It's not an assembly line

In this clip from Then and Now, Ken points out that the process of institutionalization of a spiritual tradition may lead to approaching spiritual development as if it were a manufacturing process, an assembly line rather than an unpredictable and highly organic process of growth.

It's not an assembly line (from TAN09: Then and Now (class) 00:51:49.00 - 00:58:39.03)

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Susan: I was actually kind of intrigued by the very last paragraph in the introduction where it talked about the different practices. And I was wondering is it referring to specific practices or actual paths when it says, "Some of the objects of the cultivation of the mind." Does that mean like it's talking about shamatha? Or is it talking about something more like say, deity or yidam?

Ken: Oh in this context it's talking about things like shamatha. This is not a Vajrayana text, per se.

Susan: So everything, every general category that he mentions there, there are actual, specific practices?

Ken: Yeah. And that's what we'll be going through. Some of those will be in the Six Perfections, and so forth.

Susan: I see. Okay.

Ken: This is a system. I always find it interesting when people talk about systems. In 1986 one of Canada's top nuclear scientists [Ursula Franklin] delivered a very prestigious series of lectures known as the Massey Lectures at the University of Toronto. And what she chose to lecture on was the real world of technology. And you can actually get those lectures. I think you can get them on Amazon. One of the distinctions she makes which I found extremely useful in a lot of areas is the distinction between growth processes and manufacturing processes. In manufacturing processes you do the same thing to each item and you get identical results at the end. Your classic manufacturing process is the assembly line. So everything is reduced to a series of easily described, repeatable tasks. And you put in the raw materials and you get a car or whatever at the other end.

The growth process is totally different because you can never predict how things are going to grow. So you have to have all kinds of other stuff in there because you don't know whether it's going to grow too much in this direction or whether you're going to need to support it there or whether this is going to happen.
What I find fascinating is that throughout history, whenever institutions develop, they seek to establish a manufacturing process for whatever they're doing, whether it is appropriate or not. And so there's an awful lot of good material in here as many of you have come to appreciate in our talks so far. What's being described here is a kind of manufacturing process. We take the buddha nature and you put it with a spiritual friend and you do this meditation and you do this meditation and you do this meditation and you do this meditation and--bong--you're awake.
Jack: Like a little robot.

Ken: Well that may be a bit harsh, Jack, but yeah, like a little robot. It just doesn’t work that way. Why? Because, at least from my point of view, cultivating that quality of buddha nature in people is much more a growth process than a manufacturing process. And I have no idea when I work with a person, when I work with a student, what I'm going to run into or when I'm going to run into it. And usually they don't either. So things can be cruising along quite happily and suddenly, wham, you just ran into some old pattern that nobody knew was there and now you gotta restructure the whole practice to start working with that.
So I would encourage you to look at this as very, very general principles. In terms of application, be very sensitive to your own experience as, "Where do I need to move now?" or "What feels out of balance?" or "What is missing?" Even though I've worked with people in a somewhat systematic way I've always found I've had to make quite significant individual adaptations in everybody's practice. And I think that's quite appropriate. So these are a set of practices but experience has shown that for many people this particular sequence will be very fruitful, but it doesn't necessarily work for everybody and within an institutional framework one can feel, "I'll have to do this and then I'll do this." And you'll get people in various institutions and they'll tell you, "I've done this practice and this practice, this practice, this practice and I've done them all in the right order." There's a certain amount of understanding but something is often missing. You know what I mean?