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Pre-digested wisdom
November 7th, 2017

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

Pre-digested wisdom

In Buddhism, there exist "views" which are considered "valid" (in conventional terms —like pudgala person— or ultimate terms —like some 'atomic' intentions, e.g. dosa hatred or karuṇā compassion) and "wholesome": what captures reality "appropriately" is seen as empowering, enabling improvement.

These views might be appropriate in one context but not another, hence they're not as "fixed" as most people expect them to be: since the world is impermanent, whatever appropriately empowers sentient beings also changes in accordance with the circumstances, moment to moment. Still, some "views" tend to be constructive in many situations, enough for them to be considered "truths", "rules" or "precepts". This doesn't support the idea of turning a blind eye on the exceptions, but this still provides some relatively reliable compass e.g. towards the cessation of stress.

Yet, one might have legitimate concerns when such views are merely parroted and repeated ad nauseam.

Pre-digested wisdom is like pre-digested pizza: even if there's no doubt it was pizza at some point, once digested it has lost a lot of its nutritional value. Even if one might find residual value in vomit, that'd hardly be a recommended diet.

Endlessly quoting e.g. the dhammapada again and again is not educational; it might fulfil some need to manifest a clingy kind of 'faith' but it won't replace an enquiry into the situation at hand. A decent carer or a decent teacher adapts to the receiver's needs; this was one of the key traits of the Buddha, he adapted his teachings to each audience (hence we have thousands of texts, not just a few pages repeated over and over for four decades). Buddhist practice cannot be reduced to merely quoting either, not even from a broader corpus of texts.

Mindfulness, being present, attending, is of limited value… compared to mind training… which itself is of limited value compared to knowing the mind!

Being aware of a liking for beautiful green eyes can be useful, sure… but how does it compare to being able to refrain from impulsive responses, whenever green eyes come into the vicinity?
And how would this compare to understanding how the mind works, how it came to prefer green eyes over brown eyes, how this preference biases other judgements (e.g. in finding a mate, in hiring a subordinate, in drunken behaviours…), and most importantly how "green eyes" might suddenly appear a lot less sexy if gouged out of their sockets (thus realising it's really not about green eyes in and of themselves)?

Mindfulness as taught again and again for beginners, online and in apps, is akin to mediocre samatha: there's little mind training, and virtually no knowledge.
Conditioned calm might be nice to experience, but is not Liberation, is not attaining 'beyond' (the conditioned).
Being "neutral" toward phenomena may be either indifference or equanimity, and these are hardly the same: they're "close enemies" in fact! The Kīṭāgiri sutta (MN 70) states « there is the case where, for (…) someone feeling a neither-pleasant-nor-painful feeling of this sort, unskillful qualities grow and skilful qualities decrease. But there is the case where, for someone feeling a neither-pleasant-nor-painful feeling of that sort, unskillful qualities decrease and skilful qualities grow. »

Yes, Buddhism is about relinquishing all "views" (and not just picking "right" views)… but it's hardly against engaging within the world with wise discernment, or against "knowing" (beyond concepts, experientially, in relation to perceiving context-dependent "suchness" — the tathātā at the root of Tathāgata ! « Whatever is seen, heard, sensed and cognised, attained, searched into, pondered over by the mind—all that, is fully understood by the Tathāgata. That is why he is called the Tathāgata. » (AN 4.23)). Upon awakening, the Mahasaccaka sutta describes the "three knowledges" which the Buddha attained upon awakening (his past lives, the workings of kamma and rebirth, and the four noble truths).
"Knowledge" in Buddhism is thus not contradictory with "relinquishing views"; in fact, "views" are distortions to knowledge, they under-estimate, the over-estimate, they abusively generalise, they miss exceptions and relevant details… Thus, "knowledge" is only possible when getting disenchanted with simplistic, prejudiced, one-sided, partial "views"!
So naïve, limited, narrow mindfulness is not all there is; in fact, correctly attending to the present circumstances ought to include 'remembering' which lessons would provide appropriate support in this situation! Relinquishing the notion of fixed 'entities', one still sees forms and phenomena… as processes… integrating past, present and future (lessons, attention, and a sense of responsibility vis-à-vis consequences of one's response) in a continuity, a causal chain unfolding.

Life is your teacher ( and you learn "life lessons" along the path, while the sūtras contradict one another ( You learn, you get to know and not to parrot. Sūtras could be compared to a language: you can learn a few words and describe everything with just these words, a car is a 'thing', a flower is a 'thing', a fish is a 'thing'… or you can learn a wider, richer vocabulary, but you still have to pick the right word to describe what you want, because using the word 'fish' for a car still won't help… so vocabulary and appropriateness are both needed (not clinging to a very small numbers of "truths" clumsily pushed onto every phenomenon that occurs).

Teachers, in the forms of specific persons, might be useful… to help you ask questions, to make you look deeper, to unsettle your certainties (or, in Zen parlance: to pull the rug, make you fall, rush to help you back on your feet, then pull the rug again… until you know how to stand by yourself, regardless of a shaky ground)… not to give you pre-digested truths to cling to, attached with fake promises of "the most effective method", "the faster path to awakening", etc. (, or —even worse— of "spiritual benefits —without leaving your comfort zone"
Buddhism is a path of "leaving home"… as in leaving certainties, preconceptions, the comfort of "being" right, the cocoon of pre-digested wisdom and ancient training rules (, It relies on enquiry, questions, doubts, and the falling away of many deep convictions (born from trauma, born from identification, born from societal programming)…
No pre-recorded tape, or app (whether 'gamified' or not), will really help you out of your comfort zone; it's a self-selection issue, your ego will pick sources that are predictably not-so-threatening to its survival (and predictably maximising profits thanks to long subscriptions. Hundreds of hours of contents? Perfect excuse to justify auto-renewal, but how many views will fall? Hundreds of hours of distraction following the peaceful voice and visualisations offered, away from attending one's own circumstances? Perfect excuse to justify auto-renewal, but how many ignorant perceptions will fall?).
If you're interested in going further than feel-good guided meditations, in constructively engaging with life as it is (in your context), in 'realising' (making real) and 'embodying' (manifesting) the teachings, find a teacher who can pull the rug under your feet. He or she might be online, at a distance (in Tibetan Buddhism, it was often suggested to choose a guru from another valley… thus forcing an alternance between periods of guidance and periods of personal experimentation and enquiry), but pre-recorded makes it a lot less context-dependent, hence a lot less effective. "Appropriate" guidance requires wise discernment of the specificities at hand: a doctor should neither presume what the prescription will be before even seeing the patient, nor automatically give whatever the untrained patient thinks he 'should' get.

#Buddhism #Dharma
Individual guidance is available (
Buddhism has no specific guideline on supporting teachers, it simply asks for you to consider causality: if you want this living tradition to survive, how are you participating, in practical terms, to make this happen? Nice words, exposure or social media ‘likes’ might feel good, but they do not actually help with the basic necessities: