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Feb 15

Reconciling hierarchical practices with simple Dharma

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As I was reading The Path to Individual Liberation, I came across the following statement:

 

"You do not need to have a bureaucracy of meditative techniques. Dignity is not based on self and other...and the more you let go, the more dignity takes place."

 

So much emphasis within many forms of Buddhism, early Shambhala teachings in particular, is placed on practices that are universally accessible - shamatha and vipassana. In Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, as well as in countless other places, Chogyam Trungpa discusses, at length, the dangers of building up a hierarchy of practice.

 

From there, Trungpa raises the idea of meditation-in-action, and post-meditation practice, which ultimately becomes equally important to the act of sitting. Sitting is the practice, and the fuel, for our post-meditation practice, which essentially become the intentions and actions of our life outside of sitting practice. It could be said that it is the post-meditation work that transforms our realization into actualization. Sitting is for ourselves. It is through the post-meditation work that it comes to benefit others - a simple example would be a habitually angry person, confronting, befriending and transcending their anger through extended shamatha/vipassana practice. They may have major realizations and breakthroughs while sitting, but if that fails to translate to their life outside of sitting practice, the realization has borne little fruit for anyone, including the angry person themselves.

 

I have a hard time reconciling these two dynamics - on the one hand, there is a base, as in fundamental, practice that is both required and sufficient for developing realization. On the other, there are a plethora of techniques, usually behind some form of pay-wall, or hierarchy.

 

Taking a lesson from the corporate world, hierarchies tend to do more to fuel egos than to diffuse them.

 

It makes a lot of practical sense to have a wide-ranging tool-set for helping us achieve actualization in our post-meditation practice, and to deepen the degree of our individual and collective realization. But I am left to wonder - at what point are we ceasing to practice effectively and beginning to act out of a distorted sense of pride?

 

Here is a parallel. I am an accountant. Personal taxes - at least in Canada, where I live, tend to be pretty straightforward. If you are in the top 1%, sure, there's a lot more to it, but for the vast majority of individuals, a program like TurboTax will take care of you end to end for about 20 bucks, no matter what you've got going on. For many years, companies like H&R Block, whose bread and butter is tax-filings, would charge on a sliding scale, ranging from that same price up to a few hundred bucks, depending on how many different things you have going on. As a brief aside, I am happy to say now, their pricing has moved a LOT closer to TurboTax's and doesn't seem to be quite so...hefty.

 

Here's the point: the business model was get them while they are young, teach a form of learned dependence, and profit from them for the rest of their life. A few years ago, H&R Block offered their cheapest pricing to students, and would provide an instant refund. Many students used this service, and never learned how to do taxes themselves (or to operate a software directly that would do their taxes for them). Once they graduated, the price of H&R Block's service would escalate, sometimes quickly, based on the increased perceived complexity of the return. The perception here is important, as that is what the sale is based on. All the while, the same 20 dollar program would fulfill the individual's needs.

 

Cutting Through offers quotes at length regarding this, but here is one that may be particularly worth considering:

 

"It is important to see that the main point of any spiritual practice is to step out of the bureacracy of ego. This means stepping out of ego's constant desire for a higher, more spiritual, more transcendental version of knowledge, religion, virtue, judgment, comfort or whatever it is that the particular ego is seeking. One must step out of spiritual materialism. If we do not step out of spiritual materialism, if we in fact practice it, then we may eventually find ourselves possessed of a huge collection of spiritual paths. We may feel these spiritual collections to be very precious. We have studied so much. We may have studied Western philosophy or Oriental philosophy, practiced yoga or perhaps have studied under dozens of great masters. We have achieved and we have learned. We believe that we have accumulated a hoard of knowledge. And yet, having gone through all this, there is still something to give up. It is extremely mysterious! How could this happen? Impossible! But unfortunately it is so. Our vast collections of knowledge and experience are just part of ego's display, part of the grandiose quality of ego. We display them to the world and, in so doing, reassure ourselves that we exist, safe and secure, as 'spiritual' people."

 

And then - he continues with a wonderful metaphor of having created a shop, and seeking to fill it up.

 

I guess the question I am left with is: what do you gain out of the seal of the scorpion practice that you do not out of shamatha & vipassana ?

 

I am hoping someone is able to offer insight or realization on this. Is there anyone who has taken those teachings who is able to comment? You don't need to explain them, or divulge any secrets...just, I would appreciate any discussion of their value. What did you get from them?

 

From my current (ignorant as it is!) perspective - it seems similar to H&R Block above - charging hundreds, or I suppose in this case thousands? of dollars for a teaching where the simple version would do.

 

 

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