What is Pragmatic Dharma?
In case you didn’t notice it, there’s a dedicated subsection with various Pragmatic Dharma texts on the main page of this website.
What about the “mushroom culture”?
Here’s a short story shared by Kenneth Folk via his twitter account:
…..In fact, Bill (editor’s note: Hamilton) was himself an unabashed mushroomer, and not only withheld information but advocated doing so. (thread)
When I returned from the IMS 3-month retreat in 1991, Bill told me where he thought I was on the Progress of Insight map. But his policy was to only share mapping information after the fact. In other words, he wouldn’t talk with me about stages I hadn’t yet attained.
When I complained that the IMS teachers hadn’t even been willing to discuss the stages I’d already been through, Bill quipped that they’d treated me like a mushroom, keeping me in the dark and feeding me shit.
While Bill was more forthcoming with information than mainstream American Theravada Buddhist teachers, he was by no means a freedom of information crusader. But to me the presumption, paternalism, and ineffective pedagogy that result from mushrooming were infuriating.
“Mushroom” became my personal shorthand for the culture of secrecy I detested. I raged about it to anyone who would listen, including Daniel Ingram. Daniel hadn’t yet shown much interest in Buddhist meditation, but we were friends and talked often, so he got to hear the rant.
Several years later, when Daniel started sitting retreats, he too got the mushroom treatment, and was as pissed off about it as I was. As he developed his own teaching, he took up the anti-mushroom banner and pushed it further still, going so far as to publicly claim attainments.
Reading Daniel’s book Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, one could be forgiven for believing the mushroom critique came from Bill, but it didn’t happen that way. No worries, though, I’m still here to set the historical record straight.
Are there any Pragmatic Dharma books to read?
The most famous Pragmatic Dharma book is “Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha” by Daniel Ingram. Another very popular book is “The Mind Illuminated” by Culadasa.
This website has also an e-book section, dedicated to Pragmatic Dharma. There, among others you will find:
Saints & Psychopaths by William (Bill) L. Hamilton
What about the “Progress of Insight” Map?
On an old website of mine, MVMR, there was a dedicated subsection, where I had collected almost everything I found about this map:
Note: For an unknown reason, the above backups from Internet Archive, are not rendered correctly, but the content is still readable.
Is Pragmatic Dharma really pragmatic?
There’s a huge difference between what pragmatic dharma is in theory and what it actually is.
While secularism is one of the most important pillars of this contemporary Buddhist movement, most of popular pragmatic dharma teachers/teachings and practices are tightly connected with very specific traditions and lineages.
Two of the most prominent teachers of Pragmatic Dharma are Daniel Ingram and Kenneth Folk. Both of them had the same teacher, Bill Hamilton. All of them were/are highly influenced by Burmese Theravada and especially the Mahasi Sayadaw’s lineage. All of them spent months/years practicing in traditional monasteries of this tradition/lineage.
Folk’s freestyle noting and Ingram’s fast noting are just contemporary alterations of Mahasi Sayadaw’s Vipassana/noting technique.
Folk’s and Ingram’s interpretations of the Progress of Insight map, are heavily based on the Visuddhimagga (and Mahasi Sayadaw’s study on it).
Both D. Ingram and K. Folk, have taught directly (ex. Ron Crouch, Vince Horn, Abre Fournier etc. are Kenneth Folk’s students) or indirectly (Ingram’s MCTB is probably the most influential text of Pragmatic Dharma) many other famous Pragmatic Dharma teachers.
Although Daniel Ingram, Kenneth Folk, Ron Crouch, Vince Horn, Abre Fournier (and many other less known teachers) are not the only teachers of Pragmatic Dharma, let’s be honest and admit that - especially without the first two - this movement would not even exist. Their influence is huge.
The fact that traditionalists are against Daniel Ingram’s “sect/lineage” does not mean that there’s any “battle” between tradition and pragmatism/secularism. It’s just “pure” against “distorted” tradition - a disagreement between religious people with different points of view.
Of course this does not mean that one won’t find Pragmatic Dharma practitioners or teachers that are different from Daniel Ingram and his followers. It’s just that it’s very rare.
What about Pragmatic Dharma and attainment claims?
What Pragmatic Dharma practitioners call “an open discussion on attainments”, is usually:
- someone claiming that they are 10% or 50% or 100% “enlightened” based on a very specific traditional map (please see above the section about the Progress of Insight map), or another version of this map, or a map they just invented etc.
- someone being desperate with their lack of progress or/and with their dissatisfactory experience while navigating the “Dukkha Nanas”, that went online asking for help
- someone who just had an “AMAZING” “experience” while meditating (or even without, as D. Ingram “confirms”), that went online to confirm that something “really important” happened with regards to their quest for “enlightenment”
- someone whose “life sucks” and they heard about the “dark night of the soul” and Daniel Ingram’s interpretation of it and went online to confirm that they now know that this “stage” they crossed by mistake (even without meditating as D. Ingram “confirms”) is the source of their suffering
Then, someone else, more “experienced”, with “X hundreds or thousands hours of meditation” and a “collection” of 15 retreats will confirm or reject the previous claim.
Another will suggest an increase of meditation hours (from 2 to 3 or 4 or…) plus a modification of the meditation practice or a replacement of it with another “better” one.
In some cases they will suggest a “famous teacher/coach” (that helped them reach “X path”) who does 1 to 1 sessions (and charges a lot in order to get you “enlightened”).
What these people have in common is that ALL of them will reject the opinion of another one, who believes there is NO-ONE to get “enlightened” and that this psychological self who craves for “enlightenment” is just a source/cause of neuroticism and suffering.
Then an online battle with follow, “because someone is wrong on the internet” and life will go on.
Western Dharma for “Western pockets”
Pragmatic “awakening”/“enlightenment” is (mostly) accessible to people that can afford to pay a lot.
I’ve personaly contacted many teachers and below you ’ll find their rates for 1 on 1 sessions:
- Culadasa (RIP) –> $325/45min
- Abre Fournier –> $130/session (this was the cost for “one-off” session for frequent “clients” she used to charge less)
- Upasaka Upali –> $110/60min
- Kenneth Folk –> $125/45min
- Vince Horn –> used to work on a generosity model (I can’t find any information today)
- Ron Crouch –> used to work on a generosity model (He stopped teaching)
Recently, I contacted various (pragmatic) non-dual teachers with very similar results:
- Aklilesh Ayyar –> $150/50min
- Michael A. Rodriguez –> $100/50min (this is a “suggested donation”)
- Matt Garrett –> £70/45min
- Gilbert Schultz –> free of charge (unfortunately, it’s very difficult to meet with G.S.. One cannot arrange a meeting with him. He just sends a Zoom link for a date/time he decides without any prior discussion. I lost my chance to meet him because he sent me for a meeting that was during my working hours.)
- “Sailor” Bob Adamson –> free of charge (he is 93+ years old and still offering teachings for free!)
I know! 36% of the teachers I referred to, either don’t charge or accept dana. Note that this is a distorted statistic, as I used to try a lot to find teachers that work on a generosity model!
In the (European) country I live in, a well paid employee gets less per day, when compared to what these people ask for less than an hour!
What about Pragmatic Dharma and online communities?
Although, I already mentioned a various interactions between Pragmatic Dharma practitioners online above, let’s dig a little bit deeper.
Ron Crouch, on his really nice text about Pragmatic Dharma states:
Digital – pragmatic dharma is a sangha in the cloud. There are communities, but they are mostly online communities. Message boards, forums, blogs, podcasts, and other online mediums are the spaces where ideas pop up and are explored…
…and pragmatically minded lay teachers (like myself) often teach people meditation online, via skype or other forms of live online interaction…
…There is something rebellious in spirit about pragmatic dharma that is found in many web-based movements. It is untethered to institutions and traditional hierarchies, and in this sense it is the dharma equivalent of Bitcoin or Wikipedia…
…A decentralized, crowdsourced fund of emerging wisdom and experimentation, that is unpredictable and destabilizing to established approaches. Some of the ideas that come out of it are destined to fail, like so many internet phenomena, but some are very good and deserve to be taken seriously…
to be continued…