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Okay, so if we posit for the moment that we must start from some more-or-less intuitive (but possibly quite arbitrary) point and evolve our understanding of both process and aim as we go, then where should we start?

The obvious temptation is to simply pick one of the existing spiritual traditions and work from there, so let’s see how that goes.

The difficulty that immediately comes to mind is that all existing spiritual traditions have accumulated a significant amount of myth, unfalsifiable metaphysics, dogma, or impenetrable symbolism. While we can stipulate that most traditions have some useful core of technique and some at least partial grasp of the correct aim, if we simply pick a tradition and begin to work within it, we run the risk of leading ourselves deeper and deeper into delusion and confusion. If we agree intuitively that becoming a zealous convert is not the same thing as the enlightenment we want, we need to figure out how to avoid this.

The problem seems to be that there are two gathering points (or attractors, perhaps) for practitioners in every tradition: One is the gathering point where the tradition acts as an outgrowth of, and supplement to, authentic experience.  The other is where the tradition draws practitioners into deeper and deeper conformity with itself, for itself, at the expense of authentic experience.

Simply put, the worry is that, even if we concede that our initial practice and aims are imprecisely or imperfectly conceived, we still might end up developing in entirely the wrong direction, and not even know it. There are at least two different things going on in any tradition, and we can’t be sure, by the lights of the tradition itself, which we are doing.

So if, again, it seems that what we want is authentic personal experience, and we are concerned to avoid psuedo-experiences created by confirmation bias and social reinforcement, then it seems like we need some outside separate criteria to know that we moving towards one attractor, and not another.

…but if it turns out we need some kind of outside criteria for true enlightenment-related practices and aims anyway, in order to not be led astray by the distortions of existing tradition, then why not simply use that? From this perspective, tradition might be a useful helper, but not a good master.

So, a false start, perhaps, but instructive.

 

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