Awakening in the real world

The Buddha left us with some invaluable pointers about how to direct our spiritual ambition so we recognise what’s important and don’t drive it into dead ends. The four great tasks, and the eightfold path in particular, articulate these pointers to awakening.

Each of us must work from a unique starting point dependent on our personal origins – a starting point we haven’t chosen, but still our own personal track head. On the way we might have awakening experiences, especially if we meditate intelligently and quite a lot.

But was the Buddha ultimately concerned not so much with individual awakenings as a communal development towards a new civilisation based on a shared awakening?

Have a look at the talk given to Beaches Sangha in Sydney in April 2016. You’ll find it here, and do please leave your response as a comment.

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One Comment

  1. Leon Frampton
    Posted May 12, 2016 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this post Winton.

    I’m very much in favour of the idea of awakening as a process, and the analogy of a “day in the life of…” makes it very clear that we have to be vigilant. One of the reflections this prompted in me was to remember working with alcoholics and substance addicts. Some were aware of the 12-step path but felt it was something out of reach at that time. Others were diligent and ambitious and sadly yo-yo’ed between extremes, unable to maintain their efforts over time. And there were those that just plodded along, taking one day at a time, not overly concerning themselves with what “step” they were on. All of them were engaged in a process. Even the 20 years without a drink folk were still on the 12 step path, staying with the process, minute after minute, hour after hour. They were all acutely aware that the rug could be pulled from under their feet at any time, regardless of how good their willpower had become or how strong their support network was. They understood that they had to be watchful, vigilant, understand the roots of their problems, and mitigate the risks as best as they can – staying with the process, trusting in their sponsor, drawing strength from their higher-power.

    Of course this doesn’t directly correlate with Buddhist practice, these were people who had lost control due to their addiction, but I believe there are important lessons for us all in their approach to daily life. The actual experience of life (real world), in this way, can teach us as much as scripture. For me this brings to mind pre-technological Buddhism, or any religion for that matter, where the real doctrinal analysis would have been confined to certain centres of learning, with pastoral Buddhism being an earthy everyday affair. We are indeed fortunate as individuals to have Buddhist universities at our fingertips, direct contact online with great thinkers of our age, and an almost endless amount of translated scripture and commentary.

    But what happens to our practice if we let all of that drop away? What do I do if someone pulls the www plug? This is where I think the title comes in, awakening in the real world. All of these resources support the process of awakening, but they do not bring it about in and of themselves. Only we can do that, engaging in a process of personal integration and personal, social, and ethical development. Awakening, defined as the radical absence of reactivity can occur in the absence of any knowledge of Buddhism. It is not therefore a Buddhist experience but a human one. We make it Buddhist by incorporating it into doctrine. As Stephen Batchelor likes to point out, the Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist, and as Winton mentions, it’s flypaper!

    As a footnote, thanks for pointing out that culture refers to a process, as in agriculture. That is something worth reflecting on!

    Regards to the community.

    Leon, Invercargill.

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