Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
Here’s another point to ponder. There are many kinds of awakenings, many kinds of enlightenment. The experience that the supposed Buddha had (mythical or actual) was a solitary awakening. He spent years alone by himself in the woods meditating (so the story goes) and arrived at his superior knowledge by himself, in his own head, through his own experience. No doubt, he learned a great deal from his prior teachers and fellow students, but the way the story is told is that all their knowledge was inadequate, and he had to find out for himself. So he, the Lone Hero, figured it out all on his own. So therefore, no one else could know what he experienced, because he was the only one who experienced it.
This is the awakening of the Lone Individual, obtained through solitary meditation, who finds a way to completely detach from himself, from everyone and everything around him, to ‘transcend’ even as he remains in his own body.
But that’s not the kind of awakening I had, nor the kind that I want. The kind of awakening I want is the kind that can only be obtained through relationships, through communication, shared experience, the collective. Not that it has to be a huge cult community of people who all experience the same thing and reach the same enlightenment. No, it’s an awakening that happens through individuals in relationship to one another, through sharing and communication. Each individual has something different to share, unique to themselves, so the collective wisdom is very rich and diverse.
I believe I had a some kind of awakening experience in 2010, and I believe that I became aware of the interdependence of all life on earth, and my place in it. It was something like what the Buddha was said to have awakened to, ‘dependent origination.’ But I didn’t obtain that experience the same way that he did. I did not have the experience after spending years alone in the woods, meditating. I had the experience through learning at a university, through the particular teaching of a particular person, Joanna Macy and systems theory. It was a collective awakening that came through teaching, learning, communicating and relating.
I think that’s why most contemporary Buddhism fails me, because it teaches the Lone Individual form of awakening that is obtained through solitary meditation, and that’s not what works for me; it’s not what I want. I have spent a lifetime studying sociology, trying to understand society, groups, communities, institutions. I have been trying to awaken to the larger social world, and how it relates to the natural world. The awakening I had in 2010 was an ecological awakening, felt at a primal interior gut level, but nonetheless, connecting me to the larger living world in a profound way.
Furthermore, that kind of social and interconnected awakening—let’s call it Interdependent awakening—is what many people are looking for today. Sure some people are looking for just that kind of solitary experience, completely self-contained, inner-directed, ‘transcendent.’ But I think there are many more people who really want to communicate and connect with other people, who want to share and learn and awaken through relationship. And I also think there’s a significant number who want a social awakening, who want to understand the wider social world, the living ecological world of interdependence.
That kind of awakening doesn’t happen in isolation through solitary meditation. It happens in relationships, through communication and sharing. Meditation is the wrong kind of practice for that kind of awakening. Meditation is still beneficial, and I think if applied correctly it can help people relate better. But Interdependent awakening requires a fundamentally different practice, a collective practice. It can take many forms, but mostly it’s about building relationships, cultures and communities.
There are different kinds of Buddhas for different kinds of awakening. Bodhidharma was the awakening for a Mahayana awakening. Padmasambhava was the buddha for a tantric awakening. Gotama Siddhartha Buddha was the Buddha for an Arhant awakening. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was the buddha for a Navayana awakening. I am not following Gotama Siddhartha Buddha. I’m following a different Buddha, a Buddha of the Future that leads to a different kind of awakening.