The four cultural stages that dictate how we react
Good morning, everyone! This is Dharma Espresso for today(9/15/2017).
I once talked about Mr. Lawrence Kohlberg. He was best known for his theory of the stages of moral development. From birth till adulthood, our moral concepts keep changing, not staying the same. He categorized them into six stages, with two stages making up one level. These levels of moral development are called preconventional, conventional, and post-conventional. I will not repeat what I have said before about his works. However, I want to help today’s Buddhists understand it and apply it more easily. I will speak of the terms that I created so that you can understand how it works in our daily cultivation.
In general, we experience four stages of culture which coincide with Lawrence Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development.
The first stage of culture is the “culture of obedience”. Growing up in Vietnam, you can see clearly the pattern. We need to obey our parents. We have a mold to follow. We cannot resist it. So, when we study Buddhism, we absolutely believe in what is written in the scriptures. We cannot make any change. Hence, there are things written in certain sutras that are scarry such as iron dog breathing out red fire in hell. We listen, we accept and we obey. We cannot contradict. Thus, some people would abuse this culture and create what we call superstitions. The culture of obedience is very influential since we have to believe and cannot go against it. Those who propagate the culture of obedience are often people with power and authority. We neither have an opportunity nor the ability to oppose them. If we do, we may be considered dissenters, heretics, pagans, unfillial children, or nerds, etc.
Migrating to America from Vietnam, you have a chance to see that American culture is very unique since it allows us to ask questions. To learn is to ask questions, and that is a high cultural value. When you go to classes, if you see there are people in class who ask many deep questions, you know the level of their intellectuality is very high and open. So, the second stage of culture is called the culture of openness. We are not superstitious, believing in what we hear, but we need to ask questions, to clarify things, to find reasons why things are like this or like that. Questions such as why there is hell, where it is, why there is a fire dog or an iron dog, why it exists and who created it. Now, we have Artificial Intelligence (AI). Is that dog created by Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or those who made computers? Those are the questions that we need to pose. When a question is asked, an answer is needed. The discussion between the two parties is called the “culture of openness”. The questioner has the right to ask questions. The respondent needs to find the answer. Once an answer is given satisfactorily, both parties feel relieved.
We are going from the culture of obedience – the culture of listening and believing with no question allowed, to the culture of openness – the culture of being able to ask questions and being entitled to answers. The only trouble is when we receive the answer, we believe in the answer, and our mind becomes very rational. We are no longer superstitious, and we are against things that are irrational. From this culture of openness, arise science, philosophy, logic, and psychology. It is very important, very interesting. Your children belong to the culture of openness, and they do not often listen to you. You ask them to go sweep the floor since it is dirty but they do not do it; they do not obey you. And, why don’t they? It is because your request is not reasonable nor at the right time. You ask when they are studying,
and of course, they protest. In fact, they need an answer to the question “why”. For example, “Why do you want me to sweep the floor when I am studying?” So, if you have children or grandchildren in the ages of 6, 7 or teens, you need to be careful with anything you say. You need to be ready to answer the question “why”. “Why do we say that? Why do we do that?” The shortcoming of the culture of openness is that it relies too much on rationality and forgets compassion. The heart is forgotten, and therefore, we need the third culture called the “culture of compassion”.
The culture of compassion is a culture of the heart. In this culture, besides the reasoning of the mind, we need to remember that the heart sends us a very important message: humanity and our relationships with others. The heart guides us to do noble things that do not belong to reason, such as compassion, forgiveness, and faith. The culture of compassion gives birth to deep faith, but that deep faith is not superstition. That compassion is not a meek or possessive love, but an openness of the heart and the mind that radiates a feeling of warmth and caring to other people. This compassion is different from obedience. In the culture of obedience, we often want to possess others. We use our love to own others and make them do things for us. That is another problem that we will discuss later. Now we know that we have the culture of Obedience, of Openness, and of Compassion. The culture of compassion pervades all places. We clearly manifest the values of these cultures daily. These cultures overlap each other; none is above, below, higher or lesser than any other. The culture of compassion guides us, and it always comes first in what we think and what we do. It is our motivation in doing things, not just reason. Sometimes, our reasoning mind knows what is right, but at times, compassion urges, and drives us to do things. Compassion does not bear any trace of desires. It is not a possession. It is always sharing and giving. Compassion will heal us, our cruelties, jealousies, wickedness, and attachments to the culture of obedience, and even the culture of openness which is full of reasoning that we need to be cautious of.
Lastly, it is the “culture of enlightenment”. What is the culture of enlightenment? It is a culture that knows to apply the culture of compassion and openness as well as obedience in the right place at the right time. It is because the culture of enlightenment pushes us to always evolve. Our heart and our mind always open up to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. We always treat people everywhere with kindness and compassion. Finally, the culture of enlightenment brings healing to the environment. It never destroys the living conditions. The culture of enlightenment heals our relationships with others, not destroying them. The culture of enlightenment is surpassing since it knows to activate compassion, to use reason, to open up others, and knows when to obey. Otherwise, our ego is very big. As a result, the culture of enlightenment often leads to the last realm--selflessness.
I mentioned the four stages of culture above to integrate and present Lawrence Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development so today’s Buddhists can easily understand. We constantly change and dwell peacefully in the culture of compassion and enlightenment. We often rely on the culture of openness, but we cannot forget that openness without compassion, or compassion without openness does not work. Hence, the culture of enlightenment utilizes all other cultures: obedience, openness and compassion.
Thank you for listening to today’s Dharma Espresso. I wish you joy and awakeness.
Translated by the transcription and translation group of Compassionate Service Society