Consolidating - Owning your path
After I have just developed what I called khandha-vinnanas as approaches to becoming aware of anatta, this title, owning, seems a total paradox or at best an anomaly. Isn’t the path fun?
Before dealing with the paradox let me try to get at the underlying principle of consolidation – this is an educational principle again so let me start in education as opposed to spirituality. Through our education institutions we are not taught understanding, what education does is fill our consciousnesses with contents, and these contents are tested leading to qualifications. Mostly such contents are asked to be recalled or slightly better imitated but recognition of a higher level of these contents is given to those who it is deemed show quality or creativity – quality in education is discussed throughout "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert M Pirsig - ZAMM. But within the education institutions themselves it is difficult to bring out this quality because it is not real life – such quality comes out when the contents are measured up against real life, and the conflict between the two brings out the deep underlying quality that underlies an understanding of these contents of consciousness. At this point the student has owned the learning, the learning has gone beyond the contents of consciousness – the conditioning, the learning has become consolidated and the student owns it. By then of course the student has matured and has individualised the learning bringing that learning a quality that perhaps was not envisaged by those who taught. This quality is panna or wisdom.
As an aside this is why learning traditions are so important because each new generation develops those traditions. As new wisdom is developed the wisdom becomes part of the tradition. Quite naturally this new wisdom is delivered as contents of consciousness by the teachers of that tradition. Once those contents have been received the student consolidates those contents, develops their own quality in the struggles of daily life, and adds the wisdom to the tradition they learned the contents from. This is the natural order of learning over generations – building a tradition. It is also why the current attacks on knowledge by the 1%-satrapy is so heinous. Apart from the absolute evil of people who invest in research simply to counter the truth of climate crisis in order to increase their profits (eg Koch), the constant undermining of education destroys educational traditions, destroying the natural order where knowledge increases generation to generation. Whilst knowledge and institutions should always be questioned through constant enquiry, the purpose of this 1%-investment is just simply destructive – destroy confidence in education so that profits can be increased.
So we have a natural education process in which new generations of students consolidate their contents of consciousness, and through their learning and personal struggles in daily life develop wisdom that adds to their tradition. Through consolidating their learning, taking the contents and beginning to develop their own understanding of these contents beyond the institutional boundaries, wisdom is developed over the generations and traditions develop.
The path is a pure wisdom tradition. In Zandtaomed the student learns the contents of consciousness – in this case MwB. Over time the student learns the meditative skills of MwB, consolidates them taking them beyond skills, developing insight and wisdom appropriate to the great wisdom that originally created MwB.
As always we have to be careful of ego and arrogance. Let me be absolutely clear. There are no doubts at all in my mind that Buddhadasa was a wise and great teacher, and therefore by implication because Buddhadasa was a slave-to-the-Buddha to me the Buddha as a great teacher had the greatest wisdom – far far beyond any knowledge or wisdom I might have gained. But once wisdom is spoken or is in print, it becomes contents; the spoken or printed word is not wisdom, the wisdom is the understanding behind the spoken words. The spoken or printed word is a guide to help the student discover their own wisdom. Learning starts with the contents, and through personal struggle these contents become wisdom. The education process is the same whether you are describing quality or wisdom starting in academia or quality or wisdom starting through skills that train meditation. So no disrespect is intended or given to the important work of MwB or the teachings of the Buddha or Buddhadasa.
The process of insight or getting of wisdom (the meaning of Vipassana) starts with a consolidation of the teachings by the student. From this consolidation the student uses mindfulness to recognise their own path, owns the path and then begins to direct their learning. What do I mean by directing their learning. By directing their learning the student follows their own path of learning. They are not teaching themselves – far from it. The student’s path demands learning, and where do they get that learning from? The established wisdom traditions such as Buddhism or the teachings of Buddhadasa. Or at a lower level learning about pathtivism through Zandtaomed.
Here is a major warning to students. I have tried to stress the need for consolidating throughout pathtivism. The problem that then arises is that self will try to possess the path - my path. Whilst in the Companion consolidation follows anatta there is no chronology of consolidation - it is ongoing. What consolidation is is the path finding itself. Mixed within are the path as mindfulness and the contents of consciousness - the teachings so far. Wisdom needs to appropriate the teachings so that they become the path. The student does not say "I am finding my path", the student uses mindfulness for the path to find itself through the teachings. Through meditation the student is in a state of mindfulness, and focusses on the path finding itself; be mindful and let the path find itself. Without anatta it will be I that tries to appropriate the path, be mindful and let the path find itself - the path consolidates itself.
As I am emphasising in this chapter, for Zandtaomed it is essential that the student consolidates their learning into the path. The student could follow the whole of MwB but it is conceivable although not likely that the student could just learn meditational skills from MwB. The skills of the 4 tetrads combined with the reading of the teachings (right knowledge) could conceivably be intellectual understanding that has filled the contents of consciousness. There has to be right action, turning the contents into wisdom (panna) through wise action (sampajanna).
Actions can be imposed out of respect for the teacher but they are not necessarily wise actions unless the student has developed wisdom. Such wisdom cannot be gained unless the student consolidates the teachings. This is mindfulness in which they totally grasp the previous teachings, and through that grasping free their own paths to direct the next stage of their learning. This directing could be asking a teacher, studying a course, attending a knowledge-based retreat. It would be based on receiving new content but because of the consolidation by mindfulness they are far more open to the new contents and the process of turning those contents into wisdom.
This consolidation is part of an independent learning process, and it is individual in the sense that it is concerned with the individual’s path. Here is where we start to get paradoxical. This path is nature so what is happening is that the individual is consolidating what nature gave to be consolidated – they are finding their own path inside. But it is not their path but nature’s path. When consolidating includes ownership it does not mean that path becomes self, on the contrary if attachment to self still exists then it would be difficult for the teachings to be consolidated because “I” would be still learning contents – adding conditioning to “I”.
This consolidation could be considered the same as becoming the teaching. As part of MwB the student learns about the 4 Dhamma comrades. Consolidation could be considered as becoming the 4 Dhamma comrades, the 4 brahma-viharas, the 7 bojjhangas (as discussed by Thich Nhat Hanh). Consolidation means that the teachings are not theory but that we have become the teachings, not attaching to the teachings as intellect or contents not attaching to the teachings through memory or perception as in 5 khandhas but becoming the teachings. With consolidation the path guides through mindfulness, wisdom, compassions etc. The path then wants more teaching to consolidate, and as such demands more – is directing the learning.
Owning your path is not an activity of self. The attributes of Dhamma as described by 4 Dhamma comrades, the 4 brahma-viharas, and the 7 bojjhangas are not selves, and the characteristics of Buddhism - of anatta, dukkha and anicca are not describing selves; the path has become them. This “ownership” is a complete acceptance of the teachings, a complete acceptance of the 3 characteristics, and no attachment to the khandhas. There is only path as described by the Dhamma attributes.
So throughout the course in meditation Zandtaomed is looking for consolidation. Quite clearly the student will still be going through processes of learning, there will still be some attachment even when consolidating. But Zandtaomed encourages consolidation because consolidation leads the student to following their own path.
This is quite a change in methodology in any aspect of education. Specifically an educator has a course and objectives to get through. It is usual to assess the delivery of the course, and for most teachers there are various signs or measures that indicate quality eg as a maths teacher I always looked for an ability to solve new problems – problems of a type that had not been seen before. But I never looked for consolidation. In my academic learning consolidation of understanding started to come with exam revision, but as the objective was passing the exam the revision was not related to wisdom. I developed some maths wisdom over the next 2 or 3 years as the arts people, who helped consolidate my path during my upheaval, were butting heads with my academic rationality. This questioning of rationality together with my own emergence on the path brought me in contact with some maths wisdom. Mixing the path with my academic knowledge brought some consolidation.
In terms of my own path especially in contact with Buddhism after I retired, it was always at my own direction. I retired early with a vague notion of studying Buddhism but what was most dominant was the gulf between me as a maths teacher and my path. I then went through a venting process as I tried to consolidate what I had learnt in my working life – what I called my second childhood. In a sense it was a time out in which I consolidated the “second childhood”. This included the Treatise although there were the other Wai Zandtao scifi writings and many …. many blogposts. Whatever happened over that time I found myself directing my own learning. Because I had some contact with a Theravadan monastery in the UK and had read some Theravadan books before retiring, I focussed on that school of Buddhism eventually focussing in on Ajaan Buddhadasa. But what began as Theravadan grew wider to include some Tibetan and Zen, my learning then focussed in on Buddhadasa again. I was studying other writers and teachers including Eckhart Tolle, Pirsig, and of course there was always the political dimension particularly after Occupy – Occupy was 2011 I retired in 2006. So driven by the path that began way back when I was 23, consolidation happened naturally, and I then created my own learning programme.
Now Zandtaomed has his syllabus – teaching the path using MwB, this is not enough. Because the purpose is for the student to find their own path. So in some ways finding the path and the syllabus are in conflict. If Zandtaomed gradually works through the 4 tetrads there is no consolidation and therefore no path. Somehow the meditation learning has to be internalised so that the student develops the path and insight, that is the consolidation.
Whilst there is guidance there is no consolidation. Maybe consolidation breaks will do it but such arbitrary approaches are still elder-driven, they need to be student-driven.
There is a psychological term invented by Gregory Bateson that covers this. Now I have always seen education as love so the term double bind applies. Path-teachers want their students to follow the path but whilst they are teaching the student cannot. The double bind is for parents when they love their kids but it is time to kick them out and make them fend for themselves. Teaching on the path is a double bind. The elder sees what is going wrong and wants to tell the student what to do but if they do this they create a student who is taught and imitates. The student does not have their own path, the path and drive have to come from within. These come when the student consolidates during the learning, the student has to find their own path, their own direction, their own wisdom and insight.
The path is just a double-bind for student and teacher.
This leads to questions of attachment to gurus – a spiritual teacher; I am going to coin my own Pali – Gurupadana. I can now say be concerned about gurupadana without saying all gurus are causing problems. As with all Buddhism the student (and in this case the teacher) must assess whether gurupadana is occurring and try to get rid of it. In proper Pali there are recognised the 4 clingings, I am somewhat heuristically adding this 5th. The student has a teacher. There are many wise teachers or Gurus, and students want to follow their advice. There develops a dependency or clinging in which the students listens to and follows the wisdom of the teacher, an as a result the student follows the teacher’s teaching path; they are not following their own. Quite naturally they are clinging to their guru.
Some traditions actually encourage such clinging, that is for them to decide. But pathtivism is concerned solely with the student developing their own path, and not for example filling their minds with contents of consciousness such as MwB, Buddhism or pathtivism theory. Whilst there is gurupadana, the student does not have a path. The teacher is usually wise so there is naturally respect, but respect and following are not the same. Following instructions is correct but it is essential for the teacher to try to get the student to understand. Once understood there is no following, if not deeply understood then there is only imitation and not path.
This gurupadana is far easier to describe than it is to develop a strategy of implementation. The teacher has to be constantly aware of imitation and following and to be constantly promoting consolidation. The path wants to consolidate but the guru has to be aware that their very wisdom acts as a barrier in the minds of the student to that consolidation. A teacher’s wisdom is only the student’s contents, mindfulness has to develop panna and sampajanna, then the student has to then consolidate and find their own path. Nature wants this recognition, that has to be how the teacher develops it – constantly reminding the student that nature’s purpose is to find their own path - authenticity.
In my own case as an elder impatience is a huge problem; I so want the student to find the path. I want to go through the 4 tetrads, and feel great when the student achieves one of my course objectives. But whilst these are “victories” they are relatively meaningless if there is no consolidation by the student in finding their own path. That is the problem of “gurupadana”, and it is a problem that is overcome by consolidation – part of the grasping aspect of mindfulness. Once warned the student moves away from gurupadana, through mindfulness the student focuses on the path finding itself. And then directing.
Finally I would like to talk of consolidating the path based on what happened to me. I discussed how I started on the path here, and I called it upheaval. I would like to revisit what happened to me, and give further guidance as to how to recognise your own path that I hope you can follow. Now this upheaval process I went though was an awakening onto the path - because it is the path there is no doubt in my mind, but it was not an awakening as a teacher on the path - far from it I had much to learn. Most people I knew at that time would not have recognised me as an awakened person of any form - especially when you add in the alcoholism that followed.
But be very clear I had started to follow the path. I probably would not have understood what I now write as Zandtaomed but I was on the path. I had a minor breakdown because of the drink and because of the absolute futility of what I was doing with my life. I was suffering but it was an unconscious suffering - I did not know I was suffering because I was just following the conditioning that came from my upbringing and education. I did not say I reject all that conditioning but unconsciously I did and I caused an incident at work where I deservedly was sacked. This forced me to leave it all behind but I was unaware of what I was doing so I ran home to my parents. This gave me respite - almost a refuge, but it did not move the process along as my upbringing was part of my conditioning. It was the Xmas period and I was there maybe 3 or 4 weeks, and I remember only one thing. I was walking through Manchester and I passed a pub where there was the usual loudness of drink-induced fun. I remember thinking "I would like to be "having that fun" but it was not for me".
I was very immature for my age of 23 and I was not very strong either. But I made a retrospectively startling decision. I was going to return to London, walk into an employment bureau, and get an office job not using my qualifications. I walked in, they told me not to be stupid, setup an interview for the next day in a cobol coding firm. It was in Hounslow so I went to Hounslow, stopped in a B&B, and the next day was given this appalling coding job where I forced myself to sit in a cubicle for 2/3 months. This was radically adventurous for me, and I now know it was the emerging path that gave me the strength to do it.
At this point I found a Chiswick loft bedsit where the path really started to form itself. There are recollections of some events which are vivid, and yet important events I have no recollection of. The Arts Centre was very important for me at the time, and my connection was through an old work colleague. Somehow I must have bumped into this work colleague somewhere in London - I had no contact data for her. She had always seen something in me that I hadn't recognised, and she brought me to the Arts Centre. Over the next few months before it was closed, I met creative people who were talking of the Muse and the Path; they validated me. I spent hours at night talking with this ex-colleague and other close friends yet not a word do I remember. But most importantly at this time was the experiences I had in the Chiswick flat, experiences I have always referred to as "bells and banjoes". I can remember wanting to be at home because I would get into the loftspace, there would be quiet and I would feel presence (I later experienced the same presence as the "guys" coming from the Muse when I was writing). At the end of this Chiswick time a brother of an Arty invited me to a cottage he owned near Brussels. We didn't get on but he let me stay in the cottage and I will always be grateful. With the Muse I just sat there writing about everything, and this process from cracking up in my job to writing near Brussels consolidated my path after which no matter how far I strayed I would never lose it. But I was totally immature in human relationships and one-by-one my contacts with the Arts Centre broke away. I lived a second childhood in the world of teaching with varying distances (near and far) from the path until I was able to retire early and get back to just following the path completely.
What teaching on consolidating the path does this bring me? Now that I know of MwB I realise that the "bells and banjoes" were the jhanas that Buddhadasa talks of in the 2nd tetrad of the vedana. I realise that the time I spent getting experience in my second childhood was a consolidation that was a "getting of wisdom", and that my meditation and studies in Buddhism have eventually taken me through the 3rd and 4th tetrads of citta and Dhamma. This is the way my path has gone.
But the above description only relates my path to the teaching of MwB, how did I recognise the path? There was an emptiness inside me because I had rejected my conditioning, this emptiness started to be filled with presence in the Chisick bedsit, it was validated as something real by the people of the Arts centre and by the Muse with my writing in Belgium. This emptiness filled with presence I knew as my path.
Once we do the vedana-conditioner of the second tetrad, formally with Zandtaomed or by nature in my Chiswick flat, then we find a stillness, a silence, and emptiness at the end of the tetrad. This emptiness can be seen as the basis of the path. Through meditation we focus on this emptiness that can also be coolness. Through meditation we come to rely on our inner guide that can give us strength and conviction. Through MwB there arises in us the 4 Dhamma Comrades of sati, panna, sampajanna and samadhi. Through consolidation we feel this emptiness more and more, we trust this emptiness, more and more we recognise the importance of this inner guide through the 4 Dhamma Comrades. The more we understand all of this the more we are following our path.
In meditation we reach the stage of coolness and silence at the end of the vedana conditioner (2nd tetrad). We have learnt the importance of accepting the inner guide in meditation so in meditation we seek this inner guide of mindfulness and wisdom. Putting these two together we have the path - emptiness, coolness and guide, and we can develop the conviction that helps us to continue following the path.
Here is how I now talk of path:-
Much of what is contained in this Zandtao description of the path is reinforced by the meditation teaching practices of the 3rd and 4th tetrad, what Jack Korfield described as doing the laundry. The Buddha talks of the ending of suffering in the 4 Noble Truths, and non-attachment to clinging is integral to the 3rd tetrad. The law of paticcasamuppada is integral to the understanding of not attaching to the conditioning of ego - again part of the 3rd tetrad - citta-consciousness.
But we can work on compassion, insight and creativity to develop our paths if we choose not to go more deeply into the 3rd and 4th tetrads. Compassion in daily life is simply wise helping - developing this as part of our daily life increases the conviction that comes with following the path. Vipassana is translated as insight meditation, and Buddhadasa's MwB is an example of Vipassana. Through meditation we can get the clarity of mind where we experience insights. And connecting to the Muse (or presence) through creativity also brings conviction to the path and following it.
However we become aware of the path, and however we follow the path, we can develop an understanding of the path through meditation on emptiness and coolness in the 2nd tetrad. Throughout meditation practice we rely on our inner guide, and so develop trust in the path. Thus we can feel the benefits of folowing the path in our daily lives.
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