3 Refuges - The Timeless and Tacit
The wisdom of the Buddha is timeless but let’s be clear where this timelessness lies. It lies beyond. The Buddha has followed the path and gone beyond. Let’s examine my poor 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 I accept that Venerable Buddhadasa did, and I take my understanding from him even though I know so little of what he taught. Buddhadasa knew 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 that was not 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 determine 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.
The conditioning of the tacit is being taken to a new level by the marketing in technology, Tristan Harris calls this human downgrading – TED talk. This tacit conditioning is being taken to a new low by the 1%-satrapy. There are many facets of this human downgrading. We can see it in the rise of the violent and populist right, people who are more concerned with attacking libtards than they are about seeing foolish and destructive puppets such as Trump and Johnson in charge. We can see the rise of public influencers – shallow fools financed by the 1%-satrapy to embrace the human downgrading (public figure). There is fake news - well there always was but it is now taken to such a level that discerning the truth is a 24/7 job. A whole basket of human downgrading.
Tristan calls it a search for profit and a business model – maybe he has to say that as he is a non-profit dependent on finance. When I go to my local market there are people searching for profit but these are not people creating climate catastrophe. They are traders – an important distinction from the 1%. The 1% are accumulators whose greed and addiction is bringing this world to catastrophe. With regards to BigTech these 1% are seeking to fan the worst aspects of human ego (greed fear and delusion) simply to increase their accumulation. In the tacit conditioning seeing the difference between the trader and the accumulator is fundamental to understanding the catastrophe. To understand the power and influence of the 1%-satrapy in today’s world is to begin to understand the problem of the current tacit conditioning. Fortunately the Buddha’s timelessness has shown us mindfulness to see the what of 1%-satrapy, it is just so sad so few use the gift.
In understanding this tacit conditioning we can also begin to understand where Teal Swan is coming from. Her focus on shadow and fragmentation is coming from recognition of a spiritual weakness whose teaching focusses 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 conditioning including that of human downgrading of BigTech; 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 it has been understood. This focus on wisdom is not sufficient for us to switch off about the tacit and claim the explicit is enough. The teaching of Buddhism is what is what, it indicates mindfulness that can show us the tacit. That understanding 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 kind of cute 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, this 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 (Idappaccayata) by the 1%-satrapy through its addiction (greed fear 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 very very limited power and with that power is a responsibility for the wise. There is a choice of voting green for Natural Unity. 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 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.
These two are also the answers to how we deal with human downgrading but it is worth considering some detail. What is happening with human downgrading is conditioned unwise engagement designed by the 1%-satrapy. To counter this timeless wisdom talks of wise engagement. We have to follow the path that goes beyond conditioning but in this case we must examine the tacit conditioning with more attention. Explicit teachings on conditionality do not give sufficient emphasis on the appalling process of human downgrading that the addiction of the 1%-satrapy has sunk to; it is there but this tacit problem is not emphasised.
With less dogma/verbiage what does wise engagement bring to the problem of human downgrading?
4 Dhamma comrades – this is a phrase used by Venerable Buddhadasa to describe abilities/faculties that arise as meditation develops. Following his meditation method of anapanasati-bhavana, sati – mindfulness, sampajanna – mindfulness-in-action, panna- wisdom and samedhi –concentration develop. One way of thinking of sati is 24/7 awareness, but if there is no action (sampajanna) what is the point? As you develop meditation concentration develops as you get rid of the attachments to mind, and this leads to the insight or natural wisdom that the path intends. What happens with human downgrading is that they intentionally try to subvert mindfulness. Whatever awareness that people have is not wanted so all levels of desire are attracted through various levels of planned trickery – details of this I don’t know but clickbait is an example. Here sampajanna applies. If we know about clickbait but we still click, then the awareness is a bit pointless.
Detachment – I have some level of detachment so I don’t understand why people are doing what they do. I don’t understand how this human downgrading is happening. If I am encouraged to do something I don’t want to do through emotion, I stand back, am mindful, and WAIT before acting. When I was working if I didn’t do this, there were all kinds of consequences. With the human downgrading this detachment is actively discouraged, promoting outrage etc.
Phassa – point of contact. In Buddhism there is a teaching called paticcasamuppada (dependent origination), this is the main teaching on conditionality. It describes how conditioning works through clinging – this is an explicit Buddhist teaching. Most teachers focus on the point of contact between the sense experience on the one hand, and the feeling and desire that follows. When we are slow and deliberate we can recognise this point of contact, step back and say I am being sucked in – and stop. Everything internet, and computing in general, is designed for speed so that we gloss over this point of contact and intentionally get sucked into the downgrading process. Be detached and you can develop the seeing of phassa.
No belief – In this day and age perhaps the timeless teaching that we don’t follow is the Kalama sutta. It is a principle that is educated out of us and then we fall for fake news. In the Kalama sutta it says “don’t believe anything I say”, paraphrasing - listen and use your mindfulness to know the truth for yourself; the Buddha said this of his own teachings. In itself this would end the stupidity that is so much a part of downgrading.
Discernment - We have to exert control on the information that we receive and what we believe. It is now clear that human downgrading intentionally targets our social media so if we know this why do we treat comments on our feeds as friends? Equally why don’t we give greater weight to people we respect? There is no discernment.
End the addiction process – The 1% are addicts. They do not have self-control, and destruction of Mother Nature, war and human downgrading are consequences. These processes feed their addiction. And they use their addiction and knowledge of addiction to create addiction in others. Human downgrading just feeds mental addiction, no more or less than the Sacklers and the opioid crisis.
So we could say that the answer is education and perhaps suggest that we introduce (more) meditation in schools to develop the 4 dhamma comrades and other aspects of timeless wisdom. But it won’t be effective because education has for a long time been controlled by the 1%-satrapy; human downgrading is intrinsic to the education system. What dominates education is the exam system. Because we are all conditioned in education we accept the premise that we are working for qualifications to get jobs. What we don't accept is the tacit/hidden corollary of the exam system that we turn the natural learning of the majority of our students into downgraded failures. This is a 1%-intention. We have people conditioned in failure, yet because they are subject to the dichotomy of media bombardment - success (and the high life) or failure (human downgrading) - there is a new generation of wage-slaves. We have the 1% addicted to their greed, the successful as highly-paid wage-slaves and the failures as low-paid wage-slaves. Advertising has always been a part of this downgrading (enslaving) process but the human downgrading that Humane Technology discusses is at the next level - DOWN. Within this downgrading process there is the ongoing advertising (conditoning) to consume, consume, consume - essential for the accumulation of the 1%.
It frightens me where this downgrading is going. Wai Zandtao imagines the deluded 1% locked away in family enclaves (castles) with huge security forces to protect them whilst downgraded humans are earning a little for continued consuming tending the machines that facilitate the existence of these family enclaves. There is nothing in the current actions of these addicted people to suggest they wouldn't go this far to protect their accumulation.
Human downgrading is not a new phenomenon, it has been the byword of marketing ever since the 1% chose to control market forces. But instead of the internet being a possible avenue for greater information and wisdom it has been turned into a tool for exploitation. Because of the pervasive power and influence of the 1% there are no simple plans of action. So we are left with:-
Follow the path
Do right actions which are compassionate.
And with a final stab by the knife of disenchantment let us consider the work or Humane Technology who quite rightly are trying to raise the profile of human downgrading. Humane technology has an inbuilt designed institutional problem. The purpose of humane technology is compassionate diversion, the 1%-satrapy pretends to care about human downgrading and so up pops funding for a non-profit. The systemic intention of the funding is to support the 1%-satrapy through the compassionate facade, yet within the institution are people committed to truth, compassion and right action. What happens to the funding if there is success? The funding starts to dry up, and more and more of the energy is used to get the funding to defend the institution. Even if now the relationship with the funds are good, if Humane Technology becomes effective there will be 1% pressure on the funding to “downgrade”. What is done becomes the same the world over - all we are allowed is compromise whilst the 1%-satrapy continues. See what is what, recognise complete disenchantment, follow the path and do compassionate right action – NO clinging.
In this world of today it is perhaps “more important” to learn what is what. There are far more efforts within the world of the tacit to prevent us from accessing the timeless – human downgrading, and at a time when the addicted 1% are controlling the world through the 1%-satrapy timeless wisdom is perhaps an urgent need for survival.
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 which include human downgrading. 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? ).