Broken Buddha

Buddhism is broken. I want to assemble a small project team to fix it. You can help.

These days, practically no one is becoming enlightened. This is a great tragedy. It is because ‘buddhist’ organizations are fixated on unworkable solutions: either buried in an unrecoverable past (eastern ‘buddhism’) or married to unrealistic social and moral standards (western ‘buddhism’). 

‘Buddhism’ has become fixated on a classic, pastoral view of the perfected human being in terms of a rigid social order. People outside the mainstream, with non-conforming moral and social views, are excluded. A kind of killjoy Puritan ethic overlays modern ‘buddhism’, alienating the bold adventurers who originally made it a great movement. Meditation becomes an obligatory grind like going to church on Sunday. Of course, such conditions make enlightenment all but impossible.

Lest we forget, the Buddha was a revolutionary who was viewed by his contemporaries as a threat to their hegemony and a danger to society. The Buddha exploded the pastoral dream of degenerate Vedic social classism with a radical view of universal enlightenment, accessible to all.

But the same class culture has taken root in ‘buddhist’ circles again. This time, the ‘buddhists’ have become the Establishment, dictating conservative, exclusionary moral standards. As David Chapman eloquently puts it,

“Buddhist ethics,” as I’ve pointed out in recent posts, has nothing to do with traditional Buddhist morality. Instead, it’s indistinguishable from mainstream leftish middle-class American secular morality.

Actual Buddhist ethics are non-harm, kindness, inclusive understanding and unconditional assistance in attaining enlightenment for all beings. Instead, modern ‘buddists’ have simply developed a boring, churchy society with the Buddha on the altar.

Eleanor Rigby died in the church
And was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt
From his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

…and no one is becoming enlightened either.

This tremendously sad state of affairs is the effect of elitism—the same “All for the 1% and screw everybody else” elitism that many people are waking up to now. The idea that only ‘good’ people deserve the benefits of association with the Buddha’s teaching, that only the ‘right’ people should show up at the temple or participate in meditation retreats, is a very Protestant idea. It derives from the sexist heroic aerospace dream, the pastoral society of the 1950-60s, where having ‘the right stuff’ is seen as the goal and of course, benefiting only ‘the right people’.

We need a way to make the Buddha’s path alive again, interesting again, attractive to the adventurous spirit that made it a great world force in the beginning. For the spiritual path is a great adventure, an encounter with the unknown and unknowable, Nibbāna. But to get there we have to jettison all our preconceived notions of social classes.

“A ‘position,’ Vaccha, is something that a Tathagata has done away with. What a Tathagata sees is this: ‘Such is form, such its origin, such its disappearance; such is feeling, such its origin, such its disappearance; such is perception… such are mental fabrications… such is consciousness, such its origin, such its disappearance.’ Because of this, I say, a Tathagata — with the ending, fading out, cessation, renunciation, & relinquishment of all construings, all excogitations, all I-making & mine-making & obsession with conceit — is, through lack of clinging/sustenance, released.” — Aggi-vaccagota Sutta (MN 72)

A mind that can hold both the arising and disappearance of a form, a feeling, a perception, a thought or a consciousness cannot be disturbed by it. Such a great, unconditioned mind is inclined toward compassion, inclined toward renunciation, inclined toward release.

We can be released too, but first we have to overcome and do away with all the ‘positions’ we have inherited from the past. We can do a better job. Let’s get to work. It’s time to hack the Dhamma:

Thanks to virtuous cycles already gaining in power, I believe almost all effective responses to the problems and opportunities of the coming decades will emerge out of the hacker ethos, despite its apparent peripheral role today. The credentialist ethos of extensive planning and scripting towards deterministic futures will play a minor supporting role at best. Those who adopt a Promethean mindset and break smart will play an expanding role in shaping the future. Those who adopt a pastoral mindset and retreat towards tradition will play a diminishing role, in the shrinking number of economic sectors where credentialism is still the more appropriate model. —Venkatesh Rao, Breaking Smart


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Dev Jacobsen

Musician, author and yogi, developer of Palingenics.

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