Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fire That Guru!

File under: Gurubusting

A kind reader turned us on to this essay by Tijn Touber in The Huffington Post that was originally published in Ode Magazine:
So we don’t really lose our “Buddha nature” because of what we don’t know, but because of what we are convinced we know because others have told us so—by clinging to borrowed, unshakable “truths.” As soon as we establish something as fact or pass judgment on it (“This is the way it is”), we lose contact with reality, with the greater whole. We reduce the truth—inasmuch as it exists—to a word, a document or a method and close ourselves to learning and growing.
We like to call these occluding ideas about self-realization, our numero uno bugaboo and the primary reason all these hapless devotees will never come to their own self-realization in this life. It's all because they've stuffed their heads full of the bullshit their guru is using as a ladder to climb up on that pedestal in their mind. It destroys the whole reason they're supposed to have a guru in the first place, but unfortunately, it's also a really good business practice for someone counting on being God in the eyes of a paying client.

Please read the whole article. It reminds us a bit of the piece Gp friend Doug Rushkoff wrote a few years back, but one that delves a bit further into the socio-cultural implications (and the unavoidable, inherent problems) of gurudom in the West.

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16 Comments:

At 11/07/2007 11:11 AM, Anonymous hard at work in the lab said...

"Or we simply tire of the idea that “enlightenment” is around the corner, and decide that life is just fine without enlightenment. And getting to that point is a beautiful thing in itself. If an experience with a guru really teaches one the futility of aspirational spiritual quests..."

--Rushkoff

"I rarely encountered an enlightened follower—someone who appeared to be just as wise, radiant and independent as the master himself."

--Touber

"If the author would have taken some time to work with the meditation masters of the Pali tradition instead of running headless from charlatan to charlatan..."

--Msdrummond

First thing's first. Rushkoff and Touber have a preconception about "enlightenment." I don't know what it is, but it likely entails believing some pretty childish things, like that enlightened beings can consistantly beat the S&P 500, that they are perfect moral beings, that they have magic powers, that they can answer all questions, and that they glow. Everyone knows from looking at medieval paintings that all spiritual beings actually glow. Keep in mind that all of these models of enlightenment are content-based. Rushkoff and Touber also seem to believe that "enlightenment" isn't possible, since no one can fulfill these criteria. Rushkoff also throws in something about "psychedelic" experiences, suggesting that they can lead to pretensions of enlightenment.

None of this is true, and both Rushkoff and Touber seem to be leveling their attacks from the position of these misunderstandings. These same misunderstandings, of course, are also what most gurus and self-help devas rely on. Likewise Mahayana pabulum about how "we are all Buddha-nature" means little.

Enlightenment isn't about content. It is a result of time spent examining sensate experience moment-to-moment. It's a fundamental shift in one's experience. Full stop. Notice how i used "experience", not "character", "knowledge", "samadhi", or anything else. You won't walk on water and you may still be a asshole afterwards and life will not be a psychedelic wonderland, though you *may* have the concentrative ability to enjoy the wonders of dhayana and samadhi on a regular basis if you chose. You also may have some understanding of psychology, but it'd be akin to knowing how to re-wire a BIOS chip when people want to troubleshoot the Microsoft Vista media player, i.e., not very helpful unless someone else wants to re-wire the BIOS. I have relatively little practice with insight and can still tell you what I've experienced is tremendously valuable, but I couldn't really tell you why.

The reason I target the "we are all Buddha-nature" / Power of Now sentiment stems from the fact that most people need to put in the effort and time to get to a state of enlightenment. You have to learn concentration and insight practices. You get those through practice. Even Zen, what with its "nothing to do nowhere to go" aesthetics, requires practice and effort. There are cases of spontaneous enlightenment but they are rare. U.G. Krishnamurti, e.g., had a severe case of sudden non-duality with no real warning. At the same time he spent the first 20 years of his life practicing.

I practice within the Theraveda tradition. Like msdrummond, who also does based on his comment, I can only say, please, stop running from charlatan to charlatan. There are legitimate teachers who can teach you an expedient way for you to learn what this game really is. I have the good fortune to have found one. Seeing advice like Rushkoff's--Coercion is one of my favorite books--that "life... without enlightenment" is somehow a "beautiful [realization] in itself", and his occasional insinuations that spiritual practice is a form of mental illness, or Touber's suggestion that no one, ever, has achieved enlightenment, I can only shake my head.

 
At 11/07/2007 12:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wish we could fire Gurumayi already...WHOOPS I forgot, she's kinda-sorta but y'know like, not totally like, already fired herself, knowumsayin'?

 
At 11/07/2007 1:33 PM, Blogger Citizen Deux said...

Dissociative behavior is often the aspect sought by "followers". John Shumaker's book, Corruption of Reality, does a fine job of linking this human ability to the origins of religion, hypnosis and psychopathology.

Guru - shmuru, they are all phonies. What anyone finds for themselves is all you will ever have.

 
At 11/07/2007 1:35 PM, Blogger jody said...

The reason I target the "we are all Buddha-nature" / Power of Now sentiment stems from the fact that most people need to put in the effort and time to get to a state of enlightenment.

But it is ALWAYS a true statement, regardless of the spiritual practice or disposition of ANY PERSON ON THE PLANET.

You either tell the truth of being, or you lie by saying you need to do something to become who you've NEVER NOT BEEN.

Proclaiming this truth does not assume that practice is a waste of time. That appears to be your projection. To say what is true is to simply establish a baseline condition, which is that we're already what some of us are trying to become. That doesn't mean to stop trying, it means that the trying is just something else we do with our lives because we enjoy it.

It has never been established that spiritual practice is the only cause of enlightenment or that it's necessary in any way. It's only anecdotally established that meditation and enlightenment appear to be linked. There are millions who have practiced everyday who are no closer to enlightenment than the day they started looking for it, and there are many who seemed to have found it without doing anything that could be called formal practice at all.

 
At 11/07/2007 4:35 PM, Blogger Stuart said...

hard at work in the lab said...
The reason I target the "we are all Buddha-nature" / Power of Now sentiment stems from the fact that most people need to put in the effort and time to get to a state of enlightenment.

While you're putting in this effort and time to get to a state of enlightenment... you can keep sight of the question: Why are you trying to get it? Particularly if you think that "you may still be a asshole afterwards"... then why do that? For what? For who?

Sure, sure, as Mr B taught us, attachment to anything causes suffering. So if someone is suffering from attachment to the names and forms of the world, trying to get enlightenment may be good medicine. Contrarywise, when someone is attached to getting enlightenment, "We are all Buddha-Nature" may be better medicine.

If someone is attached to the relative, hit him with the absolute. If someone is attached to the absolute, hit him with the relative.

Stuart
http://stuart-randomthoughts.blogspot.com/

 
At 11/07/2007 7:15 PM, Anonymous Vikram said...

So, then, Stuart, what is the reason that you actually sit zazen? Do you have any personal preference for "clear mind" as opposed to "confused, tormented mind"? And, if you have any feeling of respect for ZMSS (or anyone else who teaches Dharma), where does that respect spring from, and why? Why does one vow to "save" all sentient beings, if none of all this makes an iota of difference to the "enlightenment" process?

Just trying to pick your brain out of mere curiosity, that's all.

Thanks.

 
At 11/08/2007 10:48 AM, Anonymous hard at work in the lab said...

I probably was projecting with my response. I still have difficulty with Touber's attitude--first he says he learned valuable things from teachers, then says no one needs a teacher. He also explicitly states something to the effect of "it’s time to fire our gurus (facts, truths, religious persuasions, principles, dogmas) so the guru in ourselves can emerge". The suggestion is that it's all there already, we just have to get rid of anything that is in the way, which includes, it seems, any and all teachings. Maybe his point is a sublte one about needing to get rid of crap to get at truth. Or maybe he means something akin to "You are already a brain surgeon, so drop out of med school and pick up that skull saw." I think the "Buddha-nature" statement suffers from the same problems.

On the other hand, I remain almost completely hostile to Rushkoff's article. He's right about needing to grow up. Otherwise he's attacking a paper tiger. While he claims he's "been around the spiritual block" it really strikes me as though he is working out his own projections. It does not relate to my experience, much of what he says is in fact contradictory to my experience and that of others.

My point being that there is plenty of occlusion going on in these supposed occlusion-free articles.

 
At 11/08/2007 10:59 AM, Blogger jody said...

there is plenty of occlusion going on in these supposed occlusion-free articles.

As soon as the first character hits the screen, there is occlusion.

I'm not saying these articles are occlusion free, I'm saying they delineate our addiction to spiritual authority figures. We need to grow up, rather than grow dependent on the likes of an Ammachi or Sri Sri, who are really nothing more than a mommy or daddy for those still working out their parenting issues.

 
At 11/08/2007 1:14 PM, Blogger Stuart said...

Vikram said...
Why does one vow to "save" all sentient beings, if none of all this makes an iota of difference to the "enlightenment" process?

"Saving" sentient beings mean helping, removing suffering. I can't believe you've got a problem with that. When you're hungry, you eat; so when someone else is hungry, you offer them food. It's a wonderful life direction.

Human suffering is often not a matter of external factors, but of excessive thinking, particularly stuff like "I want to get something." There are a zillion tools or techniques, including stuff like formal sitting aka Zazen, which (depending on how it's used, the intention behind it) can be useful in simplifying thinking, and removing suffering for oneself and others.

This all seems simple and straightforward to me. Again, I can't imagine why or how you'd disagree.

The only confusion I have is when you bring up "enlightenment process." What's an "enlightenment process," and what does it have to do with helping all beings?

Stuart
http://stuart-randomthoughts.blogspot.com/

 
At 11/08/2007 2:01 PM, Blogger Stuart said...

hard at work in the lab said...
I still have difficulty with Touber's attitude--first he says he learned valuable things from teachers, then says no one needs a teacher.

There's a perfectly reasonable position in the middle. Listen to teachers, and see for yourself what they're pointing to. If they point you to something worthwhile, respect them for their efforts. But don't follow anyone, and don't cultivate needs.

Stuart
http://stuart-randomthoughts.blogspot.com/

 
At 11/08/2007 7:05 PM, Anonymous Vikram said...

Stuart said...

"Saving" sentient beings mean helping, removing suffering. I can't believe you've got a problem with that. When you're hungry, you eat; so when someone else is hungry, you offer them food. It's a wonderful life direction.


It's not that I have a problem with helping alleviate suffering. I was only interested in knowing the motivation behind it. Examine carefully, and you might notice that it is always one's own personal happiness which arises from doing such activity that is the real motivator.

So, one is still attached to something, albeit a more subtle phenomenon. If one is permanently established in "Buddha Nature", or "Enlightenment", then saving beings just is a spontaneous outcome of one's nature, not a functioning from a vow. In Hinduism there is a term "swabhava" - just as the Sun shines because it is its nature, not because it feels compelled to act, so also the jnanis teach or act.


Human suffering is often not a matter of external factors, but of excessive thinking, particularly stuff like "I want to get something." There are a zillion tools or techniques, including stuff like formal sitting aka Zazen, which (depending on how it's used, the intention behind it) can be useful in simplifying thinking, and removing suffering for oneself and others.

This all seems simple and straightforward to me. Again, I can't imagine why or how you'd disagree.


I don't disagree. I practice mindfulness / vichara myself, but I recognize that there is a preference for that which imparts lasting peace and relief from suffering that arises from correct understanding, as opposed to being attracted to the ephemeral world which doesn't fulfill my deepest impulses towards happiness.

Which is why I find it puzzling that you say "If someone is attached to the absolute, hit him with the relative." Isn't freedom from suffering more desirable? Then why would you dissuade anybody from attachment to the absolute? The absolute is our nature, so clinging onto the truth is, in my experience, never a harmful thing. Of course, clinging to things which are subtle manifestations of the relative, like bliss, or getting a hug from Ammachi, or having any such beatific, so-called "spiritual" experiences, can become a trap.

What's an "enlightenment process," and what does it have to do with helping all beings?

The coming to Realization that one stands as one with the whole world, and their suffering becomes mine. Is this not infinitely superior to your keeping others separate and trying to sympathize with them, much less to love them? You can, at most, sympathize with them in
their suffering. And the result is that you succeed in inviting some suffering to yourself also, without alleviating the suffering of others.

Remedies at the mental levels are taught or offered without enquiring about the Truth of the suffering, and therefore serve only to hide or cover the so called suffering temporarily.

In my experience, the real antidote is to examine whether the suffering is real or not.

 
At 11/08/2007 7:59 PM, Anonymous hard at work in the lab said...

"If they point you to something worthwhile, respect them for their efforts. But don't follow anyone, and don't cultivate needs."

I simply don't see respect for the worthwhile teacher, while, somewhere, someone is lighting a candle to Amma, who doesn't teach anything except her own godhood and salvation through adulation. But I'm in fundamental agreement, and i recognize that word choice matters.

"The only confusion I have is when you bring up "enlightenment process." What's an "enlightenment process," and what does it have to do with helping all beings?"

I really know little about Mahayana practice and teaching so I can't answer part II. I'll tilt at the first part and say "enlightenment process" acknowledges the fact that most people have to learn how to work with the mind, and observe it doing its thing. It's a skill and some people are better at it than others.

E.g., I'm sitting. My ankle hurts. My mind goes: "heat unpleasant i hate it i want to move pressure unpleasant i hate it i want to move". Most of the time I am just able to see pain-i-hate-it-move all at once. But if my concentration is strong, and my perceptions are well-honed, I can separate out those mind-moments and just let them be. Some people may be able to do this from birth, or miraculous develop the ability to do so spontaneously. I don't know anyone making such a claim, and I can't without working at it.

Part of that skill entails realizing that there is nothing to do, nowhere to go, and nothing happening, which is antithetical to "doing" something.

"While you're putting in this effort and time to get to a state of enlightenment... you can keep sight of the question: Why are you trying to get it? Particularly if you think that "you may still be a asshole afterwards"... then why do that? For what? For who?"

Well this guy named Sidd said, "hey, i know how to acheive liberation from suffering" and so far his advice has been tremendously helpful when put into practice. He also said something to the extent that aging, sickness, death, and pain are mandatory but suffering is not. I also don't believe that transpersonal or psychological perfection are possible, simply because they have little to do with actual insight into "Ultimate Reality" in my experience... Seeing into "no-self" is powerful but it doesn't make me a selfless avatar of compassion in itself. That said, to quote, "You could practice insight and concentration while sodomizing a hooker with a roll of subprime mortgage-backed paper, but probably won't."

 
At 11/11/2007 8:10 AM, Blogger CHUCK said...

hard at work said..."You could practice insight and concentration while sodomizing a hooker with a roll of subprime mortgage-backed paper, but probably won't."
.........

Mr hard, can you explain the above. I do not understand some of the words...

 
At 11/11/2007 8:31 PM, Blogger Stuart said...

Vikram said...
I find it puzzling that you say "If someone is attached to the absolute, hit him with the relative." Isn't freedom from suffering more desirable?

Freedom isn't possible if you're clinging to material stuff, and it also isn't possible if you're clinging to ideas. "Relative" and "absolute" are ideas.

Then why would you dissuade anybody from attachment to the absolute? The absolute is our nature, so clinging onto the truth is, in my experience, never a harmful thing.

Attachment causes suffering. Attachment to an idea is no exception. "The absolute" is not our nature; "the absolute" is just an idea. Our true nature is before all ideas. Anything you say or think about our true nature is a mistake.

Of course, clinging to things which are subtle manifestations of the relative, like bliss, or getting a hug from Ammachi, or having any such beatific, so-called "spiritual" experiences, can become a trap.

OK, that's one perspective. A different one is: clinging to anything is a trap. We can try either one, and see which one we like.

Stuart
http://stuart-randomthoughts.blogspot.com/

 
At 11/12/2007 3:07 PM, Anonymous hard at work (or hardly working) said...

Chuck, I stole that quote from an internets dharma purveyor's email discussion with me. I think he was saying something like "God's House is big enough to include the Cashcall.com 125% APR folks but She probably doesn't put them first in line at the Christmas barbeque".

"'Then why would you dissuade anybody from attachment to the absolute? The absolute is our nature, so clinging onto the truth is, in my experience, never a harmful thing.'

Attachment causes suffering. Attachment to an idea is no exception. "The absolute" is not our nature; "the absolute" is just an idea. Our true nature is before all ideas. Anything you say or think about our true nature is a mistake."

Bah humbug! Everybody here knows what they are doing, they seem confident and well-versed, we are all just splitting hairs like opposing counselors... because we are being idle. That or because we are at work, an environment not conductive to fun, or to drunking or smoking, or to camping out in the first or twlth jhana, or to getting some satori, or writing off a bajillion dollars in bad commercial paper, or whatever, with indigestion and procrastinating and looking for some logorehhia to spew to stimulate our intellects... like what i just did. man, these spiritual discussions make me grouchy.

 
At 11/12/2007 6:52 PM, Anonymous Vikram said...

Attachment causes suffering. Attachment to an idea is no exception. "The absolute" is not our nature; "the absolute" is just an idea. Our true nature is before all ideas. Anything you say or think about our true nature is a mistake.

That's precisely what I meant - absolute meaning awareness before the mind kicks in and applies labels. When I said "attachment" I meant recognizing it, and allowing everything else to subside, not "thinking" about it.

Ah, anyway, too many words...

 

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