The Risks of Masculine Practice Paradigms

Many “masculine” practitioners can advance quite far up the path by using meditation to widen and deepen a core split in the very personality structure they think they are thereby healing. This advancement up the path in fact advances pathological dissociation processes already at work in the organization of the personality.

The Dharma Overground and Prevalence of Schizoid Process

Not everyone has to suffer from diagnostically extant borderline or schizoid personality disorder for this pattern to be a ubiquitous one characterizing whole Western dharma communities, especially ones like the Dharma Overground, whose participating membership is overwhelmingly (95% or more) male and whose culture of participation is decidedly masculine and often enough aggressively masculinist – right down to the militancy set forth in its warlike name and initial logo design.

Although both women and men contain and express the feminine and masculine principles, it is also true, from a Buddhist doctrinal point of view, that embodiment as a woman or a man does affect the initial imbalance of these principles in terms both of general relational style and specific approach to meditation practice. The lack of participating women on the Dharma Overground is symptomatic of an unhealthy imbalance nonetheless institutionalized as a legitimate resource for enlightenment. The leader and other men there claim to scratch their heads in puzzlement over why women remain absent – or silenced. The trouble is that they have not looked within at the blind spot in their own practice and attainment.

Tantric Iconography as a Clue to the Antidote

Accordingly, in the Indo-Tibetan tantric yidam, sexual union of the female and the male represents union, respectively, of openness (wisdom) with skillful means (compassion). Although this union of difference may be mistaken as merely convenient sex-identity symbolism, tantra is nothing if not emphatically pragmatic, concerned as it is with our everyday human drives as the means of transformation and expression of an otherwise dangerously transcendent – removed – “enlightenment.”

Appropriately, in what may seem to most Westerners a nonintuitive archetypal reversal, it is the woman in this pairing who represents wisdom attainment and the man who represents the relational heart. The metaphor, not symbol, of their union is a mind-boggling – instructively so – ever-reopening site of deconstruction: aporia. It is nondual.

Perhaps this is why it is said traditionally (by Padmasambhava) that actual, nonsymbolic women are at a slight advantage over actual men in reaching full enlightenment. There is something about the purely relational, and even devotional, that constitutes the heart of wisdom. Perhaps more forthrightly engaging this feminine aspect of ourselves in service of our own wisdom attainment would be most pragmatic, taking pragmatic dharma practice past the current stopping point where so many on the Dharma Overground find themselves still suffering and inflicting suffering. 

It is with this hope that I write this practice manual as a nuancing of, companion to, and in some respects corrective to Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book.

The Necessity for Western Psychology in Western Buddhism

It is crucial that we understand Western practitioners as suffering from trauma incurred in the “holding environment” of early childhood and infancy. All of us, to some extent, are suffering from early childhood attachment issues, if not downright attachment disorder. The Buddhist literature of Asia offers no explicit compensation for this impoverished foundation from which we Westerners practice meditation.

Widespread parental attachment deficits create a lack of Basic Trust, a lack that permeates our entire culture at every level. At its worst, for the individual level this is not a mere matter of neurotic repression and defense mechanisms that can be recognized as such and gradually deconditioned through diligent meditation practice and a contemplative life; rather, it organizes the very personality in terms of at least two fundamental “splits” of the psyche.

This “splitting” defines schizoid process and at worst causes personality disorders such as borderline and schizoid, which impede or completely prevent progress to full enlightenment. One cannot dismantle what one cannot first see; one cannot see what is such an early trauma that one’s entire psychical organization stands forth from it, hiding the site of intolerable and continually reopening initial woundedness.

The Schizoid Process as Two Levels of Personality “Splitting”

In the schizoid process, all “bad” must be dissociated from the vulnerable core. One level of splitting involves a turning away from threatening outer relational objects and substituting fantasized infantile replacements that are safe. So, for example, if a man’s mother abandoned him in early childhood, invaded his autonomy, or did both in alternation, then all “motherly” women thereafter will be an intolerable threat to him. The trouble stems from the man’s own internalized early object relations, but he will engage in transference with any current real woman, projecting onto her his internalized early threats to wholeness. He will see the woman in black-and-white terms, alternately either as all good (fantasy) or all bad (projection): “This schizoid pattern creates external relations that are not marked by warm, live, pulsing feelings. Instead, when interpersonal nurturance is available, schizoid individuals fear a loss of self from being smothered, trapped, ordevoured. When strong desire or need is aroused, they tend to break off the relationship. Hatred is often used to defend against love with its dangers and disappointments, a pattern that starts in early childhood (Yontef 2001),”

This alternation between need and hatred will manifest in a push-me/pull-me relationship dynamic, called in the literature the “in-and-out program,” whereby out of intimacy hunger the man invites her in, and out of the resulting drive to split off all his vulnerability, he demonizes her. It is a vicious circle. He will repeatedly shut out the world of real human companionship in favor of a rich inner fantasy world that he alone populates and controls. Then having internalized the whole drama on his own terms, he will continue to suffer intense loneliness and therefore begin the cycle again. 

He may engage in the schizoid compromise, crafting a public persona to display at onstage distances safe from true emotional intimacy. He may be a dynamic public speaker, for example, but agitated and avoidant during the subsequent Q&A sessions out on the floor, where he is not in control of all actors on the scene.

This first layer of splitting, whereby the internalized parent is projected onto the outer world as a threat to be defended against, is compounded by a second layer whereby the core that is to be protected from outer threats itself remains split into a punishing half and a “weak,” shame-based half that believes it does not deserve love. This abiding inner threat (the “weak” self), like the invasive/abandoning inner parent, puts the schizoid in an untenable predicament.

With the two layers of splitting, the personality thus organizes itself into a repeatedly opening wound over which it cannot gain new ground on which to heal, on which to build a healthy ego that can risk all the emotional pain that comes along with vital love. If this person then goes into practice and attains to no-self, he nonetheless has not fully realized nonduality, which in its full form is enlightenment. The double polarities of self/other and self/self constitute a holdout, in Buddhist terms, of duality. The continually opening wound is ignorance. It is the blind spot on which those with significant schizoid/borderline processes stand, the shadow side of any partial awakening they may have achieved.

The Split-Off Objectification of Emotions via Vipassana Practice

This blindness is a true risk attending vipassana meditation methods, like Burmese noting practice, which consist of labeling and therefore demote threatening emotions to the level of mere discharged sensate particles, each particle a little nonthreatening third-person “it.” The practitioner avoids relating to his emotions in the second person: as emotions.

Although I’m a fan of vipassana as essential to awakening, other meditation modalities must be brought onboard – the earlier, the better – to avoid strengthening the blind spot, to prevent the use of meditation and attainment to further pathologize the otherwise healthy human ego function. If the practitioner exhibits difficulty in or resistance to these other modalities, then at least that difficulty may serve as a clue that referral to a psychotherapist is in order.

The Schizoid as the Partially Awakened Teacher

When the subject is liberated, it is often spoken of and celebrated as having “dropped out.” Restless seeking for a perceptual vantage point vis-à-vis  objects has stopped. Often that cessation and correction of sensory misperception will seem to be all there is to be gained in terms of awakening. Anything beyond that, namely integration and embodiment of the perceptual realization in order to discover and empower a true self, will be declared optional side projects (”separate axes of development”).

Schizoid practitioners will compartmentalize not only their objects of meditation this way, but the gains therefrom: Whether consciously or not, they will define enlightenment as getting rid of that pesky weak self and its threatening emotions, which is really to retroject a far more insidious and recalcitrant “splitting” process into the personality than was even there to begin with. 

The schizoid process demands of the practitioner ever more in the way of a false self construction with which to engage the outer world.

Such practitioners may even become dharma teachers. They may claim that true enlightenment offers “no package deals” for ending all suffering and that anything beyond their own partial pathology-burdened attainment amounts to naive idealizations.

Understand that this problem isn’t just a matter of stopping short of the final phase of enlightenment, buddhahood; it is to actually end up with more personality pathology than if insight practice had never been engaged.

So compromised, if such a practitioner then fakes compassion and social engagement by marshaling forth a moral code of conduct when “on display,” say when teaching, then he or she is counterfeiting a compensatory hollow image rather than truly connecting, truly relating, truly allowing vulnerability, basic trust, compassion, and their fruits to arise. This kind of living for image and substituting reputation for intimacy is the worst kind of confusion (avidyā), the deepest form of suffering imaginable. To die without having ever known oneself is the epitome of human tragedy.

In this way, awakening is made to subtend pathology intensification in the West.

My New Pragmatic Dharma Book

My new pragmatic dharma meditation manual will surface these risks and design maps and practices that address rather than continue to bypass them. In so doing, I will bring online the very necessary and equally pragmatic feminine principle of openness, relation, and surrender that so many masculine “hardcore” practitioners have cut themselves off from to their own detriment, as well as to the detriment of those who seek with them a true communion.

Dear all,

This retreat has been life-changing. In fact, I guess I am glad it is ending tomorrow at noon, because I am not sure how much more intensity my mind, heart, neck, and back could stand! 

It is no doubt going to take me some time to sort, make sense of, and integrate what has happened here. How blessed I am to have sat with and received transmission from this instructor. His closing meditation today felt literally like it was blasting through my chest and head–like gale-force bright light was riffling through my very cellular structure (which is empty). I’m a total believer in this transmission business: *GULP.* I’ve never felt anything this powerful emanate from, or through, another person before.

Because of the new practices I’ve done on this retreat, I have distinctive changes in perception, realizations, including as of today the dropping out of the central processor (subject) while, nondually, particularities of relative reality arise within awareness, within and as the expression of the ultimate. The objects, so far, are no longer creating a subject. Holding the view of awakened awareness is automatic–is holding itself. 

Of course, these realizations can and usually do slip away. I think tomorrow we are talking about “protecting the realizations.” I will do everything I can to protect these. This central processor dropped out during our morning sit in a blast-like fruition reminiscent of my August path fruition–wherein, for a moment, awareness was radically decentered, and then I was layered back in as relative reality came back online. I was taking the entire field of sensation as object, my softened gaze resting on the mantel with butter-colored carnations, white daisies, and flickering candles in the morning light.

In the afternoon, he had all us wounded children who lack trust lie on our backs and sides to meditate so we could feel the earth “holding” us, the ground, to create the karma of trust for the next meditation. 

Part of what I am going to have to come to terms with are what changes in practice and paradigm will be required of me as I take this teacher as my own, which changes he alluded to the other day when we spoke on the veranda. For starters, in this tradition there is no “done.” In fact the Practice of Nonmeditation today was this whole surrender, precisely, of such notions as “attainment” and “being done” and even “surrendering.”

So, although I think there are ways that this course cross-maps to the one I’ve been working, the whole notion of getting anywhere other than right here is so anathema to the practice that there really can’t be a talk of what “path” I’m on. This is not to say that this teacher is against maps. He is definitely a mapper, and very technically precise in teaching, but he indicated that realization is a matter of cycling through the same practices again and again but “at higher resolution.” Then there is Dzogchen at the “Cutting Through” stage. How all that crosswalks to what Daniel calls “fourth path” I have no idea.

No meditator

No meditation

No stages

No states

No attainment

Nothing to attain

No God

No Buddha

No practice

No Path

(Oh–and No Jhanas!)

Sit in meditation with a realized teacher who is repeating this sort of list over and over again to you, for hours  on end, and see if it doesn’t crack wide open the substratum of subtle resistance in you. And when all that “doing” is blasted out, then he reads Talopa’s ancient instructions, which brought up a palpable sense of a thousand years of transmission. I was weeping like someone interrogated in internment camp.

Afterward, we sat again, and he had each of us bring up, aloud, the name of a friend who is suffering and from what; then he brought up all the children suffering in the world from loneliness and fear, all the broken children who cannot trust, and that is when I literally felt light blasting through my chest and head–coming from this man and the whole retinue of beings behind him. “Beyond time,” he said, “beyond space–awaking is inevitable: the Buddha is sitting under the Bodhi tree; Jesus is on the cross.” And then he read the heart sutra’s “gone beyond” mantra, and we all felt the interconnection holding all the suffering beings in the world. “Awareness–the sky; heart–a warming sun: Never doubt that what you feel right now makes a difference.”

My whole organism is in a kind of spinning disintegration and reorganization, in shock, with shockwaves passing through this mind-heart-body.

I know this may sound like Buddhist Kumbaya, but it was truly the most authentic intensity of the Path that I’ve encountered so far in this life.

Love to you all, x,

Jenny

Exchange with Daniel Ingram about Reobservation

Daniel, 

I’m so sorry for my current volatility and the frustration aimed specifically at you. I realized last night that Reobservation is kicking my ass. Not that I regret standing up for future women on your site, and not that I think there isn’t unnecessary and unhelpful nuttiness on that forum (extending to moderation, leadership, boundaries) – but valid issues with which I’d normally be more patient are indeed being magnified and amplified through very old frustrations, very old interpersonal scripts of my own, and I feel like I’m banging my head against a wall and want to torch everything.

Last Dark Night, before stream entry, I had none of this; I had clear Fear, Misery, and Disgust, but no discernible frustration/Reobservation. This time it is reversed. The people at AN are cradling me, in a way, including Nick and Florian, so I’m thankful that I have that space and people who know what to say, so that I don’t bleed through at work and elsewhere.

May you enjoy your Buddhist Geeks time and dance party. 


Dear Jenny,

No worries. Part of the trick is definitely learning to roll with this in yourself and others. Given a large enough community of practitioners, it is basically guaranteed that multiple will simultaneously be in the Dark Night and having a hard time and basically nobody can really control the bleed-through and so these things are going to happen, sometimes often, unfortunately.

Soon enough you will see nearly all your dharma friends go through something like this, often multiple times, and, if they storm off in a huff, the trick is to just be there if and when they come back and realize that you also likely did it multiple times also, and this is okay, and we all move on.

There is a really steep learning curve to this stuff and it takes everybody time to get a handle on it. It gets easier for most as the cycles go on, but you never know when one will come along and kick your ass again. Remember when I said I went through about 27 of these ass-kicking cycles in about 6 years? All I mean by that is that I totally get the feeling and how compelling the issues can be and how hard it can be to get a grip on it, as the same thing has happened to me many, many times.

I am glad you are getting support: so good to have a community in which there are supportive people.

BG should be a blast. Thanks for the well-wishes and sharing the insights,

Daniel


Thanks and, well, it helps to know where one is, that it is a stage. And it is interesting from a certain perspective to see clearly and feel viscerally for the first time the dots of parental abandonment and current idealization/perfectionism/codependency connected. Seeing the idealization includes seeing fantasies about my spiritual attainments and what they “mean” as fantasies, and that does include ways that, not really knowing you as a person, I have projected those fantasies onto you, made you into a symbol of what I want, and then projected disappointment as well onto “you.” So, yes, I’ve read the new Reobservation section, get it, and I’ll sit with it and just roll through it, and not let myself get caught up in

the psych shows too much, and not self-indulge in guilt, either, as I do trust you when you say you’ve been through it . . .  many times. 

J


Projecting ideals of perfection onto people in teacher roles is also totally normal, and reacting when they don’t meet those ideals is also totally normal. We all did and do this also. I am a guy with a few very specific skillsets that are unusually well-developed and the rest is pretty ordinary. Same thing turned out to be true for all of my teachers.

Stock and standard stuff to get used to and learn to see clearly.

Good to have insights into those things. Good to be seeing the issues clearly so wisdom can be brought to those patterns.

Daniel

A New Beginning in Media Res

That completes the move of my Dharma Overground (DhO) journal over to this cozier, hopefully less nutty space [Awake Network].

All kinds of shit has blown up around and with me on the DhO for 3 full weeks. Folks seem to ascribe it to my being on second path, but that ain’t all of it. I had and have some valid contentions with that site, so-called moderation thereof, and other issues that I won’t name but people here know. 

The question how much of shitty interpersonal stuff is path side effects and how much of it is not – well, that is hard enough, I imagine, for one to answer for one’s own part. But when people start answering for my own part for me, then I reckon that it may be they who are projecting their earlier path stuff onto me. 

And then this rather arrogant condescension occurs, yea, even by the grandest of arahats. And evasions, evasions, evasions. And very subtle blame-without-blaming. This whole shitstorm has caused skeptical doubt to arise now, supposedly after first path, where I never had it pre-path. So either that ten-fetter stuff is utter nonsense, or I didn’t attain path after all. Well, what difference does it make, ultimately, what one calls it? Something happened. Something is going on.

I’m a shy person and not described by anyone who knows me at all as angry. I can be overbearing and perfectionist, but not angry, mean, or aggressive. Yet that is what I’m labeled now. So okay. And we practitioners are supposed to be doormats, or rather Teflon-hearted. And if the end is to become like those around me have been, then, yeah, not sure I want to go down this path, after all, and have my plain grasp of roles and boundaries smeared out of recognition until apathy and the near enemy of equanimity sets in like pathology.

So there.