Innovation and the Buddha’s Teaching

First, read this article by Paul Graham.

I’ve been an avid reader of his essays on startups for some years. When I first discovered Paul’s excellent essays, I was a Vedic guru with an innovative Internet-based teaching program. I also had an āśram with a small number of disciples who (sometimes) helped me with publishing and promoting my work. It was pretty much like running a startup, including the fact that it failed spectacularly, LOL. 

Now that I have switched streams to the Buddha’s teaching, I still have the startup mood. I can see that the world has changed while the methods of presenting ‘Buddhism’ have largely clung to outmoded forms of presentation. In the light of Graham’s essay, that looks like an opportunity for a startup. In addition, the Buddhist world itself has fractured into academics-based and practice-based teachers. The academics tend to emphasize other academics and commentators like Buddhaghosh, while the practitioners emphasize the original Theravāda Suttas.

I am firmly on the side of the practitioners, since I myself am one. If you practice this teaching, it quickly becomes obvious that the Commentaries like Visuddhimagga are—not wrong exactly—but very limited in their applicability and helpfulness. That is because they are compilations written by academics rather than war stories written by practitioners. I find the personal accounts and war stories far more valuable.

The thing is, up till now the academics are winning. The Buddhist public-at-large is comfortable with the academic writings, because they sound plausible and authoritative. The practitioners seem scary because they are hardy individuals who go against the grain of the typical person’s experience and beliefs about the world. Plus the practitioners are so busy, well, practicing and blissing out on Nibbāna that they have little time or inclination to teach and build organizations. And because of people’s social programming and consequent ways of measuring credibility, academic teachers with big organizations show up as more ‘real’ and believable than a lone meditator in a cave or isolated cabin.

The problem with the academics’ presentation is, it doesn’t lead people to enlightenment. In fact, their whole mood is discouraging, against Nibbāna. The academics don’t have Nibbāna themselves, so they picture it as far away, difficult to attain—something vague, mystical and obscure.

I’m sorry, but that’s bullshit.

Anyone intelligent enough to, say, successfully complete a university curriculum in some applied art or engineering discipline is also capable of attaining Nibbāna within a short time: say, 100 days. But to do this they need clear and accurate directions, an understandable description of the goal. And they aren’t going to get that from the academics.

So we practitioners need to organize something innovative, a startup to get the word out. That’s why, besides my own stuff, I post books from writers like Ven. Ñāṇavīra and Ñāṇananda. They are practitioners who also happen to be eloquent and articulate about the Buddha’s teaching in general and Nibbāna in particular. You should read them for background before, or while, practicing The Dharmasar Solution.

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Dev Jacobsen

Musician, author and yogi, developer of Palingenics.

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