Contemplative Pedagogy?

This blog will address a contemporary expose on “Contemplative Pedagogy” written by Peter Kaufman of the sociology department @ Suny New Paltz, USA. Professor Kaufman asserts that there is a need to synthesize Contemplation with a critical pedagogy, one that is devoted and directed towards radical social transformation. While he maintains that contemplation is an “inner-directed practice of helping students find balance and wholeness in their lives”, it also needs to be linked with a Critical pedagogy, one that is “generally viewed as a form of education that is outer-directed and attempts to foster radical social change.” We will argue that placing Contemplation in such a context holds it hostage to the radical agenda of socialized-propaganda whose mission is not to foster authentic-Contemplative awareness and development, but rather to create a churning-sea of mindless-monads who are at the beck and call of leftist-leaning agendas.

Professor Kaufman relays that “the contemplative pedagogy movement has only crystalized over the past five years or so,” but is reflective of a “wide diversity of practices” as portrayed in a Tree of Contemplative Practices as offered by the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society:

The tree does convey some of the wonderful fruits that can be produced from seeds of Contemplation, most notably meditation, silence, quieting the mind; spiritual movement such as Qigong, walking meditation and Labyrinth walking, Aikido; creative journaling and music composition (one could also add here YouTube-Creation), and contemplative expression through other art forms. Yet, out of all these contemplative-born marvels, the professor chooses to focus exclusively on one branch of the tree: social justice activism. He places a high premium high and above any other factor on this activist position:

How are meditation, yoga, and other contemplative practices going to help bring about the revolution? Don’t we need students getting out of their seats and into the streets? What good is it to have them sitting quietly and calmly in the secluded environs of the classroom when there is so much injustice and oppression in the world?

The proverbial cat is out of the bag with his dominant assertion of “bringing about the revolution by getting out into the streets.” He asserts that we do not live within “our own little bubble”, but are called to provide for the needs of others. While there is some truth in this assertion, it does fall flat when considering authentic Contemplative Traditions wherein the fruit of altruism is the natural outcome of contemplative growth, and not by jettisoning this gradual and nurturing aspect by trampling upon it in the streets of oftentimes violent insurgencies.

The following extract from Professor Kaufman’s expose reveals the crux of the issue at hand:

Moreover, as should be evident by now, there is a synergy between   contemplative and critical pedagogies. By engaging in both practices simultaneously, students and faculty alike have a greater sense of sincerity and a genuine commitment to both personal and social transformation.

Within Unborn Mind Zen we know that such notions as “personal” are in reality superficial and collective constructs of the five skandhas: form, sensation, thought, volition, mortal consciousness; and that when these aggregates are disbanded there is “no person”, or for that matter, some collective body of “persons” (a social collective). Is it no wonder then that “personal and social transformation” is a misnomer that actually begins to voraciously feed upon itself since there is no real substance behind all the hullabaloo? The professor ought to also take to heart his quote from Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, who “writes that his greatest concern is that the oppressed will break free from their shackles of oppression only to become the latest generation of oppressors.” Can one imagine a greater self-fulfilling prophecy which is presently a clear and present danger?

One element that the Tree of Contemplative Practices neglected to include is that of “Infused Contemplation”:

The high order of Infused Contemplation means being stripped naked of all phenomena and what is left is the all-piercing awareness of the Absolute AS Absolute—undivided and devoid of all secondary characteristics…

In this Absolute Contemplation the Unborn is experienced devoid of all conceptual constructs, in a total darkness that is beyond what the weary imagination attempts to fashion. The Actual Self can only be discerned in an intuitive darkness.

Infused Contemplation is a passive one, devoid as it is of all action thus opening itself to the movement of the primordial spirit. It’s a self-emptying in order to be filled with the Absolute Fullness of the Unborn. Pure Contemplatives, therefore, live a life of total solitude in the dark silence of the Great Void that is devoid of all defiling characteristics.

On the other hand, all that Contemplative Pedagogy leads to is creating an artificial void that is filled with the agenda of social transformation. A Bodhisattva is not a social justice warrior, but an Authentic Contemplative that renounces the illusory and seeks fulfillment solely in the Unborn. As the highlighted series also specifies:

Above all a True Contemplative is never a materialist or sensationalist. Rather one is of a sober-mentality and even an obscurity in the eyes of the world.

This is indeed a sobering reflection, rather than throwing the term “contemplation” around willy-nilly that will eventually be consumed with the agenda of the nihilist-revolutionary. Stop. Reflect. Turn-About. Recollect. Nothing binds you. You are a child of the Unborn and the freedom of the Other Shore is at hand. (Dhammapada in Light of the Unborn.)

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