Group dynamics and stream entry

Posted by on Nov 26, 2012 in Buddhism | No Comments

One of the phrases used to describe someone who has developed enough momentum in their practice to make awakening inevitable is ‘stream entrant’.

A stream entrant isn’t enlightened yet, but they’ve broken through the first three of ten fetters that ‘bind us’ to cyclic existence.

These three are translated in different ways, but they are roughly:

  1. belief in a self (sakkāya-diṭṭhi)
  2. doubt (vicikicchā)
  3. attachment to rites and rituals (sīlabbata-parāmāso

Now this is a rich seam of info that I’ll go into properly some other time. But today I want to talk about groups.

The ‘true individual’

Another name for, or quality of, the ‘stream entrant’ is that they are a ‘true individual’. I can’t find a canonical source for this, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen one in the past. If anyone knows where this comes from, please let me know.

The true individual can’t be swayed by the delusion that surrounds them. They have a mind that is clear enough to make choices based on more sensible criteria than ‘fitting in’.

I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this in my own life.

Initially it appealled to me because I didn’t fit in with groups very well (and still don’t). I usually skulk around the edges, making a one-to-one friend here and there. This is partly to do with shyness, and partly that I’ve walked too winding a path to fit in with any one culture.

My references these days are quite broad (across different cultures and sub-cultures, different generations and different social classes) so I can’t just be on autopilot in any one scene and automatically fit in.

But I’d like to think that my years of practice are having some impact on this too. I’m consciously breaking away from group identity, and re-engaging on the basis of choice, rather than on a vague, group-determined personality or a need for belonging. After many years of trying other things, I’m pretty sure that true refuge can’t be found in group membership.

Further, my practice has definitely brought me more confidence. I’m prepared to stand out (rather than needing to either stand out or fit in). I’m also able to engage with a far wider group of people than I used to be able to. Partly due to just getting older, and partly because I can see beyond the particular group affiliations to the basic humanity behind them.

Getting along in groups

Groups fascinate me. They are life. In many ways, we aren’t really individuals. If you want to get on in this world, you need to be able to get along in groups. Or at least be able to sell them stuff 😉

I guess this post is about making the way you operate in groups more conscious in your life. Which role do you tend to play? For example:

– Leader
– Scapegoat
– Facilitator
– Enforcer
– Carer
– Footsoldier
– Jester
– Lone Wolf

It’s likely that you’ve been repeating these patterns for a very long time – right back to school, and even before that the family you were born into.

There’s a guy called Bowlby who developed an ‘attachment theory’ about all this stuff. I believe Jung also talked about how the shadow operates in a group, but that might’ve been my old friend Devapriya going out on a limb…

Anyway, when you can get conscious about how you operate in groups, you can choose the extent to which you might want to change that. And things that have been mysteriously happening in the same way all your life, regardless of the particular group you plug into, start to become a bit less mysterious.

This can literally change your future.

I’m not sure the extent to which this has anything to do with traditional Buddhism. Although certainly there is something here about sangha (spiritual community) and the difference between the sangha on the ground and the archetypal ‘enlightened sangha’ that we aspire to join. And of course mindfulness practice is excellent in helping us to be able to spot things like group dynamics, as we become able to observe how we are in the moment.

Again, the cultivation of loving-kindness helps us ease our way out of our ‘locked-in’ state with groups. We don’t need them for emotional support so much anymore, so we loosen our grip and experiment a little.

How would a roomful of Buddhas interact?

Although Buddhism generally speaks to the individual, if we’re looking to live as consciously, fully and compassionately as possible, we can’t ignore the importance of group dynamics, and how we tend to approach groups. And if we want to succeed in the world, a study of group dynamics can help us on that path too.



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