In this time of crisis why is transcendence important? Shouldn't we be focussing on activism?
My first title was lokutarra, kilesa and sampajanna, and that is perhaps a better title as it explains what this blog is about. But to grasp the meaning of the blog there has to be understanding of these Pali Buddhist terms – lokutarra, kilesa and sampajanna. Is there understanding of those terms? Not really, because of this such a title would have little meaningful sense.
To understand the blog I am going to investigate these terms, but before I do I want to note that the purpose of this blog is to get a perspective on spiritual bypassing. The link explaining spiritual bypassing is a Teal Swan clip, and she quite rightly talks of spiritual misunderstanding where people choose a path that they claim is spiritual yet is divorced from daily life. Spiritual life can include times of solitude, times of study, times of inner focus, but in the end spirituality comes from nature, has a duty according to dhammajati, and is concerned with improving the state of the world – nature. If we transcend and hide in transcendence then we have not fulfilled our duty; and we would be deluding ourselves that we had transcended as an eventual component of transcendence requires commitment to dhammajati.
Lokutarra means transcendence. One way of thinking about transcendence is that it is moving beyond conditioning, thought and the world of defilements to a place (lokutarra) where we can focus on connecting to the Dhamma – following the path. With such a description transcendence has got to be high up on any spiritual to-do list. But if we are able to transcend, then with the defiled world the way it is why wouldn’t we want to stay in lokutarra?
.... Because of dhammajati and compassion (for some it might be the Boddhisattva’s vow).
In this blog I talked about the following Buddhadasa quote:-
“The Dhamma itself will bring about a revolution in our hearts, and then through that inner spiritual revolution one will practice, one will live and work, not only for one’s own benefit, but for the benefits of society.” Through entering lokutarra, transcending, we create an inner Dhamma revolution that benefits ourselves and society.
When we consider the defiled world, the world of collective kilesa, we see a world where our compassion creates personal suffering that we need Dhamma to cope with. But our spiritual understanding has to take us further and perceive that the way good people are trying to change the world is failing at the moment. There are many good people in this world – sadly good people are not in power – and what these good people are doing is not working. Now the usual way good people seek change is through awareness because awareness is how they learned to be good, even if that awareness only means attaching to certain views and promoting them. But if we look at what is happening now, promoting awareness has been controlled, and defilement has created delusions that deride awareness. Sadly many good people continue to promote awareness without considering this delusion.
There is no doubt at all that if all people were aware, trying to live in peace, trying to be good, then there would not be the problems of the defiled world that we see. But trying to create awareness amongst the unaware is a strategy that has now been controlled. Typical of this control, but not exclusively, is the human downgrading of social media as discussed in the documentary “The Social Dilemma”.
What has to be recognised is that the methods good people previously used have failed, that many good people are clinging to the views of the old methods, and are not recognising the need for new approaches. Where do these new approaches come from? Lokutarra – the inner Dhamma revolution. This is why far from being a waste of time, transcendence or following the path towards transcendence is the way forward.
Typically people grow up in the defiled world of conditioning, react to this conditioning, and turn to some form of socialism. In theory socialism is concerned with caring for all people; freeing all people from suffering is compassion and compassion arises in lokutarra. Meditation note – promoting compassion in meditation helps transcending. But when we see socialism in practice it is not always compassionate. Seeing socialism as an alternative to the world of conditioning is a reaction to conditioning, and is not the answer; the answer is compassion and decency (decency is another value that arises in lokutarra). If compassion and decency lead to socialist values then that is positive, if socialism does not have compassion and decency we should not be deluded into accepting discipline that asks of us to hold the views of socialism. This understanding comes from the inner Dhamma revolution that happens when we transcend.
Stagnation amongst the methods of good people is the problem. Amongst older good people their reacting to conditioning led to socialism, and these elders continue to promote socialism. Socialism has a significant weakness from the point of view of dhammajati. Socialism is concerned with the redistribution of wealth (Marx talks of who controls the means of production), but in this world of climate crisis young people know that continuing with production in the way we do is causing climate change and is an existential threat for humanity. Whilst many socialists recognise this weakness in socialism, it is not their priority. Dhammajati and its duty is the essence of lokutarra – transcending – making climate change the centre of any active struggle.
Stagnation, holding to views and methods, is what is holding back the movement of good people. Many good people recognise this, and discuss new narratives. What they fail to recognise is that this approach of discussing new narratives can be part of the stagnation. It is not simply a stagnation of views and methods that is holding the movement back, but a mental stagnation – a mental stagnation amongst each and every member of the movement. This can be so clearly seen by the way young people are turning to each other for leadership because they see stagnation in their elder leaders. Young people need to follow the wisdom of elders but elders need to develop their wisdom, and they fail to do this because they are holding to old views and methods.
In transcendence we have a process that helps all people see the movement clearly. Through transcendence people develop the Dhamma, they transcend thought and conditioning, and they develop compassion and decency that can help them discern which views and methods benefit society in all situations.
Now transcendence is no easy process and there will be times in a person’s life where focussing on transcendence will take that person away from active struggle. But if active struggle means stagnation, remaining active in the struggle is not necessarily beneficial. By focussing on our own paths, on the one hand we develop the possibility of transcendence, and on the other through approaches to develop transcendence we end the stagnation that characterises the methods of many people in the struggle. People focussing on the path do not hold to views, methods, rites and rituals – they do not accept such stagnation. They use their focus to develop wise actions in the struggle of daily life – sampajanna. The answer is not action per se, but right action; not actions that were previously considered correct that are now stagnant but actions whose characteristics are wise and compassionate. And where does the understanding of such wise actions come from – by following the path and working towards transcendence. These are the wise and compassionate people who need to become the elders of the struggle. Rather than the transcendence being inappropriate in a time of crisis, transcendence, ending defilement and wise action need to be the bywords of the struggle in moving forward – lokutarra, kilesa and sampajanna.