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Would you like to learn what being a bodhisattva is all about? If the answer is “yes,” we have a treat for you: Lama Surya Das’ new book Buddha Is as Buddha Does is an extraordinary handbook for enlightened living, exploring ten practices essential to bodhisattvahood. Does your spiritual practice touch on all ten? And if we are truly going to be the most effective, compassionate bodhisattva possible, are we practicing a deeply integral spirituality, and touching on all quadrants, levels, lines, states, and types?
So what is enlightened living, really? To begin, Surya is quick to point out, it’s not merely quietistic and passive, which is sometimes how Buddhism is perceived (e.g. just sitting around and staring at your navel). Particularly for the Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions, awakening comes with the spiritual obligation to help others come to that same realization—this is the work of a bodhisattva. In other words, enlightened living is something you do, something you express, something your practice, grounded always in ever-present Suchness and I AMness.
Buddha Is as Buddha Does explores the ten paramitas as the “Bodhisattva Code” for enlightened living. The ten paramitas—or as Surya likes to call them, the “ten transformative practices”—are as follows: generosity, ethics, patience, heroic effort, mindfulness, wisdom, skillful means, spiritual aspirations, higher accomplishments, and awakened awareness (as Ken comments, these can also be looked at in terms of multiple intelligences or developmental lines). Done correctly, the practice and expression of any one of these qualities is to express all ten—and yet, you really must engage each one on its own terms. Surya and Ken go on to talk about the “two truths doctrine,” and how absolute truth is that the ultimate goal and ground of all practice is always-already 100% present—whether you practice or not—and relative truth is that if you don’t practice, in the words of a great Zen master, “you’ll remain an idiot.” Together, Surya and Ken walk through the first three practices: generosity, ethics, and patience.
If practice is clearly part of enlightened living, both “pre” enlightenment and “post” enlightenment, what are the essential dimensions of our being that we should exercise? With a truly Integral Spirituality (in any tradition), the four basic modules for an Integral Life Practice are body, mind, spirit, and shadow. If abiding by the “ten transformative practices” is your chosen method for engaging enlightened living (in whatever tradition you choose to apply them) we could hardly recommend a better contemporary guide to that path than Surya’s Buddha Is as Buddha Does—always keeping in mind the touch-points of an Integral Approach, including states, stages, and shadow (see Scholar’s Notes), and embracing body, mind, and spirit, in self, culture, and nature.
Scholar’s Notes (for Advanced Students and Curious Listeners):
Three of the most important elements for any contemporary spiritual path to address are states, stages, and shadow—and, unfortunately, most contemplative traditions only have a clear awareness of states, to the detriment of stages and shadow. For a full treatment on this topic, see Ken’s Integral Spirituality and “What Is Integral Spirituality?” (see keywords).
States: States of consciousness are marked by their transient nature: they come, stay a bit, and they go. The three primary states of consciousness available to all humans are waking, dreaming, and deep sleep, and what the great contemplative traditions do is show how one can gain mastery in each of those states, and realize their ever-present Ground and nondual Suchness. Furthermore, states of consciousness can be trained in a certain order—often moving from gross, to subtle, to causal—and this is an occurrence of state-stages.
Stages: While states come and go, stages, levels, or waves of consciousness are permanent structures in consciousness, which unfold cross-culturally from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric to Kosmocentric—these are called structure-stages. Almost without exception, the meditative and esoteric traditions of the world have no knowledge of this aspect of human growth. Because these are the structures in consciousness that will interpret the significance of various states of mystical union, no tradition can afford to ignore stages of development.
Shadow: Another item not found in the traditions is an understanding of psychodynamic repression, whereby an individual literally splits off and dissociates some aspect of his or her I-ness, often then projecting it on someone else (I’m not angry, but my boss sure is). This aspect of self doesn’t actually go away, it just shows up in various inauthentic or “shadow” manifestations (I’m not an angry person, but I am awful sad lately). Meditation can teach you how to transmute or transcend this shadow element (I’m sad), but not access the original impulse (I’m mad), which can exacerbate the original fracture in the practitioner’s psyche.
A note on transformative practices: In an Integral Approach, “transformation” refers to movement between levels of development, while “translation” refers to activity within a level of development. Because the traditions generally don’t understand structure-stages, guidelines such as the ten paramitas often serve primarily as healthy translation at a given level, although genuine transformation to a higher level can be, and often is, a result of these practices.
About Lama Surya Das
Lama Surya Das is one of the foremost Western Buddhist meditation teachers and scholars. Surya Das teaches and lectures around the world, conducting dozens of meditation retreats and workshops each year.
About Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.