Episode link. Click here.
Stuart & I have made what may be our most controversial episode yet. We tackle Buddhist Enlightenment© and its taboos and do what many Buddhists would likely consider sacrilegious. A few of the questions we tackle include;
- What is it?
- Who’s got it?
- Can it be understood, formulated in a way that could liberate the masses as a form of human practice?
- Why bother? Is it the shiznit?
- How would it look if unreliant on Buddhism?
- What could a secular, humanist outlook as the basis for reconfiguring it produce?
- Who are the top ten enlightened dudes?
- How can you spot a fake?
It’s the sort of material that could drive masses of keyboard warriors to start quoting their favourite Buddhist books or teachers in a furious, emotive rant against all that is evil, for the first time encapsulated in an hour and twenty four minutes of a Soundcloud download.
If you are brave enough, download or stream the latest episode and enjoy a rather interesting take on Buddhism’s ultimate goal. We had fun with it and raised as many questions as we may have answered, which hopefully one of our upcoming guests will respond to.
Come and get enlightened.
Come and listen to the Imperfect Buddha Podcast.
Talks @ Google:
The Neurology of Awakening:
The Not-Craving Brain:
Dave Chapman – Ethics is Advertising:
Adrian Ivakhiv Immanence Blog & process-relational work:
I would love to have a text copy of “the list” of 15 themes on enlightenment. It’s top notch and reads like a list of topics for further research and discussion w/in the post-Buddhism network.
Here are the 15 premises to keep in mind that were given in the episode in a creative, critical undertaking;
1. Enlightenment and awakening do not exist as things, as objects or status to be obtained: human phenomena and experiencing exist and we can talk about those.
2. There is human phenomena that is worth discussing here: it is concerned with human liberation and tangible freedoms… any intangible freedoms might be best understood as of secondary importance.
3. Such tangible freedoms are of value and personally can be immensely valuable.
4. Awakening, liberation, or existential freedom likely have very little value to wider society in the West as it stands and may be viewed with suspicion if not ignored by most folk. This raises issues concerning the social status of those claiming or experiencing the phenomenon and the spiritual ghettos they may end up in.
5. Buddhism can provide a number of tools, both practical and ideational, that can bring about major change for an individual but popular Buddhism in the West is insufficient, on the whole, in producing such change in the short term at present; it’s better at helping with the management of such pro-positive human experience as well-being, happiness and relaxation.
6. The basis for liberation is concerned with processes and relationships, with patterns of selfing that surround an atomistic phantom entity encapsulated in the ‘I’.
7. Freedoms and liberation from the selfing process requires dramatic often violent change: society tends to shun such excess as do almost all Buddhist groups.
8. Peak experiences are relatively easy to come by but they typically differ from radical change, or break from identification with an enduring self: most folks confuse the two, many due to an excessive focus on positivity and the cult of the self.
9. Enlightenment is inevitably a disappointment but the sorts of freedoms or spaciousness of being that can come about as a consequence of seeking enlightenment are extremely valuable and could be translated into ideological norms and human praxis, i.e. groups or communities that practice and cultivate human ‘enlightenment’.
10. Buddhism’s goal, the end of suffering, is only partially possible: the body is matter and the mind is inseparable from our embodied, finite nature. Any form of total freedom is wishful thinking and intimately tied to the idea of escape. There is no escape.
11. Any form of awakening or liberation is inseparable from the body and the physical world we inhabit, so that there are no supernatural powers.
12. A great deal of what passes for discussion on this topic is wishful thinking or fantasy or both. The most important discussion of worth is what is human and what remains as the selfing narrative is dismantled and retold.
13. Buddhisms have a rich array of obstacles that make articulating such a concept as enlightenment inherently problematic.
14. Enlightenment/awakening are inherently political: recognition within a tradition, the rules governing claims, possibility/impossibility of attainment, individuals claiming or refusing to claim, the rules enforced by followers or hierarchies concerning what is allowed, morally right or wrong to do so, all come into play and have limited our ability in the West to look at this topic rationally.
15. The nature of the discussion is itself problematic and flawed due to its abstraction and loaded symbology and values. It is culturally bogged down by masses of here say and masses of bullshit.
16. The language we use to discuss enlightenment and its result is itself flawed and based on subject object dualism, a more interesting model of liberation or awakening could be based on a process-relational ecological ontology.
Great show, thanks for sharing. I guess when one gets beyond the semantics of enlightenment, one has to decide for onself whether the self-deconstructing process (if it indeed exists) is actually a worthwhile venture. In my case, I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that it isn’t. I spent 7 years practicing Rinzai Zen and had a number of kensho experiences (or peak experiences, whatever you want to call them). But I do not think these experiences and 7 years of daily practice – give or take a few weeks – have done much at all to dislodge the self structure. Yes, practice has opened me up to a more expansive view of self, but it hasn’t done much to eradicate suffering. At least in my case. That was the principle reason I embarked on practice in the first place, and is the main reason I am leaving now – I cannot maintain the fiction that sitting is doing anything for me at all.
Thanks for your positive comment. You made me reflect on the limits of ‘practice’ as well as the problems with slotting one’s self into a foreign tradition.
I never found the sorts of change I was after from following traditional forms of Buddhism, whether Tibetan or Theravadan. Training as a psychotherapist and then a life coach did much more in terms of raising awareness, breaking reactive patterns and addressing the personal stories that kept me reproducing dysfunctional patterns in my relationships and so on. My involvement with a rather unconventional shamanic collective also proved as, if not more, powerful, perhaps due to the group activity and the intensity of the work we undertook. I am a firm believer that radical change requires help from outside and with peers.
I tend to believe that traditional Buddhism, on the whole, is only really capable of reproducing itself. That’s not to say there aren’t figures perverting the self-serving, institutional patterns that keep the tradition plodding on, but rather the seduction of roles, identities and the mystique of the tradition are powerful traps and that teachers and followers tend to shy away from discussion of internal contradictions and the ever present need for tradition to evolve, adapt and change. Issues of purity are always detrimental as is the need for roles to be so fixed.
Issues of personal change, the reduction of psychological and emotional suffering, the deconstruction/re-evaluation of the self, are such complex topics and although it may not be clear, part of the reason the podcast exists is to shake things up and get others thinking, discussing, challenging and reworking in order that we may all develop better articulated ways to respond to these issues. I long ago gave up the myth of the expert. Open culture means we can all get stuck in if we feel a passion for it.
Asides from the silly humour we employed and the statement about being “fully enlightened” I have benefited immensely from meditation practice since working 1:1 with a western teacher in a non-traditional setting. I believe this is primarily due to a shift away from the individual having to adapt itself to a tradition to the practice being fit to address the needs the individual brings to that practice space.
I increasingly think that sitting, isolated from the whole person, is at best a form of self-management, at worst destabilising and potentially harmful.
Thanks Matthew for your reply. I agree wholeheartedly with your comment about Buddhism replicating itself. My former teacher, although he often talked about enlightenment, seemed more interested in producing a successor that walked and talked the same way as him. It was striking how his senior student took on his mannerisms and speech patterns during the time that I was with the group. It was almost like he had been put on a conveyer belt to becoming a newly minted master. I wonder how much this emphasis on lineage, succession and realisation really benefit the world as a whole. One of the reasons I left was because I found the whole set up de-humanising – it was clear that there was a valued inner circle in the group and that everyone else was surplus to requirements.
Anyway, I have veered off topic. Given your reservations about enlightenment, I’m curious to know how meditation currently informs your spiritual practice. Can you say anything about that?
Firstly, I don’t think of meditation as something spiritual necessarily but rather as a set of specific practices, each with a set of potential outcomes. These can include; training a mental capacity such as focussed attention, exploring sensory fields to enrich a sense of embodied immediacy or contemplation on a theme or question, leading to understanding. Then there are more abstract practices such as looking at mind, which can be rather liberating, or run of the mill, such as grounding and self-massage.
These, in a sense, are a set of tools for practising liberation from identification with prominent mental and emotional content, whilst allowing content to self-liberate, meaning emerge and dissolve, without forcing anything.
That probably sums up the essential goings on. These are supported by ‘off cushion’ disciplines or tasks too depending on whatever’s taking place.
Hope that’s clear.
Hi – thanks for this podcast, I’ve listened to a few of the Imperfect Buddhas and this is the one that I’ve got the most from. I’m coming at this from a different direction to you, from a more secular direction, but it’s helpful to hear your take on ‘enlightnement’ – thanks also for posting your 15 premises above, that’s also useful. To be honest, once I’d heard them in the podcast I don’t think I needed to keep listening as they pretty much outlined a view that resonates with me (but I did, and some of the amplification was helpful).
It was good to hear Eckhart Tolle get an honourable mention. I read his first book, then watched a load of his clips on YouTube. I don’t think I was wanting to hear what he was saying (as he really just kept saying the same thing over and over again) but it was more a morbid curiosity with the way that he was saying it, like a ‘Muppet’ puppet doing an impression of an ‘enlightened being’. But at no point did he snap out of it. Just weird.
Finally, here’s a link to something on the topic that I was reading yesterday from the very secular Winton Higgins. Nothing lofty here, but many good points and fodder for thought…
PS As a child I was brought up in the Salvation Army – you may have seen me playing Christmas carols on the trombone in Park Street in Bristol in the mid-90s wearing a funny Victorian quasi-military uniform – anyway… They had a weird term in the Salvation Army, maybe they still do, a euphemism for dying which was being ‘Promoted to Glory’. Becoming ‘enlightened’, in the Theravada sense, seems to be something akin to this idea. As a child I wondered if being ‘Promoted to Glory’ was so great why more people didn’t commit suicide so they could be ‘promoted’ more quickly… I think I might have brought this up once and adults pointed out to me that the bible says that suicide disqualifies you, so you have to do thing on gods terms if you are to get promoted. This was supposed to be a consolation, I think. Right, I don’t think any of what I’ve just said has been particularly deep, but WTF do people tell their children with the ‘best intentions’ and how am I to avoid going down the same path now I’m a father? (That’s rhetorical, not asking for suggestions).
Thanks for your comment. It was interesting and odd to read of your experiences with the Salvation Army. I remember the place they had in St Pauls as my dad lived very nearby. Know very little about them though.
I’m always happy to hear someone acknowledge Tolle’s bland, vacuous line.
Thanks for the link. I shall give it a look. I’d read some of Higgins writing some years back and found him to be down to Earth.
Hi – yes, the one in St Pauls was called ‘Bristol Citadel’. I had many friends there, mid 90s, and between A level and University did volunteer work there at their homeless people’s drop-in centre. We lived up in Bristol Horfield, my parents were the ministers (‘captains’) there. Jim