Saturday, January 07, 2006

Buddhism as Integral Spirituality

In the new issue of Buddhadharma (Winter 2005), Reginald Ray has an article on the three lineages of Buddhism: the primordial lineage, which seeks to convey the direct experience of the awakened state; the transmission lineage, which comprises the variety of methods for conveying or teaching the primordial lineage to students; and the organizational lineage, which in this sense is the person who is officially responsible for upholding and maintaining the organizational structure of a given tradition.

As Ray discussed the transmission lineage, I found myself thinking that in this example Buddhism takes a very Integral (via Spiral Dynamics) approach to the world. In Spiral Dynamics, we are shown a world in which individual skills and talents combine with specific life conditions to create unique worldviews. Clare Graves, the original source for the SD model, identified eight worldviews based on years of extensive research. However, a person does not reflect any one worldview but, rather, reflects several--with a "center of gravity" that can often be narrowed to a combination of two worldviews (known as Memes). If one wants to speak to a person, it is helpful to be able to speak in a language that fits his/her worldviews. For example, I wouldn't get very far talking to a tribal inhabitant of the Amazon basin in the terminology of post-modernism. In order to convey information, especially in efforts to teach new ideas, we must be able to speak to people where they live and in their language.

The Buddha understood this. He developed a variety of teaching techniques (the transmission lineages) in order to convey his wisdom (the primordial lineage) to his students. Buddha recognized that each person, or type of person, would need to have the teaching presented in a way that was accessible from their life conditions, from their worldview.

Here is Ray's discussion of this Integral Buddhism:
The Buddha himself had followed a very circuitous path to realization. He had studied with many different teachers and followed a variety of paths, and his journey was filled with obstacle-ridden routes and dead ends of all kinds. He did not want to put his own disciples through the same kind of unguided trial and error that had marked his own path. So, beginning with his first sermon in Deer Park, the Buddha began to develop methods, often unique to his dharma, of bringing others to the primordial truth. The first teaching to his five friends marks the beginning of the transmission lineage in Buddhism.

The early texts tell us that far from settling on one method or "program" for transmitting the awakened state to others, the Buddha spent his entire teaching career developing different "gates to awakening" that reflected his disciples' differing capacities and needs. By the time of his death, so we are told, the Buddha had developed 84,000 different methods of transmission of the awakened state.

By now, among the various Buddhist traditions, there are probably many times the original 84,000 dharmas. Part of the genius and creativity of great teachers is the variety of ways they lead their students to the heart essence. A central concern of the practice traditions of Tibetan Buddhism has always been to maintain the full range of the transmission lineages. In particular, the renowned Rime masters of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries sought to preserve, as living traditions, the many different transmission lineages that were in danger of dying out in their day.

The multitude of transmission lineages is important because every person has a different set of capacities, inclinations, and karmic connections through which to receive the primordial lineage. The job of the skilled teacher is to find that one teaching or practice that at this precise moment in a student's journey will open his or her mind to its full depth.

To be able to teach in this way, as the Buddha did, requires what we might consider a second-tier worldview--the ability to relate to any of the first six worldviews directly, without privileging one above another. Only second-tier worldviews can do this--each first-tier worldview thinks it is the one true worldview. When you add all the possible combinations of developmental lines within each of the major worldviews, the Buddha probably needed at least 84,000 different techniques to convey the primordial truth.

Yet even within Buddhism, there is conflict between various organizational lineages over who holds the "real" truth, or the best path, or the most effective practice. What we are seeing in these instances is a first-tier person, who may have achieved non-dual consciousness, teaching from his/her unique perspective/lineage and unable to step outside of it to see the validity of other approaches. This is the same thing we see in all the various denominations in Christianity. Yet, even Christians have their second-tier teachers, such as Thomas Merton, who are not limited to a single approach and who recognize that different people need different techniques to find God/primordial truth.

In a world that is becoming increasingly divided into smaller and smaller camps, we would do well to remember the Buddha's wisdom in this area. What is important is the striving for God/nondual consciousness/primordial truth, not the various ways we try to get there.
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