The “Nothing To Do” and “You Are Already There” Schools
On a somewhat different note, I feel the need to address, which is to say shoot down with every bit of rhetorical force that I have, the insidious notion promoted by some teachers and even traditions that there is nothing to do, nothing to accomplish, no goal to attain, no awakening other than the ordinary state of being, no practice or tradition that is of value, no technique that will yield anything worthwhile. The other side of this same coin is the point of view that you are already realized, already there, already Buddha, already completely accomplished, and you should essentially be able to hear this to understand it for yourself which, were that the case, would have been very nice of those propounding this view, except that it is complete bullshit. The “nothing to do school” and the “you are already there school” are both basically vile extremes of the same basic notion that all effort to attain to mastery is missing the point, an error of craving and grasping. They both contradict the fundamental premise of this book, namely, that there is something amazing to attain and understand and that there are specific, reproducible methods that can help you do that.
Some defenders of these spiritually harmful views will claim that they are the most immediate, most complete, highest, most special, most profound, and most direct teachings available. I will claim that they do not lead to much that is good that cannot be attained through conceptual frameworks that are not nearly so problematic or easily misconstrued.
First, these notions encourage people not to practice anything. The defenders can say what they like, but again and again I see people who subscribe to these sorts of notions resting on their cleverness and grand posteriors and not actually getting it in the same way that my accomplished meditator friends get it. It seems so comforting, this notion that you are already something that in fact you are not, or that there is nothing that you could do that would be useful.
The idea that people already are something begs the question: what are they? These views tend to imply that they are already something such as perfect, enlightened, realized, awakened, or even worse, that they are awareness itself, cosmic consciousness, the atman, an aspect of the divine, etc., none of which can be found. While the totally misinterpreted end of very confused Buddhism does sometimes go there, such as using terms like dharmakaya and Buddha nature, these are often misappropriated, misconstrued, subtle concepts that were added later and require a ton of explanation and practice experience to keep them from becoming the monsters they nearly always become among spiritual dilettantes.
Awakening involves clearly perceiving universal characteristics of phenomena. While we can attempt to rest comfortably in the intellectual idea that these universal characteristics are there anyway and be comforted by the nothing to attain and already there “teachings”, the whole, core, essential, root point of all this is that there is something to be gained by becoming one of the people who can directly perceive the true nature of phenomena clearly enough to fundamentally change the way reality is perceived in real time. The straight truth is that most people do not start out being able to do anything even close to this, and most are lucky to be able to stay with two breaths in sequence before wandering off into their neurotic crap, much less understand anything liberating about those breaths. The idea that everyone already is someone who can perceive reality the way the masters do without effort in real time is a pernicious falsehood, lie, untruth, delusion, and in short, one great load of apathy-creating insanity.
If we go around asking people without very good insight into these things—that is, the unawakened—about basic dharma points that are obvious to those who have learned to pay attention well, we do not find that everyone is already a person who is perceiving things at the level that makes the difference that dharma practice promises. Further, even individuals at initial stages of enlightenment generally have a hard time saying that they can perceive the emptiness, luminosity, selflessness, causality, interdependence, transience, ephemerality, etc., of reality in real time at all times without having to do anything. In short, the supposition that this is as easy as just being what you already are is wildly off the mark, since most people are woefully underdeveloped on the perceptual front in question.
Thus, all reality testing reveals that these two schools are missing a very fundamental point: while the universal characteristics are always manifesting in all things and at all times, there are those who can perceive this well and those who cannot, and meditative training, conceptual frameworks, techniques, teachers, texts, discussions, and the like all contribute to developing the internal skills and wiring to be able to realize fully what is possible, as thousands of practitioners through the ages have done. I myself have known before and after, meaning that I know what I was capable of perceiving and understanding before I underwent meditative training, and after. No amount of being fed, swallowing, and/or digesting the myth that I am always already as developed as I could be, am already enlightened, am already there, have nothing to do, nothing to develop, nothing to learn, nothing to practice, nothing to master, am always already as clear as I can be, am already perfectly awake, etc., will ever make the difference that practicing for thousands of hours over many years has done.
It would be like saying, “You are already a concert pianist, you just have to realize it,” or “You are already a nuclear physicist, you just have to realize it,” or “You already speak every language, you just have to realize it.” It would be like saying to a two-year-old, “You already understand everything you need to know so stop learning new things now.” It would be like saying to a severe paranoid schizophrenic, “You are already as sane as anyone and do not need to take your medications, and go ahead, feel free to just follow the voices that tell you to kill people.” It would be like saying to a person with heart disease, “By all means, just keep smoking three packs a day and eating fried pork rinds and you will be healthy.” It would be like saying to an illiterate person who keeps having a hard time navigating in daily life and is constantly being ripped off, “You don’t need to learn to read, write, and do math, you are dandy just the way you are.” It would be like saying to a greedy, corrupt, corporate-raiding white-collar criminal, fascist, alcoholic, wife-beating pedophile, “Hey, Dude, you are, like, a beautiful perfect flower of the now moment, already enlightened [insert toke here], you are doing-and-not-doing just fine, like wow, so keep on, like, just being you, maaaan.”
Would you let a blind and paralyzed untrained stroke victim perform open-heart surgery on your child, based on the hopefully by now obviously flawed notion that they already are an accomplished surgeon but just have to realize it? Would you follow the dharma teachings of people who feed other people this kind of complete madness? Those who imagine that everyone somehow in their development already became as clear and perceptive as they could be just by being alive are missing something very profound. Do they imagine that you can just remind people of these things and suddenly all wisdom and clarity will suddenly appear? This is mind-bogglingly naive and some of the worst form of magical thinking out there.
I have gained so much that is good and lost so much that is bad by learning to practice well, learning to concentrate, learning the theory, learning insight practices, going through the organic process of the stages over decades, reading the old texts, reading about the lives of great and dedicated practitioners, having dharma conversations with dharma friends, debating points, wrestling with difficult concepts and how to apply them to my actual life—teaching, learning, studying, writing, realizing how things are, and delving deeply into the sensate world—that I am astounded that anyone would want to reduce something so grand, wonderful, deep, rich, amazing, and profound to such a paltry, puerile, and ridiculous concept as the notion that it is already all in place in everyone regardless of what they have done or not done. All those benefits, skills, learnings, abilities, states, stages, experiences, insights, and fundamental perceptual changes simply were not available until I did the work, took the time, participated in the process, and no amount of anyone telling me otherwise would have helped or made it so.
I know of no examples where the necessary and sufficient causes for the arising of these benefits did not involve effort, a method, and a process. In short, I say to those who persist in promoting the nothing to do school and the you are already there school: STOP IT! You are spreading craziness, and the problem with this craziness is that many people will not be able to discern that it is craziness, and that appears to include those who promote these fallacies. While I usually do not go so far as to tell people that there is something so deeply wrong with what they think and how they communicate it that they should stop it immediately and forever, this specific point is a great example of something I consider abhorrent and worthy of complete and immediate elimination from the planet.
Regardless of any possibly kind intentions, the teachings of these schools take a half-truth that seems so very nice and seductive to us neurotic practitioners who can barely stand another achievement trip and have such a hard time with self-acceptance, and turn that distortion into sugar-coated poison. There is no need to tie the three useful concepts of: 1) no-self; 2) self-acceptance in the ordinary sense; and 3) the notion that the sensations that lead to understanding if clearly perceived a sufficient number of times and to sufficient depth are manifesting right here and right now, to such a perversely twisted yet seemingly benign concept and its offshoots as the ones these schools unfortunately promote.