WIKI: Pragmatic Dharma

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Dream Walker, modified 4 Years ago.

WIKI: Pragmatic Dharma

Posts: 1312 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
I would like to discuss what Pragmatic Dharma means.
I have worked on this before but would like to be able to wiki the result of this discussion in a reasonably well organized approach. I would love to be able to not only put the result on the internal Dho wiki but ambitious as I am I would love to create an actual Wikipedia entry that reflects a well enough thought out entry that it does not get deleted. This would require a bit of work to "document" the rise of the Pragmatic Dharma movement, if indeed such a thing is possible. Past attempts on Wikipedia have not been successful -

Pragmatic has so far been defined as a response to "mushroom" culture the pervades most sanghas. I would like to see several things happen in this discussion.
1. list pragmatic attributes
2. what mushroom attribute it is counteracting
3. the dark side of that pragmatic attribute and some defence for it
4. catogorize the attributes

So, without further a-do -

The Pragmatic Dharma Manifesto
(-->insert manifesto here<--)
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Dream Walker, modified 4 Years ago.

RE: WIKI: Pragmatic Dharma

Posts: 1312 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
https://web.archive.org/web/20150811001451/http://www.buddhistgeeks.com/2011/06/the-core-features-of-pragmatic-dharma/

So sad Buddhist geeks is dead....lost some good stuff
thanks internet archive -


The Core Features of Pragmatic Dharma
by Vincent Horn    

Pragmatic Dharma is a modern approach to the path of awakening. It pulls from the time-tested teachings and practices of the Buddhist tradition, but is simultaneously infused with a modern mindset that isn’t afraid to tinker with the traditional formulation. Pragmatic Dharma, at its core, is about asking the question: What works?

If something doesn’t work, then it’s relinquished. If it works, it’s used. If something else works better—at certain times or for certain people—then we go with that. In that way Pragmatic Dharma is a completely practical way of approaching the spiritual path.

That said, this approach begins with the Buddhist tradition as a starting point. Buddhism has one of the most exhaustive collections of theory and practice to help enact spiritual transformation. It’s built upon thousands of years of individual experimentation, trial-and-error, and success. Many people have used this system to train their minds, awaken their hearts, and manifest deep wisdom. For this reason we use it as a starting point, respecting the deep streams of knowledge that our own exploration rides upon.

The Relationship of Theory and Practice

Pragmatic Dharma includes a collection of helpful theories and practices. At the same time it is a particular way of approaching theory and practice. If we look at the word “pragmatic” we see that it stems directly from Western philosophy. This is a description, from Wikipedia, of one of the defining features of pragmatism in the Western tradition:

    The pragmatist proceeds from the basic premise that the human capability of theorizing is integral to intelligent practice. Theory and practice are not separate spheres; rather, theories and distinctions are tools or maps for finding our way in the world.

If we look at what theory is, it’s essentially an abstraction, or representation, of direct experience. It’s a way for us to take our understanding and transmit, through the medium of ideas, the same understanding to another person. Language is such an important innovation, because it allows us to do this.

Because theory is an abstraction or representation, without directly experiencing, or really understanding what these things are pointing too, abstractions can remain just that. We all know people who confuse concepts about reality with reality itself. One need only bring to mind a know-it-all scholar or nerd to see living examples of what happens when we emphasize theory over practice.

The flip side of emphasizing theory over practice, is in emphasizing practice over theory. Many people conclude that all you need to do is practice and you’ll figure out everything by yourself. But how do you understand why you’re practicing or learn to practice?

If you emphasize practice too much you can get what Tibetan meditation master Chogyam Trungpa called “dumb meditators”—people who don’t understand what they’re doing or why. They never really got what they were supposed to be looking for, so they spin out endlessly doing a practice, which leads to something interesting, but not to what was intended.

Another pitfall of leaving out theory is that we find it difficult to integrate the experiences we’ve had into their lives. We have trouble because we are rejecting the importance of the thinking mind. Our complex mental abilities and highly developed brains are what make us distinctly human. Without complex thought it’s unlikely that we’d even be able to ask ourselves the important spiritual questions. Homo sapien is latin for “knowing man” or “wise man.” It can be a disaster if we throw out the “wise” part of our evolutionary heritage.

What’s encouraging is that if we can these helpful theories into practice, using them as maps to help us find our way, then we get into the business of having direct experiences ourselves. Through doing this we become internal scientists, and can begin to confirm, reject, and even build upon the theories we’ve been handed. Theories are alive and open-ended when we can test their validity. They are not the end point but rather the starting point for an incredible journey.

Awakening is Possible

At the center of this whole approach is the shining gem of Awakening. Awakening is often experienced as a process—sometimes rapid and sometimes more progressive—by which the sense of personal identity is radically transformed. Identity begins as a small, separate, and localized phenomenon that is always in reference to my body, my emotions, my perception, and my self. Through questioning the very assumptions this sense of identity rests upon it transforms to a more expansive, open-ended, and constantly changing situation, one that can simultaneously include us, but which goes beyond us as well. This shift brings an incredible sense of internal freedom, expansiveness, and well-being.

To say that Awakening is possible is to say that we acknowledge from the beginning that this transformation, which has been described and taught by people for millennia, is a real possibility for us. It isn’t something that happened to someone else a long time ago, or happens only for special people, but is a living potential for us. If we don’t believe it’s possible, than it’s highly unlikely we’ll be able to marshal the resources to begin the journey, let alone to arrive at the “destination” of abiding awakening.

Maps are Helpful

Along with recognizing that awakening is possible, another key feature of Pragmatic Dharma is that we recognize that there are helpful maps which describe some of the underlying patterns of spiritual development. The specifics of our experience can vary quite a bit, but the underlying pattern of spiritual development appears to be hardwired into our biology and psychology. These deep patterns form the basis for the maps which describe the Stages of Concentration and the Stages of Insight and Awakening.

At the same time, we hold these maps as useful pointers only, not as ultimate truths. It’s important to not completely give over our authority to someone else’s theory, as convincing as it may be, but to verify for ourselves what is true, what works, and what does not. This is another way in which Pragmatic Dharma stands apart from more traditional faith-based approaches.

Reality-Testing is Crucial

What happens if we’re willing to question and test the various assumptions and ideals that we bring to the spiritual path? What happens if we question the ideals and models that come from the spiritual traditions? Reality testing is the constant commitment to holding in question our own beliefs and theories, and those of others, until we can test and verify things for ourselves. Even once we’ve done so, reality testing invites us to continue holding open the door for new information or experiences to transform our understanding. Reality testing is a way to live in concert with change.

A wonderful example of reality testing comes from the Western scientist and philosopher Galileo Galilei. Often referred to as “the father of modern science” Galileo was well-known for turning the geocentric view of the earth on its head—the belief that the earth is at the center of the universe. By using a high-powered telescope and observing the movement of various celestial bodies he discovered that the sun was at the center of the observable universe. This became known as the heliocentric view, and serves as the basis for what we now refer to as our “solar system.” Galileo used direct observation to discover something new. And by doing this he completely upended the theories of his day.

Reality testing doesn’t happen just on a personal level, but also happens within a community of peers. There is much we can learn alone, but we can’t ultimately do it by all ourselves. Even Galileo was standing on the shoulders of hundreds of years of scientific exploration and developing technology. So we use everything that has come before us, as well as our peers and mentors to help refine our own observations and understandings. Or to put it in a more humorous way, as Kenneth Folk once did, we recognize that “enlightenment is a team sport.”

Openness & Transparency For the Win!

The final principle of Pragmatic Dharma is that openness and transparency beat out secrecy and dogma every time. When information is accessible we don’t have to reinvent the wheel ourselves. We can quickly learn from others and build upon that learning. And instead of relying on some special empowerment or secret instruction we have all the information we need to begin. We treat each other like adults, who can handle complexity, rather than like children, who often need information pre-digested for them.

An environment of openness and transparency can also allow us to reveal things about our experience that we might not otherwise reveal. Often our cutting edge lies in the areas that are most difficult to explore or see. When we value openness and transparency we don’t have to be as afraid of going into those areas. There is an incredible power that gets unlocked through doing this.

Another thing that happens, especially as a community, if we preference openness and transparency, is that authority begins to become more widely distributed. Instead of authority only being at the top of a hierarchy, with the founders of a tradition, or the senior teachers or lineage holders, authority also rests in the hands of regular people. Everyone who can realize something for themselves and share what they’ve gleaned is a source of spiritual wisdom. And this massively distributed authority is not a flat, “everyone is equal” point of view. Rather it’s a naturally flowing hierarchy of knowledge and skill, which is inherently dynamic and flexible.

When everyone in a community is more empowered to learn and share it creates an incredible positive feedback loop of enthusiasm, skill, and energy. People become more invested in what they’re doing and more empowered to embody their own wisdom. And because we haven’t thrown out a recognition of varying levels of depth there’s a constant stream of checks and balances throughout the system, which if set up properly can become self-regulating. Of course, this is the ideal, and with all ideals reality-testing again becomes important. But these principles have been enacted well in other systems and we can learn a lot from them. Indeed, I would say that if we ever want to have a shot at modernizing the path of awakening, we’ll have to.


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Kim Katami, modified 4 Years ago.

RE: WIKI: Pragmatic Dharma

Posts: 698 Join Date: 2/5/13 Recent Posts
Vincent Horn's text is great. Hadn't seen it before.
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Dream Walker, modified 4 Years ago.

RE: WIKI: Pragmatic Dharma

Posts: 1312 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
https://web.archive.org/web/20111104055846/http://www.wanderingdhamma.org/2010/07/02/the-hardcore-dharma-movement-2/

So sad this website is dead too.....get the feeling why this needs to be preserved?

*The Hardcore Dharma Movement

Posted by Wandering Dhamma on Jul 2, 2010 in Reflections | 0 comments    
*The Hardcore Dharma Movement    

One of the most interesting new trends in Western Buddhism is a reaction against more ‘soft’ and ‘self-help’ type dharma books. Some contemporary Buddhist authors are now calling themselves hardcore as an opposition to this earlier work. The most outspoken and prolific of the hardcore teachers is Daniel Ingram who wrote Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book. Kenneth Folk is another teacher of a similar generation as Daniel Ingram who, through his website and podcasts on Buddhist Geeks, carries the hardcore meditation practice message. And now this movement has a second generation as Vince Horn, founder of the Buddhist Geeks, calls himself the first lineage holder of both of these teachers. The changes these dharma teachers are making are very interesting and revealing about the state of Buddhist practice in Western countries.

So what is it that is hardcore about these teachers’ ideas and teachings? What are they opposing themselves to? A description of this movement is found in Daniel Ingram’s biography on the Buddhist Geeks Website where he states that he is part of:

“the global movement of meditation reform, a movement that seeks to preserve core meditation technology and supports, integrate helpful aspects from across traditions, refine the techniques and maps through exploration and verification, and spread the message that it can be done. It is also a movement to strip away the aspects of dogma, ritual, rigid hierarchy, myth and falsehood that hinder high-level practice and keep the culture of meditation mired in unhelpful taboos and misplaced effort.”

Kenneth Folk and Daniel Ingram are interested in teaching about the higher-level meditation practices and are defying the taboo against declaring one’s attainments. They have both stated that they are arahants and talk about their experiences attaining the four paths of Enlightenment openly, hoping that others will come to see that attaining this state is possible. In one of his Buddhist Geek Podcast interviews Folk narrates in detail the moments when he attained first through fourth path of Enlightenment. Kenneth Folk  in his interview on Buddhist Geeks Podcast called ‘Ordinary People Can Get Enlightened’ stated this outright:

“What I really want to say here is that it’s possible to get enlightened. And I know that, because it happened to me… So I’m hoping that by telling the story, other people understand that regular, average people who aren’t wearing robes, and aren’t even Asian. Or whether they’re Asian or not. It is possible for ordinary people to get enlightened.”

One of the chapters of Ingram’s Mastering the Core Teachings, is called ‘It Is Possible!’ in order to point out that even though many think the end of the path is mythical and unattainable, people do attain these states today. He contrasts the openness in talking about the paths of Enlightenment in Burma with the paradigm you would most likely find in a Western Buddhist. “First, most Western Buddhists don’t really believe that after a few months of good practice you could get enlightened or more enlightened. They do not believe it is simply a matter of following simple instructions, moving through the clearly defined insights” (Mastering the Core Teachings, 337).

Hardcore teachers, along with revealing their own meditation experiences, critique what they consider typical Western Buddhism. They are reacting against teachings that have more in common with therapy than vipassana, are concerned with self-help and calmness rather than the sometimes destabilizing cycles of insight. They hope that through their writings and teachings, some Western Buddhists can adopt “a more empowering view of what is possible on the spiritual path” (viii).

Ingram in his book considers himself and others from the same lineage “to be dharma cowboys, mavericks, rogues, and outsiders” (ix). Although he considers himself a traditionalist who tries to get to the depths of the Buddha’s teachings, he finds that this kind of practice contrasts with much of Western Buddhist meditation cultures. The mainstream cultures, from the Hardcore dharma perspective, have been designed by certain teachers “who want everyone to be able to feel good that they are doing something ‘spiritual’” (95). But Ingram argues that this kind of teaching is not very helpful. As a solution to this, his book provides an invitation “to step far beyond the increasingly ritualized, bastardized, and gutless mock-up of Buddhism that is rearing its fluffy head in the modern West and has a stranglehold on many a practice group and even some of the big meditation centers” (95).

Ingram also says Western Buddhism is watered-down. He writes that there is a movement to make Buddhism into something for everyone (94). Ingram labels Buddhism in the West the “least goal-oriented, least practical and least effective take on Buddhism I have found anywhere” (117). In contrast to this way of teaching, Ingram characterizes one of his teachers, Bill Hamilton, as a guy who was “too smart, too uncompromising, too scholarly and too dedicated to non-watered-down dharma and to absolute mastery to be a popular mainstream teacher. He didn’t teach to make people feel good about themselves . . .” (219). Because of this watered-down approach Ingram finds that in Western Buddhist meditation circles people are not discussing their attempts to understand and master the teachings or meditation techniques, but rather their own psychological problems. He writes:

“I just wish the whole Western Buddhist World would just get over this notion that these practices are all about getting to our Happy Place where nothing can ever hurt us or make us neurotic and move on to actually mastering real Buddhist practice rather than chasing some ideal that will never appear” (297).

Ingram and Folk call the cultural factors that led to the state of Buddhism in the West “the Mushroom Factor” because as mushrooms are fed and kept in the dark, meditation teachers are using the mushroom method of teaching and raising a crop of mushroom meditators. Ingram finds that “there is this cultural factor in Western Buddhism that real insight, insight into the fundamental nature of reality or the Three Characteristics, is almost never talked about directly, unlike in Burma or some other settings” (102).

Some may wonder whom in particular Ingram is admonishing here. In fact he has great respect for many of the popular American meditation teachers, such as Jack Kornfield, but believes that their presentation of the teaching is written in a way that perpetuates the Mushroom Factor. He praises Kornfield’s A Path With Heart saying it contains many brilliant statements that should confound the reader and hit at their core sense of identity but “as they have been written in a style that is so completely accessible, these statements have nearly the opposite effect, creating a mushy comfort in the reader with statements that should have stopped them in their proverbial tracks and provoked deep inquiry” (89). Because of this, Ingram felt the need for a hardcore book about practice, such as his own.

Daniel Ingram also discusses the taboo of discussing attainments in Western Buddhist culture in a Buddhist Geeks podcast called “The Dharma Overground:” “You know, there’s this sort of a huge taboo, you can’t say you’ve attained to a jhana, and you can’t say you’ve attained to a nana, and you sure as heck can’t say you’ve attained to a path. And telling people you’re an anagami or an arhant would really be crazy.” Because of this situation, he started the Dharma Overground website where high-level practitioners could start to get comfortable with talking about attainments. The purpose of this website is to “form a safe haven for people who were into hardcore practice, real attainments, helping people out in the spirit of mutual friends, open conversations about topics related to actual practice, and the like.”

This website reveals in detail the maps on the path to Enlightenment in order to balance out the mushroom culture. Ingram offers information on how to know where one is on the path along with his own experiences to help others understand what they are or will be going through. The website’s basic principles are: “a lack of taboos surrounding talking about attainments, the assumption that the various aspects of meditative development can be mastered in this life.” And these are also the basic principles of the hardcore dharma movement, a very interesting new development in the history of Buddhism in the West.

What does this mean for the future of Buddhism in the West? The hardcore teachers are picking up on the emerging characteristics of Western Buddhist meditation practices, and are opposing themselves to it. It thus shows a growing diversity of practice and options for Buddhists in the West. But how impactful will this new movement be? As Ingram’s website grows and the hardcore supporters increase, will other teachers follow the same path? Will there be a paradigm shift in how Westerners think about meditation and interact with the core teachings of the Buddha?

*This movement is now called Pragmatic Dharma. For a list of links connected to this topic click here.


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Noah D, modified 4 Years ago.

RE: WIKI: Pragmatic Dharma

Posts: 1103 Join Date: 9/1/16 Recent Posts
FWIW I would say "potato peeler" is one of the key phrases I look for in any good article on pragmatic Dharma.

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