Pragmatic Dharma – Seriously?

One by one, little by little, moment by moment, a wise man should remove his own impurities, as a smith removes the dross of silver.” Dhammapada

Your consciousness is not your brain. This should be obvious from all the conscious post death experiences, with no brainwave activity, that are being reported. Many of these include experiences such as hearing conversations or observing events outside the room where the patient’s body is located, and being able to accurately report these. These are not very important as parapsychological phenomen, but rather as soon as you admit brain does not equal consciousness, then all talk of “brain hacking” becomes questionable. We are not working with the brain, we are working with mind, and even though a strong and close mutual conditionality exists between mind and brain, any re-entrainment of the brain we undertake, as yogis, we do from the perspective of consciousness. We work top down. That is the position of genuine mastery. This resists the reductionism of scientistic prejudice. Additionally, although we can’t take our brains with us when we die, it seems we just might be taking our consciousness.

Besides finding very little Dharma in pragmatic “Dharma”, I find within its culture an immaturity that resists responsibility, springing it seems from shallowness of vision. All contemplative systems come with a hard work ethic. This is because the labor they undertake is no trifling matter: the regeneration of the human person. And frankly, any lesser vision of spiritual life is not worth bothering with IM not so HO. This holy life is not about having pleasant experiences, achieving some transitory state of mind, or trying to find shortcuts. This path is about spiritual maturity, growing up in the profoundest sense of the term. Growing up is always about learning to take responsibility, not evading it, not looking for quick “hacks”, accepting difficulties as needed, not evading them, and going through the heart of one’s own darkness, not putting on Peter Pan magic shoes to fly around them.

Ethical development also seems to be an inadequately discussed aspect of the teaching in this culture of “pragmatic” Dharma. Do you consciously and intentionally practice moral restraint? Have you, for example, examined the ethical status of your employment? Do you pay attention to what comes out of your mouth? Do you watch over the anger and judgment that roil in your heart? What about the practice of generosity? And I don’t mean simply responsible contributions to your teacher’s support. Do you ever spend time helping out in a soup kitchen or walking the dogs at the local SPCA? Just how self-centered is your life, really? How self-absorbed are you, really? These are not advanced lessons. Moral restraint and real benevolence are the necessary foundations of all spiritual growth. None of the great contemplative traditions disagree with this.

We have too many young people, who deluding themselves, believe they have attained all manner of spiritual experiences and levels. Few if any teachers are needed, no reality checks sought, and for many, no real life changes are apparent. It all becomes very easy when we don’t have to be responsible to an authentic tradition, or have a real teacher to answer to. In this way our practice and the spirituality it embodies are made trivial. And from this platform of vanity and triviality, derision is cast upon many a worthy ancient tradition, and teachers with authentic experience to share are smugly dismissed.

The root of these problems in the culture of “pragmatic” Dharma seems to me to be a lack of a Sacred Paradigm. The very word “pragmatic” implies this. What need do I have for holy grace, or divine blessing if I have mastered the art of pragmatism? This type of pragmatism seeks to render the Sacred obsolete, along with the lifelong dedication and hard work it demands. I am not referring to any particular culture of the sacred. Almost any one of them will do as a starting point, if held sincerely. But without an understanding of a sacred ultimate reality we can’t have a consecrated practice, nor can we live consecrated lives. Without lives and practices consecrated to the Good, the True and the Beautiful (as best we understand them at any particular point in our lives) the orbit of our minds will inevitably decay, falling back down the gravitational well of our self importance. To escape the pull of conceit, deep, genuine and sustained humility are required, something impossible for those whose ultimate measure of reality is their personal opinion.

True strength lies in submission, which permits one to dedicate his life, through devotion, to something beyond himself.” Henry Miller