We recently finished the third in a 3-part series looking at Buddhist enlightenment. This series has been quite popular and it marks something of a way stage for Stuart and me. In our first episode, we explored ideas raised over at the Post-Traditional Buddhism site, in which a humanistic, non-dual practice approach was loosely married to the four stages of awakening. We looked at myths, language and identities and asked a lot of what ifs of Buddhist enlightenment.
…we had Daniel Ingram share his perceptual model and we discussed the limitations of enlightenment and the issue of myths and so forth surrounding it.
…Adrain Ivakhiv helped us construct tools to understand a world away from subjects and objects of processes, relations and environmental embeddedness in which participation is a constant, and escape no longer an option. This world sounded eerily like a post-enlightenment world. Something that Dan and I discussed too in looking at human fragility.
A number of themes were explored throughout and many of them are in need of further attention. Some of these are worth mentioning again for they are disruptive and potentially revolutionary.
…enlightenment as part of a narrative; possessing a manmade form, it holds cultural value within a practice tradition and really only finds sense enclosed within that tradition. Being a narrative, it picks up traditional baggage and in the process accumulates a matrix of values, symbols, traps and indulgences…all manmade, all attempting to answer and respond to human questions and needs. This is quite different from the superlative discourse familiar to many Buddhists.
…enlightenment as having little value beyond a given tradition; certainly not valued by wider society, if considered at all, it has a specific, marginal role in wider societies’ narratives, essentially ending up as an empty signifier. What happens to Buddhism and its enlightenment in the wider landscape of ideas and human practice? hmmm
…there is also the illusion of perennialism; many spiritual folks hold to the belief that all religion is one and that ultimate truth exists as the end point of all true religious spiritual traditions and so on. I often think of this as an elaborate game of validation for one’s own spiritual shallowness. It often accompanies a lack of critical thought and learning.
…so, hopefully, you noticed that a Post-Traditional approach takes enlightenment on and asks of it a number of questions; what are you without your tradition? What is human and shared about you, if at all? What shared human principles can be understood from your tales? What happens to you if you lose your secret language? Your splendid status? Your power?
So What is After Enlightenment then?
Here it actually means something quite specific; it means after the myths, stories, and fantasies have failed us or fallen apart
It means after peak experience/s, initial/later/accumulative experiential breakthrough and/or awakening like experiences have taken place, come and gone, or become too familiar.
It means after the illusion of escape, salvation, perfection, or happiness has hit home and we are left wanting, or bored even.
This is after enlightenment.
One issue that emerges when looking at contemporary western Buddhism in this critical post-traditional way is the lack of support and guidance outside of mainstream Buddhism. We are frail, we need each other. Where do we go? Do we give up on Buddhism or spirituality completely? Do we look for another balsam? Do we accept the contradictions and limitations or tradition and keep at it?
What would an after enlightenment look like? Who will help us on our way? Who can help us out when we take the red pill and leave the Buddhist bubble or realise that those dreams have failed us?
Get ready for some shameless advertising…
There is a link at the Post-Traditional Buddhism site to my Coaching Work. I haven’t explicitly advertised it at the Imperfect Buddha Podcast, but since putting together the podcast, I’ve had an increase of new clients inspired by its content. Many are looking for a way forward after initial or long-term disillusionment with mainstream Buddhism, meditation or spirituality in general.
So, I thought I ought to advertise my wares in an elaborate plot to earn large amounts of money from unsuspecting, impoverished lost spiritual souls…or something like that.
Now, there are a number of explicitly Buddhist or meditation teachers out there. I am not one of them. I’m not a Buddhist teacher or a meditation teacher but I do incorporate both into my coaching work. It would be hard not to after 25 years of intense involvement with them.
I see my coaching work as an extension of the Bodhisattva prayer and the recognition that we must choose to participate and that we must choose to share our knowledge, gifts and talents with those who may benefit from them.
I originally trained as person-centred counsellor in my early twenties. Finding it a very limited approach to helping others, I moved onto Life Coaching, which is far more dynamic and practical. These two form the foundations of my working methods. They provide the basis from which I use post-traditional Buddhism and/or contemporary shamanism, which I’ll explain briefly in a moment.
The approach is holistic, working on the totality of our lives and seeing all spiritual practice as firstly, human, secondly, as necessarily concerned with the reality and circumstances of our lives and lived experience. So, no room for escapism or the superficiality of the happiness trail. What is spiritual is up for debate, but in my view, it needs to concern itself with the full spectrum of our shared humanity which is personal and shared.
Coaching provides a systematic approach to establishing patterns of change, inquiry or self-development. Utilising goals and meaningful objectives, and working with patterns. It also means unlocking dysfunctional patterns of behaviour and looking to find balance, examining and changing beliefs, working with intent and personal responsibility.
Counselling means listening, connecting and being honest with ourselves. It means finding our own answers and recognising how we negotiate feelings with ourselves and others, and create elaborate codes of emotional expression and suppression. It means being compassionate and understanding towards our own limitations, failings and fears.
Post-Traditional Buddhism takes our immediate and accumulated experience with Buddhism (as practice and as something you do) as the perpetual starting point for the path. It involves examining myths, assumptions, expectation and potential. It draws on traditional Buddhism but is free to experiment, mould and personalise practice to make it relevant to our lived experience. It assumes that we must act on Buddhism and not just receive it passively.
Contemporary Shamanism, the oddest aspect of the four perhaps, sees the human world as a ritualised one in which patterns are the expression of shared ritual gesture. Stories are the means through which we enact our shared ritualised (i.e. patterned) existence. It works with the symbolic nature of the human world and with dynamics such as power and weakness, fear and confidence, freedom and entrapment, as well as many others, and the deliberate encompassing of cycles of death, change and renewal. It recognises that form is always emerging out of emptiness and that participation means engaging with the forms of our individual and shared humanity as potential spaces for liberating experience.
Coaching is generally based on cycles of short-term support which are renewed as needed. If it’s helpful, it can continue.
If you’re interested, get in touch. I primarily work through skype and of course in person, but in Italy. Check out the link on the menu bar above for more information.
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
This is my cheesy, professional photo so you can see what I look like.