Monday, January 07, 2013

mushroom model?

From Subhuti's latest paper: 

"...there can be an inappropriate over-concern with calibrating one's attainments and pronouncing claims to Stream Entry or the like. Sangharakshita goes so far as to say that it is not helpful, or even strictly correct, to speak of oneself as a bodhisattva: better to think of 'participating' in 'the Bodhisattva' or allowing what appears as that supra-personal force or energy to work through one. Even what has been said here about Sangharakshita's own experience of himself as an impersonal force or reflection that it was as though the Order and movement have been founded through him should not lead us to speculate about where to place him on this or that spiritual scale. He is simply giving a kind of poetic expression to his impression of what had happened to him. He felt it was as if a consciousness greater than his own was working through him."

The quote stands on it's own, but I have some musings this morning.

Ingram has the idea that if we talk about people's attainments, then others will go away, and you can't have as big of a sangha. Teachers purposely obscure where everyone is, so that it can include people who aren't making much progress or are real beginners. He calls this the mushroom model because it seems to not need the light of enlightenment, or maybe even spiritual progress.

Here, another reason is put forward for avoiding "over-concern for attainments". Talking about attainments can be an "over-concern" mostly because when you open up to conditionality, then you realize your ego is so interconnected, that in a way it's not you who has attained things. There's a larger transcendental force, a supra-personal force that pulls one.

So it seems his objection is that it's a kind of gramar mistake. That "you" ceases to be the interesting or important thing. So to focus just on me myself and mine, in a way, speaks to a person not having those experiences they claim to have because their experience would change to a more external locus of control. Or maybe the experience was a glimpse that didn't last.

Now there can be talk about attainment, he doesn't say you can't talk about your experience with your spiritual friends.

But what if "bragging" about one's attainment helps attract people to the Dharma. It might attract people in the wrong way, though skillful means are used throughout the tradition to try to beckon people towards the spiritual life. I can't help but think about the Lotus Sutra, where the "father" buddha entices the children out of the burning building with toys. And then when they get outside the toys aren't what people think they were going to be, but they are excellently good things anyway.

The idea that you can actually do something, might appeal to people who see enlightenment as too remote, too cold and unemotional. Not that you don't have emotions, but you're not reactive, and perhaps it scares people to think someone could be so clear and creative. People who are further on the path can be quite challenging.

Perhaps people don't understand enlightenment and think of it as being like Spock, which is Gene Roddenberry's idea of enlightenment--very logical. Of course Spock was half human, so he had more of a war with his emotions, more than full vulcans do. While Spock is a wonderful character, who points out the importance of integrating emotions and reason, he's not what I see as enlightenment. 

There are other misconceptions. Perhaps one misconception is that nothing will change, and that you won't feel the supra-personal force. I wonder at someone who would claim to be an arhant, and not have to go full force into a life of Dharma. I think if I became enlightened, I would have to work full time for the good of the Dharma. But maybe that's just me. Perhaps there are personalities who can become enlightened, and can then work beyond what is necessary. 

Why is it OK for David Smith to rake leaves and garden, and not OK for Daniel Ingram to be an ER doctor? I don't think I'm prepared to say if you become enlightened, then you will quit work beyond sustenance.  One would minimize it, and work to move into more supportive conditions, and devote time to the Dharma. I read a fascinating article that Ingram has people stay in his shed and do retreats, and he checks in on them. He's trying to get other people to be enlightened. And his doctor income affords him some quiet remote land in support of that project. I also note that Ingram gives his book away, unlike the Dali Lama, Sangharakshita, Thich Nhat Hanh, etc... Of course Sangharakshita gives away his poor selling and out of print books, as do other teachers. And the money he does get he gives to Dharma causes, like building sanghas and charity work. Anyway, it's hard to judge how generous someone is from a distance, so actually that works in Ingram's favor, because while he's an ER doctor, I don't really know how hard he works for the good of the Dharma. Which makes me really suspicious of the people who just dismiss him. Again, I guess they think it's a kind of gramar mistake to talk about personal attainments, or a mistake in thinking what skillful means one can employ.

It's important to talk with our close friends about our spiritual experiences, so I want to stay far away from any taboo that says you can't talk about your experiences.

I would also point out that Sangharakshita is not an egalitarian. He believes in the spiritual hierarchy. It's not like he denies there are differences, in fact he thinks it is important to see them. To have vertical and horizontal friendships, so to speak.

So, I don't think that just because a sangha has a culture of not "bragging" about attainments, that it subscribes to the mushroom model. In fact to boil things down so cynically, might mean something. A sangha might see interconnectivity and altruism as more important, and focus on that, and keep the attainments more to a circle of close friends, not something for public consumption. 

You could further argue that not talking about attainments is a way of trying to build your sangha only, and not something spiritual, a worldly way of trying to gain power, but I think that's just too cynical. People choose to work in right livelihoods for low wages because the workplace is with friends. Not that you don't need to watch out for manipulation  You still have to think critically. 

If true Buddhist spirituality ruled the world, the world would be such a wonderful place. It would be a pureland. But I know that's not happening any time soon in America, and while it's nice to think about a pureland, it's good to be realistic about it. Building a sangha is the first step, realistic.

Which makes me wonder if America's rugged individualism is a factor holding us back in building sanghas. More traditional cultures are more community oriented. America has become fractured, alienated, isolated. Our relationships are more like two people on horseback, passing on the plains, than it is sitting around a campfire sharing a meal. Now we sit around our own TV's. My friend's wives don't make my friends feel like they can socialize with their friends in their own homes.

My son is friends with all kinds of children of diversity--racial, religious, cultural, linguistic, class. I happen to live in one of the most diverse areas in America, but I know that outside the city, people choose to live roughly amongst their own, what ever that means, and the suburbs of big cities are the most self segregating places in America. The game of tag before school seems to transcend all that, but I wonder as everyone goes off to their own high schools, what is going to happen, and they leave the integrating local elementary school. Diversity within the sangha is another thorny digression I don't want to go into now. Better end.

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