I have a question regarding combative tone. My concern is that the idea of a core self, the reification of our illusions, is so powerful and subtle, that it seems often impossible to persuade anyone out of it with kind words. The non-confrontational acceptance, the "tolerance" and acceptance of all positions, seems to just subtly reinforce core delusions, particularly the sense of a core "true self," while giving the illusion that it has been transcended. Then the newcomer to Buddhism realizes that despite (believing she has) transcended attachment, she is still miserable and angry, and she moves on to some other (non-)solution.
Sure. That's the meaning of wrathful practice in Vajrayana, for instance. The medicine is given to address the needs of the patient. If the patient is in need of a shock, then a shock is administered. If the student is in need of forty years of shoveling shit, then guess what? (see: Lotus Sutra, chapter 4). Upaya. Skilllful means, as you say below.
At the risk of being attacked for justifying my tone, I wonder if I can ask people to offer serious advice about this. Isn't it sometimes useful and even necessary to upset and anger people to help free them from their illusions and attachments? If we have an obligation to help others see through their illusions, can this be done by being "nice" and "accepting"? Has anybody had success with this approach? (Please, that last question is NOT meant rhetorically or sarcastically--I'm looking for real examples.)
One has to be competent to do it. A deluded person barking at people gets nowhere. You need to be a skilled physician to pull it off. In my case, the answer is no: I don't remove people's band-aids "the fast way" because I don't presume to be competent to do so. That said, I have seen it done effectively by teachers I know and respect. It is not fun for a teacher to have to play the stern grandmother, but if she has to in order to reach you, she will do it.
My great concern with my own practice right now is not with understanding, but "skillful means." I seriously do believe, as Johnny Dangerous and others have pointed out, that I lack skillful means to successfully discuss these matters. My own experience has been that what passes for "right speech" simply reinforces peoples comfort with their denial and delusion, and when they are faced with truth they are more powerfully entrenched than before. For instance, the popular version of "mindfulness," which pretends to stop all thought, so strongly reinforces the subtle sense of a "self" that those who practice it seem to become even more powerfully attached, less able to comprehend anatman.
I'd advise you to be concerned with understanding, and with realizing the teachings in practice, experientially. Because until you do, then your means won't be skillful. I agree with you on the mindfulness trip, by the way. In fact I'm writing a book on the topic.
Now, I fully expect further comments on how angry and arrogant this comment is, and more assertions about my ignorance of Buddhism (eg if you "understood" you wouldn't lack skillful means, etc). But I'm willing to ignore them if anyone wants to seriously address this issue, which is the question my original post on Speculative Non-Buddhism was trying to address: can we really wake people from their sleep of illusion without being confrontational and argumentative and even making them upset and angry? Is there really a kinder gentler way to do it?
I think this comment is actually much more thoughtful and reflective than some of your previous ones, such as your dismissal of Yudron's advice to you. I also think your criticisms of Thich Nhat Hanh's approach have some merit, even though I don't agree with all of them. Anyway, to your question:
Gentler may not always be kinder. Again, it depends on the patient and the capacity of the physician. Dharma practice unties emotional knots and turns people upside-down; no matter what, if you're serious about this, you're going to go through some upsetting experiences. I don't see much use in sugar-coating this.
Most important in this is the capacity of the one who presumes to do the waking-up. The first order of business is to attend to one's own practice. From this, the capacity to help others emerges. Absent that, you have ER doctors administering compound fractures instead of first aid.
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