For details on writing follow me on twitter.

Advice from Zandtaomed
Zandtao meditation page


Threshold - Dangers and Doubts

Needs Revising

However my path has crossed the threshold of prajna, my quest has crossed the threshold. It started to cross the threshold when I looked at the second mystery of Eckhart – the evolution of consciousness, and completely crossed over when I studied Thay’s Awakening of the Heart taking me into Prajnaparamita. That study of Thay has not finished but it appears to me that Thay’s teachings cope with the threshold – given his personal history it had to. For me this is a threshold that I will not teach people to cross – at the moment?

And this threshold is defined by What the Buddha Taught. Why did the Buddha not teach to cross the threshold? With the different teachers and boddhisattvas teaching Prajna(paramita), when they are teaching more than the Buddha taught, are they asking why? Why did the Buddha not cross this threshold with his teaching? I have faith enough in the Buddha that it is not because of What the Buddha Knew but that faith in the Buddha says that he chose to limit What the Buddha Taught, and not cross the what I am calling the Threshold of Prajna.

As soon as I crossed the threshold my engagement with daily life got screwed. I do the best I can but I still have what I call “warts’n’all” – selves and egos that are still a part of my life. With MwB taking me towards atammayata, these attachments are getting less and less, but once I crossed the threshold they exploded. To me this is the danger of crossing the threshold, and it may be something to do with why the Buddha limited his teachings. Of course I can never know. Going by my experience I am limiting any teaching I do what I described above – what is accessible from the front page of my website; as part of this Prajna there might well be Zandtaomed Advice but that advice will not be accessed through the website.

This threshold is delineated through the way Buddhism has developed, for simplicity’s sake I will describe this as the Southern and Northern schools. I am not a Buddhist scholar but when you study Buddhism you are forced to look into its obscured history. What we have in the totality that is Buddhism is What the Buddha Taught and what boddhisattvas and others have written about Buddhism. Even if we limit ourselves to What the Buddha Taught we cannot be absolutely sure because it comes from oral history and was written down many years after the Buddha’s paranibbana. This oral history became the Southern school, is known as Theravada Buddhism, and is the nearest to What the Buddha Taught – if I can be a judge. Within Theravada there is a useful convention of using Pali and if the teaching is described as a sutta then it is a teaching that is part of What the Buddha Taught. When I look at pathtivism it is broadly within the scope of what might be termed Theravada Buddhism but there is no way I want to be restricted by any institutional religious orthodoxy. But my teachings (above) are loosely based on What the Buddha Taught.

To be more accurate my teachings are based on Buddhadasa. As a teacher Buddhadasa focussed on What the Buddha taught, he examined the suttas and then came up with his teachings, so for accuracy’s sake the Buddhist side of my teachings are based on how Buddhadasa interpreted What the Buddha Taught. Buddhadasa’s teachings are usually considered as Theravada but because he discusses voidness some question that – discussed later.

Early teachings of Buddhism got divided. In the Southern school we have the oral tradition of What the Buddha Taught, and in the Northern school we have the oral tradition of What the Buddha Taught, and the other teachings of Boddhisattvas and others that became the Northern school. The teachings of this Northern school are what travelled Northwards to China and Tibet, and from China back down to Korea and Vietnam. So when it comes to what Thay learnt, we are talking of the Northern school which includes Prajnaparamita. But what is Prajnaparamita cannot be orally attributed to What the Buddha Taught. This is the teachings side of the threshold I am talking about, Prajna cannot be orally attributed to What the Buddha Taught.

And that brings me back to the dangers of Prajna. Once your path crosses the threshold you are moving beyond What the Buddha Taught, and that is dangerous. My path took me across the threshold, I have faith in my path, and in my studies I have received the affirmations of phala. My quest is now Prajna, and sadly that quest now includes the dangers I spoke of and now what was once relatively easily controlled disrupts my daily life. This requires more work on meditation to develop atammayata whilst keeping 100% engagement with daily life.

Let me absolutely categorical about this – this threshold draws a distinction that I cannot prove between What the Buddha Taught and What the Buddha Knew. When these great Boddihisattvas and teachers crossed this threshold, my faith says that they were crossing into their unknown but not into the Buddha’s unknown. I have no doubts he knew but made the decision not to teach – I consider this wise and as Zandtaomed limit what I teach to the parallel of What the Buddha Taught – Southern school of Theravada.

Apart from Zen and Chan the very names of the Northern school indicate the dangers I am talking of. Mahayana is often countered with Hinayana – greater and lesser teachings, and when you make comparisons there is ego involved. And then there is Vajrayana teachings – the highest teachings, in every other sphere of life teachers would look at these descriptions and see ego; yet in Buddhism they don’t. So for me classification goes like this there are the two schools – Northern and Southern, the Southern is What the Buddha Taught, and the Northern includes other teachings from Boddhisattvas and scholars. What is useful for clarity is that the Northern school uses Sanskrit for its terminology, and their teachings are sutras. The teachings of Prajnaparamita are sutras.

Basically my path has taken me into the dangers that are beyond What the Buddha Taught - Prajnaparamita, and for me these dangers are exactly why the Buddha did not teach it. But my faith in the Buddha and my trust in Buddhadasa tell me there is truth in the teachings of Prajnaparamita, as well as the phala I get by following my path. There is an apparent inconsistency in Buddhadasa’s teachings that are often highlighted by the members of the Northern schools, Buddhadasa talks of voidness or sunnata (Pali) and this sunnata or sunyata (Sanskrit) is where Prajna first takes you.

Let me reiterate. The Northern schools through history have developed teachings that go beyond What the Buddha Taught. It is now reconciled to history that their teachings include the dangers of crossing this threshold but that does not make them any less true. Significant to this is the Boddhisattva vow which I know little of but it does appear to be the way they cope with the dangers of being over the threshold.

In Thay’s teaching of “Awakening the Heart” the first sutra is the Diamond Sutra. This sutra describes what the Buddha said but is not part of What the Buddha Taught – further confusion; I see it as Prajna - it is the first warning crossing the threshold. To me it is the understanding of the Diamond Sutra that you first need to grasp if you are going to risk Prajna. I did not grasp it, and this led to disruptions. Now I grasp it a little, and it is a lifeline for coping with Prajna. “What the Tathagata has called the highest, transcendent understanding is not, in fact, the highest, transcendent understanding. That is why it is truly the highest, transcendent understanding” [p62%]. Confusing but recognise a “highest transcendent understanding”.

“The fruit of the highest, most fulfilled, awakened mind is realized through the practice of all wholesome actions in the spirit of nonself, non-person, non-living being, and non-life span. Subhuti, what are called wholesome actions are in fact not wholesome actions. That is why they are called wholesome actions” [p64%] Perform wholesome actions.

“Subhuti, a bodhisattva gives rise to virtue and happiness but is not caught in the idea of virtue and happiness. That is why the Tathagata has said that a bodhisattva does not need to build up virtue and happiness” [p64%]. Build up virtue and happiness.

“Subhuti, someone who gives rise to the highest, most fulfilled, awakened mind should know that this is true of all dharmas, should see that all dharmas are like this, should have confidence in the understanding of all dharmas without any conceptions about dharmas. Subhuti, what is called a conception of dharmas, the Tathagata has said is not a conception of dharmas. That is why it is called a conception of dharmas” [p64%]. Follow the Dhamma.

Basically whatever we do in terms of developing Prajna, in daily life our path remains the same – without attaching to the path. Crossing the threshold our path has entered dangers because of daily life. Why bother with daily life when there are the teachings of Prajna. This is bypassing, and it is not the meaning of the teachings; it is the danger of the teachings. More than ever with Prajna there is a need for 100% engagement with daily life, this is the teaching and not the teaching. It sounds confusing and contradictory. But to develop Prajna we reinforce our commitment to engagement with daily life. We teach as the Buddha Taught, we follow our paths as the Buddha Taught, but we can also follow our paths to Prajna. But this subtle distinction is vast but dangerous. With no self there is no danger, but can we ever say there is no self when we are alive? Through the wisdom Prajna perhaps we can but on the way coping with self is harder. We need to be more committed to the path without any attachment. That sounds awful and comparative but in language that is maybe a way it can be expressed. Thay calls all this crypticness the “Dialectics of Prajna” – making no sense but more sense. Follow the path of What the Buddha Taught.

The dialectics of prajnaparamita (as Thay calls them – explained later) are difficult. When I started studying the Diamond Sutra with him, I felt that I was moving forward; but they intentionally cast doubt especially with the conceptual mind. This is skilful.

Consideration brought with it doubt, and it became more and more important to address this doubt. There was no doubt in the raft of the Diamond sutra, but the questioning was bidirectional – not only “questioning going forward” but because concepts were questioned also “questioning going backward”. What became a clear demand in “questioning going backward” was that of 100%-engagement. I resolved this in part with formlessness. My limited understand of this sutra was that the conceptual mind interfered with actions yet wise actions need to just happen, that for me was formlessness. I implemented this formlessness in MwB as sampajanna-kaya, sampajanna-vedana and sampajanna-citta (see Appendix C); for my limited understanding that worked. But there were doubts, the more involvement with prajnaparamita the more concerns there were for engagement.

This engagement-doubt increased as I began to realise that for me working with prajnaparamita meant 100%-engagement with prajnaparamita. And that was not engagement with daily life. In truth the change in engagement could be temporary, but that began not to feel right.

Throughout this change prajnaparamita felt right but the change in engagement presented doubts. Was this a bypassing ego? For me the answer was unequivocally no. Why? Because through Zandtaomed I was teaching, so getting into prajnaparamita I could still be teaching. But was it engagement in daily life? That was questionable. So that meant for me that prajnaparamita could open people up to spiritual bypassing; as a pathtivist that was definite negative for me.

So I moved forward with this following warning. “Journeying through the book Thay improved my understanding of different aspects of Buddhadasa’s teaching through having a different view point – I don’t know enough about Buddhadasa’s teachings to say that what I got could not have been obtained through Buddhadasa’s books”; this applied to the learning mentioned in the intro. “For the earlier sections this is what I think of as the sword of difference, when we grapple with the teachings of different great teachers this throws light on what we have learnt so far. I also find this true of Toltec Wisdom as taught by Don Miguel Ruiz. In Viveka-Zandtao I have used the sword of different writers to add to my understanding of pathtivism, the Buddhist aspect of which is primarily the teachings of Buddhadasa”; again the earlier studies mentioned in the intro.

“But Thay takes me further, takes me into prajnaparamita helping me awaken my heart. Now I draw an important distinction, it hasn’t helped me awaken my heart it has however helped me further awaken my heart. And this distinction is the fundamental theme of this final section of Viveka-Zandtao – if you are following your path there is still the need to further awaken your heart”; this was when I was still considering this heart work as a section in Viveka-Zandtao. I wanted to talk about this because following the path is awakening the heart, awakening the heart does not begin with prajnaparamita.

“But fundamental to this distinction is the caveat of the risk of spiritual bypassing. Is our path to go as far as possible with spiritual studies? Can we go “too far” leading to spiritual bypassing? If so, how do we measure this bypassing? 100% engagement. This engagement I have discussed as a theme throughout the Manual and specifically in this chapter of the Companion. In Viveka-Zandtao I have seen the importance of solitude (viveka) in my path throughout my life, but whilst this solitude has always been important it has been connected to following my path as engagement.

“With pathtivism I now recognise that following my path involves 100% engagement. So there is a question applied to spiritual studies:-

Does the study awaken the heart with 100% engagement?”

This is never an easy question to answer. From the outside any path of solitude can only be seen as an inner journey, but the reality could well be to go “inner” so that we are better equipped to be “outer”; that is the main theme of the Manual. Prajnaparamita brings my whole path of solitude into question – the whole book of Viveka-Zandtao.

The main theme of pathtivism in general is to promote following your path because the path is what nature intended. As discussed in the Manual, following the path would make activism more constructive. At the same time spiritual people need to be conscious of their responsibility to be engaged. Our world has become defiled, and the people with the egos of that defilement have power and are not responsive to the spiritual. It has reached the stage where humanity’s survival is threatened by the choices that have led to this defilement. Personally I have complete trust in nature and its paths but in terms of that survival egoic power is in the “ascendancy” frightening me for the future. Spirituality is the answer to this egoic power – as opposed to the emotion that dominates the egoic reactions of many, and this is why the ego of bypassing is so disappointing. Spirituality can see with clarity that our reactions to egoic power are failing, and through their paths can begin to redirect humanity towards survival. But instead spirituality for some turns to bypassing. Spirituality as reward for following the path brings with it the joys of phala (fruits - see dhammajati), bypassing essentially is seeking these joys rather than following the path. Individually those following the path having experienced phala indulge themselves trying to recreate those phala; this is not the path but ego – attachment to phala. When we study spiritually, we can get sucked into the bypassing ego. This cannot be judged from the outside, it can only be measured by the individual themselves. But there is a dilemma. Clearly current activism is failing, but if we focus on activism alone, there might well be no bhavana, no mental development, no awakening of the heart as stagnation is likely to take place. It is necessary for pathtivist meditation to be aware of this stagnation dilemma. There is a possible choice arising – pathtivism or taking awakening the heart further.

In terms of my own Buddhist studies prajna-paramita has been beneficial, but to be quite honest my pathtivism is now limited to teaching (as mentioned above) – learning for teaching. My engagement is now limited to teaching through this website, I examine my life and teachings and hopefully provide some guidance. My journey continues to go spiritually deeper, but for younger people whose activism is necessary for nature do they need such depth? The answer lies in their path, and not in any form of imitation of what I am doing. There are many spiritual teachers who have gone deeper, and there is much knowledge to be gained from them. But then spiritual teachers have been accused of bypassing, and people who have followed such teachings have come to recognise that they have developed a bypassing ego. So in general within the spiritual community, there needs to be questioning of the ongoing dilemma between the need to develop awakening of the heart whilst practising 100% engagement.

The need to stress the importance of this dilemma developed when I began studying the Heart Sutra in Thay’s book on "Awakening the Heart", and I realised that this learning will go on until I die. And ongoing learning could easily take seekers into bypassing. At this point my study guidance is guarded, so I began a pathtivist review of Viveka-Zandtao. Once I began the review, awareness of the dilemma increased – pathtivism vs continued learning.

How did this review go?

Pathtivism recognises that the path is the way forward. In the Manual I looked at activism, saw how activism is failing, and pointed to the path as a way forward. Throughout the Treatise and the Manual I examined different ways that I had learnt how to follow my path. At this point I began working as Zandtaomed, a meditation elder, using Buddhadasa’s meditation teachings of MwB together with my own understanding in the Companion. Then I began to see the importance of solitude in my own life and began Viveka-Zandtao looking at solitude beginning quest, developing faith in the path and then discussing that path. Throughout all of this my heart was awakening, and then studying Thay’s book on Awakening the Heart I took all of this further especially with prajna-paramita. But at this point I questioned whether my studies were keeping me 100%-engaged. Or more importantly was my guidance possibly becoming bypassing? This led me to insist on seekers questioning:-

Is your awakening of the heart still 100%-engaged?

Are your studies leading to bypassing?

It is for the mindfulness of the seeker to judge. In the Pathtivist Trilogy of Treatise, Manual and MwB Companion, the emphasis is on the path and its engagement. Throughout the Treatise my life moved inner and outer, a balance between personal enquiry and engagement, in Viveka-Zandtao I have recognised the importance of solitude in this balance of development and engagement. For a pathtivist finding their path and finding the balance between spiritual development and 100%-engagement is essential. For each person their path is different. And how they actuate their engagement whilst developing spiritually is essential. Yet it is a dilemma – the dilemma of bypassing. It is conceivable to live a life through a spiritual ego, and yet be convinced it is a path.

I can only draw my own line not to bypass, you must do the same. But please don’t stagnate in activism that can be equally as egoic. Be conscious of the bypassing dilemma, continue to awaken your heart and avoid stagnating egos either bypassing or unaware activism without path.

Throughout your own studies on the path be conscious of your own bypassing line and whether there is 100% engagement. Throughout Buddhism, throughout studies on the path in general, there is proliferation (of sankhara). The path is not academic, it is beyond conditioning. There is an oft-used analogy for the teachings, that of the raft – Stephen Batchelor used it as does Thay. The raft is the teachings and it takes us to the next riverbank, but once there the raft becomes a burden. If we have to carry the raft it hinders progress. On the path for teachings to be understood we must first conceptualise the teachings, internalise the concepts, and then let them go. Once let go these taught concepts have become wisdom – hence prajna-paramita, the ongoing perfection of wisdom.

For all these rafts there are teachings, teachings on teachings and discussions of teachings on teachings, proliferation of teachings. It is not the quantity of teachings but their quality that matters. When we look at Buddhism there is a proliferation of teachings. This is not a criticism of a particular school or a tradition – just an observation of Buddhism in general.

Zandtao website adds to this proliferation, and if the process of learning is to go on indefinitely all these proliferations will just expand. Nowadays there is not only a proliferation of written teachings but also a proliferation of audio-visual material. The journey is inner – go inner and question how to follow your path whilst living a good life. Whilst this is not simple to do, the teaching is - go inner and question how to follow your path whilst living a good life. Proliferations abound because people have insights whilst following their path, seekers have sought clarification of these insights, or seekers have needed help overcoming obstructions on their journey; sadly also teachers have needed to make a living.

Yet at the same time we have come from an education system that promotes more is better. To be successful in academia we write more books, articles in periodicals and journals, personal promotional appearances; this begins in schools with more reading and references. In schools are we taught to go inner, are we told that proliferation is detrimental? If one teaching is important we don’t go inner and develop that teaching further for ourselves, but we seek equivalent teachings or more and more and more. But accumulating contents of consciousness does not lead us to following the path, it only shows that we can talk about more people who have followed the path. So instead of perfecting wisdom we accumulate more rafts. How much of the bypassing ego is accumulation of rafts?

Go inner and question how to follow your path whilst living a good life.

What could constitute a raft of teaching? In terms of Buddhism my answer would be Buddhadasa – MwB and his teachings. But even that raft is too large – he has many talks and books. Begin with two books – Handbook for Mankind and Mindfulness of Breathing – a theory book and a book on how to practice meditation. That is enough – then go deeper and ask questions of yourself and develop an understanding of your path; that understanding is inside you. Of course there is a proliferation of materials you could read, but if you spend time on your inner journey and asking yourself questions maybe there is no need for any other studies.

In my case and in the case of most others answers were sought in other ways, more of Buddhadasa’s books, more writers, more talks, more monks, more teachers etc. We have proliferation. But reading a book, watching a clip, does not mean we are following our paths, we could just be deluding ourselves. To understand we must understand for ourselves, and such understandings don’t have to be a quote from our favourite teacher. In the end the seeker must be their own guide, the path that is followed must be determined by the seeker, and awakening the heart must be an ongoing process of that path. Be discerning about possible proliferation. Is there a need to study or a need to go inner in order to awaken the heart? We always need to be considering whether we are following our paths and whether we are 100% engaged in daily life. This is the line of bypassing we try not to cross. Yet our daily life activism must be based on the path and not an egoic need for activism – develop sampajanna, one of the 4 Dhamma comrades that arise in MwB.

Following my path and heart-awakening are my purpose. MwB is part of my pathtivism, and in this practice I am looking at two things - building the vihara and faith. With an unconditioned vihara I can use the magnetism of my faith to join with the light of consciousness. At this stage with my quest into the unknown I have recognised faith and this faith is a part of awakening my heart so this is now part of Viveka-Zandtao – my opus. Is my heart the light of consciousness in me?

In Viveka-Zandtao I discuss solitude as my path. Whilst in solitude there is not engagement, that solitude can lead to the clarity of the path that is then engaged. Trust in the path and engagement will arise. But solitude is not the objective, the path and its engagement is.

But now I have reached a point where I question whether further studies keep me engaged. My answer to that for myself is a firm yes, because this aspect of my path of writing is now teaching the spiritual path. But if the study does not remain engaged it becomes bypassing. As an elder I am comfortable with this activism dilemma because physically age now limits my activism. Now the people who are mostly concerned about spiritual bypassing fall into two categories:-

The Young
Those who have unconsciously lived in the bypassing ego

For the young I should say “not old” or better “not elder”. Undoubtedly age has an impact on what your path is, there is absolutely no point now in my trying to engage with daily life and use energy to try to change teaching – I’d die from a heart attack. Yet earlier in my life that was my path (not dying from a heart attack ), without being conscious of the term I was 100%-engaged in daily life when following my path; during my second childhood I was 100% engaged in daily life even if I wasn’t always following the path. In retrospect I could have been more skilful, I could have been more focussed on my path – more dedicated to my path; but it was my path – a path that was engaged. However I retired early, and became more involved in understanding path. This led to my path as a writer – eventually writing about the path and pathtivism. Pathtivism is concerned with the first mystery – consciousness and the engagement of consciousness in daily life. It is about the “not elder”, it is about the path of the “not elder” – recognising that activism in daily life needs to be concerned with following the path. And especially not being an emotional reaction to the system of the defiled world. At some point pathtivism, the activism of the “not elder”, changes to the path of the elder.

The “not elder” are clearly concerned about spiritual bypassing because consciousness that is meant for daily life is being attached to the ego of bypassing. For the “not elder” consciousness is intended for engagement in daily life, yet the ego of bypassers use it for their own indulgence deluding themselves they are being “spiritual”. Quite rightly spokespeople for the “not elder” such as Teal Swan are demanding that the “not elder” spiritual use their development for improving daily life, demanding that paths be concerned with activism – pathtivism.

At some point “not elder” become elder. This changes their focus in two ways. The most recognised way is that they pass on wisdom to the young – “not elder”. In indigenous culture this elder process is formally recognised, in the defiled world this natural way has mostly been lost. The wisdom of elders is not recognised. Our world leaders are mostly older men lacking energy, and younger people act as advisors – upside down. Leadership should be through integrated teams where the wisdom of the elderly guides the energy of youth for positive change. And those young should slow down for the elderly wisdom.

Spiritually the path changes when we become elders. Firstly the focus of the path changes from activism to teaching in terms of pathtivism. Consciousness needs the elderly wisdom to direct the young in their activism. This is the focus on the first of Eckhart’s mysteries of consciousness, the path actuating consciousness in daily life.

But there is the second mystery of consciousness – the evolution of consciousness, that the purpose of humanity is to consciously evolve consciousness; physically it makes sense that it is primarily elders who evolve consciousness. Life and elders teach the young whose path is concerned with 100%-engagement in daily life. At some point they become elders, pass on their wisdom to the young, and develop their own wisdom for the evolution of consciousness. At this point the development of wisdom is not bypassing, these elders have fulfilled their engagement with daily life (or not) and their path is both teaching and the development of wisdom.

Those who have unconsciously lived in the bypassing ego.

And this brings me to the second category of bypassers - those who have unconsciously lived in the bypassing ego. These are the bypassers who have indulged in the phala perhaps focussing too much on studies and meditation experiences applying their path and consciousness to study rather than to daily life. Because of their emphasis during their lives they feel unbalanced because at the elderly time for developing wisdom they lack the experience of path-engagement. In criticising bypassers it is ego of these people the “not elders” need to target. However as with youth naturally there is a focus on their own activism, and the criticism is applied to all including elders. This is because balance has been lost, activism of youth needs to be guided by elderly wisdom. This imbalance leads to the elderly being too focussed on being active instead of guiding activism through pathtivism etc., and it also leads to the lack of effort in the second mystery – the evolution of consciousness.

It is the two mysteries that have clarified the arbitrary boundary of Viveka-Zandtao and Prajna-Zandtao. The first mystery of consciousness led me to pathtivism - path activism - the need to develop the path and be engaged in daily life – not attaching to the bypassing ego. The second mystery – conscious participant in the evolution of consciousness – requires that engagement to be applied to the perfection of wisdom. If misplaced, faith in this second mystery can lead to the ego of bypassing.

Whilst this age generalisation works for me, as in all of spirituality there are no hard and fast rules – the path is individual and the individual chooses; this is not an observation that says young teachers must stop and pick up placards. But when we step back and SEE, activism is failing and our world is moving further and further into defilement. This can only mean we collectively are not following our paths as nature intended. Be conscious of the doubt that arises when we are not 100%-engaged – when we are possibly bypassing; be certain if your path is taking you into the second mystery - the perfection of wisdom – prajnaparamita.

Next:- Intro / Doubts/

Zandtao Meditation page Advice from Zandtaomed

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