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.