Comments on “Better Buddhisms: A developmental approach”

Add new comment

Alexander 2015-10-16

Thanks for this masterful and fascinating series. I find some similarities between Kegan’s stage 5 and Chan (especially the Hongzhou school), but, like you with Vajrayana, I’m unsure of how legitimate the resemblances really are. Either way, I’ll be following your forthcoming posts with extreme interest, particularly in regards to the possibility of thinking about the ways in which one might effectively parallel propositions for “future Vajrayanas” with future Chan.

David Powers 2015-10-16

‘Few are on board with principle that “if you say you are going to do something, you should do it.” (And if you are not going to do it, you need to tell someone about it and help clean up the mess.)’

I’m consistently amazed at how few adults in our society can follow through and keep their word. I think that if you can’t even do that, whatever kind of meditation you are doing isn’t working very well. It doesn’t take any particular religion, and should only require a minimal level of mindfulness, to see how our words impact others, and to realize that it’s quite selfish to offer to do something and then not follow through.

David Powers 2015-10-16

You wrote: “Buddhism seems to function for many as a refuge from that: a comfortable social club in which we can feel morally superior by agreeing that capitalism is awful. This does nothing to improve, replace, or end the system, nor does it help anyone decrease their friction with it by learning how it works.”

Isn’t this precisely what Karl Marx had in mind in his famous critique of religion?

“Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

Dan 2015-10-16
For example, if you showed up late for a session, you’d find the doors were closed. A door keeper would invite you to meditate for ten minutes or so on a cushion outside before letting you in. This is alien to American culture. It may have a Tibetan precedent, but I haven’t encountered one, and I suspect Trungpa Rinpoche invented it.

He may have taken it from Japanese Zen, where it’s traditional. We do the same thing at my zendo, except (1) you have to wait until the whole sitting session is done, usually about half an hour (2) there is no doorkeeper, you are expected to be enough of a grown-up to police yourself. (Actually, I suspect they had never needed to use that rule until I started going there as a teenager!)

I’ve also seen the practice at larger Quaker Meetings, where the main purpose is “one disruption is better than several” as you say.

Dan 2015-10-16

‘Western Buddhist organizations and events rarely run smoothly.... Few are on board with principle that “if you say you are going to do something, you should do it.”’

I assume you really mean “Consensus” rather than “Western” here, yeah? My teacher sees this as a specifically American quirk, based on his travels there.

Though I have not much experience with Consensus Buddhism groups, this blog post explain so well why many small voluntary groups are absolutely horrible to work with sometimes - when you need to get the job done and would need to trust that others do their share.

David Chapman 2015-10-17

Thank you all for interesting comments! (Most seem to need no response from me.)

He may have taken it from Japanese Zen, where it’s traditional.

Ah, that’s very interesting, and very plausible! Chögyam Trungpa took many of the forms of Shambhala Training from Soto Zen, via his close friend S.T. Suzuki.

I assume you really mean “Consensus” rather than “Western” here, yeah? My teacher sees this as a specifically American quirk, based on his travels there.

Yes, I’ve fixed the text. Interesting observation.

jamie s 2015-10-19

“However, like all systems, they cannot deliver on their promises of ultimacy. After some years, their limitations, rigidities, and internal contradictions become apparent to those who may be ready to move beyond stage 4.”

There is a real challenge in creating a culture that allows for Stage 3, inspires Stage 4, and is informed by Stage 5. Although IMS gets a bad rap at times, I do think they actually do that fairly well. If people want to go deep, there are opportunities to do all of that there. It provides a fairly decent place for practicing for people who want true retreat conditions (multi-day and 1.5 month/3 month retreats with guidance at IMS or self-retreats at Forest Refuge). There is no way anyone can do longer retreats, full-day, defined schedule retreats without being Stage 4. And to pull it all off the staff/teachers at IMS need to be at Stage 5.

The reason IMS exists at all and continues to expand is because it financially taps and provides for a huge body of Stage 3 donors/meditators. If people want to dabble, they can and IMS is happy to provide the experience and accept the income. They are happy to accept money willed to them as well. The buildings look great these days and seem fairly opulent to me.

The one thing that IMS does not do is give a sense of what is possible, that there are stages of insight or stages of adult development. They obviously have made the calculation: do I alienate many to provide for the few? The truth of it is they have found a balance that doesn’t need to alienate the many and still — if you are lucky to have the right teacher, the right intuition, or the right external guidance — provide a venue for the few to do their practice.

IMS is also interesting because it has the structure of a 16-hour a day Sen/Theravada retreat setting, but doesn’t enforce the schedule. As a result, students that are Stage 3 or Stage 5 can tolerate the place. Stage 3 and Stage 5 are going to scoff at rigidly structured practice for different reasons. For Stage 3 it’s a level of discipline that won’t put upon themselves. For Stage 5, they know the futility of regimentation for developing a real human Strict schedules and rituals are fine at times, but they can quickly become stifling or just a distraction. (Some of my critical questions about Aro come from this orientation, what’s the point of the regiment and pagentry?) What Stage 5 needs is space, time, and a method to practice, with check ins with an awakened (Stage 6? 7?) teacher.

Speaking of awakening… More and more, it seems kind of odd to frame this discussion around Stage 3, 4, and 5. Looking at Kegan on Wiki… Stage 5, the highest stage, seems fairly mundane and doesn’t seem to have the more advanced Stages that Cook-Grueter has in her map. Stage 5 seems like a fairly low bar to leap over and doesn’t really seem to characterize the domain of meditation such as initial insights into emptiness, dependent arising, the tautologies of the 6 realms, and the union of form and emptiness.

Are you actually saying that Vajrayana is supposed to be a system for establishing post-modern thinking? I suppose it’s possible, but that’s sort of like saying a corvette is a device for drying parsley. Sure it might work for that, but…

David Chapman 2015-10-19
There is a real challenge in creating a culture that allows for Stage 3, inspires Stage 4, and is informed by Stage 5.

Yes indeed!

Some of my critical questions about Aro come from this orientation, what’s the point of the regiment and pagentry?

There’s not much regimentation in the Aro gTér at all.

Re pageantry, I tried to answer that for you in a previous comment. I’m sorry that seems to have been unhelpful. In short, ritual is a method. It has no ultimate meaning (nothing has ultimate meaning) but it’s a useful tool for accomplishing particular outcomes. Which outcomes, and how that works, is a huge topic. That earlier comment touched on one small aspect.

Coming from an IMS perspective, Vajrayana’s intended outcomes would be unfamiliar, and perhaps incomprehensible at first, so it would take a lot of background set-up to explain more generally. I may do that at some point. Even after extensive explanation, you might find the outcomes uninteresting. Different Buddhisms have different goals, and serve different sorts of people. Vajrayana seeks different effects than the IMS does.

I’ve discussed Cook-Greuter’s model in a previous comment. Kegan, and other researchers, have found empirically that very few people ever make it even to stage 5, so there’s not enough data to say anything about further stages with scientific confidence. Speculations are interesting, and some are plausible, but we don’t actually know.

Stage 5 ... doesn’t really seem to characterize the domain of meditation such as initial insights into emptiness, dependent arising, the tautologies of the 6 realms, and the union of form and emptiness.

Well, it wasn’t supposed to! I do think that it has some resonance with Dzogchen’s understanding of form and emptiness, as I suggested at the end of this post. I expect to say more about that in future posts.

Are you actually saying that Vajrayana is supposed to be a system for establishing post-modern thinking?

Obviously that was not its intention in pre-modern times. I think it can (and should) be used that way in the future. Not that it should be used only for that, but that can (and should) be one function.

(Here I’m using “post-modern thinking” to mean “Kegan stage 5” not “bullshit academic word salad,” which is the popular understanding.)

jamie s 2015-10-20

I think I hear patience and restrain in your replies, which I appreciate. I’m realizing that my interest in buddhism is less to inform Stage 3,4, and 5 and more to inform what is beyond – and that’s why I was curious if your original framing could get there. But I share your frustration with what exists as examples of Stage 5 in modern culture (including some advanced “education” consisting of teach how to make academic word salad or finding the right p-value for the wrong questions, which is really kind of a demented stage 4 approach to appearing stage 5) (and including buddhism that results in regression or unneeded repression rather than full appreciation of the freedom and play available in this life), so I appreciate the critiques. Looking forward to the remaining series. I’ll probably remain silent (a sigh of relief is heard :) ) but if I do comment, I’ll keep tightly to the to the domain of what is being presented. Apologies and again thanks!

Alf 2015-10-30

“Buddhist classes starting late are a trivial, but telling, manifestation of a deep failing. By implicitly validating an adolescent way of being, contemporary Buddhism impedes personal growth.”

Yeah but they’ve given up the Anglo Saxon outlook. In other parts of the world it’s perfectly grown up to be disorganised, late, manana.
No ?

Andreas 2015-12-07

Im curious this blog and posts by Javaraya? and others about reforming Buddhism by rejecting parts you don’t like or start from scratch etc. What is the point? Personally reading all this I don’t understand why not just go with the western philosophies such as epicurianism and strive for the state of ataraxia and include some tools from buddhism to help reach. It seems to fullfill all your needs(secular, inline with science, no sky gods, no traditional humbug etc) without the pointless endeavor of rejecting most of Buddhism to create a new Buddhism.

rafaelroldan 2016-11-09

Andreas, for me it doesn’t seem that Mr. Chapman is trying to make such a Franksteinish Buddhist golem as you point out (Consensus Buddhism has already done it).

I may be wrong (probably, at many points I am), because I’m not him, but from what I’m understanding on his writings, he’s rejecting what is not useful from Sutric Buddhism (such as Medieval ethics) and Consensus Buddhism and is pointing that Tantric Buddhism could be a source for a new model of living which is more vivid, yet open, not attached to the failing views of mere materialism, rubbish monism, fanatic eternalism and, most important, depressive nihilism (which seems to dominate the common view today, in its “light” display of hedonistic consumerism).

Of course we can apply Cynicism, Epicurianism, Stoicism and other more practical Western philosophies, but many things Vajrayana and Dzogchen present are not there, or at least no so clearly. For example, the Four Extremes or, especially, methods such as rTsa rLung, Dream Yôga and Trulkhor, which may help a lot. Not to mention the Tantric outline of not denying the world of form, but also not getting attached to it.

Add new comment:

You can use some Markdown and/or HTML formatting here.

Optional, but required if you want follow-up notifications. Used to show your Gravatar if you have one. Address will not be shown publicly.

If you check this box, you will get an email every time someone else posts a comment here. The emails include links to unsubscribe.