Talks by Rob Burbea Links to talks

Questioning Awakening (Talk 1)

  • Questioning the underlying assumptions that we don’t even know we have
  • Are We really Free to Inquire or Are We Blinded by Assumptions we Don’t know we Have?

Changes in idea of Enlightenment in Buddhism Today

  • In modern Dharma the term awakening has kind of disappeared
  • The meaning of the term has been lowered
    • It tends to mean “being in the world without selfing”
      • Without thinking of oneself as a separate self (What is the Self)
      • Without papancha
  • Ossification
    • Rigidity of the idea
    • Everyone’s story of reaching awakening is the same (“and then I stopped trying and I realized there was no self”)

Different Dharma “Packages” (may overlap)

  • Mindfulness
    • Goal: live in the present, live fully (maybe kindness)
  • Existentialist Dharma
    • Realizing existential limits of existence
    • Accepting that we are impermanent, fragile beings in a world that appears meaningless
  • Human seen as a biological machine
    • Practice is a way to optimize the functioning of that machine
  • All these views (consensus buddhism) are popular and common because in line with Modernism
    • None of them are hard to understand or explain
    • Not much is needed in terms of meditative skill
  • Advaita
    • There’s nothing to do
    • Samadhi is not an option as it involves “doing”
  • Other packaged goals
    • You are awareness
    • Everything is empty

Buddha’s Third Noble Truth and Re-defining Dharma

  • The Buddha’s goal involved not being reborn in the cycle of rebirth
    • Today we don’t talk about it and try to push it to the side
  • Liberation is open to being re-defined
    • So are all the other noble truths
    • The way we re-define those will affect the whole package of our Dharma

Goals in the Path

  • Assumptions that are not deeply investigated
    • Focus on simplicity (why?)
  • Why are we practicing?
    • The usual point is to reduce suffering
    • Once that is done, then what?
      • Isn’t there some kind of beauty that attracts us to practice?
      • Each teacher doesn’t only talk about the end of suffering, they all have their own ethos

Goals in Spiritual Practice

  • Some people like having them, it gives a sense of nobility
    • For others, goals are only related to the ego
  • If someone practices with mindfulness, how different will their results be from someone who practices emptiness?
  • Are we free to inquire into freedom, or do we have to accept the “package” of freedom we receive?
  • Are there different kinds of freedom?
  • Is freedom ever-expanding (break the box you’re in and find there’s another box, and keep expanding)?

Questioning the Mindfulness Goal

  • Mindfulness
    • Goal: live in the present, live fully (maybe kindness)
    • This is not just a Dharma view, it’s embedded in modernity (in movies etc..)
      • Bungee jumping people also want to live to the fullest
  • Do we dare to ask why we have that goal?
    • Is this what the Buddha taught? NOT AT ALL
      • We may or may not care about that
    • Is it because we think that’s what’s real?
    • Other cultures in the past never cared about living life to the fullest
    • What do we even mean by life?
  • We assume we can strip off our beliefs and experience reality as it really is
    • There are so many assumptions that we don’t realize
    • Our Modernist Worldview has impregnated the Dharma with its assumptions and views
      • Even Hollywood affected our culture and also the Dharma
  • What if we drop the assumption of what is reality?
  • Can we separate mindfulness as a strategy from mindfulness as a religion (affected by modernist worldview)?
  • Is Reducing Suffering Enough?
  • Is it enough for the soul and psyche?
    • What happens to eros and passion?

What Is Real?

  • Our assumptions about what is real (ontology) affect the way we see everything
    • They keep delivering the same experiences, the same dukkha
    • They shape the way we see ourselves, our world etc…
  • Is it what is material, what is commonly agreed upon?
    • If that’s what we agree on, we’ll embrace mindfulness but deny imagination
    • Is psychotherapy “true”?
  • How can we expose the assumptions or ideas we have?

Buddhism Beyond Modernism (Talk 2)

Our Unconscious Ideas

  • The conscious and subconscious ideas we have impact and circumscribed our perception of
    • The Dharma
    • Our Life
    • Practice
  • We are always affected by unconscious ideas
    • We literally change what we hear to fit into our ideas
    • part of inquiry is to open up
  • Our interpretation of what’s happening often creates what’s happening
  • There are no facts, there are only interpretations
    • It’s causal

Are we really free to inquire?

  • We may think we are

  • What is taboo in our culture?

  • What are we not allowed to inquire?

  • Four Noble Truths are just a skeleton

    • Everyone projects onto them their own stuff
    • What about ethics?
    • What about opening to desire to reach freedom?
      • That shouldn’t work according to Buddhism

Modernism: The Dominant Culture

  • Universe as impersonal phenomenon reduceable to laws of physics
    • We can now see things objectively, indipendently
  • Man is the higher intelligence, rationality and empiricism are elevated
    • Emotion, Eros, Soul are considered as irrelevant
  • We try to reduce everything to neuroscience

Modernist Dharma (Consensus Buddhism)

  • Primacy of matter

  • impermanence is the ultimate truth

  • The idea of bare attention, is similar to the Modernism’s idea of a singular reality

    • We cannot live in bare attention
  • It’s easy to poke at, and criticize beliefs of past cultures

    • The task of the philosopher is to poke at the present culture
  • Fantasy of the Buddha depends on the interpreter (look at Thich Nhat Hanh’s)

  • Book on Modernism - The Passion of a Western Mind

New Dharma

  • There are different ways of looking available to us which unfold different existences
    • Open to images
  • Multiple views, multiple frameworks
    • God help us from singleness of vision
  • I cannot claim that truth is singular
  • we can entertain different ideas without needing to arrive at a final truth
  • What is our fantasy of liberation?
    • Calm sage, simple, no question, no concepts
    • could there be other fantasies?

In Praise of Restlessness (Talk 3)

  • Nothing wrong with fantasies of the path

    • The danger is in having a single fantasy
  • Truth is not singular

    • We need multiple directions
    • Awakening is open-ended, it never ends
      • You can be liberated in terms of ideas, or fantasies
      • In some traditions, awakening is demarcated very clearly, in different stages
  • Sometimes, shattering happens to us in life (change, relationships, circumstances)

    • Leads us to inquiry
  • Other times we shatter things, we’re on fire and shatter our old beliefs etc…

  • Calmness is not the only thing that our soul wants

    • Sometimes it wants to be energized, danger, excitement

Different Archetypes On Homelessness

  1. Renunciative: The Buddha embodied it
    • Renunciation of everything, including his own home
      • There’s no much talk of monasteries
  2. Homelessness of the seeker in search of truth
    • Common archetype in some Dharma Circles
  3. The fugitive, running away, not seeking
  4. Hermes’ Homelessness
    • The road is home
    • Not settling down to one view
    • Not literal
      • Some spiritual seekers going to India didn’t really leave their preconceptions
      • You can be in the same physical place, but constantly questioning and shattering

Different Restlessness Ideas

  1. The hindrance (agitation)
      • Give the mind permission (to watch tv etc…)
        • Watch the restlessness slowly defuse and turn to calmness
        • We acquire a taste for calmness
  2. When lots of energy opens up in the being with practice
  3. Endless seeking (Hermetic Style)
    • Hermes doesn’t believe this or that, he opens to multiplicity
    • Shattering structures and building new ones
    • Capacity to stay steady when you feel restless
      • With a degree of physical discomfort
      • With a creative project
      • With work situations, global problems

Awakening is open-ended, it never ends (Hermetic Style)

  • Doesn’t mean that there is no goal

    The goal is important only as an idea, the essential thing is the work that brings us towards the goal. Carl Jung

  • Role of the teacher: Communicate a restlessness, different roads to try

Dharma as Science, Religion or Art?

  • Quest for truth
    • Science looks at the future for truth
    • Religion looks to the past
      • Traditional Dharma falls here (Pali Canon etc…)
    • Art is not that concerned with truth
  • Desire has its place in all Science, Religion and Art
    • Even if it brings some Dukkha
      • It’s ok, it’s even beautiful
      • We are what we yearn, what we reach for
    • In science there’s a sense of endless desire for truth
    • Traditional Dharma’s strong focus on renunciation and dukkha removed the space for desire
      • May have reduced the possibility for art in the Dharma scene
        • ”Enso art” - simplicity, no self involved
      • Idea of awakened life, being purged of eros
    • But even the Buddha doesn’t say we should stop our search
      • Makes desire ok
  • Beauty is part of all of them too
    • Scientists see everything in nature as beautiful
    • Religions are imbued with beauty tied to the idea of God and Heaven, and we see it in their heart
    • Art, needless to say
    • Some beauty is imbued in Dharma as well (even though it’s often “marketed” as just reduction of suffering)
      • We may not even be aware of it
      • The beauty of the kindness, or appreciation of Nature

Why Practice?

  • Joy
    • Not possible to have it available all the time, but we can access it more
  • Freedom (from suffering, ignorance)
    • What are the limits we set to our freedoms?
      • Evolutionary biology would say there’s a limit to how free our behavior can be
    • After a while, we can reach a point where reduction of suffering does not seem as important as it once used to
      • what then?

Dharma as Art

  • Wonder, Amazement, Beauty
    • We could see Dharma as art, and make beauty an important part of it
      • Not the art of peace, calmness or freedom, just Art
        • Then reducing suffering becomes less important - Is it possible that we want to be enchanted?
    • Sense of life would be liberated by the malleability of vision of the artist
      • Different ways of looking open up different cosmoses
        • Heaven becomes a possibility
          • Not a question of believing or pretending
            • There is no single truth, no concretely existing reality
    • Dharma as a Myths to live by
    • Primacy of fantasy and mythos
    • Seeing life as art
Consequences of Seeing Dharma as Art
  1. Practice and perception become creative
    • It could become improvisation or not, playful
    • It is inexaustible, no limit to reach
    • Not wholly describable
  2. Not religious
    • Not looking backward for truth or authority
    • We recognize past masters in art, but we look forward
  3. Not like science
    • Not attempting to reach one single truth
      • Cosmos as having a multiplicity of meanings and interpretations
    • Opening up to knowing the cosmos poetically
      • Poet knows his poem is his creation, not a fact
      • Metaphors in poetry not meant to be true in one sense, but they have an aspect of truthfulness, but also beauty (e.g. heart as a garden, you don’t go look for grass)
  4. Not about reducing suffering
  5. Not only about my daily life
    1. They also have their own dimension
    2. It may spill over into everyday life or not
      1. Art is for art sake
  6. Beyond any definition anyone could make up
    1. Cannot be boxed in

Other Notes

  • Four Noble Truths talk about liberation from reincarnation - They are now just a skeleton - They can be a framework for understanding the world and self as empty

    • Opens up possibilities
      • Including the possibility of not reducing suffering
  • Today the common idea of awakening is that of someone who’s always in the present

    • After some liberation is achieved, that idea doesn’t even sound that amazingly attractive
    • Don’t we want some enchantment?
  • A life of non-clinging doesn’t make sense

    • It won’t work