MCTB The Social Models

In the same vein as the Love Models are the Social Models. These tend to involve all sorts of social implications or issues around enlightenment. For instance, we may imagine that enlightenment will automatically have certain desirable social implications, such as being accepted in a particular social role, such as that of a teacher, guide, mentor, spiritual friend, guru, leader, avatar, etc. This usually involves some poorly defined group of people accepting us. While spiritual attainments and unrelated qualities can sometimes inspire people to view us in these ways, there are absolutely no guarantees.

As I have pointed out before, plenty of people with wisdom have been ridiculed, ostracized, persecuted, attacked, jailed and murdered when they spoke from that place. In short, any social implications of one’s realization (assuming one is correct in claiming or believing it) will be at the mercy of ordinary causal reality, just as with everything else, and ordinary causal reality can really suck sometimes. Further, the vast majority of people don’t really have any clue what enlightenment is about, don’t think that enlightenment really exists today, may not have enlightenment as part of their view of what is possible or even desirable, or may even find the notion that you think you are enlightened to be a threat to their religious beliefs or an indication of your grandiosity, arrogance, delusion, or psychosis. Having lived with these issues for over a decade, I can tell you that these reactions are as likely to be found in the social circles of Buddhism as they are in the social circles of any other meditative or non-meditative religious or non-religious tradition.

Other Social Models involve enlightenment having something to do with other people’s opinions regarding whether or not we are enlightened, meaning that enlightenment is purely a social convention or collective designation and has nothing to do with reality or the individual’s perception of it. In this model, just as we may elect a president (or at least believe we are casting votes for one), so it is with enlightenment. This is actually fairly common in a number of Western Buddhist circles, including some major retreat centers, in which they all bow to the senior teacher list and yet hold the paradigm that no one really gets enlightened. While it is basically the neurosis of spiritual children, there are actually some real, practical truths hidden in this model.

While our direct perception of reality will depend on our practice and insights, any attempts at directly promoting similar insights in others will be greatly helped or hindered by what people think of us, whether or not we are given some title, whether or not a lineage accepts us as a teacher in that lineage, and whether or not the concepts and language we use to describe and sell our realization fit in with the cultural expectations and norms of our social circles. Further, there are those who falsely think they are enlightened because someone else thinks they are, and plenty of people on senior teacher lists that probably shouldn’t be there.

One way or another, it is worth examining our deepest beliefs regarding the social implications we imagine will occur when we get enlightened or more enlightened. These can have a big impact on our practice, our motivation to practice, and what kind of successes and failures we have in spreading insights around once we have insights ourselves. Unfortunately, most of our beliefs are likely to be somewhat unrealistic, springing from the understandable human need for recognition, role, and social status. Again, the further we find our dreams from our current reality, the more we need to look at what is happening right now, with those dreams and needs being one small part of the transient, causal sensations that are arising and vanishing.

Stated in practical terms and by way of example, you could be a foreign medical grad that had trained well in some foreign school, completed a good foreign residency, be perfectly qualified to practice from the point of view of knowledge, experience and talent, and yet not be allowed to practice in the United States until you had jumped through all the hoops. The same problem can arise when people go outside of a tradition or partially outside it and yet do very good insight work. They have the knowledge but not the social designation. Like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz who lacks a diploma, those who are enlightened who have not gone through standard channels can run into problems. That said, it also gives the freedom to speak out without worrying about those channels liking what you say, and there is much about the standard channels to speak out about.

I myself exist in a gray area like this, as do many modern teachers. I have accomplished much using the techniques of the Theravada, a tradition that explicitly says that only monks can know what I know and usually only recognizes monks as lineage holders. This is a cultural and social problem, and highlights the truth embodied in the social models. I suspect there will be a lot more of this as the dharma moves into the modern era and more people are successful. We need to come up with solutions to this problem that neither artificially elevate people nor artificially prevent them from sharing what they know that is of benefit to others.

MCTB The Three Yanas