George Box: “All models are wrong. Some are useful.”
Culturally, I have the impression we’re leaving post-modernism behind and that it hasn’t worked. Anecdotally I hear expressions of confusion and lostness. It’s like we’ve come adrift from the past; we’re floating around in a sea of debris trying to make sense of it all. We’re confronted with multiple mashups without reliable tools for discerning which to engage with and which to discard. Approaching Buddhism, mindfulness and meditation can be like this. How do we know what will work and what won’t?
One way is to understand where things come from, how they got to be like they are. Figuring out lineages of ideas and practices makes it possible to relate them to them meaningfully. It’s always useful to ask how a method is supposed to function, what is the supposed result? How does that work in practice? Understanding how things got to be like they are is helpful in figuring out whether or not they are still relevant.
Nebulosity is important, but unless you understand underlying structures in its context, it can cause a muddle and a mess. I made the chart above during some twitter conversations. The threads are discussions about how different types of Buddhism relate to each other, and what they might mean for personal practice. There are quite a few offshoots, tangents and other threads, but if you are interested you can follow some of them from these tweets.
This one leads to a conversation with my friend @xuenay about movement between renunciative and non-renunciative worldviews:
The following links to a conversation with many tangents about how bits of Buddhism relate to each other:
Below is some text that I discarded from an old post. At the time I thought that focusing on categories might not be useful or interesting, but following the recent twitter interest, I’ve resurrected it from the trashcan of posts past and am sticking it here:
Dzogchen categorization of Buddhist paths
One way to map Buddhism is by categorizing it into Sutrayana, Tantrayana and Dzogchen. These are distinct paths. They have different starting points, methodology and results, and the language used to describe how their practices work is distinctly congruent with the worldview of each. This is a relatively late style of categorization. It is a retrospective view of most Buddhist practice from the perspective of how it functions.
The reason I like this particular map is not only due to it providing a categorization of all Buddhist activity in terms of its functionality – though that is reason enough itself: uniquely it also presents Buddhist Tantra in a category of its own. From this perspective, Tantra is a ‘complete’ system in and of itself. It stands alone. This means we can approach Tantric practice on its own terms, using a language singularly appropriate to its principle and function, without indirection.
Sutric practice, when described in terms of its function, centers on liberation from samsara, the cycle of habitual grasping to attraction, aversion and indifference that causes suffering. The path is renunciative.
Tantric practice focuses on turning unhelpful, distorted emotions and activity into well-aligned, practically useful response. The path is transformative.
Dzogchen practice is spontaneous, congruent response based in nondual perception. The path is liberative.