A Dialogue from the Blogosphere

Lao Tzu and Confucius

This morning, Hariod Brawn and I exchanged these ideas sparked by a remark I made in the post  Living the Love of Wisdom: Spirals of Transformation.

I think this is worth sharing as an example of “dialogue” in its literal sense.  The word does not refer to a conversation between two people.  The prefix “dia” means “through” as in diaphanous or diagram.  “Logue” comes from Logos, that has many meanings in Greek, but it generally refers to the process of thought.  So “dialogue” could perhaps be best understood as “Thinking something through together,”  whether between two people or among thirty.  In the following brief exchange, we are working together toward a deeper common understanding of cultural and philosophical trends that we both care about. Rather than “answering questions,” we are probing possibilities, and sharing insights and experiences. Parker Palmer has defined Philosophy  as “the eternal conversation about things that truly matter.”  I think the blogosphere has become a marvelous forum for enlivening this eternal conversation, and it is my hope that the following might be seen as a brief verse in the song of wisdom.


You speak here of the need for intentional practices, or as you say, ‘Sadhana’ in Eastern traditions. The rise in a contemporary (and also corrupted) take on classical Advaita, wherein considerations such as ethical behaviour and formal practices of mental culture are deemed superfluous, seems to me to reflect the laziness of Western consumer culture, [i.e. choice is paramount] and might be seen as a pernicious trend.

May I ask of you whether you sense a similar movement from where you stand; or do you see the Westernisation of Eastern ontologies/doctrines as being in good and ever-maturing fettle? The picture here in England seems rather mixed to me.

Thank you once again.


Dear Hariod, I am  excited by your provocative (in the best sense) insights. I see three levels to your remarks that I can only begin to explore. The first is the general question of whether Eastern ontologies and ethics can find an authentic home in a Western soul. I have only a vague idea of what to say about this right now. I think you have inspired a new blog essay. The second point seems more clear to me, and that is the pernicious trend of the commercialization of spirituality in the western world (and frankly, in the East as well). This has led, I think, to very self-involved “gurus” and to seekers who want to take a road to maturity that is, if not lazy, at least easy.  Your third point is, in my experience, nuanced. Granted that many people are in a rather undisciplined pop-culture phase, but many of my international students in Japan were clearly luminous souls who gave themselves unstintingly to understanding and absorbing Eastern cultural values and world views. I was deeply moved by their dedication, and felt there was hope for the future despite the raging hatred and violence in so much of the world. There are also meditation centers here in the US, such as Spirit Rock and the Zen Mountain Center, where people from every walk of life follow traditional Eastern practices with sincere zeal. As I think about it, I would add that even those folks who seem to be dabbling–reading a couple of books and meditating once in a while–have a sweetness to their seeking, and one never knows when and if their life’s agenda will kick into high gear. “There is more in Heaven and Earth…”



3 thoughts on “A Dialogue from the Blogosphere

  1. Michael

    Thanks for sharing this, John. It provoked a few sensations, translated into words, that I would like to share. I have reached the place where I think and feel that the critical “thing” is an honest attention to our inner lives. Initially, this may require formalized practice to get our bearings, but eventually I think we realize (or at least this is what I have realized for myself) that what we can do on our mat or on a quiet walk through the forest must somehow be harnessed in all sorts of places and times where the ante is upped both unexpectedly and with a pace that exceeds our ability to respond intentionally.

    We may recover our sense of intention, but, a word is said… and there! In a flash, I have lashed out, at least within my own mind and emotional body, even if from the outside I masked it well. In other words, we have to eventually bring the practice into life, and while the practice may remain an important anchor, it may not. Most of the work is invisible to others regardless. I’m merely suggesting that a particular form of practice really is in my opinion not the issue, as the true practice is formless in a sense… I met a Zen monk once and attended several of his talks, and he encouraged us to simply do what we love, and if formal practice wasn’t the thing, to not focus on it, for in that particular type of act– doing what we love– we would be prone quite naturally to lapsing into states outside of our thinking-analyzing mind.

    I guess, in hindsight, this is different than examining the situation of those who forego practice altogether and seek to receive the gift of insight without offering the process the gift of their presence and attention, which I agree is an unfruitful exercise. I wonder if it is really any different now than it ever was? Meaning, what percentage of the overall world population are authentically pursuing an inner life? Is is any greater or less than at other times in history. I have absolutely no idea!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. jhanagan2014 Post author

      Michael, I deeply appreciate your thoughtful comments. I have tried to underscore the importance of living life as a pas de deux between intentional practice and a sort of unformed openness. In my posts on Spirals, and Lectio Divina, I agree that practices can be as quotidian as washing the dishes or reading with my wife. I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned presence and attention in your last paragraph. I try to get there at least once in a while. I also agree with you that for all my longing for awakening, my sadness or anger sometimes lie just beneath the surface. But as you also imply, maybe we are getting to the point where we can let these unpleasant feelings pass through our souls like a cloud moving over the sun. Finally, I, too, agree that forcing one self into a practice is counterproductive. I am a big believer in wu wei.
      I look forward to our ongoing dialogue.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hariod Brawn

    Oh dear, there I go once again being a little more ‘provocative’ than I imagined I was being. Still, it was pleasing to hear that, in this instance at least, you took it to be a positive form of the same John. I wonder what you might make of Timothy Conway’s take on Neo-Advaita in that case; he is rather more severe! [ http://www.enlightened-spirituality.org/neo-advaita.html ] As is Timothy’s way, he does rather ‘paint legs on a snake’ over this, so this is not in the least a suggestion to read unless the matter is of particular interest to you John.

    Our mutual friend Michael raises an interesting point, perhaps a little contrarily to your(?) and my position as regards the central importance of formal practices. I agree entirely with him that any practice must be brought into life, and any proficient teacher will stress this very thing of course. I am reminded of an occasion when I was talking to another meditator when they said to me, without any trace of irony ‘I need a break from all this mindfulness’. It wasn’t easy to keep a straight face.

    I spent the middle period of my life (20 years or more) deeply engaged in formal practices and silent Vipassanā retreats. For the first few years, I had convinced myself that whatever deeper insights were to come, then they would do so when I was absorbed in formal practices, and most likely in a particularly concentrated state of mind. Because of this, I often stupidly forced the mind to over-concentrate, [i.e. ‘wrong concentration’] all based on the erroneous idea that this is where things really happen. Being slow on the uptake, I eventually saw the error of my ways and found the middle way, avoiding extremes.

    As regards the matter of whether Eastern ontologies and ethics can find an authentic home in the minds of Westerners, then I greatly look forward to reading your thoughts on this John. Doubtless you will be aware of Carl Jung’s views on the matter, though I wonder if they are not now perhaps a little anachronistic? – “There could be no greater mistake than for a Westerner to take up the direct practice of Chinese yoga”. Jung also described kundalini yoga as “a meddling with fate, which strikes at the very roots of human existence and can let loose a flood of sufferings of which no sane person ever dreamed”. Crikey!

    All best wishes.


    [Jung quotes – Clarke, 1995, C.G. Jung Jung on the East, Routledge, London]



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