Initiation, Degrees

thumbnail
Cino, modified 2 Months ago.

Initiation, Degrees

Posts: 32 Join Date: 2/9/17 Recent Posts
Initiation and elaborate systems of degrees are part of Western Occultism, at least in its manifestation of fraternal societies or orders. This has similarities to  monastic ordination, right down to some of the titles conferred, the hierarchies, the power structures and so on. Are there perhaps also parallels to the spiritual maps as discussed and explored here on the Dharma Overground, I wonder?

In a way, the ceremonial, theatrical dimension of initiation has a "fake it till you make it" quality, a phrase which can also be found applied to meditative attainments in many discussions here on the forums. And from personal experience, I can state that the performative aspect of initiation foreshadows or even kick-starts unforeseen processes of spiritual and personal development. A kind of A&P, point of no return situation? Not all initiations appear to have this effect, but it occurs often enough to be "a thing" in the relevant circles.

Initiations confer degrees, but they are usually technical  (in a spiritual sense) or administrative in nature. Some orders seem to have genuine degrees of "illumination" or enlightenment, but usually the degrees are about personal development and proficiency in spiritual technique and learning, rather than insight, as the term is used here.

I've often wondered about the situation that the degrees seem to be turned inward as it were, relevant only in the tighly circumscribed world of an initiatory order or maybe within the slightly larger field of Western occultism. But the personal effectiveness and, well, magickal power of a practitioner, the outward-pointing dimension in a way, which is ostensibly what such organisations are about, comes with advancement in insight, which is underrepresented in the degree systems.

Any thoughts welcome!
thumbnail
J W, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Initiation, Degrees

Posts: 511 Join Date: 2/11/20 Recent Posts
Cino
I've often wondered about the situation that the degrees seem to be turned inward as it were, relevant only in the tighly circumscribed world of an initiatory order or maybe within the slightly larger field of Western occultism. But the personal effectiveness and, well, magickal power of a practitioner, the outward-pointing dimension in a way, which is ostensibly what such organisations are about, comes with advancement in insight, which is underrepresented in the degree systems.

Any thoughts welcome!
I may not be quite following you here, but if you look at criteria for the traditional Theravadan "ranks", they are based off of a collection of insights which lead one to the abandonment of fetters (mental hinderances).  Some might say that there is a required technical proficiency to achieve such insights, but that's not really what the title is a measurement of, in my understanding.  
Re: the inward-pointing vs. outward-pointing dimension of it (or you might say, the micro vs. macro aspects)... while the abandonment of fetters may cause one to behave differently outwardly, I think what the Theravadan tradition here is really talking about is the inner-pointing stuff.  The abandonment of internal mental obstructions and hinderances.  Which will almost certainly lead one to act differently, perhaps be less reactive, etc.  But there is not always a direct correlation between the external behaviour and the internal.
 
thumbnail
Cino, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Initiation, Degrees

Posts: 32 Join Date: 2/9/17 Recent Posts
J W
Cino
I've often wondered about the situation that the degrees seem to be turned inward as it were, relevant only in the tighly circumscribed world of an initiatory order or maybe within the slightly larger field of Western occultism. But the personal effectiveness and, well, magickal power of a practitioner, the outward-pointing dimension in a way, which is ostensibly what such organisations are about, comes with advancement in insight, which is underrepresented in the degree systems.

Any thoughts welcome!
I may not be quite following you here, but if you look at criteria for the traditional Theravadan "ranks", they are based off of a collection of insights which lead one to the abandonment of fetters (mental hinderances).  Some might say that there is a required technical proficiency to achieve such insights, but that's not really what the title is a measurement of, in my understanding.


Those would be spiritual attainments, I believe? Stream-Entry etc? In Western initiatory orders, these would be mixed in with the ranks of the organization. Maybe like this: In Theravada, there are various levels of vows/precepts, there are householders who take the 5 precepts, Anagarikas (8 Precepts), 10-Precepts Nuns like the Maechee in Thailand, fully ordained Monks (and perhaps Nuns); then there are Elders, Scholars, Achariyas/Ajahns, Patriarchs... now imagine the four stages (Stream-Entry, Once-Returner etc) interspersed or even equated with some of the organizational ranks, and you have something like the situation in Western orders.

The Thai Forest Tradition title of Ajahn has a connotation of spiritual attainment (which they would never admit to in front of laypeople). Being a Master of the Temple in certain Western orders also implies a fairly high spiritual attainment.

On the other hand, having taken the 10 precepts, or some corresponding Western initiatory vows, does not convey that the person who has done so has any spiritual attainments. But, and here's what I was trying to get to: Once the precepts or vows are taken in a ceremony, there is a good chance that some kind of personal or spiritual development will take place, even if this was not anticipated or intended.

Re: the inward-pointing vs. outward-pointing dimension of it (or you might say, the micro vs. macro aspects)... while the abandonment of fetters may cause one to behave differently outwardly, I think what the Theravadan tradition here is really talking about is the inner-pointing stuff.  The abandonment of internal mental obstructions and hinderances.  Which will almost certainly lead one to act differently, perhaps be less reactive, etc.  But there is not always a direct correlation between the external behaviour and the internal.


Maybe this is less marked in Buddhism, with its strong emphasis of renouncing the world. But the Western orders have at various points in history had the aspiration to be active in society. Some were hot-beds of revolutionaries, like the Carbonari in Italy, others were strongholds of the forces of reaction. It is this sense of "outward-pointing" effectiveness which I was alluding to. Western initiatory orders are nowadays often a bit too self-absorbed and concerned with their own issues and, at best, concerned with rising in the internal ranks. I think the potential of spiritual attainment, with the "unfettered" effectiveness then directed towards "outward", social, worldly concerns, which is so much part of the Western tradition (but much less so in renunciation-oriented Buddhism), is not being reached nowadays.

Edited to add: The Buddha himself was also addressing some of the social issues of his time, oppression of women, monopoly of certain castes on ritual functions, ethical standards for the rich and powerful and so on. Still his movement turned out to de-emphasize these concerns in the long run.
thumbnail
J W, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Initiation, Degrees

Posts: 511 Join Date: 2/11/20 Recent Posts
Well said.
thumbnail
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Initiation, Degrees

Posts: 5891 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
The Bodhisattva vows are also often reported to be followed by a personal and spiritual development even though they don't require attainments at the point of taking them, but then again, that's the non-renunciation parts of Buddhism. 
thumbnail
Cino, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Initiation, Degrees

Posts: 32 Join Date: 2/9/17 Recent Posts
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö
The Bodhisattva vows are also often reported to be followed by a personal and spiritual development even though they don't require attainments at the point of taking them, but then again, that's the non-renunciation parts of Buddhism. 

Interesting! Did you take the Bodhisattva vows, or some other ceremonial initiation vows?

Regarding (non-)renunciate outlook, I had this slightly cynical thought just not that either you have a tradition which facilitates real progress in insight, but then it's renunciate, or you have a tradition that is at least ostensibly involved in advancing society, but it doesn't facilitate insight progress... although that would not do justice to all those people who are involved in trying to change the world for the better, and who are also part of a tradition.
A. Dietrich Ringle, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Initiation, Degrees

Posts: 882 Join Date: 12/4/11 Recent Posts
The Theravadin tradition is not a direct pointing tradition. If it were, the three characteristics would probably outperform the direct pointing in the ring and the tradition would die. I am not concerned though.

I sat this from a sociological perspective.
thumbnail
Cino, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Initiation, Degrees

Posts: 32 Join Date: 2/9/17 Recent Posts
A. Dietrich Ringle
The Theravadin tradition is not a direct pointing tradition. If it were, the three characteristics would probably outperform the direct pointing in the ring and the tradition would die. I am not concerned though.

I sat this from a sociological perspective.

I'm thoroughly mystified. Say more?
A. Dietrich Ringle, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Initiation, Degrees

Posts: 882 Join Date: 12/4/11 Recent Posts
There are plenty of examples of direct pointing in the suttas, yet they are likely false leads. However that was early on. By the time the three characteristics were codified, the only clue left was found in the dbammapada. A clue book..
A. Dietrich Ringle, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Initiation, Degrees

Posts: 882 Join Date: 12/4/11 Recent Posts
A. Dietrich Ringle
There are plenty of examples of direct pointing in the suttas, yet they are likely false leads. However that was early on. By the time the three characteristics were codified, the only clue left was found in the dbammapada. A clue book..


I am not sure what translation to recommend. When you find a translation, read and re-read until a particular sense door opens. Then put the text away until you need it again.
thumbnail
Daniel M. Ingram, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Initiation, Degrees

Posts: 3199 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Another way to possibly look at this:

For some, the direct pointing that is the Three Characteristics applying to the Four Foundation, Five Aggregates, and Six Sense Doors of immediate experience is adequate, they understand what it means, and so understand the very direct pointing that this is, as it functionally works for them.

For some, the direct pointing that is the Three Characteristics applying to the Four Foundations, Five Aggregates, and Six Sense Doors of immediate experience is inadequate for them, as they can't understand what it means, and so, at least in functional, practical terms and for that person, it is not a direct pointing tradition.
thumbnail
Cino, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Initiation, Degrees

Posts: 32 Join Date: 2/9/17 Recent Posts
Thanks for the clarification, this is interesting.

Still a bit mystified though, was it my use of the word "pointing" that provoked the topic change? Or am I still missing something? What about the sociological perspective you mention, Dietrich, I can't connect the dots yet, but want to understand.
A. Dietrich Ringle, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Initiation, Degrees

Posts: 882 Join Date: 12/4/11 Recent Posts
Here's my take. You assumed the dharma and Magicka were one and the same. Me, not knowing much about Magick, jumped in the only way I knew how: breaking down the dharmaYou are welcome in my little club if that's what you would like
A. Dietrich Ringle, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Initiation, Degrees

Posts: 882 Join Date: 12/4/11 Recent Posts
I mention a sociologic perspective because it is not the usual for me. It is a learned experience. The way I came about with this type of questioning was due to what might be called grace. But not grace from your usual deity, a deity rather from the pureland.
A. Dietrich Ringle, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Initiation, Degrees

Posts: 882 Join Date: 12/4/11 Recent Posts
So in order to unpackage it, I had to have clues as to what my behavior should be.
thumbnail
Cino, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Initiation, Degrees

Posts: 32 Join Date: 2/9/17 Recent Posts
A. Dietrich Ringle
So in order to unpackage it, I had to have clues as to what my behavior should be.


I get it, thanks.

I don't think the Dharma and Western Magick are the same, I mentioned the difference regarding renunciation. I think these "initiation" type events, scripted versions of insights, which then often lead to actual insight, are interesting and worth comparing.
A. Dietrich Ringle, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Initiation, Degrees

Posts: 882 Join Date: 12/4/11 Recent Posts
I would say more, but hands shake too much.
A. Dietrich Ringle, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Initiation, Degrees

Posts: 882 Join Date: 12/4/11 Recent Posts
Why not brew ginger beer?

Breadcrumb