For some Buddhists the question is whether there should be engagement, yet for pathtivism I ask for constant engagement. To me constant engagement simply means mindfulness 24/7 with sampajanna (wisdom-in-action), and for most Buddhists there would be agreement with that – at least in theory.
For me this means mindfulness 24/7 in daily life or constant engagement in daily life. Often for Buddhists 24/7 mindfulness will mean being mindful in every task eg mindful washing dishes, this I would support - it is something I would like to do. As a pathtivist I don’t simply mean mindfulness 24/7 in what we do – mindful of tasks, but I also mean mindful of how nature and society gives me my life. This is partly covered with the lay precepts where we are expected to:-
1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
3. Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.
5. Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.
“I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.” Now this brings in a number of questions concerning food, health, factory farming etc. The purpose of this precept is not only to question your own moral stance on these issues but how we put that stance into practice. For example, is it sufficient to say that we can eat meat for our health but do nothing about the hurt BigFood causes animals? This precept as do the other precepts requires a change in your daily life to reflect the wisdom that meditation can bring to consideration of the precept. The precept requires an active response in daily life. Buddhism does not issue dictates of the form “thou shall not”, but activism is required.
What is not required is specific actions such as the demands of vegans that all people should not eat meat even though eating meat is a medical requirement for some esp the old. But what is required is right action. Right action is activism, it is constant engagement with the world.
For some Buddhists there is an argument of non-engagement. I argue that the Buddha’s life was not only the wisdom that many recognise but his was a life of constant engagement. To explain this I look at the Buddha’s wisdom which is timeless but recognise that there was a tacit understanding of all aspects of life to develop that wisdom, that tacit understanding came from learning and being active – right action. This timeless wisdom of the Buddha lies beyond, the Buddha has followed the path and gone beyond.
Let’s examine my limited description of the path:-
and start with the path to end suffering. The Buddha lived in a world of suffering, first Noble Truth, and the Buddha’s path ended his suffering. We live in a world of suffering but it is not the same world. The Buddha’s timeless wisdom takes us beyond the world of suffering but it is a different world. In the Handbook for Mankind Buddhadasa describes Buddhism as “nothing other than this perfection of knowledge of what is what or the true nature of things [p39 of 203]”. The true nature of things is the world of suffering, the Buddha’s path is timeless wisdom, but the true nature of things is more than that. To understand the true nature of things we need wisdom and so we work towards the wisdom of the Buddha.
Even though I do not know the suttas Venerable Buddhadasa did, and I take my understanding from him even though I know so little of what he taught. Buddhadasa knew that the Buddha knew the nature of things when he was alive. He knew the timeless wisdom of the Buddha’s teachings because he was the Buddha, and the Buddha knew what is what - what that was not just the timeless wisdom. His timeless wisdom enabled him to assess history and assess the political reality of the kingdoms, and assessing this he was able to develop the timeless wisdom that is included in the suttas. What is not included in the suttas is the historical and political assessment that the Buddha had learnt because the suttas were written just to include the timeless. But the Buddha’s understanding included these historical and political understandings but those understandings were tacit – because they were not timeless.
To know what is what is to know the timeless and the tacit. How can we understand the timeless wisdom without understanding the context in which that wisdom occurs? To know what is what is to understand the timeless and tacit, if we know both then we can know the timeless and being wise is what matters. In the suttas we find what the Buddha taught about knowing what is what, but there is not specific talk about the tacit because that is not timeless. To understand the timeless the tacit has to be understood, without understanding the tacit how can we arrive at the timeless?
The second description of the path is going beyond conditioning. To be wise and go beyond conditioning we have to understand the nature of conditioning. In the same vein there is a timeless and tacit conditioning. The timeless conditioning is explicit – the conditioning that comes from instinct, that comes from kaya, vedana and citta, that comes from the 5 khandhas. But there is a second conditioning that comes from the tacit – the historical and political conditioning of the time we live in. To go beyond conditioning we have to understand any conditioning that results from the time we live in – to understand the tacit as well as understanding the explicit conditioning that is usually discussed to achieve atammayata.
The timeless wisdom tells us to develop mindfulness because with mindfulness we can “watch and wait, to examine in the manner described the suffering that comes to one – this is very best way to penetrate to Buddha Dhamma [p49 of 203]”. We develop mindfulness to go beyond the explicit and tacit conditioning so that we have the mindfulness to understand timeless wisdom. Mindfulness has to know the history and politics of the 1%-satrapy in order to move beyond the conditioning the 1%-satrapy tries to control us with – sadly for many of us conditioning does control us.
With mindfulness we can observe that what is what is a climate catastrophe. Because of differing levels of mindfulness we are not clear as to causality, that is our conditioning. Through the 4th tetrad of anapanasati-bhavana Dhamma knows that we are self-destructing but conditioning is preventing us from seeing this clearly. The tacit and timeless conditioning overlap but it is primarily the tacit that is creating that ignorance. Because we are not being sufficiently mindful, perhaps because we only look at the timeless of the teachings, the tacit is perhaps going to sneak up and catastrophise whilst we are sitting in lotus.
In understanding this tacit conditioning we can also begin to understand where Teal Swan is coming from. Her focus on shadow and fragmentation (Ch7 sanna-vinnana) is coming from recognition of what she sees as a spiritual weakness of gurus; this teaching could be interpreted a focussing too much on the timeless and not enough on the tacit. It is clear from reading books like “After ecstasy” by Jack Kornfield that within monastic institutions the relationship between teacher and student brings out shadows and fragments. But for the many spiritual travellers who do not sign up for some robes, the non-egotistical teaching methodology of monk/priest talking dogma does not cut it given the level of today's conditioning ; shadows and fragments are too powerful for the genteel dhamma talk. In the end we have the problem of spiritual bypassing that bites us in the arse – including some of the teachers. Or the needy just walk away.
Timeless wisdom talks of what is what. In the suttas that timelessness is not explicit about the tacit but surely it has to have been understood. This focus on wisdom is not sufficient for us to switch off about the tacit and claim the explicit wisdom is enough. The teaching of Buddhism is what is what, the total outlook of what is what indicates mindfulness that can show us the tacit. Understanding all of what is what enables us to discern the timeless wisdom the Buddha and Dhamma wanted us to learn – the path Nature wants us to follow.
I think timeless and tacit is a kind of cute phrasing but literary cuteness (if it is so) is not useful. What it does talk to is the issue of engagement; because the wisdom of the Buddha as discussed in the suttas does not discuss his understanding of the tacit. However this lack of discussion does not mean that he was not engaged with the tacit. But he was engaged wisely.
Let’s consider this wise engagement (this is fundamentally what the pathtivism manual is about). Let us start with climate change. Climate change is fundamentally destruction of our Natural Unity (Dhamma-jati) by the 1%-satrapy through its addiction (greed aversion and delusion). This aspect of what is what was not happening at the time of the Buddha but his timeless wisdom can be used for right action now.
Wisdom tells us to follow the path of which right action is an integral part. We recognise the cause of this destruction is the 1%-satrapy but that the power and influence of this satrapy is endemic. Electorally we have a vote but understanding the way that the electoral system is used quite rightly brings with it complete disenchantment. Despite this, a vote has marginal power, a very very limited power, and with that power is a responsibility for the wise. There is a choice of voting green for Natural Unity (Dhamma-jati). Or the choice of voting for the party/candidate who stands against the 1%. If you have a choice of both, then isn’t the wise choice the vote for the representative that can win because electoral politics is about representation? Tacit electoral understanding is that voting for claims of economic development is voting for the 1%-satrapy and continued destruction of Mother Nature. But remember the electoral process and the ensuing puppet government is controlled by the power and influence of the 1%, so engaging in the process with any hopes of results is not wise. If the results are controlled what does that say about the finance and time spent campaigning?
So what about right action? We can control our plastic usage, but this action pales into comparison whilst frontline communities battle against the full might of the 1%-satrapy's addiction to profit through lust for resources. At the same time the 1%-satrapy has its puppets involved in wars for profits with the ensuing natural destruction along with the loss of life and social destruction. Supporting the struggles of frontline communities has got to be defending Mother Nature as has supporting an end to the wars for profits. #indigenousled recognises that their cultures seek harmony with Nature not exploitation for profit. Isn't #indigenousled wisdom leading to right action? Isn't trying to end war compassionate right action?
Compassion brings with it a duty for action so you are left with the pathtivist dilemma – what action is right? And there are no universal answers. Well there are two but they are not the simple plan of action those without mindfulness want instructions for:-
Follow the path
Do right actions which are compassionate.
Now let us return to the Buddha and his timeless wisdom, what did he promote? The Three Refuges - Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha. How do these relate to the timeless and the tacit? Let us start with the word "refuge" - definition "a condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble"; the word refuge has a sense of temporariness about it. I raise the question of what is temporary and what is permanent of the 3 Refuges?
The Buddha's wisdom is timeless - that is a permanent aspect of the first Refuge. What about the Sangha? The Sangha with its monastics and its shelter provides 2 functions:-
Teachers of the timeless wisdom.
Shelter from "pursuit, danger and trouble" of daily life.
I suggest that the teaching is permanent but the Sangha as refuge is temporary.
This fits in with an understanding of Dhamma, that I want to put forward - Dhamma is the application of wisdom in daily life - the application of the timeless in the tacit. In general what is the purpose of teaching - education? Academic job creation. No, mainstream education has been hijacked by the 1%-satrapy for its own interests. But the purpose of education is to live a wise life - the Buddha's wisdom in practice - the second Refuge - Dhamma. Whilst teachers and a temporary refuge are essential in such an inimical world, the objective of studying Buddhism is not to learn what is what, and put on orange robes. The Buddha learned and then gave us his wisdom, to help us live better lives - Dhamma, and provides us with teachers, Sangha - and a temporary refuge.
If we take refuge in the Three Refuges as just described, then the issue of Right Action in daily life completely resolves the issue of whether there is wise engagement. This also gives an understanding to the Bodhisattva Vow:-
For many the Bodhisattva Vow is wrapped up in reincarnation where enlightened beings "Bodhisattvas promise to practice the six perfections of giving, moral discipline, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom in order to fulfill their bodhicitta aim of attaining enlightenment for the sake of all beings [wiki - Bodhisattva Vow]". But take it out of a reincarnation context and you have an imperative for wise engagement as can be seen from Thay's meme (and discussed by Thay here). The Bodhisattva Vow is not concerned with increasing the size of the Sangha per se but applying the Dhamma to daily life. Without understanding the complete disenchantment of daily life, we cannot transcend into a state of understanding that allows us access to the timeless wisdom. But once we have reached an understanding of the timeless wisdom, then there is a natural duty to apply that wisdom into enchanting daily life. To me this is a consequence of understanding the Three Refuges and the Boddhisattva Vow, applying the timeless in the world of the tacit (cute? ).
Wisdom comes from learning, learning comes from trying to understand what is what - and that includes all aspects of daily life. Understanding daily life can only come from active engagement, and through that engagement learning comes leading to wisdom. By complete engagement I mean that there is no selective engagement such as being engaged only in a specific field - in the way that academics select. Complete engagement requires an engagement of all of what is what making a discerning choice as to degrees of activity in the response. What is in the suttas comes from oral testimony of what the Buddha taught - his essential wisdom. I contend that learning that wisdom came from knowing what is what through a complete engagement with daily life, but that understanding of daily life is tacit because what is recorded is the Buddha's wisdom.
Complete engagement does not mean complete grass roots activism where we run around from demonstration to demonstration decrying the 1% and burning out in a year. Pathtivism is for life, how we are active recognises that, recognises our own capabilities and weaknesses, and decides accordingly. Whilst the recent young peoples' climate action has had few results, the demonstration itself has impacted global awareness. Equally Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg have impacted global awareness but again are there any measurable effects? This is not a criticism of the activism but shows how entrenched the 1%-satrapy is. With awareness of complete disenchantment these results can be of no surprise. Equally the activism itself will be dismissed as a youthful learning process. There is an alleged Churchill misquote going around of the type "if you are not a socialist at 20 you have no heart, if you are not a conservative at 40 you have no head". It is my view that however ignorant the establishment are being they will wait out this youthful climate vigour and correctness. Having tagged onto the end of the Hippies I can say that their youthful vigour and correctness has turned into the selfishness that voted in Trump and Brexit; just wait it out. My father had that attitude concerning me, I don't know whether he had the same when he died. For a pathtivist compassion is a lifelong joy - and a curse in the sense that greed never matters so wealth is not likely to happen because apart from inheritance accumulation rarely occurs with a focus on compassion and virtue.
Complete engagement is the theory and practice of wisdom. There is a symbiotic relationship between wisdom and practice in which practice builds wisdom and wisdom directs practice (sampajanna) hopefully; without engagement there is no practice and therefore wisdom is limited - in the case of teaching institutions limited to knowledgeable imitation unless the student has prior experience.
But complete engagement does need to be wise, discernment needs to govern the choice of activity. And what activity is not for me to say as it is governed by:-
Follow the path
Do right actions which are compassionate.
I have complete trust in nature that people following their paths will lead to the world that is meant.
So where do we start with our complete engagement? Following the path can guide us from the beginning. By being true to who we are the path gives us fruits (Dhamma-jati) the recognition of which can be our guide. We know we are doing the right thing because doing it brings peace, if there is no peace there is no path.
Meditation is there to help us find the path and give us that peace, and the Buddha's wisdom is there to help. There is much wisdom that the Buddha has to offer, and he has guidance with a generalised path that can help guide our actions. And as described in paticcasamuppada avijja or ignorance creates great problems.
As individuals there is ignorance of our own minds so we can begin our life on the path by learning about our minds with its conditioning. Whilst this is done in detail in the third tetrad we can begin to clean our minds of defilements from the get-go. We can engage with the 3 defilements of greed, aversion and delusion. How have our minds been conditioned by greed, aversion, and delusion, and what actions have these 3 kilesas caused? Have we caused suffering through our kilesas? Are there actions that we can do to free people from the suffering caused by these 3 kilesas? This is engagement, how far do we go with this engagement? How far can we go? Always do the best you can. Do not judge by objective results, there is much that is beyond your control. The path gives its own fruits, cleaning the mind of kilesas brings peace, clinging to external results only brings disenchantment.
Finally complete engagement must be governed by wisdom. As we follow the path we begin to learn what is what - tathata. What is the point of engaging with that which only gives complete disenchantment? Yet we have a natural duty to engage, this presents a dilemma that can only be resolved individually in each situation. Wise action must be limited by pointlessness. When we examine tathata through the lens of the 3 kilesa (defilements), then through non-avoidance and appropriate enquiry we can only conclude that we live in a defiled world. Kilesas can be powerful, and it is wise to be conscious of this power. This power can be limiting, if power is threatened there can be consequences. Be wise in choosing how you engage with power. There is a delusion among young adults who are becoming aware of this defiled world that lack of awareness is why the world is defiled. Ignorance can be a factor, but for those who are addicted being aware of the addiction is not always the answer - even though in individual cases it is often so; when there is collective addiction and delusion that collectivism restricts the individual from ending the addiction. But learning that the world is defiled when as an individual you have no power presents a dilemma. How do you use the knowledge of the defiled world? Is it dangerous to use such knowledge? Frontline communities are often in danger defending their lands from resource exploitation. Be wise in how you choose to use your knowledge and recognise that it is not simply lack of awareness that prevents the ending of defilement, sometimes that defilement has power that an individual cannot confront. There is a delusion that individuals can effect change, whilst it may appear so the factors leading to that change are often far more complex than an individual fight for a cause or liberty. When an individual comes up against power, that individual is likely to suffer, be wise in how you confront power. So whilst I contend complete engagement, there are wise limitations; it is these limitations that restrict the engagement of the pathtivist, and not whether there should be engagement.
Follow your path, clean the mind of defilement, always do the best you can within limitations.
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