What is Proprietary Dharma?

Open Source Dharma serves as a radical alternative to Proprietary Dharma.

“Religious traditions are usually necessary for providing an understanding of our inborn potential and for showing us how to realize it. But when they claim proprietary ownership of that which we seek, they betray themselves and get in our way.” - Reggie Ray, Touching Enlightenment

What is Proprietary Dharma?

Proprietary Dharma includes all of the traditional dharma communities who keep secrets as a means of protecting their students from advanced teachings, their secret sauce from being stolen, or their social hierarchies from being disrupted. Proprietary Dharma also includes all of the modern dharma communities & systems, whose training materials aren’t free and open, but are rather put behind a paywall, or only accessible once one has completed a paid certificate or degree program. Postmodern dharma, which recombines traditional and modern elements, can be more or less proprietary, depending on which elements are utilized and how.

Traditional Dharma

In the case of traditional, conserver-style dharma, “the teachings” are often offered “free of charge” or are described as being priceless. This is one of the ways the beautiful spirit of generosity makes itself known in these dharmic traditions.

Unfortunately, this same spirit of open accessibility isn’t usually present when it comes to accessing the “higher” teachings, or doing something which may fall outside of the orthodoxy. It certainly doesn’t apply when it comes to acknowledging & discussing actual experiences or attainments, or when it comes to the openness of the institutional structures. Traditional dharma tends to be financially accessible, while being highly centralized and ideologically proprietary.

🔗 Examples of Traditional Dharma:

Modern Dharma

What modern dharma forms share in common with each other is an attempt to integrate with modern secular values & systems. Institutionally, modern dharma tends to operate in the capitalist mode, with many instances of centralized, for-profit institutional structures, where ownership and value flows upward toward equity holders. In the case of modern dharma, it’s often the case that much of the teaching material is free, but this free content is used as a gateway to paid content that exists behind some kind of paywall (aka the freemium pricing model).

Most modern dharma sidesteps traditional discussions of attainment, as those higher levels of practice aren’t yet included in modern translations. Instead, the completion of degrees, or professional certifications, serve as a stand-in for personal attainments.

Modern dharma tends to be more ideologically open than traditional dharma, and structurally more democratic, though still centralized. One core characteristic of modern dharma is that they only make their teachings available for those that are willing, or able, to pay for access.

🔗 Examples of Modern Dharma:

Postmodern Dharma

Postmodern dharma approaches blend and integrate a variety of traditional and modern elements together and apply these to a variety of different contexts. Where traditional dharma is interested in preserving ancient forms, and modern dharma is interested in integrating with modern economics, psychology, science, & technology, postmodern dharma is focused on integrating the critiques of post-modernism.

These post-modern critiques include the dismantling grand systematic narratives, an awareness of how systemic oppression of marginalized groups works, and the questioning of progress, rationality, & individualism as the core values of a just society. Postmodernism, especially in its deconstructive mode, tends to be highly relativistic, pluralistic, and egalitarian. In its reconstructive, or metamodern mode, it begins weaving together new patterns of possibility.

Postmodern dharma tends to be ideologically fluid, and tends to emphasize decentralizing & distributing institutional forms, while placing an emphasis on openness, collaboration, integration, and justice for all.

🔗 Examples of Post-Modern Dharma

Vince Horn March, 2019

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