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A Map of the Teachings

Rob Burbea left a Dharma legacy which is wide, deep and thorough. The teachings are rich and complex in ways that the challenging nature of our times seems to demand. There are many doorways in, and on this site we suggest possible ways in which to navigate. Knowing too that practitioners who gravitate to Rob's work will need to trust their instincts - going where the love and interest are strongest and orienting from that place.
base of a tree on a river bank with a complex twisted root system

One Holistic Ecosystem

Towards the end of his life Rob Burbea explicitly named the wide range of his Dharma teachings as an ‘holistic ecosystem’ (although he was clearly teaching with this conception and understanding of his work from the start). Together these teachings offer a highly original, congruent, and rigorous exploration of Dharma, vast in breadth and depth. They involve and require particular ways of conceiving and practising in a number of arenas named by Rob (including ethics, mettā, psychological approaches, emptiness and 'ways of looking', samādhi and the jhānas, and Soulmaking Dharma). For practice purposes it is often necessary to make such delineations, but these arenas are not really separable, just as the parts of any natural ecosystem are not separable. Which of them feel accessible or relevant for individuals at any given time will change, but what is clear is that each arena will organically support and feed the others. When working regularly with emptiness practices we see that as the sense of self lessens, or ‘unfabricates’, the resulting malleability of perception can permeate other practices, allowing them to have a greater impact on the being. And the particular kinds of malleability that grow out of working with imaginal images in Soulmaking Dharma can in turn allow a further deepening into the understanding of emptiness.

The Most Complete Investigation Possible

With the arenas being open and multi-directional in this way, practitioners can cycle through or revisit them as needed, gradually developing a bigger-picture view of the whole ecosystem. Not all practitioners will take on this more in-depth exploration, some may fall in love with and stay within one arena, or take a few techniques from here or there to supplement an existing practice. Images may be used simply to bring some warmth into mettā (loving-kindness), or psychological approaches be taken up in a way that unblocks or inspires another Dharma practice. While this way of engaging with the teachings is absolutely valid and valuable, Rob crafted his talks and pedagogy to encourage and support the deepest and most complete investigation possible. For most of us that investigation will take a lifetime and still not be complete. It is in the very nature of these teachings that there will always be more to fathom.

Freeing and Beautiful Perspectives

Rooted in a phenomenological approach (the qualitative observation of our lived inner experience, without making assumptions or ascribing meaning) the teachings in this diverse map can be applied to every part of our complex human lives, leaving no aspect of our being or our experience untouched by the freeing and beautiful perspectives available through practice. We can meditate on emptiness and develop the crucial insight that what we perceive depends on the way of looking, and that there is no independently existing 'way things are'. In the practices of samādhi and jhāna, the mind and body settle into a unified, harmonised and steady state of well-being, moving into and through the eight states of consciousness as described by the Buddha, in transformative and liberating ways. In the psychological approaches Rob offers, we find classical Buddhist and modern tools for working at the personality level, caring for difficult and complex emotions, and for practising enquiry. Mettā and compassion are presented as not just profoundly transformative in themselves but as paths to emptiness and awakening. And in Soulmaking Dharma, we find a radical roadmap for the creation and discovery of soulfulness and meaningfulness, rooted firmly in a rigorous, non-realist conceptual framework that allows dimensionality and divinities to open.

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The Place of Ideas

Ideas hold a place of great significance in Rob’s teachings, particularly in the way that they become larger conceptual frameworks that influence our way of looking and thus what is actually perceived or experienced. He taught how important it is for us as practitioners not only to take on and understand ideas (and track how they affect our experience), but also to grasp where they fit within the larger map of the teachings. Rob taught that ideas have different levels of importance, and for example named 'ways of looking' as a 'meta-level' idea. In the edifice or structure of ideas, it is one of the more radical (from radix - 'root') and important ones to understand, and profound in its implications. A conceptual framework (or logos), as a set of connected ideas, can be supportive of the fecundity and ongoingness of meditative exploration, opening an infinity of domains of being and existence. This opening happens not just intellectually but in the heart, the body, and artistically. Due to the radicality and rarity of what he wanted to open up, both in contemporary Dharma and in the arena of Soulmaking, Rob’s ability to carefully delineate the meanings of concepts and words like ‘emptiness’ and ‘soul’ became vital in shaping the ideas we pick up and how we use them in practice. Soulmaking Dharma in particular necessitated the careful delineation and redefining of words that have been used historically in religion, philosophy or other spiritual paradigms, as keys both to his shaping and our understanding of a radically new logos. They highlight the qualities of the imaginal and eros that are already present in our lives, and support the opening up of new realms of experience. Rob drew on the work of a wide range of western philosophers from Plato and Aquinas to Nietzsche and J.N. Findlay (Rob's personal library is catalogued here) - both building on and critiquing their ideas in order to develop and fill out his own work.

The Art of Practice

Intended for repeated, careful listenings (and readings), Rob’s talks are multi-layered - spiraling or circling around their central themes. The teachings are of necessity given in a particular order because that is how language operates, but as practice deepens the complexity and non-linearity of the work becomes apparent. The art of practice then becomes more and more our own as we learn to navigate these teachings in a way that supports what we need, both in practice and in our lives.

Cultural Critique

Woven through the entirety of Rob's work is a deep and intelligent critique of the cultures that we move in, particularly that of the modern West, but also of Western Dharma culture/s. Rob skilfully unpacks and lays bare the assumptions and unconscious conceptions operating in these cultures that shape them and therefore all of us, in our lives and in our practice. Rob reveals the fabricated nature of our own and therefore all cultures. This is enormously helpful for us as practitioners, allowing us to see the emptiness of worlds we usually take as 'real', and enabling us to more easily understand and therefore question those aspects of our cultures that are problematic and cause suffering.

Meta-level Teachings

Rob's work also contains fundamentally important meta-level teachings: learning how to question and enquire, how to delineate and when and what kind of delineations are helpful, and listening for what’s new rather than assimilating ideas into our current mental structures. By listening or reading structurally – attending to the larger structure of ideas and the way they fit together – we develop the capacity to discern the place and significance of each element of practice and each instruction we pick up. These meta-level teachings allow us to approach practice effectively and understand our relationship with the range of teachings in many different ways, rather than simply learning what the practices are.

Multiple Ways and Depths...

Learning to make our perception malleable through an understanding of ontology, epistemology and emptiness, is vital in these times of multiple, intersecting crises and climate disruption. We need to find ways of looking and being that our usual senses of reality do not make possible. Rob's teachings, from emptiness to a Soulmaking Dharma, offer us multiple ways and depths at which to open to and engage with our world.

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Psychological Approaches

Rob placed a high value on ‘heart-work’ - developing confidence in handling our emotional lives and psychological patterns, and working with the full range of what the human heart-mind (citta) can experience. He considered it an ongoing exploration and foundational for deep engagement in all other arenas of his teachings. In this work it is axiomatic that the emotional life is dynamic, and that emotions (like everything else) arise dependent on inner and outer conditions. These conditions, especially the relationship with what is going on, will either block or allow this dynamism to unfold. With practice, the experience of self can be cared for individually and in relationship with others, and malleability of story and narrative are supported. Multiple ways of working with the ‘inner critic’ are offered, allowing more and more freedom in regard to self-views.

Mettā (loving-kindness)

Rob details multiple entry points for meditations on mettā, one of the Buddha’s four brahmavihāras. Practising with the intention of mettā over time with responsiveness and receptivity, boundless and universal love arises. With the beautiful qualities of mettā present in the heart, compassion becomes the natural response when suffering is encountered. This environment of kindness and love creates a fertile ground for insight and action in the world. When mettā is present, the sense of self is less built up or ‘fabricated’ than usual, and this is one pathway through which mettā becomes an important element in supporting other practices such as emptiness and soulmaking. Its presence also cushions the heart for some of the more radical and potentially unsettling insights that emptiness practices can bring.

'Ways of Looking'

Rob posited that insights gained through practice can be picked up and used as deliberate lenses through which perception and experience are gradually understood to be malleable, rather than being conceived of as inherent truths. Practised with in this way, the Buddha’s 'three characteristics' – the foundational teachings of impermanence, not-self and suffering (anicca, anattā, and dukkha) – are held as powerful insight ways of looking, part of Rob’s wider 'ways of looking' framework. Rob saw 'ways of looking' as a meta-level idea in the structural edifice of his teachings, with profound implications for the path. As we begin to question ‘What happens in my experience if I adopt this way of looking?’ rather than ‘Is this ultimately true?’, flexibility is developed in working with ideas, concepts, default beliefs and non-verbal assumptions. Through deliberately engaging a multitude of ways of looking, possibilities for practice expand, and new insights are discovered.


As the world of appearances progressively dissolves or unfabricates through practice, the realization unfolds that nothing is real in the way that it seems to be. Things are understood to be dependently arisen and without inherent existence. In the Buddha's words, things are 'neither real nor not-real'. Seeing and understanding the emptiness of all things, including self, other and world, opens the door to the most radical levels of freedom. In
his book Seeing That Frees Rob lays out many different practices, both phenomenological and analytical, which together offer a path of progressive deepening into emptiness, and liberation.

Samādhi & Jhānas

The practice of samādhi as taught by Rob cultivates a sense of steadiness, harmonisation, and calm well-being balanced with energisation. This 'gathering' of the being happens through working with what Rob terms the energy body (also a key concept in Soulmaking Dharma). Samādhi is healing and a deep resource in itself, and also provides fertile soil within which insight can take root. Over time samādhi can deepen and refine into the eight states of absorption that the Buddha taught and named as the jhānas. Working with samādhi and the jhānas is a profound resource for our lives and practice.

Soulmaking Dharma

Created and developed by Rob and Catherine McGee, and rooted in the deep knowing of emptiness, Soulmaking Dharma offers us ways of restoring, opening and expanding senses of sacredness. It starts with a deep desire to re-enchant a 'flat' cosmos, and with the simple recognition that image and fantasy are already present in any human life. Soulfulness and meaningfulness are given place and prioritized in this philosophically and phenomenologically rigorous framework that leaves no aspect of self, other, or world off-limits. Engaging with Soulmaking practice seriously and over time has important implications for ethics, values and our work in the world.

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