zandtao does not know of the other great religious teachers such as Jesus Christ nor does he know of the teachings of Islam, nor does he know the myriad other awakened people in history.)

Is zandtao being too sweeping when he asks Theravada if there is too much emphasis on knowing the Pali Canon? For Theravada is zandtao correct in asking whether there is a need for autonomy and wisdom before awakening? Is the focus too much on releasing attachment, is it too ascetic or is there a Middle teaching way? Questions only, it is for the autonomy, wisdom and awakening of the teachers themselves to decide.

Zandtao wants to briefly look at Mahayana. Wise people have chosen to develop the Pali Canon with their own wisdom and experience. Whilst zandtao understands that the Buddha said the Pali Canon was enough, maybe such developments can be beneficial, it is not for zandtao to judge but for the people who deliver and follow those teachings to decide. But in terms of the teaching situation zandtao has the right to ask, are the teachers trying to develop autonomy, wisdom and awakening? Are the additional works of wisdom geared towards this? Or have those works become ends in themselves? Does Vajrayana teach the dharma teachings of Vajrayana? Does Mahayana teach the dharma teachings of Mahayana? Or do they teach autonomy, wisdom and awakening? Is it the same as with Theravada? Has the emphasis changed to dhamma teaching and the discipline of releasing attachment at the expense of autonomy and wisdom and therefore awakening?

Were there not reasons that the Buddha chose to be a kalyana mitta? From the Mitta sutta, here are the 7 qualities of a kalyana mitta – “Monks, a friend endowed with seven qualities is worth associating with. Which seven? He gives what is hard to give. He does what is hard to do. He endures what is hard to endure. He reveals his secrets to you. He keeps your secrets. When misfortunes strike, he doesn’t abandon you. When you’re down & out, he doesn’t look down on you. A friend endowed with these seven qualities is worth associating with.” Would such a friend encourage autonomy, wisdom and awakening?

One recurring image of the Buddha is his delivering of wise talks and people listening. Yet the Buddha has spoken of being kalyana mitta. Dishing out wise sermons are not the personal acts of friendship such as in the 7 qualities just described. Whilst he gave talks, he saw himself as kalyana mitta. Are there indications in this for understanding an appropriate pedagogy for the path? Zandtao proposes the path learning as being autonomy, wisdom and awakening, when you examine the 7 qualities of a kalyana mitta then you can see advice for the seeker following their path.

To zandtao a sermon is a book, books can contain wisdom but their value is limited in terms of the path. To be honest the greatest value of books and talks is to replace the lack of available kalyana mittas. Yet by the very nature of the path there are always seekers who can advise, always seekers who are that bit further along the path that their advice has meaning for the seeker. Kalyana mitta as advisor is a natural way of learning when the input is not factual - factual is when a talk or book would suffice.

However institutionally in daily life our teaching is not geared to the individual. In schools a teacher looks after a class, and even though better teachers attempt personal interactions for learning – advising - the institutional demands of education are not concerned with personal development but the needs of patriarchy and exam success. At universities there are tutorial systems along with lectures, do they advocate the kalyana mitta process? But worst of all is that students are not seekers, they often lack motivation and for most students there is an acceptance that education is to provide for the needs of patriarchy.

When we examine the teaching situation for the path, how much do the participants accept this conditioning? In Theravada Buddhism there is the Vinaya and the sermon – dhamma talk, but there is also abbot tutelage – the abbot and the monk. Zandtao has no personal experience to evaluate such tutelage but can see that such tutelage could be kalyana mitta.

But what happens with all the other seekers associated with the monastery? They are encouraged to associate with the monastery. Harnham was Theravada Buddhist Central for Northern England – nothing wrong with that. As far as zandtao was aware various groups sprung up in the north where seekers met and fostered their Buddhism.

But for most of the seekers connected with this institutional association there was little that was path and awakening. Why? Because of the institution and the institutional needs of those associated with the monastery – a Theravada Buddhist community.

But what about path-seekers? What happened to them? They were expected to fit into this community, no pressure it was just assumed they would. It was the way things were. Seekers joined in, listened and talked at the groups, went on retreats, met the monks and abbots, talked, attended silent retreats, learned the dhamma teachings. More “advanced seekers” might take orders, and eventually one such “advanced seeker” as monk would be the monk of the abbot tutelage. And maybe monks of abbot tutelage would be working towards autonomy, wisdom and awakening – no judgement, bill just doesn’t know.

When he considers the amount of wisdom and the number of seekers associated with this Buddhist Central, zandtao just sees wasted potential. And this wasted potential could be developed through the kalyana mitta principle. Zandtao has great respect for the abbot, his practice and his dhamma knowledge. But as a human being his tutelage has to be limited by time, it is reasonable to accept that his tutelage be “saved for most advanced monks”.

But the wasted potential is institutional and not concerned with the abbot particularly. Within this Northern England Theravada Buddhist community, there is a spectrum of understanding of the path to awakening – including a spectrum of people outside the North of England, Theravada Buddhist England, and Forest Sangha Central in Thailand. What if the central principle of Harnham’s approach was kalyana mitta that could include the "secrets towards awakening" at an appropriate time. What if every contact with the Harnham community was perceived as a seeker and that within that spectrum of Harnham wisdom a kalyana mitta was assigned to the new seeker. This kalyana mitta as a duty would try to help the seeker advance, and yet at the same time report to a more senior kalyana mitta if s/he was unsure about what to advise.

The key to this process is a personal KeY (from KalYana mitta), institutionally a personal friendship is developed with path as objective. The seeker through this KeY friendship becomes a part of the Harnham community. At the same time the seeker is learning through the KeY friend, the spectrum of wisdom at Harnham supports the KeY process, and as the seeker learns so does the KeY friend (perhaps a monk). Within Harnham itself there would be monks advising concerning the advice of the KeY process so that the wisdom gets passed along the spectrum, the natural way – from the “next” person along the spectrum.

This process is a personal friendship throughout. Egos are not necessarily focussed on, because a seeker has egos does not mean that seeker is not seeking. Just because a seeker does not choose the path of removing all egos first does not mean the seeker is not trying to follow their path. Just because contact with egos is uncomfortable (that which is hard to do) does not excuse those on the path of their duty to teach – to advise, to bring seekers along the path. Good teaching is always individualised and starts from where the student or seeker is at. Progress is made by the seeker/student. Such progress cannot be limited because of teacher/KeY expectations; there is more than one way to awakening, develop the wisdom and autonomy so that the individual seeker can find that way.

Zandtaomed has his approach to teaching methodologies as an elder, these are based on limited “teaching” of meditation and years of teaching in secondary school. Does this compare to the experience within monasteries? Of course not. But is there questioning of teaching methodologies in monasteries? Quite simply, is it possible that more seekers could follow their paths if there were revisions of approach? Such institutions are under threat from many quarters but an institutional defensive ego is no answer to legitimate questions. Would the above KeY scheme work at Harnham? Who knows? Could such schemes work within Buddhism? Who knows? Are monasteries doing the best they can in the teaching part of their institution? That is a fair question zandtao is asking – no more.

Stephen's next chapter on friendship led zandtao in considering engagement with the path. Now that he has examined teaching methodology the z-quest can focus on path and that engagement in section 3.


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