We-Space: The Next Buddha

We-Space is a term for the deepening experience of collective field phenomena occurring in groups. It may be called collective intelligence, an energetic manifestation of the resonance occurring among the participants in an increasingly intimate group process. Whether “we-space” pre-exists or is evoked by a group process, is psychological or spiritual or evolutionary in nature depends on who you talk to. There are numerous processes included under the generic term and there are numerous purposes to which We-Space is being developed and directed. Based on what I have learned so far, the full potential of We-Space remains unexplored and virtually unlimited.

The vision of We-Space expressed here will not reflect a very deep comprehension of formal Integral theory or reference its hierarchies of evolutionary development. Like Michael Brabant, for example, I may diverge from the existing framework to explore the potential of We-Space to facilitate direct non-conceptual experience, to manifest supernormal states, to function as a matrix connecting diverse collective awakening practices, to highlight the limits of-if not overthrow-the dominant paradigm of scientific materialism. But that is the grand design, is it not? Based on personal study and practice, intuition, direct experience and contemplating the implications of what is described by many participants in the recent We-Space Summit, I think it’s possible to outline a few characteristics of this intelligence.

The threads of We-Space development and interpretations are analogous to the proliferation of long-term generative practices of different lineages of spiritual practice or to the parallel development of religious or sacred philosophies. But particularly now, they seem to be exploding out of a rapidly growing knowledge base resulting from deep and creative explorations that began five decades ago in the earliest explorations of group process.

We can easily acknowledge the contributions made by each of these lineages over a considerable period of time to the evolution of the whole. We can select personal practices from the buffet or immerse ourselves deeply in a single path. But developing a common understanding of the context in which all these processes are arising and flowering also serves and energizes the whole in ways that are already bearing magnificent and unexpected fruit.

Evolutionary Spirituality identifies itself as generic, stripped of jargon, cultural trappings and formal rituals of organized religion. It identifies as evolutionary as if it is unveiling and accelerating the evolution of human consciousness into a  universal embodiment of We-Space. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of the long-term enjoyed by similar inquiries taking place over the past 1200 years, for example, within Mahayana Buddhism alone (or much longer in the case of other religious traditions), which to my knowledge is the most extensive documented inquiry into the science of mind. We are facing a far greater urgency, a looming existential condition characterized by overpopulation,  planetary resource depletion and climate change, combined with rapidly evolving and energizing cross-pollination of sacred philosophies in search of keys to advancing human evolution, changing the course of human development from its current self-destructive path.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s well known declaration, “The next buddha will be a sangha” applies here. His vision may have been driven by the perfusion of evolutionary philosophies across global culture concurrent with a struggle to redefine governance, economics and spirituality in humanist terms. To apply this vision to the ongoing development of We-Space is probably not novel. Considering its implied parameters in greater detail might seem ambitious, yet to do so is an acknowledgement of an obvious and natural objective: organic openings such as the Patricia Albere’s Evolutionary Collective, even going beyond powerful preliminaries such as Tej Steiner’s Core Life Skills, Circling, Christian Pankhurst’s HeartIQ, Thomas Hubl’s Transparent Communication, Surrendered Leadership and other approaches to recognizing interpersonal field phenomena and the development of authentic relationship and radical presence as preparation for and enhancement of We-Space. These do contribute to widespread and growing evidence of collective efforts to embody critical evolutionary change, leveraging the impulse to evolve to a widening audience.

Since there’s plenty of room for interpretation, I will try to be clear about Hanh’s references to Buddha and sangha. Referring to the “next Buddha” is not a reference to a historical figure. “Buddha” refers to a state of awareness, not to an individual. That state of awareness may be called Buddha nature, primordial awareness, non-dual consciousness, spontaneous presence, the ground of reality or rigpa. Further, all phenomena arise spontaneously from the primordial (non-dual) ground. The essence nature of all appearance is not other than this non-conceptual, empty and supremely spacious presence that has no beginning, no end, is unconditioned and utterly insubstantial. In fact, to say this “condition” is the ground of reality is an oxymoron. Reality is not conditional. Its essence is nothing at all.

So, how can the next Buddha be nothing at all? A sangha is a community of practice. Superficially, the next Buddha will be a community of awakening individuals, as Dustin Diperna suggests, sufficiently capable of subsuming personal ego concerns and propagating the nature of collective reality such as to be regarded as leaders with a common vision and an approach to awakening. Imagine the simultaneous poly-centric emergence of key learnings that together comprise a distributed yet wholly coherent network of awareness. Each taken separately might not fit the criteria of true non-conceptual awareness, yet together they might well express something far more powerful.

The members of such a sangha needn’t be in geographic proximity or deliberately in coordinated action. They may not even need to know each other, though identifying and naming such a sangha would be a significant moment of progress. Imagining a community redefining authentic Buddha-nature as a field of collective influence is an explosive suggestion that a world-view growing from a spirituality of the near-future, if we are to survive, will be leaderless in the conventional sense, manifesting as a shared non-conceptual unconditioned conscious transmission and propagation of the essence of its liberating nature.

At the deepest level, however, identifying a sangha as a “Buddha” implies that it will embody elements of collective awakening closely aligning with or even identical to the state of awakening achieved by the historical Buddha, which is to say a collective experience of directly embodied non-dual pure awareness in which barriers between subject and object effectively dissolve into a common experience of unitary consciousness. Such a state implies a capacity to transcend apparent paradox: the conceptual and the non-conceptual, duality and non-duality, personal agency versus being a “channel” of some extra-corporeal intelligence, accepting “what is” versus having an agenda for change, realizing the truth of appearance as well as the insubstantial nature of all appearance.

It’s also important to differentiate the unique and rapidly fluctuating time-bound and conceptual We-Space created by any group from an absolute timeless and non-conceptual essence of We-Space that exists regardless of who is engaged, yet not identified with anyone in particular. The journey of any group (sangha) deliberately exploring We-Space will eventually be to transition from its relative forms to a realization of its absolute qualities. This process will require intensive, prolonged and coherent practice, timely and creative exploration of inner space never before navigated. At some point, however, two things will become evident: 1) it very much matters who is present as individuals in the process cannot simply be randomly interchanged with an expectation of arriving at identical results; and 2) the inward turning of the group to the intersubjective space must eventually turn outward toward service.

Such a collective achievement might also model a natural integration of requisite components of an awakened state; specifically, both absolute and relative bodhicitta and the development of a collective version of bodhisattva expression in the world. This is analogous to saying that the next Buddha (Sangha) will achieve an integral state of Being and Doing, demonstrating that neither are seen as opposite sides of an hypothetical coin, but that each becomes indistinguishable from the other.

What is traditionally represented in some branches of Buddhism as an ultimate state of consciousness requiring numberless lifetimes of arduous karmic resolution to achieve is, according to Dzogchen practices of the Great Perfection, within reach in a single lifetime. There is no timeline attached to Thich Nhat Hanh’s vision; let’s just say that, for those who wish to see the human experiment continue, and assuming the conditions for such a transition, even if only on the smallest of scales, can be created, there’s no time to waste.

The following is a partial list of potential characteristics of authentic non-dual We-Space:

  • Absolute We-Space is present whether it is realized or not. It already exists whether one believes in it, has experienced it or not. It is always here. It is never not here. It is implicit in every moment. Absolute We-Space is not a product of me or of you. It arises as us yet is also inherently something greater. It does not belong to any one, any group or any thing. We belong to it.
  • We-space is not an object to be cultivated. Talking about it as if it is a separate phenomenon or as something that is either here or not here only reinforces the dualistic thinking that makes it more difficult for us to recognize and enter authentic non-dual (absolute) We-Space.
  • In relative (dualistic) We-Space, objects (“others”) appear to be real, yet are entirely projections according to our individual experience and conditioning. At all times, I am creating “you.” “You” are creating me. The objective of an evolutionary process of revealing We-Space is to unravel the projections until they either dissolve or become transparent.
  • Individualism/personal autonomy/personal agency are illusions, rooted in conceptual mind. They all refer to presumed boundaries between one identity and another. The We-Space Sangha is a deliberate creation of conditions in which boundaries, erected according to conditioning, experience, religious norms and economic assumptions, can be reconsidered. This is partly a matter of neurophysiology and partly of cultural and economic colonization. The authentic Sangha of We-Space challenges every social, religious, ideological and economic structure. In order to realize full communion and full autonomy of every individual, decolonization must be teased away from neurophysiology.
  • An enhanced emotional connection between separate individuals, i.e. an improvement of samsara, is a valid objective of We-Space inquiry, but is not the ultimate objective. We-Space may be accessed by cognitive decisions to enter into a mutuality of increased permission between two or more identities, but if we are to enter the Sangha of We-Space, we do not drop deeper into our identities. We drop out of them more completely; we commit acts of release beyond any we may have previously imagined, literally cutting through the grip of the separate time-based karmic identity, perhaps not absolutely and not permanently, but at least enough for us to see the totality and potential of our co-creation.
  • We do have to come into a personal We-Space before entering collective We-Space. We have to be comfortable with recognizing our essential poverty, experiencing ourselves as naked; becoming more comfortable and secure in our own nakedness before we are able to share naked reality with each other. The field quality that awakens such a degree of safety is the act of dropping our attachment to a separate identity. This might be compared to a personal mindfulness practice that precedes our capacity to enter a group mindfulness practice.
  • In We-space, all feelings, conditioning, reticence and emotional guarding are viewed from a more neutral, less ego-invested quality of presence. We cultivate together the capacity to reduce our need to protect our selves; that need itself becomes just another thread of the interactional dynamics that might be experienced, shared and examined. We sense a greater access to and a reduced influence of emotional material that reinforces tendencies to regard our selves as separate identities. In We-Space, with intelligence and a shared willingness to be more vulnerable, we can assist one another to come closer to our core conditioning that represents a barrier to entry into We-Space in the first place.
  • Leadership is a transitional identification of a single or group of individuals whose reliable inquiry into collective We-Space shows evidence of fruition. If this occurs, the essence nature of We-Space empowers others to examine and reflect on their own participation and become empowered to model We-Space as well. In other words, a “leader” is identified as a transmitter, perhaps as a gateway for the group into non-conceptual mind. The objective of the process is the propagation of that transmission, making everyone a leader. The more people can become this, the more we accelerate toward a critical mass of humanity realizing and becoming empowered to recognize and enter relative We-Space, to engage in We-Space communication with others, realizing that ultimately, We-Space is not about following single leaders or becoming a leader, but in sharing an empowering vision that facilitates confident expression of temporary and progressive integrative leadership emerging as the We-Space Sangha.
  • Inasmuch as “leaders” identifying with specific traditions or philosophies exert influence within a matrix of diverse approaches to awakening, the force that supports the integrity of that matrix is their own integrity and momentum toward diversification within their chosen traditions. Holding a particular approach to awakened knowledge combined with the gravitational influence provided by similar figures operating in their own orbits both retains the integrity of their knowledge base as well as contributes to the creation of new information driving the evolution of the matrix as a whole.
  • We-Space is part of an evolutionary move away from post-modern culture driven by individualism and toward enhanced collective consciousness and collective action. We shouldn’t be naive about the economic, political and religious forces arrayed against such a movement. We are in an increasingly intense confrontation with powerful forces of libertarian individualism, self-interested Austrian economic theory and radical Calvinist religious ideologies. As a corollary to Thich Nhat Hanh’s vision, the transition to Sangha implies this critical shift toward revealing the nature of collective mind, collective development and action. In Buddhist terms, We-Space is, by inspiring an intention to awaken collectively, shifting from “me” to “we.” If it is authentic, it will inspire the awakening of compassion, generosity and action characteristic of the bodhisattva spirit.

The next Buddha may not be an exclusive or isolated sangha, a group of awakening beings from different traditions and different cultures, but an inclusive, possibly  distributed Sangha, holding the collective space for awakening by its coherence and the integrity of inherent confidence. The “we” is (or can be) the cracking of the egg in which we all exist, from which leaders/teachers will emerge, the awakened ones or the ones on their way who have previously been isolated from each other by sectarian and economic structures that isolate us and incentivize individualism.

The magic that cuts through the proliferation of approaches to realizing and engaging in We-Space and the increasing differentiation of individuals engaged in those processes is surely in part the acceptance of our individual uniqueness, but is also the revelation of what we share: our common human suffering. The unique nature of each individual’s version of dealing with suffering is what both keeps us apart and also what binds us together. We-Space is a hugely promising emerging vehicle for realizing Buddha’s Third Noble Truth, that there is a way out of suffering. To the degree that groups can mid-wife, witness, honor, share and resolve the common nature of our individual paths through life, enhancing the collective field in which we exist and evolve, We-Space moves ever closer to becoming Thich Nhat Hanh’s next Buddha.

 

Equanimity

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Equanimity means stability or composure, an evenness of mind and attitude. In the Buddhist sense, this means an imperturbable vision in which nothing stands out, all phenomena being regarded as literally equal. No phenomena distinguishes itself from any other. There are no extremes. One dwells in the vast depths of the ocean of phenomena, undisturbed by the turbulence of the surface. In the absolute sense, equanimity is thus another way of referring to true nature, as it is the quality of Buddha nature that is the capacity to remain in such perfect repose.

Such an infinite and sustained evenness implies a profound freedom. We think of it as freedom from the essence of samsaric existence, the continuous flowing into our selves, the core of the Second Noble Truth, the perpetual attachment to and search for what is ultimately a superficial and illusory happiness. In equanimity, authentic happiness resides in the freedom from the search, though not in separation from the reality of the search or from other beings consumed by it. If I cannot be ruffled by the routine zigs and zags that life takes, even and especially by the extremes (old age, sickness and death) that we can all expect sooner or later, I have achieved some grace, have I not?

Equanimity might be mistaken as dullness or vacuity, a smoothing over, even a suppression of natural human response. But no, authentic equanimity is not a flattening of responsiveness. Neither is it a dulling of perception. Quite the opposite. It is based on a heightened awareness of the forces and beliefs luring the mind away from balance, yet remaining in unity with all.

Each of us lives in a personal world of relative equanimity, a continuously fluctuating continuum. We ourselves and everyone we know or will ever encounter, in their own way, is moving back and forth on that continuum and, we hope, generally toward greater equanimity. That may seem a bold statement. And it is surely slow process. But even the most tortured among us have some awareness of their own suffering and are likely making whatever progress they can manage toward being less driven by their emotions, which is not to say they are becoming more effective in repression, but rather more effective in looking beneath to the essence of disruptive mental habits.

Some days we are able to maintain both engagement and a bemused balance of mind. On others, we’re deer in the headlights–engagement and balance completely escape us. We are well aware of our own flaws, the times when stress is overwhelming, when anger or sadness, helplessness or loneliness burst forth either without considering the consequences or even despite having considered them. These are moments of reverting to the attachment to self and misunderstanding the origins of thoughts. At such moments, authentic (absolute) equanimity,  the infinitely even quality of awakened mind, is nothing more than a distant dream.

The implication of true equanimity, the absolute state (Brahman), is that the effects of ego have been quieted. If there is an “I” which can be differentiated from others, then the inner experience of “I,” the super Disney E-ride emotional roller coaster will always be drawing us into differentiation of experience into extremes of good and bad. As the Four Immeasurables prayer says, ” May all beings be free of attraction, aversion and partiality and rest in great equanimity.”

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche says in Courtland Dahl’s Entrance to the Great Perfection: A Guide to Dzogchen Preliminary Practices, “What would you do if there was no you? If there were no ‘you’ and no ‘I,’ then just imagine, what would become of passion? What would you do with it?”

On one level, he is asking what would become of the inborn tendency to make judgments, the relative passion of falling into partiality and attachment, deciding something is good or bad and wanting it to change. He goes on to remind us that emotions, in essence, are not other than emptiness. True equanimity is being able to recognize and observe emotion without being drawn into the drama. This does not mean we can deny emotions or act as if they are not real. Equanimity is the refined capacity to experience emotion fully and to transform it into its true nature.

The Latin origin of the word passion is passio, “to suffer.” The crudest form of passion, deeply rooted in illusion of the separate self, accompanied by only a rudimentary capacity for equanimity, does indeed imply great suffering. The self-oriented kind of passion that thrives on confrontation, competition, the zero-sum passion, is never fully satisfying because the outcome will always be temporary and superficial.

To paraphrase Dzongsar Khyentse further, we might regard the relative form of passion  as the opposite of equanimity. It involves fabrication, like constructing ornaments on the original tree of an emotion. Such adornments quickly become a personal agenda, which doesn’t coexist well with equanimity.

But what of inspiration, the passion to benefit beings? What of the generous impulse to contribute to a better world? What happens to passion as the capacity for equanimity grows and matures? Does it disappear? Or does it transform into love, into com-passion, the motivation to benefit others? The com-passion seeking definition here, derived from the latin “to suffer with,” is what arises with authentic equanimity. It is not the passion of attachment and fabrication of the self; it is the dawning of wisdom. That is an altogether different quality of passion than how we would normally think of it, a passion that is not grounded in attachment.

How do we know the difference?

There is clearly such a thing as relative equanimity, just as there is relative compassion or relative bodhicitta. This is conditioned equanimity, still subject to cause, still residing in a dualistic frame. Duality has not been dissolved. A personal agenda coexists with this version of equanimity. It is still possible to alleviate suffering effectively because we are cultivating a capacity to respond to immediate conditions with grace instead of with grasping, with selfless generosity instead of aversion.

While we experience the temporary bliss of relative equanimity, the accompanying relative compassion can indeed be very effective…temporarily. If we aren’t checking and noticing our personal agenda and how it is intruding, then the outcome of our efforts will likely descend into exhaustion, confusion and disappointment.

This is how Narayan Helen Liebenson ( a teacher at Cambridge Insight Meditation Center) spoke  recently:

Ultimately, we are trying to cultivate a passion for life rather than for the things of life, a passion that expands our heart and our sense of what is possible in this world. This kind of passion is love, not just for a select few, but for all. In this way, [com]passion and equanimity come together in love and in wisdom.

As equanimity grows, so also does wisdom. As strong motivation (passion) becomes less oriented to the solitary self and more so to the collective, so compassion grows. And along with that, service. Cultivating equanimity increases our capacity to love in a more universal way. We make a transition from “me” to “we”. Our passion for our selves opens to an active loving passion for the benefit of all.

Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche said it well:

You can be open and love someone and not be attached. One might call it passionate, but it is open—and that is what makes the difference between love [passionate service] that benefits and love that causes us to suffer. Our equanimity comes from open awareness itself. Each time you let go of your attachment, you reconnect with open awareness. This is what is known as the path. 


 

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