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.

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