Resolving to be more disciplined in holding to his Dhamma practice zandtao continues his z-quest into Stephen's work; if there is discussion of sunnata, for zandtao he now recognises there can be egoic confusion and possible disturbance in daily life - remedied by Dhamma practice.
Before considering compassion with Stephen in his next chapter, let zandtao begin by considering compassion in his own life. Bill’s first awareness of compassion arose with the upheaval, and from this compassion his beginning path chose teaching. Throughout his teaching life there was an adherence to this motivation – a teaching vocation, but in truth in the job there was little compassion because teaching was too dominated by the corporate paradigm – patriarchy.
Before upheaval bill cannot recall a compassionate thought – even a loving thought. His young life was dominated by the nullified state in which path and society’s conditioning towards self-esteem were in conflict cancelling each other out, and his home life that was directed towards middle-class conformity did not alter this nullified state. As soon as upheaval happened and there arose firstgrace – the beginning awakening, compassion came to the fore. Even though he learnt much from the Arts people, he was not drawn into the writer’s life; there had been a clear choice at the time - writing or compassion. At the time bill was not strong enough to start a writer’s life, in retrospect it is not clear whether such a life would have been feasible. Bill’s self-esteem was not strong, only just beginning to trust himself in the short time after upheaval; maybe it was weakness that took him in the way of compassion. Undoubtedly sufficient money was available in compassion’s direction, initially with child care and then with teaching. A joint life of writing and compassion was effectively envisaged, but teaching requires a dedication that destroys the chance of connecting to the Muse. But the biggest obstacle was not envisaged – his alcohol addiction. And by the time he withdrew from that addiction, writing had mostly disappeared.
Whilst the direction that took him into teaching was compassion, it is hard to recall feelings of compassion in the job. But there was romantic love in his personal life, and love and real love have been examined here. Sharon spoke of real love, zandtao spoke of spiritual love, but zandtao feels these terms are synonymous with compassion. For zandtao it was no coincidence in the crossing of the threshold of autonomy and entering the Prajna portal that zandtao started looking at real love. He called it love-wisdom, is compassion not spiritual love without the self of romantic love?
Compassion arises from the path, it is part of awakening. In his first awakening compassion arose, in entering the Prajna portal (the threshold of autonomy) compassion arose. In the way that Dhamma Comrades and autonomy arise when sunnata is touched through Dhamma practice, the same is true of compassion.
Compassion unites us, it is part of interbeing - Dhamma practice. Karuna (compassion) is one of the 4 brahma-viharas and is part of step 9 of zandtao’s Dhamma practice, but it is now clear for zandtao that compassion as arising from sunnata underlies interbeing.
“Dharma practice is the cultivation of a way of life in which such moments are not just left to chance” [Stephen's BwB 38.17]. This comes at the end of the first part of Stephen’s chapter on compassion in which he gave an example where he brought perceptions to a meeting with 3 people and these perceptions limited communication in “such moments”. Zandtao adopts two approaches to this – similar to Stephen’s approaches:-
Mindfulness – 100% judgement-free awareness.
Permanent Enquiry – Four Agreements – Don’t make assumptions.
Prior judgements and perceptions (sanna-khandha) are simply selves – try not to bring them with you. For Stephen his Dharma practice leads to sunnata:- “INSIGHT INTO EMPTINESS and compassion for the world are two sides of the same coin” [Stephen's BwB 38.18]. For zandtao this is the emptiness that is not choosing self by choosing Dhamma practice, from this compassion arises. “Thus it is both the center itself and the central path. Emptiness is the track on which the centered person moves. – Tsongkhapa” [Stephen's BwB 36.1 ]; this is the quote Stephen begins the chapter on emptiness with. Here for zandtao compassion is the first surface on this track, it provides the direction of this central path.
“To experience ourselves and the world as interactive processes rather than aggregates of discrete things undermines both habitual ways of perceiving the world as well as habitual feelings about it” [Stephen's BwB 38.19]. We do not want to consider the world as a collection of separate selves. For zandtao an individual experiencing interactive processes is not however a counter, for zandtao Stephen could be talking about conditioning when he describes "interactive processes". It is important not to see the world as separate selves but to see the world as a collection of dhammas interacting through cause and condition – paticcasamuppada. But we don’t want to be immersed in these causes and conditions. We want to step back from this conditioning and see the world for what it is – the tathata that comes from detachment or equanimity; this can be done through meditation. “Meditative discipline is vital to dharma practice precisely because it leads us beyond the realm of ideas to that of felt-experience” [Stephen's BwB 38.19]. Through meditation we can go beyond the limitations of ideas and clinging to them (ditthupadana) - we are not our thoughts, but we can also go beyond being immersed in causes and conditions. For zandtao that beyond is characterised by the Dhamma Comrades, autonomy and compassion; is that what Stephen means by felt-experience?
Before continuing an examination of compassion, more needs saying about this:- "We do not want to consider the world as a collection of separate selves." What is beyond the interactive processes that lead to separate selves? When we experience compassion there is no separation, there is simply the Unity of spiritual love. It is this Unity of love as consciousness that gives rise to Dhamma comrades, autonomy and compassion however we reconnect to that Unity - for most through meditation. The collection of separate selves is maintained through ongoing conditioning - causes and conditions following the laws of nature - paticcasamuppada. But this serparation occurs within the Unity that is love and compassion, that is the Dhamma comrades, that provides the autonomy. However we go beyond, in some way we reconnect with this Unity, and in that glimpse of reconnection there is no separation. There is reconnection with Source of consciousness, but through conditioning we destroy that reconnection with ego and attachment. Compassion is not solely concerned with the individual, compassion unites, is Unity, and is concerned with consciousness - ending separation.
Where is Stephen going with his individual felt experience - “through meditation into the wordless language of feeling in order to loosen those emotional knots that keep us locked in a spasm of self-preoccupation” [Stephen's BwB 38.19]. Emotional attachment locks us into self-preoccupation – chooses self, we detach through our Dhamma practice – in MwB "mastering vedana-khandha", the mastering that zandtao now sees coming from feeling love and compassion. Through the 4DC (retroactive edit - 5DC including love developed in part 3), we detach from the emotional knots and attached feelings that choose selves - a detachment that feels love as the highest vedana - step 8 of zandtao's MwB practice. Autonomy gained through experiencing the 5DC detaches, is this the feeling Stephen means?
Zandtao mostly agrees with where Stephen is going with compassion, but unfortunately there is still the selective interpretations that are part of his totality of secularisation. So zandtao appears to be nit-picking (perhaps at best repetitive) to draw distinctions about this selectivity. But if he doesn’t make these distinctions there is a risk of confusion when it comes to his own practice and where it differs.
Detachment that goes beyond conditioning is essential; this is a detachment that can observe the dhammas that are part of the flow of causes and conditions whilst participating in that flow without suffering. For compassion there is also a requirement of not being emotionally sucked into the emotion of selves that develop rage, anger and sadness at the state of the world - at the patriarchy. With the 4 brahma-viharas there is the loving kindness of metta, the compassion of karuna, the empathy of mudita , all brought together in our world of defilement with the equanimity of love-wisdom that provides the detachment that enables love in kilesa. This equanimity enables love as being part of that flow of causes and conditions yet freeing us to go beyond so we can experience compassion without suffering. Similarly a “compassionate heart still feels anger, greed, jealousy, and other such emotions. But it accepts them for what they are with equanimity, and cultivates the strength of mind to let them arise and pass without identifying with or acting upon them” [Stephen's BwB 38.21].
“As we are released into the opening left by the absence of self-centered craving, we experience the vulnerability of exposure to the anguish and suffering of the world” [Stephen's BwB 38.20]. Through our childhood conditioning we develop self-esteem, this is nature’s protection. But it is also nature to let go of this self as we mature into adulthood. As we let go of the self, what replaces it is compassion (and the other gifts that arise from sunnata – path, Dhamma comrades, autonomy). But there is a vulnerability that arises from becoming compassionate – especially initially. “Just as a lamp simultaneously generates light and heat, so the central path is illuminated by wisdom and nurtured by compassion” [Stephen's BwB 38.20]. As we begin to follow our paths – letting go of childhood conditioning, compassion is nurtured – replacing self, and there also arises the wisdom that protects from the vulnerabilities that can arise from compassion in an inimical world – the world of patriarchy.
But in Real Love zandtao recognised the increased feelings that can arise from love or spiritual love or compassion, feelings, if without the equanimity arising from love-wisdom, can lead to the dangers of rage esp against the patriarchy. As “lovers” we must learn to live with these loving feelings, both as romantic lovers in daily life and as compassion in the spiritual life. Through tathata we can see that patriarchy is limiting our love – is limiting our compassion, and so equanimity can quite rightly feel love rising. If we repress this love and its feelings through a detachment whose intention is to becalm only, then mcuh right sampajanna is lost - as Stephen (and many others including Buddhadasa) suggest; through becalming only we are limiting the expression of our compassion. This love and its feelings provide juice and power for the direction of compassion; and rather than expressing this power and using it as nature intended, with the best intentions we repress it through becalming for our well-being. (Retroactive edit - this understanding is at the root of part 3).
For seekers developing their path well-being is the first priority, for those on the path nature has given us this strength of love not to be suppressed but expressed. Loving feelings that can arise against defilements conditioning or patriarchy are part of our compassion, and for leaders needs to be acted upon - whilst using the tool of equanimity to use this compassion wisely. Stephen’s book is not addressed to leaders but to seekers. Look at the cavern of compassion left in this world because those with compassion are expected to control their loving feelings so that monks etc can be seen to have calm detachment. Do leaders learn to live with their love and its feelings, using their compassion in decision-making and action? Certainly leaders within institutions are compromised as they have to live with the patriarchy. Leaders need to “cultivate the strength of mind” to live with this strength of love, not to becalm the feelings only, but to use this strength of love to fuel actions of compassion in a state of equanimity. For zandtao this spiritual compromise by suppressing these feelings of compassion is bypassing; part 3 develops love-wisdom balance that overcomes this spiritual compromise.
“THE GREATEST THREAT to compassion is the temptation to succumb to fantasies of moral superiority” [Stephen's BwB 38.24]. If compassion and path awareness (and any related understanding) leads to “narcissistic inflation” (ie narcissism or a narcissist ego), then that is an egoic problem for the person with compassion. Superiority is a comparative issue, and is therefore an intellectual evaluation. Anything connected to the path is sila – moral, and is “measured” objectively just by its moral content; avoid any form of egoic involvement.
When we become aware we take on a natural duty, and that duty is to pass on the awareness. It is not a choice, it is a duty. But at the same time it has to be recognised that change does not come from the person with the awareness but from within the seeker themselves. When we develop wisdom such as compassion, it is our duty to pass it on. If the person we are attempting to advise is not interested, then we have fulfilled our duty and must let it go - equanimity. It would be our own egoic attachment if we attempted more. How the advice is received is up to the other person. This is duty and natural law.
If an advisor develops a following – “endorsed by supporters and admirers”, the issue for the advisor remains the same – avoid egoic attachment. The advice does not belong to the advisor but to nature, it is the way or Dhamma. Any advisor, who has gained wisdom or compassion, has an additional burden in their Dhamma practice – to avoid egoic attachment due to that wisdom. Stephen warns of the dangers of narcissism but does not offer a strategy for advising, nor does he explicitly recognise the duty of passing on awareness.
“COMPASSION IS THE very heart and soul of awakening” [Stephen's BwB 38.27]. This raises the question “What is awakening?” as could it not be said that insight is also within the heart and soul of awakening. (Retroactive edit - it is worth noting that at this stage in the z-quest zandtao's clinging includes an emphasis on insight/wisdom even whilst Stephen is helping him develop a love-wisdom balance). “It (compassion) is glimpsed in those moments when the barrier of self is lifted and individual existence is surrendered to the well-being of existence as a whole” [Stephen's BwB 38.27] - zandtao would not choose the term well-being here for spiritual reasons. This description of glimpse is so clear, as with insight, path and others – touching sunnata; glimpses arise. Compassion is already there but it is blocked by the barrier of self. Interbeing, the well-being of existence as a whole, is already there, but it is blocked by the barrier of self.
“It becomes abundantly clear that we cannot attain awakening for ourselves: we can only participate in the awakening of life” [Stephen's BwB 38.27 ]. This also needs examination. The only awakening that can occur is as an individual, zandtao presumes. Zandtao, no matter how hard his ego might try, cannot make others listen, learn, meditate or any such; it is up to the individual concerned. But zandtao can work towards his own awakening through his own Dhamma practice. Zandtao cannot make others practice. If he cannot make others practice, what does it mean “participate in the awakening of life”?
Each person has their own duty to follow their own path. For an individual that path might include advising, but the person has no control of whether the advice impacts. So beyond advising there is no duty concerning others. However that person still has their own duty of following the path, and that s/he has control of. It is not selfish to focus on your own path because that is all that you have control of. Once the duty of advising has been carried out, there is nothing that can be done for others – other than being available.
Zandtao does not know what is 100% awakening for himself, and does not know what is the meaning of “awakening of life”. But he does know that he has control of his Dhamma practice, and that is his main duty.
And that leaves zandtao open when we look at the next chapter of Fruition that begins with freedom and this from Dogen:-
"The way of the Buddha is to know yourself;
To know yourself is to forget yourself;
To forget yourself is to be awakened by all things." – Dogen Genji Koan.
So it looks as if zandtao is in conflict with Dogen, not that he wants to be. So let’s consider what zandtao said in terms of this koan. His Dhamma practice is not concerned with increasing self, it is concerned with letting go of self. Is that what Dogen means by “forgetting yourself”? What is left when there is no self? Touch sunnata or choose self. Zandtao avoids choosing self, is that Dogen’s “awakened by all things”?
Here Stephen maps out his fruition:-
“the freedom of awakening is a relative freedom from the constraints of self-centered confusion and turmoil, from the craving for a fixed identity, from the compulsion to contrive a perfect situation, from identification with preconceived opinions, and from the anguish that originates in such attachments” [Stephen's BwB 42.4 ]. This is freedom from attachment that zandtao uses in his practice as kilesa, upadanas, and attachment to the 5 khandhas; there are other “Buddhist numbers” such as 5 hindrances – know your attachments and try to release them.
Stephen threw in the word relative and explains it by highlighting the prepositions, in zandtao’s view this is because his secular interpretation does not accept absolutes. With the use of prepositions Stephen can clearly see freedom as relative. Can freedom be absolute? In a recent meditation zandtao had a glimpse of freedom – a powerful glimpse. The glimpse came about because zandtao had been focussing on his Dhamma practice, and this glimpse arose after he had gone through the steps of making the best vihara, and his faith in the path took him into freedom because he was conscious of freedom as part of this z-quest. In terms of the relatives he was to the best of his ability (best vihara) free from khandhas. But his glimpse of freedom went beyond that. There were no relatives, there was just a state of freedom. In this powerful glimpse there was nothing. There were none of the vibrations of the bells and banjoes or the guys so strong with Kirramura, there was just a state of freedom, and in this state there was nothing – just being free; after thought:- zandtao was getting a glimpse of sunnata – nothingness, a complete state of freedom.
Why would Stephen not want to encourage this? And the only thing zandtao can think of is Stephen's notion of institutional tickets. Do institutions push this kind of experience? Zandtao hopes not. This morning in meditation zandtao was being “naughty” and trying to recreate this feeling of freedom, it was so powerful his mind wanted more. In the end meditation told him “follow your Dhamma practice”, and have faith in the path. This was enough. This leads to zandtao questioning institutions as to what tickets they ask of seekers? From their experience (institutional or otherwise) they quite naturally provide a roadmap – an ABCD to success. Natural, it is of course natural to say what has traditionally worked and suggest it might work for others - good nature, good duty, good advice. But what about the seeker’s autonomy? If the seeker is not ready, if the seeker does not understand the advice, how can they learn? What if the seeker’s autonomy is ready but they don’t see the ticket? What if they can see the ticket but it is not what the seeker needs? Learning arises from the seeker’s autonomy – when they are ready, what they are ready for, and when they are motivated.
Institutional methodology is understandable, it arises from an institutional practise of learning – a teacher passing down. When the seeker does not learn, that institution does not criticise their own methodology because in the institution the seekers all accept the traditional methodology quite naturally. There could be many reasons the seeker does not understand and mostly that will be attachment but it could also be autonomy. A seeker must be free to learn.
Stephen’s fruition map continues with his saying that the Buddha was:-
“free to creatively realize its ( the world’s) possibilities unhindered by the cravings that had previously determined his choices, free to imagine an appropriate response to the anguish of others, free to cultivate an authentic path that embraced all aspects of human life, free to form a community of friendships, and free to create a culture of awakening that would survive long after his death.
“And he was free for others” [Stephen's BwB 42.5]. Zandtao noted this as a fruition map because Stephen's fruition chapter headings are freedom, imagination and culture.
“THE FREEDOM OF awakening is grounded in the cessation of craving. Such freedom is possible because the changing, contingent, ambiguous, and creative character of reality is by its very nature free.
We are our own jailers” [Stephen's BwB 42.8].
Freedom of awakening is the cessation of craving – 3rd Noble Truth, what is finalised in step 14 of MwB – quenching dukkha; “by its very nature” sunnata is free. Nothing constrains nothingness – lovely paradox that makes zandtao smile but does it convey much meaning?
Stephen spoke of a breathing exercise to show that we do not control our breath – interesting, leading up to “Repeatedly embracing the dynamic, precarious, and selfless flow of experience gradually erodes this ingrained conviction of our separate existence” [Stephen's BwB 42.17]. It is good to know how others have recognised anatta. “To enhance this further still, it helps to let go not just of attachment to a fixed self but of all views that confine and fix experience” [Stephen's BwB 42.17]. For zandtao this is not choosing self, but notes that attachments to self can have much variation. But what is left is “utterly mysterious”, the mystery of consciousness, the mystery of the path or the mystery of sunnata – Eckhart’s one mystery.
“AS MINDFUL AWARENESS becomes stiller and clearer, experience becomes not only more vivid but simultaneously more baffling. The more deeply we know something in this way, the more deeply we don’t know it” [Stephen's BwB 42.19]. To zandtao this means it cannot be known – a limitation of humans. As we journey towards sunnata (the sun) the more we know and the more there is to be known; this is where we need to hold to our Dhamma practice to avoid the confusion and disturbance that arises in our egos as selves try to know the unknowable. When we focus on our Dhamma practice, through meditation or otherwise we can let go of self and in a meditative state journey towards sunnata – towards the freedom of 100% awakening that can come with 100% not-self?
From this Stephen had pointed out the more we know the more we find out we don’t know (perplexity) leading to “The task of dharma practice is to sustain this perplexity within the context of calm, clear, and centered awareness. Such perplexity is neither frustrated nor merely curious about a specific detail of experience. It is an intense, focused questioning into the totality of what is unfolding at any given moment. It is the engine that drives awareness into the heart of what is unknown” [Stephen's BwB 42.24 ]. This is quest into the unknown.
“Expectations of goals and rewards (such as Enlightenment) are recognized for what they are: last-ditch attempts by the ghostly self to subvert the process to its own ends” [Stephen's BwB 42.26 ]. Wow, that is gutsy about enlightenment, but zandtao can’t disagree - but zandtao can’t agree either. Zandtao never encourages such goals and rewards as enlightenment quite simply because he knows he is not whatever enlightened is. Can there be enlightenment? Zandtao cannot know but zandtao is completely in line with Stephen’s ongoing quest into the unknown, perhaps without his gutsiness.
“REALITY IS INTRINSICALLY free because it is changing, uncertain, contingent, and empty. .... As long as we are locked into the assumption that self and things are unchanging, unambiguous, absolute, opaque, and solid, we will remain correspondingly confined, alienated, numbed, frustrated, and unfree” [Stephen's BwB 42.28]. Are we free or are we conditioned (unfree)? For zandtao the emphasis is on the conditioning – confined by the attachments of self, because this is where most people are at – living within the conditioning of kilesa – of patriarchy. Reality is intrinsically free (sunnata is free) but for most people patriarchal conditioning makes this impossible for most to even glimpse. This is the reality of conditioning that genuine leaders need to face, and zandtao repeatedly asks the question “are our genuine leaders facing their responsibilities with regards to the systemic kilesa of patriarchy?”
Reality "is a dynamic play of relationships. Awakening to this reveals our own intrinsic freedom, for we too are by nature a dynamic play of relationships. An authentic vision of this freedom is the ground of individual freedom and creative autonomy" [Stephen's BwB 42.28]. There are the relationships that can be recognised as conditioning, and there is the intrinsic freedom of awakening that comes from going beyond conditioning through “individual freedom and creative autonomy”.
“Yet in practice, life cannot be so neatly split into the dualities of “free” and “unfree,” “awakened” and “unawakened.” While such categories are clear-cut, life is ambiguous. Freedom can be both recovered and lost again” [Stephen's BwB 42.28]. “This experience, however, is something we recover at specific moments in time" [Stephen's BwB 42.28] through glimpsing.
“dharma practice has two objectives: to let go of self-centered craving so that our lives become gradually more awake; and to be receptive to the sudden eruption of awakening into our lives at any moment. Awakening is both a linear process of freedom that is cultivated over time and an ever present possibility of freedom” [Stephen's BwB 42.31]. Look at the 3 prongs:-
Isn’t this quote ([Stephen's BwB 42.31]) the first 2 prongs in terms of awakening rather than freedom? We need to be receptive of awakening – “being conscious of following the path of love-wisdom and tathata”. Zandtao likes the agreement but throughout this z-quest has felt the need to recognise that there be 2 awakenings. Is there an inconsistency in Stephen .... or has zandtao misunderstood?
This is Stephen’s roadmap:-
““free to creatively realize its ( the world’s) possibilities unhindered by the cravings that had previously determined his choices, free to imagine an appropriate response to the anguish of others, free to cultivate an authentic path that embraced all aspects of human life, free to form a community of friendships, and free to create a culture of awakening that would survive long after his death.
“And he was free for others” [Stephen's BwB 42.5].
And his next chapter is imagination. In this chapter Stephen waxes lyrically about imagination, and zandtao found it difficult to come to terms with it – mainly would something slip by because of waxing lyrically?
Sunnata is infinite in all dimensions. What does this convey? Nothing because we cannot possibly comprehend the infinite in all dimensions. Is sunnata infinite in all dimensions? Zandtao doesn’t know, couldn’t possibly know, but feels that it is quite likely an accurate description – a meaningless accurate description. In sunnata there is infinite freedom, might this be true? But does it say anything of meaning? The problem is concerning imagination but it is more concerned with meaning given the infinite possibilities.
What does zandtao want to convey about freedom? How to get there, how to be free. So how do we get there – awakening through Dhamma practice, and awakening through being conscious of the path - recognising freedom. How do we describe this? Through such lyrical waxing of imagination like Stephen, or pertinent descriptions of practice?
Perhaps the most significant description is that of glimpses for these glimpses are the carrots – the recognition of freedom, sunnata, path, wisdom or whatever. These glimpses are alien to the world of conditioning, are often mocked within that world, and yet are key to the path – key recognitions in the Dhamma practice.
And yet within possible imaginations, do these recognitions take us into "universes" such as Dr. Stephen Strange?
For zandtao the path is concerned with wonder and splendour, the fruits of the path are in themselves joyous and yet can be recognised as carrots – motivation for the next step. Do we want an overactive imagination that aggrandises mini-steps without providing sufficient impetus for meaningful advances if such can be recognised? We want a language that can accurately describe yet by its very nature language cannot describe the path. A lyrical imagination might describe the path or it might describe .... the limits of imagination?
For zandtao following the path is our best purpose in life with the greatest joys. If we glimpse freedom, we can see the nothingness that rewards such purpose. Does this description mean anything? Perhaps it would for a zandtao-clone, but do seekers experience the path the same way? Zandtao describes the path as the best purpose but suggests that people watch these Ascension seekers (zandtao makes no judgements as to Ascension and the path, but it is not his path) – these seekers convey something of the wonder of the path. We can feel their glee but we cannot know the joy unless we have experienced that joy. Language, not imagination, cannot express it.
And mixed in with all this is that imagination is a tool of creativity, and creativity is an expression of path. For Wai Zandtao his scifi books have a sense of meaning, are creative, and yet don’t start out to be real. They are stories he wrote at different times in his life for various reasons. Are they about the path? Of course in some ways. But they are not Dhamma practice, that is what zandtaomed describes. As for zandtao’s journey into the Prajna portal, those are his z-quests and reflections on his quest into the unknown – his journey towards sunnata – his contribution to the evolution of consciousness. Apart from the imagination of his scifi as Wai Zandtao, zandtao's writings are descriptions without indulging imagination ....
It feels as if zandtao has not grasped something concerning Stephen’s imagination?
“FREEDOM ENTAILS RESPONSIBILITY. Freedom from self-centered craving is freedom to creatively realize the possibilities of the world for others” [Stephen's BwB 44.6]. The path entails responsibility, there is a duty to pass on within the limits of tolerance, respect and individual freedom; the path cannot be imposed. What we might “create” for others cannot be imposed, it is for their autonomy to decide. “Face to face with the world, we struggle to find concepts, images, ideas through which to express the awesome inexpressibility of reality in authentic speech and acts” [Stephen's BwB 44.6], but it is the seeker’s autonomy that makes sense of this reality however it is expressed.
“As an experience of freedom, awakening does not provide us with a set of ready-made ideas or images - let alone philosophical or religious doctrines. By its very nature it is free from the constraints of preconceived ideas, images, and doctrines ....”
“Ideas and words emerge through the very process of expressing them to an actual or implied audience. .... the authenticity of our own vision and compassion in that moment ....” [Stephen's BwB 44.8]. Zandtao when blogging has described this as putting the flesh on the bones of insight. What ends up being written is zandtao’s attempt to express his experience (except as Wai Zandtao where there is "creative license"), and that expression has one purpose – to convey a description or meaning. In general zandtao supports Buddhadasa’s contention that there is a sankhara-proliferation of Buddhist writings, and in that proliferation zandtao feels there is confusion. Yet zandtao has much output. This is to convey his experience, and hopefully if there is recognition through that experience the seeker can learn.
Does Stephen seek to motivate through imagination? In line with the sankhara-proliferation notion zandtao hopes not, a seeker’s autonomy must seek. It cannot be a school where pupils are forced to be there and teachers are expected to provide motivation. If the path is not motivation, how much is the person a seeker?
“The art of dharma practice requires commitment, technical accomplishment, and imagination. As with all arts, we will fail to realize its full potential if any of these three is lacking. The raw material of dharma practice is ourself and our world, which are to be understood and transformed according to the vision and values of the dharma itself. This is not a process of self- or world-transcendence, but one of self- and world -creation” [Stephen's BwB 44.11]. Zandtao included this quote because there is transcendence as part of awakening. Zandtao’s Dhamma practice, whilst hopefully including commitment and some technical accomplishment of the Dhamma Comrades, sees technical accomplishment arising through the discipline and practice of meditation itself. Hopefully through his Dhamma practice zandtaomed reconnects with Dhamma giving rise to the gifts of the Dhamma such as the Dhamma comrades, tathata and autonomy to help with the journey towards sunnata. Hopefully through that same Dhamma practice zandtaomed has the abilities to build the best vihara, and through releasing attachments of kilesa and upadana and attachments to the khandhas zandtaomed has sufficient faith to follow the path – the 4 tetrads of MwB. As zandtaomed’s practice develops, hopefully he releases sufficient attachments so that he can transcend – go beyond the world of conditioning. Through understanding our selves and our world – love-wisdom and tathata, we can transcend that world of conditioning, and become free to follow our paths.
Is there an art to Dhamma practice? For zandtao there is. In his writing Wai Zandtao touches the Muse, in Dhamma practice zandtao hopefully reconnects with the Dhamma. As Wai Zandtao the Muse’s suggested story-line is fleshed out with the words of Wai Zandtao, in Dhamma practice there is the art of reconnection but that arises from the faith that comes through the release of attachments – building the best vihara. Is this imagination? For zandtao some could describe it as imagination, but he prefers a description of reconnecting – recognising the Dhamma as source. Is Stephen using the word imagination rather than a phrase such as reconnecting to the Dhamma – the Muse? Is human imagination the source? Is source reconnecting through human imagination? This asks many questions in terms of the nature of what is imagined. In terms of the path aren’t we trying to convey the path and as such isn’t there a need for connection? Imagination as fantasy can have no connection to Dhamma practise, can’t it simply be some aspect of sankhara-khandha? Imagination without connection? Imagination within the world of conditioning rather than experiencing transcendence. Is it Dhamma practice if there is no connection – or at least no intention of connection? Troubling! Raises the question again, is Stephen contriving a secular situation? Or is zandtao resisting? But if Stephen accepts sunnata, what is gained by contriving imagination? Why dismiss transcendence? What does Stephen have against beyond conditioning?
However for this next bit zandtao gets you need imagination. Unity. What is Unity when you stand in front of the mirror and see a separate body? For zandtao there have been two scenarios that help him conceive of Unity. Sitting in front of the sea for hours on end helps him see the Unity of the sea, the rise and fall of individuals (waves) that appear before and after as just sea. The other scenario is ants, he could conceive of ants as being one functioning unit of many separate bodies.
Interbeing can make sense. And he can see conditioning, a sea of causal factors interplaying with selves arising as a consequence of those factors and equally disappearing as those factors don’t interplay. But zandtao does not have a firmer grip on Unity - although the imagery glimpses are strong. Does such a grip on Unity come from imagination or through the development of Dhamma practice where Unity is experienced in some way?
But if we overplay imagined potentials, aren’t we left with delusion? Zandtao does not completely know there is Unity and what shape that Unity is. However he has had these glimpses of Unity along with the metaphors discussed. Zandtao partially accepts Unity and that there is separation through conditioning, but he cannot fully describe it because he has not experienced it in full Unity. When there is a need for the experience the path will provide, that is his faith. Until then there are glimpses. But there are no imagined delusions either.
“AS SOON AS the imagination is activated in the process of awakening, we recover the aesthetic dimension of dharma practice” [Stephen's BwB 44.16]. Where did zandtao’s aesthetic dimension come from? Upheaval. Quite simple. Prior to upheaval there was no aesthetic experience. For a writer there was no creative writing in school. From 6th form on there was scifi, one story written in the Upper 6th, but it was mostly pulp reading throughout uni holidays. And then the writing came with upheaval. This writing was then much as it is now. As in this z-quest writing explores what zandtao wants to say. Yet at the same time there were scifi stories. In addition there were the Martin Smoothchatter skits .... that just disappeared.
Was it imagination arising with upheaval – firstgrace? It would seem so but zandtao does not feel it. It was creativity, somehow upheaval touched the Muse, and in the jhanas of the Chiswick loft he wrote. His Art friends tried to immerse bill in art but it never stuck. As life distanced upheaval he wrote, but his aesthetics were nature. Point – we are different, zandtao doesn’t get Stephen’s imagination.
“And just as non-Buddhist works can have such an effect, so explicitly Buddhist works can fail to do so” [Stephen's BwB 44.19]. Zandtao did not look at Buddhism until he was 45, and converted to Buddhism at 47 following a mid-life review. But that was not the beginning of his journey towards sunnata as is specifically evidenced by upheaval, as well as the writing that followed. Zandtaomed’s Dhamma practice arose from Buddhadasa who was a Thai Buddhist yet he talked of No Religion. If we look at the 3 prongs:-
zandtao does not see why Dhamma practice could not be religious practice or simply practice. But there is awakening, and it does seem there should be awakening - fulfilling human integration. Can the awakenings of the first two prongs be realised in other religions? Zandtao thinks so but upadana points would restrict this; can upadana points of different religions accept awakening? For zandtao the path does not have to be Buddhist, but Buddhist teachings seem to bring you there - brought zandtao towards it. Can other religions? Zandtao does not know their esoteric sides enough. But it does not have to be Buddhism per se, per the path.
Whilst the use of imagination avoids some of the secularly-troublesome approaches such as sunnata, imagination in daily life also risks possible attachment; some of the creatives historically have been reknowned for indulgent egos. “.... aesthetic vision inspires the imaginative tasks of self- and world-creation. The ennobling truths are not just challenges to act with wisdom and compassion but challenges to act with creativity and aesthetic awareness. Our words, our deeds, our very presence in the world, create and leave impressions in the minds of others .... The creation of ourself in the image of awakening is not a subjective but an intersubjective process. We cannot choose whether to engage with the world, only how to. Our life is a story being continuously related to others through every detail of our being: facial expressions, body language, clothes, inflections of speech—whether we like it or not” [Stephen's BwB 44.20]. Whilst Stephen does not ask us to be considered by the measurement of others, this description of how he wants our imaginations used can easily cross the boundaries of egoic attachment. It is indisputably the case that following the path requires of us a duty of social interaction, for zandtao it is the path that is the measure and not the interaction or consideration by others. Our path through sampajanna and the other Dhamma comrades decides our actions. If imagination takes us out of their sphere of influence then it is likely that self arises. So whilst love-wisdom, compassion, creativity and aesthetic awareness arise out of the path, their use should also be conducted through the path’s protections of the path’s 5 Dhamma comrades. Unless it is imagination through path the risks of ego can easily fall into an imaginative umbrella – especially an imagination that waxes lyrically. Zandtao agrees with the importance of creativity, but from now on will avoid the word “imagination”.
Stephen then discussed the Buddha’s early dilemma concerning teaching “What decided him was .... an idea .... that forced him to recognize the potential for awakening in others and his responsibility to act. As soon as his imagination was triggered, he relinquished the mystical option of transcendent absorption and moved to engage with the world” [Stephen's BwB 44.22]. Look at the Ayacana sutta where the Buddha’s decision was considered. The Buddha was concerned that the Dhamma was too difficult, and was persuaded that some might learn. Isn’t that compassion that made the decision? When zandtao looks at this sutta he cannot see the decision arising from imagination.
Buddhadasa talks of nature as having duty:-
Wouldn’t it have been the Buddha’s duty?
The Ayacana sutta clearly states that “As the Blessed One reflected thus, his mind inclined to dwelling at ease, not to teaching the Dhamma.” [here] Is it appropriate (for Stephen) to describe this dwelling at ease as “the mystical option of transcendent absorption”?
Zandtao does not support Stephen’s whimsy of language, but this dilemma spoken of in the Ayacana sutta is the dilemma of spiritual bypassing. For zandtao such bypassing counters nature’s laws even though remaining at times in solitude is a learning process. Stephen is more likely to have met mystics who have chosen spiritual bypassing and jhanas rather than contributing to daily life. Is it usual for such a choice to be described as transcendence? For zandtao transcending occurs when we go beyond the conditioned world. Through meditation zandtao has glimpsed this state of being beyond conditioning, he attempts to attain it as atammayata as part of his Dhamma practice. But apart from the learning times of solitude zandtao has never seen his own transcending, the state of lokuttara, as spiritual bypassing. Maybe Stephen’s experience has led him to this view of transcendence and mysticism. Zandtao wants to support criticism of spiritual bypassing, but has difficulty with Stephen’s position.
Stephen then gave a short developmental history of Buddhism noting the creative imaginations of firstly the Buddha for his presentation of the teachings and for the creative geniuses of writers (founding figures) who have developed the Buddha’s teachings into the various schools we now have. “Yet these periods of cultural vitalization did not tend to last long. For while the founding figures were imaginative and creative, imagination and creativity were rarely qualities encouraged in the schools and orders they established” [Stephen's BwB 44.27]. Zandtao has limited knowledge of the orders and schools, but would accept that imagination and creativity are not lauded approaches within institutions as they often threaten those institutions. Zandtao tends to support this sentiment, and although he had some institutional contact (with Harnham and in Bangkok) chose in the end not to maintain that contact working from his own autonomy and study.
“While originating in acts of imagination, orthodoxies paradoxically seek to control the imagination as a means of maintaining their authority. The authenticity of a person’s understanding is measured according to its conformity with the dogmas of the school. While such controls may provide a necessary safeguard against charlatanism and self-deception, they also can be used to suppress authentic attempts at creative innovation that might threaten the status quo” [Stephen's BwB 44.28]. Again that fits in with institutional systemic egos. “Yet by suppression of the imagination, the very life of dharma practice is cut off at its source” [Stephen's BwB 44.29 ]; zandtao would use the word creativity and not imagination in this quote.
Zandtao now realises that imagination was being used for Stephen’s selective interpretation of culture. “AS BUDDHISM ENCOUNTERS the contemporary world, it discovers a situation where creativity and imagination are central to individual and social freedom” [Stephen's BwB 46.2 ]. This chapter is going to be a struggle to avoid a pointless conflict of views as was the chapter on imagination.
For discussion of impacts on contemporary world there needs to be agreed tathata, for zandtao in a patriarchal society it is hard to see creativity at the centre of personal and social freedom. However the way Stephen writes there might be something to be gained in this approach. But first there has to be tathata, and tathata is a spiritual journey where we look at the way things are. To get towards this is Dhamma practice but as part of that Dhamma practice we need to try to see the totality of our social conditioning. As Buddhists we accept kilesa but we don’t then go on to examine the systemic form of these kilesa – patriarchy. Different people experience patriarchy in different ways depending on their status in society – one way of describing this status is privilege, and in a sense we could describe privilege as how much of the patriarchal conditioning are we exempt from. If our upbringing and conditioning allows us to be exempt from much that is patriarchy, then how can that upbringing and conditioning bring us to see the way things are? That is why tathata, with an important part being our relationship with patriarchy – how we see patriarchy, is a spiritual journey so that we can see the way things are.
This is not a spiritual journey that is taken by many seekers yet for the Buddha “knowing and seeing the way things are” was central to his enlightenment. We need to see the way the patriarchy has its greatest impacts, relate those impacts to our own lives thus determining our exemptions – privileges, and release those impacts – conditioned egos – to our own upbringing including for detail Thay’s "Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child".
Zandtao recommends using bell hooks’ books to learn about patriarchy’s full impact; zandtao did this in his “Dedication to bell hooks”, and in the second half of Real Love. This impact of upbringing and patriarchy is included in zandtaomed's Seeker Story.
Through our privilege exemption we experience patriarchy differently, hence we have different views. But tathata – the way things are including the way the patriarchy is – does not change whatever those exemptions. For zandtao seeing “creativity as central to individual and social freedom in the contemporary world” could be because of these exemptions of privilege. With the 4 Noble Truth, isn't the Buddha describing a world of suffering (1st Noble Truth)? Isn't suffering central rather than creativity?
“While Buddhist traditions have consistently affirmed freedom from craving and anguish as the raison d’etre of a culture of awakening, they have been less consistent in affirming the freedom to respond creatively to the anguish of the world” [Stephen's BwB 46.2]. Zandtao missed this first time round. Stephen is promoting creativity as a means of being free from suffering; zandtao is 100% behind this - "affirming the freedom to respond creatively to the anguish of the world". Creativity as going beyond dukkha - excellent.
At a Buddhist meeting zandtao attended where the 4 Noble Truths were discussed, he commented (from the floor) about suffering in terms of society; one reply was that it was not “normally taken that way”. For zandtao that is part of the bypassing that occurs through Buddhist institutionalism. Whilst we can only directly impact our own dukkha with our Dhamma practice, indirectly how we change ourselves - how we apply ourselves through sampajanna - might have a positive impact on world suffering; whilst there is suffering in the world we still have a duty to change even though that change can only directly change within ourselves. Many teachers in schools think it is their teaching that brings about learning, but only the students learn and they learn very differently given the same teaching. Teachers can improve their teaching, and whilst that is likely to increase learning it does not always happen because of other factors.
It is wise to consider that there needs to be a culture of awakening, but it is important to know our limitations within this culture as well as our cultural duties. Do we spend hours teaching one individual who clearly chooses not to learn or is incapable of learning? In the end for zandtao what matters is following your path – your Dhamma practice – and seeing what happens. Change yourself, try to awaken yourself, and hope that this contributes positively to a culture of awakening.
“Both internally, through becoming religious orthodoxies, and externally, through identifying with autocratic and even totalitarian regimes, Buddhist traditions have inclined toward political conservatism” [Stephen's BwB 46.2 ]. Zandtao tends to agree with this observation and sees it as part of the institutional ego for self-protection; but to be fair he is not privy to institutional decision-making. Zandtao questions why there is not greater awareness of patriarchy within contemporary religious institutions; in moments of more compassionate emotions he wants to demand but seekers must follow their paths including those in institutions. Whilst he understands institutional desire for no conflict, as genuine leaders how much harm do they do to followers? (discussed here).
In discussing liberal democracies Stephen concluded “In theory, freedom may be held in high regard; in practice it is experienced as a dizzying loss of meaning and direction” [Stephen's BwB 46.4]. Zandtao misunderstood Stephen first time round - probably because zandtao was focussed on an awareness of patriarchy. In liberal democracies freedom is a byword, but because of conditioning there is little freedom; this lack of freedom zandtao would prefer to describe as patriarchal conditioning. Stephen recognises the social delusions of freedom as "a dizzying loss of meaning and direction", zandtao takes this further as delusions with loss of direction as intended by patriarchy. There is such a need for spirituality to include an awareness of the way patriarchy is, and a need for consideration of how spirituality embodies that awareness.
“In offering .... a refuge, traditional forms of Buddhism provide a solid basis for the ethical, meditative, and philosophical values conducive to awakening” [Stephen's BwB 46.5]; refuge is important. However clearly the following happens “Yet they tend to be wary of participating in a translation of this liberating vision into a culture of awakening that addresses the specific anguish of the contemporary world” [Stephen's BwB 46.5 ]. For Theravada and the Pali Canon, this observable intransigence of such a limited awakening culture is, in zandtao’s view, connected to the timelessness of the Buddha’s wisdom. Tathata asks us to see the way things are NOW, but wisdom can be seen as timeless. But this institutional vision is also convenient. Seekers develop the ability of coping; as with the rest of society there is a willingness to accept patriarchal delusions that don’t make sense on examination, but suffice to assuage consciences that are not too introspective. Again zandtao questions genuine leaders on this.
Dhamma practice is clearly individual yet the path is also socially engaged. If there is a decision not to be socially engaged at some stage, it is against the seekers’ path, and it is spiritual bypassing. Whilst the path does not require us to be on demonstrations 24/7, if there isn’t social engagement there is the spiritual ego of bypassing involved. The path comes from nature and is there to develop nature – that is a dhammajati duty.
In discussing the individual Stephen says this “If training with a teacher of a certain school leads to a growing dependency on that tradition and a corresponding loss of personal autonomy, then that allegiance may have to be severed” [Stephen's BwB 46.9]. Crossing his threshold of autonomy zandtao has recognised that an instigating component of awakening is autonomy, autonomy, love-wisdom and awakening go hand-in-hand. Buddhisms such as Tibetan encourage Gurus who as far as I understand from the outside can encourage the loss of autonomy as a means of releasing selves, replacing the seeker’s self with the Guru, until at some stage the Guru encourages the seeker to regain their autonomy. For zandtao this is a dangerous practice and enabled the exploitation of women in cults such as NXIVM. But zandtao is not experienced in such Guru methods so can only ask the question. Stephen was Tibetan for a time, and he recommends that if there is a loss of autonomy “allegiance may have to be severed”.
Zandtaomed focusses on the development of autonomy, whilst release of egos is ongoing he hopes that from Dhamma practice the Dhamma comrades and autonomy will lead the seeker to follow the path. Maybe there is a need to end most of the conditioned egos of upbringing first, that is for the wisdom of the teacher and the institution concerned in developing their appropriate methodology. Personally zandtao was fortunate – through upheaval and the lack of self-esteem in his upbringing bill released many egos although new ones built up during 2nd childhood. Zandtaomed’s approach of promoting autonomy is obviously connected to that. The seeker makes their choice as to the advice they accept.
Stephen recognises that kilesa (subjective states of anguish) manifest in a systemic way but he does not go as far as equating kilesa conditioning with patriarchy. “.... dharma practice recognizes that each practitioner is obliged by an ethics of empathy to respond to the anguish of a globalized, interdependent world” [Stephen's BwB 46.10 ]. A seeker’s primary although not exclusive priority is to determine their path, and with that determination autonomy takes the seeker's quest into the unknown and becomes more engaged socially. The danger of promoting empathy prior to the determination of the path is that the seeker might be unable to cope with attachments arising from compassion such as rage and anger. Zandtaomed prioritises the path until the seeker’s autonomy takes over. There is a danger that avoiding compassion until there is sufficient path realisation can lead to bypassing, but without the protection of the Dhamma comrades an empathic seeker is vulnerable.
“What is to be cultivated, according to the Buddha, is a path of authentic vision, ideas, speech, action, forms of life, resolve, mindfulness, and focused awareness. Hence a culture of awakening is a state in which this path is being cultivated” [Stephen's BwB 46.14 ]; this is the Noble 8-Fold path – magga. “A culture of awakening cannot exist independently of the specific social, religious, artistic, and ethnic cultures in which it is embedded. It emerges out of creative interactions with these cultures without either rejecting or being absorbed by them. It will inevitably assume certain features of contemporary culture, perhaps inspiring and revitalizing some dimensions of it, while also maintaining a critical perspective” [Stephen's BwB 46.16 ]; hence the need for a spiritual journey towards tathata – there needs to be a clear view of the embedding culture. For zandtao a spiritual journey into his relationship with patriarchy has led to a perceived significant difference between his tathata of this embedding culture and the "general" perception - including Stephen. However zandtao agrees that the culture of awakening “emerges out of creative interactions with these cultures”. This can arise from the spiritual journey towards tathata as well as the spiritual process of moving beyond the conditioning. It is this detachment arising from the Dhamma comrades of the spiritual journey that is essential in the seeker not becoming embedded in cultural egos especially as those cultural egos are contemporarily patriarchal egos.
“Dharma practice today faces two primary dangers: through resisting creative interaction, it could end up as a marginalized subculture, a beautifully preserved relic, while through losing its inner integrity and critical edge, it could end up being swallowed by something else, such as psychotherapy or contemplative Christianity” [Stephen's BwB 46.17].
Resistance is futile , Dhamma practice needs to be integrated as love-wisdom and tathata. With McMindfulness the desire for “promoting the mindfulness message” has led to a corruption of the practice – inner integrity leading to sampajanna has often been shot.
As zandtaomed developed his Dhamma practice he began with MwB. As his minimal work as an elder continued, he added to MwB with Companion. But throughout his path work there has been a psychological component because the psyche of vedana, sanna and sankhara is where the egos reside especially through upbringing.
Preparing the best vihara is building the best vihara of the psyche but this is in the context of path. Psychotherapy as with the corruption through McMindfulness is at best wellness, at worst the ability to cope with the workplace. Dhamma practice is concerned with the path. The key to overcoming the dangers Stephen speaks of is to remain faithful to the path, and recognise that that path has a duty in nature – sampajanna - social engagement.
“A culture of awakening simply cannot occur without being rooted in a coherent and vital sense of community, for a matrix of friendships is the very soil in which dharma practice is cultivated. How to create an authentic community, which provides a sound basis for the emergence of a culture while optimizing individual freedom, may be the single most important question facing those practicing the dharma today” [Stephen's BwB 46.18 ]; despite his personal solitude zandtao supports this community aspect. But how can it happen if we don’t see the power and influence of patriarchy?
And so we come to an all-embracing lyrical secular future from Stephen. A culture of awakening “will emphasize the freedom and responsibility to create a more awakened and compassionate society on this earth. Instead of authoritarian, monolithic institutions, it could imagine a decentralized tapestry of small-scale, autonomous communities of awakening. Instead of a mystical religious movement ruled by autocratic leaders, it would foresee a deep agnostic, secular culture founded on friendships and governed by collaboration” [Stephen's BwB 46.20]. Apart from the magnitude and all-embracing totality of this vision zandtao doesn’t mind it. The key notion is his tapestry, and such communities need not be focussed around Buddhism. For a long time such might develop as small mindful communities that don’t reach the economic interest of the patriarchy. Especially in the West such communities are needed as mainstream patriarchy destroys the very “souls” of the workers they have enslaved – conditioned. Whilst zandtao cannot see secular Buddhism going beyond a recognised siladhamma, such communities need not be bound by a common dogma – perhaps it is best they are not? Whilst it is convenient for Buddhists to enclave in refuges, their duty (their paths) is designed for nature – not an ideology. If such communities can enable the space for Dhamma practice, then wise people on the path can contribute to such communities, and of course paths need not be Buddhist. Perhaps there will develop throughout such communities a guild of seers similar to the wise “artists” of the Toltecs – Naguals. A viveka-sangha?