53. Dharma Power, Dharma Poison
You see, Kenneth, being ten years older than me and having gone on longer retreats, had this notion of himself as being above me in some way that, for him, had become a fixed role and identity. My attaining second path in daily life when it had taken him a six-month retreat in Burma, and us now being at the same “rank”, if you will, flipped him out. It is hard to explain all the chaos, pain, confusion, complexity, and bullshit that would result for about the next sixteen years or so from this, and it nearly destroyed our otherwise very good, long, friendship. He initially believed me to have attained second path, and said so, but then some weeks later decided that, after having conferred with Bill Hamilton, that not only did I not have second path, but I didn’t even have stream entry in the first place. Instead, I was deemed to be some sort of hyper-delusional Dark Night yogi doing heavy shamatha practices and just deceiving myself and making stuff up. Fortunately, many years later, in 2010, he apologized to me for what went down, but in that middle period, wow, what a mess. Our identification with ourselves as practitioners with some degree of realization caused an amazing amount of pain and conflict.
Despite Bill now believing what he believed about my practice, he would still answer lots of questions about dharma theory, fractals, jhanas, paths, and all sorts of esoteric dharma topics, though, as already mentioned, I had to drag it out of him. Kenneth and I stopped talking about dharma entirely except for the occasional thoroughly unhelpful argument, and that would continue from early September 1996 until around April 2003. That’s a damn long time for people who cared about nothing more.
Thus, Kenneth knew only the vaguest details of what happened next in my life, and basically knew nothing whatsoever of my practice from 1997 to 2003, a period during which our uneasy truce remained in place since I kept everything to myself. From August 1996 through very early 1997 I spent most of my pocket money, which was quite limited, on long-distance phone calls to Bill. This was in the days before cell-phones and before Skype or Google Voice, etc. Bill taught me much that was useful, but he still believed that I was completely delusional and seemed to teach me with great reluctance. It would not be long before that dialogue ended for a few reasons, one of which was that Bill returned to Burma for his last retreat.
The practical points here are many, and if they can help you avoid even a small number of the mistakes Kenneth and I made, then some good will have come of something very painful. Please avoid claiming certainty of what another has attained or not attained, as it is difficult to know definitively. Just as with therapy, be careful of attempting to diagnose or treat close friends and relatives, as your objectivity and accuracy is likely to be limited. For the same reasons, be extremely careful when trying to teach anyone who is very close to you.
If someone doesn’t want your help and is not actively hurting and/or is not a threat to themselves or anyone else, you can offer help, but avoid trying to force it on them. Avoid dharma competition beyond that which is healthy, playful, and friendly (the actual meaning of metta) and that inspires the best in you to practice well. Dharma competition can rapidly get extremely ugly and cause long-term damage to all involved and even to those not directly involved. If you are having strong reactions to someone else’s practice, consider that this may say more about your psychodynamics and practice, particularly with respect to your ethical training and emotional baggage, than about the other person’s practice. These are lessons we learned the hard way. I would recommend the easy way, given a chance.