Stages of maturation, Dzogchen, and the future of Buddhism.
Matthew O’Connell interviewed me recently for the Imperfect Buddha Podcast. Our conversation is now up on Soundcloud, and should appear above. If that’s not working, try this link.
The Imperfect Buddha Podcast, often cohosted with Stuart Baldwin,
aims to tackle the limits of Buddhism in the West and the taboos surrounding it, whilst pushing for its radical transformation into a genuine means for individual and collective liberation.
That would be a good description of what I’m trying to do here at Vividness also, so we had lots to talk about. We ranged over many topics; Matthew titled the episode “Stages of maturation, Dzogchen, and the future of Buddhism,” and those may be the highlights.
American Buddhist organizations and events rarely run smoothly. We take muddled ineffectuality for granted. Leaders don’t understand how to organize, and participants vigorously resist all systematic processes. 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.)
Someone said they were going to help set up for an event because they really felt like saying so was the way to preserve harmony and good feelings at the time; but something came up with a friend. And they didn’t feel that being there for the set-up was important. They “forgot” to tell you, because that might have led to bad feelings. It would be uncompassionate and un-Buddhist of you to give them a hard time about it, because helping out as agreed would have caused them suffering.
Unfortunately, transitory cooperative feelings and “being nice” do not get practical work done. This ethos exasperates and actively drives away competent people.
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.
Understanding what has gone wrong points to a profound opportunity. Buddhism could be a remarkable resource for supporting growth into full adulthood and beyond.
Robert Kegan’s model of adult development has profoundly influenced my understanding of ethics, relationships, society, and thought. This page summarizes his theory.
Earlier, I’ve mentioned Lawrence Kohlberg’s related model of moral development. He pointed out a series of increasingly sophisticated ways one can approach ethical reasoning. The capacity to reason in each of these ways develops over an individual’s lifetime through a fixed sequence of developmental stages.
Kohlberg’s model had strong empirical support, and it significantly advanced ethical understanding; but his approach was excessively rationalistic. Our moral being involves feeling and acting, just as much as reasoning. Moral activity is also always situated in richly textured social relationships and complex practicalities, and cannot be separated from them. Kohlberg’s paradigm of ethics was sitting in an armchair, reasoning out the correct action in simple, imaginary cases that you have no personal connection with.1
Kegan recognized that ethics is not an autonomous domain, but derives from the way we construct our selves; the way we understand romantic, family, and work relationships; and our general cognitive capacity. In empirical studies, he and others found that all these progress in sync through a series of five stages, similar to the ones Kohlberg had demonstrated for ethical reasoning ability.2 Each stage has a more sophisticated and more accurate understanding of self and other, which makes more sophisticated and accurate ethics possible.