Pragmatic Dharma Movement Manifesto 

Under the moniker Pragmatic Dharma, a movement has emerged in the West since the early 2000s to evolve the Buddha-dharma in alignment with American Pragmatism. American Pragmatism, the quintessentially American philosophical movement dating back to the the late nineteenth century, holds that the truth and meaning of any idea is solely a function of its practical outcomes.

The historical Buddha of our Degenerate Age, Siddhārtha Gautama, in teaching not abstract ontology or epistemology, but human “suffering and the end of suffering,” was a model pragmatist. He was concerned foremost with experiential results that make a difference to our human lives. With the historical Buddha as our model, then, our movement proclaims the following emphases:

Laity empowerment. Contemporary western laypersons with busy lives can and do awaken in this lifetime.

Goal-based practice. Awakening depends on goals codified as a map of expected progressive attainments.

Diligence. Attainment requires daily meditation practice—not the following:

– specific socioreligious trappings

– aspirations to merit awakening in some future life

– other untested traditional dogma

Eclecticism. Efficient and effective practitioners mine an array of traditions for practice methods.

Innovation. Skillful practitioners reality-test maps and methods to assess worth and limitations, and then innovate improvements.

Scientific tooling. Western sciences and technology are important adjuncts to personal reality-testing.

Grassroots sanghas. Contemporary western practitioners benefit from open peer-to-peer discussion of attainments.

Table 1 contrasts the emphases of traditional Buddhism with those of Pragmatic Dharma.

Table 1. Comparison of Traditionalism with Pragmatic Dharma 

Note: Since the time I first drafted this table, my views have been modified in some respects by experiences in my own practice and by encounters with certain others. First, although reality-tested maps and methods are sufficient for traversing early path terrain, transmission is a very real phenomenon that one who has some opening can feel as it is taking place. It will speed and deepen results, especially at the high end of the path, and is therefore pragmatic. Secondly, I now understand the necessity for terma and other secret teachings. Currently, this planet is spiritually lost. There are false teachers everywhere, sociopaths and those with other serious personality disorders. These people prey on practitioners with realization in order to co-opt the teachings and turn a profit, if not commit outright abuse. They all commit abuse at least in that they are not trained and lack realization, and therefore move off ignorant greed and pervert the teachings. Aside from questions of these charlatans, certain esoteric practices, if broadcast, would confuse, sidetrack, and sometimes even destroy earnest practitioners who are not ready for them—meaning the vast majority of practitioners. For those who are ready for these practices, it is also best and actually part of the practice to keep silent, Secrecy protects such practitioners from their own residual central narcissism, as well as prying attention from others. These teachings are sacred and are to be respected as the deepest intelligence of reality, a grace grown into and not a commodity to bandy about the marketplace.