Saturday, August 14, 2010

Coming Out of the Closet About Enlightenment

Imagine that you're a baker, and that you've trained for years as an apprentice under a master baker from some faraway land where baking is an ancient and venerated art. You've studied and practiced the old craft and learned all the recipes by heart. You now produce authentic baked goods that nourish and delight countless people. You have, in fact, emerged from this training with a level of experience and skill and -- bear with the metaphor here -- "realization" that qualifies you, in turn, as a freshly minted master baker.

But you have also become part of a strange culture of bakers where talking about your skill and experience is strictly forbidden. You are, in fact, discouraged from thinking that you have attained anything, much less from talking to others about it. "There is no attainment and no non-attainment," says one of the classic, mystifying baking manuals taught at your school. You are allowed to bake, and to take on students in order to transmit what you have learned as a baker, but at the same time you are required to follow a bizarre policy of denying, if you say anything about it at all, that you have attained any particular skill as a baker. You see even the most accomplished and wise bakers, from whom you have learned everything you know, feigning a kind of false humility and calling themselves mere beginners. To do otherwise would be considered a display of sheer arrogance and ego and attachment.

This is, roughly speaking, the culture that exists in Buddhism today on the question of enlightenment or spiritual realization. In the Tibetan tradition, for example, even the most senior teachers -- the Dalai Lama and the Gyalwang Karmapa, who are acknowledged by all of their followers as being at least hugely realized, and maybe totally enlightened -- downplay their own attainments and make no claims to having accomplished much of anything. "I am just a simple monk," the Dalai Lama famously said.

But in one corner of the Buddhist world there are a growing number of Western practitioners who are breaking with tradition and talking openly and plainly about their attainments. Teachers like Kenneth Folk and Daniel Ingram, emerging largely from the Theravada Buddhist tradition, are experimenting with "coming out the closet" about enlightenment. They are part of what some are calling the new "hardcore dharma movement," and they are using technologies like the Internet to talk frankly about the steps towards enlightenment and their own experience of each of those steps.

Daniel Ingram's book, "Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha," heralds its author on the book's front cover as "The Arahat Daniel M. Ingram," and his biographical page on his website makes no bones about it:

"I am an arahat with mastery of the formed jhanas, formless realms, Nirodha Samapatti, and a few other traditional attainments. I am one of the few teachers I know of who will talk about high-level practice directly and unambiguously without relying on dogma, making things taboo or coating simple truths in mystery. I assume that most practitioners are mature enough to handle straight-forward and honest answers. My fundamental assumption is that many more people will be empowered to realize that they can master these things if they are out in the open."

To note that such bold statements and personal claims to realization are controversial would be stating the obvious. Critics holding the traditional line have decried Ingram, Folk and others for making such claims and even accused them of being deluded and misguiding students. Some have noted the particular dangers, which also seem fairly obvious, of making claims to enlightenment on the Internet -- where pretty much anyone can claim pretty much anything and find someone to believe it. Aside from that, they ask, even when you meet someone in person, how do you really judge whether they have realized what they say they have realized? Yet many others regard Ingram's and Folk's claims as being credible, and have welcomed this emerging counterculture of straight-talk with open arms.

Kenneth Folk acknowledges the danger of people, intentionally or not, making false claims to enlightenment, but says that is not the real problem -- and, moreover, that it's not very difficult for him to spot someone making false claims. "The real problem, in my opinion," he says, "is the lack of disclosure. When you do not have disclosure, you have this weird situation where nobody can even tell who the competent teachers are because you’ve got competent teachers who are saying, 'Oh I’m not enlightened. I would never claim enlightenment.' They sometimes do this even if they are enlightened because they believe it is somehow virtuous to pretend they are not. This to me is just absolutely asinine."

The Birth of a Taboo

This belief in the virtue of pretending not to be enlightened or realized is something that may not have existed at the time of the Buddha. Some of the Buddha's early discourses from the Pali canon include explicit declarations of how many people listened to the teaching and what level of attainment they realized as a result. It was, arguably, only later that monastic institutions codified the belief that openly speaking about one's level of attainment should be considered taboo. Maybe part of why it is such a taboo in the monastic code is that misleading others by making false claims of realization that you don't actually have is considered one of the most vile and karmically destructive ethical downfalls possible, because of its negative impact on the students. The danger of making such a misstep, whether intentionally or through one's own ignorance, is perhaps seen as so great that it's better to avoid talking about attainment altogether.

Folk calls this consensus policy of silence about enlightenment "the mushroom culture" -- because, like mushrooms, people are "kept in the dark and fed shit." One of the dangers, says Folk, is that "because of the mushroom culture and because of the darkness, we’ve got teachers who frankly have no idea what they’re talking about who are very popular and have all kinds of students, and they are just leading students down the primrose path because, after all, we don’t talk about these things. So I ask, what kind of legitimate pedagogy would allow for that?"

Another issue that comes up is that different traditions and teachers have different concepts of what enlightenment is. The "progress of insight" path described by Folk that culminates in becoming an "arahat" is based largely on the Theravadan model of practice and fruition, familiar to many students in our culture as "Insight" or "Vipassana" meditation. That model of enlightenment is radically different from the Mahayana model put forward in Zen and Tibetan Buddhism; the Mahayana, to put it bluntly, sees becoming an arahat as, at best, a temporary pit-stop and, at worst, a bog in which to get stuck on the path to becoming a full-blown Buddha. Students steeped in the Mahayana vision of paths and bhumis culminating in Buddhahood may be especially ill-equipped to judge the claims of people like Folk and Ingram, who are following an altogether different model of enlightenment and working with a different set of paths and fruitions.

At the end of the day, though, the same benefits and risks apply to every model. Whether you're looking at Theravada or Mahayana or Vajrayana, you can find bogus teachers making false claims and leading students, as Folk says, "down the primrose path" that goes nowhere. You can also find, if you look in the right places, legitimately realized teachers who are guiding sincere students to their own realization. Folk and Ingram are part of a new wave of teachers who are breaking ranks and speaking openly, for perhaps the first time in the West, about exactly what that realization consists of and how they experienced it and how their students have experienced it -- how, in fact, anyone can experience it. Whether you believe this new revolution of straight-talk about enlightenment will prove beneficial or destructive probably depends which side of the traditional line you stand on.

So where do you stand? Are Folk and Ingram and other "hardcore dharma" practitioners doing the right thing by talking openly about their enlightenment? Share your thoughts with other readers on One Human Journey.

Related Links:

Daniel Ingram
Kenneth Folk
You Can’t Script Enlightenment: Moving Beyond Magical Thinking - A conversation between Kenneth Folk and Joel Groover


RonC. said...

As a member of the "hardcore" movement described here, it is refreshing to hear it described accurately.

For years I stumbled around in the dharma, fumbled in the dark reading dozens and dozens of books trying to "decode" what all these big-time teachers were talking about. Everything was ridiculously cryptic. I lost so much time and energy just trying to make sense of what people were talking about. I knew that there was something going on, "enlightenment" seemed like something too grand to hope for, but maybe something between this normal life and that was possible. But what and how?

When I first heard Kenneth Folk and Daniel Ingram talk openly about what enlightenment was and what to do to actually wake up for yourself, it was like someone suddenly threw on the lights. I wasn't in the dark anymore. What a relief!

I've been meditating under the guidance of K. Folk for about 10 months now, and the difference is tremendous. It literally changed my life. It is waking me up.

A handful of people in this movement, including me, are leaning toward calling it a "pragmatic dharma" movement. The focus is on what does it take to really do it, to really become enlightened. Not what you believe or think, but what you actually do in practice and the results of that. Hardcore has so many meanings, and could even be misinterpreted as "fundamentalist" by some. But that is splitting hairs. No matter what you call it, it's the Dharma, and it has one taste: Freedom.

Unknown said...

So then I wonder how PB might expand upon the potential consequences of identity or Ego, so to speak. I wonder the benefits of such declarations in either camp, Vipassana or Zen and friends. I mean, does declaring your master baker status actually promote your own or anyone else's awakening? The whole lead by example dharma gift has been "working" pretty well for many centuries...

RonC. said...

"The whole lead by example dharma gift has been "working" pretty well for many centuries..."

From my own experience described above, I'd say it isn't working at all. If these guys hadn't come out and just plainly said that they are enlightened and they want to show others how to do it too, I'd still be stumbling around in the dark trying to make sense of everyone's cryptic examples.

Besides, examples are no good at telling you how to get enlightened. Often they lead to people mimicking how they think enlightened people "act." They try to be kind and wise and compassionate, but they actually aren't wiser or more compassionate. To use a funny example Jed McKenna wrote about, imagine if enlightenment were a full stomach, and everyone on Earth was hungry. No one who was full was allowed to say so, but people could tell who they were because they seemed content, rubbed their bellies and burped occasionally. Now imagine thousand of people running around rubbing their bellies, acting content and burping in the whole-hearted belief that this will lead to full stomach.
The situation in the dharma today is very similar. Until people start being direct about these things, there is just confusion.

Unknown said...

Just a couple of noncohesive points that reading Dennis's blog entry on advertising one's level of realization and a bit of Folk's website got going in me.

* The injunction not to talk too much about practice or levels of attainment developed in a monastic environment, as DH points out, and seems to be aimed at minimizing jealousy, frustration, and lying in order to increase one's social capital in such an environment. These are still practical concerns in a so-called Western lay sangha, at dharma centers and the like. I'm not confident, at least not as confident as Folk, that outing one's realization level will sufficiently mitigate these very human characteristics. What is using such speech doing to benefit the realization of others and of ourselves on the practice path--this is the perspective that I keep coming back to. The historical contextualization and cultural relativization in DH's and Folk's statements are useful, and anthropoligically fascinating. But is the grid of attainments--that degree of institutionalization in both the Tibetan and Theravadan camps--really useful for more than grounding authority (however ironically managed by masters) and fomenting discord? Guess I'm kind of a forest person on this note.

* Invoking the dichotomy spiritual/religious doesn't really help much to resolve (!) this question or the related question of rebirth that came up in DH's last blog entry. Calling what I do "spiritual" really only makes any kind of clear thinking about my practice vaguer, even if it serves as an more or less useful descriptor for letting others know what I may be up to. One (good) thing rituals, religious or not, do is give you a point of reference, a practice, that you keep coming back to. It's repeatable in the way a scientific experiment is supposed to be repeatable. This can add to vagueness, but it's useful to me to see how it can enable clarity as well, how I each time I take my seat on the cushion I have a different relationship to the Buddha statue on my bookcase (I did away with a more formal shrine when I moved house a year ago), and a different relationship to lighting incense. These are acts (there are others) that mean different things to me at different times. But that doesn't mean that they stop meaning.

* "Spiritual" itself is itself hardly less loaded a concept than "religion." Witness, as this discussion has, the New Age phonies whose discourse of spirituality masks their propagation of fundamental confusion. Again, I don't want to promote historical and cultural arguments over what helps us with our path now. But "spiritual" has a long, problematic history in Western ideas. (Lots more to say on this.) The term is not a terminus or a solution. It's a question mark.

* Is talking of levels really going to rid us of the propensity of people masquerading as masters who aren't? Or of students, who may be quite earnest, consistently misunderstanding the teachings of genuine masters and hence confusing their own path and perhaps others'? The confusion we create by thinking and acting is always part of the path. I'm not sure straight-talk (which is an oddly sexualized, heteronormative metaphor in a blog string focusing on coming out of the closet with "enlightenment") and the presumption that elevating honesty about certain taboos above other virtuous attitudes will lead us to clarity. I don't mean this rhetorically: I'm really not sure. In general transparency seems in my experience to help human interactions and reduce anxious and paranoid mind's power over us. But honesty and clarity can manifest as obstacles, too. They aren't, alas, unequivocally virtuous.

More anon.

Unknown said...

* But if we are concerned about which forms we inherit from "the East" to accept and which to reject--and this is the upbeat of Dennis's last two entries--and if this inquiry leads us to introspection about our relation to science (which liberally educated Westerners like me hold to be the dominant belief system structuring much of how we talk about ourselves and our options), rebirth and enlightenment are vital taboos to discuss. Talking openly about rebirth comes close to being a taboo in Western Tibetan circles for one simple reason. Much of the edifice--the "religious trappings"--of Mahayana Buddhism falls apart if you factor this out. Factoring out rebirth, and the teachings of karma that rely for their effectiveness on presupposing the necessity of rebirth, leaves us with an absolutely terrifying prospect that institutionalized Buddhist paths may or may not be able to help us with.

Wake up now. No one else can do it for you.

You're awake right now. What are you doing about it?

Unknown said...

I can relate to a lot of what Ron wrote. I don't know whether I'm a member of the "hardcore" or "pragmatic" dharma movement, but I am married to Kenneth Folk and I've certainly been influenced by his clear and unsentimental orientation to dharma. Meeting and getting to know regular people (like Kenneth, Daniel I., and many of Kenneth's students) who admit to being enlightened has encouraged me to believe that I too can fully wake up--if I simply do the practice. Hearing people talk openly about their experiences all along the path has demystified the enlightening process for me and has fundamentally changed my conception of what is possible for me and for any sincere yogi in this life. When people are willing to admit that they have come to the end of seeking and they are willing to tell you just how they got there, it can be really empowering.

Kenneth Folk said...

If the suttas are to be believed, the buddha boldly proclaimed his awakening to anyone who would listen. His enlightened monks allegedly did the same. The larger context for this discussion is that what my teacher, Bill Hamilton, called the “mushroom culture” is a relatively recent development in Buddhism. It’s worth asking yourself this question: if not for the currently existing taboo against honesty with regard to enlightenment, would anyone be campaigning for the taboo now? In other words, let’s turn the discussion on its head; can anyone make the case that secrecy is even remotely a good idea? In order to do so, it would be useful to find some other field of education where the benefits of withholding information outweigh the harm. Stumped? Me too.

Returning to Dennis Hunter’s master baker analogy, let’s acknowledge some history: If Buddhist enlightenment were baking, the founder or the lineage would have called himself something that translates into English as “the fully baked one,” or “he who bakes most masterfully.” (Compare this to the Buddha, who was known by his peers as “the awakened one.”) In spite of the breathtaking forthrightness of its founder, at some point the baking tradition would have so lost its way that the most famous baking teachers in the land would feign ignorance of baking. Students who wished to learn to bake would have little choice but to choose a teacher at random or based on popularity alone because no one even seemed to remember what a freshly baked loaf smelled like.

Pascal wrote: “The injunction not to talk too much about practice or levels of attainment... seems to be aimed at minimizing jealousy, frustration, and lying in order to increase one's social capital...”

Right. And this applies to every human social situation I can think of. But isn’t it curious that neither baking nor academia nor piano playing nor athletics have dealt with this by creating a culture of secrecy and shame about the very thing they are ostensibly attempting to master. Sometimes I am stunned by the perversity of this situation in which the very people who are most harmed by the system step forward again and again to defend it. Those who wish to awaken have a right to know whether their teachers have mastered the material they are teaching. Furthermore, they have a right to know whether their teachers even believe mastery is possible. We have all managed, in modern Buddhism, to create a massive disempowerment machine, with some of the most popular teachers leading the charge. Let’s stop now. Transparency is good. Withholding information is bad. Haven’t we learned that yet?

-Kenneth Folk

Dennis Hunter said...

Thanks for the great comments on this article, everyone.

Just to play devil's advocate and pose a fairly obvious question (and I suspect this point may have been the gist of Aimee's comment)....

In Tibetan Buddhist circles these days we talk a lot about the pitfalls of "spiritual materialism" -- Chogyam Trungpa coined this term with his book "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism" -- which is not (as it might sound) about wearing yoga clothes and dharma beads and so on (although those things can, in some cases be an expression of it). Spiritual materialism is about the ego's crafty ways of trying to latch onto spirituality as just another way to puff itself up and gain the illusion of solidity. One of the most egregious forms of spiritual materialism is grasping after credentials and attainments on the spiritual path, as a form of ego validation.

So, obviously, with a more open culture of people talking about their attainments and touting them as credentials on their web sites, the danger exists of this becoming (for some people) just an expanded superhighway to spiritual materialism. How do you keep that from happening? This is a question that is probably on a lot of people's minds as they weigh these issues -- and I suspect that such folks fear the worst will happen if we open those floodgates. (One possible way of answering this question may be that, well, plenty of spiritual materialism is already happening in the closed mushroom culture. Maybe having a more open culture of disclosure would, paradoxically, promote a less neurotic way of relating to these things.)

Dennis Hunter said...

Also, Pascal, I wanted to acknowledge the lucidity of your comments. Lots there to chew on.

Not to go too far off-topic, but I have been thinking a lot recently about the whole issue of rebirth and karma that you brought up in your last bullet point. In fact, I've been writing about this topic for a few weeks; I'm not quite ready to publish what I've written yet (and it may appear on this blog or somewhere else...if it's elsewhere, I'll include a link to it on this site). This is just to say that those very issues you bring up have been large on my mind recently.

I'm sympathetic to the concerns of science-minded Western materialists who are questioning the whole rebirth-and-karma aspect of Buddhism. But at the same time I think the prevailing materialist view of consciousness is riddled with half-baked assumptions and beliefs that are no less problematic than the traditional Buddhist beliefs that are now under attack in some quarters. And to maintain such a materialistic belief system requires ignoring everything that contradicts that view; there's plenty of evidence out there, if you're willing to look for it, that suggests that materialism is a woefully inadequate basis to explain all the phenomena of mind.

[Now back to our regular programming]

Derek said...

Yes -- for a bhikkhu, if you get it wrong, it's one of the four parajika offenses, so probably best not to talk about it at all.

Unknown said...

So let’s get honest about transparency and secrecy. Let’s put the put the pedagogical analogies we’re considering to the test. As Kenneth suggests, “. . . let’s turn the discussion on its head; can anyone make the case that secrecy is even remotely a good idea? In order to do so, it would be useful to find some other field of education where the benefits of withholding information outweigh the harm. Stumped? Me too.”

I’m not sure how stumped we need to be about withholding information in education. Of course a lot hinges on what exactly you mean by “withholding information.” Any kind of learning that proceeds from elementary building blocks to developing more refined abilities and understandings entails what you could call withholding information. If you speak a European language and want to learn to read the discourses of the Buddha, you first learn the alphabet, then you learn to combine the letters into words, learn how words combine into sentences, you do some basic reading and at some point you’re ready to read the discourses. Are the teachers who teach you the alphabet withholding information from you by not giving you the discourses to read first? Or by claiming that you need the alphabet in order to truly comprehend the discourses the way they do?—which isn’t at all the case. It certainly wasn’t for Hui-Neng. The alphabet enables one kind of access to the teachings.

What’s really at stake for us is the culturally induced fuzziness that accompanies some dharma teaching situations. It was painful, and sobering, to read in Dennis’s article how much suffering has come from simply transplanting, along with the dharma, attitudes of shame and secrecy from its first host cultures into our world without adequate self-reflection. (This is not to say that Western pedagogy doesn’t rely on shame and secrecy—it does—but that could be discussed in a separate, likely very long discussion thread.) Ron’s account was particularly poignant.

But it seems to me that the issue isn’t so much withholding information or that shame gets imported alongside the dharma. Minimizing a culture of secrecy and shame, whatever their provenance, as Buddhism grows on our home turf is easy to agree on. What we should be talking about is finding a competent teacher to work with.

My own experience has been quite different than Ron’s. While it took some time and effort—work with my own hang-ups, with genuine confusion in discriminating cultural differences from the many other challenges that genuine dharma confronts us with—it wasn’t ultimately that difficult to find a teacher with attainments who wasn’t bent on advertising them.

It’s not rocket science to discern enlightened attitude in teachers, or for that matter in fellow students. It’s actually pretty easy to detect. And it might, as it did for me, unfold on a largely nondiscursive level—a kind of spiritual gay-dar. Articulating specific features of an enlightened being is a different story. But if you’re lucky enough to be able to expose yourself to a number of teachers, you can get a pretty secure sense of who’s reliable and who isn’t.

Most forms of Buddhism offer some kind of template for this purpose. Rather than focusing on labels supposed to indicate degrees of attainment (though these have value and should not be discarded) we might look at how the teacher behaves if we want to test his or her mettle. How neurotic—or at ease—do you feel when you are around her? What is the quality of your feeling? What kind of environment does he set up? What are her students like? How does she treat them? Is the teacher kind?

(continued -->)

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RonC. said...

Thanks for the question Dennis. I love any Devil's Advocate, so I'll take a try at it.

So, worst case scenario if people make claims to attainments ("I'm an arahat" or "I'm at streamwinner") is that they are wrong, in which case they are going to give you bogus information by accident. An even worse worst case is that they are faking, and they could give you totally bogus info to support some creepy agenda they have. That is some scary stuff, and I totally understand why people are not alright with that.

However, how is that really all that different from what is going on now? I'd argue that we have tons of people who aren't even streamwinners teaching like they are arahats. No one can call them on it though, because they are never asked to just say where they are on the path. If they made a claim to an attainment, then at least others who had that same level of realization could tell if they were bogus or not.

The main question you asked though was how do we keep people from getting attainments for some ego-trip reason if we have an open culture where people can disclose where they are on the path. The answer, I think, is that we don't. Some people are going to be ego driven whether we are open about awakening or whether we are secretive about it (on this point I'd highly recommend reading Bill Hamilton's "Saints and Psychopaths"). At least if we are open about it, then everyone can judge for themselves. I'd strongly prefer more information and open skepticism to no information and blind faith.

Unknown said...

You know the master baker by the delicious results, and if you are a student of the master baker, there are a number of possible ways you can learn her craft, not all of them mutually exclusive and not all of them contingent on knowing precisely how advanced she is. Fit is probably more important—whether the teacher’s methods and manner fit with your propensities and degree of receptivity. What makes a teacher a master is her/his ability to work with students where they are and to one end—to wake up.

Of course we cheat every time we use an analogy instead of an example from experience. Analogies are almost always circuitous and intransparent, because they don’t talk directly about the matter at hand. They are great at getting the ball rolling, as has Dennis’s master baker analogy. But what matters to us all, I think, is the teacher’s ability to speak directly to our experience. It’s in the relationship between teacher and student that the transparency develops. Recognizing this clarity may entail recognizing qualities in the teacher that are not completely covered by the claims the teacher makes about himself. Nothing guarantees a one-to-one correspondence of claims to qualities, much as we’d like to believe in that.

Attending to the pain in Ron’s and others’ accounts of how they were jacked around and impeded in spiritual growth by a culture of secrecy and shame, I’m starting to appreciate Folk’s and Ingram’s truth-in-advertising approach more. But this approach only gives you one kind of transparency, one reliant on one aspect of what makes a credible teacher. Its emphasis on credentialization appeals to our sense of entitlement as dharma consumers because it is embedded in that culture, which is our own culture and has its own set of withholding strategies and exploitation of shame behaviors that are largely beyond our control to manipulate. As Dennis points out, this up-front approach can—though it need not—foster spiritual materialism. And that is a colossal waste of time and effort for all of us. Honestly.

One remedy to spiritual materialism is to recognize that the baker analogy doesn’t hold because there is no baker. But for that, you need a qualified—maybe even realization-certified—teacher.

gate said...

There are really at least two aspects to claims about enlightenment: one is being forthright about your experience-- how you practice, and what has resulted from that practice. But there's a bit of a leap to what you say beyond the bare account-- what it 'means', according to what criteria, and what is the utility to anyone else in what you say.

Sticking to your original analogy, there is no need for the baker to announce 'master' status: that can be assessed by those who eat the products. And, for the discriminating and informed student, what the teacher says about his or her own 'realization' is secondary to the student's own assessment of the teacher's words and deeds. For the naive student, who is willing to believe whatever is said, and unwilling to investigate-- maybe prayer is appropriate. An aspiring baker would have the sense not to sign on to learn from someone whose baked goods were inedible, after all.

Maybe the heart of the problem is less that 'they' have been withholding information from 'us'-- than that so many of us think that religious / spiritual matters are in an entirely other realm inaccessible to common sense.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pascal,

You wrote, "You know the master baker by the delicious results" -

- But in the master baker analogy, you can't, because the results, those fresh loave, never make it out of his bakery, nobody has ever smelled them, and so nobody can tell the difference between a marshmallow and a fresh scone any more.

Not talking openly about enlightenment, what is is and how it is done today, translates into never letting anyone see, smell, touch, or taste the fragrant breadrolls and warm crumpets, not letting anyone know about flour and yeast, not even letting on that flour and yeast and water and salt and a bit of kneading and letting rise and baking it in a real hot oven is what results in good bakery.

In this analogy, all the students ever get to see is a stale bun, and even that only from far away, in dim lighting, up on a pedestal, because it is The Great Sacred Bun after all. They are then told that "this bun was made from grain, so go till your fields", where it is left unclear just how tilling a field results in a bun.

After that experience, who would dare to think of baking a bun themselves? Preposterous. Even if they tried, it would be nothing like the stale bun in the museum, so it can't be that, right? So no-one does that anymore. No-one admits to having done that. How deceited can you get any, laying claims to being able to bake? How dangerous is it to encourage other people to actually make some cookies? A real baker would never mention it or bake anything you'd notice.

Coming out of the closet about one's own enlightenment is *not* about being admired, but about motivating other people, encouraging them that it can be done, it is done today. It's not about being perceived as an extraordinay great holy being, but rather, it's seeing the *ordinaryness* of these enlightened people which makes it so much more real and doable.


gate said...

I think we have to stop with the ever-more-inapropos baking analogy. The central problem is that each of us has to be clear what 'enlightenment' means, and what our interest in it is: is it having induced a roster of subjective states, that we believe we should venerate and that we wish to experience ourselves? Then we can only believe or disbelieve claims.

However, if 'enlightenment' alters a person's understanding and behavior in this life we share-- then we can see for ourselves what the claimant has achieved, and what value we put on the advice offered.

I see less harm having been done in recent decades by those who have DISclaimed enlightenment than by those who claimed to be enlightened and who leveraged the claim into exploiting naive followers. The latter have inferred that the best they can do is worship The Enlightened One, who is being obscure about what their 'enlightenment' is, how they got there, and what any of it has to do with the humble student.

The best possible result of being open and transparent would be to clarify what 'enlightenment' is, in an experiential way. The worst outcome would be for the investigation to become hopelessly snarled in disagreement about definitions. And, as this is a matter of great import to some people, this outcome is a distinct possibility.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gate

Good point about getting an idea what enlightenment means in direct experiential terms.

Note how that implies getting out of the closet, and how a taboo around that makes it impossible to discuss the experiential side?

This discussion is actually happening, in places like Kenneth Folk Dharma, the Dharma Overground, and Open Enlightenment. Come and join in, if you haven't already.

Regarding "less harm done" - what scale do you use to measure the harm? Monetary ("I gave all my money to Guru X")? Social ("People don't take me seriously/look at me funny/hate my guts for mentioning my enlightenment")? Personal Wisdom ("I missed out on so much that is of benefit because of this Taboo")?

I think any form of cheating people out of this - be it by exploiting their gullibility or by withholding them the very real possibility of enlightenment by making a taboo of it - is a real shame, and I don't prefer either over the other.


Empty Seat Zendo said...

I have been contemplating Case #38 of the Wumenguan, which would seem to have some bearing on this discussion: "It's like an ox passing though a window screen. The horns go though. The head goes through. The shoulders, body, and hindquarters go through. All four hooves go through. But the tail does not go through. Why doesn't the tail go through?"