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Advice from Zandtaomed
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Ch4    Siladhamma

When I asked the question “What does the spiritual path bring to shadow work?” The answer of the last chapter was “recognition of conditioning and releasing all egos”, but for this chapter the answer is sila. Sila is often translated as moral integrity, and the term sila is associated with the 4 Noble Truths in which sila is three of the Noble 8-Fold path – right action, right speech and right livelihood. Sila might be considered as morality of a particular action based on integrity, but that doesn’t bring the full importance of sila. Within the teaching profession it was quite common for teachers to present justifications for what they were doing based on morality, this frustrated me because almost any position was justified by some form of morality. In politics there are similar justifications that to me become meaningless because all actions have some form of justification – even war. There needs to be an overarching ethos of sila that covers all actions in society, and this overarching approach I suggest is siladhamma.

To begin with let’s examine what the “overarching sila” is that exists at the moment. On a social level it is the rule of law; on a personal level there is a personal morality encouraged by some parents, by education and by society through media – this personal morality has no standing with the law. As to be expected in a defiled world, the “rule of law” is delusory. As a system it claims judicial fairness, a rule of law that claims it treats people equally, but in reality the law protects the status quo of the 1%-satrapy. In courts there is an adversarial system that can produce results for the rich, with the police they protect the rich and establishment more than justice, and political laws protect the BigCompanies against legitimate local concerns eg the oil pipelines in the US. The reality of climate crisis, the death of our home – sunnata’s planet, comes secondary as legal interests protect the BigCompanies that are effectively causing the destruction. Examining the moral code of the rule of law we can see clearly what is happening in the defiled world, even though listening to the defiled world talk of their legal system we don’t recognise what it is – but delusion is a defilement.

How do individuals respond to this rule of law? Institutions such as religion and education encourage a personal morality, and within the legal, religious and education systems are individuals whose personal morality advocates against the injustices within society brought about by the inadequacy of the rule of law. But this personal morality has limited impact on society and the 1%-satrapy. With personal morality having limited recognition within the rule of law, many people respond to the rule of law with a “not-getting-caught” approach. For different communities within society there are different moral codes for how people interact, but these mores are concerned with personal conduct and have no standing with the legal system. In effect the “sila” of our society is a legal system that professes equality and morality but in practice protects the rich. This “sila” has no intention to guide personal conduct, and functions in the way it is intended – to protect the status quo of the 1%-satrapy.

In discussing siladhamma I am referring to Buddhist talks organised around Buddhadasa’s call for “Come back siladhamma, please come back”. Whilst I fully understand the call for siladhamma, I question when we ever had a society where siladhamma was the effective “rule of law”; which “when” should come back. But that does not invalidate a call for siladhamma, I am comfortable with it being a forlorn call for a society based around sila.

In the faith LINK of Viveka-Zandtao I called for #NatureCompassionDecency as a basis in education to fill the faith vacuum that was pulling young seekers to cults; I am happy for that # to be changed to #siladhamma. For me siladhamma is a social morality whose foundation is compassion and decency placed within a context of Dhamma – Nature. Whilst sila is generally considered to be moral integrity, it would perhaps better be described as a way of life based on compassion and decency within the overarching understanding that we live in harmony with Nature.

Caring people would describe this as nice but unrealistic, I respond that siladhamma is a necessity. When siladhamma was discussed in the Buddhadasa tribute, Ajaan Pasanno LINK? discussed it as a necessity for peace of mind on a personal level. If we know we act with sila then we can have the personal conviction that we do not cause harm and our minds are not disturbed. (Note Ajaan Sucitto LINK? described siladhamma as a foundation). I broaden that necessity to a social level. If there is injustice in social interactions, there will not be peace of mind – and this could boil over; social injustice is often used as a rallying call by revolutionaries and different national or religious groups calling for war. Dominant propaganda gloss over these injustices but if not addressed they will always lie under the surface waiting to emerge. Of course the irony is that immoral acts of war are called for to address the injustices, but the immorality of the system creating the injustices in the eyes of those suffering warrants the immoral acts of war. In the end people way the immoralities and decide, but that decision is not usually based on morality but the military power various systems/countries/international collectives are prepared to use. So the bottom line is how much money is invested in the military to support a particular government – and not any moral code.

But that does not alter for me what is a reality – the need for siladhamma to be the social ethos and the rule of law. Why is siladhamma any different to rules of law? Dhamma – nature. Dhamma or nature (sunnata) provides us with our individual sila in our paths, with siladhamma as our social justice we are fulfilling what Nature planned for us. Paths fit nature’s plan; as with all things to do with paths it is not our role to work to fit them together we must simply follow our paths and trust in nature. In the same way siladhamma, how our personal and social mores fit together, is simply nature’s plan; our role is simply to follow our path that contains our sila. I believe this is the same approach as God’s plan in Christianity – except that institutions and power have got in the way.

What constitutes siladhamma on a personal level is a moral imperative based on #NatureCompassionDecency; individual actions need to be decided upon based on siladhamma. Is the action compassionate, moral and in harmony with nature? Is this true for every action? To me that is the aim of the MwB practice, I stress aim. But it is also the aim in my work as an elder. Whatever the teachings this aim is part of your path as a spiritual teacher, equally if your conduct as a teacher breaks this then it brings into question your validity as a teacher. Following the path requires siladhamma or equivalent, if a spiritual teacher’s conduct does not meet the standards of siladhamma then that teacher needs to be questioned.

Connie’s book moved into consideration of some dubious teaching practices that I immediately questioned. Some were practices that would be considered dubious by professional teachers, surely spiritual teachers have greater integrity than that?

"The holy longing is transformed from a yearning for separation and individuality to a yearning for ego transcendence and union” [Spir 11.37] “In the spiritual realm, this will to transcend is built into the human soul as spiritual aspiration. This yearning can be felt as a restless hunger to unite with a holy Other, something greater than ourselves" [Spir 11.38]. This is Connie’s description of spiritual yearning. Then in the chapter on “Longing for the divine human: the search for spiritual communion”, here is the first quote:- “The teacher – priest, guru, tzaddik, roshi, lama, sheikh – has realized in human form the ideal Other living within the student, the imago of the complete or self-realized human being. They meet as two individuals with all of their gifts and limitations, wisdom and ignorance” [Spir 17.3]. I think this is dangerous, and opens the vulnerable seeker to all kinds of issues. The teacher as a restriction of the “ideal OTHER” restrictively matches the imago dei ego the restriction within the student; ideals – ditthupadana - restricting each other. Such a process is fraught because it is based on ego – the teacher ego and the student ego; the path has no such risks. But to be fair this is Connie’s view of the process, teachers need not restrict themselves in this way.

In my capacity as Zandtaomed I have no such perceptions, I avoid such ditthupadana. My teachings are experiential, if I don’t know it has happened to me I don’t teach it. I don’t talk of enlightenment, there is no discussion of reincarnation because I don’t know. I have detailed my life on the Zandtao website LINK because that is what I have experienced, with the hope that a student can recognise such spiritual experience in themselves. I am not seeking a student’s longing or internalised imago dei, I am asking “Are the experiences similar and if so can I help you as a seeker?” The methodology is removing egos – perfecting the vihara, and as it is difficult to perfect the vihara, help the seeker build faith in the path enabling reconnection with sunnata. Where is the restriction in this?

I feel this process (in the quote from 17.3) is dangerous. In matching an internal imago dei ego to a teacher there are risks. What form does the teacher-devotion take? If this is encouraged amongst the vulnerable, then there is potential for exploitation. Should a teacher seek devotion? If the seeker does because this is what the teacher says and does, where is the grappling with the teachings? The teachings will remain the raft because the devotion to the teacher could become a similar accepted devotion to the teachings. Is it true that in guru-devotion the seeker lets go of ego by simply being devoted? I can see advantages in this for the seeker, but in the end the seekers themselves must let go of the raft – teacher-devotion cannot do it for them.

What if the imago dei ego contains falsehoods that are similarly held by the teacher – the teacher’s ego? Then this is the blind leading the blind – the false leading the false who is devoted to falsehood. I can see the possibility of such weakness within Zandtaomed. It is unlikely but possible that the seeker feels similar experiences and therefore chooses to mimic my path and lifestyle – they would never be encouraged to do this. That mimicry is not the true path for the seeker, it was my life. As elder it is my duty to recognise such egoic action and advise the seeker against it. In the Companion I spoke of consolidation, I see this as having a dual purpose. The seeker consolidates and lets go of the raft of teachings so far. And secondly the seeker decides, it is the Dhamma Comrades of the seeker and not devotion to the teacher that establishes the seeker’s path. A seeker adopting the process of this quote needs deep questioning to remain safe and follow their path.

“Once activated, this teacher-student archetype holds a promise and a duty, an inspiration and a burden. It summons us to the greater life; it calls for the death of all that stands in the way. It offers ultimate hope, even salvation; it requires an everlasting commitment to consciousness, kindness, and a higher ethical standard. And in most cases, at some point, it demands a meeting with the shadow” [Spir 17.22]. I have discussed above my concerns about this teacher relationship, I am quoting this because of her reference to shadow the relationship “demands a meeting with the shadow”.

Interesting observation – “Or she may become aware of the teacher’s shadow, which binds her to him. Like the secret of sexual abuse in families that are bound together in a conspiracy of silence, the secret of spiritual abuse in religious communities acts like glue, reinforcing submission and compliance” [Spir 17.32] .

Another observation – “With this emerging relationship, the aspirant longs for mirroring. If she becomes a valuable follower of a priest or teacher, she experiences an omniscient, omnipresent god as completely attuned to her every need. She does not, of course, see the other person in actuality, with all of his flaws and shortcomings, but uses him to foster her own sense of self-esteem and specialness. …. In addition, the aspirant longs for an encounter with an ideal and therefore attributes qualities of perfection to the teacher” [Spir 17.35].

Connie discussed situations in which the relationship with a flawed teacher had led to the seeker not following the path. “She could not break this ideal-seeking pattern until she internalized her own spiritual ideal. Many years later, she was able to approach spiritual mentors again and to learn from them because she no longer set them on pedestals from which, inevitably, they would fall” [Spir 17.82]. As an elder when I read of stories where seekers are losing autonomy through devotion etc., I ask what is the teacher doing? Is there ego involved for the teacher?

I remember a story of a reputable Buddhist teacher for whom young monks in the wat rushed to wash his feet. A westerner, staying at the wat, wrote about this, initially stood back, and then did the same. The westerner was joining in to show respect but it was almost as if he was compelled to by the institution – where I read this he wanted to wash. The teacher was giving the young monks an opportunity to show respect, but was he encouraging autonomy? I respect the teachings from this and other teachers but these institutional practices make me feel vain for not wanting to serve the teacher – some teachers encourage such practices to get rid of western ego. But what about autonomy?

When I stayed on retreat in Harnham, I wanted to do things for the monks. I remember one time the Abbot said that the monks might get lazy because I immediately went to wash the dishes after the meal. In the institution it felt appropriate to be doing things for the monks, that was part of the deal for me. But to be honest I question all that now even though if I stayed on retreat again I would behave similarly – perhaps not with my age. There were status issues that I question. Was it accepted by the monks that because they were monks they were further along the path than lay people? All lay people? One issue that brings this into question is autonomy. Is the discipline of monks their own or is it the discipline of the institution? In training the institution disciplines, but in terms of the path doesn’t the discipline come from the seeker’s autonomy? How important is this distinction? Now I don’t have any relationships with monks yet for me it would be better if I were in conversation with people on the path – including those still with their rafts of teachings.

But in institutions the questions raised by Connie concerning misplaced devotion are generally covered by institutional practice (in Buddhism covered by the Abbot’s interpretation of the Vinaya). When I consider Harnham again, the institutional practices discouraged the devotional weaknesses that Connie described. The way I chose to be of service was of my own choosing and was never discussed with the monks – I was never there long enough. By the time in my life that I came to Buddhism I was not vulnerable, perhaps at the partial awakening at 23 I might have been vulnerable and subject to devotee exploitation. If I could be exploited in romantic love (as I was with Peyton Place), it might well happen that spiritual love transferred to an individual teacher would turn that vulnerability into exploitation. As elder I see that as a weakness in the teacher for whom there is a duty to promote autonomy. But the boundaries between autonomy and the egos of arrogance and vanity might well be confused in the seeker, it is the teacher’s duty to try to be aware of this and guide towards autonomy.

“While Freud’s exploration of the parent imago and the personal transference in therapy was groundbreaking, Jung took the next step: archetypal transference” [Spir 17.96]. The more I read of Connie’s book the more I see my lacking as an elder; it would be undoubtedly better for me to be trained in psychology so that I can place these imagos of parents and archetypes in context. But there are distinctions I make. Firstly following the path is not a therapy, the purpose is not to provide the ability of psychological wellness to cope in society. For me the aim of the elder is to build autonomy in the seeker so that they can follow their path on their own. This is a very different situation. What drives the need for help from a psychologist is wellness, what drives the seeker is the path – what Connie calls Holy Longing and I recognise as sunnata. On a psychological level these needs have a similar function of integration through wellness, but reconnecting with path is a deep drive that can override that integration. Faith in the path, the reconnection, can avoid some of the integration, and leave the seeker open to bypassing. However in my view reconnecting with the path cannot happen when there is a dominant shadow to deal with – that shadow would emerge in the early stages of MwB as it would be preventing the integration with Dhamma, one purpose of MwB.

But that is not to dismiss the issue of bypassing. In releasing egos there are two processes – releasing egos that have already been formed through paticcasamuppada and preventing new egos from arising through paticcasamuppada. If the seeker or teacher have reached a level of autonomy then any such less-threatening bypassed shadows would be released as part of ongoing daily MwB practice. Failure to do so would itself be an ego – conceivably a spiritual vanity. Within institutions such an ego is controlled – in Buddhism through the Vinaya and the guidance of the tradition, but if the seeker leaves the institution does that seeker have sufficient inbuilt autonomy? If a seeker lacking autonomy becomes a teacher outside of an institution, then they are definitely at risk from such spiritual vanity. Whilst a self-taught teacher might have developed greater autonomy, they will lack such institutional discipline and this lack could also open them up to spiritual vanity.

However what is clear is that any display of egoic weakness such as bypassing needs to be recognised as a weakness in the teacher. If that teacher is associated with an institution then it is a duty of the institution to deal with this teacher. If the teacher cannot keep it in their pants, then it is the responsibility of the institution to try to reign them in. That has not always happened or perhaps institutionalism has been slow to recognise it.

There is a positive side to the awareness concerning bypassing – vulnerable seekers are more likely to resist inappropriate behaviour of their teachers; hopefully other seekers would also step in. But there is the negative side that concerns me – seekers might be deterred from the path. Having faith in the path I am conscious that the defiled world we live in is caused by people not following their path even though I will often describe our society as a 1%-satrapy. The path can show people how to escape this satrapy, and eventually lead to its demise; unfortunately political strategies have failed although the path and politics can work hand-in-hand. It is the urgency of our ecological crisis – the damage to sunnata’s planet that motivates my work as Zandtaomed. It is a priority for me to promote faith in the path.

It does not surprise me that in this defiled world teachers are weak – it is the nature of the ongoing conditioning that continually attacks and tries to undermine. Within this hostile defilement it is necessary for institutions to control their own egoic weakness and stand up against public displays of weakness amongst teachers in general. When organisations such as ASI arise, they need appropriate institutional support – presuming the integrity of ASI. With such weakness being shown, out of fear and uncertainty seekers are less and less likely to follow their paths within institutions or outside; this can only harm reconnection with the path – a commonality amongst all such institutions as well as path-teachers.

Seekers just starting on the path have to be vulnerable. Firstgrace LINK is likely to knock them for 6, and within the defiled world the faith vacuum GIF will offer them little support. With the increasing exploitation by teachers arising through bypassing, narcissism or simply intended exploitation - intending to use the vulnerability of the newly-spiritual, vulnerable seekers are less likely to follow their paths. Especially if they are young, seekers’ conditioned egos are less likely to be attracted to the formal rigidity of traditional institutions; but this does not mean that seekers will not eventually follow their paths either in institutions or outside. For me the spiritual community needs to stand up solidly against the exploitation in whatever form it takes, sadly institutional practice as a generalisation promotes its own interests - and not the interests of sunnata in general, because an institution tends to see its own raft of teachings as the most important. Whilst an institutional ethos might be quick to encourage the seeker to use their raft, the institution as a whole might not see the promotion of path in general as their duty. For such an approach inappropriate behaviour in general by teachers is not their problem, yet it is their duty because it is the problem of the defiled world of which they are a part. The lack of dedication to the path is all our problems, and any issue that arises within the spiritual community is all our problems – blaming the other because it is NOT our institution is avoidance (defiled behaviour). I ask all institutions to examine these inappropriate behaviours within their institutions as well as supporting measures to prevent inappropriate behaviours outside their particular spiritual community. Bypassing, narcissism et al is an issue for the WHOLE spiritual community so that seekers are not deterred from following their paths.

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