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Introduction

Daniel Ingram: "For over 13 years, the Dharma Overground community has been a remarkable support for so many, including myself, on this strange, amazing, and sometimes profoundly challenging path. I hope that these posts reflect something useful and skillful, that you appreciate the context of the ever-changing and clearly somewhat bizarre social context in which they occurred, and that they all be taken with a grain of salt and a sense of humor. If you find them helpful, great! If not, no worries, as there is lots of great practice advice out there that hopefully will work for you and your needs and aesthetics. Hold all teachings lightly. Keep your wits about you. Be a light unto yourself. Keep your immediate experience as the first and last basis of the path. Practice well. Enjoy!

Those few entries with a lightning-flash symbol (⚡) contain potential inflammatory material or strongly-worded commentaries that some readers may find controversial.  Please skip over those entries and get to the friendlier ones if you don't find them useful. 

Table of Contents
Concentration 

1. Vipassana 'vs' Samatha
 
2. Vipassana or Samatha: it doesn’t matter which objects are used but what is cultivated
3. You can't do insight practices if you can't concentrate
4. Concentration is not necessarily enough to get jhana
5. Jhanas in daily life
6. Kasina is easier than breath
7. Kasina, some tips on how to practice
8. Fire Kasina
9. Mantras in Fire Kasina
10. Fire Kasina: tension in the eyes and head  
11. Shannon's 25-day Fire Kasina Retreat Audio Diaries
12. The Mind Illuminated
13. TMI time commitment
14. TMI Mind Map
15. Comparing Mahasi Noting, Fire Kasina and TMI  
16. One must not be so quick to associate hard jhana with pure samatha and soft jhana with vipassana 
17. Jhana wars are old hat 
18. Jhanas: a wide range of both opinions and skills 
19. The basic qualities of jhana are in some ways influenced by the object 
20. Cognitive abilities and Jhanas
21. Categorical and Dimensional Jhanic thinking
22. Formless Realms, Thinking Dimensionally and Categorically
23. Space, Formless Realms and Insight  
24. Pure Land Jhanas
25. Pure Land One, the set up   
26. Formless Realms and Kasina
27. Formless Realms and Lucid Dreaming  
28. My short list of powers, during Lucid Dreams 
29. (⚡) Nirodha Samapatti is a high and very rare attainment
30. Nirodha Samapatti: a personal report, 10 years since the last experience 
31. Advanced Jhana Classification 
Insight

32. Why perceiving experiences as experiences feels vastly better and so is positively globally transformative
33. Vipassana: what people want, and what they get out if it  
34. What is the most effective method of Vipassana?
35. I know of no higher or more profound teaching than the Six Sense Doors and the Three Characteristics
36. Stable, Continuous, Independent "I"
37. Self doesn't exist, never has and never could  
38. When observing objects, each has their downsides and benefits 
39. Access Concentration is really all you need for insight
40. Fast Noting, Slow Noting 
41. How to measure noting speed   
42. POI is a bit like training to be a sherpa climbing the Everest 
43. Sherpa training, whose trail is the dharma path
44. Jhana First Camps, Vipassana First Camps and Hybrids Approaches
45. Vipassana Jhanas and the Progress of Insight  
46. How the Vipassana Jhanas and the Seven Factors of Awakening can help
47. (⚡) On the Utility and Futility of the Maps
48. Map-Obsession: Hindrances in sheep's clothing
49. Overcalling and Misdiagnosing Experiences, A Shadow Side of the Maps 
50. An Unified theory of Meditation is not going to happen  
51. The Hierarchy of Vipassana Practice  

Arising & Passing Away

52. Arising and Passing Away 
53. Context 
54. Duration 
55. Intensity 
56. Energetic phenomena 
57. Time distortion 
58. 2nd Jhana 
59. Visuals 
60. Other Powers  
61. A&P and Out of Body Experiences
62. Sleep Effects 
63. Physical Effects 
64. Mood Effects 
65. Sexual Effects 
66. Unitive Experiences 
67. Feeling Enlightened 
68. Perceptual Thresholds 
69. Insights into Selflessness 
70. Cognitive Abilities 
71. Feeling Called Out and Seeking 
72. The Dark Night stages that follow the usually brief A&P 
74. The Standard Pattern (the A&P-DN-weak EQ loop) 
75. From an earlier essay on A&P: some personal experiences   

1st Path

76. List of symptoms for ñana diagnosis 
77. Vibrations and ñanas  

Early Ñanas to A&P

78. A&P and Bhanga
79. Vibrations and ñanas
80. A&P may be happening to vastly more people than anyone would have imagined
81. A&P Event
82. A&P, a standard dream pattern
Dukkha Ñanas

83. Dark Night, a general warning   
84. Dark Night, a classical diagnosis example
85. Regarding the (mistaken) notion that the Dark Night is a product of Noting/MCTB-style practice 
86. Dark Night in the Dharma Literature
87. Bypassing difficult insight stages with strong concentration
Equanimity

88. Transitioning from Re-Observation to Equanimity 
89. A&P vs Equanimity
90. Falling Back from Equanimity to A&P 
91. Equanimity, Investigation and Honesty  
92. Hands on water metaphor 
93. The trick in Equanimity  
94. Equanimity Trap
95. Counterbalancing my usual tone for those who have strong mindfulness, investigation and energy 
96. Formations, things are more flowy than vibratory in EQ  
97. Attention moves around on its own  

Stream Entry 

98. Stream Entry: a short, straight instruction 
99. Stream Entry: an alternative (complementary) instruction 
100. Path in a very ultra-simplified nutshell
101. (⚡) How long to achieve Stream-Entry on retreat  
102. Stream Entry: Daniel’s answer to an online survey
103. Stream Entry common mimics
104. Stream Entry and No-Self
105. (⚡) Misleading definitions of Stream Entry  
106. (⚡) On Stream Entry, unification of mind and the Seven Factors of Awakening  
107. Cycling is totally normal for everyone
108. Disclosing your enlightenment experience  

Fruitions

109. Unknowning Events
110. Fruitions, the real ones
111. Cessations/Fruitions is core Theravada doctrine and teaching
112. (⚡) It's very hard to experience the detailed phenomenology of the Three Doors as described in MCTB 
113. Fruition criteria, falling asleep, hypnogogia, theta states and other stuff
114. Fruitions vary, but the vast majority of experiences aren’t it
115. Fruitions duration: two hints 
116. Fruition duration: temporal reference points, EEG runs 
117. If you say that Fruition didn't change anything fundamentally about suffering, it is because you have attained something else 
118. Fruitions, stages, personal abilities and state shifts 
119. Fruitions and experiences on entheogens 
120. Fruitions are the same at all paths 
121. Nirodha Samapatti and Fruitions 
122. Fruition, Nirodha Samapatti and Animittam Cetosamadhi 
123. Full Nirodha and Nirodha Lite 
124. Getting repeat Fruitions 
125. Conformity knowledge is actually in many ways as or more important than the Fruitions 
126. Some advice for those who have recently achieved SE 
127. Things to work on during the Review phase, post Stream Entry 
2nd Path 

128. 2nd Path is a pretty straight shot 
129. What changed after 2nd Path  
130. DN after SE  
131. What is required to get a new path  

Comparing Different Traditions

132. Mixing the Actualism maps with any other maps is not helpful 
133. Is there a shortcut? 
134. Things I liked about Bill Hamilton  
135. Pros and Cons of goal-oriented and non goal-oriented traditions  
136. 
(⚡) Vajrayana and Theravadan perspectives can work nicely together, with some caveats though  
137. (⚡) For the vast majority of people, the teachings of the immediate, spontaneous realizers don't do it 
138. (⚡) Direct Pointing work for very few, without years of practice  
139. (⚡) Downsides and Benefits of a Number of Traditions: Daniel long response to Omega Point  

A Glossary for Middle & Higher Paths

140. Open Awareness   
141. Direct Awareness
142. Awareness of awareness
143. Natural State, Non-Dualistic State
144. PCE (Pure Consciousness Experience) 
145. Bhavanga
146. Rigpa
147. Luminosity
148. Non-conceptuality
149. Cittas
150. Javanas
151. Jhanas
152. Formless realms/jhanas
153. (⚡) Pure Land Jhanas (TM)
154. Custom/fusion jhanas
155. Vipassana Jhanas  

3rd Path

156. 3rd Path on the Maps
157. 3rd Path as sort of Dark Night 
158. Criteria for 3rd Path 
159. In 3rd Path, why not just ‘continue’ to ‘observe’ exactly what's going on ‘in the present moment’ and see the Three Characteristics? 
160. 3rd Path involves a few things  
161. What is meant by Direct Perception 
162. What Luminosity is 
163. Centerlessness experiences 
164. The ‘flavors of Emptiness’ debate 
165. What I mean by Emptiness 
166. Vajrayana, Theravada and Dream Walker’s simple map 
167. When it’s time for Vipassana, when it’s time for Dzogchen 
168. When having great Dzogchen/Rigpa experiences, try to see the same understanding and wisdom for things unwise, unblissful or disconnected 
169. The true essence of Dzogchen and Mahamudra is just paying ordinary attention to experience 
170. Toxic Evangelism, Hardcore Dharma and Relationships 
171. Non-Duality aligns with things that the Buddha taught 
172. True non-duality is not state-dependent 
173. Beware the seduction of the formless realms, longing for artificial relationships between the ultimate and relative 
174. Illusions I left behind, cycle after cycle 
175. Some gains, cycle after cycle 
176. Hold both views: the layer hypothesis and the true-wisdom-it-a-totally-different-thing hypothesis  
177. No Dog, Some Dog and The Simplest Thing  

4th Path

178. Nibbana is used a number of ways in the texts 
179. What I mean by 4th path  
180. Technical/MCTB 4th Path vs a more sophisticated discussion of the goals and promises of practice and what is possible, and how developments may occur in a non-parallel fashion sometimes 
181. The Isolation of Blowing It  
182. It is not right to ask 'What is liberated?'  
183. 4th Path and the Whole Thing 
184. Some perceptual benefits of Full Enlightenment
185. There are various modes of perception arising and vanishing, which may highlight various qualities over others, yet the divisionlessness of this full, rich, transient, direct, interdependent, causal field eliminates the subtle sense of some thing that is choosing modes
186. Being done… in only one axis of development 
187. The ‘I’ in Arhatship 
188. Why ‘Arahat’ despite suffering 
189. Arahats and pain 
190. Arahats and emotions 
191. Arhats and a modicum of disturbance and non-emptiness 
192. The ironic thing of being an Arhat   
193. On happiness 
194. Meditative accomplishment can make people attractive 
195. Conceit 
196. There are real saints in this world 
197. Pain and Dukkha 
198. Pain Threshold 
199. Illness and the limits of practice  
200. Mindfulness and 4th Path 
201. Is non-dual experience an illusion? 
202. Awakening is vastly better than the other ways of perceiving reality 
203. Phenomena pretending to be Awareness 
203.5 This is it    (new
204. About an Ultimate Reality  
205. By 'Ultimate' I mean the Three Characteristics 
206. An Ultimate Reality: an historical report on the evolution of my understanding on the subject 
207. Arahatship is not quite full awakening, Buddhahood is 
208. Post 4th Path Practices  

Actualism-Inspired Practices

209. Actual Freedom, a quick summary 
210. My Experiment in Actualism-Influenced Practice  
211. Trying to map AF/PCE to anything else is beyond not helpful 
212. AF emphasis as an opportunity to counterbalance some of the residual effects of a narrow practice 
213. (⚡) Chasing limited emotional range model dreams 
214. I did benefit from giving emotional patterns more bare investigative attention  
215. By not promising total emotional sanitization, people will hopefully practice with a model that is less about denial, suppression and imitating some imagined emotionally perfected state, and instead go for something that is much more about clarity, honesty and recognition of basic sensate truths  
216. Actualism-Inspired Practice Basic Instructions 
217. Trent's advice 
218. Daniel's notes 
219. The Attention Wave 
220. The Veil 
221. PCE mode and Cycling mode 
222. Ways to get into a PCE 
223. The Three Characteristics and PCE 
224. Questioning the PCE and the feeling of being 
225. (⚡) AF and Arahatship: a heated debate   

Magick

226. We do magick all the time  
227. How can you not practice magic? 
228. Magick 101 
229. A First Essay on Magick 
230. Strange Temporal Karma Magick 
230.5 Insight through Magick 
230.B Magick as something integral to experience 
231. Magick reproducibility 
232. Not all powers-related falling into the psychedelic category 
233. Astral triangles or the magickal implications of everything I do 
234. Siddhis in daily life  
235. Things could be vastly different than the way we were brought up to believe
236. Much more interesting than the question of ‘what is real’ is the question of ‘what is causal’  
237. How we relate to things that seem to be powers and what we do with them 
238. Powers are fascinating and fun, but are not without cost  
239. On Manipulation and Ethics 
240. Dealing with ghosts and spirits 
241. What to do when facing demons  
242. How to have visions  
243. OBEs are quite different from Lucid Dreams  
244. Astral Projection  
245. Strong concentration on candle flame: the most wild, crazy, repeatable, seriously stuff I ever got into  
246. The true rationalists here are who again?  
247. Much can be learned about mainstream science  
248. Scientific Materialism is a fascinating set of contradictions 
249. Current Physics is going to be like the illusion of Duality 
250. My Dream of a New Scientific Journal 
251. The way we think about reality happens on a spectrum of paradigms and modes of perception 
252. Fear of Death 
253. Rebirth 
254. (⚡) My past life experiences 
Physical & Mental Health

255. Deep vein thrombosis risk would seem possible, but never heard of a single case yet 
256. Heartbeat as an object, not recommended 
257. Use of Earplugs 
258. Jhanas may have some psychological addiction component 
259. Meditation and Psychotherapy: have both options and learn when to apply them 
260. Vipassana’s shadow side 
261. Depersonalization, Dissociation and Derealization 
262. Bipolar Disorder and the Cycles of Insight 
263. Some ways to relieve suffering 
264. Tell Me What You Say Yes to, and I’ll Tell You Who You Are 
265. Bliss-iconize your own list of traumatic life events 
266. Psychiatric Medications and Insight  
267. The Icarus Project 
268. Clinical Mindfulness and Hardcore Dharma  

Psychedelics & Entheogens

269. Smoking pot and meditative concentration  
270. Psychedelics and Meditation Progress  
271. Psychedelics are complicated 
272. Entheogenic Experiences and the need of flexible maps  

Energy Issues

273. Energy Imbalance 
274. How to move down unpleasant energy flow 
275. Pineal Gland  

Teachers & Retreats

276. (⚡)  Immortality Spells and Vanity Projects, the source of my disappointment regarding how Dharma is taught  
277. Teachers: on monetary compensation, enlightenment credentials and teaching ability  
278. Charging fees to teach
279. Retreat in Asia vs in the West 
280. How traditional retreats are 
281. 
(⚡) On eastern monks 
282. Teachers/Retreats with similar style to D. Ingram's teaching 
283. Christopher Titmuss 
284. A dialogue between Titmuss and a student 
285. 
(⚡) IMS's not-talk-about-it culture inspired MCTB 
286. Mahasi tradition and noting 'authenticity' 
287. Shinzen Young might be looked at as a secularized and simplified Mahasi, but Mahasi was already pretty secularized and simplified 
288. 
(⚡) Goenka Centers are a mixed bag 
289. (⚡) What’s wrong with Goenka’s tradition 
290. (⚡) Mental-health problems in Goenka’s ten days  retreat 
291. Body repair after a retreat 
292. Meditation goes wrong for some: 7 ironies 
293. On the alleged arrogance and dismissal of people's inhability to follow simple instructions on retreat 
294. 
(⚡) Teachers & Claims 
295. (⚡) Teachers overdiagnosing early, beneficial, positive insights as being much more than they are 
296. List of conditions you should consider when trying to diagnose something   

MCTB & Morality

297. (⚡) Putting "The Arahat" in MCTB2's cover 
298. Overcoming attraction and aversion though insight  
299. (⚡) Delusional ideals, MCTB and the MMA analogy  
300. (⚡) Mindful Magazine  
301. MCTB and cycles: I still cycle, but it's really different from how it was before
302. (⚡) Sutta Heads
303. Abandoning Conventional Wisdom
304. MCTB2 and Morality  
305. On Morality: three interrrelated debates
306. Morality Practices  
307. Ascetic vs Hedonistic approach  
308. Killing
309. Leaving your kids
310. Dharma and romantic relationships
311. Volunteering at homeless shelters is not necessary to get enlightened, but it is an interesting thing to do  
312. My 8-year trial of Vegetarism: Health, Dharma and Karma   

DharmaOverground Community

313. My vision of DhO (circa 2010)
314. Dharma Underground, the prequel  
315. The First Great DhO Schism 
316. (⚡) The Governance of the DhO, or Anarchy vs Monarchy 
317. (⚡) Assessing attainments, peer-reviews and cross-fires  
318. (⚡) Where did Vince, Hokai and Kenneth go? 
319. Dharma Overground, 10 years later 
320. What have we been doing here since day one 
321. Midwestern construction workers and the dharma 
322. What we are doing in DhO is basically what they did back in the early Buddhist Sangha   
323. Mushroom-Culture and Pragmatic Dharma: both true, both imperfect  
324. Traditions predominance in DhO  
325. A few things that most of us would agree on 
326. How to keep reasonably high standards in DhO 
327. A call for a discussion of a much more nuanced, rich, complex, precise set of terms and phrases to help describe this amazing work we are engaged in  
328. Morality and Pragmatic Dharma 
329. The Critiques of Pragmatic Dharma 
330. Debates and monitoring in DhO 
331. Debates on how to enhance DhO 
332. Transactional analysis and DhO 
333. DhO gender imbalance 
334. Types of DhO'ers 
335. Having a partner in the path 
336. Hurricane Ranch Dialogue I: Daniel Ingram, Hokai Sobol, Kenneth Folk, Tarin Greco, Vince Horn 
337. Hurricane Ranch Dialogue II: Daniel Ingram & Tarin Greco  

Phenomenology

338. Key Milestones 
339. Daniel's Practice Log
340. Some A&P phenomenology (DhOers)  
341. My worst DN  
342. Three interesting shifts post 2003 (Attainments Survey) 
343. What I see behind the eyelids  
344. Nimitta sizes  
345. Some energy stuff 
346. Crazy-ass experiences 
347. Tantra Deities 
348. Formless-Light Vipassana Jhanas 
349. Choosing different working assumptions for Morality, Concentration and Insight
350. Causality  
351. Temporary speech problems 


Concentration

Vipassana 'vs' Samatha. There are people who are naturally more samatha-esque and more vipassana-esque, more concentration vs insight, as their baseline way of being and thinking about things.

If samatha people start with samatha, they generally do better, as it makes sense to them, they have more initial successes (jhanas), and so they develop good mental skills: concentration, peace, faith, etc.

If vipassana people start with vipassana, they generally do better, as it makes sense to them, they have more initial successes (ñanas), and so they develop good mental skills and insights.

The converse is also true: if you try to force people who are samatha people into insight, they find it harsh, unmovitating, counter to their natural inclinications, and often don't do as well.

Same for vipassana people, who initially may fail at achieving pleasant states and so be frustrated.

I personally have strong natural vipassana tendencies. I tried jhana practices at points early on and was really bad at them, but I could naturally schred reality into little flickering blips. Had I started in samatha, I think I would likely have failed. The path of insight was harsh, edgy, dysphoric most of the time, but I could do it, and luckily I have a natural tolerance for pain, so that part wasn't as bad for me as for some. Interestingly enough, after getting stream entry on my fourth retreat, I suddenly had 8 very well-developed and awesome jhanas with great ease, being able to rise through them just by gently inclining the mind that way.

However, my story is definitely not universally applicable. Some people do much better if they try jhana initially and will suck at vipassana. This is actually pretty common. They have the benefit of a much easier ride, but that easy ride is also potentially sticky, as it is much more tempting to jump into the now well-worn groove of jhana than see the true nature of phenomena, which is often unpleasant, suffering and instability being the natural characteristics of phenomena. Thus, they may fail to get insights if they can't be coaxed out of the sense of stable positive jhanic factors, as those are so attractive.

It is true that, if you can get samatha-first people to get into really strong jhana and then add in a moderate component of vipassana, they can do cool things like nearly totally bypass the harshness of the Dark Night, as they can do it in realms of light, sacred geometry, archetypical landscapes, and the like. I learned those skills much later on, as that was not my natural tendency, nor do I believe I could even have done it had I started that way.

Further, some vipassana people won't be able to have enough emotional stability to handle the Dark Night well, and, if you can't get them to add in some samatha to ease that transition, they will flounder.

So, as you can see, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Generally, people who teach and write tend to advocate for what worked for them, as it is hard not to see the world through that lens, and thus traditions and schools of philosophy and practice are born. 

In truth, nobody can stick totally to one side of the samatha-vipassana axis, as there is always a bit of the other in there somehow, and more commonly people will oscillate between them, albeit with a general tendency towards one side or the other depending on their practice and their intrinsic wiring.

I personally think that people who master both do much better and would strongly advocate for people learning both at some point, but initially I think that people should lead through strength (a bridge concept, also found in the card game spades), meaning initially do something that they are more likely to do well at, as they are much more likely to develop that faith that comes from success and to persevere. (DhO)

Vipassana or Samatha: it doesn’t matter which objects are used but what is cultivated. In very simple terms, any technique that involves noticing the Three Characteristics of impermanence, suffering and not-self is vipassana. Any technique that emphasizes specific mental qualities, suppression of the hindrances, stillness, tranquility, bliss, equanimity, formlessness, as well as specific sensate experiences, such as visualizations or mantras or powers or whatever, etc. is samatha.

It is not a question of which objects are used, but what one does with those objects and what is cultivated. For example, if you took the breath to be a smooth, beautiful, tranquilizing object that you devoted all your attention to in order to attain jhanic states (blissful, rapturous, peaceful, etc.), that is samatha.

If you instead noticed every single rapid sensation that made up the breath arise and vanish as well as tuned into any subtle dualities, sense of control vs naturalness, suffering, tension, etc. around the way the breath was perceived, as well as the rapid oscillation of those transient sensations with many other sensations, mental impressions, the sensations that make up investigation and effort, and all of that with a high degree of precision that cared not a bit whether or not that produced bliss or tranquility, that is vipassana.

There are techniques that contain a mix of those elements, and those are typically called samatha-vipassana, or shamatha-vipashyana if you want to get all Tibetan about it, and it becomes a matter of the degree of the incorporation of those elements and how skillfully both can be cultivated simultaneously.

So, in Goenka-ji's school, they use the breath for samatha, generating concentration, and they use body scanning as the object when doing vipassana.

You can actually use nearly any object for samatha and can definitely use any object for vipassana. Some samatha objects will limit how deep you can go into jhana. No object limits the depths to which you can go in vipassana, as all sensations equally demonstrate the true nature of all phenomena, that being the Three Characteristics.

… The list of objects that limit samatha jhanas are found on pages 375-376 of this text and other places. Also see Path to Deliverance page 75 or so and some other pages.   (DhO

You can't do insight practices if you can't concentrate. TMI is good stuff. I really appreciate Culadasa's meticulous approach. It is true that he is cultivating a mix of concentration and insight, but so do all insight practices, as you can't do insight practices if you can't concentrate.

There is concentration where you do try to just cultivate positive factors of mind and to focus exclusively on one object without investigating the Three Characteristics of the sensation that make it up: this would be "pure samatha" practice.

There is insight practice where you investigate whatever arises moment after moment without any focus or agenda for what attention does so long as it notices the Three Characteristics of whatever arises.

Then there are most meditation practices, those that have some focus, such as the breath, which means they have a bit of the samatha perspective, but they also encourage noticing other sensations as they arise and to notice things come and go, which are vipassana elements, and so we find that most practices have a mix of elements.

Still, to do even "pure vipassana", in which one's sole concern is the Three Characteristics of sensations without any other agenda, it still requires what is called "momentary concentration", that ability to notice the arising and vanishing of sensation after sensation after sensation without interruption, and that sort of concentration will often cause the arising of jhanic factors and exclude things like being lost in thought.

Still, to do even "pure samatha" in which one's sole concern is to keep the mind on an object and to cultivate positive jhanic factors, past a certain point any real keeping the mind on an object honestly will result in noticing the true nature of the sensations that make up that object, as they do come and go.

Imagine a plane, one axis of which is concentration and one axis of which is insight. It is nearly impossible to stay entirely to one side of the plane and not venture out into the middle where concentration and insight are blended to some degree, though some techniques and traditions definitely attempt to have more of one emphasis or the other, while some try to do both well simultaneously. (DhO)

Concentration is not necessarily enough to get jhana. Concentration is not necessarily enough to get jhana. You must incline to jhana, incline to bliss, incline to silence, incline to rapture, incline to stuff that feels good, and resolutions for those things to arise helps, and taking any little bit of them as object and building it up to more than it started out being also helps. (DhO)

Jhanas in daily life. The range of the spectrum of jhana is wide. So many ways to develop them, aspects to make stronger or emphasize over others, ways to think of them, and a vast range of experiences within that vast landscape covered by the word jhana.

Definitions vary, and criteria for jhana are a hot-button political issue, but practically, any shift into non-ordinary meditative attention is going to have some jhanic elements to it, and it is just a question of how deep, how long, how steady, how clear, with what aspects emphasized, and the like, and that is a huge grey area of axes of development.

So, it is definitely possible to be walking around in states that have jhanic qualities, regardless of whether or not they meet some arbitrary definition of jhana, and it is very much possible to learn to shift into them very rapidly and sometimes very strongly with practice in daily life.

People seem to vary in terms of how much they are talented in this regard, but regardless of your inherent ability or proclivities, good training and repetition and hard work generally pays off for most, and so if you learn jhana, say, on retreat well, with repetition and resolutions and continued practice, many can get so they can replicate at least some version of those in daily life.

In my jhana-obsessed days (think late 90's to early 2000's), I got to the point that I could power-shift through the jhanas from 1-8 in about 10-15 minutes with a pretty high degree of depth and could even skip up to higher ones in a slightly lighter version without any setup at all just by closing my eyes and calling out the number in my mind and, with some energetic odd shudder, the whole system would shift into that way of perceiving things within few seconds. I hadn't practiced that way in quite a while, but some months ago when I wanted to see if I could still do that, within a few days of re-energizing those pathways there it all was again. Anyway, the take home point is that if you want them, go out and get them, and if you want them to be available in daily life, really give them attention and work that groove deep and you will find that they get much easier and are much closer to the surface, just like anything we really practice well.

The cycles of practice can interfere with jhanic ability sometimes, so if you are heavily into the Dark Night or some early new progress cycle, they might be farther away or not as clean, but come a Review cycle and they may be right back again... (DhO)

Kasina is easier than breath. For most people, kasinas strengthen concentration more easily than the breath, not that the breath isn't a great object, as it is, but for some different reasons. Might check out www.firekasina.org  (DhO)

Kasina, some tips on how to practice. If you are looking for bliss, kasinas may or may not easily produce that initially: some will just get the visuals and not necessarily the bodily feelings, as the attention is on the colors and not the body, so if your attention is strong, you may not even really notice the body at all, just FYI.

As to how to start: start with a smaller disk if you are having the problem of where to look. Illuminate it brightly against a wide, dark (such as black) background. I still prefer candles (or oil lamps, which is actually what I generally use, as the glass cover of a good oil lamp keeps the flame steady, and if you are doing long sessions you can go through a lot of candles and I think it is easier to just buy more oil and refill the lamp).

Really focus on it with your eyes for a minute or two, then close them, see the after image, and convert that to the kasina object: it should become more and more "purified", meaning clearer, cleaner, and brighter. Stay with that as long as it is there to stay with regardless of what it does. When it is finally gone (assuming it goes away: at some point you will get good and it will get larger), open your eyes, and repeat. How long this cycle might take will vary depending on you and your practice. It might take a few minutes, it might take 10 minutes, or, if you really get the thing to glow and stabilize, you might be able to stay in one cycle of the practice for a long time, like the whole sit.

Don't pay attention to every little part, just focus on the color itself as it is and make it brighter if you can by gently inclining to expand it, realizing that there is a slight delay from intention to expand and the expansion, and that expanding it can take time to learn how to do, so just repeat again and again and again. Concentration practices really benefit from high dose over short periods of time, so many hours/day in the beginning really helps.

When doing that sort of practice, my preference is for the following:

Don't use a clock. Find a very comfortable sitting position where your back is erect and your knees and back are ok: use whatever position or bench or cushion or chair you need to be able to go for long periods. Go until you feel somewhat fried. Get up and do walking practice with really solid concentration on your visuals as you walk for a few minutes just until you can go back to sitting. Go back to sitting and repeat the staring, closing eyes, finding the afterimage, expanding and following the afterimage, etc.

Also, stick with one color initially. When you have done a lot of this practice in a short span of time (like, say, 16 hours/day for a week, or perhaps more or less, depending on you), you may begin to see the color everywhere, even when not doing the practice. For instance, if you were using red, after a while it might be as if you are wearing rose-colored glasses: this is a good sign of progress. When walking between sits really notice that redness. When laying down to sleep, notice the red color on the back of your eyelids. Every waking moment, see the redness somehow, somewhere, if you possibly can. That sort of commitment to the object will produce much more profound results.

Concentration like that, where the object pervades everything and is very strong, tends to really fade very rapidly once you stop. I remember on one retreat where I was able to do remarkable things once my concentration got strong, and within a day of stopping about 90% of the power had vanished. 

... about looking at the afterimage with ones physical eyes: initially it really seems we are looking at the internal afterimage and then the more purified colors with our physical eyes, and lots of facial straining and eye and face muscle constriction and the like is common, but as practice goes on, we forget about all of that, realizing that looking at the internal image has nothing to do with the eye muscles and the face and focusing in that physical way, as the focusing is mental and so the face and eyes are forgotten and the image and the mental way of focusing on that comes to the fore. (DhO)

Fire Kasina. Duncan B., Florian Weps, and myself went on about a two week retreat dedicated to the candle-flame kasina and the powers. Tommy M joined us for two days of it towards the late middle part. It was a screaming good time, great practice, great setting (we rented a medieval tower in Scotland called the Tower of Hallbar), great conversations about practice, and great food, as everyone there could cook.

We have started a website that we will populate with the material that comes out of that: www.firekasina.org and hopefully people will find things to inspire them to practice this and related techniques there, as they reveal lots of interesting things. It should also be noted that the contrast between what happened there to some of the various interests and threads here was a bit striking on returning to learn about what had been going on.

The visual kasinas have many benefits, some of which were noted by Florian above (in the DhO thread). I would add that the visuals add a great appreciation for things about the jhanas, as their widths of attention, their phase aspects, their frequency predispositions, and the like are greatly clarified when you can see it before you like a diagram. It similarly vastly increases the ability to phenomenologize well.

As Duncan said, he could now see clearly all of the stuff about frequencies and the patterns of attention in the jhanas that he had previously wondered how in the world I could know. Things about the Three Doors similarly became much clearer to those there.

When playing around with kasinas in high dose, one learns a ton about attention, about its regulation and control, about what it does, how it interacts with phenomena, and how this varies in various phases of practice. It is knowledge that is hard to gain in that same clearly defined way elsewhere.

They also help develop strengths of concentration that objects like the breath often don't, as the visuals give such immediate feedback on how concentration is doing in that second, sort of like what they are trying to do with million-dollar fMRIs and $80,000 EEGs but costing about a dollar for a candle or free by just using the LED on the camera of your phone or a video of a candle on your computer screen (thought it doesn't get quite the same retinal burn to produce a good learning sign.)

We actually used 30x300mm German church altar candles that burned very well and cleanly, and, if you do this, I recommend similarly good candles, as they make a difference in not having to deal with their maintenance, dripping, guttering, and the like. 30mm (1.25in) is a nice width for this, neither causing the flame to crater into a valley with tall waxy sides nor dripping due to overflowing the insufficient edges.

High-dose kasinas often produce siddis (powers), and siddis teach you lots of things about yourself and the experiential world and are just darn interesting. Plenty of people watch fantasy movies and yet few say, "Why would anyone watch fantasy movies?", and yet you somehow have to explain the fun it is to play with siddis to people: very odd, that.

One also gets to experience many strange ways of seeing things. Example: there is a stage up in the sequence where the visuals exhibit what we began to call pseudo-paralax, meaning that the distant parts stay relatively anchored when you move your head side to side, as if they were fixed things in the room, but the closer parts move with your head in a way that is graded by the closeness to you, such that you get this really strange thing that is like paralax but not quite the same as typical visuals.

There can also be this marked appreciation of color in all its rich shades and variants that applies not only to the images produced during the practice but also after you open your eyes, such that the colors of the ordinary world seem enhanced and the nuanced depths of shade and tone one can suddenly perceive are much more than they were before. This effect fades, but I can still feel something of that lingering a few days after I stopped and I really like it. It enhances the joy of simply seeing things.

The jhanas also have their own rewards: the deep restful states, the bliss, the rapture, the peace and the like are skillful, healing, very deeply enjoyable, and also allow one to enter into territory regarding one's stuff that is hard do to in less refined states. Just as one notices that one may have markedly reduced or totally absent physical pain from sitting while in jhana, which often contrasts sharply to the pain from sitting just minutes before the jhana set in, just so emotional issues perceived in jhana are much easier to handle. It is like getting a free pass to see what one is feeling and thinking about old wounds and current issues while not having so much pain around them, like becoming a much more objective and yet attentive party to them, and this allows degrees of clarity and wisdom to arise that it is much harder to find in non-jhanic states.

… Red dot initially is first jhana. When it gets the rapidly spinning gold inner parts that change with the phase of the breath, that is 2nd jhana. When you get the black/dark larger area and the complex somewhat 3D lines around it, that is 3rd jhana. When you get to the very nicely 3D images doing their own thing filling the visual field and perhaps the whole experience field, that is 4th jhana. There are other fine points and pathways, but that is the basics.

… The sense of mastery that one acquires as one progresses deeper and deeper into the sequences of presenting stages and visuals with more competence and skill as the practice progresses is very rewarding. You can clearly see the fruits of your labors exactly as the various phases become more clear and more accessible and you learn how to progress to the next phase of the visuals. It is hard to get that same sense of clear progress using other non-visual objects. In that same way, as the stages are so clear, one gets immediate feedback on one's attentional experiments in how to progress, and that greatly increases the meta-skill of how to figure out how to improve attention in deeper and deeper states, which is of such value to the competent meditator. There are probably more benefits, but that is a good start.
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How much time we stared at the flame totally varied. Initially, most of us looked at it fairly often. In general, we would look at the flame for a minute or two, get the retinal burn, close our eyes, see the red dot, it would get the spinning yellow stuff, then it would fade, move off to the side, and finally vanish, and we would open our eyes and do it again a few minutes later. Thus, we were looking it maybe 10-30% of the time with rapid cycles.

However, fairly rapidly, we began to push farther out into the murk, that which happens when the black/dark area appears around the place where the red dot was with the vague colors and complex but faint patterns. This takes time, and exactly when to stop is hard to determine. So, within a day or so, I am estimating, our ratio of open to closed eyes shifted farther to closed eyes, and our cycles got longer.

This is something you have to determine for yourself when you are doing it. I have no perfect answers. So long as you are paying really good attention to the visuals, more candle time with more rapid cycles is ok, but eventually you need to get good at going out past the red dot into the wider, more complex murk, as out past that murk is the high-def 3D stuff, traveling, the molten gold, the photo-realistic images, and all of that.
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I taught Fire Kasina to a class of beginning to intermediate meditators (one of which had crossed the A&P a few times and hit Equanimity a few times but not gotten Stream Entry yet) and everyone could get the red dot, many could get the spinning stuff in it, and the one person who had crossed the A&P and gotten to Equanimity a few times got a blue goddess who was seeming alive and intelligent and looking right at her after doing this for less than an hour the first time she did it … There is wide range of natural talent. Most people get more effects than they think they will.
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Depths of absorption vary widely, and a huge range is possible.

You will notice, as it says in the texts, that the red dot responses well to applied and sustained concentration, and, while those are in place and the red dot is glowing, the mind is relatively free of adverse negative mind states and distractions.

You will also notice the fact that the problem with the first jhana, particularly when not well-developed, is that it can rapidly revert to a pre-jhanic state.

On this retreat we constantly were dealing with the temptation, as jhana gets stronger, to leave off the visuals and attend to the more bodily effects of jhana, which are pleasureable, sometimes extremely so, which makes the temptation stronger. That said, strong focus on the visuals alone can produce deeply concentrated and profound states that nearly or totally lack the standard bodily components, as the mind is so focused on the visuals and not on the body.

You might notice that if you progress and can find a stable balance of dividing your attention between the red dot and the body that more physical jhanic things occur. This also takes a greater strength of practice, as divided attention is more complex to sustain, and it doesn't quite provide the nice, clear feedback that the visuals do in quite the same way.

Further, the first jhana is a huge thing, really, as are the others, and there are many focuses, emphases, variants and things you can develop all while being in it, as with the other jhanas.
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Fire is an intrinsically fascinating and natural object of concentration.

As to toxicity: I think I am the only one that noticed this. I am not sure why it happened and am merely reporting.

As to elemental imbalances: we did start bringing in water and earth later on during the retreat to try to balance things out and I think that helped on the retreat.

… I am at the moment going for a more balanced elemental approach, adding in more water, more earth, more air, more space. What that means practically is pretty hard to explain. Since that retreat, I have had a definitely increased appreciation of all of the traditional four/five elements in a way that I didn't before, both somatically/sensorily, as well as archetypically. For most of my Buddhist and Magickal practice, I didn't have that well-developed an appreciation of those elements, so this retreat, which was explicitly elemental, definitely helped. (DhO)

Mantras in Fire Kasina. Mantras are traditional in the commentarial versions of the kasinas. For the fire kasina, the Visuddhimagga, page 164, chapter V, section 7 says: He should not review the colour as blue or yellow, etc, or give attention to its characteristics as heat, etc., but taking the colour as belonging to its physical support, and setting his mind on the name concept as the most outstanding mental datum, and using any among the names for fire (tejo) such as "the Bright One" (pavaka), "the Leaver of the Black Trail" (kanhavattani, "the Knower of Creatures" (jataveda), "the Altar of Sacrifice" (hutasana), etc., he should develop [the kasina] using the obvious "fire, fire".

While a clunky bit of prose, I took it to mean that you can use basically any mantra you somehow associate with fire, though I have used one that has no obvious association with fire and it still worked fine. Really, there is something to be said for just using a mantra, as, for magick, having both auditory and visual components makes those things that arise seem and feel more real and powerful, and it also helps engage more parts of the brain which, left unengaged, are more likely to cause trouble.

As to face tension, it is stage dependent and drops at higher stages of practice, and the more attention you give to the colors and the more you ignore the tension, the better you are likely to do. Might back off the effort just a bit and relax a bit. Give yourself a nice big three oms if you find yourself getting too tense, long, rolling, beautiful oms, and then go back to the practice, and see if that helps. (DhO

Fire Kasina: tension in the eyes and head. Tension in the head and eyes is normal in certain stages and passes. You need to get used to letting the kasina show itself once you close your eyes and track a bit less tightly. Also, focusing a bit more broadly, like taking in some of the background to the kasina in your sense of directed attention, can help the eye tension.

Also, more drifting can help, in which you stare at the light, close your eyes, follow the kasina images until they vanish, then just let the meditation run a moderate while longer, with gentle attention to the disorganized colors with very light intention to have them increase and organize just a little bit: this can help lessen the eye tension, as the less organized colors occur across the whole visual field, which requires a diffuse and non-tense focus. (DhO

Shannon's 25-day Fire Kasina Retreat Audio Diaries. Shannon completed a 25-day solo fire kasina retreat last Fall with a bit of feedback from Florian and myself. Her audio diaries of her practice are extraordinary in many ways and are highly recommended for anyone interested in kasina practice, jhanas, visualization practice, using refined visual objects for insight practices, magick, out of body traveling, and lots of other related topics. Actually, one of the most uncanny things about her practice was the degree of psychological balance, poise and maturity in relating to these practices, as will become very aparent as you listen to her reports. It really helps to have that well-developed a foundation for doing this kind of work. May her fine work inspire many to wise and deep practice. (DhO

The Mind Illuminated. What is taught in the book is how to understand, control, tame, direct, harness and cultivate attention, concentration and insight. It is an exceedingly meticulous yet very accessible and straightforward guide to getting the mind to stay on target and to see clearly thereby. The book is at once very traditional, being grounded in an old map and tradition, and yet very contemporary, being practical, at times scientific, and at all times helpful. There is nothing quite as detailed and thorough out there that I have seen to date.

He is sort of like Shinzen Young in ways, in his emphasis on being contemporary and non-sectarian, but he is yet a bit more traditional and vastly more thorough, sort of like the way the best 50's college-level electronics and practical chemistry textbooks are: they just get to the point clearly and keep doing that.

He doesn't wander or stray at all. He is not political. He has no apparent axes to grind. You will notice little of the personality of the author beyond his consistent clarity and desire to explain the exact mechanics and methods of what is the topic. The illustrations and diagrams are very helpful. I really think that the fundamental skills, terms, concepts and frameworks taught cut across meditative traditions, staying grounded in How To rather than some sectarian something. His blend of contemporary and traditional elements is fluid and easy, and never seems in tension but instead comes across as symbiotic and harmonious, reinforcing rather than contradictory.

Again, a remarkable work by a remarkable guy. I was lucky enough to meet him at the recent Dharma Teacher's convention in New York this June, and the maturity, depths and stability of his practice was clear. (DhO)

TMI time commitment. TMI stuff is great, thorough, meticulous, and likely just requires more time and perhaps more concentrated time to do its good work, and by concentrated time, I mean like 5-15 hours per day of practice, as that really ups the effect of any practice.

Yeah … I actually mean 5-15 hours per day. While there are a few unusual people who on relatively low doses of practice can get their concentration strong enough to get up to Culasada's described higher states in daily life, for most it will take retreats and/or much higher daily life doses of practice. 

I know TMI, and actually reviewed and endorsed the book, as you might notice if you go to the web page for the book, and really appreciate the book. It is brilliant, technical, thorough, and excellent. 

That said, it sort of depends on your standards for concentration and what you are trying to do. While progress on lower doses is definitely possible, and some have more talent than others, for most people to get what I think of as really good concentration takes higher doses, hence the recommendation. Plenty of people will never cross certain thresholds and figure out how to get to certain levels of practice without retreats, and those tend to involve the sorts of doses I mention. (DhO)

TMI Mind Map. During September of 2018, I was the resident teacher with Culadasa at his meditation center Dharma Treasure in Cochise Stronghold, and there I made a large mind map using iThoughts of the TMI system.

To create this, I combed page by page through the book TMI (this being the third time I had gone through it, the first being when Culadasa sent me a pre-publication copy to review and write a blurb about, the second being listening to the audiobook on the drive out across the country before going to teach there), as well as page by page through his shorter practice guide, as well as a shorter handout available on the website about the TMI stages of practice.

This mind map makes no comments on the system at all, but simply presents it as it is in summary form. I have plenty to say about the system, its pros and cons, its relationship to other systems, and the like, but this mind map has none of that. It also doesn't detail the Interlude sections of TMI as such, which are useful for understanding the TMI system, so you should refer to Culadasa's original works for that information.

Culadasa saw this mind map in early drafts and in its final form, but he curiously declined to make any specific comments on it, so his opinions on it are unknown to me. So, take it for what it is and nothing more. I present it in the spirit of Fair Use of one who was studying the TMI system and thought that my notes on it in mind map format might help others somehow.

All that said, here's the link to the TMI Mind Map pageAs to subminds, no I don't have any problem with his subminds ideas at all. That is a misunderstanding. It is an older idea, one Bill Hamilton talked about a lot, though he called them "attention centers", but the functional concept was the same. As stated in another thread, I talk about this in my own way when I discuss the vipassana jhanas, particularly the fourth, which puts together the various functions of attention into one complete whole when it finally converges in Conformity Knowledge, insight stage 12. You can see MCTB, particularly the second edition, for more on that topic. My issues with TMI are many and complex, but subminds isn't one of them.

… As TMI puts both jhana and insight criteria all together into one linear map, and lacks the concept of the vipassana jhanas that help bridge that gap, it is like trying to compress a complex, multidimensional space into an idealized line, a line of relative safety through that complex territory that is considered optimal by the author, yet is not one that everyone sticks to in practice. Clearly, the problems are numerous, and it makes nuanced discussions that discuss the wide range of the actual meditative terrain we find in real living practitioners difficult if we are limited to those ten numbered stages.

Imagine that one had a map of Florida that only showed the interstates. While one could do a lot of driving and get around on those interstates, it still would be limited if one wanted to get off the main roads or if one somehow found oneself off of the interstate. The TMI map is like this.

I like interstate driving myself most of the time, as it is often fast and easy, but not everyone who practices can stay in those narrow safe zones of practice as idealized in TMI.

Yes, I appreciate the attempt and ideal, which is an ancient one, to construct the perfect blending of samatha and vipassana elements that eliminates all difficulties and provides all benefits. It is a great dream, but it is only that in practice. In reality, lots of complexities unfold in our practice, and few will stay perfectly on the straight and narrow. It is interesting that, if one has as teacher who has stayed on the straight and narrow, it is possible that they might not be able to appreciate the degree to which some wander off of their idealized path through the territory. Some have mentioned that TMI might have this particular shadow side, an inability to deal with the fact that its system, while skillful, it not always the perfect antidote it bills itself as when tested in the real world.

… IMHO, the gap where the DN lives is between stages 8 or 9 and 10. Dissolution maps well to TMI 9. Equanimity maps well to TMI 10. Yes, I am aware that to be in those officially by all TMI criteria one needs pretty strong samatha also, and here is the obvious discrepancy.

However, for the sake of this discussion, it is between TMI 9 and 10 that the real gap occurs.

In TMI 9 we gain Tranquility, so it has this third vipassana jhana element to it. In TMI 10 there is broad Equanimity, to there is this fourth vipassana jhana element to it. However, where someone will fall on the great samatha/vipassana plane (it is much more complex than two dimensions, but bear with me), will vary by the practitioner and technique.

TMI attempts to keep things far to the samatha side and then blend in vipassana when samatha is well-established. Again, it is a reasonable strategy that some will be able to pull off. However, plenty, having crossed the A&P, will then not handle the next phase well. While I can appreciate that, by building in some early emphasis on peripheral awareness and tranquility, one will hopefully be better able to handle the shift that comes with the third vipassana jhana to wide and out of phase, not everyone will do this well regardless of the technique they use.

If Dissolution hits hard after the A&P, many will suddenly find that, having had TMI Stage 6, 7, or even periods of stage 8 concentration abilities, suddenly are distracted, having a hard time, posture is not as good, pain is back, mind is wandering, sharpness is gone, things are fading and falling away, and then, following along with the TMI plan, will regress to trying some strategies from much earlier stages, such as TMI 2 or 3. This can be very disheartening, and TMI provides no normalization of the fact that for at least 2300 years this particular transition has been expected and well-documented. However, those recommendations, while not terrible advice in Dissolution, are lacking that normalization as well as appreciation of what Dissolution and the rest of the third vipassana jhana have to offer and teach. I get a reasonable number of emails about this problem, and have discussed it with numerous practitioners who are in Culadasa’s Teacher Training Program, as the problem is real and noticed by them also.

We also have a terminological problem, as Culadasa, like Shinzen Young, reserves the term “Dark Night” for the extreme end of the Dukkha Ñanas, whereas I, borrowing from the likes of Jack Kornfield, do not, and use it as a synonym for those stages, however mildly or strongly they present. This has caused a lot of complexity.

The rebranding of the Dukkha Ñanas when they hit in medium to mild form as “purifications” is a linguistic dodge for the problem that everyone that I have ever seen practice goes through some form of the Dukkha Ñanas after the A&P, though they are often mild and not that problematic. I watched everyone practicing TMI go through them that I spoke with at Dharma Treasure, but, as they were not extreme, Culadasa said they were not the Dukkha Ñanas, as he is firm in his belief that he has found the perfect solution to the problem of how to get across that territory without any issues, so he conveniently ignores them when they are not very strong, or simply describes them as “dispassion”, which, while one skillful aspect of them, is only one aspect.

… Again, because we have a strictly linear model in TMI, it does appear that ‘purifications’ don’t happen at any clear stage in some ways, particularly as plenty of people will have the expected difficult experiences when they go up through the stage of the Three Characteristics (typically happening somewhere around TMI 3-5), as well as have difficult experiences that happen when one falls back TMI-wise after the A&P (but is still making progress from a POI point of view), so, yes, clearly they don’t track perfectly.

… How strong Equanimity will be and its resemblance to TMI stage 10 will vary by the strength of the practitioner. However, from a POI point of view, the point is not to reproduce or repeat it, the point of Equanimity is to rapidly get Stream Entry, as that it the point of Equanimity, and then, having access to Review, one then has all the insight stages and vipassana jhanas to access, and, after mastery of Review, to access as one wishes. So, that critique is sort of missing the point.

… Clearly some degree of samatha is necessary for insight, a concept that the vipassana jhanas helps with nicely. It allows the maps to have that dimensionality to them. Might see this video for more on this: https://vimeo.com/69475208  [Regarding that ‘samatha stages don’t imply progressing in POI by default’, well] that’s an extremely complex topic. While it is true that some will be able to stay far to the samatha side of things without gaining insight, it is tricky. For example, when I go on fire kasina retreats, where the emphasis is entirely on samatha, people still move through he stages of insight anyway, despite there being no emphasis on the Three Characteristics specifically, though there is a great emphasis on noticing the fine details of what is going on, which does involve moment. Still, within about 3-8 days, nearly everyone will be in some sort of Dark Nightish territory despite no emphasis on that at all, and this holds up well even for those with large amounts of TMI background. The more I learn about how the path unfolds in practice, and I have been learning about this through literally thousands of emails and posts and many retreats, the more I notice that staying far to the dry insight side or far to the pure samatha side is very difficult, though some do manage it, and that’s ok.

… If one said that a map of Florida that only had the interstates was mapping a fundamentally distinct process than one that included the side-streets and minor highways, as well as beaches, forests, swamps, etc. would that ring oddly to your ear? It does to mine. Just sayin’. When one puts the POI together with the vipassana jhanas together with the samatha jhanas and has a sense of how one might move across and around that territory, one has a much broader, more nuanced, more complex map of what really occurs in real practitioners. Still, some people like smaller boxes, narrower paths, simpler frameworks, and find that satisfying, and who am I to say that they shouldn’t enjoy those if they work for them?

… As anyone who has done a practice such as “noting” well has noticed, one can clearly perceive what is going on, unify one’s mind to get to Conformity Knowledge and Stream Entry and beyond, and not have been that calm before one started making progress in insight. This experiment has been repeated literally hundreds of thousands of times. Still, many who do practices like noting will notice that jhanic factors arise, and, in fact, are very commonly noted, as in the Ten Corruptions of Insight.

… (About possibility that some of the similarities between TMI and POI might be coincidental,) Again, the stages of insight are something intrinsic to how attention develops. I have heard literally thousands of descriptions of them from Sufis, Christian Contemplates, those doing all sorts of “pure samatha practices”, from TM practitioners, from people who just got into a grove doing something that involved concentration in ordinary, worldly activities, etc. If one has followed the DhO for the 11 or so years of its existence, one will know this well. The evidence for the stage of insight being intrinsic to attention development is overwhelming, incontrovertible. To me, the question is how to move through the POI as one thinks best, which typically means either, "How to move through the POI with the least difficulties," which is what TMI attempts, or "How to move through the POI the fastest," which is what practices like Noting attempt. It is true that they give different flavors to the POI, but that is not the same as the POI not happening.

… I totally agree that TMI offers some extremely solid foundational tech, handles the hindrances and establishing a practice very well, does a great job with early to mid-level samatha instruction, has great and useful diagrams, gives useful emphasis on the differences between central attention and peripheral awareness, does a great job with intentions and resolutions, and, if taken in the spirit that he presents it in places, is applicable to a wide range of objects, techniques, and schools of practice. This is why I recommend TMI in my book and often recommend it to people for those exact reasons. (DhO

Comparing Mahasi Noting, Fire Kasina and TMI. As far as I can tell, it is essentially impossible to do kasina practice the way we do it and not have the stages of insight show up with semi-freakish predictability. If you simply: look at a candle flame for a minute, close your eyes, follow whatever you see, however it is, until you feel you have nothing you can follow, open your eyes, and look at the flame for a minute, and repeat for, say 6-14 hours per day, people move through insight stages like clockwork. 

It doesn't appear to matter if they are trying to or not. It doesn't appear to matter if you mention or emphasize the Three Characteristics or not. It appears mechanical, so far as I can tell.

As some here know, I got to teach for a month at Cochise Stronghold during Sept 2018. There were people doing three main practices with me and Culadasa there: Mahasi noting, fire kasina, and TMI-based. While not a huge sample size, the following were observed:

Everyone moved through the stages of insight. However, those doing Mahasi and fire kasina moved about as fast as each other and had more dramatic insight stage presentations, and those doing TMI moved the slowest and had the least dramatic insight stage presentations, in general.  
  •  Those doing fire kasina were both the weirdest by far and also the most fun. 
  • Those doing Mahasi were the edgiest but had some great, classic phenomenology and a clear appreciation of that.
  • Those doing TMI were the least interesting and also the most confused, as the technique actually involves lots of complex modification of technique and strategies depending on stages that they might have had manifestations of some reasonable number of even during their last sit, making technique chose based on the formula somewhat bewildering. However, they were also by far the most stable. 
Regardless, the point was clear: all moved you through the stages of insight, even though only one of them seems explicitly designed to do that (Mahasi) as neither of the other two focus on the 3C's.  (DhO

One must not be so quick to associate hard jhana with pure samatha and soft jhana with vipassana. It is also worth making the subtle distinction between "soft jhana" and "vipassana jhana" as even vipassana jhana can be hard or soft.

For instance, the 4th vipassana jhana may be soft, in that one is walking around in it having some vague experience of formations as one walks around, and then attain to a Path or a Fruition off of that. By definition, if you were able to attain to a Fruition, you did it off the 4th vipassana jhana. As you were walking around and may not have even been practicing at that moment, that obviously was soft jhana, in this case soft vipassana jhana. Often when one is in the mature phase of a Review cycle after a path, these sorts of things will arise.

Contrast that with hard vipassana jhana, in which let's say one is 3 weeks into a retreat, with strong concentration, gunning for the next path with everything one has got, practicing 20 hours/day, and one enters into the 4th vipassana jhana, but in this case one is sitting, eyes closed, and the entire world has dissolved into pure, wide, formless waves of uninterrupted suchness, undisturbed by attention to any diversity except that formless fluxing, with no body felt, no sounds heard, nothing but that, and this goes on for a hour, until one finally gets the suchness to sync completely and gets the next Path and Fruition. This is clearly extremely hard jhana, in that the depth of concentration is profound, and yet, as it is achieved with a focus on impermanence, suffering (the tension of the fluxing, if you will) and no-self (the fluxing happening on its own and being all empty), and it lead to a Path and Fruition, that is vipassana.

Thus, one must not be so quick to associate hard jhana with pure samatha and soft jhana with vipassana, as this is not so straightforward, and the depths of concentration that may be achieved when doing insight practice may be great, though that degree of concentration is not necessary for the goal. (DhO)

Jhana wars are old hat. Jhana term wars are old stuff, of which Alan Wallace is just one of the more extreme ones, as there are others in his end of the thing. It is sort of like saying that only habaneros are peppers, or only Ferraris are cars. It sort of leaves no room for using the term jhana to describe a ton of interesting states that people can get into, just saying that only Ferraris were cars would leave you scratching your head about what to call all the other four-wheeled things rolling around on roads. It also cuts you off from plenty of the useful stuff in the Pali Canon and commentaries, as well as lots of other texts, advice that applies to those other degrees of meditative attainments and states.

MCTB goes out of its way to make sure that it says the world of jhanas is wide, and, at the extreme end, you can get into some really, really hard jhanic states that last a long time, such as what BAW talks about. I can appreciate macho stuff as much as the next guy, but without giving a set of terms to describe all the other jhanic states BAW's work is very incomplete and somewhat alienating to those who are attaining to concentration states but just not taking it as far as he is.

Further, from a pragmatic point of view, what I personally care most about is awakening, using jhanic states as a support for a healthy life, and also using jhanas as a support for the powers, and you don't need nearly that much concentration to do all of that, just like you generally don't need a Ferrari to get to work or a habanero to make your food tasty, though I appreciate both of those things. (DhO)

Jhanas: a wide range of both opinions and skills. There is this wide range of what people are capable of regarding jhanas, clearly. There is a wide range of opinion on what jhana is, clearly. Anyone who has hung out here long enough knows all about this perennial debate, all about B Allan Wallace, all about Pa Auk, all about Ajahn Brahm, all about Ayya Kyema and Leigh Brasington, and most of the rest of it, as it comes up again and again and again, sometimes somewhat deficient in good pragmatic arguments for one set over the others based on people's real-world experience, so it is nice to see some adding those into the debate here.

Specifically: anybody got to a place where their body was totally gone, bright white pervaded their entire field of experience stably for 4-24 hours, and there were no thoughts of any kind during that entire period? If so, would honestly love to hear your reports and descriptions, as well as why you feel that anything less than that couldn't possibly be jhana.

I personally find the duration criteria noxious, to be honest, not only due to the obvious time problem, such as the set up for Nirodha Samapatti taking a minimum of 32 hours by the 4-hour per jhana criteria (or 8+ days using the 24-hour criteria found in BAW's work?), during which point someone would likely have to at least pee...

If the body and form disappear with retained high perceptual and mental clarity but it only did so for 5 minutes, was that not some formless attainment? Really?

It would be sort of like a marathon runner saying that anything less than running a marathon is not really running.

It gets, well, a bit macho, even for this place. It is not that there is anything wrong with running marathons, nor is there anything that intrinsically toxic about having some benevolent and skillful pride at that accomplishment, as that is an impressive thing to do, but to then take that and say that everyone else who did it for slightly less or moderately less isn't running isn't just obnoxious, it shows a level of rigid categorical and concrete thinking that is unseemly in an adult, lacking the nuance we all hope people develop as they mature from childhood.

Am I similarly being noxiously prideful about having the ability to think with nuance and in shades of grey and dimensions rather than ultra-rigid categories over those who apparently can't? Perhaps, and I will try to show more sensitivity towards their condition.

So, we likely have at least 4 types of people here: 
  1.  People who can get into ultra-hard jhanas with perfect unwavering stability for greater than 240 minutes and also who can think with nuance and realize that someone in that same or very similar state with all the defined jhanic factors present for, say, 239 minutes and 59 seconds, was actually in jhana also. 
  2. People who can get into ultra-hard jhanas with perfect unwavering stability for greater than 240 minutes who are congenitally incapable of conceiving that those who were in some very similar state with all jhanic factors present for, say, 239 minutes and 59 seconds, were also in jhana.
  3. People who can't get into ultra-hard jhanas with perfect unwavering stability for 240 minutes who can yet think with nuance and realize that someone who was in a very similar state with all defined jhanic factors present for, say, 239 minutes and 59 seconds, were also in jhana.
  4. People who neither can get into ultra-hard jhana with perfect unwavering for 240 minutes who also are incapable of conceiving that those who were in a similar state with all classically defined jhanic factors present for 239 minutes and 59 seconds were also in jhana. 
… If you adopt a set of jhanic criteria, critically ask yourself what practical value that set of criteria has for your practice and how it helps or harms you and those around you. (DhO


The basic qualities of jhana are in some ways influenced by the object. The jhanas may take many objects, but some aspects of them are more clear with visual images, some aspects more clear with mantras, some aspects more clear with the breath, some aspects more clear with the jhanas themselves as object, some aspects more clear with space as object, some aspects more clear with love/compassion/etc. as object, etc. In short, the basic qualities of jhana are in some ways influenced by the object, but they are more fundamental. Thus, one who knows how can be in various jhanas with all manner of various objects, though there are some specifics about which objects are conducive to certain higher jhanas, all of which is spelled out in the standard references.

I wouldn't use the terms hypnotic or light trance to describe those experiences: they were very strong, complete, hard, stable jhana, though there are certainly others that are more profound, such as the formless realms, but those were not my object during that set of exercises. The key is that the experience lead to what you want, not what different people happen to term that state. There are no external merit badges of any worth that you get for attaining to what someone calls whatever. The experiences themselves are either beneficial or not, create the effect or insight you are looking for or not, etc. (DhO)


Cognitive abilities and Jhanas. As to cognitive increase after jhana, I think that for me it varies and depends on other factors. It is not often that my cognitive abilities are really tested heavily after jhana these days, but I do remember an example from 7 years ago.

I was studying for my Emergency Medicine board exam, which involved long hours of pouring through tons of obscure facts for a test that, at the high end, is much more about whether or not you can remember facts about things you might never see in a whole career, of which there are many, or memorize facts that have nearly nothing to do with clinical practice (such as some obscure epidemiological fact about some cancer), or figure out how to take the sorts of odd test questions they will throw at you, such as, "Which ONE of these [5 next tests or steps all of which you would always do basically simultaneously] is the best one to do now?", really annoying stuff like that.

Anyway, about 5 hours into one day of this sort of thing after about a week of it, I found my mind getting fatigued, but I didn't have many study-days left, and I really needed to keep going to finish all my study materials, so finally I closed my eyes, rose up from 1st-8th jhana, came out to that Post-8th Junction Point that has so many options to it, and my standard one would have been a Fruition, but the thought occurred to me, "I wonder if Nirodha Samapatti would help?"

The question was an honest one, as the thing about the massive afterglow of that state is that it is at once really clear and also really chill, and I wasn't sure if the really chill part would be good for intensive cramming for another 5 hours or so. The first time I attained it was right before a shift at the CDC's National AIDS Hotline, and it was really not conducive to talking to people on the phone for hour after hour.

Anyway, I decided to go for it, so I inclined that way, and, surprisingly, it happened, despite my setup not being that good and the last time I attained it probably a year before if not longer (hard to remember exactly at this point). When I came out, the afterglow was as it always was, really, really heavy, really really chill, like the best part of slow motion.

I opened my eyes and turned them to the textbook. It was like magic: steady, heavy duty, rock-solid, undistracted concentration on the material that lasted for hours. It was some of the best studying I had ever done, and I really think it helped on the exam. So, that is one more data point for you.

As to the question of one-pointed concentration, I think it is much more a question of the depth and continuity of recent concentration than the object. That said, some objects really do lend themselves much more to powers, particularly mantras and visualization practices, or, even better, the two combined, which can really get things going fast, but if you get your concentration strong enough and do enough of it in a short period of time, then even vipassana on the whole field of fluxing experience, which is obviously as many-object-ish and as wide as you can get, done really well, can make powers really accessible anyway.

Past a certain point, I do think that the question of one-pointed gets sort of strange. I personally find that really concentrated 4th jhana just doesn't do narrow well at all, preferring naturally to be much wider. Visualized images get volumetric, living, and detailed beyond what one would ordinarily think of as one-pointed. The whole visual field can become the visualization. Mantras become luminous and so wide as to seem almost silent, which is an odd thing, but still true, at least for me. I haven't had that lack of one-pointedness detract from powers experiences at all, and I think that complete and all-encompassing aspect of the higher jhanas it what makes the best powers experiences happen. (DhO)

Categorical and Dimensional Jhanic thinking. There are reasons to think of jhana categorically and dimensionally, and both have their uses and downsides.

Categorical jhanic thinking asks the question, "Was that a jhana?" in a way that is binary, yes/no, black/white, without any nuance or shades of grey. Plenty of people think about jhanas this way, even some very senior famous teachers, and it has its points. Generally, these traditions have very specific criteria for the type of jhana they are interested in, or how they conceptualize jhana if they acknowledge only one type. People who use words like "sutta jhanas", "bodily jhanas", "Ayya Khema jhanas", "Visuddhimagga jhanas", "luminous jhanas", "Pa Auk jhanas", "Ajahn Brahm jhanas", "B Alan Wallace jhanas", etc. are thinking this way. Some acknowledge multiple discrete types, e.g. Culadasa, while others, such as BAW, only acknowledge one type of jhana as really being "jhana". These different "types" of jhana have criteria that sometimes diverge widely from each other, and, at the high end, can sometimes get pretty macho. There are experiences that can validate and reinforce these strict, dichotomous perspectives, such as suddenly shifting strongly into a very specific state that meets very specific criteria or expectations.

Dimensional jhanic thinking is more nuanced, more shades of grey, more concerned with the specific phenomenology of whatever experience is arising, and less concerned with whether or not some specific state meets some, potentially arbitrary, fixed set of categorical jhanic criteria. Dimensional jhanic thinking is more along the lines of identifying the jhanic factors present and assessing the degree of strength with which each one is presenting at that time and the difference between what is being experienced from some sense of "ordinary, non-jhanic mind". For example, one might be experiencing very strong concentration, a bit of bliss, some rapture, a moderate amount of tranquility, a large degree of freedom from the hindrances, pretty narrowly focused attention, and a moderate amount of applied and sustained thought, and one might thus think about that as being somewhere in the range of experiences that fall into the general neighborhood of the first jhana, which is a pretty large neighborhood from a dimensional point of view, with a very wide range of possible manifestations depending on the practitioner, technique, strength of concentration, etc.

I use both categorically and dimensional thinking when thinking about jhana in my own practice and when talking with others about practice, and each has its pros and cons. More interesting to me is the question of the pragmatist, which asks, "Ok, what do you value and what are you trying to do, and how do dimensional or categorical thinking help or harm that process?"

Said another way, categorical thinking helps if there is something specific we wish to accomplish that we can only accomplish with a specific type of jhana, and so we can gauge whether or not we have attained to that jhana so we can know if we have an appropriate foundation for whatever it is that is useful to do with that jhana. That goal for many may simply be, "I really want the personal merit badge that comes from having felt or been told that I met someone's specific jhanic criteria they wrote down," and that is ok, as chasing specific jhanic criteria can develop interesting skills that may have other utility also and can lead to various valuable experiences and lessons along the way beyond just the specific type of jhana.

Dimensional thinking helps a lot when just trying to identify and develop various jhanic qualities and the degree to which they have been developed/are presenting, as well as identifying degrees of other factors, such as dullness, restlessness, etc that might be reduced or transmuted into something positive. For example, we might notice that a bit of rapture is showing up, tune into that rapture, and learn how to amplify it while also learning what makes it fade. It also holds up better across a wide range of experiences that contain jhanic factors to various degrees, providing a totally different meta-perspective on jhana that can be useful to the practitioner, particularly when talking with people who cultivate jhana differently from the way you do. A dimensional thinker may be more inclined to explore and learn more individual factor control, doing things like learning extended, compound, and custom jhanas, for example.

It is common for categorical and dimensional practitioners to irritate each other, with both having valid critiques of the downsides of the other's approach, and often being pretty attached to their own way of approaching jhana. It is a large topic that I keep thinking I will do a long video on sometime, as the topic comes up again and again and again and again and again and again in conversations and posts. (DhO)

Formless Realms, Thinking Dimensionally and Categorically. There are formed jhanas that have form: edges, colors, shapes, experiences that are distinct, well-differentiated, and rich in their features.

Formed jhanas can get progressively more refined, subtle, abstract, trending towards formlessness. 

Various aspects of experience may disappear, body, sights, sounds, images, etc., and this may happen progressively, non-linearly, often fading, reappearing, fading, though, if we are inclined to formlessness, hopefully following a general, if meandering trend in that direction. So, in these experiences, we have a spectrum of formlessness, a formlessness 
that exists in shades of grey, a moving progression in the general direction of an ideal.

However, there are also formless realm experiences that arise that are much more dramatically clean in both the way that they arise and the way they present after arising that seem to be starkly delineated from the progressively more formless versions. They arise rapidly, sharply demarcated from what came before, and they present very much as advertised in the descriptions of the formless realms.

While one could think of even these two variants, that of shades of formlessness and stark formlessness in shades of grey, in that a formless experience can present more and more starkly, sharply, cleanly that some others.

Equally, one who has had the stark, sharp, clean, highly-formless versions that fully meet the advertised ideal arise rapidly may think: no, there are two distinct modes, the softer progressive mode that is relatively formless but not truly formless, and the stark arising mode, and they seem very, very different. 

I have at points held each of these views, typically arising depending on how recently I had the much cleaner version rapidly and sharply arise. My linguistic preference, however, is to be clear about which view you are holding at the very least. However, in my heart of hearts, I do feel that only the stark, categorically different presentation, that in which very refined versions of the formless realms arise in a strong shift, are the “true formless realms”, and everything else is something formed, however refined.

So, when describing experience and using the word “formless”, I advocate for adding additional words, qualifiers, and details such that people know what is actually being described rather than having to assume.

I use terms such as j3.j7, for example, to describe some third jhanic experience that really had very little form, space, or even consciousness in it but was still clearly third jhanic and not the extremely clean “true j7, Nothingness” that can also arise.

I might use the term j4.j6 to describe an experience that was much more fourth jhanic in its character but still had a significant aspect of vast, open presence, luminosity, and sense of all-pervading consciousness yet still had some form arising, however abstract, and so differentiate it from “true j6, Boundless Consciousness” in which form was utterly gone and it was like being in another realm of pure consciousness utterly removed in all obvious ways from the experiences of the space in which my body was sitting.

This is what is meant by “realm”, as in “The Six Realms”, as in somewhere and something else entirely, removed from the space in which we are practicing in the way that dreams and out of body experiences are.

Experiences at the level of a total shift in which realm we are experiencing represent strong meditative attainments. Often, we might get extremely short glimpses of such possibilities that last a mere fraction of a second. At other times, experiences of other realms can last many seconds, minutes, or even occasionally in very rare cases hours.

Most experiences of other realms are still formed and present with a diversity of features. However, a small proportion are truly formless and perform exactly as one would expect from the high descriptions of the formless realms, basically at the level of a Platonic Ideal but actually experienced.

Regarding the formless realms proper, those of the categorical variety, they very much tend to arise in strict sequence, shifting from j4 (the fourth jhana), to j5 (Boundless Space), j6 (Boundless Consciousness), j7 (Nothingness), to j8 (Neither Perception Nor Yet Non-Perception) and then out to the Post-8th Junction Point as I term it. Knowing this, if you have entered a state that has a lot of formlessness to it but doesn’t have that striking sense of utter detachment from your body and the space you are practicing in and didn’t arise in sequence, it is very likely of the dimensional version, some jX.jF (with X representing some jhana from 1-4 and F representing one of the Formless Realms from 5-8) variant, and not what I would term a true jF experience.

I don’t mean to disparage or downplay the value of formed jhanic experiences that have significant formless aspects, as such experiences can be powerful, profound, and even sometimes transformative, but I do wish to delineate that there are these seemingly categorically different experiences that truly do perform as “realms” and truly are “formless”, as well as experiences that clearly have some degree of formlessness and some degree of removal from ordinary consciousness and the space we are in.

By being able to think both dimensionally, that is, in terms of degrees and shades of grey, as well as categorically, that of a binary “true formless” or “some form remaining”, and by being very deliberate in how we express these modes of thought, we can be much better communicators as well as hopefully better practitioners.

Language that appreciates both the dimensional and categorical mode can help us to realize what might be possible and also how what we are experiencing might actually relate to those possibilities. It also helps avoid confusion when we speak and write about our experiences. (DhO

Space, Formless Realms and Insight. As to space, paying attention to it depends on what aspects you look at, and even how you look at those aspects. For instance, space is made of many fresh, transient sensations of various sense doors, including visual, mental and physical, as well as proprioceptive and auditory, and if you investigate those and tease those apart, one can see the sensations that make up space in the same light of insight that one sees other things if one practices insight practices well. If you pay attention to the width and openness and steadiness without looking closely or noticing things like the true nature of those sensations, then it will definitely be more on the formless jhana end of things. (DhO)

Pure Land Jhanas. While in theory one might jump to any jhana out of order using any object, in practice I personally find that I need to get up to the 8th jhana, come out, and then, in that state I call the Post-8th Junction Point, suddenly things are available that weren't before, including the jhanas that we theorize correspond to the Pure Abodes as well as Nirodha Samapatti. That's just one practitioner's data point, and thus not good science. I must admit that, as I have relatively easy access to the 8th jhana, I have never really tried hard to do it the other way. That said, one can definitely, with strong enough concentration and practice and interest, craft all sorts of remarkable jhanas, creating fusions and combinations of elements that one wouldn't find in the more standard sequences, and I used to play around a lot with that sort of thing back in the day and really enjoyed it. (DhO)

Pure Land One, the set up. Can you slow the thing down just slightly, shift focus to the samatha aspect a bit more, and control when you shift from one state to the next?

It would be interesting to see what happened if you had more proper and controlled set up, such as shifting sequentially after a few minutes from 1st to 2nd to 3rd to 4th to 5th to 6th to 7th to 8th (then possibly to Fruition) then to whatever that thing is, letting each develop a bit more and shift only when you are really ready for them to shift, letting each form more of a stable base for the thing, such that it perhaps lasted a bit longer and you could really check it out and it wasn't so vibratory and shifty-sounding and more samatha-esque, more of a refined, stabilized, steady experience.

When I was getting into that thing that happened out past 8th and was jhanic and seemed like a fusion of things, it had the qualities of spaciousness, like 5th, with bliss like 2nd, and ease like some of the best of 3rd or 4th, but was more calm, easy, and really, really nice in a way that 4th is not, that being due to the bliss and the openness of the 5th-like aspect, that was what I called Pure Land One, in conjunction with Kenneth Folk's mapping thoughts on this.

Anyway, see if you can make the whole thing more consciously set up, a bit less vipassana-cyclic, a bit more Review/Mastery practice-like, and see if that helps clarify if you think it is Pure Land One, as, in the end, only you can decide that. (DhO, check Russell and Nikolai posts too)

Formless Realms and Kasina. Formless realms don't have any color except to speak of, though it is hard not to think of Nothingness as anything other than black, and it is hard to think of Boundless Consciousness as being any color other than a "color" I will loosely call "mirror" or "clear light".

That said, on my retreat in February, when I was doing a mix of practices, mostly kasina, some otherwise, I was able to get into formless realms by the usual methods, which for me is just to send my mind in that direction and watch it go there, but that hardly helps if you are trying to access them for the first time.

Thus, I present three methods: 
  1. Get your concentration so strong that your mind will do whatever you want it to do, colors, formless realms, powers, traveling, images, realms, whatever, and just walk up the jhanas from 1-4 and then simply ask for boundless space and the rest to arise. That, for most people, will take very good practice conditions and some time and talent.
  2. Get up to the 4th jhana and get used to it, established in it, good at it, so that you can be in it and notice some things about it. You might notice that it is wide, diffuse, open, expansive, and has a sense of transparency, a sense of boundlessness, and how cool those aspects are. Just hang out in the 4th jhana noticing these aspects, getting more familiar with them, more comfortable with them, and, if you are lucky, at some point there will come a shift, and that shift will be into taking those aspects as object, which is one way to get to boundless space. This how a person who is more on the attractive/desirious side of practice and personality might proceed.
  3. Get up into the 4th jhana and get used to it, established in it, good at it, so that, over time, finally you become naturally bored with it, detached from it, so that you have gotten over it, are uninterested in it, but just keep paying attention to that detachment from the equanimity, the neutral bodily feeling, the peace, and all of that. This is not something that one can fake, but something that will just arise given time. When one no longer has any natural interest in all of that but is still practicing, the mind might shift away from those things to just vastness. This is how a person who is more on the aversive side of practice and personality might proceed. (DhO

Formless Realms and Lucid Dreaming. I have periodically lost and regained the ability to enter the formless realms, as, at least for me, to get them be truly formless, truly non-bodily, truly stable, and very "pure" often requires giving them attention and repetition in a short space of time. I hadn't given them much attention recently, so I thought it would be fun to go back and revisit them. It is common for me, particularly after doing a lot of color kasina work, which I have done a lot of in April, what with a 15-day fire kasina retreat and all, to have a hard time getting the colors to go entirely away, as they do have an inertia to them.

So, the last three nights I did give them very specific attention for about an hour each night before going to sleep, using gentle intentions and resolutions, really working on a good set up and getting j4 clean and deep, and work on that tricky balance of having the colors fade while keeping attention wide and open. Last night I was successful in getting to some really nice formless realms with the colors gone, except that boundless consciousness somehow didn't have that really clean, vast, luminous thing as well as it might have, but j7 and j8 were both really clean. After practicing, I fell asleep.

I woke up at 4:30am, not sure why, and so started practicing again, getting j4 really well-developed, then drifting towards formlessness. I again fell asleep, not sure after how long, maybe 30 minutes or so.

I then had a lucid dream in which I was able to fly. I have a few modes of flying in my dreams, which typically progress in sequence. There is the j2 mode, in which by sending attention towards something, I fly towards it easily, and this one is frequent and easy in my dreams. However, I often don't remember to switch to the second mode, the j3 mode, in which I have to switch attention around and push down with my hands and/or feet, and that then makes me fly, and, if I don't remember to switch modes, I start sinking and things typically turn more sinister. In this dream, I remembered to switch modes, and so I kept rising up into the air easily.

I then suddenly started accelerating rapidly, and shot out above the atmosphere, piercing the edge of the atmosphere like one would go through a giant Earth-surrounding membrane, and there, out in space, was Boundless Space in its full glory, and then I noticed the sunlight streaming through space, and Boundless Consciousness arose in its full glory, clean, pure, vast, open, bright. I stayed there a bit, then sank back down through the membrane to Earth and form, this time controlling the flying in a very j4 mode, which just involves the most subtle intent to move and the movement occurs.

This is the first time I can recall getting to really good j5 and j6 in a dream. (DhO

My short list of powers, during Lucid Dreams. I have been lucid dreaming and flying in dreams since I was a young child, and wanting to have more lucid flying dreams was what really got me into meditation in the first place. I also have pretty magickal dreams, with lots of powers of various kinds. I actually keep a list in my mind of the powers I have done, and rejoice when new ones show up.

My dreams tend to follow a pretty standard pattern: non-lucid part, start to be able to fly/skate/jump far/hover/drop down from a height slowly, or something similar, this gets more intense, dream gets more vivid and lucid, then the dark part begins, flying is harder, running slower, themes more sinister, and then the combat phase begins, typically culminating in a stale-mate of some kind, which then leads to some very lucid and wondrous dream-scape and amazing experiences.

My short list of powers, which is partly redundant with the above: 
  • flying
  • gliding
  • jumping very long distances
  • running really fast
  • scating on roads and/or water like one would ice-skate but generally faster
  • falling gently from great heights without injury
  • levitating without horizontal components of movement
  • telekinesis
  • casting lightening
  • casting fire
  • firing bullets from my fingers
  • making things vanish, such as things held in my hand that I squeeze and they disappear
  • walking through walls/windows/ceilings/floors: which typically results in appearing in some very different realm on the other side, but not always, and as the years have gone on I have gotten a lot better about intending before I do through about where I will end up
  • killing (just willing beings to die and them just dying)
  • casting light
  • phase shifting to other energy/emotional frequencies, such as becoming a being of loving-kindness and thus being able to walk through beings of anger without them harming me
  • healing
  • creating items out of nothing
  • shifting the landscape to suit my tastes
  • talking with odd entities
  • radiating various colors and qualities of energy
  • having out of body full-on travels out of dreams
  • casting spells of destruction
  • traveling off the planet to other worlds
Those are some of the major ones. Anyway, fun times. (DhO)

Nirodha Samapatti is a high and very rare attainment. Nirodha Samapatti is not Fruition. It is not different at 3rd vs 4th path. It is entirely its own thing. It is very, very different in terms of setup, entrance, exit and after-effects. This is not a term to be watered down, soft-pedaled, or re-framed. It is a high attainment that performs as advertised. It is very rare. I know few people who can and have done the real thing.

Claiming to have gotten something that people were calling NS was all the rage here a few years ago, but every one of those descriptions back in the day sounded nothing like the real deal to me. They described the passage of time. They didn't have massive, extremely long-lasting afterglows, they didn't precisely describe the right entrance and exit. It was mostly described by people who also did things like describing true formless realms as having some form, which the real formless realms don't. Yes, there are plenty of attainments that have some formless elements mixed with form (that I describe as things like j4.j6 as opposed to j6, for example) but the real formless realms are still just like you would figure: formless. Body gone. Forms gone. Differentiated things gone.

With the rejuvination of some forces of dharma in the online world that have had a previous habit of watering down these sorts of attainment criteria in the past, let me advocate for keeping the standards high. I admit to profound annoyance at the occurrence of trends to over-call weak practice.

They lead to people practicing badly, mis-labeling meditative occurrences, settling for low standards, and being short-changed of the possibility of actually experiencing the real thing, as they think they have and so go no further. They then spread this mush around and create the same problems in others and even form clubs out of this.

I was strangely relieved the last time this trend here on the DhO ended. I hope it doesn't start again.

Keeping this real and about practice: the last time I tried for NS I failed. I was on my last retreat in February, the fire kasina retreat, and I just couldn't get the colors to go away, as I had been focusing on them for so many hours for about 10 days at that point, so probably 100+ hours or so, and, since I couldn't get the colors and shapes to go away, I so couldn't get true formless realms, as they were burned so hard onto my practice at that time, and so I couldn't do the proper set up at all and nothing beyond a mere Fruition happened at the end, which was disappointing but not surprising.

The first probably 30-50 times I tried for NS, I failed. That was in late 1996. I could get the set up, but NS just didn't happen. I tried again and again anyway, sit after sit, and was lucky to have a life that allowed 3-5 hours per day of practice then. Finally, after many attempts and about a month of failing, I got it totally by surprise, which is the environment it happens best in, actually, as you have to be able to forget about the intention to have it happen for it to happen. This is obviously as hard as it sounds. You also have to have all the right pre-reqs and setup, and then there is clearly something else that you need to have, and that just seems to come from practice for a very few practitioners. (DhO)

Nirodha Samapatti: a personal report, 10 years since the last experience. Very brief retreat report: I went on retreat solo down at the Gulf beaches of Florida for 17 days, just got back last night. I did mostly elemental concentration practices, fire kasina, water kasina, light kasina, that sort of thing, with a moderate amount of brahma viharas thrown in for good measure.

Plenty of jhanic factors arose, sometimes very strongly, pervading the body and producing deep tranquility and stability of mind and body, but none for 4 hours with perfect unwavering stability. Plenty of visions arose, as I was doing a visual-based kasina, some to become so complete as to immerse me entirely in a world as real-feeling and looking as this one, just not this one.

Instead, long before 4 hours elapsed, my body would sometimes vanish, space would open up, the sense of consciousness would pervade a vast space, that would disappear to nothing, then that would vanish also, then form would reappear again.

Then, on day fourteen, just on a lark, I did something I hadn't done in 10 years. After the world reappeared after even nothing had vanished, I made a quiet resolution to attain to Nirodha Samapatti. About 30 seconds later: total mental power failure, like someone had pulled the plug on experience itself, then power back up, then massive afterglow. It felt like coming out of deep anesthesia, for those who have had surgery or some fully-sedated procedure.

Since it had been 10 years since I had done this, I was stunned by the afterglow. This time the effects were clearly evident over 24 hours later. My body felt totally different, like every single little hint of muscle tension or pain had just vanished.

I went to get a massage during this time, and the massage therapist commented, "Wow, you have no tension at all!", which is basically unheard of for my back, which does bad things sometimes and basically always has some moderate number of knots. I had had two massages by her during the previous 15 days, and each time there had been plenty to work on. She also kept commenting that my skin feld oddly cold, but I felt warm myself. She said this was very different from how it had felt before. I am not sure what to make of that, but just offering it as a phenomenological data point.

My mind felt so weirdly chill yet uncannily clear that at points I thought, "Holy shit, what have I done to myself? How long is this going to last? If this persists until I have to drive home, will I be able to drive in this state of profound relaxation and react appropriately if there is a need for fast maneuvering around some dangerous situation? Could I work a shift at the emergency department in this state at the required speed?"

Both luckily and unluckily, after about a day the body and mind were beginning to feel mostly back to my retreat-baseline, which was still pretty chill but not anything like that.

I also now remember why I hadn't done this in 10 years, as my current life is totally unconducive to having to navigate in that afterglow, which, while remarkably pleasant, has elements that would make much of what I do feel like being drilled by a dentist, as, as the texts rightly say, the mind post NS inclines to peace and solitude.

BTW: I know for certain that this power-down didn't last for 4 hours, as I sat down at about 2:30pm and got up about 3:15pm or so, and the setup took at least 20 minutes, I would guess. How long Nirodha lasted, I don't know, but clearly less than about 25 minutes.

Clearly, this would not qualify as any jhanic attainment for the 240-minute Kids, and they would likely scoff at it. For me, it totally blew my doors off, and I am pretty used to meditative experiences and afterglows. De gustibus non est disputandum. (DhO)

Advanced Jhana Classification. [This text is already at DhO's wiki, but it's included here in order to complete the topic, have it as a bridge with the Insight Section (coming next) and to rescue some interesting entries of Nikolai, Tommy and Tarin Greco in the thread.
Here is a proposed method of classifying the jhanas that is more sophisticated and flexible than the original simple classification system found in the Pali texts and commentaries. It is basically the system I use in my head, and yet I realized that I haven't written it down anywhere in quite this fashion. I hope that one day something like this system is converted to something more secular, such that it can serve as a technical shorthand or language for discussing meditative attainments in general. Until then, here goes with the serious geekery:

The basic building blocks of the system are the jhanas, which briefly noted are as follows:

1. First Jhana: involved narrow attention, sustained effort
2. Second Jhana: involved slightly wider attention, more motion of objects, and is significantly more effortless
3. Third Jhana: involves wider field of attention with center of attention out of phase, and has distinct phase problems in general
4: Fourth Jhana: involved more naturally spacious attention and has a much more balanced sort of attention than the previous ones
5: Boundless Space: a byproduct of noticing the spacious aspect of the 4th jhana
6. Boundless Consciousness: a byproduct of noticing the conscious aspect of the 5th jhana
7. Nothingness: like the 3rd jhana version of the formless realms in that it is like Boundless Space except that the phase of attention is tuned to anything but that and also not to anything else, so it notices that there is nothing there in that space, sort of like the advanced phase problem version of 3rd jhana taken to an extreme
8. Neither Perception Nor Yet Non-Perception: what happens when you detune even from the already very strangely off-tuned 7th jhana and don't even notice that: the pinnacle of phase out-ed-ness without even attention to that.

Add to this the notion that these 8 jhanas can fall on a continuum from hard to soft, meaning that you can be really, really into the jhana or in a softer, less absolute version of that same territory that is still different from what I will loosely call "ordinary" consciousness, whatever that is, and yet not in it as hard as is possible. This falls into shades of grey and may often involve transitioning from one way of perceiving things to the other.

Add to this that these 8 hard or soft jhanas can also be more analog or digital, more smooth or vibratory/fluxy, and thus there is an axis of development that relates to how samatha or how vipassana they are, how concentration heavy or how insight heavy, how seemingly stable vs how discontinuously they are perceived.

Add to this the notion that you can actually be in a sub-jhana aspect of each of those 8 jhanas, such that you could be in the 4th subjhana of 3rd jhana, for instance, or the 8th subjhana aspect of 1st jhana, just to take it to extremes, which can easily occur in those with strong concentration.

Add to this the notion that you can actually split this finer, into sub-subjhanas, meaning, for instance, that you could be in the 7th subsubjhana of the 3rd subjhana of the 4th jhana, just to make it interesting, or the 4th subsubjhana of the 1st subjhana of the 3rd jhana, which just happens to be Dissolution, which is an insight stage, which brings me to the next layer of complexity, adding in insight stage, or ñana terminology.

The insight stages of specific relevance are the first 11, namely:

1. Mind and Body
2. Cause and Effect
3. The Three Characteristics
4. The Arising and Passing Away
5. Dissolution
6. Fear
7. Misery
8. Disgust
9. Desire for Deliverance
10. Reobservation
11. Equanimity

Note that you can break these down by subjhanas and subsubjhanas and also subñanas and subsubñanas. Beyond about 3 levels it gets less useful, but I can really see distinct uses for those 3 levels of complexity.

Add to this that different focuses of practice, namely different objects, can really color how these present, with mantras and visualization objects producing really different effects or experiences of these variously classified stages and states than, say, vibrations or the breath or bliss, or whatever.

Thus, for instance, to really use this, one might have been really applying effort on the breath and gotten into something that was highly effortful but the breath became abstract and then vanished along with the body and all that was left was some sort of slowly shifting vague thing in space that is now nearly entirely formless and yet there is still somehow this really heavy first jhana effort, narrow vibe to the thing and it happened early in a retreat. You could classify this numerous ways, but I would tend to call that something like the moderately balanced insight/concentration part of the 7th subjhana of the 1st jhana.

When I tend to think in shorthand about these things, I tend to use notation in my brain that looks like this:

bj1.j7: meaning balanced (b) samatha/vipassana 7th subjhana part of 1st jhana

Or, to give another example using alternate notation for another experience:

ñ5.sj3.ñ11: meaning the Equanimity part of the 3rd samatha jhana part of Dissolution, where ñ demarcates that the number that follows it is a ñana, and the sj demarcates that the number that follows it refers to the smooth or samatha aspect of the 3rd jhana.

Or, to give another example:

ñ11.vj4.vj6: meaning the Boundless Consciousness sub sub aspect of the 4th vipassana subjhana aspect of Equanimity, which sounds needlessly picky until you notice enough to realize that that sub sub aspect can easily be found and experienced.

Or, to give another example:

sj4.sj8: meaning the 8th subjhana of the 4th jhana, which would be distinguished from proper 8th jhana in my mind by the continued presence of form, or, to get even more precise:

hsj3.hsj4: meaning the hard (h) 4th subjhana aspect of hard 3rd samatha jhana, as opposed to:

ssj3.ssj4: meaning the soft (s) 4th subjhana aspect of soft 3rd samatha jhana.

Or even:

h!sj6: meaning simply really hard straightforward Boundless Consciousness

Or, to get more simple:

hsj8: meaning the hard samatha jhana version of the 8th samatha jhana, which I personally consider redundant for a few reasons: one, you can't investigate the 8th jhana, as isn't possible if it really is 8th, and two, because true 8th is always hard if it is actually 8th as I think of it, and if it wasn't, then it probably was j4.j8 or something like that.

Or, you could be fluxing way up in the formless aspects of Equanimity, something I might label:

ñ11.hvj7 for really hard versions of the fluxing of the Nothingness aspect of Equanimity, and by hard I mean really well developed, not stable, just so there is no confusion about this.

Or, if you managed to get one of the Three Doors off of that, those 3 moments would be:

ñ12.hvj7, ñ13.hvj7, ñ14.hvj14, with the h's being redundant, as the 12-14th ñanas (Conformity, Change of Lineage and Path) being always hard, meaning fully developed by definition, and the designations of subñana actually meaning something slightly different here, as they don't have subjhanic aspects, being only one moment as they are, but referring to the object they took to see the full truth of completely.

Yes, there are the Pure Land jhanas, which I tend to label 9, 10, etc, depending on how many you think there are, which is debated, but let's keep those numbers open.

There is also a special place I refer to as the post-8th junction point, a nexus of options that open once you have been to some version of the 8th jhana or perhaps after j4.j8, which seems to do it pretty well also, but not quite as well.

In this system, you can say things really quickly, like the instructions for getting Nirodha Samapatti would be to rise naturally from sbj1 to sbj7, enter j8, come out, resolve and enter NS, meaning that you should use a softer version of the jhanas 1-7 with a balance of samatha and vipassana aspects without having either predominate, enter 8 proper, come out to the post-8th JP, and enter NS.

You can also detail nuanced aspects of certain phases of practice, such as the different phases of the A&P, Dissolution, and Equanimity, which have many little aspects to how they develop and where you can take them.

Or, you can add the object, such as:

light.hñ4.sj2 Meaning that, at that moment or phase of practice, the light that some see in the hard version of the insight stage of the A&P was taken as object and practice took on more of a 2nd samatha jhana feel, meaning the light showed itself and wasn't vipassinized or seen as pulses, but instead was more of a concentration object at that phase and the light showed itself on its own and didn't require sustained attention to manifest.

And you can add duration, such that you might note light.hñ4.sj2.5minutes: meaning that you stared at the white light for 5 minutes in that subjhanic phase of the A&P.

There are numerous pitfalls in thinking about things in this way, and one can easily make really large mistakes, such as mistaking 1.7 for 7.1 and things like that, but realizing that this sub-aspect nature of things is even possible allows one to ask the question and hopefully also provides a way to sort out 1.7 from 7.1, which are developmentally really, really different and have profoundly different implications for practice.

In this classification scheme, you can allow for all sorts of things, such as Alan Wallace's 1st jhana, which might be written h!!!sj1.24hours, meaning that it is really, really, really hard and lasted 24 hours, or certain people's versions of the formless realms which also are really light and actually contain form, and I think of as s!!!sj1.7, meaning the really, really, really soft version of some formed version of the Nothingness aspect of 1st jhana, as they are making effort to see it and are so light they can talk in it.

Anyway, you get the idea, and hopefully some of this nuance of aspects and terminology will help people describe and categorize their experiences, as well as utilize the standard advice for various phases and aspects as they apply to those experiences for deepening in them and also realizing what is possible beyond them. (DhO)

Insight

Why perceiving experiences as experiences feels vastly better and so is positively globally transformative. Why do this? Well, the fundamental suffering caused by not perceiving sensations as experiences in some bizarre way does all sorts of unfortunate things to the mind and the way we perceive reality, and the righting of that, such that we perceive experiences as experiences, feels vastly better and so is positively globally transformative.  
  • Take time: if you actually perceived all thoughts as experiences, you can't have a true sense that time is actually real, as all sensations of past and future occur now, and, being perceived as experiences, are known to occur now and not actually be time in any real sense. This is transformative. 
  • Take agency: by actually perceiving experiences as experiences, such as intentions to do things being perceived clearly as experiences, it becomes clear that they all arise on their own naturally, causally, without anyone to create them, just part of the process, and this immediate felt experience of natural unfolding beats the crap out of the way in which somehow there is the notion that we are doing things.
  • Take perception: when everything just perceives itself as it is, where it is, on its own, with each sensation simply representing itself, this is vastly better than the mode of perception in which we believe that some vague sensations that are crude impressions in the general area of the head are the perception of other sensations that already occurred. This is a vastly upgraded way of perceiving experience and highly recommended. 
  • Take thoughts: when we perceive thoughts as the experiences they actually are, we notice that thoughts are these small subtle sensate experiences in space. Seriously, how troubling can the actual experiences of thoughts be? They are so subtle most of the time, a very small percentage of what is actually occurring, and that proportionality makes thoughts assume their proper sensate place in experience, and this is vastly more manageable and easy to handle than when we contract into thoughts and lose the rest of the framing experiences that give them proportion. 
  • Take pain: when we perceive pain exactly as it is, where it is, in the context of the rest of our sensate world, perceiving it as experiences in space along with the other sensations, perceiving it clearly to arise and vanish, perceiving it to be in proportion to its actual size and intensity and proportion of the wide world of sensations, allowing it to stand for itself, this is vastly better than the previous way where we would be reacting to pain long after it is gone and blowing it way out or portion in comparison to how much of experience it actually takes up. 
  • Take desire: when no patterns of sensations are extrapolated to be some thing that could get closer to other sensations, that sense of bending, of pull, of drawing, of aching to get closer: this weird pulling of some illusory cluster of sensations to get towards some other cluster of sensations stops when we actually perceive sensations as clear experiences. When all of those sensations are clearly noticed to just be sensations, then such a weird illusion simply can't occur. The same happens with aversion. It is not that preferences can't arise, or that emotions can't arise, but that weird mental pull-push that occurs when some sensations are taken to be some self and some sensations are taken to be some stable thing that the pattern of sensations taken to be self could have some push-pull relationship to are known as they are, that push-pull part of the pain vanishes. Further, emotions, being perceived as part of this wide-open, proportional, transient flux of natural experiences, are given the same clarification as pain, and so the bodily sensations that typically make emotions troublesome are perceived proportionally, and the thoughts that cause such difficulty when exaggeratedly perceived instead are noticed to just be the little decorations of space that they are. 
  • Take ignorance: it actually takes all sorts of processing power to maintain a sense of a reference point between some pattern of sensations taken to be a self and all other sensation, as the brain has to keep up this strange moving dance, carefully ignore that sensations are the experiences they are, and then generates all sorts of additional mental complexity related to this elaborately crafted, processor-intensive illusion it has created, all of which is useless, delusional, and painful. The stopping of this painful process that happens when sensations that were thought to be self are just noticed to be more experiences marks a vast upgrade to the operating system and this beneficial upgrade is very palpable in this body-mind. 
  • Take clinging: when experiences are clearly perceived as being the experiences they are, it is impossible for any clinging to occur, as the natural perception of the natural transience of experiences is just hardwired into the fact of noticing naturally that experiences are all transient, so what could cling to anything, and what could be clung to? Clear perception of sensations reveals that clinging can't possibly occur when experiences are actually known as they are, as their transience is instantly known by the nature of sensations being what they are. 
In short, learning to perceive thoughts as thoughts, intentions as intentions, and other sensations as other sensations can, if done well and thoroughly in a way that brings all of these into clear experience, make every moment of experience significantly better than it is perceived the other, dualistic way that misses that experiences are actually experiences. (DhO

Vipassana: what people want, and what they get out if it. People often go into meditation seeking stability, pleasure, peace, and an enhanced sense of self. Vipassana delivers instability, a knowledge of suffering, and a deconstruction of a coherent, separate, stable sense of self, so it is understandable when people run into a conflict between what they want and what they get.

Thus, it is very common for people to complain that they investigated and found instability and suffering. Yet, it is a mark of understanding, though convincing people of this is hard, as is convincing them that it can lead to something that is much better than their current way of viewing experience.

That restlessness, disgust with your experience, and desire for deliverance, and continued re-observation of that deep frustration regarding your experience are likely stage diagnostic. Standard advice applies.

It is common in (DN) stages such as these to try to circumvent these painful insights entirely through jhanas, which is not impossible, just quite difficult for most, as it typically requires a degree of concentration that most can't manage in daily life. If one can do this, such as simply passing through these stages in realms of fluxing complex sacred geometric images, it is possible to bypass much of the pain and difficulty. Still, that is rare air stuff, and most people find that, with reassurance that they are on the right track, they get through it just fine without having to resort to the time and resources it takes to cultivate that degree of concentration power, and it ends up being a lot faster and not as bad as they feared it would be. One of the messages that these stages can send is that things will always feel this way, which is not true. I recommend you read Practical Insight Meditation, pages 29-32 or so, found here. (DhO

What is the most effective method of Vipassana? "What is the most effective method of Vipassana?" is a pretty loaded question. Definitions of "effective" vary widely. Tolerance for risks and side effects also vary widely. Some definitions of "effective" might advocate for speed over comfort, while as others would advocate for comfort over speed. Some definitions of "effective" might involve simultaneously cultivating jhanic qualities (TMI), while others might advocate for relentlessly dissecting experience (more hardcore strains of Vipassana), while others might be much more about a very organic acceptance of this moment however it presents (more some aspects of some Dzogchen/Mahamudra but also Vedantic and some Zen traditions).

When I try to answer that question, I like to know a lot more about the person asking it, as that will determine most of the answer I give. So, I will ask you a few questions: 
  • What is your definition of "effective"?
  • What would be your definition of "success" on this retreat?
  • What is your tolerance for risk and instability?
  • How stable is your underlying mental health?
  • Do you have any significant trauma history?
  • How well do you handle difficult emotions skillfully?
  • How is your sense of "ego strength" in the traditional, Freudian sense of being able to enter into difficult emotional territory with some sense of objectivity?
  • How much do you prefer more structured vs less structured techniques and approaches?
  • Which maps do you prefer, if any?
  • What is your basic personality like, in terms of more spacious, more analytical, more intuitive, more heartful, more desirous, more aversive, more calm, more energetic, etc.?
  • What are the difficulties you ran into on your previous group retreats, and how will you handle them on this solo retreat?
  • Any unusual strengths you bring to your practice that you might use to your advantage? 
Why do you desire to split your time between methods? Nearly all of the traditions and methods would be at least partially correct that sticking to their method for some reasonable period is more likely to be more effective than mixing it with other methods, though there are obvious exceptions.

TMI, Seeing that Frees, and MCTB are obviously all solid resources, but they also have some obvious paradigmatic differences and different feels. Which calls to you more and why? Do any aspects of any of them not feel like as good a fit, and, if so, why? If you have trained in the Goenka tradition, what will you be bringing from that in terms of maps, models, goals, techniques, and paradigms?

Which teachers will you be in contact with during this retreat, and would they be ok with the diversity of resources you are going to be using? Will they have the expertise to navigate the various different conceptions of and effects of practice found in those resources? (DhO)

I know of no higher or more profound teaching than the Six Sense Doors and the Three Characteristics. I have been behind many curtains for "secret teachings", and none are more profound than this one. This was that simple framework that I found most powerful for insight practices. It just requires honesty, subtlety, bravery, and perseverance. Mara's Armies await. When they attack, avoid lashing out at others. Instead, investigate within your fathom-long body. This is the teaching of the Buddha. This is the way of the Dharma. This is what has been practiced well by the Sangha. Check Daniel’s video on the Six Sense Doors and The Three Characteristics. (DhO)  

Stable, Continuous, Independent "I". That reality is too transient, too causal, to interdependent to be able to produce a stable, continuous, independent "I" is very obvious in theory and at least superficially obvious in practice even to relatively inexperienced meditators, so it is really just a process of clearly perceiving layer upon layer of sensations until none are not perceived well and then making this the default mode of attention. (DhO

Self doesn't exist, never has and never could. The self in question doesn't exist, and never has and never could, which is an essential point. Working backwards, discrimination was always not self, clarity was always not self, thought was always not self, memory was always not self, perception was always not self, effort was always not self, investigation was always not self.

The trick is to figure out how to take basically the exact same stuff and see it clearly, as when you do this well, suddenly you find that what seemed like the same stuff actually implies things totally different from when it was poorly perceived, and it shows directly:
  • All things happen on their own
  • There are no fundamental boundaries in the field of experience at some basic, transformative level
  • There never was an observer or controller or doer
  • There was never any continuous existence of anything from a direct sensate point of view, which, being the basis of all other extrapolation, is the fundamental thing 
It is sort of like that classic drawing that viewed one way looks like an old women, and viewed another way looks like a young one: same picture, completely different ways of viewing it.

Or those 3D pictures that initially look like a bunch of similarly repetitive nonsense but if you cross your eyes just right you suddenly see floating 3D images in space that you couldn't see before: same image, very different way of perceiving it. (DhO

When observing objects, each has their downsides and benefits. Physical sensations are not very interesting for most but are very accessible. Their predictability can make us dull, but we are unlikely to get stuck in them.

In contrast, more mental phehomena, such as "awareness" as conceptualized above and leading to regressions, bodily distortions, odd raptures, visions, etc. is obviously fascinating, but those objects that are fascinating tend to engage us in their specifics rather than their universal qualities, their impermanence, their emptiness, and any suffering involved in their apparent duality.

Thus, if we choose mental objects, we must be doubly vigilant that we make sure to notice them arise and vanish, sensation by sensation, otherwise we likely are just playing in more rapture-esque territory.

These bodily distortions, regressive watching questions, head swelling feelings and the like, as well as the notion of convergence and something exciting coming from them, are the product of taking mental objects as object in the early 1st and 2nd vipassana jhana but without much strong investigation. Thus, we find a imbalance of the seven factors of enlightenment: rapture is strong, concentration is strong, investigation is weak, and without investigation, one might make some progress, and one might even accidentally cross the A&P, but one learns bad habits, and may not be prepared for what tends to come next.

Thus, the rapture-happy practitioner, faced with the Dark Night, will tend to try to re-find the glory of their lower attainments, and yet, as this is regression rather than progress, they will likely falter.

Thus, if one needs to do the experiment, play with rapture-heavy objects, but realize that they will fade, and when they are gone, more advanced and challenging work begins. Or, one could just stick with the moment to moment noticing of less interesting objects.  (DhO

Access Concentration is really all you need for insight. There is a ton of ways to define it, but specifically, what MCTB2 means by it is that you can stay with your objects object after object but before interesting states have arisen. Say you can note second after second for some significant period of time without hindrances derailing your practice: count that as access concentration (and watch some people who put the bar much higher for "access concentration" roll their eyes in disgust), but that's really all you need for insight, sort of, and that sort of involves the topic of the stages of insight and how they correlate with the vipassana jhanas (watch some traditional sutta-head roll their eyes in disgust at that one also, but ignore them, as this stuff works, and you can note "eyes rolling", "eyes rolling", and have it all work out). (DhO)

Fast Noting, Slow Noting. I guess it sort of depends on what you want to use the noting for. To gain real insight, you have to have the mind's speed of receptivity be on par with how fast reality is arising, to use relative terms. Reality arises pretty fast. So, if you do slow noting, you are sort of using it as a very general frame, a frame within which much fine and important detail occurs. If you are very mindful of what occurs in that big frame, all the little details, but without using noting to get to that level, ok.

If, on the other hand, you do slow noting and are keeping to that level of resolution, meaning not really noticing the fine detail, the richness, all the little sensations, all the little back and forth interplay of sensation and mental impression, of intention and action, of memory and physical response, of the complex interplay of what makes up emotions, of the little interspersed sensations that make up what appears to be some self or observer or doer or controller, well then, you will be missing much.

It is not that you have to note fast, but eventually you do have to comprehend fast. It is not that you have to note everything, but finally you do have to comprehend everything.

I found fast noting of everything made for really fast progress in the early stages. Beyond that, I found chasing every little vibrating anything really fast and game-changing. I didn't note much in Equanimity, preferring something much more direct, full-field, and rich. (DhO)

How to measure noting speed. Start by counting "one one thou sand", which, if you say it at a normal pace, should take a second. The syllables number four, so that is 4Hz, one pulse or syllable per every 1/4th of a second, or four syllables per second.

Ok, now get musical with this, if you have some musical sense, as this makes counting frequencies a lot easier. You can make it two triplets and get 6Hz by saying or thinking "one and one thou ow sand" in a second.

Try doubling the pulse of each syllable, which could be done various ways, such as "oneone oneone thouthous sandsand", and still think this in a second, so you now have 8Hz. You could try tapping this with your hands, and you will notice that it is pretty easy to tap 8 times per second. Making them triplets gets you 12Hz, still pretty tappable. Making them quadruplets gets you to 16Hz, getting hard to tap for most people, but your mind can easily go faster than your fingers, so still mentally pretty doable. Getting faster than quadruplets requires some diving into the experience and likely some dedicated practice.  I tend to just double the quadruplets and get 32Hz, which then allows some extrapolation of frequencies in the range between 16Hz and 32Hz.

Speed 32Hz up either feeling that pulse and just speeding it up a bit, or starting with five syllables (which, multiplied by eight gets you 40), will get you a sense of what 40Hz is like, which is zipping fast. There is an app called Audio Function Generator (Pro), which can create wareforms of various types and is great for getting a sense of how fast these pulses are. I have no financial relationship to this app, BTW. If you set it on the waveform farthest to the right (looks sort of like a very flipped sideways "Z") and put in the frequency you are interested in, you can start to learn how fast these are. There are other sound generating apps and devices that will also work.

You can listen to each of them and get a sense of how fast each pulse is, and then, after doing that, if you have an ear for it, you can more rapidly get a sense of how fast pulses of experiences are without having to do all the counting, though the counting is really useful in the beginning when trying to learn how to do this.

Like so many things that initially seem daunting, this just requires practice.

I remember when I first started playing scales on my guitar, and it took me seconds to get my fingers to move to the position for each note, and I felt like I had some sort of movement disorder, I felt so clumsy, but now I can play scales faster than I can easily see my fingers hit each note, and yet they do hit them, and I can hear my fingers hit them, but it is now faster than my eye can follow when I get up to maximum speed. Learning to play scales fast took me a lot of practice, many, many hours over years. This process of leaning to count frequencies actually came more easily than playing scales fast, but I still found a lot of work.

Be patient and start with the slower pulses and build up until this is natural for you, if you wish to play the "how fast is my mind going" game, which is a pretty fun game, if you are a serious dharma phenomenology geek like I am.

… I have only achieved discrete, countable/extrapolateable speeds past about 40Hz or so in very rare, fleeting moments, usually on the tale end of the ramp up of an A&P-style event, but have easy access to stuff in the mid 20Hz range. (DhO

POI is a bit like training to be a sherpa climbing the Everest. If one expects the POI to just be linear, we go up, up, up, it doesn't work that way for most people most of the time.

Starting with the POI, to use an analogy about fetishizing brought up on Reddit, it is a bit like training to be a sherpa climbing Everest. You initially start with porting things back and forth to one of the lower basecamps. Sometimes it is raining and windy. Sometimes it is clear and beautiful. Sometimes it is dark, sometimes light. Sometimes the going is easy, sometimes not. However, by walking up and down that trail again and again, carrying various loads, dealing with different conditions, you slowly learn that part of the trail. This takes time, and it is not linear. Sometimes you don't get all the way to the camp and have to stop or go back. Sometimes the going is very easy and surprising. Sometimes there are animals. Sometimes you sprain your ankle on a slippery rock. Yet, you learn how the trail is, with all its little landmarks and signposts, trees and curves, views and struggles. You become a competent sherpa. This takes time, and a map on paper is helpful, but very small in comparison to what you learn by walking that trail many times in various conditions.

In the same way, most start off at the beginning, notice thoughts as thoughts (Mind and Body), notice some things about intention, notice things come and go, notice the Three Characteristics, even if they are not focusing on those. Sometimes we have powerful jhanic factors, the sun is shining. Sometimes our mind is stormy. Yet, the basic, fundamental insights are oddly the same, though the overall experience can feel quite different.

In the same way it goes for the other parts of the path, above the first basecamp. There may be differences, some areas intrinsically more rocky, some intrinsically colder, some warmer, some more prone to rock slides, some more prone to amazing vistas and easy walking. There is still Weather that can vary a lot. Seasons change. Snows comes and go. Winds vary. Yet, the trail is the trail just the same.

It is also true that we can have different gear. Some will travel very light, use fewer ropes, have less backup equipment, carry a smaller first aid kit, sleep less, climb more. Others will pack heavier gear, but sleep more comfortably, have more backup ropes, more pins in the rocks, better food, and their climb, while slower, may be a lot easier and more pleasant, and possibly safer in some ways. These are reasonable lifestyle choices, with pros and cons, and each must choose their own style as they go up the mountain. Neither can totally compensate for what ends up happening on the mountain, as it is Nature, and Nature does what it does, but, on average, one can predict how things might go for the hypothetical two different groups.

However, while the POI and TMI are often portrayed as opposites, the beauty of the concepts of vipassana jhanas comes in to turn a black and white discussion into one of adult thinking and shades of grey.

It might seem on the one hand that the fast POI people are the light gear, sleep less, use less ropes, take more risks, moves fast types, and the TMI people are more build lots of skills before the climb, carry a lot of backup gear, bring warmer sleeping bags and nicer food types, and this is true in generalizations. Both are very valid choices. (DhO)

Sherpa training, whose trail is the dharma path. This stuff is clearly intellectually fascinating for many when they get into it, all the weird happenings, the strange side-effects, the kundalini stuff and kriyas, the highs, the lows, but I like to think of this as training to be a sherpa, except that, in this case, the trail is the dharma path, and your own experiences of heart, mind, and body.

If you train to be a sherpa, you have to walk the same trails again and again for years. Each time you walk up and down the path, you learn something about it by just going there, just participating in the process, in a way that you could try to explain to someone, could talk about, could write something about, make maps of, but it would be nothing like the fact of just doing it.

You walk the trail at dawn, at midday, at dusk, at night. You walk it in rain and shine. Some days, the trail is easier. Some days, it is hard. Some days it is pouring hail on your head. Some days, lightning crashes around. Some days, wind threatens to blow you off the path. Some days the light breeze is so pleasant. Some days, it is utterly gorgeous. Some days, you feel lucky to have made it home. Sometimes the creeks you have to cross are low. Sometimes the creeks you have to cross are roaring torrents. Sometimes there is ice and snow. Sometimes it is blistering hot. Sometimes it is freezing cold.

From all of these varied direct experiences on the trail, having walked it literally thousands of times, you become a seasoned sherpa. You learn that trail so that you are an expert in it, have true, direct knowledge that comes from experience and handling various situations on that trail, so that you can guide people safely on that same trail in all sorts of conditions, however it presents that day or night. You know how to read the clouds, the wind, the smell in the air, the tracks on the ground, the leaves on the trees. You know the seasons and how they affect the journey. You know that, while you can explain all sorts of things to those sherpas in training that you are now teaching and to those you guide along the trail, they just have to walk that same trail again and again and again in all sorts of conditions and be present to them to really know it like you do now. (DhO)

Jhana First Camps, Vipassana First Camps and Hybrids Approaches. This question is another very old one, going back to the beginning, and you find tensions around this even in the Pali Canon, though there are very traditionalist Suttaheads that would say that the suttas causing the tension are not as authentic, being later additions, and ignoring their high degree of practical utility for practitioners. There are various schools of thought on this question also, which I will summarize into basic camps.

There are the Jhana First camps, those that say train first to get very stable concentration states, then, having left those, use the power of that trained mind to take on the Three Characteristics and attain to wisdom. May traditional Buddhist suttas clearly favor this approach, including the classic Fruits of the Homeless Life, DN 2. It is popular in Sri Lanka, and among the likes of Bhanta Gunaratana. You also find similar approaches taught by those such as Pa Auk, and some Thai Forest teachers. The pros are basically that it is true that a clear, well-trained mind that can get jhana can often manage the path of insight much more calmly than some of the other approaches, one gets the nice experiences of more pure jhanas (presuming that one can get into them without letting some vipassana slip in, which is actually kinda difficult), and some people have a natural gift for jhanas, and so a jhana approach may get them some early successes, reinforcing interest in practice.

There are the Vipassana First camps, such as Mahasi and others, that say that one doesn't need jhana, and may proceed straight to insight into the Three Characteristics of the Six Sense Doors. By doing so, one may attain to the vipassana jhanas along the way, being another conceptualization of the stages of insight but noticing their corollaries with more pure jhanas, while avoiding the traps that await for those who get into the track of jhanas and get stuck in them. Pros are that, for those who can take the heat, this method can be very fast. The downside is the heat, meaning emotional and perceptual instability, and that doesn't always go well. Some people also have a natural gift for this style and tolerance for the side-effects, and will do well in such traditions, whereas they might have had a hard time cultivating more pure jhanas, and so have gotten frustrated. I was one such type, but my personal history need not bias me against other approaches, in which I see validity.

Hybrid approaches are the last option, and we find TMI as one such tradition, and the goal here is to find the right balance of strong jhanic factors along with insight into vibrancy and lack of subtle dullness, the combination of which, at least in theory and in some practitioners, leads to that sweet spot middle ground where they have something of the best of both worlds. That said, not everyone can achieve that balance, and many will drift to one side or other at various points, either being too heavy on the samatha side but thinking that is insight, or being too heavy on the vipassana side, and getting blind-sided by the dark stuff, as talking about and normalizing the dark stuff is not as much TMI's strength. (DhO

Vipassana Jhanas and the Progress of Insight. The Samatha/Vipassana thing is complicated. There are clearly suttas where the Buddha divides the two, others where they are integrated. Without going into some long textual debate, the practical reality is that there is an axis. The more one looks at things as being smooth, pleasant, analog, the more one is doing samatha. The more one looks at things as being discrete, individual, transient sensations and notices that suffering caused by the tention in the illusion of duality, the more one is doing vipassana.

That said, in real practice, nobody can stay totally to one side or the other, and, in real practice, people oscillate from one side to the other to some degree.

So, it is nearly impossible to do pure jhana in a samatha sense and not see some of the true nature of phenomena and gain insight, and it is also nearly impossible to be doing strong vipassana practice and not chance into the samatha jhanas at times. What happens more often than not is what is described in sutta MN 111 where we get into something jhanic and then see some of their true nature and then get into the next jhana and see some of their true nature.

In this way, we get into Mind and Body, which is very samatha in general terms, and then get into Cause and Effect and the Three Characteristics, which are very vipassana, then get into the early A&P, which is very samatha in general, then get into the later part, which is very vipassana, then get into Dissiolution, which is very samatha, then get into Fear, Misery, Disgust, etc. which are very vipassana, then get into early Equanimity, which is very samatha, then get into late Equanimity, which is very vipassana, this all being a generalization.

Thus, they are at once different things and also integrated. I talk some about this in a video here

So, if you are having the experiences you are having, those are clearly stages of insight experiences, regardless of what practice you are doing.

The stages of insight are very normal things to just show up, even in non-trained, non-meditating people, as is commonly reported here (as hundreds of people have posted about), and much more so in people doing various meditative practices, including those who are just trying to do samatha or jhanas or whatever they wish to call them. (DhO)

How the Vipassana Jhanas and the Seven Factors of Awakening can help. The vipassana jhanas allow us to think with more nuance, as to the Seven Factors of Awakening. How the Vipassana Jhanas help:

If one learns to meditate very well, gains skills in samatha and vipassana, one will begin to see the correlations, how insights and jhanas relate to each other. One begins to notice through one's own experience that various factors can be optimized for in various ways. One can emphasize more jhanic factors or investigation, and, eventually, can learn to do both at the same time, and, eventually, learn to do those as one wishes, with a variety of objects, and tune the mind as one wants it to be, Weather permitting.

The vipassana jhanas concepts, which bridge the seeming gap between the POI the TMI stages, allow one to think of this as a multidimensional plane. One can notice which factors are present at any time. One can also notice the width of attention and phase issues (seeing the beginning, middle, end, or whole arising and passing of objects). One can notice the degree to which Mindfulness, Investigation, Energy, Rapture (piti and sukkha), Tranquility, Concentration, and Equanimity are present or absent. One can tune to try to optimize for those.

In this way, one can add or disgard gear, change one's hiking style, modify one's approach as the trail and Weather permit.

I personally recommend TMI to people so that they have, as they wish, strong support for those times when they feel they need more safety, more gear, more tech, more training before they get to steeper parts of the path, and it does those well. Yay, TMI! I similarly recommend other great works as well, such as Leigh Brasington's Right Concentration, Focused and Fearless and Wisdom Wide and Deep by Shaila Catherine, The Path of Serenity and Insight by Bhante Gunaratana, Seeing that Frees by Rob Burbea, In This Very Life, by Sayadaw U Pandita, etc., as all of these and more help to build up and reinforce various capabilities so that they can know what is possible and have a better sense of how to do it.

I also highly recommend learning about the concepts of the vipassana jhanas, which come from U Pandita and Bill Hamilton and the like, as they are very useful tech, useful concepts, and they allow us yet another possibly very helpful take on the territory, adding in a dimension that helps resolve apparent conflicts like samatha vs vipassana, and instead makes it about balancing and cultivating factors, working with the natural shapes of attention, dealing with the strange phase problems that can arise in the third vipassana jhana, which is where the dukkha ñanas occur, dealing with questions related to wide vs narrow focuses of attention and objects, adding in another way of looking at the concepts of central attention vs peripheral awareness, adding in additional perspectives on metacognitive awareness, adding in the natural progression of the arising of certain patterns of emotions and reations to experience, etc. They also provide one more way of thinking about and dealing with Weather.

In this way, I strongly believe that refocusing the conversation on the Seven Factors of Awakening and the vipassana jhanas helps to resolve a lot of these difficulties and expand people's horizons out of narrow, linear maps, narrow camps, narrowly defined conflicts, and narrow practice patterns, and instead have a range of styles and concepts to help them navigate in territory that is often difficult to map in real-time even for experts, but that responds well to immediate analysis of factors and recognition of attention shapes and phase issues.

Culadasa often says that he is the only one talking about peripheral awareness vs central attention, or that he discovered this, but this is not true. This concept is built into the vipassana jhanas, and is much older than TMI. In particular, one will notice that certain phases of practice really shine when it comes to one or the other, and that the natural progression is to incorporate more and more of peripheral awareness into the scope of one's attention.

In particular, the vipassana jhanas map very well to the TMI stages, with the most obvious correlations being the second vipassana jhana correlating very well with TMI 7 (where the center of attention is amazingly clear and naturally able to focus on objects with piti and sukha present), and 8 (though, being broader and with more peripheral awareness, does start to have a bit of a third vipassana jhana aspect to it), and the third vipassana jhana correlating with TMI 9, and the fourth vipassana jhana correlating with TMI 10.

In the concept of the vipassana jhanas, there is the flexibility to recognize both their vipassana nature, that ability to perceive sensations clearly as they are, to notice them come and go, and yet also the jhanic nature of this process, that the jhanic factors progress through a predictable development to end up with a broad, expansive equanimity if practice goes far enough. They also allow for horizontal or lateral work, converting insight stages into jhanas and vice versa, moving sideways or diagonally on the great plane of meditation.

Further, if one is really into map theory, the fractal concepts of the subjhanas and subñanas, which initially can appear dauntingly and needlessly complex, are actually very explanatory of lots of what would otherwise appear like irregularities along the way.

I recall a recent, extremely gratifying conversation with a very strong, competent established practitioner who was for a long time also very non-mappy, not into all the stages and numbers, thinking they didn't apply to her practice at all, who then, on practicing further, exclaimed, "Wow, I can see them, all the little substages, just like the map predicts! Amazing! It is just like a fractal! I had no idea! This is so beautiful!" This was so delightful to hear, such a source of gratitude for this amazing tech that others who came before us were kind enough to share with us. Truly, when one sees that, it is beautiful, at least for me. It is not that you have to see that beauty, or even agree that it is beautiful once you have seen it, but, if you haven't seen it, perhaps consider reserve judgement.

Anyway, I offer these concepts that I do truly believe are beautiful, useful, that help bridge gaps, explain nuances, resolve conflicts, turn apparent contradictions into dimensions of practice to be explored, and develop and claim their own style of practice. (DhO)

On the Utility and Futility of the Maps. Vincent Horn posted a thread on Twitter about his experience teaching meditation. Daniel Ingram answers point by point in DhO, in a dialogue format.

V: The following is a twitter thread posted by Vincent Horn about his experience teaching meditation:The #1 most common question I receive as a meditation teacher is: “How do I know I’m on the right track?”

D: Most of which depends largely on their goals and ways of viewing the world, as people’s own sense of “right track” shows wide variability. Vince also makes a similar point below.

V: When I first was starting out as a meditation teacher I answered this question by helping people recognize and move through the traditional state-stages of the early Buddhist meditative path (ex. The 16 stages ofthe progress of insight, the 4 paths, the 8 jhanas, etc.)

D: Which is just one very narrow aspect of the path. It is good to have grown to appreciate the vast breadth of the path.

V: I quickly realized this was a sub-optimal way of teaching because: 1) Not everyone can easily move through the traditional state-stages and have success with this approach.

D: Very true.

V: It’s a system that becomes overlaid ON TOP OF people’s lives. Then they have to change themselves (including their motivational structure) and change the world around them (good luck!) to fit the practice. Again, most people can’t do this and frankly shouldn’t.

D: Models have their specific uses and functions. If a person’s meditative goal is to move through the stage of insight, then that map has value. If a person is experiencing effects that the maps of insight describe well and those experiences are causing difficulty, then the maps of insight can provide normalization and also helpful stage-specific advice. It is also possible that they describe some aspects of attentional development that have some universal application, and in this they can sometimes be useful also.

V: It presumes that the early Buddhist framework has the best answer on why and how you should be practicing. If this doesn’t align with why one is actually meditating it creates huge (and unnecessary) friction.

D: No, it doesn’t. That these maps are useful for some and not as useful for others is nothing profound, as this has been noticed on this forum (which Vince helped start almost 10 years ago) many, many times. This point about various goals and various maps being helpful or not helpful for those goals has been debated literally thousands of times on this website and many others, clearly showing that his point about friction, is obvious. The degree to which that friction is unncessary is also very complex. There are multiple interpretations, including the lack of utility or applicability of the maps, the lack of the ability of the person to appreciate or utilize maps that might actually have utility and descriptive power, and various other scenarios. One must look at the various factors in the equation, part of which is the maps, and part of which is the ability of practitioners to understand and properly apply them. It is not so simple. Friction can arise from numerous causes, including maps being applied to situations they don't fit well, maps being applied in improper ways, maps being insufficiently nuanced to match with what is going on, maps being taken too seriously, maps not being taken seriously enough, maps not being appreciated when they actually fit well with a situation but are not appreciated due to other causes (which might benefit from identification, not that this identification will always allow them to be overcome), maps being misinterpreted, etc. Identifying the cause of the "friction" is not always so easy.

V: The traditions usually say to change yourself to fit “the right view”, but I’ve found it’s much more effective to work with people’s own motivational structure and offer what I’ve found useful in response to that from all the methods and approaches I’ve practiced.

D: This has been noticed on this forum and its sister communities countless times. People have very diverse motivations for practice, and generally fail when motivations and their underlying capabilities and conditioning don’t align with some practice, map, or ideal. Then the question of which should be changed, the person or the ideal, or if there should be some meeting in the middle, or even some entirely different question asked, rightly becomes the essential complex discussion.

V: Now when I’m asked the question, “Am I on the right track?” I respond by asking a series of questions to try and help expose people to their own assumptions about what the path is, how it should look, and what their deepest motivations for doing this actually are.

D: As has been noticed again and again here, most people are not motivated to pursue insight directly and deeply, instead having many other perfectly valid and also questionable agendas and goals. As it mentions in the Foreword and Warning of MCTB, even most people who identify strongly as Buddhists are not into deep insight practice and the technical aspects of the Buddhist path. Assessing motivation is clearly critical to any conversation regarding what needs people are trying to get met by engaging with meditation traditions and those in them. Clearly, discussing insight stages with people who are not into them and not interested in those topics makes little sense, as Vince points out. There is still much valid debate about what to do with people who run into identity-reality conflicts when they believe they somehow should be into technical meditation but really aren't (as is very common), as well as those who believe for some reason that they shouldn't be into technical but actually are (as is also somewhat common).

V: Once we’ve uncovered the deep motivation the path begins to reveal itself and waking the path isn’t a struggle. It’s still challenging, but it’s the challenge of transformation, not the challenge of trying to force oneself into an ideological straight jacket

D: Anyone who is using the models as an ideological straight jacket or viewing models as an ideological straight jacket should, as Vince suggests, find a different relationship to the models, as they were meant to be descriptive, supportive, and normalizing, not impeding or limiting. One must beware that one not set up a straw-man argument which says, “Those who advocate for the ideologically straight-jacketing models are on the wrong track,” as those who use the models well realize their limitations and hopefully provide appropriate qualifiers and nuance to try to reduce the occurrence of people taking the models that way.

V: With this approach authority becomes less centralized.  The emphasis is not on helping people get enlightened (with a preconception about what that is) but rather on helping people learn how to get enlightened, while not knowing what that will be like.

D: Discussions about what awakening is and what can or can’t be known about that, what can or can’t be modeled about that, and what can or can’t be predicted about that, as well as what various people think it looks like, would be long, so I will let this point go for the moment. 

V: Traditional maps and models become useful only insofar as they map onto a students experience and predilections. Interestingly, I’ve found they hold up fairly well and continue to be surprisingly useful.

D: I would suggest the qualifier that the degree of the teacher’s sophistication, breadth, nuance, and skill in using the maps might also come into play. I would also add that students are not static and can learn and grow to appreciate various meditative technologies that they might not initially have found as appealing.

V: My current guess as to why that is has to do with the deep structures of contemplative transformation as well as with people’s contemplative predilections. Some people’s awakening, even when it’s self-directed, has a “zen” or “vipassana” or “vajrayana” flavor.

D: I noticed something similar in my own practice, attaining Vajrayana-esque results with methods that were relentlessly Theravadin. Clearly, the various strains of Buddhism arose in response to practitioners and cultures with different styles and tendencies.

V: When I see those contemplative predilections that’s when I suggest people check out traditional sources. But it’s more about fleshing out one’s current understanding rather than using them as functional maps.

D: I agree, that careful conversations with any practitioner regarding what they are trying to do, where they come from, what they have tried so far, how that worked, what went wrong, what went right, where they are now, and all of that, can help inform a conversation about how to meet that person’s specific needs in that moment, balance what might be balanced, and enhance what might be enhanced. The basic questions, "What's going on with you now?", "What is the history of your practice so far?", "What do you need help with now?", "What skills and resources, as well as limitations and difficulties, need to be considered in providing you advice?" and "How will you judge the efficacy of any advice given?" are all a very good idea, as with any therapeutic, healing, educational, or similar endeavor.

V: The only functional map, IME, is one that’s being constantly reformulated using real-time data from multiple sources, including: oneself, peers, teachers, traditional sources, and wise people who exist outside of these systems. I call this triangulating the path.

D: This “triangulation” has been going on for thousands of years across continents, and certainly has been part of the nearly 10-year-long discussion here at the DhO, which Vince helped found with me on these original principles, as more data of good quality clearly helps move the field forward. May it continue with openness, skill, nuance, comradery, and an appreciation of the vastness and richness of the path. (DhO)

Map-Obsession: Hindrances in sheep's clothing. The maps of meditation can be remarkable technology, helping to explain, normalize, and contextualize strange experiences that can result from meditation or even just being alive. They can provide extremely helpful warnings of common pitfalls, help meditators figure out how to make progress through odd, unfamiliar territory, catch what they are missing, and even explore cool options related to whatever is going on that otherwise might have remained hidden.

However, as basically anyone in a map-based tradition knows all too well, they can also end up becoming a source of fixation, obsession, and distraction. In this, they become hindrances for those who are educated in the maps.

The standard Five Hindrances are desire, aversion, boredom, restlessness and worry, and skeptical doubt. Every single one of those can drive those prone to analysis to fixate on maps in a way that derails practice in exactly the way that the more standard, non-map presentations of the hindrances can, except repackaged and rebranded to appeal to those who have been given these empowering frameworks.

It is often very obvious when the hindrance of desire shows up in some mundane form. The mind fixates on something, some image, some dream in the future, a new phone, a new car, a fun vacation, a person we find attractive, some great meal we could have, etc. Hopefully, if we have some meditation skills, soon enough we notice, “Ah, this is the hindrance of desire,” and hopefully notice it as a pattern of sensations and get our meditation back on track.

However, the desire to achieve some future meditation goal, some next stage, some next state, some path: when that arises and becomes the object of desire, it can seem so sanctioned, so helpful, so much a source of motivation and inspiration, so what we are supposed to be doing in our meditation, that we hardly notice this is just the hindrance of desire repackaged in a much shinier wrapper, a wrapper so shiny we may hardly notice it for the ordinary, disruptive hindrance that it is.

By being pulled towards the future instead of this moment just as it is, we ironically thwart that same desire, as it is each immediate unfolding moment that forms the basis of progress, not some non-existent future moment unless we can notice the immediate experiences of the thoughts that make up that sense of future right now as they are, and notice that pull towards the future in our body just as it occurs.

If we can do this, we turn a hindrance back into meditation. If not, we reinforce the bad habit of obsessing on an imagined future without insight into that obsession, so that next time, it will be easier to fall back into that trap instead of actually making progress. We must guard against building that sort of wiring without turning it into an object of skillful inquiry as it occurs.

The same is true of aversion. When aversion arises, as hatred, irritation, anger, or some other emotion that pushes experiences away, hopefully we notice this hindrance as the hindrance it is and get back to meditation. We hopefully learn to notice when we are replaying an old argument in our heads, notice when we rehash old grievances, notice when we try to get away from our knee or back pain, notice when we get frustrated by our meditation experience, etc.

However, when the hindrance of map-fixation arises as aversion, while not pleasant either, it seems so much more important. We reject what we are feeling, seeing, hearing, thinking, smelling, and tasting as it isn’t what is supposed to be happening, so our mapping mind erroneously tells us. We reject whatever state or stage we are in. We reject the qualities that make up our actual experience for some imagined experience we would greatly prefer. We cut ourselves off from the sensations occurring now due to the ordinary hindrance of aversion, but again repackaged in the wrapper of the tradition’s Mighty Maps.

We can be so convinced this is good meditation when in fact it is just aversion fooling us again. If we can notice the sensations of aversion when they arise in this seductive way, we can make them a foundation of progress rather than further reinforcing the bad habit of cultivating hindrances.

Like aversion and desire, boredom can also camouflage itself in the garb of map fixation and stealthily attack. The breath seems so boring, we think, but jhana sounds so good. The feet are just feet, we think, but somewhere else is Nibbana. The technique is tedious and tiresome, but one day we will be awakened. Through boredom, which is common in the early stages of meditation, but even some later stages as well, we slip into daydreams of desire and aversion, or just ordinary dullness, but it is really fueled by boredom in these cases, a lack of ability to appreciate the vivid, amazing, remarkable truths that each of these seemingly boring sensations is trying to tell us if we just learned how to pay attention to them clearly.

If we can learn to perceive the remarkably fascinating intricacy of all the little vivid sensations of our meditation objects, experience, and boredom itself, we can turn these into sources of progress, but if we persist in the habit of boredom, again that habit is written into our minds and we are more likely to fall into it next time.

Restlessness and worry also often arise as map fixation in smart people. When they arise the ordinary way, worry about our job, relationship, finances, education, or just restlessness and ordinary anxiety on the cushion or when walking or whatever, we hopefully are able to recognize them as the hindrances they are. However, when they arise in more map-fixated forms, they may be a lot more pernicious.

Questions that seem so compellingly important can arise, such as, “Will I have enough time left on this retreat to get Stream Entry?”, or “What will happen if I leave this retreat still darknighting this hard?” Ordinary restlessness and worry have wrapped themselves in the cloak of mappiness and struck hard. We need to identify these as the hindrances the immediate patterns of sensations they are, or, like an evil grand vizier who has gained the ear of the sultan, they can lead us into trouble.

Similarly, skeptical doubt can creep in just like restlessness and worry, and often they gang up together for asymmetrical warfare guerrilla attacks, again disguised as oh-so-compelling map fixation.

“Is this really the right technique for me? Maybe if I did another technique I would get jhana or awakened faster?”

“What if I can’t handle the difficult meditation stages?”

“Everyone else seems to be getting to stages and states that I can’t; maybe I am just born to be a bad meditator.”

“My teachers aren’t giving me the right instructions, as I am still stuck in this stage and unable to get to some other stage.”

“What if there are other, hidden, secret teachings that lead to much better awakening variants than this technique?”, basically the map-based version of FOMO (fear of missing out).

Doubt can even manifest in more insidious forms, as we map and analyze each little bit of each stage and state as they arise, placing them into our mental map of “where we are”, being somehow certain that this is oh-so-important and that if we do this, something great will happen, and if we don’t, something bad will happen. We doubt that we can just let sensations show us their truths, and instead are sure we have to retrofit our own intellectual and phenomenological brilliance on top of them and that this is a great idea. It is not that we might not recognize familiar landmarks as they arise, as that is normal to a trained mind familiar with the states and stages, but if this becomes the focus of our meditation rather than the landmarks, then it can subtly or overtly derail practice.

If we don’t catch these sorts of thoughts filled with map-based doubt, restlessness, and worry, seeing them as the patterns of immediate sensations that they are, they will immediately derail our practice and ironically make the outcomes they fear much more likely.

In this way, we see that essentially all map-obsessed thoughts that derail practice are just the ordinary hindrances dressed up in compelling disguises. Thus armed, we can go back to basics, learn to recognize each of these hindrances when they occur, even in sophisticated forms, and apply the appropriate remedies. We can learn to see these sensations as they are. We can redirect an unhelpful fixation on an imagined future and a long-gone past to comprehension of this moment as it is, even if that moment involves sensations that ordinarily might become hindrances. In these skillful ways, we can avoid the very traps that all of these hindrances simultaneously fear and yet ironically create.

A very similar analysis of the causes of map-based fixation can be constructed from the later version of the Ten Armies of Mara, which has considerable overlap with the Five Hindrances but adds a few more of relevance, typically listed as: 
  • Desire and sensual pleasures
  • Discontent
  • Hunger and thirst
  • Craving
  • Sloth and torpor
  • Fear
  • Doubt
  • Conceit and ingratitude
  • Gain, renown, honor, and falsely received fame
  • Extolling one’s self and disparaging others 
When Mara’s armies attack cloaked as indispensable map fixation, be on guard in the same way at the other hindrances.

Learning these skills is essential for meditators who have learned the maps so that they can draw on their amazing benefits while not being impeded by falling into the well-known traps that they can create if misused. (DhO Link to text at Daniel's blog.

Overcalling and Misdiagnosing Experiences, A Shadow Side of the Maps. As the years of reading Dharma Overground posts, getting emails about the dharma, and talking with people, including various dharma teachers, about the reports and languaging used by various practitioners who have had access to the maps have shown, it is extremely common for people to overestimate their dharma attainments, sometimes wildly.

The list of possible errors is very large, and I will not cover all the possible ways one can go wrong, instead focusing on the most common patterns and errors.

By far the most common occurrences occur around the Arising and Passing Away (A&P), typically mistaking it for much higher attainments. While there are strong warnings against doing this, it is very common anyway.

The A&P is so commonly mistaken for things like Equanimity, higher jhanas (third and fourth, as well as formless realms), and Stream Entry, or even some higher path, even on its first occurrence, that I now have to actively check myself when responding to emails and forum posts so that I don't automatically assume that this is what has gone on, as it is probably 50:1 that someone claiming Stream Entry has actually just crossed the A&P. Ditto for people claiming Second Path or higher, when they might have just crossed the A&P two or three times, counting each as a path.

I highly encourage people to read the criteria and descriptions of both the A&P and path attainments extremely carefully before calling anything a path, and to test out any purported realizations carefully for months to years to see if they actually hold up, meet all the criteria, and perform as they should.

The following are pathognomonic for (meaning diagnostic on their own) or highly suggestive of something that was somewhere in the territory of A&P and not a path: anything involving "energy", anything involving a "vortex", anything involving any spontaneous movements beyond just the eyelids flickering briefly, anything of which one thought the word "kundalini", anything that involves intense heat, anything that before the event involved significant bliss or rapture, anything that might be described as "orgasmic", anything that involved something that would be described as "intense", anything that involved anything that was "mind-blowing", anything that involved a bright white light in the center of attention, anything that happened in a dream, anything that was preceded immediately by hard bodily pain or tension, anything that was preceded immediately by very odd bodily asymmetry, twistings or odd postural problems, and nearly anything that occurred in the first few days of a retreat, and anything that might be described as "powerful".

If it had any of those criteria, the chances of it being a path attainment go down dramatically from the already low level of probability.

Other common themes of dharma misdiagnosis worth mentioning include mistaking the stage of Three Characteristics (insight stage 3) for the Dark Night (typically insight stages 6-10, as stage 5, Dissolution, typically isn't that unpleasant). It is very common in the first week of a retreat to have some dark periods that are typically accompanied by hard bodily pain, odd postural stuff, and this can also be accompanied by spontaneous crying, heavy emotions, and an increased sense of suffering. This misdiagnosis increases the chances that the next phase, meaning the A&P (insight stage 4), is then misdiagnosed as Equanimity or a path.

The Dark Night proper very rarely involves any spontaneous movements or postural problems in the way that the stage of the Three Characteristics does.

Equanimity almost never involves energetic phenomena like the A&P does, almost never involves bright lights, almost never has any significant spontaneous movements, almost never is described as "mind-blowing", but, just to add to the confusion, can have some powers manifest, though these are much more common during the A&P than in Equanimity. A substantial portion of people in Equanimity will hardly notice it.

It is common for people to cross the A&P many times on retreat and sometimes in daily life before getting a good sense of Equanimity, and this goes many times more for getting a path. The A&P can manifest in a wide variety of ways, not all of which are intense. The A&P can involve "blips", "gaps", "blackouts", and other strange moments that can fool people into thinking they are Fruitions, path attainments, and even formless realms.

Speaking of formless realms: they are truly formless, meaning there is no sense of a body during them, no sense of breathing, and instead they show their distinct characteristics in a full, profound, silent way. They are not "intense", but they are impressive, though it is a quiet, subtle profundity.

Paths should perform as paths. They should create life-long reductions in suffering. They should meet the other criteria, which you will find in places such as MCTB2. If one thinks one has attained a path, put it through its paces. Question it. Explore it, whatever it is. See how it holds up. See if you can do anything like what a trained stream enterer should be able to do. Go on retreats and performance test it against very good practice. See if you can get repeat Fruitions. See if you can sit down in the A&P and drop rapidly into Dissolution. See if you can call up the stages in order, out of order, and control their duration. Give it time, weeks, months, years. Practice well. See what happens and be honest about it. Investigate carefully the sensations and content of any ideals you have for spiritual perfection and attainment and see how they actually perform in living mammals such as yourself.

While it is true that the A&P can cause life-long changes in a practitioner (or anyone for that matter), being the first of the real points of no return on the journey, it doesn't perform like a true path attainment in terms of control and mastery of insight stages in a true Review phase. It doesn't lead to the rapid and natural cycling that Review does.

In particular, diagnosing Third Path should be done cautiously and with great skepticism. If you actually have it, it can handle this skepticism. If you don't, you will benefit from not being led astray. Waking reality should have a significant reduction in the sense of control, the sense of center point, the sense of agency, the sense of contraction into thoughts and emotions, as well as a significant walking-around appreciation of what the Tibetans would call "luminosity" and others might just call the intrinsic light of awareness that is built into sensations and space itself, all of which are utterly transient. There should be a significant appreciation of this moment being it, even if that sense is not perfectly complete. Third path should perform as Third Path.

Diagnosing arahatship should be done with even more caution, and I give the strict criteria for it in MCTB2. It should hold up across years, mind states, all challenges, all cycles, in a way that in every moment is very, very obvious if attention is turned to the question of attainments. Reality is immediate. There is no sense of Subject at all. There is no sense of localized perception in some central Watcher at all. There is no sense of anything that is held back or excluded from automatically co-emergent wisdom of clear comprehension and no possibility of this happening. There is a perfect sense of the naturalness of things unfolding causally, automatically. These are flawless, inviolable, automatic, requiring no effort, mindfulness, checking, or anything like that. They are hardwired into the mechanisms of perception. There are other criteria, and one should review them carefully with a critical eye when assessing any thoughts about having attained to arahatship and see how that sense persists across challenges and years.

Dharma diagnosis is easy to get wrong. Events must be taken in context. Criteria must be carefully applied, realizing that clear dharma diagnosis is challenging even for people with decades of experience in it who have helped thousands of people try to sort these things out. Models are imperfect, but that is no excuse for throwing them out, as they are based on millennia of expertise and experimentation.

Dharma misdiagnosis can have significant consequences for practice, fooling people into settling for events, occurrences, and attainments that are significantly below what they might have been capable of without falling into the traps of the maps.

This also hasn't even touched on the overlap between dharma experiences and mental illness, from mania to depression, schizophrenia, personality disorders, trauma, and all of that, which can make sorting out what is going on significantly harder and require attention and care. In general, if you have concerns about your mental health, talk with professionals who have that expertise and can help you. When trying to sort out dharma diagnoses, keep in touch with good friends and teachers who have sufficient expertise in that also.

This also hasn't addressed other medical issues that might be going on, of which the list is vast and too complex to describe here.

While it is true that some will underdiagnose, this is vastly less common than overdiagnosis. Many of us come from a culture where trophies for just showing up are now considered required and we all are sure we are above average, but this mentality is not your friend when it comes to meditation practice.

Overcalling attainments has become something of an endemic disease in those exposed to the maps. It annoys the heck out of dharma teachers who feel some responsibility to keep practitioners on the rails and in the realms of reality. Describe practice simply and clearly, being careful with dharma terms, until you and your teacher get some sense of a comfort with that sort of language, something that definitely won't happen with all teachers.

Use dharma terms and maps responsibly. Don't fall into the large group of practitioners who now go around proving right those that advocate for profound secrecy and proprietary restriction of access to dharma maps and criteria by making all of the mistakes that they use to justify keeping practitioners in the dark about maps. Be an upstanding advocate for free and open dharma by proving that practitioners can be smart enough and skillful with regard to the maps to not make them more of a problem than they problems that openly disclosing them is designed to cure, namely ignorant, lack-luster practice that gets nowhere, coupled with people crashing around after events like the A&P and Dark Night stages without normalization and contextualization, as well as supportive technologies for dealing with those.

If you are given meditation instructions, report in straightforward terms what happens in your six senses when you follow those instructions. If you wish to use dharma terms, discuss their precise meaning and skillful use with your teacher or dharma friends before attempting to simply describe your practice with them, and, if your dharma teacher or friends are not comfortable with the use of those terms, return to very straightforward, simple, non-dharma descriptions of what is occurring.

If you are practicing and notice that you are analyzing and trying to map and compare your experiences to those things you have read about or heard talked about, be vigilant and notice the sensations that make up analysis, as they can significantly derail practice.

Be very careful around comparison and competition that doesn't lead to immediate sensate investigation, and instead leads to emotional and interpersonal difficulties: these are significant traps that lay in wait for those who have been exposed to and try to use the maps of meditation. Comparison and competition, when it becomes unhealthy, can ruin friendships, communities, and practitioners themselves.

Also, various traditions may use terms radically differently than you do, using wildly different criteria and definitions for a whole host of dharma terms. Avoid getting into pissing matches with other practitioners and teachers that just lead to annoyance and contraction into tribalism rather than to wisdom, friendship, and clarification of the dharma. There are places and times where healthy dharma debate can be very skillful, but watch for those times when this is not the case. The traditions have been arguing with each other for thousands of years, and your rant that day isn't going to suddenly bring the factions together or resolve these conflicts.

In that vein, be careful with rigid, categorical thinking rather than dimensional thinking that can appreciate shades of grey. It's not that there isn't a place for some rigid categories and concepts in the dharma, as there is, but we must use care around such things and be sure that, when we use categorical thinking, it really is serving some useful purpose that can't be better served with language and concepts that have more nuance.

Luckily, at all stages of insight, careful, direct investigative comprehension of the Three Characteristics of the Six Sense Doors can further practice. If one is practicing samatha, then there are always greater depths of practice that can be explored. Further, whatever you have attained, as those have been doing this long enough all know, continued practice has a way of deepening whatever it is you have attained. The Buddha continued to practice long hours and go on yearly three-month retreats even decades after his awakening: may we learn from his example. (DhOText at Daniel's webpage  
  
An Unified theory of Meditation is not going to happen. The chasms that would need to be bridged are vast, the arguments to be solved are huge, the territoriality to be overcome is nearly insurmountable, the long-standing feuds are too numerous, the intractable propaganda positions taken are too entrenched, and the level of understanding of most of the people that are running the sects and institutions that would have to be on board to make that happen are generally way too low.

Even Culadasa and I can't get along on numerous points, and we are so close in some ways it is like Holland and Belgium feuding with each other, and we think of ourselves as educated, sane, reasonable people, both have doctoral degrees [note: this was written before Culadasa's academic credentials came under dispute], both dream of having a scientific perspective applied to the dharma, and yet, and yet...

Even plenty of theoretically reasonable, smart, sane, well-educated, well-practiced people that are seriously into Pragmatic Dharma and came up in the same traditions haven't been able to get along on the DhO. Heck, Kenneth Folk and I haven't spoken in years, and we are as close as it gets, in theory, but, in practice, we all just seriously fucking suck in comparison to the level of maturity that would be required, and the degree to which we would all need to get the fuck over ourselves.

I think the experiment has been done, and the dream that we will do something like Chemistry did with nomenclature, or Mathematics with symbols, or Physics with formulae is not going to happen, as we are just too immature, too stupid, too blind, too attached to our little feudal kingdoms, proprietary brands, and the like.

My two cents this cynical evening. You can't know how much I would love to be proven wrong on this…

… Major chasms too vast to be easily bridged, and this is far from a complete list: 
  • A luminous, stable all-ground of consciousness vs the true emptiness of any real, stable consciousness: this single point has fractured traditions for over 2,500 years and likely will as long as there are practitioners. People get really pissy about this one. 
  • How to handle emphases on samatha vs insight: again a point that fractures traditions and has for millennia. 
  • Should you even use maps at all? Whole traditions are seriously into their non-mappiness, just as others are seriously into their mappiness, and never the twain shall meet. 
  • Gurus vs not? Whole traditions split over this. 
  • What texts to follow? Seriously, even the Theravada, typically a bastion of clarity on these sorts of points, have whole groups that throw out not only the commentaries but huge chunks of the Pali Canon as "not being authentic enough", and if they don't think most of the Pali Canon is authentic enough, consider their opinion on, say, the Mahayana Sutras. 
  • What is jhana? Seriously, even reasonable people can't seem to help but get all categorical in their thinking vs dimensional in their thinking, and so write off and disparage everything that doesn't fit into their narrow little boxes. 
  • What is awakening and what does it look like? Seriously a never ending clusterfuck of absurdity, dogma, and sectarian crazy happens over this one. 
  • Which object to use: breath, body, mantra, visualization, space, what? Whole traditions fracture over this one. Look at Goenka vs Mahasi vs TMI vs Pa Auk etc.: these are all theoretically in the Theravada, yet many adherants of these sects can barely even agree that the others might have valid points about how they do their practices. 
  • Effort vs non-effort/Goals vs non-goals? Whole traditions split on this one. Compare tons of neo-Advaita and Zen traditions with those more mappy ones and see how that is going to be resolved, meaning not likely at all. 
  • Sila: serious complexities exist: consider the vegetarian vs non-vegetarian traditions, the drinking vs non-drinking traditions, the entheogenic vs non-entheogenic traditions, the pro-life vs pro-choice traditions, and then add in all the disagrements about money and the dharma, and on, and on, and on... 
Then add in all the sect and center leaders with major personality disorders, particularly those who have the stronger Cluster B traits, which are numerous, and imagine how they are all going to get along.

Then add in all the competition for market share, readership, social media views, and the like, and then add in the for-profit Mindfulness corporate entities, and imagine how they are all going to come together, I mean have a Mega-merger to Massive Consolidated Mindfulness, Inc. (DhO

The Hierarchy of Vipassana Practice. After a number of conversations recently with various people, I realized that my conception of the hierarchy and essence of vipassana practice wasn't written down anywhere I could remember, so I thought I would write it down here. This is more geared to the type of concentration one develops on retreat, but may apply just as well in daily life for those who are diligent and skilled or aspire to be.

It would be nice to start at the top, even though people don't generally seem wired to do that, but just to keep it in mind:

At one's best, one attains to Conformity Knowledge, Insight Stage #12, in which one comprehends simultaneously two of the Three Characteristics of one's entire sense field completely including space, consciousness, and everything else in that volume as an integrated whole. That's what you are shooting for if you are going for stream entry at least, and it even works well for the sort of continuous complete mindfulness that works well for higher paths.

However, I will go back to the bottom, which is where most start and often return, and work back up from there: 
  1. Not trying to practice, lost in one's stuff, spacing out, mindfulness weak.
  2. Mindfulness weak, lost in one's stuff, but at least attempting some technique at times, even if one can't actually do it. People spend whole retreats at this level, unfortunately.
  3. Able to actually practice and follow basic instructions somewhat, such as noting, body scanning, or whatever you are trying to do. I'll go non-technique specific here, as this is a guide to the essence of the thing. Basically any technique or object or posture that moves you up this hierarchy and keeps you there is what matters, and nothing about the specifics of what you are paying attention to or how you are trying to pay attention to it is important so long as it serves that fundamental goal.
  4. Able to actually do a specific vipassana technique or set of techniques well with few interruptions.
  5. Able to actually do that with no interruptions.
  6. To be able to directly perceive the Three Characteristics of objects in the center of attention consistently and directly whether or not one is using a more specific technique or not. In short, if you can do this, at that time and for however long that lasts, whether or not you use a more formal technique is irrelevant.
  7. To be able to directly and continuously perceive the sensations that make up the coarse background components also in that same light of strong, direct vipassana awareness, meaning direct comprehension of the Three Characteristics of not only the foreground objects, but things like rapture, equanimity, fear, doubt, frustration, analysis, expectation and other sensations in the periphery, as well as other objects as they arise, such as thoughts and the component sensations of feelings as well as the primary object or objects, assuming one is even using primary objects at this point, which is not necessary.
  8. To be able to do #7 very well and then add core processes such as the sensations that seem to make up attention itself, intention itself, memory itself, questioning, effort, surrender, subtle fear, space, consciousness, and everything that seems to be Subject or Observer or Self all the way through the skull, neck, chest, abdomen and all of space such that nothing is excluded from this comprehensive, cutting, piercing, instantly comprehending clarity that is synchronized with all phenomena or just about to be.
  9. Able to do #8 naturally, effortlessly and clearly due to one's diligent efforts to write that wiring on the mind as one's new baseline default mode of perception.
  10. We are back where we started: one comprehends simultaneously two of the Three Characteristics of one's entire sense field completely including, space, consciousness, and everything else in that volume as an integrated whole and so attain to Change of Lineage, Path and Fruition. That's what you are shooting for if you are going for stream entry at least, and it even works well for the sort of continuous complete mindfulness that brings on higher paths. 
Keeping this hierarchy in mind, many questions are answered either directly or with small amounts of additional information. 

Q: Does it matter what object I use? 
  • A: Only if that object at that moment in time helps you at least stay above the lower few levels of the hierarchy and hopefully progress up them. 
Q: Does it matter if my concentration is really focused or broad? 
  • A: As all you have to do is comprehend the Three Characteristics of one's sum total reality for 3 moments, you only need really limited objects if you haven't gotten automatically fluent enough with other objects to attain to Conformity Knowledge on them. By way of example: if you can get your attention focused exclusively on the breath and comprehend the sensations that make it and the attention focussing apparatus, as that is all there is, that's all you need to understand. If you can't get it that focussed but have attained through diligent work a natural fluency in a wider array of other sensations, then broader attention will do you just fine.
Q: Does it matter what technique I use?
  • A: I would say scramble up the hierarchy however you can using any object you can and whatever dose it takes to get there, changing objects, focuses, techniques, postures, or whatever other factors need to be changed if those help you rise higher and stay there. This is the pragmatists approach to vipassana rather than the dogmatic traditionalists approach to vipassana. If a dogmatic and traditional approach gets you up the hierarchy, there is no conflict between these at all. If your dogmatic and traditional approach is not working at that moment, sit, walking period, hour, month, or year, try switching things around, preferably with the help of good guidance if available, to see what does get you up a notch.
Q: When should I stop noting and just pay attention?
  • A: You can definitely stop when at that particular time you are at stage #6 or higher, but you could also continue so long as it didn't slow you down or restrict your ability to comprehend whatever arises in its rich and comprehensive entirety.
Q: Which technique is better: Noting, Body Scanning, Zen Koan Training, or what?
  • A: Whatever at that time helps you progress or at least stabilize above the bottom levels of that hierarchy. Note: techniques take time to learn, so continuous abandoning of one poorly-learned technique for another poorly-learned technique is unlikely to do much of anything good, but if you have learned a few techniques well, they anything that works goes. One should realize that this is for most people a very dynamic and non-linear progression, with many risings and fallings up the ranks of the hierarchy, and learning how to shift focus or approach at the right time is a learned skill that requires constant vigilance and practice, but having the basic goals in mind should help guide you.
For instance, say one had decided to use noting practice, and had gotten to stage 2, Cause and Effect, with steady, slow noting, but then bad back pain began to derail one's attempts at noting in stage three, Three Characterisics, during which time one fell back to poor practice. One might reflect: "Ah, I am no longer able to do slow noting, at least I should try to do slow noting, and perhaps choose a different posture that wasn't so painful for a time in a mindful way."

Or, one might have been doing noting up through the Three Characteristics stage, but then began to notice energetic phenomena, heat and kundalini stuff show up that was too fast to note, at which point one might think, "Ah, I was really good at blasting through the A&P using more Goenka-style body scanning on a previous retreat and know how to do that, maybe I will give that a try, as it worked well before."

Or, one might have been rockin' it in the A&P by rapidly and directly perceiving fast vibrations and tingling interference patterns, but when one got to Dissolution notice that one's practice was completely derailed and one was just spacing out. One might reflect, "Ah, whereas before I was rockin' it in the A&P, now my practice has fallen to the bottom of the barrel, and perhaps attempting to do slow noting and build back up to more direct methods when I can would be better than floundering." Good plan.

Or, one might be high up in Equanimity and yet not be able to land a Fruition. One might ask oneself, "What core process, subtle background or foreground sensations, or other patterns of experience are not yet brought into the clear light in the way I have done for so many objects?" In this way, one sees what one is missing and, having learned to see those objects naturally also, lands it.

Working thus, one gets a sense of how one may adjust one's practice to accommodate what is happening and keep one riding the waves of changes that vipassana in all its forms can throw at one. (DhO)

Arising & Passing Away

Arising and Passing Away. A lot of people here in DhO routinely question if they crossed the A&P. If you are hunting around sites like this one trying to answer that question, you probably did, as that is the sort of thing people above the A&P do … The Arising and Passing Away is … what I consider to be the first major dividing line or point of no return. The range of presentation of the A&P is so vast and complex that some will probably be amazed that the things I am about to describe could all by related to the A&P. I make no apologies for this, as I have traversed this territory literally thousands of times over the last 26 years or so and also had the opportunity to hear and read many people’s reports of the same territory. I will begin listing the aspects of its presentation range in no particular order as they come to me, just to get them down on paper. Realize that any individual crossing of the A&P may only draw from a few of the more specific elements below, but the functional effect will be essentially the same. 

Context. The A&P can happen in a very wide variety of life experiences, while awake or in dreams, in people who meditate and people who don’t, early in childhood or late in life, during febrile illness, hallucinogenic drug experiences, yoga classes, breathing workshops, childbirth/labor, sex, exercise in general, long marches, prolonged solitude, traumatic experiences, and in many other circumstances. Most meditators I know actually crossed it before they got into meditation with no idea what it was (as happened to me) and it was the reason (often without knowing it) that they got into meditation or whatever thing they are into, rather than the other way around.

The context of the A&P will often hold a special place in the heart of the meditator due to the association with it, e.g. a person who crossed it while doing mescaline may have a lifelong affinity for those sorts of traditions and substances, while someone who crossed it while in the presence of a Christian faith healer may forever hold a special place in their heart for Christianity or that particular faith healer. 

Duration. The A&P duration as it unfolds for some may take months and for some may be less than a second, and this can vary widely as one re-crosses it. 

Intensity. The A&P for many will be a very memorable peak experience or set of experiences, but for others they may barely remember it or not remember it at all, depending on the way it presented and how old they were when it did it, as well as many other factors. For example, compare a person who has weeks of profound bliss pouring through their bodies while seeing visions of celestial lights on meditation retreat to a person sitting on a couch who had about a half-second zap of mild-moderate intensity energy through the back of their head and down their spine and nothing else at all. Both in timing and duration these would seem quite different, and yet functionally they may be the same from an overall map point of view. 

Energetic phenomena. The A&P may, for many, involve energetic phenomena, but how this manifests can vary widely, including but not limited to: 
  • feelings of vibrations spreading out through one’s body
  • feeling of vibrations in the spine or areas associated with “energy channels”
  • actually seeing energy or “energy channels”
  • the feeling that one can manipulate or control these energetic phenomena
  • seeing interference patterns between experiences or what may be perceived as moving moiré patterns of energy and/or experiences in one’s body
  • feeling these energies or vibrations change frequency with the phase of the breath, typically getting faster in the middle of the in and out breath and slower at the top and bottom of the breath
  • vortexes of energy in one’s body, usually showing up going through one’s spine and/or through one’s ears or head into one’s spine, but can involve all sorts of other vortex-like phenomena. Vortexes are nearly perfectly diagnostic of the A&P.
  • sometimes the A&P can involve full on explosions of consciousness and experience, such that the body may feel it has exploded into sparks or fragments or the space the person is occupying itself may seem to have experienced some rapid and violent distortion of its basic structure, which are usually very brief experiences 
Time distortion. A variant of the A&P or part of the A&P’s presentation may involve dropping down with the out-breath into deeper and seemingly much slower ways of experiencing reality, such that reality appears to slow to a crawl in deep waves or pulses of drawn out moments that may then seem to completely or nearly completely stop, after which there may be an Unknowing Event. (Unknowing Events are what appear to be discontinuities in one’s awareness and are generally classified by context, entrance, exit, any residual subtle experiences or impressions of the pause or break, and the aftereffects.) This variant can involve deep levels of stillness, calm, and quiet, which is in marked contrast to some of the other ways that the A&P can present. This may sometimes alternate with more rapid, energetic aspects or precede or follow them. 

2nd Jhana. As the A&P occurs in the basic territory known as the second vipassana jhana, a term I am not going to try to find an English equivalent for, it has the aspect of things happening on their own and showing up and happening naturally in many ways, as in “with the dropping of applied and sustained thought” (the traditional initial descriptor that separates it from the first jhana, which tends to involve effort and the feeling of having to do something). All the things that apply to the territory of the 2nd jhana in general enhance our understanding of the A&P. 

Visuals. The range of visual effects that may show up in the A&P are quite wide and may be dramatic, and include but are not limited to: 
  • bright white lights, which may be a quick flash or a steady white light, sometime preceded by jewel-tone sparkles or lights which are brighter and more vivid than typical phosphenes, and can either be just the light, or some bright image, such as a flash bulb, a match lighting, a car headlight, flashing police car lights, or other brightly flowing or flashing objects, etc.
  • seeming to see through one’s closed eyelids, walls, roofs, or whatever else is around to see through
  • spinning stars, dots, triangles, squares, and similar things, usually with the spinning frequency varying with the breath as noted above (faster in the middle, slower at top and bottom).
  • many other dramatic visuals can happen during the A&P  
Other Powers. By “powers”, I mean seemingly magical effects or psychic phenomena, which others may simply interpret as hallucinations or in some other light. Regardless of how one interprets them, the phenomenology with my own labels and terms that are more common are: 
  • vivid dreams, lucid dreams, and full-on traveling out of body, either in dreams or straight off the cushion/walking meditation session or even in other circumstances
  • partial traveling: such that, for example, one might feel one has put one’s “astral” or “etheric” hand through a wall while the rest of them seemed to stay “in-body”, to use standard jargon
  • past-life experiences: these can vary widely, but generally present as a string of impressions, sometimes actually presenting in sequence in a trail in space, of what can seem like past existences, often with a lot of information about each one seeming to present in a very short space of time
  • seeing one’s or other people’s auras and other similar energetic and colorful aspects
  • being able to seemingly know things one couldn’t know, such as undisclosed facts about people one has just met or what cards one’s opponents in cards are holding, for example
  • emotional and energetic manipulation: the seeming ability to alter the emotions and energy-body aspects of people around them or or people they make physical contact with, and even induce Kundalini experiences in others (DhO
A&P and Out of Body Experiences. The A&P and out of body stuff just go together. They are in the same spectrum of mind, as it were, the same layer, the same paradigm, the same resonance. It is extremely common for people to have out of body experiences and lucid dreaming during the A&P, as well as get the A&P while trying to have out of body experiences, and it is very common for people to get interested in things like out of body experiences during the stage of the A&P, which also goes for magick, an A&P-dweller favorite.

Similarly, sleep paralysis, when you can't move your body, is very common in out of body travel experiences and territory. It is common to come back from a travel out of body (simply travel hereafter) to a frozen body, and it is common to feel "the buzz", which is a sense that the frozen body is vibrating strongly.

It is very common to be inspired to practice and get stream entry after the A&P. 

Sleep Effects. Typically, the need for sleep will be reduced the closer one is to the peak of the territory of the A&P, which contrasts it with stages such as Dissolution (which comes right after it), during which the need for sleep tends to go up. 

Physical Effects. Whereas in previous stages some practitioners may experience asymmetrical back and neck and body pain, such as spasmodic torticollis, subscapular trigger points and the like, as well as difficulty sustaining strict sitting meditation postures when on meditation retreats as an example, posture difficulties and bodily tiredness and pain from sitting tend to be markedly reduced in the A&P, such that when someone on retreat goes from having a hard time sitting still for the whole 1-hour sitting period with their head twisting or body swaying (standard marks of 3C) to sitting 4 hours without difficulty with the posture of a Buddha statue, just as an example, they are probably entering A&P territory. This also contrasts with what comes next, which tends to involve more pain but an increased restlessness and irritation when trying to meditate. These effects may not be as noticeable off-retreat, but one day people will know to look for the A&P shortly after coming to the doctor for wry neck or “having slept wrong”. 

Mood Effects. The A&P tends to give people energy, up-beat moods, reduced depression if they were depressed, more energy for various grand projects and the like, more confidence, and an increased ability to concentrate. Paradoxically, it can involve more risk taking behavior (such as engaging in substance use or sex in a way beyond what one normally would), and also more interest in upstanding and strict moral codes and high moral standards and may actually spontaneously cure addictions and lives that may be considered immoral (as in “I have seen the Light!”, which they may literally have done, as this is the A&P). The parallels between the possible mood effects of the A&P and hypo-manic or manic episodes are so numerous that I would be amazed if one day a very similar physiologic basis wasn’t found to be common to both of them. Grandiosity, arrogance, and the like can accompany the mental power and energy that are commonly noted in this stage. 

Sexual Effects. The A&P tends to increase libido and enhance sexual encounters in general and is the most sexual of the insight stages in general terms. When coupled with strong concentration (and sometimes even when not), it can lead to some interesting effects, such as male orgasms without ejaculations (a la tantric sex stuff), as well as all sorts of sexual overtones to the way one describes and experiences practice. Some will even describe effects as extreme as all sensations being like sex, or of sensations causing orgasmic-like ripples of pleasure through their body, or of making love to the universe, etc. People may tap into feelings of sexuality that seem generic or non-gender specific, which, for those who identify strongly as being mono-sexual rather than bi-sexual or generically sexual, can sometimes be some mix of revealing and disturbing. Sexual dreams are much more common in the territory of the A&P for some. More extreme things can occur, such as the sensations of having sex with seductive beings of a magical/astral/etheric/etc. nature. These sexual effects are in direct contrast to the sexual effects that tend to follow in subsequent stages, which are, in general, the exactly opposite of those in the A&P. 

Unitive Experiences. The A&P can present with profound feelings of unity with all reality, like one is a part of all of reality and similar pleasant and profound feelings. Similar feelings of everything being empty of a self can arise, which is like the flip side of a unitive feeling. In a unitive feeling one feels that one is a part of everything or is everything, and the flip side is the feeling that as everything is connected and a part of a greater whole, then the sense of a self is actually just a part of the greater field of experience. These feelings in their full-on manifestation tend to be relatively brief during this stage, as contrasted with Equanimity later on when they may be more prolonged and profound and complete, and as contrasted with some of the stages of Enlightenment, when they may be some degree of permanent. However, some sense of this unity can seem to remain for some who have had this aspect present strongly on their crossing the A&P, influencing their way or viewing the world and philosophy. Further insights may be extrapolated from these unitive feelings, such as there being no one who dies as it is all just the universe, or similar extrapolations relating to the having a consciousness that is part of the eternal universe and thus immortal. Regardless of any ultimate validity to these feelings and intuitions, they can feel quite real to the person experiencing them. This particular set of A&P experiences are some of the more classic mimics for the later stage of Equanimity, and this can cause diagnostic confusion. 

Feeling Enlightened. The A&P is a very common cause of people believing they are enlightened. Obviously, as the definition of enlightenment may be subjective and variable, if one defined it as crossing the A&P, then they would be. The model this from which this terminology designates enlightenment (at least the first stage of it) occurring at a later, more advanced stage, and for the sake of consistency and for other reasons will hold with that more strict definitions. However, the basic sense within the person that they have been irrevocably changed and given profound insights into the nature of things is common and compelling and also true. It is also not uncommon for people to believe they are very special and even unique for having crossed the A&P, particularly given the staggering lack of public descriptions of something that so many have actually gone through. 

Perceptual Thresholds. My favorite of the criteria, particularly found in technical and skilled meditators but also found in many others: people during the A&P may have the ability to perceive sensations with a speed, precision, and consistency that may be radically beyond what they were capable of before, such that they may perceive sensations up to maybe 40 times/second arising and vanishing during certain peak perceptual moments, particularly during the middle phase of the breath and in the center of wherever they place their attention. The phase characteristics of the A&P borrows from the 2nd jhana in general and involves the ability to perceive the arising and passing clearly of phenomena in a way that can feel quite effortless, and any vibrations noticed tend to be harmonically simple and change in frequency sinusoidally. This is differentiated from the perceptual phase characteristics of the 1st jhana, where the beginnings of objects in the very center of wherever attention is placed are more clear and seeing them requires sustained effort and is generally much more slow and clunky, and the 3rd jhana, during which the endings of phenomena in the chaotic and complex periphery show themselves in a naturally irritating way that feels out of phase with attention somehow despite the sometimes intensely unpleasant clarity, and the 4th jhana, in which things are not nearly so fast or vibratory but instead tend to be experienced in a wide open, fluxing, panoramic and more spacious way. 

Insights into Selflessness. Some may perceive that all phenomena are arising and passing away, and wherever they turn their attention may notice the transience of sensations. Extrapolating from this clear perception, they may realize: “Ah, this means that there is no permanent self.” Further, unitive experiences may have the same effect, and further, in some strange intuitive way the same basic notion of something having changed in the basic notion of self-hood may shift to something less solid. Also, the fact that the A&P experiences tend to happen in a way that is seemingly effortless or even unbidden, this experience of natural occurrences can also reinforce the notion that there is less control of things than one initially suspected, adding to the sense of there being somehow less of a self in things. These insights are sometimes called “Deep Insights” into Impermanence and Selflessness in the lingo of the time, a la Jack Kornfield and crew. 

Cognitive Abilities. People who are in and have crossed the A&P tend to have an easier time with processes variously called things like “vision logic”, “metacognitive processing” and the like. For those who are prone to such things, they will tend to have philosophical talents beyond those who have not crossed the A&P, realizing that things like age, underlying intelligence however defined, exposure to philosophical and related branches of thinking, and education level can significantly effect how this presents. They will also tend to have an increased ability to understand and navigate in terminology that may reluctantly be termed “spiritual”, though this may show in other ways, such as an increased appreciation of things like the profundity and beauty of differential equations, the implications of modern physics for questions of Subject-Object non-duality, debates of free will vs super-determinism, and the like. 

Feeling Called Out and Seeking. People who have crossed the A&P can feel called out, like they are somehow seeking something or on a quest, feeling special, like they are called to something higher, deeper, truer, cleaner, clearer, brighter, freer, etc. I assert that spiritual scenes, self-help groups, vegan restaurants, AA/NA groups, born-again Christian revivals, meditation communities, ashrams, monasteries, psychology and divinity graduate schools, yoga classes, health-food stores, militias, suicide bomb schools, Nepalese treks, eco-warriors, shamanic ceremonies in the jungle, New Age and Spiritualist groups, Wiccan covens, people who go around writing research grants to study meditation and enlightenment, and the like have a substantially increased presence of people who have crossed the A&P. I have no data to back up these claims at all but believe that I know it in some deep intuitive way, which is the sort of thinking you may find in people who have crossed the A&P and been doing this long enough at times. 

The Dark Night stages that follow the usually brief A&P. The Dark Night, aka the stages of knowledges of suffering, meaning Dissolution, Fear, Misery, Disgust, Desire for Deliverance and Re-Obervation, follow the A&P like thunder follows lightening. Thus, if you can diagnose the A&P, I assert you can diagnose the Dark Night or at least its inevitability, even if it hasn’t happened yet. Thus, diagnosing the A&P is definitely the place to start. In terms of dynamic systems theory, only some people will manage to cross the A&P, but everyone who doesn’t have something catastrophic happen to their brain or die first who crosses the A&P will then progress inevitably to the stages of the Dark Night. Further, the Dark Night tends to last a lot longer than the A&P, very similar to the way episodes of depression following manic episodes tend to last a lot longer than the manic episode did. Thus, unless you catch people in the A&P, which can be quite brief, you are likely to encounter them dealing with the combined effects of having crossed the A&P but now being in some phase of the Dark Night or in its after effects. I cover the Dark Night extensively in MCTB, so please refer to that for more information. 

The Standard Pattern (the A&P-DN-weak EQ loop). What I call “The Standard Pattern” is that people cross the A&P under whatever circumstances, hit the Dark Night, get swamped by it, finally barely touch some weak version of Equanimity, fall back, feel somewhat normal but are living again with the after-effects of the A&P and the Dark Night, being now past the point of no return. They will then tend to cross it again with some degree of frequency from months to decades, re-enter a more full-on Dark Night, and cycle this way until they may finally get Stream Entry or just die before that part of the process completes itself. The A&P can vary so widely that catching that it is what has happened, even if one has some understanding of the criteria, can be tricky, illustrated by way of example, from an earlier essay of mine (that follows in the next section). (DhO)

From an earlier essay on A&P: some personal experiences. 
My first time crossing it was around age 15. I was and still am a big fan of flying dreams, and so quite without instruction or guidance, I decided that I would practice flying before going to sleep so as to maximize the chances of me having them. I began to try to visualize planets of various colors, which ended up being like 50 foot wide billiard balls in space, some black, some red, some ivory, and in trying to do this I began to notice all sorts of things. I began to notice that there was a delay between the intention to visualize and the image arising. I noticed that it was very difficult to sustain any image, as it would arise and vanish. I began to notice it was nearly impossible to give attention to a sphere without going toward it. I noticed that the delay, the constant effort, the arising and vanishing of the images, and some other strained aspect of the process were strangely irritating. In short, I realized the first three stages of insight practice, but had no idea that these were stock, standard, expected, predictable, and had been mapped by some traditions for over 2,500 years, nor did I know what to expect next.

I can't remember the exact timing, but I know that it was not that many nights of this sort of practice later that I had the following dream. I was standing on a long, straight, dusty, country road with tall wild rose bushes lining either side as far as the eye could see. I was about three feet tall, dressed in a silver space-suit, holding a ray-gun, and beside me were two similarly dressed people of similar height. We were all staring down the road, waiting for something to happen. The sunlight was so bright that it was difficult to see, and its brilliance washed out the color of everything to some pale shade of yellow, green or white. Suddenly a dust cloud appeared far down the road, and out of it emerged a huge witch dressed in black riding a charging black horse. We stood our ground. The witch pointed her wand at us, a brilliant flash of light shot from its tip and engulfed us, and suddenly my world exploded, so that my body seemed like fireworks, flying all over space in sizzling flashes, and I suddenly transitioned from dreaming to waking. However, it took several seconds for my consciousness and sensate reality to reassemble itself into something coherent, and then I was buzzing all over and extremely alert. It would be 10 years before I would have any idea of what that was or what it meant. It is hard from this distant vantage point to get a grasp of exactly how this first event changed my life, as my mid-teens were a complex time in general.

The next time I remember crossing it was the summer after my junior year in college. I had been philosophizing heavily, hanging out with my friend who had also crossed the A&P and didn't know what it was, and we had been discussing the question of the observer or Watcher and how this related to the question of non-duality. So, one day I was just sitting on the couch, when I decided to take on the watcher directly. I began trying to catch it, second after second, really going after the visceral, perceptual experience of what was observing, and before I knew it, got into this rapid-fire back and forth, super-concentrated state of everything vibrating in my head, and the whole thing zapped back through my skull at very high speed into some black space, and it was done. I broke up with my girlfriend, moved into an apartment alone, and was pretty dark for a while.

The third time I remember occurred during the year after graduation from college. I was dancing in a club, and I began spinning around and got into some sort of very altered state, dancing wildly, with tremendous energy, feeling some kind of long-sought freedom, like something I had forgotten, and up through my being welled this amazing bliss and sense of power, taking over the dancing, moving me effortlessly but with this core of raw power in the center around which the world and my body were spinning and moving quite on their own, and then it peaked in joy and intensity and was done. After that I began to have to meditate to feel normal. I would go outside before work and lay down on the ground and breathe really slowly and somehow it would help a little. Shortly thereafter I quit the band I was running sound for and moved to California for a while.

The next time I don't remember, but I know the effect it had: I suddenly needed to go on retreats, so I did. I had done really no formal meditation practice, knew little of Buddhism, but on the advice of a friend I went on a 9-day intensive insight meditation retreat at the Insight Meditation Society. About 6 days into it, after all sorts of back, neck and jaw pain, I was just sitting there, and all of a sudden I noticed that my body was not solid, but instead made of zillions of little particles of energy, all moving around, zipping in and out of reality, and my body exploded, everything flashed black and white, and I felt as if I had been dropped back onto my cushion from space. After that I was hyper-energetic, hyper-philosophical and yet convinced that philosophy held no further answers, but I had no idea what to do next. No one told me what had happened or what it could do to you, and shortly thereafter I quit my electrical engineering program and went to India.

The next time was about 6 months after the previous one, on retreat in India during a 17-day course at the Thai Monastery in Bodh Gaya. I don't really remember much about it, except that it left me feeling very inspired about practice and very dark about the world. I lasted 5 months doing volunteer service in Calcutta before I had to go on retreat again, so I went to Malaysia and sat in the Malaysian Buddhist Meditation Centre, and that is when I really learned to practice. It was 10 years from the first time I had crossed the A&P, and I was about to learn what the Arising and Passing Away was, which seems a bit late, but that's the world we live in, isn't it?

I was practicing very strict noting technique, and very shortly my breath began to move with the noting. I would note "rising" or "falling" and the breath would rise or fall in nearly perfect synchrony with the duration of the note and then stop, so each stuttering breath took many notes, otherwise it would just stop. The rapidity of this got faster and more powerful, so that I shook, sniffed, sweated and noted for days, and in between bouts I would plunge down with the breath as it went down and down and down into a realm of extremely slowed perception and time, like reality was moving through thick, narcotic syrup, and then the energy would come back, the rapid noting, sniffing, and now powerful vibratory energy would return, and it would cycle like this again and again. I was sitting for 2-3 hours at a time with amazing posture, barely sleeping 2 hours per night, and finally the whole thing died down. I was hungry for sex and chocolate, felt exhausted and sluggish, within a day I could barely sit for 5 minutes, and my mind felt like a hive of angry bees.

That night the abbot played an old, scratchy tape of a Burmese monk describing the stages of insight, and suddenly all was clear. I knew what had happened, knew where I was, and knew what to do about it. You can read about the rest in my book if you wish, but the summary points are these: 1) the maps helped me practice in the face of the Dark Night so that I got to Equanimity, 2) the tape failed to mention the post-retreat/real-world implications of crossing the A&P and entering the Dark Night (they call them "Dukkha Ñanas"), and at that point, despite having crossed the thing many times already, I was unprepared for what would happen next. Shortly thereafter, I canceled all of my medical school interviews so that I could go on a 1-year retreat.

I tell the rest of the story in my book, but hopefully these added shorts will give some idea of the basic points I wanted to illustrate, those being that the context and content can vary widely, but there are relatively predictable and identifiable key elements to the way it happens and what is likely to follow.

A few more brief stories from other points on my path...

I was meditating in my living room and suddenly could see though my closed eyelids. The room looked largely the same, except the color and light were somewhat different. This didn't last long, and in a sit shortly thereafter my body exploded again, very much as it had done before. By this time I knew what it was, and so I was prepared for what came next. I didn't quit my job or end a relationship. Instead I practiced well and shortly thereafter attained to Second Path in the break room at work during a training lecture.

I was taking a yoga class and had been strangely stiff and tense during it. Every movement was much more difficult than usual, my awareness of the pain in my body more acute. This faded towards the end of the 2-hour class, and then suddenly while bending back into a camel pose, this massive and very startling bolt of energy shot up my spine, causing me to flip suddenly forwards out of the pose. Shortly thereafter I decided to go on retreat during the coming summer in England.

I’ll give two more examples from some people whose practice I knew well at the time. One of them was lying on a bed taking a nap after lunch on a meditation retreat and suddenly could see through the roof out into the sky and felt that a big tornado suddenly blew into the room and that there were literally cats and dogs flying all of over the room, all of which lasted some seconds and then calmed down to reveal a normal room. The other one had a dream, and in the dream was touching bright jewels in a cabinet and each time the jewels were touched waves of buzzy pleasure swept up their hand into their arm and then shortly thereafter they were above the bed they were sleeping in spinning around in a faster and faster vortex of wind. Both people had substantial Dark Night manifestations after those occurrences for some months.

As you can see, the presentations of how things happened can look quite different, despite that fact that I will assert that each of those A&P’s was functionally the same in terms of its basic effect. This presents some difficulties in terms of study design, creating diagnostic criteria that someone not very personally familiar with the wide range of the A&P and the other stages’ presentations, as well as sorting out the common mimics (e.g. Mind and Body, Samatha Jhana experiences, Equanimity, Stream Entry, etc.). However, the effects are so extremely predictable in certain aspects that it must be possible to come up with a way to research on this topic. Having crossed the territory of the A&P a few thousand times at least by this point, it is easy to spot it as it happens and in people’s histories, but explaining exactly how this is done beyond listing these sorts of experiences and trying to externally reproduce a codified set criteria that represents the internal knowledge is obviously not easy to perfectly accomplish. (DhO

1st Path

List of symptoms for ñana diagnosis. 
  • The focus on the mouth is classic subtle homunculus stuff (classic first jhana)
  • bodily distortion stuff is also classic first jhana stuff 
  • Weird breathing patterns and strange muscle contractions are very common in Cause and Effect and the Three Characteristics, and can happen faster and more oddly in the stage of the Arising and Passing Away also
  • Spontaneous neck twisting: Three Characteristics 
  • Spontaneous crying, and the feeling of disgust and also the strange spontaneous sounds: Three Characteristics
  • Muscle spasms: nearly always the Three Characteristics, (though) interest in Kriyas and the like with the muscle spasms letting up and meditation improving, very likely early A&P stuff 
  • it is common for people to think that 3C is Dark Night, happens all the time
  • Seeing things happening really fast on their own one after the other, that is usually A&P
  • Heat: usually A&P
  • Visions: usually A&P
  • Happened at night: usually A&P
  • The word "kundalini" seems to apply or even comes to mind: nearly always A&P. 
  • Energetics, strong concentration, rapture: all likely A&P
  • Anything zooming like is nearly perfectly diagnostic of the A&P
  • Practice in dreams is so A&P
  • Out of body stuff is very A&P
  • Sleep paralysis is very A&P related
  • Low need for sleep: also very A&P
  • There is the drop-down, deep aspect of the A&P that can be like being deep underwater in slow motion and nearly frozen in time
  • The A&P can also cause some jewel-tone sparkles on occasion before sometimes seeing a white light like a headlight 
  • Orgasm up the spine: basically classic A&P stuff
  • Unusual abilities around that time or the sense that one can do and know amazing things: common, relatively normal for A&P
  • Anything alternating slow to rapid could just be the A&P, which can be edgy for some at times and is not always pleasant
  • White light: almost always A&P, so you should put the Body Vanishing thing that can happen in Dissolution on the list 
  • Destabilization afterwards, very likely Dark Night
  • Memory problems can be Dissolution as well as Equanimity or even Stream Entry, is hard to sort out
  • Any state shift can cause a heavy flicker in consciousness if it hits hard enough: any shift between ñanas and/or jhanas can do it
  • Descending into blackness or voidness: could be formless stuff, could be heavy dissolution also, could just be a nightmare that you woke up into from another dream
  • Formless stuff can emerge and often does in both Dissolution and Equanimity, as well as a few other places on rare occasions
  • it is common for people to think that the A&P is Equanimity or the 4th jhana: happens all the time
  • Near Misses are often a very brief taste of NPNYNP (8th jhana)
  • "Head Drops" of Equanimity, in which it is like we suddenly almost went to sleep, sort of like driving when you are totally exhausted and can't hold your head up well. They mimic all sorts of things
  • Powerful sudden memories of apparently random places and events from my past, strong enough to explore and really feel into and flush out in remarkable detail if I wish (Equanimity)
  • Strange things like Deja Vu (Equanimity)
  • Cycling: might be Stream Entry
(DhO . There are several links, just posted the biggest one) 

Vibrations and ñanas.  (Regarding) fast vibrations (, it) is actually stage specific advice. In the beginning, most people seem to benefit from strong effort. There is lots to learn, to identify objects, see the Three Characteristics of them, etc. There are stages, however, where other factors come into play, and speed is not always the best option. 

For instance, the A&P has the fastest vibrations of the bunch, but they are simple, pretty clean, and in the center of attention. Speed and power is good here.

In the Dark Night, vibrations tend to be chaotic, irritating, complex, wide, around the periphery, with a relatively blind center, and much that is distressing. Most begin to reject their own insights here, as Vince so aptly mentioned, and this is too bad. Tons of effort to see things as fast as possible doesn't work quite as well here, and a this is where one begins to try to make that difficult transition from being the separate, active practitioner to being a part of the process, but still most benefit from continued and diligent practice that stays with what is going on and its Three Characteristics, even if the vibrations are not quite so fast, though more complex.

In Equanimity what is vibrating is attention, formations, the experience field, or however you wish to put it, and these are slower than the previous stages and also more simple, in that they are more inclusive. Thus, powerful effort to go fast doesn't work well, though staying on exactly what is happening in a very continuous, inclusive, diligent way still works well here, and helps people avoid spacing out and falling back too many times. As those who have hit Equanimity with strong momentary concentration know well, it is amazing with lots of profound things to teach about reality, so again, effort here is good, though balance and finesse are also needed, too. (DhO)

A&P and Bhanga. Goenka conceptualizes of the A&P a bit differently, but typically uses descriptions I associate with the A&P and calls it Bangha. So, yes, there is some confusion that arises from that. So, consider that what I (and the Mahasi kids in general) consider the A&P to be what Goenka considers the A&P and Dissolution together, and you will likely do better. (DhO)

Vibrations and Ñanas. Vibrations with rapture and powerful focus and clarity: almost always the A&P. Still, a few find the A&P disconcerting and it can be dramatic and scary for a few. Vibrations with edginess, irritation, complexity, like a cloud of flies or bees, with restlessness: can often be Dark Night territory. Some find Re-observation and Desire for Deliverance very vibratory. Vibrations that are basically neutral or slightly pleasant due to their openness and ease: often Equanimity, particularly if open, flowing, and progress to something wide, volumetric, and inclusive. (DhO)

A&P may be happening to vastly more people than anyone would have imagined. I would love … data about the epidemiology of awakening, being as I have an MSPH in epidemiology and care about awakening.

If and when someone finally does that study, I predict that they find the A&P happening to vastly more people than anyone would have imagined before, and it explaining phenomena as diverse as there seeming to be a church on every corner in the sleepy little back roads of Alabama to some of the PTSD that many soldiers experience after powerful experiences during war to Waco to some of the things researched by DARPA...

The first steps would be to operationalize the definitions of the stages and create criteria that are held in some loose way that is open to additional phenomenological description rather than close dogmas that limit further research, as well as increased emphases on developing practitioner/researchers that will be able to go into that territory with both solid training in the scientific method but also personal experience that helps them recognize what they are seeing in the field, as the eye can't see well what the brain doesn't know. (DhO)

A&P Event. Not all A&P events blow people's doors off. My smallest and shortest lasted all of a minute or two, starting with some unusually rapid attention alternating between the sense of the observer and the sense of what was observing that, culminating with a quick little non-blissful but somewhat tingly with the zap down own my spine. No lights. No bliss. No vivid dreams. That was the whole thing. It darknighted me anyway. (DhO)

A&P, a standard dream pattern. A&P events, while often blissful, are not always, and some can be darn scary and disconcerting. Since then, I have noticed what I call my standard dream pattern, a pattern I have seen hundreds if not thousands of times, and it reflects the cycles of insight.

The pattern is basically this: I start flying or am able to jump or sort of slide along the air over long distances, things are really cool, might be some sexual stuff around that phase as well as other really cool effects, like composing amazing music, seeing amazing performances.

Then things turn dark, ugly, scary in some way, might be trapped in a small box, fight with monsters, have people out to get me, be chased and now can't fly as high and they can grab my feet, might fall down long distances, fall into the earth, be strapped down and subjected to torture, might be injured or even torn apart but still be alive, might have my feet rotting off or all my teeth falling out, might have a standard college fear dream in which I am naked and forgot my pencil and there is an exam I never studied for, might have dreams of the emergency department and the bad sorts of things we see there, have my body be torn by harsh vibrations, etc. This is a very summary, incomplete list of the potentially disconcerting things that could happen in this phase.

However, if the dream goes on long enough and I don't wake up, I get to the amazing phase. In the amazing phase, remarkable things happen. I come to peace with the monsters and we make friends and some to some mutual, respectful understanding, or my body becomes streams of pure light streaking out through white clouds, or I am floating in a beautiful valley with waterfalls and golden magickal symbols hanging in the air of great profundity and import, or I interact with some benevolent goddess, or I teach people how to fly or cast spells and they get it and we are all happy, or I heal people, or I break out into some beautiful gathering of happy people in some paradise-like garden, or I am teaching meditation as a monk and resting in Dharmakaya awareness, etc. This again is a very incomplete list. This I think of as corresponding to the low end of Equanimity, ñ11.j2 as I might label it.

If the dream goes on, I might get to things even more profound but neutral, fluxing suchness, that sort of thing, that I correspond with very high Equanimity.

If you are looking for information on dream yoga, I must say that, while I am quite the active dreamer, I haven't done many of those practices. However, the work that has resonated most with me that I hope to have more time for shortly are Tenzin Wangyal's The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep. I also highly recommend Alan Guiden's Traveling: An Accidental Expert's How to Leave Your Body Handbook, which, in full disclosure, just happens to be published by Aeon, who also publish my book, but I found it on the web long before they printed it.

I think that the dream experiences I have had have made me a better practitioner, as I think that the lessons we learn about things being torn apart and getting bad in dreams translate to our ability to handle deeper vipassana when awake, so I would count your experiences as more of a blessing than a curse. (DhO)

Dark Night, a general warning. This from the Foreword and Warning of MCTB1:

"In that same vein, I should further mention that the path I have followed has been dangerous, destabilizing more often than calm, excruciating more often than pleasant, harder to integrate than most other dharma paths I have heard of, and in general quite a rough ride. It has also been profound, amazing, and more glorious than most other paths I have heard tell of. Surfing the ragged edges of reality has been easier for me than slowing the thing down. In my explorations, accidents and adventures, I have learned a lot about not only how to make very fast progress in meditation but also a lot about how to do so without completely wiping out. I hope that I can pass on some of the knowledge of both in this book. This should be seen as another warning. This book and the path presented in it are not for the damaged and unstable spiritual seeker. You have to have your psychological trip fairly together to be able to handle the intense techniques, side effects and results I am about to discuss."

And here is the Dark Night section of MCTB1

Hopefully, this, coupled with all sorts of other supportive advice, advice on jhanas, advice on the Seven Factors of Enlightenment and their balance, advice on the Brahma Viharas, and many other supportive focuses, such as the AYP energetics advice, etc. will be of some benefit for those who are attempting to get a solid sense of what is possible and what can be done about it.

The Dark Night should not be viewed as more or less than it is, and the problem is that the personal variability of the strength of the effect is so large that this is more general than specific advice, and the whole point is that YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! 

However, if you are poking around obscure technical fora like this one, you probably already crossed the A&P and have at some point in your life known some Dark Night effects, so it is very likely too late, but regardless, at least now there has been more of an attempt than there was before. (DhO)

Dark Night, a classical diagnosis example. You report that you had lots of powerful concentration, tingling, rapture, bright lights during sleep, and what you thought might be Fruitions but not sure, then all that faded, now you are searching around exploring trying to find something and feeling that part of the problem is the community, teachings, your sangha, and the way the dharma has been transmitted is inadequate and that is where the problem resides. You feel that there are secrets hidden from you behind a curtain. You feel abandoned by teachers and awakened ones. You feel cut off. You feel isolated. You are experiencing much frustration. You feel dissonance and are now attacking what you believe to be the problem. You believe that somehow what you call the preparatory practices as you understand them are inadequate to the task. You feel called to some universal dharma that you yet feel is elusive, so you then start writing long posts about how the problem is with the DhO and those on it in some moderately grandiose way, in the style of Martin Luther, who was also moderately grandiose. I reflect those things but not in any mean way, just describing what is going on. Plenty of us have been in similar modes and reacted similar ways.

Said another way reflecting my quick internal summary of the process, which, done over the internet and by forum posting is not always perfectly accurate, but still: yet another earnest meditator crossed the A&P and into the Dark Night, is now trying to figure out Equanimity, looking outward critically rather than inward inquisitively, as is common. They have inadequate concentration and likely not sufficient practice environment such as a retreat, inadequate contact with sufficiently wise companions on the path or inability to believe that simple techniques could yield profound results, not yet quite to the point of just facing the insights into suffering revealed by insight practice in their own heart-body-mind-space, and are still projecting this outwards rather than just seeing moment to moment the clear and unpleasant sensate experiences of frustration, wanting, paranoia, searching, looking, discontent, restlessness, irritability, blame, projection, and the rest, all of which are normal Dark Night phenomena that nearly all of us who have crossed the A&P are very familiar with and had to learn to deal with in our own heart-body-mind-spaces.

In short, I might suggest looking to the sensations that make up the core processes you are struggling with, those listed above, and add to the list of sensations to investigate things like anger, sadness, fear, bitterness, criticism, wanting, noticing when attention moves in or out, noticing the sensations that make up the urges to blame others for the sensations in one's body, noticing urges to blame the dharma for the sensations in one's body, noticing the motion of attraction and aversion to deep feelings in one's body, and just proceeding with those deep, profound, subtle investigations, turning the process inward to make those clear, all while also maintaining some sense that there is space around phenomena.

Sometimes proceeding eyes open yet with attention turned into the sensations in the stomach, chest, neck and middle of the head can be helpful, as going into the dark stuff with eyes closed makes some people lose perspective at times, though others do well with it, and you have to figure out which is best for you at each moment. It is hard in the Dark Night to turn the awareness back on ourselves, and easy to react outwardly on jobs, partners, teachers, friends, communities, teachings, society, and a whole host of other entities we somehow become convinced are the real problem, and we can easily miss that this might simply be a normal stage of meditative development and an opportunity to bring the simple, clear light of awareness to aspects of our own experience. 

Truly, I know of no higher or more profound teaching than the Six Sense Doors and the Three Characteristics. I have been behind many curtains for "secret teachings", and none are more profound than this one. This was that simple framework that I found most powerful for insight practices. It just requires honesty, subtlety, bravery, and perseverance. Mara's Armies await. When they attack, avoid lashing out at others. Instead, investigate within your fathom-long body. This is the teaching of the Buddha. This is the way of the Dharma. This is what has been practiced well by the Sangha.

Might check out this video on Vipassana. Might also do a lot of metta practice and the other three Brahma-viharas, starting with really feeling each of those in your own body carefully before moving outward. Don't underestimate these "preparatory practices". As plenty of my Tibetan Buddhist friends have said, if people really did the "preliminaries" properly and as they were designed to be done, they wouldn't need any of the more "advanced practices". The same is true of these practices here. (DhO)

Regarding the (mistaken) notion that the Dark Night is a product of Noting/MCTB-style practice. I crossed the A&P at least 6 times over roughly 10 years before I ever did any formal meditation practice: this with no sitting, no tradition, no concept of meditation really, just by being alive.

Then, in the early-mid 90's I also crossed it just doing very Thai-forest style vipassana on 3 retreats with Christopher Titmuss: no noting, just attending mindfully to what was arising.

I hit a heavy Dark Night after every single A&P and the chaos can be easily mapped by the trail of destruction my relationships, school, etc. as I had no idea what the hell was going on, coming to this in no tradition whatever that talked about: first the ignorance of standard Westernism, then the mushroom culture of the Thai tradition.

It was only after I learned noting on my first Mahasi retreat at MBMC that I got really high Equanimity and knew how I had done it and knew what came next that planted the seeds for getting beyond all that to something much better, a project that took years, but at least I knew what the hell was going on and could navigate it much more consciously and with vastly better techniques for doing something about it than I had before, and finally to this very, very different way of perceiving things and relating to things cyclic, which I must say is way, way, way better, and when I think about what my life would likely be like without having found the Mahasi stuff, it is very hard to imagine that I would have found anything anywhere near this effective, powerful, clarifying, empowering, and remarkable. (DhO)

Dark Night in the Dharma Literature. Check the Abhidhamma, typically found as A Manual of Abhidhamma, specifically page 478 of this book hereCheck out A Path with Heart, the section on Expanding and Dissolving the Self, in the Dissolving the Self section. Definitely check out the Vimuttimagga, a few hundred years older than the Visuddhimagga and more practical often and easier reading, pages 299-301 here. (DhO)

Bypassing difficult insight stages with strong concentration. As to the question of can one bypass the difficult insight stages with very strong concentration and still make progress in insight, the answer is a definite "yes". In particular, it is possible with, say, candle flame meditation, my personal favorite kasina, to get concentration so strong that one cycles through the vipassana jhanas to Fruition in realms of light and color and sacred geometry and tantric beings and vast landscapes and hyper-real psychedelic fluxing patterns and the like with nary an adverse bodily feeling or emotional upheaval of any kind. I got to this level of practice on a 17-day retreat at Bhavana Society over Christmas break in 2001. This level of strong practice typically requires a mix of great conditions, enough time, and talent. Easy to do? No. Can it be done? Absolutely. (DhO)

Transitioning from Re-Observation to Equanimity. The transition from Re-Observation to Equanimity often involves things that feel to many like bad practice, like the wrong thing to do, such as really feeling the frustration and anxiety, such as giving up entirely, such as doing nothing, such as getting really tight and reactive and deeply and honestly going there to a degree that would seem somehow "unspiritual" or something.

It also often involves a greater degree of honesty than most people are willing to engage in. It also involves seeing Re-Observation clearly, on its own terms, as it is, which is generally pretty dysphoric, meaning really wrong-feeling.

Also, plenty of people just don't have enough concentration skills, which sounds contradictory, but the ability to stay with what is going on, fraction of a second after fraction of a second, in all its very rich and harmonic, rapid complexity, naturally tracking all the crazy stuff the mind is doing as it tries to wriggle out of Re-Observation, is really helpful.

Glad to hear you are still practicing. Think about trying some other approach, such as something a bit more Dzogchen, or a bit more Achaan Chan, a la "A Still Forest Pool". There is this thing people can get into that I call the Analogy of the Bicycle: if you are riding up a long hill, you may need to pedal hard, as, if you stop, you will start rolling backwards, but, at some point you may cross the top of the hill and start rolling down the other side, and so you don't really have to pedal much unless you want to, but plenty won't realize this and just keep pedaling as hard as they can, exhausting themselves and not enjoying the long coast down the other side. It can be hard to determine if you have crossed the top of the hill sometimes, but still, if you have been hitting Re-Observation that hard for that long, you probably are in this category, and some recognizing of the No-Self aspect of things, that they happen on their own all the time, that nothing is required to perceive things clearly as they already being inherent in things, that all sensations naturally perceive themselves, that space perceives itself, that all the things that are pretending to be this side and that side are just naturally, causally, easily occurring, and there is a way to rest in that natural, empty transience. (DhO)

A&P vs Equanimity. I have had three exchanges with serious practitioners this week where each one described what sounded like classic A&P (intense, loud, buzzy, ultra-amazing, rapturous, very pleasant, hyper-sexual, mind-blowing, energetic, kundalini-esque, powers-heavy) and call it Equanimity or High Equanimity. While perhaps just a series of coincidences, I wondered if somehow, somewhere, by someone there was some map theory getting out there that described High Equanimity in this way? WTF?

Perhaps I need to seriously go back over my own stuff and see if by some strange oversight I might be giving this impression that I would ever describe High Equanimity with any of those terms ever.

Just in case I haven't been clear, High Equanimity is not something people go around noticing, commenting on much, thinking is that strange. It is not something dramatic, energetic, kundalini-esque, powers-heavy, hyper-sexual, pleasant, rapturous, buzzy, loud, intense, or any of that stuff. It is so boring, so ordinary-seeming, so non-self conscious that the vast majority of people barely notice it at all.

… While there are these complicating fractal effects, often notice more in Second Path and beyond, such as what I would call ñ4.ñ11 and ñ11.ñ4, in which one can notice some Equanimity-like subphase in the A&P and vice versa, in general, this is really straightforward.

It is very common for people to mistake the A&P for all sorts of things (Equanimity, Stream Entry, much higher), as it is so totally impressive and amazing at times, but real High Equanimity (ñ11.ñ11 aka ñ11.j4) looks nothing like it, as mentioned above.

As I get about 50 emails and or have 50 conversations from and with practitioners who totally overcall what the A&P is to everyone that is getting to real Equanimity but not appreciating what it is and thus missing out on utilizing it to its full potential, it is worth trying to reverse this trend, as the tide is so heavily in favor of making the A&P into more than it is, which is understandable but also very unfortunate. (DhO)

Falling Back from Equanimity to A&P. Some people cross the A&P, hit the Dark Night, get to Equanimity, and get Stream Entry. They are the very lucky ones, as this is extremely unusual.

The vast majority of people who cross the A&P and then subsequently hit the Dark Night won't get to Equanimity in any easily recognizable way the first (or even second or third...) time around, and will then fall back, and later on recross the A&P, hit the Dark Night again, and at some point will get to Equanimity.

The vast majority of those will not get stream entry after attaining Equanimity, but will again fall back and likely recross the A&P again at some point.

Walking up and down this territory again and again is very common before getting stream entry, as the lessons at each stage are subtle, not easily learned, and they must be learned sufficiently for stream entry to arise.

I personally crossed the A&P at least 6 times in daily life before going on retreats, and so had at least 6 Dark Night episodes during that time, wasn't sure I ever crossed to Equanimity during that period, and then on retreat crossed the A&P on my first two retreats and hit the Dark Night again, also without an obvious Equanimity phase, and then crossed the A&P on my third retreat, hit the Dark Night, got to Equanimity, retreat ended, and then I fell back into the Dark Night, and then finally, on my fourth retreat, crossed the A&P, hit the Dark Night, got to Equanimity, and finally landed Stream Entry. This is a very normal sort of general pattern, and I call it the Standard Pattern for this reason. Notice descriptions here of very similar things by many, many practitioners. (DhO)

Equanimity, Investigation and Honesty. Equanimity is important, but investigation and honesty are more important. Higher levels of true, full-spectrum, wide, deep Equanimity come naturally sometimes from really well-done investigation and honesty much more often than by focusing on trying to be equanimous, which most of the time is actually some sort of enforced and somewhat dishonest passivity, tolerance, flatness, indifference, immitation of Equanimity, etc. Something to watch out for. Better to just notice every little sensation arise and vanish regardless of what it was rather than have too much of an agenda for them, which attempting to be Equanimous is. (DhO)

... One must be careful with cultivating too much of what can feel like equanimity towards sensations, as this is often either aversion to unpleasant things (aka repression) or simple indifference, which can be heart-deadening, so be wary of such things. Better to stick to heartful and complete investigation and be less into trying to maintain something like a flat or neutral observer that is on this side and safe from the complexities of the human heart. (DhO

Hands on water metaphore. Equanimity, real equanimity, can take it, whatever it is, be it effort, doubt, or whatever, but the thing is to not be afraid to be with it, really go into it, stay with it, as has been stated well above. Imagine that you are standing up to your waist in a pond and the ripples are calming down after a big storm, and your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to keep your hand on the surface of the water so that the back of your hand stays dry and the palm stays in the water, regardless of how the ripples go. If you slack off, you miss a lot and the back of your hand gets wet, and if you try too hard, you create more ripples and the back of your hand gets wet, so the trick is to just stay on it, whatever it is, however attention moves, however things present, just on it, clearly and as continuously as possible, without trying to stabilize things particularly, or make them any special way, except just to stay the heck on it, just on it, no more and no less, second after second, realizing that you will likely have many periods of either spacing out or trying too hard, but that's ok, and how we figure the thing out.

If you have enough concentration to get into where things are just vibrating, in this case in a wide, relatively slow, sweeping 4th vipassana jhana way, and just feel how they wish to synchronize, staying with that feeling wave after wave, then you will dodge a lot of these issues, as that degree of concentration doesn't allow much philosophizing and worry about these sorts of things and also makes for strong, quick practice, but is certainly not necessary, just expedient. (DhO

... I think that the concentration vs insight debates can be more integrated. I remember getting to places where I was able to feel wave after wave of pure suchness trying to synchronize, with very strong concentration, moment after moment, staying on reality like glue, riding wave after wave, feeling the tension as The Prisoner recommends, looking at the Three Characteristics but at the 4th jhana formation level of integrated waves of sensations, with a very powerful mix of concentration and insight, those fused so that the goal of momentary concentration was well actualized. Nothing seemed to get by and everything seemed to be noticed as it was with its true nature well attended to, like the power of the A&P but done panoramically.

It was not actually this phase that got stream entry, but I feel that it set things up well so that, once I got to the next stage, that of not even really practicing but yet being present in some natural way, stream entry was well supported. Curiously, for me stream entry arose after that in a place where I was really contemplating on how subject and object can be one, how awareness and manifestation could be one, and those things, and through this natural, almost daydream-like inquiry, I entered through the no-self door. This reminds me of what Yabaxoule does in some ways: a very hyper-engaged questioning of how the dharma theory aligns with experience and reality. Food for thought, anyway. (DhO)

The trick in Equanimity. The trick in Equanimity (is) staying into the thing just doing its thing, and that thing could be ANYTHING! Now, that thing could be the breath, could just be whatever happens, could be thoughts, could just be being really honest about what is actually going on regardless of what it is, could just be being yourself in some really ordinary and non-idealized way, could be really letting the mind just do what it wants to do, all while really being naturally present to that just as it occurs.

It could be wanting to control things. It could be watching that struggle itself. It could be wishing thoughts would do whatever or not do whatever. It could be just letting your stuff happen. It could be fluxing formless realms. It could be ultra-powerful concentration. It could be noticing the motion of attention as it creates space just by being itself and moving around making space. It could be that space and attention are the same thing. It could just be following the textures of form and mind as they synchronize. It could be being really annoyed that the mind isn't "behaving", whatever that is. It could be noting forms moving and changing. It could be some other formal practice just formally practicing or trying to practice. It could be any conflict, any harmony, any success, any failure, any neutrality, anything: but that thing, whatever it is, as it is, is the key, right then and really following it, really merging into that impermanence, really giving into not being able to hold off as an observer, really not being able to find any place in space that anything can stand on and hold out from, as the whole thing is allowed to show just how utterly unstable the whole thing really is with no reference points or practitioner or anything remaining uninformed and unviolated by that direct and totally absorbed, naturally fascinated following of all of that.

Staying on any of that: letting it take you out. Letting it vanish and take you with it. Letting it stutter. Letting it shift and squirm. Letting space flow towards disappearing totally with all that is in it. (DhO

Equanimity Trap. [Here Daniel gives some advice on how to deal with, what to do, etc. It's a 2009 thread started by Kenneth Folk, with many 'old guard' posters participating.A few things regarding timing: with strong, continuous effort and an appreciation of what one does at each stage to avoid the common traps and keep things moving forward, 10-14 day retreats can definitely be enough to "do it". Thus, one should not underestimate the value of them and of really making good use of that time.

If one can cross the A&P once, it will be much easier again. Same for Equanimity. Thus, once in Equanimity, one simply must avoid the common traps of resting, spacing out, solidifying peace or spaciousness or the like, and instead simply concentrate moment to moment on exactly what is going on in the wide field of awareness with a lot of engagement, continuity, openness and precision as to just what is occurring, particularly things like effort, expectation, doubt, joy, peace, spaciousness, and the like, including the standard bodily and mental sensations that arise, along with anything else.

While this may sound difficult, it actually may be strangely easy and natural with the right attitude. Thus, don't underestimate yourselves or what may be possible. All of us were surprised when we actually got anywhere also. (DhO)

Counterbalancing my usual tone for those who have strong mindfulness, investigation and energy. I just had this hour long conversation with a meditator who went to MBMC for 3.5 months and had a very hard time with the Dark Night, partially due to bad communication issues with the teacher there, and perhaps for other reasons, but it got me thinking about the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, and what differentiates Re-Observation from Equanimity and how one might counterbalance certain tendencies.

This particular meditator had strong determination, very strong intentions to practice well, a lot of investigation, lots of energy, very good mindfulness and analysis, got into the A&P territory very early on, but due to not having a clear A&P Event, which can sometimes not happen as a distinct peak experience, didn't know where they were, weren't told, and thus, when they slammed into the Dark Night with all the narrow focus and intensity of the early vipassana practice instructions, had a really hard time and failed to get to Equanimity despite a few months of that. A particularly long period of poor instructions that lead to marked fixation only on the worst sensations and attempts to exclude thought from awareness made things worse.

That they could slog it out for so long with things being that bad says they have more than enough tolerance for pain and dedication to get stream entry, and so in this particular case, the problem was a lack of the 5th and 7th factors: tranquility and equanimity. Particularly, they associated moment to moment practice with a high level of tension, which is not necessary to achieve that sort of investigation and mindfulness, but often occurs in gung-ho meditators.

In this particular case, I found myself sounding very different from how I usually do with the typical slacker meditators who lack good development of the first three factors. As this meditator had them in spades, I found myself talking about how space, awareness and phenomena are one, and how one should try to realize that these are already synchronized as the same thing by gently noticing the motion of a combined attention/space/phenomena thing until this caused the formations to synchronize and stream entry to occur.

Thus, this would be a practice that was wider, more inclusive, less focused on things like pain, neurotic thoughts, difficulties, and doubts, but instead an open moving attention that noticed that it was space and it was phenomena and that all those things arise together by definition.

There is no sense of space in which there are phenomena without sensations (phenomena) that imply space, as space is implied by sensations. Sensations can't arise without some awareness of them by definition, as one of the core assumptions of insight practice is that whatever sensations arise comprise the whole of that moment's reality. There can't be awareness without sensations that imply awareness, as awareness is actually implied by the manifesting of sensations.

In short, there are sensations that imply space and imply awareness, and imply subject and object, but by just letting attention move around and taking those swaths of space/sensations/awareness as object, this is essentially formations, which are the hallmark of the 11th ñana, Equanimity, and so this was what he was lacking and needed to find.

Essentially, this is what I do these days most of the time in my own practice. I sit and let awareness do whatever it wants, move however it moves, which is to say I let whatever manifests manifest, which is to say that reality does its thing naturally, and things synchronize more and more, stages of insight and jhanas arise, and Fruitions occur, all on their own, nicely, easily, no struggle, no problems. It is that spirit that this meditator needed more of, I believe, coupled with their already well developed talents, in order to get Equanimity and land Stream Entry, though I can think of multiple other focuses that might do the same thing, and I thought that I would post this to counterbalance my usual tone and focus and help those who also have strong early factors and weaker later ones. (DhO)

Formations, things are more flowy than vibratory in EQ. Formations are what we perceive when space and everything in it is known to flux together, whereas I usually use the term vibrations to refer to smaller things, smaller parts of the sense-field, things that seem like individual, specific objects, objects that are selected out, like noticing the tingling on your nose, like noticing a sound break into pulses, like noticing every little syllabic blip of an auditory thought, but in a way that doesn't get wide, volumetric, and sense-door integrated in that formation-esque way. 

... Formations are a subtle thing, in that they are so ordinary, in that they are the ordinary phenomena that make up your world, the room, the body, space, thoughts, and plenty of people don't notice they are perceiving them, even very good meditators.

It is that the field integrates, but as everything is otherwise largely the same, most people don't notice that much is different. Things are more flowy than vibratory, and counting formations is really not the point, as that involves something that is very much going in the wrong direction. You will notice that in MCTB it mentions nothing about specific frequencies in Equanimity, and that omission is intentional.

If you want to try it, which I don't really recommend, open your eyes and count the number of times you notice the space you are sitting in, but be sure to include the count in the counting, as the whole point of formations is that they begin to include everything, including effort, meditator, meditation, analysis, and anything and everything that seems to be on this side.

It is like the flowing pulses of attention/manifestation/space/phenomena begin to recognize that they perceive themselves all the way through, as an integrated fluxing volume with various qualities that we can pick out as being what we ordinarily think of as the six sense doors but now are actually starting to notice things in a put-together, integrated, all just as and where they are sort of way, which, as it is no different in specifics from the standard way we perceive things, is missed entirely by most people.

Thus, counting formations is a very 1st vipassana jhana way of looking at the 4th jhana, sort of like writing your college application essay in crayon, sort of like having to Fred Flintstone pedal your Ferrari, sort of like talking to someone on tin cans with string connecting them as opposed to video Skype: very primitive, very missing the point.

The point is that the whole thing, the whole field, begins to become and include the meditation. This is the lesson of the 4th vipassana jhana, and so we learn to flow with the whole shifting volume of attention and everything in it, front to back, in and out, this side and that side, doer and done, knower and known, Subject and Object, all part of the whole thing, together, and this is how, when the Three Characteristics of that are perceived naturally, totally, of the whole of everything in that moment of the sense field, then Stream Entry or Fruition or whatever arises. (DhO)

Attention moves around on its own. Attention moves around on its own: notice that totally, completely, fully, naturally, just as it is, in the whole field. It changes all the time: notice all of that. There is no such thing as attention, just sensations: know that all the way through. Every quality that implies attention is just more qualities: notice them all without exception until no quality can fool you in this way, as you know it to just be textures, aspects, flavors, colors, sounds, and the like, just sensations, simply sensations.

Everything that appears to be "this side": notice all of that until you are naturally really good at it, every pattern, every familiar and unfamiliar thing. Everything that appears to be "that side": notice all of that until you are naturally really good at it, every pattern, every familiar and unfamiliar thing.

If you don't have stream entry, you know you have to develop the above further, so do that and keep at it. You know you are missing something, figure out what. It is typically some "core process", such as figuring, wanting, striving, analyzing, expecting, fearing, wondering, and the like: those are all just more sensations: know these patterns as they arise until naturally they are seen as they are. By practice, it becomes habit. When it is habit, then it happens on its own. When it happens on its own, that is one less thing not clearly perceived, one more step closer to being clear about right here.

Simply, easily, clearly, naturally, completely, fully, honestly, devoid of ideals beyond just being with whatever shows up as it changes and fluxes and moves around and vanishes and appears. All the way down, all the way up, all the way through the center. (DhO)

Stream Entry: a short, straight instruction. Stream Entry is possible. Accept this moment and perceive it clearly again and again and again. Ground all future-goal-map stuff in this sensate moment, in this field of experience, and see all of those maps, goals, etc. as part of what is happening here at a sensate level: this is key! Settle into this moment really diligently: it is a paradox, but reminding yourself again and again that being here now is how it is done helps. (DhO)

Stream Entry: an alternative (complementary) instruction. Notice space, notice volume, notice everything all the way through that volume, all the way through your head, notice what is noticing, those sensations that seem to be you, notice that they are part of space, notice how they shift in response to that sort of question of what they are, notice what that new pattern of sensations is that seems to be noticing them, notice the physical and mental sensations all together, but broadly, widely, flowingly, allowing subtle tensions to show and resolve themselves, allowing the wide open thing to finally synchronize and disappear!

Read the section on the Three Doors. Incline to vanishing. Incline to comprehend everything as it happens all at once. Incline to a discontinuity that is not any of that but is found by simultaneously comprehending and getting into everything, like really buying into the whole thing, really feeling the honest, whole, human thing, the wanting, the tension, the center itself and all the rest, not with great effort, not with totally slack effort, just normal, ordinary, non-disruptive effort, like it was as easy and normal and natural as it actually is. Just staying on anything subtly fluxing in a volumetric way is good, regardless of what it is. Integrate more and more of what feels like your side into the whole field of what is being comprehended, doing this gently and easily, including that tendency to try to integrate things. (DhO)

Path in a very ultra-simplified nutshell. Path in a very ultra-simplified nutshell: some specific layer of experience is now permanently hard-wired to auto-comprehend itself as it is, straightforwardly, directly, clearly, at a sensate level.

Initially, these layers are not that large, and what is changed can be hard to explain, though people will report various effects, with more extensive descriptions found places such as www.mctb.org . Later paths apply to broader layers of experience that are more obvious, more panoramic, more inclusive, and finally, at the last path, every sensation auto-comprehends its true nature automatically.

Paths are a complex topic, so this treatment is extremely superficial. It does, however, point to practical points of method, and that's the important part.

By noticing ordinary sensations clearly, one begins to build the wiring, the habit, the tendency to have the ordinary sensations of one's current layer of mind be clear. By noticing the Three Characteristics of those same ordinary sensations, one takes that clarity and uses it to build the wiring, the habit, the tendency to have the sensations that occur notice their true nature.

When these have been done sufficiently for that layer of mind, it can suddenly flip to a mode where that carefully-built wiring comes to life, it seems, turns on, and, once it turns on, that layer of experience auto-comprehends itself. There are multiple layers, generally, though counting layers is often very unhelpful. What is helpful is simply practicing sensate clarity, and practicing comprehending the Three Characteristics directly; however one finds them best formulated.

There are lots of techniques for this, so hopefully you will find some that work for you. (DhO)

How long to achieve Stream-Entry on retreat. (Circa 2009) if you can (have) cross(ed) the A&P you should be able to do this on retreat in 1-2 weeks, usually less than that, perhaps a few days, and then getting through the Dark Night is largely a question of accepting suffering, keeping on practicing according to instructions, letting attention get wider, and then getting to Equanimity, which itself just requires wide, consistent, strong, accepting, inclusive investigation and presence.

I see many people go on long retreats with the notion that they have lots of time so they don't practice as well as people on shorter retreats. On the other hand, a long retreat gives people the ability to have time to fall back from Equanimity to the Dark Night if they can't land stream entry in the first shot, gain momentum again, get back up to Equanimity once or a few times, and try again.

Each time we cross from the Dark Night to Equanimity we learn more about how to do that. Each time we get into Equanimity we go a little deeper into it and get better at staying present in it. As we build up those muscles, we get closer. Some can do it on a straight shot, but most of us have to walk up and down the path a bit before crossing over.

As The Prisoner (Tarin Greco) so rightly says, go on the longest retreat for which you think you can practice well. 

I cannot express in words how great it is to read Tarin's excellent advice (on how to schedule a solo retreat): (Tarin's:) Keep routines simple. Keep food simple. Be strict with yourself. Stay on schedule. Stay focused and disciplined. Do not slack. Too much effort is better than too little effort in almost all cases. Keep going no matter what. If you find yourself not on track, get back on it immediately, there is no time to waste. Note discouragement rather than taking it to heart. Take reality head-on. Develop an independent attitude and do whatever it takes.

Here's an example schedule:

4.30 awaken
5.00 walk
6.00 sit
7.00 breakfast
7.30 walk
8.00 sit
9.00 walk
10.00 sit
11.00 walk
12.00 lunch, shower, rest, sit, etc
13.00 walk
14.00 sit
15.00 walk
16.00 sit
17.00 walk
18.00 sit
19.00 walk
20.00 sit
21.00 walk
22.00 sit
22.30 recline

And an example set of reminders to have stuck on the wall:

1) don't indulge in your crap!
2) when in doubt or struggling: note/hit and accept pain.
3) if you have a question, the answer is in the three characteristics.
4) be mindful during transitions between activities.
5) analysis is not the same as practice.
6) practice at all times when awake.
7) stick to the schedule!
8) remember how precious these moments are and how much the dark night sucks.
9) when alone, practice just as hard; this is for you. (DhO)

Stream Entry: Daniel’s answers to an online survey. (1) What was your meditative experience before and leading up to 1st Path? 

About 6 spontaneous A&Ps in daily life without formal training, then one 9-day vipassana retreat with Christopher Titmuss et al at IMS, tried to sit an hour or so each day after that, one 17-day retreat at Bodh Gaya with CT, sat about 30 minutes each day after that, one 14-day retreat at MBMC with Sayadaw U Raginda, sat at least 1-2 hours each day after that, then got it on day 6 of a 27-day retreat at Bodh Gaya with Christopher Titmuss et al again.

(2) How would you describe your meditative style/technique which ultimately led to 1st Path [Goenka scanning, noting, choiceless awareness, etc., a combination of techniques, etc.]?

Basically pure noting to power up to the A&P, pure direct vibrations in the A&P, pure noting when (I) fell back in Dark Night, then in Equanimity very direct full-field inquiry with relaxed general noting at times. Was sitting/walking in 45-minutes blocks on that 4th retreat.

(3) How many hours were you practicing a day when you finally achieved 1st Path?

Was day 6 of a retreat with about 15 hours/day of practice, something like that, but was noting from the moment I got up until the moment I went to sleep during those phases when I was noting, and then trying to maintain direct mindfulness during those periods when direct practice seemed best (like during the A&P when buzzy, fun vibrational interference patterns covered my body when standing in line for lunch, that sort of thing).

(4) Did you maintain continuity of practice throughout the day when you finally achieved 1st Path; meaning, did you maintain mindfulness throughout the day, how and when, etc.?

I stayed on retreat for 21 days practicing nearly every moment I was awake.

(5) What was your samatha vs vipassana balance when you finally achieved 1st Path [for example, did you do straight-up vipassana, did you do a combination of samatha and vipassana practices, did you achieve hard jhanas before starting vipassana, etc.]?

Pure vipassana.

(6) What was your retreat experience before and leading up to 1st Path?

See answer to question 1) above.

(7) What was your biggest stumbling block along the way to 1st Path? How did you ultimately overcome this?

Not knowing what I was doing: overcome by good instruction and straightforward, powerful techniques.

(8) Besides Daniel's book MCTB, what texts, resources, etc., were truly useful for your practice and were instrumental in finally achieving 1st Path? Did you work with any meditation teachers?

I actually hadn't written MCTB when I got Stream Entry, so I couldn't have read it yet ;) I read Practical Insight Meditation until I felt I knew it cold, having obtained it on my retreat at MBMC about 7 months before Stream Entry. I also read a book called Buddhism in Translations, by Henry Clark Warren: it has some suttas in it. I also had access to the Visuddhimagga for a brief period during that time at a dharma library, and a book called Path to Deliverance by Nyanatiloka. I got meditation instruction from Christopher Titmuss, Sharda Rogell, Subhana, Yvonne Weier, Fred Von Allman, Norman Feldman, Sayadaw U Raginda, the abbot of the Niponji temple in Bodh Gaya (I have forgotten his name), Katie (last name escapes me): (she?) had lots of retreat time in Burma and wandered through Bodh Gaya and was kind enough to help me when the Dark Night was at its worst and I had no idea what the hell was going on, Kenneth Folk and Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, in roughly that order. Many thanks to all of them and all the support people who worked to make those retreat happen.

(9) What do you most wish you'd known when you were working to achieve 1st Path that you know now?

More about the maps and more about how doable it was. Most: how close I had gotten on my 3rd retreat, and how much the Dark Night can screw up your life and what to do to reduce the effects of that between my 3rd and 4th retreat.

(10) What is your best piece of advice to pre-1st Path practitioners?

Have faith that it can be done and practice very well regardless of the sensations or stuff: the techniques themselves are so powerful and direct, and for those who can keep to the simple instructions, things can be very rapid. Keep in contact with those who have done it and hang out in person with them when possible. (DhO)

Stream Entry common mimics. I like this simple map: Kenneth Folk’s “An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis”. A few things worth mentioning are the common mimics and things that get mistaken for other things. A short list of the big ones: 
  • The A&P fools many into thinking it was Stream Entry.
  • The formless realms do the same thing.
  • The Three Characteristics and the Dark Night do share some commonalities, causing some confusion at times, though as stated above, if your body really hurts, probably 3C.
  • Occasionally the A&P and Equanimity get mixed up.
  • Mind and Body can be so profound for some people on rare occasions as to be mistaken for things as high as Equanimity and much further. 
… Mind and Body, when it hits really hard, can actually feel that good, can have lots of quiet and clarity, as well as unitive experiences. It rarely recurs with anything like that level of intensity, so trying to make it come back won't work, as new insights arise after it.

The A&P can have qualities like that, and can be associated with deep unitive feelings, but it tends to have a lot more associated with it, though I know of one example where it didn't, and trying to make it come back and failing is a very common post A&P thing. (DhO

Stream Entry and No-Self. It is true that there is the 10 Fetter criteria of something called "personality belief", which has been eliminated in theory in stream enterers. It is a subtle thing, but important. Having viewed Conformity knowledge, a stream enterer, particularly a trained one, on reflecting on what happened, can understand that there is no continuous self at an intellectual level based on memories of the pristine moment of Conformity Knowledge, but it is not a walking around experience, just something they have glimpsed for one pulse of experience. It is like getting an extremely short taste of what is truly meant by no-self.  Said more specifically: Stream Entry is not the walking around elimination of some sense of self, nor is it the walking around sense of non-duality. Those are arahatship criteria, not Stream Entry criteria. (DhO)

Misleading definitions of Stream Entry. The whole, "the definition of Stream Entry is not fixed" thing is true in some senses, but very misleading in others. First, most of the contemporary definers that get referenced in these debates didn't train well and thoroughly in traditions that use the term, aren't familiar with the textual references, haven't often even seem to have attained to Stream Entry, and, if they did, never got trained in its full capabilities, are poor phenomenologists, have poor criteria due to poor training or coming from a not very phenomenologically sophisticated tradition, etc.

It would be a bit like if lots of people started defining algebra and basic arithmetic as "calculus" based on the colloquial definition of the term, which is often taken to just mean "math" or even just "decision making", as in, "The calculus of that relationship just doesn't work out."

In this way, recently the term "Stream Entry" has been badly abused, misconstrued, misinterpreted, often by people who were primarily trained in Zen, Mahayana, or Buddhist strains that, while ostensibly Theravada, were so heavily influenced by those traditions that they have lost the key meanings of the term. If you really want to be grouped into that bin of those who use the term "Stream Entry" that way, well, that's your choice.

So, while it is true that people can use words any way they wish, and often do, realize that there really is this attainable thing called "Stream Entry" that really does perform entirely as advertised, and really has all the correct phenomenology, really does impart the advertised capabilities, really does meet the traditional, functional definition as used in the tradition it actually comes from, just like there really is something called "calculus" that involves actually taking the derivatives and integrals of equations. 

Speaking of weird definitions of "Stream Entry" and Goenka, wow, do they have some extremely odd conceptions of it per conversations with some in the organization. Goenka himself got a very incomplete, limited, naive, odd transmission of a very small part of the vastness that is the Theravada in its old-school best, and then that got warped by the Boomers, who were basically swamped by massive amounts of cross-traditional idealism that got smashed together into an incomprehensible nightmarishly garish version of spiritual development, and that is what passes for a definition of "steam entry" in the Goenka tradition.

I do know a few people who may have actually gotten "Stream Entry" in the classical sense of Fruitions, cycling, ñana control, permanent transformations, and all of that from practicing in the Goenka tradition, though often with some custom modifications that involved going wider and more natural, but the Goenka tradition not only doesn't know how to recognize Stream Entry, but, despite the frequent reassurances that they are "bound to be successful", very few are, and, when they actually are, it is a total disruption to their sense of hierarchy and culture that the tradition really can't handle it within itself, which is frighteningly ironic and a seriously tragic state of affairs for the largest vipassana organization in the World. (DhO

On Stream Entry, unification of mind and the Seven Factors of Awakening. ...What stream entry is and how it should perform, vary widely. My standards involve defined, traditional criteria. Many contemporaries will call many things stream entry that I wouldn’t, as they don’t fully perform as stream entry should as defined by the tradition I come from. Associating Culadasa’s Stage 8 with what I would call the mature end of the A&P is reasonable, but associating it with stream entry is not, in my view. Still, as I have said, plenty will call nearly anything that feels good or has some sense of lasting change to it “stream entry” or "awakening" or make up new terms that subtly or overtly imply those.

To say, “It happens differently,” to me is simply saying, “It isn’t stream entry, but we will call it that for the sake of various ulterior motives.” Again, I believe this sort of behavior short-changes those who don’t know there is something more to be had.

... It's entirely untrue that "with Progress of Insight, the mind isn't unified, but the method is consistent". Stage by stage, various parts of the mind begin to synchronize, pulse together, converge. That is the whole point of the Progress of Insight. In Mind and Body, the first vipassana jhana, the center of attention is more clear by being somewhat unified, and can perceive thoughts as thoughts clearly. In the A&P, the center of attention is much more unified, and so it becomes very powerfully able to perceive things clearly. In Equanimity, one sits on the edge of total unification, as mind, body, space, attention, everything are about to synchronize, which is what happens at true stream entry, though one must consult the other criteria to get this right, as it is very easy to get wrong diagnostically.

... (The method isn't) "simply to expose yourself to the truth over and over again until no part of the mind is un-accepting of it". It is much more than that. You might consult the section in my book called “The Seven Factors of Awakening”, found in MCTB2. It requires more than just exposure to the truth, as those truths show up in early insight stages, such as the Three Characteristics. Instead, it requires a very profound balancing of many positive factors of mind and a deep appreciation of those truths not just for objects but for space, attention, consciousness, etc. and even regarding qualities such as Equanimity. This is often lost on many practitioners, but it is a crucial point.

... (If a given method states that it) "doesn't rely on unification or repetition, but rather on a lack of struggle", (remember that in) the Seven Factors of Awakening, lack of struggle is cultivated explicitly in Tranquility, Concentration – which, past the first jhana, involves the dropping of nearly all applied and sustained attention – , and Equanimity, but it is also cultivated in Mindfulness – noticing what is there – , Investigation – noticing the truth of what is there – , Energy – making effort to be present just to what is going on right then – , and even Rapture – to be enraptured by what one is experiencing 

One who thinks that the method is about struggle is missing much about the method done well, though cultivating the skills to clearly perceive what it going on and to cultivate those positive, present-oriented factors may involve significant work, but that is not the same as struggle, necessarily... 

In insight practice, one cultivates positive qualities, clarity, investigation, equanimity, tranquility, being present, and is convinced of the truth of things by one’s direct own experience, with “direct” here being a synonym for “non-symbolic” in its best possible sense, in which it isn't always used.

... Definitions of stream entry vary widely, and I expect stream entry to perform as traditionally described in all aspects. One of those aspects is cycles, repeat Fruitions, and all of that. I see many people getting diagnosed with stream entry that don’t meet the full criteria at all.

This is not “my method”. These methods are very traditional, Theravada methods, and are clearly over two thousand years old, well-refined, well-tested, well-described in terms of how they function and what they lead to. 

Further, to say that I “discourage optimism” is also wildly off the mark. My notion is that these things can be done, that one can be excited by that possibility, that one should be excited that we live in such remarkable times that many of us have such amazing access to so many traditional, time-tested techniques, that we have great living masters we can study with, and that we should feel immense gratitude for these opportunities. 

However, I also believe in not watering insights down to such a degree that even relatively low-level though important insights get made to be much more than they are. This is not a lack of optimism, this is advocating for reasonable standards and definitions.

... Hopefully the meditation world will (someday) realize that calling every single positive stage of mind  or lasting transformation “awakening”, “stream entry”, or whatever isn’t as helpful as they imagined it was.

... (I do say) what I think Stream Entry is (and what is not), and I say with more phenomenological specificity and clarity than you are likely to see written in nearly all sources. The places this is mentioned are many and various, but here are a few key ones, though you would have to read much more of the book to find them all: Conformity.  These criteria need more of what comes later to balance them out, so must be taken in context: FruitionThis explains The Three DoorsThis is key: ReviewThis one is long, but it is important:  37 models of the stages of awakening ...   I would then also read some of the material in the Visuddhimagga related to the POI and Stream Entry, and, in particular, check out Chapter XX of the Visuddhimagga

... I am not saying that steps that provide some sense of unification of mind are a bad thing, I am saying that overcalling the stages of unification as being more than what they are is a bad thing, and I am saying that overcalling stream entry when it doesn’t meet all the traditional criteria or lead to all the capabilities a true stream enterer has is a bad thing. Each stage of insight is a good thing, which is why one would do good practices to cause them to arise, and each step in putting the pieces of the puzzle together are a good thing, and each vipassana jhana, which brings more of the mind together in clarity is a good thing. Check out one of my favorite Suttas, and notice how many times something like the phrase "unification of mind" occurs, and what is then done with that positive quality: Anupada Sutta: One After Another .  

... Overcalling early, beneficial, positive insights as being much more than they are shortchanges those who might just stop there and not realize that there might be vastly more than they had any idea was possible.

Without real stream entry, most will end up like those doing large amounts of horizontal work with the stage of Equanimity before first path, or will just end up dropping back to the A&P, Dark Night, Equanimity cycle again and again. I get emails and calls from people all the time who got something oversold to them, overcalled, and it doesn’t really perform as it should, and they eventually start to think, “Hey, wait a second, this isn’t really all that I want, this really doesn’t seem to be enough, this really isn’t all I hoped it would be,” and so start looking around for more. Some can be reached and shown that the traditional stages and paths are really doable in this lifetime, and that is true optimism, and also helpful for those who wish for those deeper, lasting levels of attainment.

... Scripted, self-induced hypnotic delusion isn’t the same as real insight, as much as some people who get really good at scripting people and hypnotizing them wish it would be, though, for some purposes, the effect may be the same. That’s a key point... 

... I also fundamentally object to the notion that the development of attention is so system-dependent or tradition-dependent and not intrinsic to how attention develops. Given that I see people describing clearly going through the stages of insight who have never meditated, who are doing yoga, chi gong, energy work, massage and physical therapy, childbirth, entheogenic experimentation and ritual use, and a whole host of other modalities and in a whole host of other situations, I highly disagree with the notion that it is so modifiable by just following the correct spiritual leader or subscribing to the correct concepts.

I watched everyone who followed TMI go through the stages of insight while I was teaching there at Dharma Treasure for a month, in order, predictably. The difference in comparison to the Mahasi practitioners and those doing candle flame (two very different techniques) was that their progress was a bit more slow, their highs a bit lower, their lows a bit higher, their weird a bit less weird, and their phenomenology just a bit muddier. However, the basic pattern was very clear and had the same freakish predictability that I see in every other meditaiton context, retreat setting, etc. So, yes, some mild differences do occur by technique, with the general tradeoff being that if you want to progress a bit more slowly and perhaps gently you can do a technique that builds in a bit more cushioning, and that's a reasonable choice to make if you want that, but the pattern is the same. (DhO)

Cycling is totally normal for everyone. Cycling through states of sadness, fear, misery, disenchantment, anxiety, irritation, and the like are totally normal things for everyone, including meditators, and, in fact, these are some of the standard things that enlightened beings cycle through all the time. They can get a lot better, a lot easier to handle, a lot more clear, a lot more spacious, a lot easier to navigate, a lot easier to see the true nature of them, but that doesn't mean they don't happen. On Birth depends Old Age, Sickness, Death, Lamentation, Pain, Grief and Despair, so said the Buddha. (DhO)

Disclosing your enlightenment experience. I alienated a lot of people in my post-stream-entry high for a few months running while babbling about this stuff, though maybe 10-15 years later a very few of them had admitted that at least it gave them something to think about that was different from what they were used to, but that is a long time to wait for a very small payoff. I lost a few old friends permanently, though that may have been inevitable anyway...

It nearly always seems to create division, projection, comparison, and worse.

... 
There are plenty of really kind, good, helpful, saintly, moral, generous, happy people who have nary a clue about these things, and there are plenty of really technically skilled, scholarly, meditatively talented, moderately to very enlightened people who appear to be nowhere near as impressive as the first bunch.

And then we have the preconceptions, the territoriality, the paradigm threats, the competition, the religious fixations, the fantastic projections, the solidity of views, and all of the rest: very easy to underestimate until you run babbling right into them, as I have done so many, many times, like a naive school kid skipping down the back alley behind a crack house.

And then we have the fact that it is really, really, really hard to not have some subtle or overt arrogance and condescension somewhere in your presentation, even if that is just the alienating use of specialized terminology, or the knowledge of the concepts and theory you use to frame and define your realization, even if it is only something that benign, which it generally isn't. (DhO)

Fruitions

Unknowning Events. There are plenty of meditative experiences that can create what Bill Hamilton called "unknowning events", meaning moments when consciousness just goes away and then comes back. Most are not actual cessations. The short list: 
  •  Falling asleep or nodding off a bit: by far the most common.
  •  State shifts between insight stages and/or jhanas: happen at the end of the out breath, can invove the sense of transitioning from one state or phase of practice to another, often involve the sense of a blip out or pause or something like that.
  •  The Arising and Passing Away: which can occur in many contexts and take many forms. It can often involve the sense that consciousness has paused and restarted or dropped into something that is very hard to perceive and then come out again.
  • Dissolution: often involves the sense of going into something pause-like, vanishing, disappearing, falling into some nothingness, and the like.
  • Equanimity: can involve these sort of head-droppy things when it feels like falling asleep but isn't, feels like there was a gap but it doesn't meet all the Fruition/Three Doors criteria and doesn't create path or the after-effects of path.
  • Formless realms: it is not actually that uncommon for people to briefly fall into formless-realm-like experiences and then rapidly come out of them, sort of micro-jhanas, and these can be described the way you describe them.
  • Fruitions: the real thing should have the right set-up, right entrance, right exit, and right after-effects, as well as no experience at all during it. If it doesn't have those, it very likely wasn't a Fruition. (DhO
Fruitions, the real ones. So many state shifts and other things can mimic them. The real deal should stand out, be complete, be clear, be total. They should feel like a total, out from control, sudden, perfect reset of the whole of the sense field. It is true that as Review goes on and they happen more commonly, the afterglow can become less impressive, but the thing itself should always be pristine and flawless. Even people who get Fruitions may not be that good at sorting out what was just some state-shift, what was just some dip into something formless, what was something A&P related, what was something Dissolution related, and what was an actual Fruition: it took me years and years to be really good at this. (DhO)
Cessations/Fruitions is core Theravada doctrine and teaching. In the Pali Canon tradition, which includes the Abhidhamma, meaning in the Theravada tradition in general, Cessation/Fruition occurs after Equanimity, Conformity, Change of Lineage, and Path (Stream Entry the first time), meaning it is a requirement for Stream Entry. It is true that some modern strains of the Theravada are not all that into the Abhidhamma, preferring the Sutta Pitaka (one of the other Three Baskets of the Tipitaka) instead, but this appears to be a relatively recent shift in the emphasis of some Theravada strains (with relatively over 2,000+ years of the Tipataka's history being sometime in the last few hundred years, likely).

To say that it is in the Mahasi tradition that this occurs could be read to imply one of the following: 
  1. That the Mahasi tradition is the Theravada tradition: this is clearly untrue, as there are many strains of the Theravada that are not explicitly Mahasi-influenced.
  2. That the Mahasi tradition is the only tradition that represents the true Theravada and that the others are not valid: this is clearly untrue, and would garner great nashing of teeth among other Theravada strains.
  3. That the Mahasi tradition is the only one that incorporates the Abhidhamma: this is clearly not true, as many Theravada strains give great value to the Abhidhamma.
  4. That the Mahasi tradition is the only one among those Theravada traditions that incorporate the Abhidhamma to include the part in the Abhidhamma about awakening and its fine-grained phenomenology: this is clearly untrue. 
Said another way: this Dhamma regarding Cessations/Fruitions is core Theravada doctrine and teaching, found in numerous strains of the Theravada. It is also verifiable today and has been by verified countless living practitioners through their own practice.

It is true that some have Fruitions/Cessations without knowing what it was, but it is also true that plenty of people have experiences they think were Fruitions/Cessations that simply weren't, and this latter phenomenon is vastly more common. 

… As to the perfectly understandable question regarding Fruitions/Cessations (not Nirodha Samapatti) being a criterion for Stream Entry but occurring after Path, one has to realize that in Abhidhammic phenomenology, as well as contemporarily verified phenomenology, the three stages of Conformity Knowledge (insight stage 12), Change of Lineage (stage 13), and Path (stage 14) occur as a package, taking three very rapid sequential mind moments, and leading immediately and unfailingly to Fruition (stage 15). So, once one gets to Conformity Knowledge, one immediately in the next moment goes to Change of Lineage (the moment that changes one into a stream enterer), then Path (the result of Change of Lineage, meaning the first moment of Stream Entry) in the next moment, then Fruition in the next moment, without any breaks, pauses or interruptions in that rapid, transformative process.

Thus, as one can't get Path (Stream Entry) without the immediate next moment being Fruition, Fruition (what we could call "cessation") can reasonably be considered a requirement for Stream Entry, as this package only comes as a package, with the whole package taking less than a second in practice, and so anyone that you are talking about asking, "Are they a stream enterer?", will by definition have had at least one Fruition unless someone somehow slipped the question in during the few microseconds between Path and Fruition, a situation of such brief duration and resolved by just waiting a few microseconds for them to have their Fruition, so, in diagnostic practice, when asking, "Is someone a stream enterer?", one typically looks for the entrance to Fruition (the three packaged moments), the gap that is Fruition, and the emergence from Fruition, as these tend to stand out, as do the transformations and capabilities that occur as a result of Stream Entry.

The true dropping of the illusion of a fixed, permament, independent, stable identity, that doesn't happen until arahatship, so is not a criterion for Stream Entry.

… Traditionally, you find the word Nibbana in the Pali Canon Sutta Pitaka (basket of suttas) pointing explicitly to arahantship, aka fourth path, and in the Abhidhamma the additional meaning of Fruition is found, though it is easily possible to read some suttas as having that meaning also, though this discrepancy is not explicitly stated anywhere in the Sutta Pitaka that I am aware of. Stated more simply, Nibbana in the Pali Canon tradition means both arahantship and Fruition, depending on context. (DhO

It's very hard to experience the detailed phenomenology of the Three Doors as described in MCTB. [Daniel: this tone is a bit too harsh for non-DhO readers. But as this topic is your trademark IMO, never seen such detailed description in Buddhist texts, I really don't know what  you want. One possibility could be to replace this entry with other text you have written on the topic.
Chasing my degree of phenomenology (of The Three Doors) has vexed many, including people who were very good meditators and were getting Fruitions. I could give many explanations for this, but the one I honestly think is most likely is that I had a mix of fervent obsession with this that burned fiercely hot for years and years and that was combined with what is probably some unusual, perhaps freakish, inborn talent for noticing how various meditative phenomena happen. I was out to prove the shit out of myself and my meditative abilities. Keeping to current forum themes, it was utter balls-to-the-wall alpha-male posturing gone haywire that just happened to be channeled into something extremely skillful. 

For better or for worse, it looks like empirical evidence shows that, if you want to experience these things with that same level of clarity, you are going to have to work very hard for it for a long time like I did and also be gifted. There is a reason that nobody has ever before written the level of broad, detailed and relatively comprehensive descriptions about these things that I have. 

I realize that this may sound like staggering arrogance, and perhaps it is, but it is a lot more useful to you than just that would imply, as it is at once a challenge and a warning: the challenge is that it can be done and the door is open to any who want to try, and the warning is that you had better be willing to go through these things thousands of times with a truly fanatical level of care about it over decades to get to the level I did, or you are likely to be disappointed. 

Given what I know now, I honestly wouldn't bother unless such a project truly calls to the depths of your non-existent soul, like it called to me. Now that it has been written down, it doesn't have to be done again unless you are just that curious and really feel driven to see it all that clearly for yourself. (DhO)

Fruition criteria, falling asleep, hypnogogia, theta states and other stuff. The setup, entrance, exit, and afterglow criteria are all discussed in serious detail in MCTB, found in the wiki page of this site, and MCTB2 at www.mctb.org … Look in the Progress of Insight section and then in the Three Doors section, as well as the chapter that follows that talks about Stream Entry, called various things, including "Was that Emptiness?" in the MCTB1 and "What Was That?" in MCTB2. 
  • Sleepiness and sleep: People fall asleep all the time and don't know it. I have heard people sitting up snoring in meditation halls numerous times and they had no idea they had fallen asleep during their sit until someone either wakes them then or mentions it to them sometime after their sit. I have been in bed with people who were certain that they hadn't slept at all yet who had been snoring for hours and totally asleep, and they neither knew they went to sleep or woke up. Sleep is an extremely common reason for people to lose time in meditation and life in general.
  • Hypnogogia: It is typically related to the strange images that occur in the territory of the border of waking and sleep, but other odd things can happen there also, including but not limited to traveling out of body, various inspired creative ideas, and odd time distortions. While one might blanketly call the territory hypnogogic, in reality it is not a homogenous, single state and has grades, shades and variants, as anyone who has spent a lot of time playing in that territory has noticed. 
  • Theta states. When not sleeping, Theta States are associated with all sorts of things, such as those in float tanks (sometimes called sensory deprivation tanks) saying things like, "Wow, that whole 2 hour float seemed to take ten minutes!", and yet they are 100% sure they were not asleep, never turned over, never went under, are sure they kept consciousness the whole time. I have noticed time distortion where long periods of time seemed very short, particularly in float tanks but also in meditation, and been 100% sure I was awake for the whole thing. At least the floaters often call these very deep states that don't seem to be sleep "theta states". Theta waves are more active in REM sleep, hypnosis, and even possibly fire walking trances, if my internet searches are valid, which they might not be. I claim no particular expertise in EEG interpretation, so, if you are an expert, your knowledge might trump mine in this case. 
  • Other Stuff. The problem is that not all states are easily classifiable, various flavors of the things above and states that might not easily fit into those categories. Time distortion is talked about in Culadasa's book The Mind Illuminated in attacks of severe dullness, for example. Dissociation leading to unnaturally long, peaceful or time-missing sits is discussed in Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness as a defense mechanism against trauma. I have had time distortion in the oddest settings, such as driving. For example, I was driving home alone from Maryland to North Carolina after running sound for a band until 2am and packing up until about 4am (and after a long week of work). It was about a 6-hour drive total. I was driving through Richmond, Virginia at 8am or so, and the next thing I know I am pulling into my driveway little more than 2 hours later, which is about how long it takes to drive from Richmond, VA to Chapel Hill, NC. The gap had nothing at all in it. No memories, no time, nothing. Somehow I navigated an interstate in a car at highway speeds with no obvious problems but my brain had no trace of it stored. It freaked me out at the time and made me seriously question my exhausted driving habits. What state is that? Was I sleep driving? Then there are drugs. The ER nurses I worked with would tell all these amazing stories of things that happened to them on Ambien that they found out about the next day. One made her entire kitchen into something like a giant thing of nachos, with chips, salsa, queso, and guacamole smeared everywhere, on the cabinets, counters, stove, floor, ceiling, dishes, etc. but had absolute no memory of this. This is one of the more polite examples. What state is that? How would you classify it? I am not saying you were doing drugs, dissociating, exhausted, or anything like that when meditating, just mentioning that there is a lot weird stuff out there, some of which may be related, but some of which clearly has its own aspects. (DhO
Fruitions vary, but the vast majority of experiences aren’t it. While reactions to Fruitions vary, many people have lots of experiences that they think are Fruitions but aren't, and, in fact, this is the vast majority.

That doesn't mean that what you are having is Fruitions or not, and some people aren't as impressed with them as others. However, that you think they are not means that they likely aren't. If they don't meet the criteria, be appropriately skeptical.

Other questions, as there are more criteria, involve asking "Am I a stream enterer?" Asking this looks to see if you cycle easily, rapidly, naturally, up through the stages of insight? Also, is there some fundamental reduction in suffering? Some stages can fool one into thinking they are cycling through complete cycles. Some stages, such as the A&P and Equanimity, can produce deep changes that some will think are permanent "traits", but one must sort those out, and that is not always easy, as they are common Stream Entry mimics.

If you don't get the sense that the Fruitions are in some way showing you something insightful about the true nature of experience, that is concerning, and, while you might just have very high standards for what insight should be, it also is very possible they just aren't Fruitions.

The best thing so is to keep an open mind, practice diligently without much attention to mapping but a lot of attention to what actually happens, and keep practicing clearly.

If they really are Fruitions, you are getting the benefit even if you don't think they are. If they are not Fruitions, best not to mistake them for Fruitions. So, given a choice, be skeptical, as it is much less likely to cause problems than overcalling your attainments. (DhO)

In A&P, some people 
– but certainly not everyone  can experience a pause, blip, glitch, gap-like thing, silence, black space, void-like depth, or something else like that at the bottom of the out breath at points during the A&P phase, as well as Dissolution, and some other transitions. These non-Fruition but very hard to comprehend, often seemingly formless, sometimes seemingly timeless or severely time-distorted events can be confusing, particularly to people who know the maps and are wondering if they were Fruitions. I have had numerous events like that along the way during various A&Ps, but definitely not all of them by any means, and some people never notice anything like that. (DhO)

Fruition duration: two hints. While duration has never been my strong suit, Bill Hamilton apparently could stay in Fruition for over an hour. 
  • Hint #1: According to him, he would spend hours reigning in the mind, calming it, pacifying it, smoothing it, preparing it to drop into something stable for a long time. 
  • Hint #2: Stronger concentration makes everything like this easier, and, by strong, I mean the sort of concentration that people get when they are, say, 180-250+ hours or so of actual practice time into an intensive retreat. It is not that some can't likely do duration in daily life, but, like Nirodha Samapatti, not many can, and those who can are likely those with unusual concentration skills. (DhO
Fruitions duration: temporal reference points, EEG runs. I have had thousands of Fruitions in daily life where I have good reference points for the timing of them, such as while driving or talking, allowing me to know for certain that the Fruition happened as the out-breath ended and was over as the next in-breath began, thus having an extremely short duration to external time.

I have had thousands of Fruitions in formal meditation that utterly lacked those sorts of hard, definite, external temporal reference points, but, given how long the sit lasted and the setup lasted, couldn't possibly have lasted that long, but I had no reference points as to how long the Fruition lasted, and they all involved the world vanishing on the out-breath (at least during those Fruitions when the breath was perceived as part of the formations that made up the entrance, which is countless, as I have often used the breath as primary object) and reappeared on an in-breath with a characteristic breathing pattern and feel to it that is distinctive and essentially noticed 100% of the time.

Lastly, there have been a much smaller number of Fruitions that occurred on the cushion that had something external like a sound with definite timing (like a song playing somewhere in the background) that hinted at duration, but, being oddly cautious as I am, none were so definitive that I could be 100% certain that duration of any consequence had occurred, and repetition of these in some controlled way has been difficult, at least for me. Of these, when the breath was part of the entrance formations, it was always ending, and the breath was always coming up when reality reappeared. Thus, I can only conclude that Fruitions appear quantized when it comes to breaths, lasting for some regular count of whole breaths, which may also be 0 (see above), or at least in my experience.

Recently, I have recorded myself meditating over 50 times with a research-grade EEG on and sometimes video that involved at least one clear, high-grade (solidly met all the criteria and had great Three Doors phenomenology) Fruition, and, what I notice is that, for some, there is this marked reduction in a lot of the brain activity that lasts perhaps 2-3 seconds. The breath is always coming up when these end, but, as I tend to be breathing pretty slowly during Fruitions, it could be that the very last part of the out breath and some brief part of the in-breath is cut off from experience during this 2-3 second possible duration.

However, there are numerous problems in definitively interpreting those meditation EEG runs, and I would be extremely hesitant to claim duration based on them. Problem one is eye blink: even with eyes closed, my eyes nearly always clinch somewhat more tightly during the entrance to a Fruition, no idea why, and this looks like an earthquake of motion artifact on EEG, clouding interpretation. Various filtering strategies also can interfere with data interpretation, so one must be cautious.

Second, reduction in brain wave activity might be part of not only Fruition but also some part of the entrance and/or exit, so this also is entirely ambiguous data.

Third, marking the precise fraction of a second of the occurrence of the entrance to and exit from Fruition as they occur is extremely difficult, given what is happening, and precise timing of marks is key for having an ability to more definitely correlate the phenomenology to the neuro (in this case EEG) and thus do proper neurophenomenology.

I am working on these problems with some high-level academic friends who have vastly more knowledge of how to handle these than I do, but the work is slow and tedious. Part of those studies will eventually involve respiratory monitoring timed with the EEG, so hopefully at some point we will have much better data to work from. In the meantime, it is all experiential.

I hope that actually has some practical value rather than just being the basis for further dogmatic argument and avoidance of experience by obsessive intellectual activity. (DhO)

If you say that Fruition didn't change anything fundamentally about suffering, it is because you have attained something else. Fruition radically transformed my brain when it happened: meditative abilities radically improved at that moment and were permanently different from then on, comprehension of fundamental dharma points was radically improved from then on, suffering was reduced, though not so much as some later paths did, and so, while whatever you did may not have changed anything or reduced suffering or cut any "fetters" however we define them, when I attained to what I attained to, it very much did. Suddenly I cycled easily through the stages of insight. Suddenly Fruitions happened again and again. Suddenly I comprehended many extremely subtle workings of the mind, and the descriptions of mind moments and impulsions in the Abhidhamma, which again you seem to find incomprehensible, were suddenly directly obvious like it is obvious that I am typing now.

By far, the most straightforward explanation of why you suspect experience during Fruition and why you say that Fruition didn't change anything fundamentally about suffering is that you have attained to something else. Given that common things are common, and this is a really common occurrence, again, this is by far the most likely explanation. (DhO)

Fruitions, stages, personal abilities and state shifts. The skills in Fruition vary widely between practitioners and their phases of practice. In early Review, many will have a hard time calling up Fruitions, but not all. As Review progresses, particularly on retreat, Fruitions tend to get a lot easier. As Review becomes fully mature, Fruitions tend to be easy, but not for all. As the new stages of insight begin to show up, Fruitions can get harder, particularly after the A&P and in the next Dark Night.

Some people are just naturally talented in various ways regarding Fruitions and some are not. Some people can call them up easily without much setup. Some require meditation to cycle up through the stages of insight. Some people can get multiples, meaning they get a Fruition then incline back and get more in relatively rapid succession. Some find that one Fruition satisfies and getting repeats or even generating interest in rapid repeats is difficult. Some people can get duration, in which the Fruition lasts longer than an instant to external time (as there is no internal time during a Fruition). Some people find duration elusive or impossible. The cause of this seems partially to do with depths of concentration, partially to do with inclination, and partially to do with personal wiring.

These can all vary by the stage of practice and what practices one is doing at that time and in what dose.

My own story after Stream Entry: in the first few days, I would get about one Fruition per day or so. They started getting faster after that, so maybe a few per day. They started happening off the cushion, when walking, when reclining, when eating, etc. for me pretty rapidly. I finally started to get some sense of how to incline to them, but initially I wasn't that good at doing this. Finally, after some months (now back in daily life), I learned how to just incline that way, and, a few seconds to a minute later, a Fruition would occur. This was clearly in the mature stage of Review.

One large caution: it is very easy for Stream Enterers to state shift, and strong state shifts can mimic Fruitions, occurring with eyes blinking, happen at the end of the out breath, involve changes in mental state afterwards that may be blissful or peaceful, etc. Thus, some who think they are getting Fruitions by rapid inclination are actually just having hard state-shifts, as this is easy for many stream enterers, easier than rapid Fruitions by inclination. So, be careful when evaluating Fruitions, as all shifts and drop-outs and the like that might look like them actually aren't.

Getting good at sorting out which is which typically requires a lot of time, critical analysis, and practice. Many never get to be great phenomenologists, and that is ok. You can have a lot of wisdom and personal transformation without being a great analytical, technical practitioner. (DhO)

Fruitions and experiences on entheogens. The question of the correlations between experiences on entheogens and insight meditation come up again and again. While clearly there are some things that can be correlated well and even lined up perfectly, many experiences on powerful entheogens can defy standard classification, as they either are just too far out there, occurred during such perceptual distortion as to be unclear, are not repeatable, or seem to have nothing to do with ordinary consciousness once people stop tripping, so that reference points and words fail them when attempting to make sense of what occurred.

The criteria for Fruitions involve a whole host of specifics, like what came before, the entrance, the thing itself, the exit, what follows after, as well as the expected transformations and abilities that one would expect of a stream enterer. 

Said another way, to claim Fruitions is to claim at least Stream Entry, as the two go hand and hand, and then the question remains, do you meet the rest of the criteria? You can find them here: What Was That?

You can also look before that section to the part about The Three Doors to get a sense of what Fruitions entail.

Mere gaps in experience, blank spots, jumps, skips, and pauses are not enough to meet the criteria. Lots of states and stages can create experiences like that. The A&P, Dissolution, momentary tastes of formless realms, and many other things can create a sense of a pause or gap. (DhO)

Fruitions are the same at all paths. Fruitions are the same at all paths, as there is no experience in Fruition, just missing parts of the movie reel of our life. Regarding the entrance, there is one striking exception, that of fourth path, as the subject-object experience is fundamentally and totally transformed. Specifically, the Suffering Door, where everything is suddenly ripped away from the sense of some "this side", has nothing creepy or violating about it at all, as there is none of that "attachment" to this side (or that side), to use a sticky word. Instead, this is just stuff happening as it does with no sense of grasping, resistance, solidity, or imperfection of the natural flow, unfolding, and vanishing of experiences. Some in third will notice that there is something less creepy about the Suffering Door, but this is different from the feeling at what I think of as true fourth when there is utterly no sense of some existential wrongness when it occurs.

Sorting out what is the A&P from EQ from Fruition/SE, etc. is a seriously problematic business. It is extremely easy to get this wrong, to misapply criteria, to misrepresent what is happening, and deception, both intentional and accidental is common. That doesn't mean that something good can't come from such attempts, but just realize how hard this is, and keep an open mind and long time horizon.

As to the A&P after Stream Entry: The stream enterer starts off meditating at a very mature, quick, lite version of the A&P. Even gentle reflection on anything can produce this state, as it is so close that the lightest bit of attention in that direction causes it to show itself. Yes, one can with strong resolutions and practice make it into something more powerful and long-lasting than the very quick, not-very-impressive thing it is for those with SE, but that's much more of an adhitthana (resolution)/second samatha jhana practice. A stream enterer will generally progress from the A&P to Dissolution within seconds to a few minutes, perhaps even by just dropping down the out breath.

As to further A&P's, here's the problem: after Review has some mastery, new insight stages will start showing up of the next path, and the A&P can sometimes be impressive on subsequent passes at higher path cycles, though the general/average trend is for it to get less dramatic as path cycles progress.

HOWEVER: those below Stream Entry can also go through cycles that are basically A&P>DN>EQ, back to lower stages, back up to A&P>DN>EQ, and may do this many times before Stream Entry. THUS, IT IS EASY TO MISTAKE this cycle for a post-path thing, particularly as, at the stage of EQ, for example, one might sit down in earlier stages that seem very mild and pass quickly and rapidly get up to EQ, which can MIMIC a REVIEW CYCLE.

Also, that point about it being murky and complicated to map in the post-Stream Entry cycles can easily be used as an excuse to map the pre-path A&P>DN>EQ cycle as being that, as it can be repetitive and murky pre-path. I personally crossed the A&P at l east 6 times in daily life before SE, as well as a few times on retreat. They varied dramatically in intensity and presentation, with some being oddly mild and others being pretty wild with no obvious rhyme or reason to why, though the first major one was among the most impressive of them all.

So, mappers, be wary, be skeptical, keep an open mind, map things over the long-term, meaning months to years, have high standards for SE criteria, and avoid being fooled by the very common mimics of the A&P and EQ.

Also, in addition to the A&P and some of the stuff in EQ that fools people into thinking it is SE, there are the head drops at EQ that can fool people into thinking they are Fruitions, Dissolution experiences, momentary formless realms, falling asleep, theta states (a la those who float in float tanks and lose many minutes of experience of time), etc., so be careful, and keep strict criteria for what to call Fruition and what to call something else.

This level of careful discrimination is a skill that takes most years to develop well, and many will call all sorts of things "Fruitions" or "Cessations" that simply weren't, both out of a simple lack of discriminating ability and also a desire to have experiences be them, so overcalling what is going on. (DhO)

Nirodha Samapatti and Fruitions. A clarification about Nirodha Samapatti: The word "nirodha" simply means "cessation". It is used with the qualifier "samapatti" to mean "The Cessation of Perception and Feeling", a very unusual accomplishment only available to a very small subset of advanced meditators, those way out past Stream Entry with full access to formless realms who are at least anagamis and who can figure out how to translate those two impressive attainments into the even more impressive attainment of nirodha samapatti. The term "nirodha" is sometimes used to refer to fruitions, which are discussed in the Abhidhamma, and here it simply means "cessation". So, if there is ambiguity, it is typical to clarify what one means, but, in the discussion of stream enterers, as they are incapable of attaining to "nirodha samapatti", by convention we generally presume that "cessation" simply means "fruition" in stream enterers' cases. 

… Speaking of Nirodha Samapatti... a video (https://vimeo.com/248566139)  on it to help clarify what is different about it from Fruition (and everything else). (DhO)

Fruition, Nirodha Samapatti and Animittam Cetosamadhi. One distinguishes these and other events where things seem to blip out, vanish, or whatever by the following criteria: the meditator, the setup, the entrance, the thing itself, the exit, and the after-effects.

However, while I can clearly spell out all of the details, and do in MCTB1/2, this is not the same as actually being able to do it in practice. It is like wine tasting, where some people can tell oak notes and road tar and cherries and all of that stuff, and some people just can't.

For Nirodha Samapatti, it is actually by far the easiest of the various experiences to identify clearly, standing out strongly from all of the rest of them as it does:  
  • Meditator: only anagamis and arahats with mastery of the formless realms and the ability to ride a strange line between samatha and vipassana with a high degree of balanced, tranquil, easy control can even think about attempting this, so it is already a strangely small crew. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of people that I personally know that I actually believe have attained to this. If you are not an anagami or arahat with strong technical mastery of jhana and insight, you haven't attained this, so you can remove it from your differential diagnosis. In fact, if you are asking the questions you are, it is pretty much guaranteed that you haven't attained this. The chances of most meditators attained this in their lifetime are so small that it is very rarely something to seriously consider as what might have occurred. 
  • Setup: You rise with very light, easy effort up through the jhanas to the 8th jhana while mixing in about 30% insight. You come out, and, having resolved gently to attain to NS either when you started the rise before the 1st jhana or resolving now, you chill and do nothing. NS either happens within a minute or two or it doesn't, and most of the time it doesn't. 
  • Entrance: Thoughts, body and consciousness itself vanish rapidly in an analogue fashion over less than a second. It is a total, dramatic power failure. This is easily distinguished from the Three Doors, as it involves none of these: rapid impermanence, something falling towards you, something falling away from you, or any other Door variant.
  • Thing itself: No experience, time, or anything at all. To a person watching, they appear still on their cushion or laying down or whatever posture they are in and will be hard to get to come out of it by external stimuli. 
  • Exit: Exactly like the entrance but in reverse order, like consciousness and experience powering up again in a rapid analogue fashion. This is distinct from the restart after Fruition. 
  • After-effects: The afterglow is heavy and powerful beyond reason and oddly long-lasting, typically lingering for 5-24+ hours, like one had taken some perfect drug that was at once highly chill but also produced a great deal of stable alertness. I think of this as what people are attempting when they mix uppers and downers, but the NS afterglow is perfect version vs what people typically get when they do that, which is at once muddled and edgy, whereas the NS afterglow feels, well, sublime, divine, incredibly right. No other attainment has an afterglow this good. It takes the top prize with no close competitors. 
Fruition is also easy to identify in theory, but harder in practice, as there are lots of possible mimics, and it doesn't have the extreme marks. 
  • Meditator: One who has at least attained to Equanimity, Conformity, Change of Lineage, and Path insight stages the first time or is at least a Stream Enterer in Review. It doesn't occur to non-noble ones. So, the entrance criteria are vastly lower than NS. 
  • Setup: One rises through the stages of insight to Equanimity and attains to Conformity Knowledge. So, one requires much less meditative skill and technical competence than for NS. 
  • Entrance: Through one of the Three Doors, as describe in MCTB2. These are all quite different from the entrance to NS, which is analogue and doesn't involve the rapid presentation of the Three Characteristics in the same way as the Three Doors do.
  • Thing itself: Again, like NS, there is no time, space, consciousness, etc. To a person viewing them, they typically have their eyelids blink and then come out of it clear and seemingly normal if it lasts a very short time, or, if it lasts longer, they would view them as a still mediator on their cushion without obvious response to the outside world. So, externally, during Fruition that has duration to it or NS, the meditator will appear largely the same, though their breathing may be much slower in NS. 
  • Exit: The mind restarts very rapidly clear and clean, fresh, bright, present, satisfied, like it has been reset and refreshed. 
  • After-effects: This bright, clear, refreshed feeling typically lasts seconds to minutes and then fades rapidly, the major exception being the first time a path, particularly stream entry, is attained, after which the after-effects can be more dramatic and longer-lasting, but are nothing like the NS afterglow, which stands out as its own thing. 
  • dDx (medical abbreviation for "differential diagnosis", meaning things that could mimic Fruition): a momentary blip into a formless experience, any state shift between one state or stage and another, the A&P, Dissolution, and some others. It is very, very common for people to think they have attained to a Fruition when, in fact, they have not. Probably 98% of people I talk with who are trying to determine if they have them don't at all meet the criteria, IMNHO. It is true that plenty of people are relatively poor phenomenologists, making sorting this out difficult, but it is still worth attempting. 
As to Animittam Cetosamadhi, or "signless concentration" or something like that, yes, I have read the texts that mention it, and yes, I am aware of it, and the hard problem is that there is not enough clear technical information or defined criteria found in any ancient (source) to get a sense of what exactly they meant by that. I could go into a long quote-fest of the references to it, and it sounds like you yourself would be familiar with a number of them, but they don't help, so far as I can tell. How it relates to Fruition and NS is debated in those rarified circles that care about such things. I personally don't believe it is well enough defined in the ancient texts and commentaries to come to definite conclusions, so I let it go long ago and decided to simply practice well, which I have found satisfying. (DhO)

Full Nirodha and Nirodha Lite. There is Nirodha in which the whole thing totally vanishes, totally gone, like a total mental power outage, the ultimate off switch, with the standard entrance and exit, and a massive, very long-tailed, heavy afterglow, and no perception of anything during the outage, nothing at all, and especially not of time.

Then there were people here who were proposing something they were calling Nirodha but had a sense of time passing. I have gotten into something that was ultra-stripped-down and was entered into using the Nirodha setup, but happened when I was really obsessed with duration of Nirodha, and it would last exactly as long as I had specified in my resolution, almost with a counter in the background going, and then end, but would not be nearly the ultra-complete, ultra-heavy-afterglow-producing thing that Nirodha in its full and incomprehensible glory is, and there definitely was some sense of time passing.

Really the two are so different as to be hardly comparable, and yet they can result from similar set ups. To say they share certain elements would be misleading, as Nirodha proper has no elements and the other thing clearly does.

Thus, I term that other thing, which is clearly not the same thing as full Nirodha, Nirodha "Lite", realizing that this is certainly my own classification for that other thing and not necessarily anyone else's usage. (DhO)

Getting repeat Fruitions. One possible Fruition is interesting, but more are more interesting. Try to repeat whatever it was. Repeat it a lot. Incline that way. Set it up again. Balance the factors. See what happens. If the thing you call Fruition happens again, then do it again more, and again, and again, and again. In this way, if it is Fruition, you will learn it variants, learn more of its lessons, learn more about how reality vanishes, what happens when it restarts, and it will write something good on the mind. If it is not Fruition, you will learn about whatever that thing is. One way or the other, further learning and clarity should hopefully occur.

The quest for repeat Fruitions teaches one very good lessons about balancing the factors and about what good practice really looks like and feels like. (DhO

I personally have found that just sitting down, doing nothing except perhaps being a bit mindful in a wide-open open and largely agenda-free way, and letting the stages of insight roll through in their own time until a Fruition occurred has been best. If you wish, and if you have actually already had a Fruition and not one of the much more common mimics (A&P, Dissolution, Equanimity, Formless Something, etc.), you can gently incline the mind in that direction or towards that idea at the very beginning of the sit and then just forget about it. It has something to do with the synchrony of the illusion of attention/attender with fluxing space and whatever is happening as a part of that fluxing space. (DhO)

Conformity knowledge is actually in many ways as or more important than the Fruitions. Fruitions are very nice, make permanent changes to the mind at times (new paths or cycles or whatever you want to call them). Conformity knowledge is actually in many ways as or more important than the Fruitions, as that moment or two that occurs right before Fruitions, for those who recognize what it is, really shows one something profound about the true nature of things, something that can become more and more a part of one's waking, living, walking around experience.

In the early paths, at least in the system I work in, Fruitions tend to stand out, make an impression, and may be associated with the sense of the Ultimate, such as some Ultimate Potential that lives between the Frames of Manifestation, or something like that, at least in the meditator's way of trying to conceptualize something about Fruitions, as conceptualization and analysis is a normal activity of the mind.

However, as things go along, the focus of practice shifts to seeing all sensate manifestation as the point, and the luminosity, integration, emptiness, fullness, transience, causality, naturalness, centerlessness, directness, immediacy, vibrancy, and that sort of thing become more and more the focus, with Fruitions just being some nice thing that happens sometimes.

Thus, while you associate Fruitions with having some importance to what you call MCTB 4th (a term that basically everyone here defines at least slightly differently if not profoundly differently from how I define it, whatever...), in fact, at the higher stages of awakening they are not particularly important, except that just before them there is this glimpse of a totally integrated, totally instantly and directly self-comprehended (in that the field of manifestation/space/awareness or whatever you want to call it naturally and totally and effortlessly comprehended directly the whole of itself in both its relative and ultimate natures, there at that point being no difference between those).

I agree with you totally that Zen has no interest in anything like Fruitions, just the results of those Fruitions, and they could be classified as either the total sludge at the bottom of the barrel regarding the world of meditative phenomenology and mapping, or could equally be praised for not even wasting their time with things like how it all goes down, just with the results. I can make a strong case for both points, but I can make a stronger case for knowing both what the punch line is and also having gotten the joke that lead to it.

Regarding Tibetan Masters, I have had varied answers regarding this in my very brief conversations with them, and would consider myself no expert in their opinions on this matter, so will leave that to your expertise.

However, I can definitely say that recognizing Fruitions when the happen and realizing what they are and aren't can have pragmatic value, particularly in trying to remember what happened just before them, as that just before them was a taste of something that, when it develops and becomes more and more of one's waking experience, is extremely profound. (DhO)

Some advice for those who have recently achieved SE. Hopefully this advice will come in handy some day...

(1) Just because it was a bad idea for me to power really hard with strong resolutions to make further progress to 2nd shortly after Stream Entry doesn't mean it necessarily would be a bad idea for anyone else, but it is true that I don't recommend it

(2) Resolutions not to progress do have power: you just make them like you would make a New Year's Resolution, let it go, and it does its work in some strange way, like willing yourself to wake up at 6am just before your alarm goes off: how it happens, don't know, but it does...

(3) Just chill...

(4) New territory will begin to show up soon enough anyway whether you want it to or not, and if you pay a lot of attention to it things will progress faster, and if you practice more things will progress faster, and if you try to ignore them things will hopefully slow down.

(5) Are you on retreat? I was on retreat powering it really hard about 16 hours/day: this can cause trouble when done in an imbalanced way as I was doing: so long as you don't do this, you will probably be alright, and perhaps you might just do it better than I did and land second quickly: no way to tell unless you try it one way or the other and see.

(6) Playing around with jhanas is no guarantee of slowing things down: in fact, strong concentration in a stream-enterer will make things progress faster.

(7) Review is a good idea, but some might get it really well in weeks or less... (DhO)

Things to work on during the Review phase, post Stream Entry. I like the above advice (in the DhO thread).

Traditional advice would vary by tradition, but I found use in learning to notice the stages well and how they shift automatically in review phase when sitting, learning how each functions, what its paradigm and perspective is, what attention is like during it, and really noticing how each little part is different and has its own quality, but then I am a phenomenology guy trained by some phenomenology people.

I had a lot of fun playing around with calling up ñanas just by number and calling them up out of order. In this practice, I would just sit there and think, "Five", and Dissolution would show up, and then think, "11" and Equanimity would show up, and then "7" and Misery would show up, for an example, and just shift between those, noticing the specific qualities of each, and then noticing the universal qualities of them all.

If we learn the state shifts well and the jhanas well, then the next time we go through them we will have a much better handle on them.

The big transitions are worth practicing specifically: call up 10, Re-observation, then call up 11, then do the unthinkable and call up 10 again, then 11, then 10 again, then 11, and notice how you shift from one to the other and what that is like, such that, the next time you have to learn this for some new strata of mind, you will be more used to how one learns to go from one to the other in general terms and it will be more recognizable and less disorienting when you do it later for new levels.

Another fun one: it is typical after a Fruition to start again at the A&P, but instead, take that afterglow and cycle back to another Fruition: just incline back to that and see if you can get multiples. Not everyone can, and there seems to be some person-specifics wiring one way or the other, but it makes for something fun to play with.

More fun stuff: take, say, the 3rd vipassana jhana, starting at Dissolution, and see if you can walk back and forth between the 3rd samatha jhana and the 3rd vipassana jhana, noticing how things change when you do that. Try it for the rest of them, such as Fear through Re-observation. Shift back and forth, so that would go Dissolution, 3rd samatha jhana, Fear, 3rd samatha jhana, Misery, 3rd samatha jhana, Disgust, 3rd samatha jhana, etc. and really notice how things change and exactly what is different as you do that. Not everyone can do this, but if you can, you will learn something important that not a lot of people know.

Do the same for the A&P and 2nd samatha jhana. Do the same for Equanimity and 4th samatha jhana.

If you have the chops: play with the formless aspects of Equanimity ñana. Notice how to shift to fluxing space, fluxing consciousness, fluxing nothingness, up to NPNYNP (8th jhana), back out, see if you can get a Fruition, then back up to the formless stuff and around again.

Also, take each aspect of each ñana and really go into them. This is probably best done in order, though you can do it out of order.

Start with the A&P, notice its ultra-fast vibrational aspect as far as you can take it, then its rapturous aspect as far as you can take it, then its effortless aspect as far as you can take it, then, when you really feel the pull to Dissolution, drop down, down, down, as far as it goes, as slow as it goes, as far out as it goes, like dropping to the bottom of the sea, like taking Dissolution into formless territory, to really see how dissolved you can be, how out of phase you can get, how low can you go, how wide, now peaceful, like being under water, like being sedated: take it down to the furthest depths it has, then, when you really feel the pull, shift into Fear, and take fear as far as it goes: really get freaked out, really let the willies, the terror, the horror roll, like your body is rotting away, like the whole thing is vanishing to creepy death, like some vipassana disease is filling everything, as far as fear can go, and then notice its vibrational aspects, its shamanic drum-beat aspects, its shifting vipassana aspects as far as you can take them, then, when you feel the pull to Misery... etc.

See how that works? Really explore their depths, as a master, as a safe and competent adventurer who has control in a non-control, no-self kind of way, who can go there and be ok, who can flush all of this stuff out in its width and breadth and all its fascinating variations. Just call those up. Just ask for them to show themselves and do this again and again until you are really, really good at knowing the ñanas cold, as a seasoned expert, as a true technical practitioner. (DhO)

2nd Path

2nd Path is a pretty straight shot. Other than the fact that 2nd Path for many has some more emotional aspects to it, that and the increased ability to appreciate subparts of stages for those inclined to those sorts of things, the cool thing about 2nd is that you can basically do the same sort of things that got you First Path and it should largely work for 2nd. Just learn the same lessons, apply the same advice to the hard stages, avoid the standard traps, investigate the three characteristics, work to learn to navigate the stages, be present to what is happening, incorporate more and more of the senses into the practice along with space, balance the seven factors, that sort of thing. Third path tends to be more complex, but, for most, 2nd is a pretty straight shot. (DhO)

What changed after 2nd Path. For me, after second path, reality was really different, emotions acted differently, I perceived many additional nuances of subcycles and phenomena that I hadn't before, and I was back in a review phase  of rapidly increasing Fruition frequency and ease naturally rather than struggling in a progress cycle. There is variability in the degree to which people report experiencing those changes. (DhO) 

DN after SE. [Someone asks if the Fear one would experience in the DN post Stream Entry would be more all encompasssing/'deeper' than pre, or if it would be easier to deal with as that's known territory. Daniel answers:]  My worst Dark Night ever was the first Review cycle after Stream Entry: totally over the top, lasted a few hours, then dissipated, got a repeat Fruition, and then subsequent cycles still involved the stages, but they were not nearly as bad, and rapidly became a near non-issue, and I even called up the Dark Night stages just by naming the numbers in my head as I got good at them, like going on a roller coaster you bought a tick for just to see what that felt like, and subsequent new Dark Nights were irritating but not as bad, and cycle after cycle they got better and better. (DhO)

What is required to get a new path. Standard theory and many people's experience say that, assuming you already have stream entry, that as the Review phase progresses, and cycling through from 4th-11th ñanas to Fruition gets easier, many will begin to notice subtle layers of mind and experience that seem to not be well perceived, seem to be outside of their current level of mastery, seem to contain unskillful elements that the practitioner had had some respite from in the afterglow of their current realization, seem to be newly noticed, and then there will be a period where there will seem to be a choice: do you focus on the current stages, which by this point generally seem easy, or delve into those things that seem to be beckoning for investigation and clear perception?

There is actually no choice, as there is no self, and reality is causal and happens on its own, but the basic sense of the choice can present anyway. As one becomes less fascinated by the review stages and attention turns more to those patterns of experience (which may initially be subtle, but for most will relatively rapidly grow in predominance in the field of experience), the initial insights that one had for the first path begin to be noticed, by way of the same type of investigation that landed the first path, and so the early stages of Mind and Body, Cause and Effect, etc. arise.

Now, it may be that during this phase Fruitions may still occur, and regression to previous stages may set in. However, as the dharma leads one on, through careful investigation the A&P will again arise, and after the Dark Night hits, one will generally feel more cut off from territory that is familiar and well-mastered, Fruitions may be vague or seemingly inaccessible, and, once the same insights that got one Equanimity are re-obtained for the new territory, Equanimity and potentially the next path arises.

However, it is not always so simple, and some will get caught at the standard places, both pleasant and unpleasant, by failing to have the investigative skills necessary for progress or by fascination by the good and bad aspects, and/or the lack of maturity to handle the new territory, and so fall back or stagnate, and people can get caught in between the paths at times, unable to get back to Review, unable to move forward, and eventually one moves one way or the other, and if that direction is back, then re-mastering Review can strangely help progress, and if one moves forward, then avoiding the standard traps again is of value, but finally, by good, inclusive, clear, standard practices, one attains to the new path.

It is worth knowing that beyond second path, there are some paradigmatic aspects that, if not understood, can block progress, and while standard practices can eventually overcome these, some heads up as to what to look for specifically can be of value, such as the width of 3rd, etc.

From first to second is generally pretty straightforward in comparison to what comes later for most.

I submit this in the narrow context of the early paths and working within that conceptual framework. (DhO

Comparing Different Traditions  

Mixing the Actualism maps with any other maps is not helpful. I got to watch a few years of this on the DhO, and it was basically a clusterfuck of unhelpful crazy. I have never seen it lead to anything good, and it definitely lead to much that was bad. I haven't found good correlates of results, just correlations with a few aspects of technique, such as tuning into sensuous beauty being like focusing on the Awakening Factors of Rapture and Mindfulness, for example, and some things about noticing feelings being echoed in various suttas about following feelings. 

Stream entry is useful and transformative regardless of any consideration of technique or tradition. It is a possible upgrade to general human mental physiology and function, not the property of a sect or religious strain. I highly recommend it regardless of any other concerns or issues of dogma, language, or culture. 

What Richard describes as enlightenment is clearly phenomenologically different. Comparing "Buddhist" and "Actualist" attainments is less than helpful, in my view.

A PCE is very different from a "taste", at least as I experienced it and I believe as Richard et al define it. It has very unusual emotional, perceptual, and other components that make it seem to be its own thing. Years of attempting to map it to other states were a quagmire of stupidity, IMNHO. It stands on its own, in my view and experience. However, various people use the term PCE to mean various things, so it is entirely possible they are using it to mean something else, such as some powerful A&P or Equanimity or whatever. One must be careful with one's phenomenology here and not use these terms loosely.

… The PCE was a remarkable thing when it would occur, true. From the PCE point of view, which truly feels "perfect", every other altered state seems, well, somehow lesser, or at least it did to me at those times. However, PCEs, like all relative states, don't last. The odd thing is that, after having done this a while, eventually some shifts happened, and then PCEs not only weren't available, there was no way to even get a sense of what "direction" I would "look in" to even try to make one arise, like the entire concept no longer applied or had been a dream. I have no idea what to make of this either, as it appears to be a unique report, so far as I am aware ...

… My summary of the aspects of Actualism in practice that are of some demonstrable value which can easily be incorporated into one's practices and life are given at the end of that article (Link: https://www.integrateddaniel.info/my-experiments-in-actualism), which was very carefully written as a result of a few years of very heated debates and a lot of experimentation on the part of friends and myself, and my opinions are still the same.

I think these discussions are most interesting if framed in terms such as, "I have profound FOMO regarding imagined choices of spiritual outcomes, so what should I do?" I would look at that FOMO.

If you are doing something Actualism-esque, track it back and see if it really is necessary or if you could just be happy now. Notice the sensuous beauty of this moment of being alive.

If you are doing something Vipassana-esque, consider the Sutta The Removal of Distracting Thoughts, and reflect on whether or not those thoughts are helpful and substitute positive mind states for those negative mind states. Be Mindful of the experiences that make up those thoughts and the rest of this moment, and cultivate the Factors of Awakening called Rapture and Tranquility and Equanimity.

Oh, wait, is there any real difference between those two modes? If you can be certain that there is some critical difference, you have discernment beyond what I do.

… As to advocating for Actualism, if you look closely, you will see some aspects of it in MCTB2, albeit in somewhat covert form. Might check out the section on Rapture in the chapter on the seven factors for a start. You will also find some covert warnings regarding the same material, such as in the Emotional Models section. So, it is a mix, as is my final takeaway on the whole strange period. If you look at my website, you will find that essay (Link to Daniel's webpage), which is not covert at all. (DhO)

Is there a short cut? As I read through this thread and think about it from the 20-year internet dharma forum veteran, 30,000 ft viewpoint, it has the basic ring of earlier debates between more narrow, effortful, structured practices (Goenka, Noting, Vipassana in general) and those of Dzogchen/Mahamudra/Just Sitting/etc. It has been noticed again and again that when people move from one that they have been doing for a long time to the other (basically regardless of direction), they suddenly notice something they hadn’t seen before. There are hundreds of reports in this vein found on the DhO, Tao Bums, etc. One can search for Rigpa and read threads from 8 or so years ago and find posts that could be transposed to this discussion almost entirely unedited and seem to be part of the conversation.

It is very common for those, particularly who have done narrow-only focused traditions (breath, whatever), and never been given any instructions to gradually expand out their awareness and finally just rest in what occurs (like what I would call more third and fourth vipassana jhana approaches), then, given that instruction, many will suddenly bloom.

One thing I would add to the dDx (differential diagnosis, aka possible things that people are getting into) is Equanimity, which, for some, particularly those who have done more narrow, structured traditions for a long time, can be an amazing breath of fresh air, and ñ11.j2 as I would call it can be mind-blowingly profound, with vistas of unity, Buddha Nature, the Divine, Luminosity, True Self, and the like becoming extremely powerful.

I also really like Ken McLeod and his work and a specific article: A Light in the Dark (DhO)  

Things I liked about Bill Hamilton. Kept his dharma extremely clean and uncorrupted from a financial point of view, asking nothing for his teachings. Didn't seek to tell people his way was the best, just a good one. Referenced and respected lots of other works and teachers that were not his own. He didn't seek widespread fame or admiration, and so died relatively unknown, which, while clearly a loss for people who didn't know him, clearly demonstrated a certain humility that I had great respect for despite my own obvious lack of ability to emulate it. He was reluctant to talk about his own practice, which I sometimes found irritating, but at least he didn't say he was one thing and blatantly turn out to be another. Would talk about the dark side of the path and the downsides of meditation and the Dark Night. Would talk a lot and honestly about shadow sides of meditation practice, traditions, and communities. Admitted his own mistakes and used them as a way to teach others so they could hopefully avoid similar problems. Had powerful depths of meditation and could speak from that place with a great deal of nuance, richness, and sophistication. In short, he seemed to all appearances to walk his talk, to be what he said he was, to meet his own high ideals. (DhO

Pros and Cons of goal-oriented and non goal-oriented traditions. Paths and traditions vary widely in their relationship to what you might gain and how that motivates practice. Advantages of goal-oriented traditions: they tend to achieve goals. Downsides: competition, future-orientation, emphasis on maps over practice, and the like can all occur, though these can all be mitigated and even overcome if one realizes that to achieve goals in this business requires being right here, right now, as this moment is the basis of practice and everything else, for that matter. Advantage of non-goal-oriented practice: basically that there is much less artificial division that can be created between this moment and one's practice, but the downside is that many will get nowhere at all. It is a paradox, and boils down to individual tastes, goals, proclivities and how well one implements either path.

Going too fast: similar to the thing about goals. Really fast progress is actually possible. In general, the benefits of fast progress are fast progress. The downsides are that it can be hard to integrate, and the risk of strong side-effects is higher, both good and bad. That all said, without insights to integrate in the first place, no integrations occurs, so getting insights is good, in general. I tend to vote for fast progress if you can pull it off, realizing that it can be a rough ride and that is still takes time to let those insights permeate the vast range of our habits and conditioning. 

Mixing paths: it is very common these days, and I know few who have stuck strictly to one tradition, though many have spent a good deal of time in one practice to see where it leads. There are definitely some things that mix better than others, but a total ban on mixing paths is not only needless, it is very hard to actually pull off, as our conditioning these days and the concepts we bring to this tend to come from all over the place. (DhO

Vajrayana and Theravadan perspectives can work nicely together, with some caveats though. I think the Vajrayana and Theravadan perspectives can work nicely together, so long as you can just digest and basically ignore the propaganda you will hear about the "Hinayana" from the Tibetans, who basically know nothing about the modern Theravada as it is in places like Burma, so they are talking about some ancient, somewhat anti-idealized creation of their own historical minds, using it basically as a literary or teaching device, a foil. The Theravadans know nearly nothing about the Vajrayana most of the time, but wouldn't even bother to mention them, as it generally has nothing to do with their worldview at all. In summary, we have the Vajrayana using the Theravada as a whipping boy with inaccurate negative propaganda, and the Theravada basically totally ignoring the Vajrayana. I am not sure which is worse, but neither is particularly helpful.

From the Theravada you will get very good technique in great abundance and an extremely practical, practice-based approach. It will give you the sort of foundation that the Tibetan practitioners often lack, whose world often has so much ritual, ornament, cults-of-personality, political and dogmatic stuff that they generally are not doing what the Theravadans do, meaning just busting it on the cushion hour after hour after hour building the muscles you need to perceive things clearly and stabilize attention.

That said, the Theravada has its shadow sides, and from the Vajrayana you gain a perspective that can work with energies, colors, qualities, the textures of space, emotions, the archetypes, and things like that, in a way that is generally more whole, human, vibrant, and immediate than the Theravada often produces, though on paper it involves working with all of that also, in some relatively dry way that often, due to its particular models and some of its dogma, means subtle or overt denial and asceticism beyond what is needed to get really fluent in your reality as it is.

I would seriously consider starting Theravada, getting stream entry and perhaps second path from the Mahasi kids first and then a good sense of what really strong concentration is from the Pau Auk kids, and then take that into the Vajrayana, and you will already have what you need to visualize really well as well as having established a direct understanding of ultimate bodhichitta, which is essential to that path, and be able to see that the endless fascination with ritual and the rest of the hyper-abundant trappings and politics and personality stuff may, at best, be skillful means, as Attachment to Rites and Rituals will be profoundly lessened if not eliminated, and so you will be able to have the wide, vibrant acceptance that the Vajrayana offers without its obvious initial traps that so confuse most people who get into it before they were really ready for it. Dzogchen and its related perspectives really help with 3rd Path territory. (DhO)

For the vast majority of people, the teachings of the immediate, spontaneous realizers don't do it.  Is the Theravadan system the only one that creates steps? Definitely no. The Tibetans have many maps (5 Paths, some number of Bhumis (often 10, but there are other listings)), there is a Dzog Chen tradition I just heard of 2 days ago with 52, apparently, there are numerous Zen masters who describe various stages of their realization (Chi Nul had 3, some other big Zen guy whose name eludes me at the moment had about 17...).

Then we have the people who just seem to have jumped there instantly. We also have the people who trained very hard in some tradition (e.g. Adyashanti), realized whatever (or not, e.g. Andrew Cohen?: just not sure what to make of that guy...), but then advocated that their followers not train the way they did, but just realize they were already enlightened or that there is nothing to do, or whatever (this later group tends to annoy me the most...).

It is hard not to be inspired by some of the heavy spontaneous realizers, such as Nisargadatta, Poonja-ji and Ramana Maharshi. They tend to be very impressive, and their teachings can be very impressive. I have some of the published works on them and by them and found them compelling and insightful. It is very hard for me personally to doubt that they have profound insight and experienced real transformation.

The problem is that not a lot of their students tend to realize the same things that they did, and sometimes none at all that arrive at the same level of realization and impressiveness, or that we know about.

The issue is that, despite the spontaneous realizers realizing something very impressive, clearly, they had no idea how they did it, and they make the same mistake that we all do: as they didn't see any pattern or causal conditions leading to it, they assume that there are none, and from their current point of view, as everything is clear, spontaneous, etc. it doubly makes sense to them that there is nothing to do and nobody to do it.

The problem is that, for the vast majority of people, the teachings of the immediate, spontaneous realizers don't do it, don't create in them the same thing that they seem to find in the teacher.

Thus, the technique and work based traditions fill in the gap for those who, for whatever reason, don't suddenly and completely pop.

If the do-nothing approach to enlightenment were the cat's meow, then the number of people who would be enlightened would be nearly everyone, as the vast majority of people don't ever pursue enlightenment and spent plenty of time doing nothing.

It would only be those poor schmucks who were unfortunate enough to have found a meditative tradition that involved things like paying attention, cultivating kindness, being moral, trying to really understand sensate reality, and studying the carefully time-tested instructions of traditions thousand of years old that would be unenlightened, as they were working for it, and, were the spontaneous non-dual realizers right, this would be basically the only way NOT to get enlightened.

This is obviously not true, as the vast majority of people I know with serious wisdom did train for it, worked hard, spent thousands of hours on the cushion or whatever, and it unfolded gradually and in stages, many of which are quite predictable, though there are clearly some variants found out there in the wild.

In summary, if by doing nothing you get realized: good for you! You saved yourself a whole lot of trouble. If, on the other hand, you want to work for it, well, that option is there also. Which to bet on? Obviously, that decision you have to make for yourself. (DhO)

Direct Pointing work for very few, without years of practice. Essentially all of the Dzogchen and Advaita kids who say that same thing about looking directly at the true nature of mind also practiced for years. If you read the fine print on Dzogchen, they will say again and again that they will target various techniques and approaches to people's levels of ability and understanding, and the direct pointing is something they do all the time, but they will admit that the number of people who get it are very, very few, at least without years of practice.

It is really easy, once one has grasped something difficult through years of hard effort, to then imagine that everyone should be able to see it and then teach from that place. This happens all the time. Adyashanti is a great case in point, as are Krishnamurti and lots of others. It is, in my view, a subtle (or not so subtle) arrogance, and I know a lot about arrogance, having lived with it in myself for years. (How funny, to arrogantly claim to be an expert on arrogance, as I have just done). The number to reject the tested path that got them their insights in favor of some untested "direct" path is large: it shows a lack of understanding even in understanding.

I myself point directly at the true nature of the thing in MCTB, as does everyone who uses the term "no-self", or mentions the Three Characteristics, or talks about seeing all things just as they are naturally, or says anything like that. It is stock and standard in introductory classes.

As anyone who has taught those introductory classes will tell you, the number who, having been presented with a direct teaching on the true nature of mind and exhorted to see it now, suddenly jump up with profound wisdom is essentially zero. The same is true in Advaita and Dzogchen circles. Otherwise, when Adyashanti or Tolle or the rest of them taught or when people read their books, wisdom would suddenly bloom forth all over the place. Clearly, this has not occurred, or Oprah would be the Great Vehicle in a way the Mahayana never was or ever could be...

It is still a very good and true point to make, so long as people keep practicing and don't, like countless zillions of slacker, arrogant Dzogchen and Advaita dabblers, rest in the comfortable notion that theirs is the highest teaching when they hardly know their ass from their elbow and couldn't see the true nature of those things for three breaths in a row.

I liked Christopher Titmuss' approach that I got to see day after day on the four retreats I sat with him: Point directly at it again and again and again, and then also give people the structure and practices that support and lay the conditions for making seeing it much more likely. This is the balanced view that embraces both the ideals and the realities in a practical, functional way. I found it effective, anyway, so that means that you should SEE THE TRUE NATURE OF MIND RIGHT NOW! (DhO)

Downsides and Benefits of a Number of Traditions: Daniel long response to Omega Point. [This is Daniel's response to a 40 page essay, which you can read in this thread or in Scribd: The Art of Nakedness: A look at Buddhist salvation
Enter Daniel Ingram:Dear Omega Point, Thanks for posting that detailed and excellent essay. I really enjoyed it. It is one of the better comparisons of the various schools I have seen. Here is my reply to Omega Point's many points:

First, a bit about my background. I started meditating in the Mahasi tradition but ran into problems mostly beginning in the territory after moving on from what I think of as second path, when suddenly I was seeing the luminosity of phenomena and noticing that all energies, all emotions, all of this fluxing space, all seemed to be luminous, and this seemed really important, but the Theravada didn't talk about it, and the people who were my teachers then didn't talk about it, and they had no idea what I was talking about, and I got frustrated, as I was seeing something they didn't see, so I started looking elsewhere.

Specifically, I started looking at sources like Chögyam Trungpa, as well as books like The Light of Wisdom by Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, as well as things like Tracing Back the Radiance on the teachings of Chi Nul, a Korean Chan monk. I was particularly taken with some very specific things, such as the section on the 5 Buddha Families in Journey Without Goal by Trungpa, which talks about seeing the enlightened aspect of all qualities of being. I was also influenced by Introduction to Tantra, by Lama Yeshe, as well as Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche's book Dharma Paths, and later by books like Secret of the Vajra World, by Reggie Ray, as well as texts such as Liberation on the Palm of Your Hand, by Pabongka Rinpoche. I read a lot of Taoist stuff in odd sources, such as the cartoons of Tsai Chih Chung, examples being things like The Roots of Wisdom (which is not actually strictly Taoist, but it is in the ballpark). I read Moon in a Dewdrop about the teachings of Dogen many times. This is a very incomplete list, but it gives you a sense of the thing. I also played around with Ceremonial Magick, but that is another story for another time.

At some point, I realized that all moments must spontaneously realize  emptiness, luminosity, centerlessness, selflessness, undifferentiated suchness, or whatever you wish to call it, and that this must be the all-the-time, walking-around way of being. About 95% of the field knew it, and chasing down the 5% that didn’t became my obsession. So, my practice changed in some ways, but kept basic facets of the Theravada in others.

I played around with vipassanizing (seeing the Three Characteristics of) the 6th subjhana aspect of the 4th jhana (meaning the Boundless Consciousness sub-aspect) of the formed fourth jhana. I played around with noticing all thoughts as colors of space, as textures of space, and practiced really hard to see space in all its aspects as the utterly transient thing that it is, spending time vipassanizing the 5th jhana itself. I sought to bring the light of clear, direct comprehension to layer upon layer upon layer of subtle illusory duality, trying hard to figure out how to get the last subtle layers of duality to untie themselves, to realize their true nature. I got really good at being mindful of all of the sensations of my scalp and face, trying to get so good at seeing all categories of sensations that could make up the illusion of a separate self or Subject that nothing would be left to create this illusion, as the habit of seeing it as it was would be too strong, to automatic. It was a long process that went on for about 6 years of hard work.

I also played around with my own version of what might loosely be termed tantra (which OP warns about, and I can see why, as, were one not to guard the mind really carefully when it gets that strong, that level of practice can really quickly turn to some really screwed up stuff and crazy-land). On a kasina retreat using candle flame, I got so that I could find myself in a totally different realm with remarkably detailed visualizations of luminous, 3D, intelligent and interactive tantric deities (particularly this white male one with white female consort in the classic pose) and then get No-Self Door Fruitions as the light of their awareness collapsed this way into the sense of intelligence on this side. I did this again and again and again on retreat with a high degree of concentration.

This is a short summary of a much longer and more complex process that took years, spanning the time from December or so 1996 to my last retreat in 2003 in April.

Oddly enough, after lots and lots of playing around with things that might be considered relatively fancy, and after getting very frustrated with the whole thing, I actually turned back to some very Theravadan assumptions on my last retreat: do not let any single sensation anywhere in the entire space of experience go by without instantly comprehending its true nature, not a single friggin’ one. After a week of doing that at an extremely high degree of intensity, things flipped over for the first time to the pristine, direct, non-dual, centerless, etc. way of perceiving things, and then that would fade and it would feel like my heart was broken. I would get it back, it would fade again. I went through a week of that, which was basically awful half the time (the half when I was not in the better way of perceiving things), and then finally, a week later, it stayed that way and that was that on that front.

Hopefully that helps clarify the background to my answer, anyway.

Now, to answer Omega Point (in italics):

If one is no longer resonating with the Theravada path and one observes that one’s progress has stagnated, then moving on to either the path of transformation or the path of spontaneous liberation is perfectly reasonable to consider.

(Daniel:) I couldn't agree more. Doing that helped me a lot. In fact, if you read MCTB with an eye for it, you will see lots of Dzogchen in there, it is just not obvious. You will also see the Tantric perspective on emotions, though it is not that obvious.

The contemporary Theravada path, relatively speaking, is still in an “early” experimental phase.

Yes and no. Literally hundreds of thousands of people have trained in Mahasi Centers during the last 60+ years or so. It is a large sample size, larger than the number of people who have probably practiced some of the higher tantras. Are there problems? Yes.

Do people run into problems in other systems (such as the Tibetan systems)? Yes. Are all the kinks worked out of any of those systems? No.

This point is then used to seriously call into question the textual basis of most of 20th century Theravada meditation, no matter how effective.

As a pragmatist, I love the qualifier...

while in fact a small number of texts explain how the critical samatha practice evolves into vipassana.

Such as my favorite Sutta MN 111.

The vipassana-centric or vipassana-only approaches seem to have originated in the colonial era as part of the modernist Buddhism movement as the schools attempted to address the challenges of the modern age. It was a response born of a growing skepticism of samatha, or more precisely, the degeneration of samatha found across many of the theravadas which allowed local folk customs and lore to inform and taint their practice.

Totally true.

Additionally, “access concentration” or “momentary concentration” which are commonly practiced now, are commentarial ideas and so a later interpretation and thus it is argued that interpreting the texts and thus one’s practice through such a lens may indeed amount to a misinterpretation of those very texts and thus of what is designated as proper practice in regards to the supermundane path laid down by the Buddha (regardless of their efficacy).

Scholastically he is spot on, and again, as a pragmatist, I love the qualifier...

it appears that in many instances both a degenerated samatha and an overemphasis on vipassana persists in modern practice.

I totally agree. Hence, I advocate for both and using them skillfully to help augment and balance each other. Years of watching those who try it too “dry” frying themselves here should convince anyone reading that this view makes sense.

For example, there is a tendency to reinterpret the qualities of jhana in some cases totally leaving out listed qualities and having a “good enough” attitude; an over-willingness to bend the descriptions of the qualities in favor of one’s experience, to exaggerate aspects of one’s experiences of samatha/jhana to fit the listed qualities, even if they are but an extremely weak shadow or imitation of the actual quality in question; and thus to iterate, an overall tendency for complacence, a settling for a weak and generally unstable samatha that one self-soothes oneself, in quite a deceptive and gullible fashion, into thinking that it instead is a strong samatha or at least qualifyingly enough.

Omega Point writes truth. I would add that I still argue against those who are in the "only really, really ultra-hard jhana is jhana" camp, as even moderate jhana has real benefits and can be used for lots of useful things, but I also totally agree that people often settle for really weak jhana not knowing that the stronger versions can be much stronger than they imagine.

Lastly, that samatha and vipassana are not two separate baskets, but two sides of something indivisible, very simply put, the vipassana side dealing with discrimination, discernment, understanding and thus the overcoming of cogitative defilements; while samatha deals with  peace, bliss, energy, heart qualities and thus the overcoming of non-conceptual (or super-subtle conceptual/perceptual), somatic, and emotional defilements.

I also totally agree, as it is basically impossible to do either pure samatha or vipassana, as there will always be some mix of these, and this gets more and more true as realization progresses, though it is possible to use the artificial dichotomy to provide some useful guidance for those who are getting stuck one way or the other.

There of course are still the looming issues of the original challenges from many of the schools predating Theravada, that of the status of the arhat, the particular emphasis or lack thereof of the Bodhisattva path, and the status of the true nature of mind whether it was originally pure etc.

Actually, there are some Thai Forest schools that place more emphasis on the Bodhisattva path, but they are clearly a small part of the complex thing, and you find the ideal of being a Bodhisattva in the Pali Canon, as the Buddha himself was one for countless lifetimes before becoming a Buddha, so it says. The status of the arahat is a problem, as I go on and on about.

1. Arhats are not truly enlightened and do not truly reach nirvana. Or
2. Arhatship entails an enlightened state and reaches nirvana, however this enlightenment and nirvana is not maximally consolidated. Or
3. Arhats are totally enlightened, reach nirvana, and are very close if not virtually identical to Buddhas.

There are other options, actually... Consider the point of view presented in MCTB: that arahats have dissolved artificial perceptual dualities, stopped habitual subject-fixation, ended the misperception of the true nature of phenomena, eliminated the sense of the split between the internal and external spaces mentioned above, unified the field into an empty, transient, luminous, intrinsically self-revealing flux, and thus accomplished the end of that particular axis of development, while leaving the question of many other axes of development open, those being dependent upon the individual in question. How can there be consolidation of something that is perceived that way? There is nothing at that point to consolidate.

One must then posit the definition of a Buddha. It is relevant, as to compare two things, one must know what we are comparing. Certainly, by the standard Theravadan definition, in which Buddhas have necessarily perfected all sorts of other aspects of development, including having 40 teeth and arms that hang down past their knees, as well as having perfected all samatha jhanas, as well as eliminating all unskillful personality traits, as well as having mastered all the powers, the two are very far apart except along the single axis of direct realization of the truth of things and whatever benefits that specific aspect of perceptual transformation necessarily and always brings with it.

Concerning anicca, dukkha, and anatta, they are deep and profound things, much more deep than most generally give them credit for, and shouldn't be so easily dismissed. It is easy to not take them as far as they can go. While I can see the appeal of the Tibetan versions, I still like those personally.

Concerning 3rd path and energy practices, that was actually the territory in which I found them to be most useful, and actually did some on that same retreat where I got my concentration strong and could see and merge with images of deities and the like. I got so that I could see them all, manipulate them all, just like one would intend to do anything else. It produced some very interesting effects, and how this later lead to anything else, I can only barely speculate. I categorically disagree that ejaculation necessarily impedes spiritual practice, as much as it gets tossed around. I think it helps some at times, may help to balance and chill some things out, may also cause some at times to be sleepier or have less energy, but also can calm restlessness and provide ease and a sense of well-being. I think it is more contextual and individual/situation-specific, at least in my view.

Regarding his commentary on the Theravada necessarily being the path of the strict renunciate, the more modern practice of alternating heavy, intense single-technique retreats with basically no breaks in technique while awake with getting one’s daily life back together and pursuing worldly goals actually works better than he thinks it does, though I agree that being sure to take daily life as path and to work whenever possible to see its true nature as one goes about it really helps, as it helped me make that oscillation between the two extremes work a lot better.

I also categorically disagree that it isn’t possible to understand the true nature of sensations as a householder, though I definitely think that really solid retreats and really solid practice during them with plenty of daily life practice makes things much more likely to happen, something that most don’t do.

It is true that when I was in my most serious practice years (1995-2003), I barely watched TV, didn’t hang out with friends much, read dharma books like crazy (way over 100 during that period, many studied seriously and read again and again, including things like the Middle Length Discourses, the Visuddhimagga and Vimuttimagga, the Long Discourses, and lots of other Pali texts), burned nearly all available vacation time on retreats, and practiced daily-life mindfulness like a person possessed, like my hair was on fire (maybe that is where it went?). I did some sort of formal practice a minimum of at least an hour each day and, for some of the early years (1996-1997) actually sat at least 3 if not 5 hours each day, this while working some part-time jobs and living on very little money.

I totally agree that Westerners are generally slackers/cynics/meditation-in-a-pill-if-possible-types who don’t want to disrupt their life while Easterners are more into the folk/religious aspects and that the transplanted Easterners are cynics and all interfere with practice.

The lack of qualified tutors and the critique of free-for-all freestyle practice with poor direction and guidance is also a totally valid point, just as parts of their critique of ultra-dogmatic, hyper-traditional traditions also makes some very important points.

The urge to purge the religion and strange and uncomfortable cultural trappings from Buddhism is very much my thing, actually. Fire rituals with butter and meat offerings, bone trumpets, fancy hats, human skull bowls, freakishly high levels of binge alcohol consumption, medieval-feudal wars between traditions, virtual peasant slavery, sexual exploitation, sectarian arrogance, patriarchal dominance: not my things, to put it gently. It is easy to forget what Tibet has been like, particularly before the last 70 years or so, and particularly before kids like Jamgon Kongtrul helped to bring the warring sides together into something less preposterously violent and dysfunctional. Stripping all of that crap out sounds like a fantastic idea. I could launch into the problems with modern Zen in Japan, etc. but that would take all day, wouldn’t it? You really want to keep all that?

I also do agree that reducing all the practices to some low-grade mindfulness is equally vile and misguided. Hence, I advocate for keeping the powerful techniques, the maps of high-level practice, the richness of the technical beauty, conceptual sophistication, and empowerment that comes from these things at their best while leaving so much of the insanity that comes along with the traditions to rot on the great trash-heap of the past. Just as I am no fan of lots of aspects of my American culture, just so I am not a fan of lots of aspects of the original cultures these traditions come from, just so you know I try to apply the same standards to all of it. Needlessly huge SUVs being driven by single people guzzling gas from ultra-conservative Saudi royalty-owned production facilities? Not into it. Global imperialistic robber-baron capitalist oligarchy? Not a fan. I could go on and on. What I worry about is when anyone buys so much into something that they will take the bad of it without feeling like they can seriously question its value and function. That happens with the meditative traditions all the time, and to me represents intellectual retardation.

His warning that the take what works approach can lead to a very watered down set of standards is frequently mentioned by others, such as myself, here on this forum and is worth perpetually guarding against, but this phenomenon is not anything new, as plenty of the history of all of the ancient and culturally-embedded traditions also demonstrate with equal obviousness, again consider the travesty of modern Zen in Japan, consider the totally ritualized/lifestyle/prestige-building/political/etc. version of Theravada “practiced” today in most monasteries in Thailand, etc, and I could basically pick on all the others (Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc.) in similar ways. I could also blast 99% of the Western Tibetan practitioners I know for basically saying, “The Mahayana and Vajrayana are so much better than the Hinayana as they have the Bodhisattva Vow!” and then having the learning of that bit of dogma being the farthest their “practice” ever gets.

Wilber… What to say, eh? It is not that he doesn’t make some good and interesting points and draw some fine correlations and the like, as he clearly does. However, while no expert in his stuff, I don’t see him reaching the level he claims to. I could be wrong, as I don’t know him well.

Stephen Batchelor: both times I met him we instantly didn’t get along, to put it gently. I will leave it at that. His wife Martine is a great person and practitioner, though, with that great sense of light and humble humor that marks someone with a mature practice.

As to the global decline in realized beings, I am not sure, as firm numbers are damn hard to come by. I do know that in the Theravadan world until the last 120 years or so there were precious few enlightened beings and this really hit an upswing in numbers during the 20th century, producing some fine practitioners and great teachings. I am less aware of the numbers in Tibet and how they compare from, say, the 19th century to today.

I do know that I personally know a lot more people with strong practices, and I am not sure if this is the effect of some of the few that are out there gathering together to participate in forums like this one, and this thus just being a networking effect that obscures some true decline.

Regarding the problems with reconciling the paths and bhumis and the like, it clearly is problematic for very large numbers of reasons, not the last of which is what I call the “package models” that each entail, meaning that if you have this quality or realization then you will automatically have these other very specific qualities and aspects, favorite examples being that anagamis couldn’t possibly have erections or orgasms as they can’t feel ordinary lust, as well as bodhisattvas of the whatever bhumi definitely manifesting exactly 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, etc. copies of themselves to bring awakening to that many realms and beings at all times. Both barking crazy, if you ask me. OP: do you really believe in and like the full and unedited dogma of the bhumi models? So often we are quick to poke holes in a tradition based on the worst parts of its dogma while making allowances for the worst dogma of our own tradition. I do this myself regularly and am doing it actually right now, but it makes the point that we must all be careful of this pervasive tendency.

That is why I prefer my Simple Model, my many and various axes of development that don’t assume progress on one axis will guarantee progress on another, breaking the models down into their more component parts so that we may begin to address each aspect of them, and the like.

Will it be impossible to create reasonable models and correspondences that can adequately accommodate the wide range of the specific manifestations of individual practitioners and their various progressions along the many and various axes of development while maintaining high standards and strict criteria for essential aspects of the path that serve the basic function of helping to guide and direct and inspire better practice? I personally believe we will be able to do this when the various traditions get over themselves and people can sit down and talk like mature, rational adults and really let their hair down and swap notes and stories and try to line it up in a way that goes beyond the pathetic and infantile term-wars and dogma-spats and finally gets down to business.

Given that it may be hundreds of years before anything that functional happens, if ever (doesn’t seem to have actually ever occurred during the last 2,500 years or so in the way I dream it will) we will probably be waiting a while, but those are the conversations I dream of having in my most optimistic fantasies. Omega Point: interested in something like that? I could spend a whole day talking about these things if you are up for it, and I doubt that would even really be more than a crude beginning. The problem with modern life is that we don’t take the time to do the deep, very long conversations that would help to sort out so many things and so much is wasted in misunderstanding and confusion. This goes doubly for the “internal arts” we concern ourselves with here. The biases between traditions fly so thick and fast, we stumble over words from other traditions we are so sure we understand but don’t, there is the issue of personal quirks of language usage, and the list of barriers to real dogma-transcending dialogue goes on and on and on. You want to talk about rare beings? Those who have realization and would be willing to talk about it honestly and without the armor of their tradition and social role all around them: that’s more rare than a live snow lion.

Regarding Omega Point’s progression from Hinayana to Mahayana to Dzogchen-like/Rigpa-based practices to spontaneous liberation, makes sense to me and sounds like a nice way to go. It seems to have produced good results, which again is what I care about.

As to what OP calls consolidation, I also have noticed various things have helped to integrate some aspects of the thing I call arahatship, untying, centerlessness, non-duality, and other names, as those who have read this forum for a while know, so that progression and deepening makes sense to me also.

Regarding practice being crude at best without some minimum understanding of things, this is still where I think that the Mahasi practices kick ass, as I still don’t know anything that is on average faster for getting people to Stream Entry than a good Mahasi retreat done really well as instructed. As my friend Sean Pritchard (ex monk who taught Mahasi retreats for years) says, if they do the technique, progress is basically guaranteed and is basically mechanical, in that it just steps along in a remarkably predictable way.

What is interesting is that as soon as I got stream entry, all I could think about was how everything was the balanced manifestation of empty compassion, and that this applied to all beings without exception, and I did this with very strict noting technique in a very Theravadan context and set of conceptual frameworks. Suddenly so much Mahayana stuff that had been so obscure suddenly made sense, and I also saw how I had misread plenty of the Theravadan stuff to miss those aspects in it. Thus, one should be careful to not imagine that there is no overlap, that one can’t lead to the other, that they are unrelated, that realization is totally different between traditions. 

OP’s commentary about how you should do some very specific energetic and visualizations practices is beyond easy ability to comment on, as I lack the fine points and haven’t done those, so can’t reasonably judge them.

As to the necessity of a guru, here we differ. I had no guru that I am aware of, though I studied with a bunch of people with very strong practices and various degrees of understanding of various things. Does that count? I don’t think so from the Tibetan point of view. Am I so rare as all that? I totally reject the idea, lest it poison the minds of those would devalue their own abilities and shoot for something less than they were capable of as they also had no guru. I know plenty of great practitioners who have and had no guru.

His comments about energy and bodhichitta and the like are beyond me, as those seem very practice and tradition-specific and I didn’t practice in his tradition.

As to the dangers of the path, I agree, can be dangerous, even just doing something simple like noting or following the breath, even more if one is playing around with energy and powers and visualizations, as that side of things is very powerful but also very risky, as psychosis crawls much closer to the surface, and without adequate protections can go horribly awry. (DhO)

A Glossary for Middle & Higher Paths

Open awareness. A technique, not a state. It is just a style of focusing widely and non-specifically, in which nearly anything (except perhaps something involving a narrow focus, or at least intentionally) could arise.

Direct awareness. A description of something regarding "raw" sense data, or as raw as we have access to, that is. It could also involve anything, but specifically it tends to mean, for example, noticing the sensations in the fingers as being there, in the fingers, and the mental impression of them that typically occurs somewhere in that region or perhaps near the center of the head as just being those mental impressions rather than taking the mental impressions for the physical sensations of the fingers. This is just one of countless examples, as it doesn't imply a specific, just a quality where things directly represent themselves.

Awareness of awareness. A bit of a redundancy, or a pointing back towards some theoretical origin of consciousness, or a focus, or an attempt at a technique, or an experience of some sort of sense of "consciousness", or a meta-cognitive awareness, or possibly other meanings, depending on context. This one would clearly need to be appreciated in its tradition and meaning will depend on usage, and often gets vaguely used so its utility will depend greatly on its application.

Natural State, Non-Dualistic State. While used various ways, and clearly problematic, and clearly somewhat tradition dependent, at its best it points much as the Bahiya of the Bark Cloth Sutta, "In the seeing, just the seen. In the hearing, just the heard. In the felt, just the felt. In the cognized, just the cognized. In the thinking just the thought, etc." In this, things are simply where they are, happening naturally as they do, know where they are by themselves, naturally appreciating their own transience, unsolidified by misperception or habit, ungrasped by misperception or habit, etc. However, some will use it in other ways, and I consider every other usage a problem. Natural state could be used in the highest sense as a synonym of arahatship. However, the Mayahana being generally pretty phenomenologically weak as it is will often use it for many other states that contain some hint of a glimpse of a part of the full thing, even going as low as to say that Mind and Body, some jhanic state, or Equanimity are the Natural State or a glimps of the Natural State. In this, they are partly right, as those do contain parts of the puzzle, but at the same time they shortchange the real thing. Various people will relate to this problem various ways. Some relate to it skillfully, and take the partial glimpses as just those, and others will fixate on some limited state that isn't the complete thing as being the complete thing, but, in this, they err.

Nondualistic state. See Natural State, as the exact same discussion applies.

PCE (Pure Consciousness Experience). A term used various ways by various authors and traditions. If you mean PCE as defined in Actualism, then that refers to a very remarkable state, a state I don't recommend attempting to map to anything else EVER. Sorry for those who really like putting this all together in a neat package, buy I think it is its own thing that needs to be engaged with and defined on its own terms. The PCE defined by Actualism is truly a remarkable experience. It has various qualities, including a sense of sensate "perfection", as well as a preposterous visual sampling rate. When in a PCE, I can be watching a 60Hz television and see the frames, actually can't not see the frames, as the sense of pristine perfection is something you basically can't not see in a PCE. It is also emotionally very unusual, considered by Actualism the learning lab of its project. Some here believe the PCE to be "Buddhist crack" in the very bad sense of "crack", really great feeling, but really dangerous. I don't view it that way having been in a PCE for up to around 3 days at the longest. When in a PCE, ones ordinary emotional reactions generally seem like the foolish stupidity of an ignorant child. Aesthetics are markedly altered, as the wall next to a TV might seem equally as interesting or not as the TV it is next to, for example. There is a sense of generic beauty that applies to everything equally. Your favorite music seems no more nor less interesting than silence. PCEs can be attained to by attending to the sensuous beauty of experience and inclining to immediate perfection, but some will find it much easier than others, and having someone to point you in that "direction" helps, as with so many other things. PCEs have a delight to them which the Actualists will say is a flaw, a subtle corruption, but still as close as one can get to Actualism without attaining to it, they would add. PCEs are compelling. As Actualism is extremely controversial on the DhO, PCEs also are similarly extremely controversial, and discussions of them are at risk of serious flame wars and political badness. You will have to determine for yourself if you are interested in pursuing them further.

Bhavanga. Defined as what the mind turns to when it has no object in the sense of being in deepest sleep or having nothing contacting the senses, also what the mind does between mind moments if nothing else is going on, so sort of a synonym for unconsciousness, but, again, used various ways by various people, so must be taken in context, but, if you really want to attempt to get at what that technical term is meaning, see here. It is also sometimes conceptualized as some sort of factor that provides some quality of continuity to existence, a conceptualization that is extremely problematic and must not be taken as a true continuity of some continuous soul or similar entity. In what context are you finding it used? Essentially, and by definition, you can't be conscious of Bhavanga. It also must be carefully distinguished from Nibbana.

Rigpa. Very much like Nondual State, or Natural State. Again, this is a term that gets used a lot, and various authors lend their various flavors to it and subtle or not so subtle variations in usage. It sometimes refers straightforwardly to experience without the distortion of ignorance, as in the Bahiya of the Bark Cloth Sutta, but sometimes it is unfortunately used to describe some sort of luminous all-ground, which I consider a serious problem, and sometimes used to refer to some exalted, basically mythical state of liberation beyond this ordinary sense world yet somehow of it, a usage that is just useless mind-fuckery, if you ask me.

Luminosity. Variously used by various authors to describe states that, on inspection, seem to be either that phase of Equanimity that I call ñ11.j4.j6, meaning the still formed part of the Equanimity ñana where there is a strong sense of consciousness pervading but there is still form, which is a temporary state, to the experience that begins to show up for some around what I think of as "Third Path", meaning that, in ordinary life and just walking around, phenomena seem to contain their own "light" as it were, and not that they are more illuminated or glowing or anything like that (though in some stages people will feel that everything is glowing more, as can happen in both the A&P and Equanimity), it just means that phenomena are naturally aware where they are, again, as in the Bahiya of the Bark Cloty Sutta, where things slimply represent themselves. Luminosity can also sometimes refer to the state of Boundless Consciousness, the true formless realm, in which ordinary forms such as the body are not perceived, and instead there is just wide-open vastness that all seems present in some bright, conscious way. It can also refer to what I consider to be one of the standard Golden Chain traps that await beings of moderately high but incomplete levels of realization, that sense that there is a Luminous All-Ground, some stable space that seems to Know, a stable light of Awareness that is some True Self, that is some Ground of Being, some Buddha Nature that is undying, stable, always present, still, silent, unchanging. This is an illusion, but an extremely tempting one for some, and I would guess that about half of the Mahayana sutra-writers got stuck there. It is a pretty good place to be stuck, as places to be stuck go, but it is still less than what is possible.

Non-conceptuality. Very much like Natural State, Direct Awareness, Nondual State, and Rigpa when used in that most useful, most accurate, and most straightforward sense, in which, rather than the mental impression or "consciousness" that follows each other sense impression is taken as the awareness of the sense impression that followed it, the sense impression and the mental impression are both taken to simply represent themselves as and where they occur very straightforwardly and literally.

Cittas. A term that really needs its qualifier word to make it make sense in any specific context, often used in the Abhidhamma in a hyper-technical enumeration of various types of mind states or qualities of heart/mind or arisings of some aspect of experience, sometimes used in a micro-phenomenological sense, sometimes used in a more macro-phenomenological sense. Also, Access to Insight is pretty helpful, or at least about as helpful as one can get in this business.

Javanas. A type of citta that is reactive to a previous citta and where kamma is created, a type of "mind moment". This article is helpful

Jhanas. While these have straightforward definitions in terms of their essential qualities (1st: applied and sustained attention (aiming and rubbing) with rapture and happiness born of seclusion from the hindrances, 2nd: with the dropping of applied and sustained attention/aiming and rubbing there is rapture and happiness born of concentration, 3rd: with the dropping of rapture, there is subtle, cool bliss, equanimity, and mindfulness, 4th: with the dropping of subtle bliss there is equanimity with mindfulness considered perfected due to the equanimity thought it may not be as obvious and with a neutral feeling tone, etc.), they can look radically different depending on how the mind is tuned, what is taken as object, what is intentionally excluded from consciousness, what level of depth the jhana is taken to, what is emphasized, and what is diminished. Learning to identify them is both an art and a science, as are their sub-jhanic aspects and phases of development.

Formless realms/jhanas. Truly, the body is gone. This is a key point. If the body is there, that's something else, something that may have formless aspects perhaps, but not a true formless realm. These are really more "realms", in that they are truly removed from this "realm". They are elsewhere, in another space, mentally created, if you will, not experienced "here". The body may disappear in jhanas before the formless realms, even the first jhana, but it would still have that effortful first jhana quality to it, which the formless realms don't, being long after the dropping of applied and sustained effort/attention as they are. Distinguishing the four formless realms from the lower jhanas that are tuned away from ordinary form is not actually that hard, as the formless realms arise after the fourth jhana is attained, which is usually pretty obvious, and they are not particularly negotiable, being sort of "fixed packages" in the sense that they are always "the same", said in quotes to avoid some sense of fixity in the sense of permanence. Every time you attain to them, there they are, seemingly just like before. Boundless space is just as you would figure. Imagine you are on the deck of a spaceship with a vast panoramic window onto the vastness of interstellar space, then take away the stars, then take away the spaceship, then take away the body that is observing it. Boundless consciousness is just like that, vast, formless, clear, quiet, present, refined, etc. except that the whole thing has a sense of some light to it, but a light that is not reflecting on anything, just present to the boundless space in some way that is clearly different from simple Boundless space, yet also sort of like a recognition of something that was there but you just hadn't noticed it yet. Nothingness is what would happen if you then totally turned the lights out, such that there is just nothing. This is best recognized after the appropriate setup, that of the first two formless realms, and so, by going there again and again and getting a sense of it, one can then learn to differentiate it from other states that don't seem to involve much experience beyond the sense of nothing, which, it turns out, is a distinct experience which is exactly and straightforwardly that in a really literal way. Neither perception nor yet non-perception is best appreciated as what happens when the mind detunes from Nothingness, and one finds one's self in an experience that is essentially indescribable beyond weird terms such as its name. It is best understood by going through the setup in order, namely Boundless Space, Boundless Conscousness, Nothingness, and then NPNYNP. In this way, and through repetition, you learn the quality of each, and their distinct presentations become more obvous. This takes practice, and many will not be able to do this easily or at all. While claims of formless attainments are common, I believe the real thing is substantially less so.

Pure Land Jhanas™. A proprietary term claimed by Kenneth Folk, Inc. as his own property, originally sort of derives from the original description of the 31 Planes of Existence. You see, there five realms described in that table as 23-27 are Pure Abodes, but they have no other descriptions. The association occurred when an undefined set of practitioner(s), whose members will not be named to avoid toxic, narcissistic politics, noticed that, after leaving NPNYNP, they would sometimes soon thereafter find themselves in remarkable states that simply didn't fit the standard descriptions of the ordinary jhanas. These seemed to combine elements of various jhanas in combinations previously undescribed but in ways that were truly delightful, having a true sense of purity to them, and adding in other elements, like powerful gratitude, or cool delight but in some way that was different from lower jhanas and combined with much more pervasive and impressive elements, as well as occurring blatantly out of any ordinary sequence. It was then decided by KF, he says, to call these Pure Land Jhanas, corresponding them with the extremely sparse descriptions found in the list of the 31 realms, and presuming that only anagamis or arahats could access them. However, that is an extremely contentious point, and phenomenologically extremely problematic, owing to the fact of the custom/fusion jhanas...

Custom/fusion jhanas. As those with strong concentration, a bit of talent, and a spirit of exploration have noticed, at some point one can gain the ability to tune the mind in ways that simply defy the ordinary categorization of the typical four jhanas and add in other elements not mentioned in them. Pure Land Jhanas may very well fall into this category, and, as their original criteria are undefined, many believe they have attained to them, and some have used these as their primary criteria for various path attainments despite the known problems with doing this. These problems primarily include the remarkable ability to create jhanas that really are however one wishes them to be once one gets enough concentration. Notice I simply said "enough concentration", and not "enough concentration and insight," as it can be demonstrated that some who clearly don't have high levels of insight can yet, through that odd mix of training, inclination, and talent, get themselves into some extremely remarkable states just by learning to incline their mind that way.

Vipassana jhanas. Refer to the fact that the Three Characteristics can be observed in various modes that clearly correlate with the standard jhanic descriptions and have those various classic jhanic factors present, thus creating experiences that clearly have both an insight and a more samatha feel to them. In fact, it is extremely hard to get into jhanic states that do not have any hint of the Three Characteristics. Also, one finds plenty of textual evidence that jhanas were states that could be investigated and broken down into individual qualities and moments. Thus, the term "vipassana jhanas", basically to distinguish them in terms of both experience and practice emphasis from those jhanas which by way of inclination and experience are a lot smoother, more seemingly stable, less evidencing the Three Characteristics. However, as some have noted, the stronger one's concentration gets, the harder it is to really ignore the moment-to-moment nature of experience. Also, even those doing "pure insight practices", dedicated to tearing down each moment ruthlessly, will often enter into territory where powerful jhanic factors are present, particularly in certain insight stages, such as Mind and Body (1st jhana), The A&P (2nd jhana), Dissolution (3rd jhana), and Equanimity (4th jhana). Also, those who, in a stage such as Review, train well, will notice that it is really easy for some to do lateral work, turning each jhana into its closest ñana and back again, and even move in zig-zag patterns up and down this hypothetical ladder, such as from the 2nd vipassana jhana (A&P)  to a more smooth 3rd samatha-esque jhana to a more vibratory/fluxy 4th vipassana jhana/Equanimity, etc. However, it should be noted that, in supramundane jhana, the "noble one" cannot truly ignore or not notice the Three Characteristics, unlike those pre-path, who can actually attain to jhanas that feel a lot more stable than those post-path.

In answer to the question about Bhavanga, it is clearly different from the four formless realms. In deep sleep, or when under general anesthesia and properly sedated, one is unconscious. There is no time, no space, no experience, no anything. One is just out. Boundless space is vastly different from this, a very present, impressive, vast space. Similarly, boundless consciousness is a vast, luminous, conscious space. Similarly, Nothingness is the sense of dedicated presence to the quality of Nothing, almost like tuning into the Platonic ideal of Nothing, but there is still a sense of the passage of time, and there is still definitely experience. In NPNYNP, there is still definitely that quality, which is a very hard quality to explain, but it is definitely different from deep sleep or unconsciousness both in setup, entrance, the thing itself, exit, and after-effects. (DhO

3rd Path

3rd Path on the Maps. Bill Hamilton used to say that Third Path was a lot harder than the first two for most people. I find the same in conversations with practitioners. It is an entirely different order and scope than the first two in many ways. That it is hard doesn't mean that the maps are wrong, just that it is more rare.

I agree that many people, having little experience, models, or training in reporting their direct experience, are not that good at it. It is almost like learning a new language or trade lexicon. May we do better at helping to support people in that work and in being forgiving and kind.

I have enjoyed learning Spanish, as I have found that nearly everyone that I have encountered who speaks Spanish is a natural Spanish teacher, and they smile and are gently supportive. May we take inspiration from their example.

Also, I see a lot of people go on their heaviest and longest retreats to get Stream Entry, but then, for a lot of people, the interest and resource-dedication falls off. I understand why this happens, as Stream Entry for a lot of people is very satisfying.

Still, I very rarely have conversations with people who are planning their long retreat(s) the way those gunning for Stream Entry often do, almost never hearing anyone report, "Ok, I have really nailed down Second Path, have repeat Fruitions, can call up the stages and substages, but now want to go off to Asia for a few months of deep retreat to attain Third Path." Can anyone else here recall reading of such a practitioner recently on this forum? I can't, but would be happy to be wrong and have good examples pointed out for the general inspiration of the forum readership. I admit that I don't read every thread and may have missed them.

It is ironic that third is known to be a generally harder path, a vastly more subtle, broad, complex path, a path out where the fractal is getting complex, where the cycles can go on and on, a path that the texts say requires more concentration power than Stream Entry, a path that requires a very different understanding in realtime than Stream Entry or Second Path, a path that requires shifting the focus from Fruition to immediate luminosity or whatever you wish to call it, and then people totally low-ball Third Path, giving it vastly less effort, study, energy, dedication, and retreat time than they gave to Stream Entry instead of more, and what do you expect will happen? Exactly what we see happening. Should this surprise anyone?

While there is rare individual variation, and for whatever strange karmic reasons I found Third Path easier than is generally reported, the average on this is well-known, and it is harder than the first two. That said, I had to pour resources for years into the last path, with it taking vastly more retreat time, cushion time, study, deep inquiry, and maturation than the first three did for me, and the path for me would be classified as fast but difficult.  (DhO)

3rd Path as sort of Dark Night. I think of Third Path as sort of the Dark Night of the big cycle of the paths, so watch for that … I can't honestly remember if I wrote about that specifically or not in those words (in MCTB1), but I mention fractals and the 3rd phase of anything is the Dark Night phase, at least in a 4-based fractal mapping system, in general terms.

Yeah, Kenneth and I were just having a long conversation today (Dec/2010) about that and related topics and what wisdom can be gained from realizing we are human and all try to do our best.

I have seen a relatively wide range of what 3rd Path, however defined, does to people, but most seem to find it more challenging than second. It is of a different scope in some ways, wider, more about this right here, and has its own interesting traps: fascination with making emptiness a superspace or some primordial refuge, fascination with high jhanas and powers, fascination with subtle identifications with deep insights, and the like. (DhO)

I have plenty of reports from friends who had some difficulties with various forms of depression for various periods of time in the middle paths. Some were very short, some relatively long. Some very mild, others moderate, a few severe, though those tended to be short-lived. Even the middle paths are not a definite protection against depression. (DhO

Criteria for 3rd Path. Various teachers use various criteria for third path. While I prefer the Simple Model, if we are going to use four path terminology, then this is how I think of it, in case anyone is interested:

(1) Waking, walking-around reality should be very, very different from how it was before, with specific changes realted to the following:
  • Things should mostly seem to be happening on their own: that includes thoughts, actions, perception, intentions, feelings, movements, everything. This should be the dominant waking experience, with portions of experience that are not naturally known as being that way being the minority. The natural causality and self-lessness of action should be clear most of the time and for most things. In short, third path is a set up to fourth path, like a getting close but not quite. As a waking experience, it is most of the way there.
  • One's waking experience of awareness should be very different. There are lots of ways to say this, but I tend towards the following descriptions: the basic light/luminosity/awareness/manifestation in phenomena should mostly be known directly as being where the objects are. Said another way, manifest objects and sensations should be largely known to contain their own awareness in them, with them, as them, being the same thing. In short, the sense that this side is perceiving that side should be markedly diminished, and the sense that that side and substantial parts of this side are just stuff that knows itself where it is should predominate, with these exceptions becoming more and more subtle as insight deepens, until exceptions are very hard to find. In short, third path is a set up to fourth, like getting close but not quite. It is most of the way there and should point to what is left to be done and how to do it.
(2) I don't use jhanic criteria for third path, as I don't find them reliable, and that includes what Kenneth Folk proprietarily calls The Pure Land Jhanas®. Jhanas are very manipulable, criteria for these PL® jhanas are not easily defined, and it is easy enough for people with sufficient focus to craft jhanic experiences that meet their expectations. I have played around extensively with various combinations of enjoyable and pleasant factors and found that the potential for trouble by overcalling these crafted experiences is quite large. Thus, I don't find them reliable enough to be used for something as important as realization criteria, something I obviously take seriously. The potential to totally overcall attainments and miss important points about basic insight is huge.

(3) Nirodha Samapatti: as I have stated many times, I think that the overcalling of this is common, or common as things in this small meditative world go, as there are not actually that many that claim to have NS. Most of the time the descriptions I read don't convince me that they were the real thing. It is easy to script this, to get into something moderately formless, to get into the 7th or 8th jhana, to take some lower jhana into something more formless by taking it as object (even the first jhana can cause the body to totally dissappear if the focus is right and concentration strong enough), and then think this was NS. Even a good Fruition might be a solid mimic, but that is a trivial attainment in comparison. Thus, I don't use NS as my primary criteria either, but, if someone really thinks that they get it, that is certainly interesting. However, how this may help if they don't have the points in 1) above, I don't know, as without those they still don't have what I consider the whole point of third path: to have something that points strongly to what fourth path is about, with it just needing to have that same basic insight applied to the nagging remainders and hold-out patterns of experience for which identification and delusion is stronger and which are more sticky and subtle. 

My two cents, anyway. Let other teachers call things as they do, that's their right. In this business, finding concensus is very, very difficult, so I am not really expecting much of that. I simply present these points and criteria to clarify things, lest by association people think we are all on the same page, which we aren't. (DhO)

In 3rd Path, why not just ‘continue’ to ‘observe’ exactly what's going on ‘in the present moment’ and see the Three Characteristics? The Three Characteristics are profound, very profound, staggeringly profound, and not easily grasped in their entirety. It seems perfectly reasonable to grasp them in their entirety by observing them, but there is a problem, actually, that last line contains a bunch of problems that are not obvious until you see them clearly.

I will go by the words (of the title) to illustrate the problem. 
  • "Continue": there is no continuing. There is nothing to continue, no past that could be continued, no future to continue into, and this moment is entirely ungraspable. No sensation could ever actually grasp or continue. Everything is fresh but perfectly ephemeral. The notion of continuing, from a high insight point of view, is a serious problem. Instead, there has to be a deep non-grasping, a perfect and flawless appreciation of non-continuing, a deep never could be a continuing, a deep nothing could ever be continuing, a deep sense of not only discontinuity, but of the utter flowing, vanishing, empty transience of anything that seemed to be able to continue. One must figure out how to go beyond continuing, beyond grasping, beyond that strange mental illusion that such a thing could ever occur or have occurred. 
  • "Observe": there is no observing. There can be no observing. There is nothing that can observe at all. Everything is just occurring where it is, naturally, straightforwardly. There is no observer. There can't be any observer. There never was any observer. Deeply understanding this is required. There never was any observation. Observation can't finally do it. One must figure out how to shift out of observing to just phenomena occurring.
  • The qualifier "in the present moment" is a problem in some way. This almost always involves some subtle or gross pattern of sensations that we refer to mentally when we say "now", or "the present", which are not actually stable, not actually a present, not actually anything but more empty transience, yet we make them seem like a stable present. This is very subtle, deep, profound. Even "the present" doesn't withstand scrutiny, and we must be careful with this sticky concept, as it can itself become a sort of a solidified thing, part of the illusion of continuity, observation, practitioner, etc.

So, while it is true that deeply comprehending emptiness, non-continuity, non-observation, and even non-present, can occur by just continuously observing this present moment, we must be careful, and sometimes it takes people shifting out of their trench of "good practice" to do something that is out from good practice and instead is just the unfolding empty wisdom dharma. Various people find various methods to make this subtle shift, and one size definitely does not fit all, so best wishes sorting out what will help you work out your salvation with diligence.

One could just say that each transient moment, however it is, naturally understands its ungraspable, discontinuous, ephemeral, non-existent, empty nature, straightforwardly, perfectly. However, one must be careful not to idealize or intellectually reify any of those concepts and qualifiers, and instead this is something that is purely perceptual. It applies to every transient moment, regardless of any other consideration of the specific qualities of that moment.

All that said, I did, as my last push, go back to the Three Characteristics and Six Sense Doors, just those, but at a level of extremely high precision, inclusiveness, and acceptance, and found that effective. Yet, the place I had gotten to that seemed to make it effective was a radical disenchantment and dispassion with everything “I” had attained, everything “I” was, everything “I” could become, everything “I” could experience, and how to arrive at such a place varies a lot by the person. (Link to one of the best ever threads in DhO

3rd Path involves a few things. Third involves a few things, as I see it:

1) Continuing to practice, and by that I mean directly seeing things arise and vanish on their own over there, however you can do that. Noting is good, direct observation of all the complexity is better, though using noting to ease into difficult patterns of sensations can be useful.

2) Going wide and through: as third is more spacious, more about dissolving a significant chunk of what seems to be observing, doing, controlling, analyzing, and the like, you both have to take on more of the sensations that seem to be all of that, which they aren't, and also see how to dissolve the artificial boundaries that seem to delineate that from everything else, meaning the rest of what happens in what seems to be space. Play on that line: how do you know what the edge between what seems to be you and not you is, viscerally, perceptually, vibrationally, texturally, geographically, volumetrically? Any quality that you notice seems to really feel like it means it is you, see the Three Characteristics of that.

3) Dismiss ideals and the patterns of ideals about what you think this stuff will do as more sensations to observe. If you can do this at the level of fluxing, shifting patterns of suchness, that is easier, but whatever level you find yourself at is the level that you can work with, as it is all the same from that point of view, and knowing that simple fact can help a lot.

4) Really allow the thing to show itself. Really allow luminosity to show itself. Really allow things to just happen as they do. Less control, more direct understanding of that natural unfolding, more noticing how the sense of control occurs at all, what it feels like, how that set of textures and intentions set up a sense that there is a you that is doing anything and how obviously wrong that is. Feel into what seems to be looking, asking, wanting, expecting and vipassanize all of that: not forcefully but skillfully, subtly coaxing those patterns into the light of awareness that sees through their clever tricks, almost like you have to look just slightly to the side of the Pleiades to see them as clearly, almost as if you have to sneak up on them so gently that they don't notice it and can be caught unaware, except that sneaking process is what you are trying to sneak up on.

5) Notice that you can't do anything other than what happens. Try. See how those patterns occur. Try to do something other than what happens. It is preposterous, but when you try it, there are patterns that arise, patterns of illusion, patterns of pretending, patterns that if you start to look at them you will see are ludicrous, laughable, like a kid's fantasies, and yet that is how you believe you are controlling things, so try again and again to do something other than what occurs and watch those patterns of confusion and pretending to be in control that arise and you will learn something. This is an unusually profound point.

6) Really, really keep the Three Characteristics in all their profundity as the Gold Standards for whether or not you are perceiving things clearly, and each moment you aren't, notice why and debunk that right there, and then do it again and again and again, as it always takes more repetitions of that process than people think it should, and so many get psyched out, when it may have not been that many more iterations of the process to have succeeded in locking that in as the way of perceiving things permanently.

7) Feel the going out into new territory with its confusion, tedium, frustration and creepiness as the thing itself: that which wants it to be known, mapped, predictable, safe, familiar is part of the thing that you need to see as it is: see those patterns in the head, chest, stomach, throat, etc. as more shifting, fresh patterns: that freshness keeps you honest, keeps you really paying attention in that slightly violating, slightly personally-taboo way that really helps in the end.

8) If you are familiar with the vipassana jhanas as living, familiar, felt things, then realize that Third has elements of the Third Jhana, wide but somehow there is something creepy about it, as it violates the center in a more full-time way than the earlier paths do. The more you have a tolerance for something in that letting go through-to-the-bone creepiness and can see the good side in that, the width, the spaciousness, the naturalness, the directness, the completeness, the fullness, the now-ness of it, the better you will do. It is a more sophisticated way of perceiving things, more out of control, more brave, more free, requiring more trust, more openness, more acceptance, being more down to earth and also more diffuse at the same time, which is an odd juxtaposition of feelings to get used to, but it is worth it.

9) If you have 5th, or even 4j.5j, meaning the spacious aspect of 4th that is not truly formless but still quite open and wide, that is a really good pointer, just allow it to also go through anything you think is you, working on that seeming boundary line, as above, but allowing it to breathe, to flux, volumetrically, like moving blobs of space with texture all together, all of them just the natural world doing its rich and empty thing. (DhO, another great thread BTW)

What is meant by Direct Perception. P
art of what is meant by direct perception is that:

(1) rather than taking mental impressions of other sensations as being the same as the sensation that preceeded it, each thing, meaning the sensation and the mental impression, are known to be discrete phenomena that are interwoven rapidly

(2) that rather than the content of thought being known without much conscious experience of the numerous, complex, discrete sensations that make up that content, those discrete sensations are perceived as clear sensate phenomena

(3) rather than it seeming that some sensations perceive other sensations, the clear and intrinsic comprehension of sensations is known by themselves, where they are, and not by some illusion of certain sensations being privileged with special perceptive powers

it is still true that there is significant pre-processing before the sensations arise, as you point out, but insight practice concerns itself with the realm of sensate experience, so the level you have concerns about is one extrapolated from that sensate level to underlie it. (DhO)

What Luminosity is. Luminosity is both a useful and possibly very misleading term. Here's what it is doesn't mean: that a person will suddenly see things more brightly, that there will be more light in things than the standard amount, or anything like that.

… While it is true that all sorts of "visual upgrades" can occur, increased vividness, increased directness, increased peripheral awareness and panoramicity, etc., those are not actually what Luminosity is talking about, as it applies to all sense doors equally, not just the visual one. It is a fundamental characteristic of all sensate experience, not a retrofitted or upgraded aspect. 

… Here's what it points to, said a number of equivalent ways: 
  1. In the seeing, just the seen. In the hearing, just the heard. In cognition, just the cognized. In feeling, just the felt... This standard line from the Bahiya of the Bark Cloth Sutta in the Udana is one of the most profound there is in the whole of the Pali Canon. It means that sensations are just sensations, simply that, with no knower, doer, be-er (not beer, as that is a beverage), or self in them to be found at all.
  2. Point one, taken in its logical inverse, means that the "light" of awareness is in things where they are, including all of the space between/around/through them equally.
  3. Said another way, things just are aware/manifest/occurring where they are just as they are, extremely straightforwardly. (DhO
Centerlessness experiences. Expansive perspectives, widening attention, various insight stages (Mind and Body, The A&P, Dissolution, and Equanimity), various jhanas: all these can feel centerless, more open, more diffuse, more expansive, more free in some way, so the quality of Centerlessness or Non-Duality to some degree itself isn't enough to get a sense of what some experience is, and so one must consider other qualities, what came before, what comes after, and context to sort this out, as well as repetition and eventually figuring out how these experiences fit into some larger context, as well as what holds up and what fades away. (DhO
The ‘flavors of Emptiness’ debate. To debate "flavors of emptiness" is to reify an "emptiness" that may have "flavors", as if emptiness was like ice-cream, like it was some new quality or set of qualities, some new substance, some specific set of "flavors", some additional factor or special set of variable factors, something negotiable, something created by specific practices or only uncovered by specific practices, rather than something that is simply an intrinsic aspect of every single aspect of experience.

The simple, first tier, opening, beginner teachings about Anatta, meaning that all of experiential reality is lacking or empty of a self, are actually profound to a degree that is hard to appreciate. (DhO)

What I mean by Emptiness. When I mean empty:
  • I also mean without boundary, without inside and outside. 
  • I also mean the direct immediate experience in its unprocessed or raw form. I also mean the total dissolution of the sense of a perceiver.
  • I also mean no active agent.
  • I also mean that nothing is stable, including space and time.
  • I also mean that all is bare, shifting, empty sensate experience, causal, happening according to the basic laws of the universe, naturally, on its own.
  • I also would say that there is no boundary or differentiation between the sense doors as they occur, nor between body and mind, nor between manifestation and awareness, nor between this and that, beyond those ordinarily used for communication and discriminating function, but these are not the essential nature of experience, just part of it as sensations when they occur.
Nor can one find any here that is stable, nor a now that is stable, nor a knower, nor an investigator, nor any practitioner, nor any attainer.

When I talk of an integrated transient, natural, causal, luminous experience field, this sounds to me exactly like your "All collapse into a single sphere of natural presence and spontaneous simplicity."

I see no obvious difference either in theory or in actual practice. (DhO)

Vajrayana, Theravada and Dream Walker’s simple map. [Fellow DhO poster and advanced meditator developed over time an interestingFramework of Awakeningwhich is referred in the thread ‘Does Vajrayana contribute 'less' to mass enlightenment vs Theravada?’, whose simplest presentation is: (1) Concentration; (2) Insight practice: 1st Path, 2nd Path and 2.5th Path; (3) Mahamudra: 3rd Path, 4th Path; (4) Dzogchen. Daniel Ingram enters late in the thread, and had some exchange with Dream Walker.]

Daniel Ingram comments: DreamWalker’s simple map mirrors my own general views on the subject in terms of teachings that are likely to make more sense as one progresses along the path, except that, in the end, when seeking arahatship, I personally went back to the most basic, simple, fundamental Theravadan vipassana instructions: Six Sense Doors, Three Characteristics, and found that this simple framework, practiced well and understood well, was as profound as any more elaborate or seemingly refined teachings.

Similarly, while there are elaborate and specific techniques of great interest that have been developed over the years to address various stages of the path, the notion, mentioned above, that the Theravada has no idea what to do past arahatship is not true, as the first two trainings are actually elaborate and deeply transformative if practiced thoroughly. I continue to notice profound teachings in the old Pali and related commentarial texts that I had totally missed the first (and often second and third...) time I read them regarding how to do the relative work of integration and maturation of the implications of awakening. Teachings about karma, rebirth, the Jataka birth stories, magic, the politics of the early Sangha, the Vinaya, the stories of the great disciples of the Buddha, the dealings with beings from other realms of existence: all of this and more, which is often overlooked as we read from our post-post-modern vantage point still wriggling out from under the thumb of scientific materialism, can contribute to a much deeper appreciation of the path and view, so I am noticing again and again.

The typical disparagement of arahatship as leading to some dull low-brow state or whatever is some of the worst Tibetan propaganda, clearly based on some long-ago dogma created by someone who didn’t know any arahats but wanted to promote their own tradition by means of toxic comparison. May this noxious habit vanish immediately from the planet and thus may all beings benefit from increased appreciation of the wisdom traditions.

I agree that nowadays much that was once secret is now available for download and on paper. Looking for profound teachings? I still find the exceedingly pithy book Clarifying the Natural State to be remarkable in its wisdom.

Dream Walker’s clarification: The six sense doors have "walls" between them. This I have seen very clearly just once in a preview that let me see attention moving from door to door with a bouncing motion....so within each door that category has been emptied but the walls between the doors keeps all the emptiness from merging into one continuous field. Clear goal - Remove the walls between sense doors. The three characteristics merge to become emptiness practice. The speed at which you do this is NOT vipassana, that is too slow. This is done at the speed of awareness. Recipe - notice the 6 senses as they arise at the speed of awareness. Notice that they are empty AS they arise. Keep up the speed and what happens is that you will start drilling thru the walls instead of hopping over them. Results - The sense doors merge into one unified field.

Daniel Ingram’s response: When I say that they are practiced well and understood well, by that I mean total comprehension, 100% of sensations, noticed exactly in perfect flawless detail throughout the entire field of sensations without exception and without failing to comprehend the nature of every single one of them from the first hint of their beginning to the last phase of their ending. That is the explicit end-point of vipassana, and, if actually achieved, which is a rarity, is transformative and revealing.

It is true that the "one sense door" frame works well for this, but, really, when going that fast and that completely, notions of sense doors break down, but they are still a good start as one attempts to power up to that level of pristine and comprehensive sensate perceiving perfection.

The notion that vipassana could be "slow" only refers to the beginning stages of beginner practice.

Vipassana at its best is as mentioned in the first part of this post, whose speed is as you mention, at that of manifestation in all of its intricate high-res glory. At that level, vipassana cannot be distinguished from the best of any of the other very direct approaches, including the aspects of Mahamudra and Dzogchen that involve taking on suchness as it is and doing this flawlessly and completely. (DhO)

When it’s time for Vipassana, when it’s time for Dzogchen. Vipassana clearly can get a shadow side of blasting, cutting, destroying, disembodying, depersonalizing in some unskillful way. This is a feature becoming a bug, really. It can become indifference, become aversion, become life-denying, become too future-oriented. It was never meant to do that, but often people take it that way anyway and practice that way.

If one reads something like the Greater Discourse on Mindfulness, one will see that it is very broadly accepting, straightforwardly accepting. One recognizes what is going on as it occurs. One recognizes skillful and unskillful mind states as they are. One walks. One breathes. One sees what is there. One is mindful of it. This, done properly, has a very different feel than poorly done Vipassana.

As to Dzogchen and not-self vs Vipassana and not-self, both emphasize not-self. Both point directly to not-self. One cannot practice Vipassana properly without some skillful view of not-self, as it is one of the Three Characteristics, and perceiving the Three Characteristics of whatever sensations arise is the essence of Vipassana. Dzogchen often emphasizes a wider field of attention than some Vipassana practitioners take. Adopting a wider field of attention is part of the normal progression of attention as we rise up the stages of insight, but some practitioners have this notion they should stay very narrow despite the higher stages of attentional development naturally becoming wider and more inclusive, so instead they force these stages to be something they are not naturally, and thus miss opportunities for insight. Some Vipassana practitioners will stay investigating objects outwardly away from their sense of self, not investing the sensations that seem to be them, but this is an error also. Some Vipassana practitioners will stay very effortful and future-oriented, thus missing the key insight instructions to be mindful of this moment and what arises naturally in this moment, and in this way they may fail to make progress.

For these practitioners who have somehow unfortunately misinterpreted the instructions of Vipassana, or taken very early instructions to be the more advanced instructions, or failed to understand what Mindfulness and Investigation are about, or failed to develop adequate Tranquility and Equanimity, then they may do better when they encounter the Dzogchen teachings, which may counter their misinterpretations and errors. However, often they will fail to realize that the errors were theirs, and attribute their new success with Dzogchen to Dzogchen itself over Vipassana, not recognizing that Vipassana, done properly, ends up looking like Dzogchen, in that it is wide, all-embracing, complete, settled into the moment, clear about not-self.

Thus, it is true that Dzogchen teachings have helped a lot of poorly-instructed or confused Vipassana practitioners. It is also true that Dzogchen has confused a lot of people.

The downsides of Dzogchen are basically the opposite set of shadow sides to those commonly found in poorly done Vipassana, but they can be just as problematic. By taking a wide view, precision is lost, and without precision, many sensations arise and vanish without being clearly perceived or investigated. By settling for this moment being however it is, many will greatly lower their own standards, becoming accepting of a dull, vague, spaced-out mind that lacks the delusion-cutting power and sharp clarity of Vipassana. By taking on the Dzogchen teachings prematurely, before meeting the standard minimum requisites often advocated in the original tradition for rectiving those instructions, many practitioners will simply attempt to leap too high, beyond their abilities, into wide territory that they can't simultaneously be very clear about, and then either get frustrated or begin to rationalize that weak, premature, spacy practice is actually great practice. Basically, they develop too much Tranquility and Equanimity without enough Mindfulness, Energy, and Investigation, and also perhaps without enough Concentration.

So, it is largely a question of identifying imbalances, misinterpretations, and poor practice and then correcting these. Pragmatically, if one goes into another tradition and this accomplishes those goals, all is well. If, on the other hand, one attributes to the new tradition a salvation and efficacy not found in the other tradition, this is really missing something about that tradition and style, as both traditions, performed properly and by the right practitioner at the right phase of practice, can be extremely profound and very liberating. (DhO)

When having great Dzogchen/Rigpa experiences, try to see the same understanding and wisdom for things unwise, unblissful or disconnected. Experiences can feel very Dzogchen, very "Rigpa", very ultimate, very nice, and plenty hint at something that is like the higher levels of understanding, providing pieces of the puzzle, hints, tastes, part of the picture, etc. and those can be of value, pointing to something more. So, if you are having great experiences of something Dzogchen-esque, great. Check them out. See what they are like. Explore them, have fun with them.

The real question comes when you try to see the same understanding and wisdom for things that are not fun, not a good time, and seem like something unwise, unblissful, disconnected, etc. What you are looking for is the same regardless of pleasant or unpleasant or neutral, regardless of the sense of peace and wisdom or irritation and stupidity, the same regardless of emotions, mind-states, qualities, specifics of any kind. In this, everything is just where it is, doing its thing, aware of itself, naturally, effortlessly, simply, completely, causally, and also perfectly transient, perfectly synchronized with itself as it just is itself, with no separate thing doing anything, nothing to take anything away, nothing missing, no sense of a this and a that, nothing that could pick out and choose anything. Keep playing around and see if you can see how the hints apply the same way to everything at all times all the way through. (DhO

The true essence of Dzogchen and Mahamudra is just paying ordinary attention to experience. It is easy to make this complicated, but the essence is very simple: this immediate moment, properly comprehended, is always it, every single time. Thus, if you want to play various games regarding traditions and teachers and language and all of that, ok, do that until you get bored with it, but at some point you realize, "Wait, there are just these sensations, just this moment, again and again and again, occurring various ways, and this must be both the basis of the path and of realization!" Yay!

So, straightforwardly and directly, take flowing, transient, natural experience however it is as the path and result. Somehow, through various hindrances, it will try to convince you that the moment isn't it, and you will be tempted to spend money, read about some reality that is not right there, right then, and you can pay people thousands of dollars to tell you to focus on that moment as it is, or you can just learn it the cheap way now. Up to you, really.

If you need more reading about how this moment is it, then read if you must, and I would second the recommendations for Clarifying the Natural State and Shift into Freedom, but, if you have hindrances that keep you from realizing these immediate experiences are actually it, then pick up Mindfulness in Plain English, and read its section on the Hindrances, as well as just paying ordinary attention to experience, which is the true essence of Dzogchen and Mahamudra, however fancily dressed. 

Also, if you still have any interest in Theravadan tech, consider reading about Equanimity, Formations, and the fourth vipassana jhana in MCTB2 and realizing it is basically Dzogchen/Mahamudra straight up. (DhO 

Toxic Evangelism, Hardcore Dharma and Relationships. Most meditation cultures, and particularly those that are more hardcore, and that includes the culture here, have something like the following assumptions: 
  • Knowing the Dharma is good.
  • Meditation is good.
  • Meditation and knowing the Dharma leads to changes in the mind, insights and abilities that are good.
  • Once one has changed the mind in this way, things are better in some way than they were before.
  • Thus, meditation mastery makes one better than before. 
The problem is not that these are bad assumptions, but their very close shadow sides emerge in relationship to others along these general lines: 
  • I have meditated or meditate and achieved whatever, and so I am better than before.
  • As you don’t meditate or in my judgement haven’t meditated as well as I have or in the specific way I do, I am better than you.
  • You can be great like me also, so long as you follow the path that I do as well as I have done it, which anyone with half a brain obviously would.
  • Until then, you are not as good as me, and I’m gonna let you know that in subtle and overt ways until you get with the program. 
This is essentially relationship poison, destructive, counter-productive, toxic, and even small amounts of this sort of self-righteousness and arrogance leads predictably to profound resentment, dysfunction, communication breakdowns, and anger, which in turn often lead to the end of relationships, be they those with friends, family, girlfriends or boyfriends, and spouses/partners.

We, The Great Practitioner, may be so convinced that what they perceive as arrogance is just understandable confidence, and what they perceive as misguided pity is really just natural compassion, but regardless of who is right, the effect is the same.

I know about these things in excruciating detail as I have lived them for years and been caught in these traps many times, so hopefully those reading can benefit from the countless mistakes I have made over the years on these fronts. As is my style, I will tend to describe things in somewhat extreme terms, but realize that they don’t tend to be far off most of the time, which is sad but true.

Those in certain stages are particularly prone to toxic evangelism. The Arising and Passing (A&P), aka the 4th ñana, aka the 2nd Vipassana Jhana, is notorious for making people very excited about practice. They have seen amazing things, have profound insights, and are all excited about practice. It is only natural that they will wish to share that with others, and they have a hard time imagining that everyone won’t naturally share their enthusiasm right then. This tends to lead to reactions like this: 
  • While we can see you have had some interesting experience, you seem a bit crazy right now and we are concerned.
  • We don’t know what to make of your change in behavior and religious zeal.
  • You are creeping us out. 
The Dark Night states (aka the Dukkha Ñanas, the 3rd Vipassana Jhana, the 5th-10th ñanas, particularly the last two: Desire for Deliverance and Re-Observation), can cause all sorts of problems, particularly coupled with the residual evangelism of the previous stages. The unfortunate practitioner caught in this stage tends to lack the enthusiastic happiness of the A&P, may be somewhat tortured in their practice, may be having problems keeping their career and relationships functioning well, and may yet be very caught in the tendency to evangelize. As they themselves try to muster the internal courage and force needed to get through the Dark Night, they may try to drag everyone around them with them. I call this Dark Night Bleed-through, and it should be avoided like the plague. Unfortunately, the Dark Night by its nature can make avoiding it difficult.

Clearly, those observing them from the outside may not be impressed at best and may be really turned off at worst. Most people simply want to have their ordinary life untroubled by the vortices of a Dysfunctional Spiritual Quester, and this leads predictably to the following reasonable reactions to all this on the part of the Significant Other, friend or family member: 
  • You clearly are doing worse because of the Dharma and are screwing your life up.
  • You are a pain in the ass to be around.
  • While we may love you, we can’t stand it when you are like this.
  • Get your life together and stop ranting about the Dharma.
  • Your arrogance and evangelism is simply pissing us off.
  • Shut up about it or go away. 
These reactions may have the combined effect of pushing someone who might have been a little into meditation away from it, causing a further widening in the relationship.

Those who have gotten into High Equanimity may have problems related to those who have crossed the A&P, as they have really seen something profound and good, but it rapidly fades, and they tend to fall back into the Dark Night, with the above problems arising again.

Unfortunately, everything is not necessarily better past Stream Entry or whatever you wish to call the first stage of awakening. They REALLY have seen something amazing, suddenly have all sorts of understandings and abilities that they may have a very hard time imagining everyone else wouldn’t suddenly want if they were just encouraged and supported in the right way, and yet the reactions tend to be basically the same as above. This can cause understandable frustration in the Stream Enterer, but if people are not into this stuff, they are not into this stuff, and it is the rarest spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend that makes a good teacher or even tolerable zealot from the point of view of their significant other.

The Stink of Enlightenment that can begin to develop around here and into the middle paths can really up the ante on the whole process. As the practitioner becomes more and more powerful in the dharma, this can have the paradoxical but predictable effect of seeming to crush the life out of the spiritual side of their significant other. This is not always the case, and it does happen sometimes that significant others do find something good in the accomplishments of practitioner, but there is absolutely no guarantee this will occur, and reactions tend to vary with time to these things and be a mixed bag.

This can even occur when both people in the relationship are strong practitioners, as they may progress at different rates, describe and think about their practice differently, and, as they both cycle through A&P events and Dark Night stages and these may have significant effects, instability can still and often does occur.

Even Arahatship, which does a lot to bring things back down to Earth, having ended some aspect of the practitioners spiritual quest and brought some higher degree of realism and normalcy to the life of the practitioner, can still not always free one from these sorts of difficulties, as labels, titles, teaching, and that sort of thing inherently can cause comparison and the related difficulties.

Further, once the “I am better than you” paradigm is locked in, it can be very difficult to undo.
Thus, my advice in these matters is some appropriately applied and adapted version of the following: 
  • Avoid evangelizing to your family and significant others. If they are not into it, the chances of your saying anything making them into it are low and the chances of causing bad reactions is high.
  • If you are having weird or unusual experiences and able to compensate for them, keep your mouth shut or speak in very simple, safe terms if people are not really receptive to these things.
  • If you are in territory that you can’t compensate for, keep your descriptions down to Earth and ordinary when speaking to people who are not hardcore practitioners and seek the guidance and support of those who know this territory. 
Most people can handle statements like:

“I am feeling a lot of free-floating anxiety lately. I am sorry if this is affecting our relationship, but I am going to work on this, and help me remember to be kind and functional, as I am trying my best and really want things to work out and for us to be happy. I am so grateful for your support in this and let me know how I can support you.”

Much better than they can handle statements like:

“I am plunging into the Dukkha Ñanas, headed for Stream Entry, and thus we should sit 3 hours every day together doing strict vipassana technique and the rest of the time planning for our long retreat!”

Last, and perhaps most importantly, let others do their thing whenever possible. Everyone doesn’t have to be into the same things you are, and relationships are often more interesting when people aren’t.

I am not saying let them do terrible things or crazy things, but so long as their thing is ok, let them do it and support them in it whenever possible, and do your very best to avoid the dark sides of the Spiritual Quest outlined above. If and when you are successful in your practice, you and everyone around you will appreciate you having done so.

I am not saying that there won’t be times when we need to end relationships that no longer fit. I am also not saying that the above advice can always be perfectly applied and you are bad if you can’t do this, as most of the best practitioners here have probably had some of these difficulties despite their best efforts. However, there is hard-won wisdom in these basic principles and if you are having a hard time in relationships due to your dharma practice, see if something above might help. (DhO)

Non-Duality aligns with things that the Buddha taught. Experiences that might be called "non-dual" vary between people, as some will call very unitive experiences "non-dual", some very peaceful experiences "non-dual", some formless experiences "non-dual", and the like. Thus, for those who are not very careful with their phenomenology, which most practitioners aren't, lots of things can get lumped into that category, many of which are fine and good and useful experiences, but to call them "non-dual" might be stretching things a bit.

As to whether or not the Buddha said "non-dual", I do not find the phrase mentioned in any translation of the Pali Canon texts I have read, which is a lot of them. That might lead people to conclude that it was nothing he was talking about, which is a point worthy of careful discussion, as I think it depends on what you think the phrase means and whether that meaning is what the Buddha was pointing to regardless of whether or not he called it the same thing.

Non-dual, at its best, and IMNHO, points to to the following aspect of things: 
  • Duality clearly is illusory, but seeing this directly in real-time is very difficult for most. Brief glimpses arise at the Conformity Knowledge level insight just before Fruitions, less than one-second experiences of the thing, which is obviously very captivating but not satisfying. Third Path as I see it gives people a sense of the thing when walking around, but it is incomplete. Finally, at whatever you wish to call it, which I generally use the term Fourth Path for (though plenty of others don't), we have the walking around experience where dualistic perception has fully untangled itself and finally, at some point, locks in and that is it.
  • Unitive experiences are also very problematic, as they basically always involve a sense of this side that is now unified with that side, or has a dissolution of boundaries. Such experiences are routinely described in all jhanas, during the A&P, during Equanimity, and in states such as the formed version of Boundless Space and Boundless Consciousness, things I tag as the Boundless Space and Boundless Consciousness sub-jhanas of Equanimity, aka 11.4.5 and 11.4.6 in my own personal shorthand. These generally are transient experiences. This transience is key and brings me to the next point.
  • Unitive experiences are too transient, too ephemeral, too causal to hold up. They are great, interesting, sometimes produce lots of insight, but are not the final answer, as they don't hold up, are not substantial, and thus are not a refuge or resting place or final answer. They are not fundamental enough, being created things, not something that has stopped.
  • Dualistic experiences are too illusory, too out of alignment with the way things are, and so they too do not provide some final answer. 
Thus, with One and Two ruled out, we have Non-Duality.

In this way of experiencing things, we have something that aligns with things that the Buddha taught. We have from the Udana, "In the seeing, just the seen, in the hearing, just the heard, in the thinking, just the thought," etc. In short, there are just the sensations, the transient sensations, and nothing more, no self to be unified with them, no separate thing perceiving them, just transient causality as it is, where it is, just being itself.

There are those who argue that, as the Buddha didn't explicitly use the term Non-Duality to describe this, that he was pointing to something else. However, as the term didn't exist then, it being a much more modern product of philosophical development, you can't say that he either rejected it or accepted it. Thus, we are left trying to figure out if it applies to what he said. I believe I can argue that it does.

When you have phenomena that are just phenomena, sensations that are just sensations, and there is not Duality, a this and a that, a self to control or observe or whatever, and just things doing things on their own, that rejects the Two part, obviously. So far, so good.

And, given that the Unification of Mind that the jhanas produce was clearly found by the Buddha to not be a final answer, as he learned all 8 jhanas and found them very useful and helpful but not a sufficient final endpoint, we can clearly and easily show that the Buddha rejected solution number One, that of Unity.

Thus, how is it that people say that Non-Duality, that quality that rejects both as being some endpoint, doesn't apply?

What definition of Non-Duality are you using that causes you to compare it to the experience of the thing as well as the theory of the thing and reject it?

As to people who have seen through Dualistic answers and Unitive answers and perceive reality that way all the time, yes, it can be done and there are people who have done it and walk around that way today. (DhO)

True non-duality is not state-dependent. Jhanic states, particularly the strong ones, particularly the 4th jhana and the formless realms that arise from it, have fooled people into thinking they were true non-dual experiences since people have been having these experiences and thinking about non-duality.

This is understandable, as duality can get exceedingly subtle during the more impressive of these states, though it is still there.

True non-duality is not state-dependent. It stands up across jhanas and ordinary mind states. It is not dependent on specifics. It is not dependent on the qualities of experience, as these can be anything.

The Buddha, during his period of training with ascetics, found teachers who taught jhanas and he learned them from them, then learned the formless realms, and finally, having learned the 8th jhana, of the profound state of neither-perception nor non-perception, he realized that these states, while impressive, were not true wisdom, did not provide lasing liberation, and all ended. Thus, he sought something that would actually allow him to walk around free, not just have some profound but non-liberating experience while deep in meditation. He finally found that and taught it to others. It can be verified today.

As those who have actually achieved true non-dual perception will tell you, it is something entirely different from jhana. It is the total directness of all experience, whatever it is. It is the total non-clinging to all transient phenomena. It is the end of the perceptual ignorance that previously seemed to create a stable self out of phenomena that were instead discrete, causal, and transient. Non-duality, once realized, applies to everything, jhana and other ordinary mind states, equally, regardless of what they are.

It is common for people to wish to rationalize that some state is non-duality, tempting, compelling, as there are many profound states of consciousness, and one imagines that they must be some pinnacle of wisdom, being so much more impressive than ordinary states of mind. However, these states are called the Golden Chains, chains that, though they sparkle with the glitter of magnificence and profundity, are still chains, still a trap if taken too seriously or clung to, still finally a distraction from the real thing, still mundane, still transient, still not a refuge from the suffering the Buddha was pointing to in his most profound teachings. (DhO

Beware the seduction of the formless realms, longing for artificial relationships between the ultimate and relative. (circa 2009) Beware the seduction of the formless realms. They are very enticing. It is not that they do not convey something important, it is not that they don't write something very good and useful on the mind, and it is not that they don't provide some hints about things, but in the end they are conditioned. I actually highly recommend them to anagamis who are working on finishing things up, but not because they contain some truth that more ordinary mind states do not, as in the end, one has to find some aspect of things that is present at all times, in the most ordinary places and objects, something that was always true, something unconditioned, and, as all is transient, it ends up being something that is not bound up in the specific qualities.

The anagami is easily lead astray in various directions. They long for various artificial relationships between the ultimate and relative, with some of these being along the lines of:
  • they want emptiness to be some transcendent superspace in which they rest untouched by phenomena
  • they want emptiness to be something like the transcendence of the formless realms
  • they want emptiness to be the complete disappearance of experience that somehow happens in realtime
  • they want emptiness to be like some subtle other dimension that gives them a break from reality 
  • they want to go into Fruition and never come out 
  • they want emptiness to be some extra light or radiance or quality that gets added onto phenomena that somehow makes them better or more pleasant
These are all subtle or gross forms of aversion, desire, and ignorance. In the end, this is it, but there is some very real, straightforward, untangling of subject-object at its core that reveals why the dreams that the formless realms create and the paradoxical escape dreams that anagamis can fall into are not a realistic refuge, and also reveals something very simple about why the Buddha talked a lot about suffering. (DhO)

Illusions I left behind, cycle after cycle. I went around cycle after cycle, fantasy after fantasy, and watched what happened.

Initially, I was fascinated by Fruitions, and the Ultimate Potential fallacy: that somehow I could be the Ultimate Potential, see the Ultimate Potential, or rest in the Ultimate Potential. However, there was just a gap, a discontinuity, nothing to cling to.

Then I was fascinated by how the mind would assert the sensations and patterns that make up a separate self and wanted those to stop, but they were empty, happened on their own, were causal, not in anyone's control, so that didn't work.

As I progressed, I became fascinated by panoramic perspectives, emptiness in real-time, the intrinsic luminosity of phenomena, and so tried to become that, to become the luminosity, to become some vast super-space of awareness, some emptiness that wasn't touched by bad things but could feel all the good things. This didn't work: all the bad things were just as palpable as the good things, and any subtle patterns of sensations that seemed to be luminosity, emptiness, Awareness, or space were just that, more qualities.

I went around these cycles for years, cycle after cycle, layer after layer, illusion after illusion, with sensations trying to be more than what they were, which was mere empty causality.

Eventually the message and point sunk in, and I went for total perception of the Three Characteristics of Everything, including anything that seemed to be panoramic perspectives, awareness, emptiness, luminosity, perspective itself, and every other high or subtle permanence trap, and finally the thing cracked and attention re-synchronized itself in a way that answered the question in a way that couldn't be argued with.

All qualities, all experiences, all phenomena, all sensations are impermanent, empty, causal, and seeing that for anything and everything without exception is what flipped the last switch. (DhO

Some gains, cycle after cycle. Some of these changes were gradual, some sudden, but the thing that helped the most was that last fundamental flip-over. The path that made the big difference was the one that totally untangled the last knot of perception. Until then, trouble of all sorts was much more possible.
  • Increased compassion: yes, true, actually much more obvious to me after the first opening at stream entry, no idea why. The funny thing about compassion is that sense of the quavering of one's heart in response to the suffering of others: actually less obvious now in some ways due to some other factors, such as more equanimity, but still there, just less painful now than it was when it was first coming on strong.
  • Eradicated depression: I haven't generally been that prone to real depression (not eating, not sleeping/much more sleeping, lots of life dysfunction, anhedonia, etc.), so I am not sure. I do know plenty of people who have had serious depressive problems into the middle path territory. There is something about the last untangling that solved something related to things sort of like depression, severe despair, that kind of thing, which are really emotions, not actually depression (which to me is sort of a bigger, longer thing).
  • Less sadness: Hmmmm... That is a tricky one. I think the one odd thing about the increased awareness that comes as we go along is that we get more in touch with what is happening, and emotions are part of that, and so it is easier to perceive sadness for me than it was before, so I actually notice much more of it, lots of little blips of sadness happening often, but they are minor parts of a wide field and substantially less trouble than before, sort of like little blue dots on a large pointilist painting. Fear is similar: mammals are almost constantly dealing with little subtle bits of fear that most of the time we don't notice, until you get really, really good at noticing things, and then it is obvious that lots of little bits of fear are part of nearly eveything, even just walking down the street.
  • Better decision making: very selectively, yes. It is much easier to decide upon mental modes in realtime than it was before. So, better emotional decision making, better attentional decision making, better restraining of speech, better modification of action, true in general terms, as there is more awareness of these things, which helps to bring more intelligence to them. So, to some degree, yes. Better stock investing? No, I don't think so, at least for me.
  • More skillful actions, thoughts, etc: see above.
  • Improved morality: This is a really hard one to answer. My personal moral code has generally been pretty strict before and after and that hasn't changed. Is it easier to take into account the feelings of those around me as I am not so caught up in just my own stuff? Yes. Does that improved morality? I think so. Beyond that, it is hard to be certain. It is hard to tell what is just getting older and more mature from what came from dharma practice, as it has been 18 years since I got stream entry, and comparing mid-20's to mid-40's is difficult, as it has been so long and so much has happened. I do think that more awareness helps us to generally live the life we want to live moment-to-moment, to catch and modify impulses before they translate to less-than-ideal behavior.
  • Generally speaking better moods, less worrying: yes and no. As Bill Hamilton used to say, "Suffering less, noticing it more." Meaning, there are so many little micro-moods that flit through, and there is awareness of them to a degree that it far beyond what I had before I was really into meditation practice. Thus, as noted above, I am aware of little bits of subtle fear and irritation and the like to a degree that makes them much more obvious, but at the same time they are much more fleeting, much more just a small part of a much larger field of experience, much more just things that happen and vanish, like ripples in space rather than some huge thing that the mind habitually contracts into. Actually, it seems that the sort of mental contraction that cut off huge tracts of experience and shut down basic kindness and intelligence isn't even possible like it used to be, which is definitely a lot better. (DhO)
Hold both views: the layer hypothesis and the true-wisdom-it-a-totally-different-thing hypothesis. The relationship between those sorts of repeated cycles out in the territory of the middle paths and more final, complete wisdom is clearly hotly debated.

On the one hand, there are those who hold the layer hypothesis, that if you do enough cycles for enough layers of mind, eventually there are no more layers of mind for which you need to lock in automatic perception of the true nature of those sensations, as all have been wired for automatic clarity/self-liberation or whatever you wish to call it, and, at that point, the insight process is complete on that axis, anyway.

On the other hand, there are those who hold the true-wisdom-it-a-totally-different-thing hypothesis, that wisdom is entirely unrelated to the cycles of insight, and arises through comprehension of that wisdom itself regardless of anything about learning to see various layers or patterns of sensations clearly.

Practically, there are reasons to hold both views at the same time. Why is this?

If you hold the view that seeing each sensation or layer or whatever in the light of wisdom makes a difference (, it) is empowering, but it does often have a subtle future component and a subtle this-moment rejecting component that are problematic.

If you hold the view that practice and cycling is useless, this at once dodges the future component but might do so when the wiring isn't there yet to really get the immediacy of timeless and unshakable wisdom.

So, if you hold both views, then you can practice building the wiring and also realize that this right here must be it regardless of cycles and work to see that immediacy, that luminosity, that pristine directness that untangles the problem, which itself is good practice.

Koan: what is the difference between the Sutra Mahamudra approach and perfectly knowing the Three Characteristics of the Six Sense Doors?  (DhO

No Dog, Some Dog and The Simplest Thing. [Posted in 2010 but refering back to an older post in Webpaint forum.] There has been a lot of reference to these three in various discussions, so I thought it might be good to have a page dedicated to exploring them. Please feel free to lend your thoughts.

No Dog is a term coined by Kenneth and used to describe a state that we consider trans-jhanic, in that all the other jhanas can move through it. It is a very different perspective on them, and gives the whole thing a very different feel. It is almost like a profoundly skillful dissociation, or another quantum level of equanimity, in that, when one is in No Dog, there is no investment in which jhana or ñana is manifesting, or, as the term implies, you have no dog in that fight. In this way, No Dog imparts a very high level of feeling one has transcended the ordinary fascination with cycles, states, stages, qualities of experience, etc. They cycle through, and we feel largely untouched by their coming and going. We use the term No Dog as it is as good as anything else we could come up with and because we do not see a precise correlate in the standard texts, sort of...

I remember the first time I chanced on to No Dog, and it happened to be just a few seconds after the Fruition that got me arahatship. When the mind flipped into that way of perceiving things, it was for me at that time everything I was looking for. As an anagami, I had become so sick of cycles and cycles and cycles that the transcendence of No Dog was absolutely amazing. Cycles occurred, and the only thing of relevance was staying in No Dog. I associated it with the term Wisdom Eye, and my whole goal at that point was keeping in that state. The only problem was it didn’t last...

No Dog would fade back into a state that we have come to call Some Dog, which is the default state for those who are not in No Dog. In Some Dog, one cares about qualities, even subtle qualities, and cycles, and stages, and states, and the specifics, whereas when one is in No Dog, No Dog is the best game in town and what cycle or stage or whatever happens to be going on within the framework of No Dog is basically irrelevant.

Thus, on that retreat, I would fade back to Some Dog, get frustrated by the cycles, realize this, find No Dog again, which was just a question of looking for it, and for a few hours would be ok, until Some Dog would set in again, and so forth and so on for about a week. The problem with No Dog is that it is conditioned, in that it comes and goes, I only found it after attaining arahatship, and thus, while amazing in its way, was not quite what I was looking for.

Luckily that was not the end of the story. The retreat went on, and then this very strange convergence of things occurred. It was hard to explain, but during it, I realized something very important: Some Dog and No Dog are both of the same nature, both are conditioned, both are empty, both are just variations on the basic theme of perception, or manifestation, or luminosity, or suchness, or whatever you wish to call it...

The Simplest Thing is what it has been called here recently. The Simplest Thing is one way of saying those other things. I like the old line, “In the seeing, just the seen. In the hearing, just the heard,” etc. I think it makes its point very clearly and concisely. It doesn’t get any more simple that that, and that was what I realized on that retreat.

Now at times the mind inclines to No Dog and that is what shows up. At other times it inclines to Some Dog, and that is what shows up. These are conditioned phenomena, and they come and go.

There will likely be debate below about exactly when one can attain to No Dog and exactly when one can attain to The Simplest Thing. I suspect that those with a somewhat more Vedantic perspective will try to argue that The Simplest Thing is always available, which is sort of true. I suspect that there are those who will try to say that No Dog can be attained by those below arahatship, and perhaps it can, though I had not seen anything that had its complete set of qualities before that.

Those things said, I realized the deep truth of The Simplest Thing in all its ordinary glory when I got over my fascination with No Dog and my dislike of Some Dog and found that they are finally not the point. Noticing things as they are is the point, directly, clearly, completely and in a way that is not bound up in specific perspectives that are conditioned was what got me to the thing that has lasted for these nearly 6 years, and so I advocate simply giving No Dog its due, realizing that its true nature is the same as Some Dog, and finding that common ground that all things share.

I spent some time this afternoon checking both out, going back and forth from No Dog to Some Dog, from the transcendent to the immersed, and was pleased to come to the same conclusion: they are different, but both have their points, and neither has a more elevated place from the point of view of The Simplest Thing.

I am going to weigh in on when The Simplest Thing can be attained, and I will claim that really knowing it completely as one’s baseline is synonymous with The Goal, whatever you wish to call it. Thus, while aspects are obviously available at all times, really knowing it is the end of the path of insight.

I have debated the merits of taking No Dog as the path to The Simplest Thing, which has been talked about on the DhO. While fascination with No Dog is probably inevitable, and perhaps should be considered a distinct stage of development, beyond that, I don’t think that it is, in and of itself, the key to The Goal, except for seeing the common elements between it and Some Dog.

I do think that No Dog is a very important attainment, just like I like the Formless Realms, The Pure Land Jhanas and Nirodha Samapatti, and No Dog is even one better, but I think that one must finally come to a place where even that is seen as just one more variation or motif on the basic theme that phenomena manifest in various ways and realization must be found in a way that is not bound up in any specifics, and that includes No Dog.

While initially this may seem somewhat abstract, there are actually a few people here who are running into this stuff or hopefully soon will, so I thought it might be worth hashing out, as I have little doubt there will be some opinions of various sorts. (DhO

4th Path

Nibbana is used a number of ways in the texts. Nibbana often is used to refer to Arahatship, as in "in the seeing, just the seen", etc., meaning the elimination of the deeply habitual perceptual illusion that somehow in these unstable sensations is truly a stable, continuous, controlling, knowing, separate Self. In this sense, Nibbana might somewhat dramatically be equated to "oblivion", the oblivion of something that didn't actually exist (so that's a weird sort of oblivion to describe). The life of an arahat is a world of rich, non-dual sensate experience free of that pesky illusion of a continous, controlling, doing, perceiving entity at its core. This really doesn't feel like "oblivion" at all in practice, and instead just feels like a whole bunch of naturally occurring, transient, immediate, clear sensations doing their thing just like they always did but just with much enhanced appreciation of this at a core perceptual level.

Nibbana is also used to refer to Fruition, that vanishing of experience that occurs at the end of a cycle of the stages of insight. In this sense, it might be somewhat dramatically termed "oblivion" or something like that, except that experience reappears and sensations continue after the Fruition, so the term "oblivion" doesn't do justice to the thing, which has this nice afterglow and sense of mental reset when experience recurs.

There is also something called Parinibbana, aka Nibbana Without Remainder, which is what occurs on the death of an arahat or buddha (buddhas are also arahats, just an extra-special, deluxe version with additional excellent aspects). However, to call Parinibbana "oblivion" adopts a particular view, one the Buddha would not acknowledge, see particularly MN 63 (https://suttacentral.net/en/mn63) , which is worth reading. To call Parinibbana "oblivion" would imply that one had adopted the view that the Buddha does not exist after death, a view the Buddha himself didn't declare, as per that sutta. (DhO

What I mean by 4th path.  Let me state here what I mean by 4th path, regardless of what anyone else means by it. It has the following qualities:
  1. Utter centerlessness: no watcher, no sense of a watcher, no subtle watcher, no possibility of a watcher. This is immediately obvious just as color is to a man with good eyesight as the old saying goes. Thus, anything and everything simply and obviously manifest just where they are. No phenomena observe any others and never did or could.
  2. Utter agencylessness: meaning no agency, no sense of doing, no sense of doer, no sense that there could be any agent or doer, no way to find anything that seems to be in control at all. Whatever effort or intent or anything like that that arises does so naturally, causally, inevitably, as it always actually did. This is immediately obvious, though not always the forefront of attention.
  3. No cycles change or stages or states or anything else like that do anything to this direct comprehension of simple truths at all.
  4. There is no deepening in it to do. The understanding stands on its own and holds up over cycles, moods, years, etc and doesn't change at all. I have nothing to add to my initial assessment of it from 9 years ago.
  5. There is nothing subtle about it: anything and everything that arises exhibits these same qualities directly, clearly. When I was third path, particularly late in it, those things that didn't exhibit these qualities were exceedingly subtle, and trying to find the gaps in the thing was exceedingly difficult and took years and many cycles. I had periods from weeks to months where it felt done and then some subtle exception would show up and I would realize I was wrong yet again, so this is natural and understandable, and if someone claims 4th as I define it here and later says they got it wrong, have sympathy for them, as this territory is not easy and can easily fool people, as it did me many, many times over about 5 years or so. However, 4th, as I term it, ended that and 9 years later that same thing holds, which is a very long time in this business.
Now, how there can still be affect (though quite modified in many ways) when there is centerlessness and agencylessness, this is a mystery to the AF kids and to me as well, and that brings me to my next point: there seems to be areas of development depending on what you look for and aim for that may arise independently, and not everything seems to come as a package necessarily. Those things are what I looked for really hard for about 7 years, and that is what I found. Now I find that the interest in the unraveling of what drives that residual affect is arising, and so that investigation happens on its own also. 

... By independently, I mean not with the other effects, such as affectlessness, as I clarify in the subsequent clause, meaning not as a package, meaning that that aspect of clear seeing arising without and independently of other aspects of development, meaning that by looking into things happening on their own and understanding that, feelings didn't vanish also, meaning that realizing that things happen on their own occurred without and thus independent of feeling vanishing. I didn't mean anything like not dependent in some way as to apply in some grand scheme or cosmology, such as Dependent Origination, as you perhaps read it, but meaning that one could, by way of example, realize that things happen on their own, without doing whatever causes certain other transformations of the way that causal system functions.

... As to "lack of agency", this is a way of speaking using that specific term that has worked across numerous situations and with psychological academics and practitioners alike for years with no problems in people understanding what I meant by it and no one has raised the particular objection to the term that you have, but try just throwing out that word, as it is clearly not helping at all, and looking at the numerous synonyms and explanations I use for it, and see if that helps. This is no-self at its core, a fundamental concept that applies to all things at all times, all mind states, all emotions, all actions, all happenings, all manifestations, all qualities, all investigations, all interests, all questions, all "personal" qualities, etc. This is a really, really important point.

... That things happen on their own (meaning reality does its complex, interdependent, causal, natural thing), and that includes everything, including investigation, etc., is not just something I made up but is actually the way things happen regardless even of level of understanding, always have. This is actually oddly easy to see for many objects, thoughts, intentions, happenings, just somewhat tricky to see for a few, seemingly closer to home categories, though with time and practice those can be known this way also. (DhO)

Technical/MCTB 4th Path vs a more sophisticated discussion of the goals and promises of practice and what is possible, and how developments may occur in a non-parallel fashion sometimes. I myself have never used the term technical 4th, and I am not sure where it originated. Lots of people, even those in this community, use the terms discussed here in many different ways, and they tend to get loosely applied a lot of the time.

I am currently thinking about the models very differently from the general way presented in MCTB(1), in case anyone is asking, with an increased appreciation of the basic concept, expressed in MCTB, that there are many axes of development, and the assumption that they will all occur simultaneously in a very specified sequence often not reflecting what actually happens in the wild.

That said, the language is still in use, and I use it sometimes also these days, for better or for worse, though I am trying to get away from it more and more, as it causes a lot of trouble, and there seem to be many layers to the thing that often surprise people when they show up unexpectedly when they thought they had something totally nailed, as happened to me many, many times over many years, as noted in MCTB.

Some people use Technical or MCTB 4th to mean the general feeling that they are done, with that feeling of doneness being the primary criteria. Kenneth Folk, the primary proponent of this particular meaning, was just here at Hurricane Ranch working on his book, and we had long discussions about this, with me advocating for this not to be the primary thrust of the term, and him thinking that the feeling of doneness was of primary importance. I argued for the following as being more along the lines of what I considered relevant: an undifferentiated field of selfless causality doing its natural thing with no sense of center-point, doer, controller, perceiver, or agent of any kind. Anyway, experts clearly disagree, and so long as people qualify how they are using the term, I am not sure it matters, or does it? Actually, it probably does, so back to the drawing board...

As posted in an earlier thread, I think a more nuanced model that allows for flexibility and many areas of development and evolution of the practitioner in time is going to be what we end up with, following something like a more medical model of all of this.

For instance, when I am admitting a patient from the emergency department and speak on the phone with my consulting/admitting hospitalist, I don't just say, "Mrs. Jones has pneumonia, admit her."

Instead, I might say, "Mrs. Jones is a 75 year-old female with pneumonia who needs admission. She has mild emphysema, diet-controlled diabetes, hypertension and a previous case of pneumonia 3 years ago. She was just admitted to the hospital 3 weeks ago for a right hip replacement by Dr. Smith. Her primary care doctor is Dr. Brown, for whom you admit. She had been recovering well at home for 3 days after 2 weeks in a rehab facility who presented with shortness of breath, fever to 102.1, a blood pressure of 102/45, a heart rate of 120, and an pulse ox of 89% on room air. She was found to have bilateral patchy infiltrates on chest x-ray, a white count of 17.5 with 92% neuts and 3% bands, platelets are a bit elevated 580, has mild anemia, a glucose of 216, a normal urinalysis, a sodium that was just a bit low at 131, normal potassium, mild dehydration with a BUN of 25 and a Cr of 1.2. She improved after 1L of normal saline IV fluids, with her blood pressure coming up to 110/58, and we gave her levaquin 750mg IV, doripenem 500mg IV, and vancomycin 1g IV, given her low blood pressure, concern for sepsis, and recent extensive health-care exposure raising concern for resistant organisms. Her hip wound is healing well without erythema. Her breathing responded well to one hour of albuterol and atrovent nebulized, and she should probably go to the RCU."

In the same way, of some practitioner I might say, "Mrs. Jones is a 35 year-old female with about 9 months of retreat time total, mostly Goenka, Mahasi, but also a bit of Soto Zen and Dzogchen, who has been practicing for 16 years total with a good daily practice. She also practiced in a mixed Wiccan/Golden Dawn-influenced magickal tradition in the past and still does on occasion. She has 4 jhanas most of the time in daily life and can get real formless jhanas on retreat up to the 8th reliably after a week of practice to warm up and occasionally in the height of Equanimity during new cycles. She has attained to what she thinks is Nirodha Samapatti 4 times with heavy afterglow and proper set up, again on retreat. Her current practice focuses on meditation at all times in daily life, and integrating what she thinks of as ultimate and relative perspectives. By her report she is now walking around mostly in a field that appears mostly without boundaries, but still at points catches glimpses of formed patterns that clearly have some tinge of a sense of identification and separateness to them sometimes, and debunking these are what she considers her cutting edge of practice. She easily attains to Fruitions up to a few per day in daily life when in Review phases, and has gone through what feels like an insight cycle every 2-3 months for the last 3 or so years. When in the A&P phase she has a high degree of talent for out of body travel, something she started practicing as a teenager. She also feels she can at times see auras and subtly manipulate her own and others energetic fields. She has had a few prognosticative dreams of uncanny accuracy, none in the last two years. She just crossed the A&P last about 6 days ago, and is currently struggling a bit in Re-Observation, but bleed-through is minimal, her having easily identified this phase from long familiarity with it, and her job as a physical therapist is going well despite a relatively large amount of daily practice, about 2-3 hours/day of sitting at this point, which at this time is making her feel a bit edgy, though nothing nearly as bad as it used to during this phase, and she is confident she will hit Equanimity any time now. She is planning a retreat of 2 weeks duration at the Forest Refuge in 4 months, with her goal being total field integration. She also practices Bikram yoga in a hot studio 3 times/week and finds it very helpful, something she has done on and off for 5 years. She has noticed a marked increase in her emotional balance and ease after a major shift about 5 months ago that she has no good name for, as it doesn't seem to correlate that well with any standard map. The benefits of that shift have held up well in the face of some recent family stressors, with clear and automatic improvement in the way she processed old triggers by her parents. She does occasionally suffer from insomnia, but uses the time to meditate. She also volunteers occasionally at the local art museum front desk and occasionally paints water colors, and she was actually painting when her last major breakthrough occurred and considers it part of her practice. She has a small local sangha, mostly of mixed practitioners, many of whom are also members of her yoga studio. She teaches informally through Skype on occasion."

Here is a repost of the thread content, as somehow I can't find the original thread:

A large number of recent conversations with relatively talented practitioners revolved around various things that practice had done to everyone, and what the similarities and differences were. These conversations mercifully weren't along the lines of, "Yeah, I'm an MCTB Arahat," or whatever, and instead focused on the phenomenology, which is always more fun and straightforward anyway, and is often less politically charged, it seems.

Basically, the attempts of the conversations were either consciously less so (but the effect was the same) to put the member of the groups discussing this on a virtual grid something like this.

On one axis you have those discussing what they can do and what they have attained.

On the other axis, you have something like this, in no particular order: 
  1. Agency: completely gone, even more completely gone, sometimes completely gone, at times has been completely gone, is somewhat attenuated, is occasionally attenuated, is still quite present.
  2. Panoramic Perspective: how well does the concept of panoramic perspectives describe your practice and how has this changed?
  3. Dreams: did you dream before and do you dream now and how are they the same or different? Have you lucid dreamed and how has this changed with practice?
  4. Traveling: have you ever and can you still travel out of body, with what degree of regularity and control, duration, etc? Can you do it from waking or do you have to start in a lucid dream? Can you come back to body being fully awake or do you have to come back to a dream? etc.
  5. Sleep: do you need more, less, or what, if anything, is different.
  6. Visualization ability: same, different, there, not there, or what?
  7. Cycling: do you cycle through the insight stages or something like them, and did you cycle before, and what it is it like now and how has it changed?
  8. Fruitions: have you ever attained them, can you attain them now, did you ever have the notion that they had duration of any kind (either experienced or not experienced), how many could you at your best attain/day and how rapidly from inclination to them happening, can you get multiple back to back, etc.?
  9. Subject/Observer: seems to be localized, seems diffuse, seems gone some of the time, seems utterly and completely gone, or what?
  10. Affect: do you still have the internal feeling of feelings, and if so is anything different about the way you experience them?
  11. Similarly: Affect triggers: is there anything different about how stimuli that would have at some point in the past (and perhaps now) have triggered feelings are reacted to and if so, what is different, if anything, and how has this changed?
  12. External Affect: do people still perceive you to have feeling and, if so, how has this changed as a result of practice, if at all?
  13. Formed Jhanas: did you ever have and do you still have jhanas, and if so, which ones and how developed (stability, duration, rapidity of access, various objects, etc.)?
  14. Formless Realms: did you ever have them and do you still have them, and if so, how developed were/are they (with formed/bodily phenomena somewhat present, very present, subtle or gone or what, stability, access, duration, etc.)?
  15. Brahma Viharas: have you practiced them, and could you stay with the phrases, feel the actual feelings, take them to their ultimate jhanas (3rd or 4th, depending) and how has this changed with time?
  16. Powers: did you ever have any, do you still have them or can you access them, and if so how often, how easily, what conditions required, etc.? How has your interpretation of those experiences varied with time?
  17. Energetics: have you ever perceived energetic stuff (vibrations, chakras, energy channels, etc.) and could you ever manipulate them, and can you now and what conditions would be required to do that?
  18. Nirodha Samapatti: do you think you have ever attained it, which version did you attain (NS Lite: sense of duration/experience still somehow present, or NS Deluxe: experience and everything else utterly gone), can you still attain it, do you have any notion of how long the attainment has been able to last (either by external or internal reference) and what conditions would be required for you to do that?
  19. Suffering: what is suffering like for you now on any level and how do you describe it? What causes the mind to be disturbed, if anything?
  20. Memory: has practice changed your memory of events in any way and if so how?
  21. Visual Field: anything different about it, or any other sense door, for that matter?
  22. Relationships with others: has practice changed the way you related to others and if so how, assuming the ability to generalize this very complex topic?
  23. Compassion: do you feel compassion, and, if so, how has practice changed it if at all or your understanding of what compassion is?
  24. Peace: is your mind more or less peaceful or what and how has this changed with time?
  25. Ethics: has your practice changed your concept of morality and ethics, and if so, how and how has this evolved with time?
  26. Task Fatigue: has meditation practice changed your ability to stay on tasks with less fatigue in any way?
  27. Silence: do you perceive your mind as silent and if so when/how often?
  28. Thoughts: how has meditation practice changed what thoughts do and how often you perceive them to occur?
  29. Time: anything interesting about it?
There are probably a bunch more things that could be placed on this grid, but those are some of the more common ones that have been bandied about recently, and these sorts of conversations turn out to be so much more fun than trying to shoehorn people into very narrow concepts such as single path names and the like, as it turns out that there is all sorts of variability in how people respond to those questions even among people who claim the same crudely labeled attainments. [For a slightly different list check this other thread]

While these could end up looking a bit like a character sheet from D&D (for those old enough to remember what that was), the effect is a much more nuanced and productive discussion of exactly what people are experiencing and it also leads nicely to all sorts of fascinating practice discussions, I have found.

This is actually a setup for a more sophisticated discussion of the goal and promises of practice and what is possible and how developments may occur in a non-parallel fashion sometimes, as well as terms such as "enlightenment", which, given that the level of discussion is now at this much more nuanced level, seem paltry by comparison. 

... Here is a fragment from MCTB2 in its rough form that I was just working on recently (2013): General Problems with Current Models [that points out 'the linear fallacy', 'the package fallacy', 'the permanence fallacy', 'the descriptive fallacy', 'the perfect self-diagnosis fallacy' and 'the final destination fallacy / pernicious convergence'.] (DhO)  

The Isolation of Blowing It. The known problems with goal-oriented practice are many, and this experiment in the Dharma Overground community, with open disclosure and a culture of labels, stages, states, levels of attainment, and the like, along with a pretty highly skilled group, has created some really good things. People have aimed high, achieved great things, made remarkable discoveries, learned a lot, grown as people and practitioners, and had a great time.

That said, there are some obvious downsides to goal-oriented, high-achievement communities, some of which have become more obvious recently. Here I am specifically thinking about one of the many possible problems, that being something like the following scenario: 
  • A person is all excited about practice.
  • They practice hard and well, aiming for a very specific goal.
  • They achieve something that, at that time, really feels like they have done it.
  • They are not consciously trying to fool themselves or anyone, just honestly feel they have attained to whatever state, stage, realization or transformation.
  • They make the claim that they have done it.
  • They receive whatever social benefits and downsides result from having made that claim.
  • Time passes.
  • Things begin to show up that clearly are not as well seen as they thought they were, not as transformed as they thought they were, and they begin to feel that they were wrong about what they had done.
Were they totally delusional? Were they bad people? Was it just that, at that time, that really seemed to have been what they thought it was and anyone would have been fooled as they had been? Was it really that they had done that thing at that time, but that thing was not as permanent as they thought it was? Could they have possibly known at the time that it wasn't that thing or that it wouldn't last? These are hard questions to answer, but that is not really the important thing.

Where the real problem comes is the let down, the embarrassment, the strange role reversals they might find themselves in if that attainment transported them into some sort of teacher or authority role, the personal confusion about what is suddenly happening and why, the disappointment that comes when we worked so hard and things didn't work out as they thought they did.

All of that can cause the worst part of it all: isolation. If we find ourselves unwilling to admit to others that we were wrong, or feeling like we are unable to do so, or that we will be ridiculed, blamed or ostracized if we reveal that what we know know to not have been true, then real damage is done, for it is in those times that we most benefit from friends who can help us put it back together, go back to basics, regroup, re-tool or modify our practice, learn, grow, and move on.

Instead, we may find ourselves feeling like outcasts, failures, victims of our own hubris, afraid of being thought of as liars or fools or both. We may disconnect from our fellow dharma companions, communities, teachers, friends, family members, and wander lost and confused, which is something that very few handle that well in the shadow of some feeling of past glory and achievement. That isolation is where the real damage happens.

As one who has gone through lots of cycles over the years that led to lots of plateaus, many of which were quite impressive for some period of time but later faded or reality-tested at a lower level than first impressions seemed to indicate, I can totally sympathize, as I have been there and done that and very well may do it again. It can be very painful and disorienting.

It should be realized that this sort of thing is not only going to happen, it is actually very normal in this open-disclosure world of states, stages, names of levels, and achievement-oriented culture. If we recognize this as a community and can talk about it, then when it happens, which it has and will again, perhaps often, then the members of the community, who are then dealing with all the complexities that these strange phases can cause, won't have to deal so much with the additional stigma of feeling like people think they are freaks, losers, or unwilling or willing charlatans when they face the expected outcome of sometimes totally blowing it and making some claim that didn't turn out to hold up over time.

Thus, I urge each of you, should you run into someone who has this happening to them, to have similar sympathy, to wish that person well, to realize that, if you are in this rarified business long enough, it will likely happen to you also, and, when it does, think about how you would want to be treated and pass that on ahead of time.

So far, we have generally been pretty good with this, actually, and I hope that trend continues. Lots can be learned from these sorts of mistakes, as I personally know from having made many of them. Hopefully, by recognizing this potential shadow-side of gung-ho meditation culture, we will be more prepared to handle it well. (DhO

It is not right to ask 'What is liberated?'. Consciousness is implied by sensations, but really there are just sensations. You could say that they contain "consciousness" in them, or you could say something like, "In the seeing, just the seen," which is a lot cleaner, if you ask me. It is on ignorance that there are volitional formations, and on volitional formations depend consciousness, etc. Thus, with the dissolution of ignorance, sensations are just as they are.

Sensations are utterly transient, so there no substantial thing to awaken in ultimate terms. Instead, a process of identification and delusion stops, such that no longer do empty, transient, simple sensations create a fundamental illusion of a permanent, continuous, separate, perceiving self that could be liberated. So, the question is ill-formed: it is not right to ask, "What is liberated?", and it is better to say, "Liberation occurs when a process of delusion stops," or, "Liberation occurs when clear perception of the way sensations always were occurs."

This is also useful, as it points to method, the method being clear perception of sensations. (DhO)

4th Path and the Whole Thing. I had three dharma exchanges with people in the last 24 hours that all shared one common theme: it has to be about everything in a total way. What do I mean everything? 

Space and everything "in" it, or you could say the textures and qualities of space, or just the field of manifestation, or however you want to say it. Don't leave anything out. You awaken that which you bring attention to. Bring attention to everything. Realize the attention in everything. Realize that everything is it, right now. It must be immediate. It must be perfectly inclusive. Thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, sights, sounds, and all the rest. They must be included in this space, this volume, this moment, this practice.

This sounds on re-reading like some of the worst New Age fru-fru, but still, it is what I mean. When every single aspect of experience naturally is it, that's the good stuff. (DhO)

Some perceptual benefits of Full Enlightenment. [The following was not written by Daniel Ingram, it's a transcription of part of an interview performed by MaxAnte to him: check in this YouTube link where this question is asked. Daniel's long answer is the following:

This kind of painful process that was literally sort of like a ‘low grade headache’ (best way to explain it) stopped. That was just delightful, and in its place there’s a sense of synchrony. Synchrony just feels really nice. Everything synchronizes with itself. Before, everything feels out of phase. There is this that and then my knowing of it. There where this that and then this, and I was here and I was there. There was always this sense of jarring out-of-phaseness, which somehow experientially is just unpleasant. It’s suffering. It’s a fundamental type of suffering.

And when that stopped, the sense of synchrony and naturalness is substantially more delightful, just experientially. And that keeps on being substantially more delightful, moment after moment. It’s like a pleasure you don’t get a tolerance to. It’s a niceness that every moment is just as nice as the moment before, in that specific way.

That doesn’t mean that things can’t be unpleasant, but that quality is also there, even in very unpleasant things. So I’m not meaning to say there’s not the perception of pain or that everything is always nice. It isn’t. There’s still pain, but that quality of synchrony is simply delightful and is always happening. Actually, I’ve come to appreciate it more as time has gone on it. Continues to sort of be like ‘yeah’, almost like there’s like … as it sort of cascades through all other aspects of mind and situations and conditioning.

It’s fascinating to see some memory – I may not have had in 20 years – come up, and now it arises in this totally different space, where identity is nothing like the solid sticky thing it was before. And now it’s just a thought and space. That rewires something in the brain that now that memory – which might have been painful or complicated – is now arising in a space that is so much more clear and open. And in which thought, rather than being contracted into, is literally just this super wispy thing in this big echoey room that is so much nicer … Also, there will be meetings and I’m looking around like I’m the only person in the room full-time. If you’re the person who’s really in the room and everybody else isn’t in the meeting, that’s a real advantage!

(There are real-world advantages,) sure, because people are constantly like “oh, I wasn’t really present for that … I wasn’t really into that”. Well, now the cool thing about being awake is that the holodeck no longer being filtered through the serial line that was constantly getting interrupted, and turning to the imagined holodeck –there was another holodeck– would tune out the sort of consensus holodeck when it’s tuned to its internal holodeck … well, that’s not happening in that way. The default is now the consensus holodeck (as much as anything can be a consensus when we all have our own vantage points).

Speaking in relative terms, but ignoring all the ontological problems – I don’t want to go into that –, basically the room and being in the room (or the space or the field or wherever you are) is the default. Whereas before, tuning out was the default. Being lost in thought was the default. The default mode network being activated to-not-really-be-here was the default. Now the natural default is to be here. And by the way, if I really need to, I can check my calendar and perform a cognitive task so that if I for some reason wouldlike to do that high level function and really kind of need to tune out the room a little bit, that can happen
. But then the room is back as soon as that stops. Whereas before, it was the other way around. This is substantially better.

The other thing is the proportionality, which is a hard thing to explain. 99% of this room – even if I’m in pain somewhere – has no pain. And this is the vast experience, so the whole room is the experience evenly in some kind of way. Let’s say I have a pain in my knee: it’s no bigger than it is. In comparison to the volume of the space, it’s still really small. And the mind is also not doing that contracted exaggerating thing it used to do, where it would take the pain and make this big thing out of it and ignore all the areas that were neutral or even pleasant, that it becomes the sort of fixation. Whereas (now) even when I have pain in one place, most other places are neutral and or might even feel nice.

And so, also things that feel nice are much easier to perceive as I’m here. You can’t see me now because this is an audio, but I’m moving my hands around and like the coolness of the air on my fingers, it’s delightful. There’s something about the echo in the room that sounds kind of cool, like even that little click of your fingers, like it has a sort of nice little snap to it. There’s the glistening of the light on your hair, which is just naturally kind of cool when it’s just allowed to be itself, and that sort of childlike wondrous way of people perceiving things when they’re just in it, like you’re watching a beautiful sunset, you forget about the day and you’re just in the beautiful colors …

Well, everything has something of that to it in some way, because there’s the immediate sensate experience and it’s raw – well not raw, because we get everything kind of processed, but as raw as you can get 
with the human brain that receives everything kind of processed, and so there’s something really nice about that. The proportionality of thought also. So emotions are mostly thoughts and then you get contracted into the thought rather than having it just be this wispy thing in space. And then because when you contract into the thought it then becomes a huge part of your world and then that distorts how much of a reaction you have to it. And then that costs a much greater release of all the stress chemicals if you’re having some unpleasant thought, because the brain is now taking that as a total world or whatever, and you get lost in the anger or whatever and then that creates a whole much bigger stress response and all these chemicals.

Well now it’s not that there aren’t stressors and things, but the thought arises in the room, is proportional, and in terms of experience the thoughts are really small wispy things most of the time. And then the stress chemicals that result from that, even if it’s a really unpleasant thought, are vastly less because the experience of it wasn’t contracted into and the brain didn’t freak out that now this is a total world cut off from most of the room, which again is fine, and in fact pretty nice. So, it’s not that it made all bad emotions go away, but the relationship to it and the physiology of it is really different.

And the envelope of these things thus is a lot different, meaning the sort of attack, sustain and decay – the music synthesizer terms in terms of sound –. The attack is really fast because things are clear, but the release is also really fast because the thought arises and then it disappears. And the maybe some little stress chemical arises and then those bodily sensations hang out for a little bit, and then they disappear. But there’s nothing like the sort of feedback loop in the way that it used to be before, where this hurts and this caught of the thought and this thing and then that causes stress chemicals and they would loop and loop and loop… in this really exaggerated distorted way long after the thing had happened. And you’re just sitting there most of the room is fine, like why is the brain doing that? It’s just torturing itself, it doesn’t have to. It doesn’t benefit from that. And so the default now is to not do that, whereas before the default was to do that. So it’s not like some small sort of short versions of that can’t happen in extreme circumstances, but it’s vastly shorter and it’s vastly milder. So that’s better.

All of those things have been substantial upgrades … like unbelievable upgrades. Like I would give it all the stuff I lost getting this, I would give that again and more … many more times, to get this. This is such a benefit in terms of the actual living feel of it. I can’t even tell you. 

Does it perform exactly like the old texts said it would? No. Does it beat the crap out of what I had before? Absolutely yes. And the cool thing is this is reproducible and it’s based on really straight forward assumptions, just sensate clarity about intentions, mental impressions, thoughts in the room, experience, body, mind, Six Sense Doors, and just noticing that clearly. That’s really straight forward and portable. And so that’s one of the supercool things about it. And it actually is reproducible. So people were able to do this, they were able to tell me how to do it and it’s like ‘yeah!’ so I like that. It satisfies the empiricist in me. It’s very egalitarian. Like here you are, here’s your senses, perceive them clearly. This can be yours. (DhO)

There are various modes of perception arising and vanishing, which may highlight various qualities over others, yet the divisionlessness of this full, rich, transient, direct, interdependent, causal field eliminates the subtle sense of some thing that is choosing modes. (Regarding No-Self Mode and Self Mode). At some point there will no longer really be either option, as the thing will just be the thing, the field as the field of sensations, of manifestation, of qualities, textures, colors, and aspects. 

Call it True Self. Call it no-self. Regardless, it is happening, as it always has and there are various modes of attention, as there always have been and various modes of perception arising and vanishing, which may highlight various qualities over others, it seems and there is nobody to decide that this full, rich, transient, direct, interdependent, causal field is either but thoughts that it might be one or the other can still arise, as they did before and in that direct perception, the divisionlessness of it eliminates the subtle sense of some thing that is choosing modes. Though the sense of those apparent choices and decisions arising on their own may still occur. 

And this lack of a split, this lack of an illusion of some separate, permanent, continuous something that could truly stand outside of all of this and make such choices is seen through as part of the whole of the flickering, shimmering, transient thing. 

So look carefully at the patterns that seem to be deciding between those various modes and notice them and just get to know them, such that what is getting to know them and them are both clearly comprehended on their own, by themselves, aware/manifest where they are and all modes will come to be clearer about having that same quality of directness, of where-they-are-ness, in a way that eliminates finally the sense that any of those specific modes is the one true ultimate mode, but all modes are truly the thing itself, as the qualities of fundamental perceptual truth are universal and apply to all states and qualities and modes of perception and attention without exception.

Spend time enjoying the nice ones if you wish, as all modes of attention reveal the universal truths if perceived clearly, so if the nice modes happen, perceive them clearly, and if the modes you don't like as much happen, perceive them clearly, though it is true that the most pleasant and unpleasant ones as well as the least interesting ones are not as easy for some to just see as they are, as our reactions of enjoyment, aversion and boredom may seem to cloud clear perception.

But with clear comprehension from good practice, the fundamental truths reveal themselves, and a fluent clarity and facility in all states of manifestation becomes natural and habituated such that apparent exceptions and finally the sense of fundamental options become finer and more subtle and may eventually vanish.

... The common way of looking at this is that there are zillions of sensations but we can only comprehend a limited number of them. 

Except that perspective actually misses a really essential point that is strangely obvious once you think about it and yet also quite slippery, given how we are so used to not seeing things this way, or so we think.

That point is that each sensation already knew itself when it arose. If it arose, then the comprehension was build into it, intrinsic to it, the same as it.

We have this notion that there is some central comprehender, some liner processor of all of that stuff out there, and yet all of the stuff out there already processed itself it as it arose, as that arising was the processing, and what the seeming central processor does is to make some additional secondary impression (that is also just more sensations that are aware where they are and of themselves), but we actually believe that this secondary impression, this echo, this stand-in, is actually the awareness, the comprehension, when it is actually just a secondary effect from the first cause, that being the first sensation that the second sensation follows.

Said another way:

All of the sensations know themselves as and when and where they are, always have, always will, couldn't be any other way. Awareness and phenomena just always are not in a 1:1 ratio, they are actually just the same thing.

When reality seems filtered through this odd secondary central processing habit, it appears that some middleman, some potentially overburdened one-at-a-time system, is perceiving them, when actually it is just making poor copies one at a time of something that is vast and rich and already comprehended itself and never really actually needed any poor copies made to already be known.

So, just let the field in all of its richness speak for itself, including the small, central, limited copying process, and, seen thusly, the knot of perception that doesn't realize that the things already happened and already knew themselves will eventually and perhaps in stages shift to the whole thing knowing itself directly, as it actually always has but just somehow failed to know that at the level that makes the difference.

I, for one, see no reason not to enjoy the state you are able to get into, as, done well, most such things get boring after a time, no matter how amazing, and eventually familiarity with it will, if you are lucky and when the thrill and novelty wear off, lead to better and more clear sensate comprehension, which is the first basis of insight.

Dukkha is a power hog only because it fails to realize that the work was already done, that phenomena already knew themselves naturally, and so it is when that overcompensation stops that the whole thing fully knows that it shines on its own without having to do anything. (DhO

Being done… in only one axis of development. It is true that one can investigate the sense doors so clearly and for long enough that eventually perception changes and all sensations are just perceived as they are. This has an endpoint and can become one's baseline. It is highly recommended. It has been verified today. One might reasonably say that one is "done" on that single axis if one has actually achieved this and had it hold up under life's challenges. It is a major, life-changing accomplishment, globally transformative in some way, and worth the effort.

However, that is only one axis of development. There are countless others. There are endless ways we can integrate that insight, to develop other skills and understanding, to grow in all the relative aspects of life. That vast multi-dimensional web of development has no obvious endpoint. Work on all of those fronts is highly recommended also. To say one is "done" on all of those essentially infinite axes of development would be absurd. Even the Buddha clearly continued to develop, learn and grow after his mighty awakening, as evidenced in countless stories of his life. (DhO

The ‘I’ in Arhatship. When asked if (in Arhatship) the "I" stays or goes, this implies a continuity or a permanence where none can be found. The "I" in question will be found to be an artifact of pattern recognition or association, not anything that can be found anywhere. All patterns of sensations, all qualities of experience, all textures, all bodily sensations, all mental images, all of that are simply where they are, arising and vanishing, such that, seeing this directly and clearly, the field of experience is just the field of experience, open, centerless, with sensations that seemed to imply "I" being just more sensations in the wide-open field of what is happening.

It would be as if the quality of sensation patterns that occur when the eyes look at something were considered special, or the pattern of qualities of sensations that occur when the sensations of the skull arise were considered special, or the patterns of sensations and qualities that occur when intention arises were considered special, with these considerations of specialness arising due to the final lack of clarity about the true nature of these ordinary sensations, which are just sensations in the end, as all the rest was and is. The same insights that got you as far as you have gotten just need to filter through everything that seems to be centerpoint, doer, perceiver, Subject, observer, feeler, actor, knower, achiever, etc. These patterns can be slippery, cut close to things that there can be resistance to examining closely, and difficult to see, as they seem so close to home. See them anyway.

There is an untangling of some eddy in attention that caused that identification, and this is hard to explain. It is as if some last, subtle aspect of subject-object spacial distortion was seen through or righted itself, either way you look at it, suddenly naturally just this and without a reference point.

Falling back on fractal theory here, as 3 is to Dark Night, 4 is to Equanimity, in that the center is then included in the way that makes Fruitions possible. In that way, 3 is to anagami and 4 is to arahat, in that the center is now included in the same insight-mode that anagami does to the periphery and space mostly, arahat does to the whole volume throughout in a very even way. These are analogies, but they have value. (DhO)

Why ‘Arahat’ despite suffering. The Buddha suffered and so did numerous reported arahats, the most extreme one of which killed himself with a knife as the pain he experienced in his old age was too extreme. The Buddha suffered from headaches, among other things, but also frustration with his monks, logistical difficulties, and other complexities.

The Shorter Discourse on Voidness says that even for arahats there still remains that suffering that results from having been born and conditioned by life (MN121).

That pain would still be pain and there would still be conflicts, illness, and the like is to be expected. Even in dependent origination, it is still there as predicted in that profound teaching.

That all said, what I have done is remarkable and very unusual.

All sensations occur totally on their own, are known by themselves, where they are, without any Agent, Subject, Observer, Doer, Controller, or Knower at all, all the way through, evenly, without exception. This was finally locked in 10 years ago by a remarkable series of transformations. In short, the sense of a self in the sense caused by ignorance of the Three Characteristics is totally gone, flipped over, untangled at the core, and extirpated totally at the root. All actions occur totally on their own. The sense of a center-point is totally gone. Everything is just where it is in a totally integrated, totally transient, totally directly manifest field. At the time it happened, there was the profound sense, "Wow! That's it!" and that sense and the direct perceptual evaluation of the path of insight being completed on that front has remained ever since.

What would you call that?

It took me 7 years from Stream Entry (January, 1996), meaning nearly 9 from beginning to end (August, 1994, when I did my first retreat, to April, 2003, when I did my last retreat). Those years involved an extremely high level of engagement with the dharma.

…Eliminating the sense of a center-point, Subject, etc. is the ignorance to be eliminated, and removing that eliminates that strange way of holding the mind where part of it tries to get to or away from parts of reality, but a mammal was born, and it will feel pain, get sick, and die...

… The body and mind are profoundly connected. You release enough adrenalin, the brain really changes its perspective and function. You release enough immune chemicals, leukotriene, prostaglandins, TNF-alpha, and brain function really changes. The notion that the body could be profoundly suffering, with severe injuries or pain and yet the mind not only be totally clear but functioning at some peak and transcendent level is naive. The system in reality simply doesn't work like that. Again, this is not fantasy, this is the gritty reality of being a human, the basic and perhaps advanced physiology of how the system works. Even the far fringe of promise makers, such as Richard of AF, take their pain medications for pain. Why, if it was all bliss and totally suffering free? Why get constipated and waste your time if there was no suffering? …

I still experience worry, stress and anxiety. There are ways in which some aspects of those are very different, particularly related to duration, triggers, lack of contraction into those from a cognitive point of view, something of the sensate vibrancy and fresh directness that I didn't appreciate before, something in the wide perspective that notices the wide space in which they occur, and something in the lack of something in relationship to them is very much better, but they still occur. (DhO)

Arahats and pain. We are a very long way from having pain-free lives, as any day in an emergency department will tell you … People hurt, and they hurt often. It is extremely common. I don't think we will eliminate severe pain being a frequent visitor to many people, particularly as they get old ...

As to the example of the person who was cut into pieces while feeling one with God, it is definitely true that people can get into some very strange mind states that allow a very altered relationship to pain.

For example, I saw a thin teenage female who came in about to deliver her baby and having frequent contractions. She was brought in by her grandmother who didn't know she was pregnant until her water broke. The patient was smiling and laughing the whole time she was delivering, claiming to anyone who would listen that she was not pregnant, had never had sex, and that she was fine. She delivered a 6-pound healthy baby and when it was presented to her said, "This can't be my baby, as I am not pregnant!" while laughing in this somewhat nervous, odd way the whole time. Her vitals stayed stable, she never flinched from a contraction, never broke a sweat, never showed any sign of pain when being injected with lidocaine for the episiotomy I performed, as the baby was stuck and starting to have some heart slowdowns, and, except for the baby she delivered, you would never have known she was in labor. It was her first child. I have seen labor probably 60 times: nobody I had ever seen before looked that totally calm, didn't sweat, didn't have a heart rate increase, didn't scream at some point (one exception to that last one being a 38 year-old delivering her 10th baby who did it on one, calm easy push like the expert she was). In short, she had somehow dissociated from the situation so entirely that she was living in an alternate reality where it wasn't happening. I don't consider that wisdom, and in fact consider it some variant of psychosis, but admit that its implications for what might be possible are ambiguous.

Similarly, I have seen people so high on drugs that they seemed totally impervious to pain at all, as well as psychotic people who seemed to not feel pain in the least. In short, I do know of pathological states where, for short periods of time, pain doesn't seem to get through in any normal way.

While I agree to some degree that emptiness is very important, there is a flip side to that.

I quote from one of my favorite texts, one I have gone back to often, that being The Light of Wisdom, from the last paragraph of the root text:

"The causal vehicle of the paramitas
Is to gradually attain the paths and bhumis.
On the path of fruition, you should still regard
The practice of unified emptiness and compassion as the basis of the path."

I think that this is very profound and helpful. It is easy to go so far into the emptiness end of emphasis in our practice that we begin to dissociate, yearn for extinction, yearn for total transcendence, yearn to be untouched by the troubles of the world, yearn to be totally disconnected from pain, harm, conflict, illness, difficulty and death.

I think that remembering that compassion and emptiness are unified, in that this points to the fact of these bodies, in this world, with this suffering in us all, and the same final outcome of this birth, together, and being realistic about that, honest about that, and really inhabiting this body, this place, this community we find ourselves, this troubled world: all of that requires acknowledging the pain, the suffering, the conflict, the reality of what this moral coil is.

When we are well and don't hurt, we can easily forget all of this. We can imagine that it will all feel ok forever: it won't. Similarly, when we hurt, we can imagine that we can read the dharma as offering a way out of pain totally in this life: I also feel that this is impossible, though clearly we can change numerous aspects of something in the illusory nature of the odd relationship to pain that exists while it seems there is still a center point, doer, controller, feeler in some separate but oddly connected way, and that does help, but it doesn't mitigate all of it, and in some ways makes it worse, as, when that odd defense mechanism is gone, there is this very direct connection, this inherent clarity.

I have notice that this direct, unfiltered connection to the sensate world does a few things.

It is true that it really does help in some way. The silence of the mind in the face of much of what goes on, the spaciousness of perspective, the things just in their own proportion-ness of clear sense perception and panoramic perspectives, in which thoughts are like luminous phantoms as part of a much wider space, in which where is not a split of this and that, is much better. Ordinary sensations that would typically have been missed have this really nice, fresh, pleasing something about them, and there is something really great about that, except that there is a flip side to that:

It becomes no longer possible to dissociate from really bad pain so far as I can tell. This was a surprise.

I remember my first kidney stone. It started while I was playing bass on stage with my band. I thought I had gas cramps or something, as we had eaten Mexican food before the show and I had eaten a bunch of beans, and I didn't really want to fart right there on stage, and some of those cramps were really bad, but I just kept playing, focusing on the music and finally the show ended. For much of the show the pain was there, but I didn't really notice it much, like it was happening in some other space somewhere, meaning that I had managed to dissociate from it. When I got home I noticed that the pain really was bad, and so I ended up in the emergency department after writhing around on the floor like an alligator that had been stabbed in the back with a spear. After waiting for about 3.5 hours to be seen, the pain suddenly ended, just like that, when I passed the stone into my bladder.

Compare that to a stone that hit me this Spring. The odd thing about having a system that is now hardwired into reality is that there is no escape in some way, such that, whereas before there was a way to detune somehow from the pain, now pain that is really terrible is right there and very clear in a way that doesn't seem to be able to be shut out or dissociated from at all.

So here is the odd thing about this from a physiological point of view: I drove to the emergency department sweating and shaking as the pain threatened to make me pass out: totally dangerous: don't do this. I was really nauseated, though I didn't vomit. I show up and stagger to the bed. While this is happening, the staff commented that it was very odd the way that I could calmly recite my medical history and give all the details while my body was sweating and shaking. Odder still, my vitals were totally normal: heart rate about 60-70, blood pressure about 110/60: nothing like what people ordinarily look like when they are in terrible pain, which I definitely was, and I see people with bad pain all the time: few have normal heart rates and blood pressures when really bad pain hits, though we do see it on occasion.

So, while it didn't affect something, to say there was not terrible, really debilitating pain that was immaculately clear for every instant of it would be missing something, as you should have seen how I was walking: it looked like I had been shot in the back or was being beaten in the back with a large stick, and there didn't seem to be anything I could do about that.

A shot of toradol (like fancy ibuprofen) and a few minutes later the stone passed and I was ok. Until that time, there would be no way to say that I was ok, as terrible pain is definitely not ok and it definitely had serious effects, just different in some ways than they would have been before.

Another example: I worked a shift while passing a stone some years back. That stone wasn't as bad but was still pretty strong and impressive pain. I would give that pain a 7/10 as opposed to the 10/10 my last stone caused. Nobody during the shift could tell, as I was calm, friendly, working fast, and appeared normal, but the clarity of the pain second after second was profound, and I certainly wouldn't say that wasn't suffering, as that would be really missing something bad about that experience. That the mind was very clear about the pain, and that the mind wasn't producing reactions that impaired my ability to work or stay calm and professional, that there didn't seem to be anything in the center of the brain that was observing the pain, and all the rest of the benefits of this attainment still don't change the fact that that stone really hurt, and I would have compassion for anyone in a similar state of attainment with a similar stone, as clearly reality would be better without pain like that. That is the compassion part of the emptiness, the unification of the two.

More practically, I think that being careful to watch for the desire to dissociate, to escape, to totally transcend is important for good practice: those are subtle or gross ignorance, aversion to pain and desire for escape that is missing something that is required to untangle the knot, and that is a full and total commitment to this sense sphere however it is, here and now, in this fathom-long body, all the way through. Investigating the sensations that make up those patterns of tendencies is very good practice. (DhO

Arahats and emotions. My emotional life is very human in nearly all practical ways, very as expected, and, while I can't be certain I can compare it to anyone else's internal emotional life with any degree of accuracy, my extrapolation is that most elements would be extremely familiar to most people. I feel all the emotions that I did before. There are, however, some important differences...

1) There are some temporal differences, something that my sound/electronic music background wants to label the "envelope" of the emotions, that being their rate of attack (arising), sustain, and decay (fading away). In general, the arising, sustaining and decaying all happen more rapidly than they did before, such that emotions tend to move through much more quickly, emotional resilience is higher than it was (though it is hard to quantify how much higher), emotional resetting is much more rapid, it seems, and new emotions based on whatever is happening in that moment tend to move in to replace the older ones a lot more quickly, all in general terms and speaking in averages and trends.

2) The way emotions are perceived is really, really different. They are perceived much more clearly, much more immediately, much more vicerally, such that it is a lot easier to know what feeling is there in that instant than it was before. They are also perceived in this totally center-less way, such that the body and the feelings it feels are perceived where they are, not through the odd lens of some strange, imagined, centralized, moving, separate, localized self, perceiver, doer, etc. This also really helps, as they become just part of the full field of experience, and so contraction into them in that way that can cause so much lack of awareness of what else is going on around is basically impossible in the way it occurred before, and also, as a percentage of the field of manifestation, they thus occuply a substantially smaller portion of the total, which seems to proportionally reduce some aspect of their power. Imagine that whatever emotions you were feeling were weighted based on how much of the volume of room you were in that they took up: it is sort of like that, though not a perfect analogy.

3) There are situations that simply don't produce the same reactions that they did before, but trying to describe and categorize that is really hard. It simply doesn't fit into the standard, simplistic models. It also seems unpredictable. Some things that might be expected to produce strong emotional responses might suddenly be felt to shunt down some totally alternate and surprising pathway, whereas some other might just behave much more ordinarily. This all seems very situation and condition-specific and defies easy prediction. The flip side of that is that the emotions seem more accurate, more reflective of the situation, such that, whereas before I might have gotten angry when what I really should have felt was sadness, now I am more likely to feel the sadness. That said, I might now also feel anger more readily whereas before I might have felt fear or frustration, when the more honest emotion that really saw things clearly was anger. Similarly, if nothing is particularly wrong at that moment, there is much less tendency to feel anything other than that the moment is ok. In short, there is more immediacy to the thing.

4) There is a lot of stuff that simply doesn't arise in the way it did as, being as there is no longer any perceived or felt sense of the dualistic split, that of this and that, that of subject and object, the portion of the trouble that was caused by that perceptual distortion has stopped. I really wish I could give you more on that but it is really hard to do. Early on it was not quite as difficult to describe, as the memories available for comparison were much more fresh. Now, over 11 years out from that switch being thrown, I can't get a good bead on exactly what changed, not that it was anything resembling easy even when it had just happened. I do have a moderate amount of moderately good memories of the period when I was flipping between the two modes of perception, and when it went back to the dualistic way from the clear, non-dual way, it felt like my heart was broken from the loss of the clarity, ease, simplicity, elegance, and fundamental rightness of the non-dual way of perceiving things.

5) In some ways my feeling life is actually much stronger, much more full-range. I cry more easily and more often. I cry nearly every time I watch "Glee", for instance. I laugh more easily than I did before, though I have generally been pretty quick to laugh at things. I am more deeply aware of things like fear, anger, and the like, when they arise. As my meditation teacher Sharda Rogell once said to us, "Meditation is not about turning a human being into a stone, it is about turning a stone into a human being." It is sort of like the heart infuses the body, pervades the body, colors the body's portion of space with its its textures, its qualities.

6) The time thing really changes some aspects of stuff, as the pervading noticing that thoughts of present and future occur now transforms plenty of aspects of the function of emotions, as lots of emotional stuff is bound up in past and future, and, as those things are perceived as elements of right now, and proportionally those thoughts make up a really small amount of the field of experiential space, that helps a lot.

7) The grounding in the present moment that these perceptual transformations have produced also changes some important things about empathy. It at once makes it much easier to emphathize, for, as the proportions of feelings in the room or the space are more balanced, more open, more in proportion, and it also makes it more difficult to get unskillfully overwhelmed by empathy by the same basic perceptual proportional mechanism.

8) Then there is what occurred by cycling thousands and thousands of times through the cycles of insight while also maintaining high function regardless while doing things like post-graduate training and a pursuing very demanding career that basically gives no room for malfunction or down-time when you feel you need it except for extreme circumstances, such as major broken bones, funerals of close relatives, and the like. As it became totally normal to have things like Fear arise for no reason at all except that this was the insight stage that was presenting at the time, and for this to happen with basicaly all the other emotions as well, as the stages of insight basically take you on a tour of the whole range of the thing, up and down, round and round, that got me very used to functioning despite what the internal experiences were and also noticing that most of them were just cycle-dependent and most of the time not based on anything going on externally at all. Wait a few minutes, they pass, and something else marches in for no good reason at all: hard to take them as seriously when the system is mostly crying wolf many times a day. This skill-set is an essential one, and practicing it for years hard-wired a high degree of natural grace under pressure and grace under internal complexity, as most of that complexity was just the cycles, and the cycles are just the cycles and nothing more than that. It is like anything you get used to: it becomes much easier. I remember touring a hog-farm and being nearly overwhelmed by the smell. I asked one of the hog-farmers how they handled it, and he said, "I just got used to it. Now it just smells sort of sweet." It is not that all the phases of all cycles just smell sweet, but there was a great deal of habitual tolerance and lack of reactivity that built up as they just trundled through so many, many times.

9) The total flip side of that last point (and that may seem a total contradiction to it) is that the cycles of insight rotate though so rapidly, so often, that they bring up those current issues that are resonating on that emotional band when they do, that it is basically impossible to be particuly repressed when that happens. For example, as Re-Observation rotates through may times per day, sometimes a few times per hour, and that band is basically related to whatever your deepest, most sticky, most important dark stuff is at that time, then, as your key issues arise with that force so clearly, and then you get to see them and then flip to Equanimity shortly therafter on them, that does something really good. It is like some sort of purgative, some sort of cathartic: feel the worst and most compelling of your current crap, make peace with it shortly thereafter, be ok, repeat again and again and again. It has some sort of humanizing and yet cleansing effect. Vomit, feel lighter and better, repeat with the next thing worth vomiting up and out. It is a slightly extreme way to describe the thing, but the analogy has something in it, as it gets at its heart and gut side, its intimately emotional and powerful side, its viceral side. (Anyone reading this who might somehow take that and twist it into a rationalization for bulemia, please don't.)

9) Were you to ask my wife, Carol, how my emotional life is, she certainly wouldn't say anything like me being unperturbed 99.99% of the time, that is for certain, though I do think she would describe me as a happy and resilient person in general terms. It is true that people at work, such as patients and staff, routinely comment on my unusual degree of cheeriness and voluminous positive energy, actually many times per day, though I do have my moments that are very much otherwise at times, as my job in the ER is a particularly stressful and taxing one, which does tend to show the limits of the transformations in a way that most people's lives wouldn't, as I see pain, illness, violence, staggering suffering, blood, vomit, chaos and death. The pressure to tend to all of that at extremely high speed hour after hour and often without food and breaks even to pee is like a great hammer and anvil pounding away at any delusion that there might be emotional sanitation or perfection.

10) That said, it is much easier to shift emotional and affective gears depending on what is happening around me, such that I might go from telling someone that their child just died, and then moments later be playing with some child and showing them how to listen to their heart with my stethoscope, and then dealing with some really anxious teenager who just tried to kill themselves, and then minutes later have to calmly deal with some bleary and beligerant consultant who I woke at 3am and they were not happy about that, and then be suddenly running a trauma which requires rapid, precise and very structured actions that need to happen one after the other, etc. It is a lot easier to do that now than it would have been earlier, I must say, though not always perfectly easy, as biology and neurochemistry do have their own time-tables and those must be taken into account.

11) Finally, in feeling the emotions, there is this weird space thing. It is quite hard to explain. It is like the feelings are there, and space is also there, and the feelings are part of space. This space component really takes out something of the suffering of even the strong emotions we might associate with unpleasantness, such as anger, fear and sadness. For example, space crying is very different from some sense of a limited self crying. Space being afraid is not nearly the same as some small sense of an isolated self being afraid. It is much easier, much better, much more clean in some way, more transparent, and also, oddly, much more clear. It is easy to imagine this as some sort of dissociation, but dissociation lacks the immediate clarity, the viceral richness, the integral intimacy, and instead is the opposite of those.

12) On careful reflection, the emotion that seems the most attenuated and least likely to arise is jealousy. This transformed mind is the thing, the most important thing to me, the thing of most value, the greatest accomplishment I can imagine, and so there is no obvious cause to be jealous of anyone who hasn't done it, as the comparison in terms of improvement is so stark vs how things were the other way, and for anyone who has done it, well, that is awesome, and so, on that one front, there is really something very different. Who would I be jealous of? Why? It is hard to fathom. Select elements of other people's lives, situations, possessions, bodies, etc. do have some appeal, as is only natural, but real jealousy? It is just not much a part of things these days. An important qualifier to that: my life is pretty good at the moment, and I know that we must be careful, as I can imagine situations that might cause stronger jealousy, such as me, say, becoming a quadriplegic with severe phantom pain and being in some ways jealous of everyone who wasn't in that situation, so take my saying this with a large grain of salt, realizing that it might be totally circumstantial, as I currently enjoy health and relative wealth. (DhO)

... (13) [added later: Space and Emotions] You can say that all sensations have a volumetric component, and also that all occur as part of some textured, colored, fluxing volume. It is as if space and the qualities of space are the same thing, parts of the same thing. No sensation can arise without having some spacial aspect to it. The sense of the fluxing and transient volume we call "space" itself seems only actually created by the many flickering, ephemeral sensations that imply it. Taken together, these get at what I am trying to convey.

It is not particularly that space has emotions, or that emotions are the colorations and textures of space, as that would seem to imply two things, when experientially it is something much more integrated than that, intrinsic.

Were one to experience water, one would be hard pressed to separate out its color, wetness, the space it occupies, and temperature from the notion of thing itself? So, while this language would seem to imply artificial divisions, in the experience they do not occur.

I also definitely imply no hyperspace, as it is the artificially created sense of a hyperspace that allows some portion of things to imagine division, duality, an illusory self that is perpetually on "this side" of every act of perception. When the volume is known to be totally integrated, hyperspacial illusions resolve to just what is going on in this space, or as part of the space, or as making up the space, something like that. It is so much simpler that way and resolves many otherwise baffling apparent paradoxes. (DhO

Arhats and a modicum of disturbance and non-emptiness. I quote from MN 121, from Access to Insight, of arahants: "He discerns that 'Whatever disturbances that would exist based on the effluent of sensuality... the effluent of becoming... the effluent of ignorance, are not present. And there is only this modicum of disturbance: that connected with the six sensory spheres, dependent on this very body with life as its condition.' He discerns that 'This mode of perception is empty of the effluent of sensuality... becoming... ignorance. And there is just this non-emptiness: that connected with the six sensory spheres, dependent on this very body with life as its condition." (DhO)

The ironic thing of being an Arhat. The ironic thing is that the whole thing is about settling into this human body, this human mind, this ordinary life, and seeing it as it is.

It is about losing things more than gaining them, although there is some gain, obviously.

It is about being realistic and accepting more than about being grandiose.

It is about giving up ideals and spiritual dreams in favor of coming down to Earth and being right here, as it is, right now.

So odd that it is so hard to tell people this and to convince them that this is what it is about. You can say it again and again and it is like people have some cognitive deficit that makes it nearly impossible to hear. Why it is so hard to do is a very strange thing, isn't it?

Amazing that people will take it and run with it and put people up on some pedestal just to throw things at them, when, in fact, this ordinary back pain, these ordinary human emotions, these things, seen clearly as they are, are the whole point. It is not a fancy thing.

So strange that one of the places on the internet that tries to be the most down-to-earth and realistic, the least bought into the preposterious ideals of awakening that don't hold up to reality testing, the place with the most explicit details about all the problems with the models, and some of the most straightforward and empowering and open set of discussions about how to actually attain to those things that do hold up to reality testing is still plagued by people who just see the whole thing as some absurd popularity and hierarchy contest and just react to that without benefitting from the amazing opportunities that this forum provides. (DhO)

On happiness. Regarding happiness, one must be careful when trying to compare people and some reasonable qualification is helpful, I feel, based on the following points: 
  1. The correlation between how people seem externally to others and how they perceive themselves is clearly not perfect, meaning that there are people who externally may seem happy but are not that happy and those who also don't seem as happy as they actually are. This is due to a mix of subjective and "objective" factors, meaning that how we perceive someone is partially due to them and partially due to how we perceive them. Going from theory to real-world specifics: at all moments would I appear happier than everyone around me? Clearly not. We have some people at work that seem quite happy often, and at times, I would suspect that, if some group of people were asked to evaluate their perception of whether or not I seemed happier than the happiest-seeming person in the emergency department (it is a big place, so we have lots of employees), I am pretty sure that I would not always be voted the most happy-seeming person.
  2. A perfect A/B and straightforward comparison of mind states in general and happiness in particular is not currently possible that I know of. My thesis that I am happier more of the time than most people I know is not provable. That I am vastly happier than I was is not even easily proven in absolute and final terms, given that I can't be sure I can accurately A/B my mind states across years and decades, as it is all based on memory of pleasant and unpleasant experiences, which itself is known to be faulty. Do I believe that I am vastly better of: definitely. Can I be 100% certain that at all times my current mind states are all superior to the very best mind states I had in the past? No.
  3. Happiness, being a mind state, is transient, ephemeral, variable, subject to moment-to-moment fluctuations and modifications based on the standard laws of causality. I would not classify myself as being happy all the time, as that would be preposterous. A very wide range of mental qualities manifest and change rapidly. 
I can't remember the last time someone accused me of possibly being humble, and given general trends and tendencies this is unlikely to have occurred here, but sometimes I am very aware of the problems that arise in comparison of all sorts of qualities between people across times and the variability of mind states.

To try to answer your question about cultivating happiness and what I could do to optimize happiness: that is the perennial question, and then the question of how my answer might apply to you I can't be certain. Do I believe that non-dual perception really helps? Definitely. Do I think there is lots of standard, generic advice that might generally promote well-being, given many qualifiers? Definitely. A good example: eat a healthy diet, exercise and get enough sleep. There are times when I work too hard and don't exercise enough and don't get enough sleep. Do I believe that if I exercised a bit more and my circadian rhythm wasn't as disrupted by my job as it is that I would be happier? Definitely. More to the point: how will you be happier, which I presume is the essence of your question: that is a moving target, but the fundamentals likely apply.

… I think one of the problems with scales measuring mind states is that as each thing changes you arrive at some new normal and then there is variability within that normal, but we rapidly re-adjust to the new thing and forget the old thing.

Memories of pain and pleasure are not that reliable.

How to compare things accurately? Not easy over large time distances. If I compared, say, my first kiss, which totally blew my mind at the time, to my mind state now as I sit writing this, and could objectively A/B them back and forth and really sample each, what would I think?

Furthermore, if I could take my worst day now and compare it to my worst day from, say, 20 years ago, how much worse would that worst day be from the past in comparison to now and how would you measure that?

What do the ranges look like? Do they overlap somewhat? In whose opinion?

If I took some of the most thrilling and amazing moments of my life from, say, 20 years ago, before I got into meditation and the like, and compared them to my best moments now, how different would they be? Some things would be different, but if one tried to come up with some absolute satisfaction or happiness scale, how much better would things be now? It is a really hard thing to imagine doing, as I am pretty sure my memories of how things were are pretty poor, and there is no way to flip back once certain things are flipped.

I can tell you about a strange period on retreat almost exactly 10 years ago when for a week I flipped back and forth between full non-dual, non-localized, intrinsic, effortless awareness and something that had lots of elements of that but wasn't the totally done thing and did so every 1-3 hours or so. It was one of the heaviest emotional roller coasters of all of my retreat time. The difference was night and day. Each time I would slide back into subtle dualistic perception and caring about things like states and stages and all of that, it was like getting my heart broken, like losing a loved-one, like failing the most important exam of my life, totally crushing, like realizing you just totally forgot the most important appointment of your life, like watching your house with all your most valuable possessions burn before your eyes, like watching your life's work flushed down the toilet.

Each time I would flip back to the better mode of perception, it was like, "Oh, my God, Buffy! That's it! That's the thing! Wow! Amazing! How could I have missed this? It is so obvious! So perfectly perceptually right!" and then it would fade, and my heart was broken again. Imagine dating the hottest woman in the world except that every 2 hours she decides she hates you, and then every 2 hours she loves you again. It was a week of that. Finally, it stayed. That was a huge relief. I definitely wouldn't want to go back to the other way of perceiving things: it is just so totally wrong in so many ways and the mind thus flips all over the place like a fish on a line trying to figure out how to get things right again. (DhO

Meditative accomplishment can make people attractive. I do think that there is something about meditative accomplishment that can make people attractive. Many things, in fact: 
  • Emotional intelligence is refreshing and reassuring to people, like a breath of sanity. 
  • People who are really present to others, who can really listen and respond to what someone is bringing to an interaction or a conversation, are more compelling. 
  • Meditative attainment can generate confidence, and that is attractive. 
  • It can reduce cortisol levels and that makes people seem healthier, and it makes people more lighthearted and people like that. 
  • It creates pathways of thought and association that people find fascinating. 
  • It can itself be a status symbol, and some people like those with status. 
  • It can make the brain function better, which breeds success, and success is attractive, and so and and so forth... (DhO
Conceit. "Conceit" is a problematic way to think about the Pali word Mana (māna). It is usually translated in emotional terms, that being something like arrogance or pride or unskillful comparison, but consider that something closer would be something in the sense of "I am", as if that truly were true, which it isn't.

The Buddha himself apparently thought quite well of himself, constantly praising his attainments, saying he was better than basically everyone else, including gods and the like, as well as beyond all other arahats and teachers, and yet he also claimed to be free of this.

Contradiction? Is he using the word in a different way from the way it is commonly translated? I vote for the latter.

I think of it as finally untangling the knot of perception that creates the sense of a permanent, continuous, separate part of this reality that is actually an "us". Other translations run into numerous complex problems, the one related to the Buddha being only one of them. (DhO

There are real saints in this world. I have had the good fortune to meet and work with some of them, both in India and in the US in some of the ER's I have worked in. Truly kind, truly humble, truly dedicated to the service of others and to making this world a better place, word by word, deed by deed, and day by day. They are not always that noticeable, though some definitely are.

I have worked with a few of them for years at my current job, and never seen them be anything but kind and helpful regardless of the degree of adverse circumstances, and we see some pretty adverse circumstances here. We get screamed at, attacked, spit at, vomited on, harassed, and the like on a daily basis. We see death and destruction. We see severe suffering both physical and mental, as well as some terrible reactions to that suffering. The saints I get to work with handle it like superstars, though, again, were you not paying attention, you might miss it, as they don't all stand out.

I also worked with a few true saints at Calcutta Rescue during my 5 months there, as well as in Bodh Gaya and the outlying villages during my 7 months there.

These are the living examples I try to emulate and learn from for my own training in Morality. (DhO)

Pain and Dukkha. Pain exists for nearly all of us, except a few rare people who feel no pain at all due to a genetic variant. I have actually met a child who had this, and their feet, hands, skin and bones in general did very poorly, as they simply couldn’t tell when they had hurt themselves.

So, there is still pain. Pain is still unpleasant, in that unpleasant is hard-wired to some degree in the nature of ordinary mammalian sensory apparatus.

Are the reactions to it different? Yes, but not entirely. The differences are as follows, and in general terms: 
  1. Pain is in proportion spatially, meaning that the volume of experience that has the pain is just that much volume, as the wide-open mind doesn’t contract into the pain in the way it did. That is not the same as nothing being unpleasant, but there is a background of neutral to pleasant in which it sits that the mind doesn’t forget in the way it did before.
  2. Mental reactions are different, though not entirely transformed. The different part has to do with mental proliferation around the pain, to the rapidity with which any mental proliferation around the pain vanishes as soon as the pain does, and the space that is around the mental proliferations that might arise. So, it is not that the mind might not think, “Oh, fuck, I stubbed my toe hard!”, as it might, but that thought, like all thought, is a small, ephemeral thing in open space, not something contracted into that becomes this huge blinding thing. 
The similarities are as follows: 
  1. Enough pain can compromise the function of this mammal. For example, I have had somewhere around 13 kidney stones to date, some mild, some moderate, and some that caused a truly amazing amount of pain. Some women I have known who have had bad kidney stones and natural childbirth have told me that they at least are equal in how much pain they can produce, and a few have said that their worst kidney stones were worse than natural childbirth. Having had a few that were basically off the charts quantities of pain, I can believe them. When I am having one of those, I get nauseated, sweat, shake sometimes, want to move all over the place, and, on rare occasions, have felt like I might pass out from the pain simply pouring so much sensation into the poor mammals brain that it began to overload. Past a certain point, cognition becomes difficult, as it feels that all circuits get swamped by the sensations.
  2. Pain produces some aversion to circumstances in which the pain occurred proportional to how much pain was there. This seems some deep hard-wired mammalian protective response and makes great survival sense. The fact of severe pain causing conditioning to avoid those situations would not surprise the likes of B F Skinner, but it does surprise some idealists who imagine that someone might be able to have no deep, instinctual, mammalian, sympathetic nervous-system mediated, memory-based reactions to pain. Is the perception of those different? Yes, but they still occur. So, do I believe that conditions, such as PTSD, are still possible in the highly awakened? Yes, given sufficiently adverse circumstances. 
So, is this way better? Definitely. Is it an entire solution to the fact of pain? No, not while a mammal who was born still lives. Consider the cases of Channa, the arahant monk from the Pali Canon who committed suicide due to some chronic pain that became to much for him to bear. Even the Buddha suffered from headaches and back pain, which the Pali Canon goes into detail about and the karma that produced those.

Long ago, and before I realized it would be such a hard text to find again, I read an account of the Buddha’s last days, in which he was in terrible pain from some intestinal illness (dysentery? mesenteric ischemia?). Anyway, whatever it was, in this account the Buddha said something like, “Though I attain to the highest jhanas I am able, I am not able to find relief from this suffering.” I have been searching for that version of his last days for two decades since I read it in some book on some Buddhist text reading shelf in India somewhere, and, should anyone know where it can be found, the reference would be much appreciated. (DhO)

Pain Threshold. It is definitely true that pain is a really funny thing, in that pain in different contexts of different types viewed different ways and with different purposes can be reacted to very differently by people. The BDSM community is but one dramatic example of this, but there are plenty of others, as walking into any gym or medical residency program will reveal. Clearly, that is an obvious avenue of personal hacking, as plenty of people have discovered.

Slogans like, "No Pain, No Gain," and, "Pain is fear leaving the body," and, "Hurt so good," are classic examples. As noted above, the various ways you can distract people so they don't even feel pain or process it very differently, as pointed out by our resident phlebotomist, are other striking examples of this, as I got to see daily when I worked in various ERs, particularly pediatric ones, where we had specialists who were specifically trained to do that, and they were amazing to watch.

I can think of numerous examples in my own life of situations where pain that most people would probably have found pretty intense and unpleasant were not so to me at the time, with these memories going back to my childhood and long before I thought of myself as a meditation practitioner.

An example I believe I have used before here is of an extremely tough career Army woman whose ankle had an open, 100% displaced (foot hanging off to the side of her lower leg and connected only by tendons and the like with the bones sticking out) ankle fracture, and she asked me to reduce it (put the bones back in the correct alignment until they could be surgically repaired, an extremely painful procedure we generally do under full sedation, meaning with the patient unconscious) without any pain medication or anesthesia, so, right there, with no meds, I put her ankle back in the proper orientation and splinted it, and she watched me calmly with an expression of mild curiosity, not flinching an instant, and said, "That wasn't so bad." It was one of the stranger things I saw during my 19 years in clinical practice and training.

I have also seen highly functional adults crying and screaming over things like tiny splinters and small, barely noticeable bruises.

There is some data to suggest that at least part of our relationship to pain and how we perceive it is genetic, with the far end being people who literally perceive no pain at all, and so the notion that one person's ability to modify their pain response would necessarily be available to everyone else is likely debatable and would make for a fascinating, if ethically complicated, study.

I also have seen people clearly dissociate profoundly in the face of pain, just walling themselves off in some other place where the pain was not, to such a degree that their body stopped responding as if their was pain, meaning no sweating, no increased heartrate or respiratory rate, nothing to indicate that somewhere there was intense pain, at least in theory, as the question then becomes, "If there is pain and you either don't feel it or don't perceive it as pain, is it actually pain?"

Then I have the reports by some mom's that thought their children might have had some lingering bad effects after they underwent painful procedures in the ER (such as having bone reset, large abscesses drained, etc.), during which they were profoundly sedated (but not paralyzed) with no obvious reactions at all to the pain during the procedure, but then afterwards had some memories or dreams or some other PTSD-like reaction regarding the pain, even though at the time of the pain they appeared entirely unconscious and unresponsive. Our brains are complex things.

So, I keep an open mind about the range of how people are able to modify themselves and their attitudes to various experiences.

I also hold very loosely the correlation between perceiving the Three Characteristics and other powers, moral implications, special abilities, concentration abilities, as I have seen too many exceptions to everyone's attempts at rules to believe it is all so simple.

Best wishes for your own practices, and thanks for your reports of what is out there. As a Naturalist and phenomenologist, I very much appreciate people being willing to share their lives and the vast range of what various meditative and other practices might produce. (DhO)

Illness and the limits of practice. On march 5 (2013) I got wiped out by some horrid viral thing, probably flu b, I would guess, given recent exposures. It was amazing how some little bit of protein and genetic material combined with the totally dysphoric immune chemicals a virus inspires my body to release can basically reduce one's level of physical function to that of an near invalid and fog an otherwise sharp mind to the point that my meditative, jhanic and baseline abilities were about 90% shut down…

… point is, mortality is hard, and it is easy to be confident if one has been some long period of time from something like this, and one might be tempted to say something like such moments are a challenge to our practice, but more accurate would be that practice was basically impossible in any way I might think of practice, and basic survival weakly took over, and even that fails to really capture the arc of the illness, which really was its own thing, like a hurricane to a beach town: just ride out the destruction as best you can. 

I have always found the limits of practice interesting, and moments like this one make me reflect on platitudes like "pain plus resistance is suffering" and a recent tweet I saw along the line that if we learn to handle all emotions we can handle anything, and think that they either know something far beyond what I know or they have not recently been sick enough to remember that there are things that can lay us low despite what we might have thought of as powerful practice and lasting transformation.

Did the illusion of duality reassert itself? No.
Did the illusion of agency reassert itself? No.
Did centerless-ness re-distort to a sense of a center point? No.

Did any of those really seem to matter when I was laying there in dazed, bleary, wiped-out pain? Uh, this question would seem more theoretical than practical. I could point out some interesting things I noticed about how the unfound mind retained that uncanny diffuse silence when the IV was being inserted despite me being a total needlephobe, and how the direct pain of that 18g needle was totally unfiltered by the dualistic distortions that plagued the Daniel's of Old, and yet, something in that is missing something of what was going on as the main focus of the experience, and that is not its intrinsic luminosity but the total suckiness of the whole being-sick-like-that thing.

… Interesting aside: when laying there in the hospital bed getting fluids I was on the monitors and I kept trying to get into something jhanic, as I find them healing, and the alarm on the bed kept going off, as my respiratory rate would go below 3/minute at times and generally stayed around 7, and when it went the lowest was when I was able to get something passable as perhaps weak 3rd jhana, and then the O2 sat monitor would go off as my oxygen sat kept dropping to the high 80% range, which correlated well with the better mindstates, so one more question for the scientific journal: is hypoxia and/or hypercarbia part of the jhanic buzz? (DhO

Mindfulness and 4th Path. Mindfulness is a conditioned quality, and, like every other conditioned quality, it comes and goes. Fourth path involves a total lack of split between what one might call the mind and phenomena, so the notion of a mind here noticing those thoughts there and keeping them on track misses something of that basic point.

That said, practice, mindfulness and the like may still occur, being ordinary empty phenomena, and good practice and good mindfulness still help as before, as the mind is an organic thing, and its continued conditioning continues to modify its function for better or for worse.

As to being lost in thoughts, that depends on how you would define that. As before, and using somewhat conventional language for the sake of clarity, attention may tune to this or that, detune from other things, and attend to various objects with more or less emphasis at various times, including thought.

You could also say the same thing at that level by saying that there is no attention beyond bare phenomena, but those bare phenomena may arise differently at different moments, with some moments being made much more of the sensations whose qualities we use to define them as thoughts and other moments being made much more of the sensations we define as physical or auditory or visual sensations, realizing that this divide is not really quite how things are at a very basic sensate level, but functionally is a good way to think of things most of the time. (DhO)

Is non-dual experience an illusion? [A DhOer wrote: "I sometimes doubt whether these experiences are really enlightenment. Because these experiences are strongly similar to the case of Jill Bolte Taylor who underwent CVA, stroke of head. She says everything she saw was just herself, that is, there is nothing to distinguish herself from her environment. And she felt so happy, peaceful, no never-mind. Ken-sho can be a kind of material phenomenon, and its cause can exist at purely physical level. Non-dual experience can be only an illusion caused by brain's hard wiring". Daniel answered:]

Alright, that's one way to look at it. However, as one who does actually perceive reality this way whenever sensations arise, I can say you are missing a few points, at the very least, and they are of relevance.

One can speculate all one wants to at this point about the exact physiological or neurological basis for this experience: I am not sure we are quite there yet with the science, but I suspect it will likely not be that much further down the road that someone will come to some at least basic structural understanding of what has changed.

Everything we perceive, every sensation, thought, intention, conception, and all the rest is clearly due, at a purely physical, biochemical level, to the wiring of the brain, or largely due to it. I don't think mysticism gets us around that, though it can't be proven one way or the other that there is not something else going on, but regardless of those mechanistic explanations, the thing has value.

As one who has integrated the sense field through years of long, hard work and careful training and application, I can tell you that it is the greatest thing I ever did, and I can't imagine doing anything more fundamentally important than that.

It answered and laid to rest large numbers of questions and areas of confusion, such that now I perceive directly what most philosophers, modern physicists, the blindly faithful and the like merely speculate about.

It solved the Dark Night problem that I got into when I first crossed the A&P: this is a gigantic benefit to me, one that I am extremely grateful for.

It opened doors of perception, avenues of experience, and other options that were closed but somehow at some deep level seemed should be available.

I hesitate to go here, but the fact is that it greatly increased my mental, emotional and perceptual clarity in radical and profound ways: those who are familiar with my critique of the models that go there: those specific critiques still hold.

Slice it any way you like, this beats the pants off the way I perceived things before, and everyone who has ever attained to it that I have had the honor to know personally will tell you their own version of the same thing.

If you say this is illusion, you could just as easily say that duality is an illusion, or that perception is an illusion, but given that we live this flesh and blood "illusion", and this way of perceiving reality is so vastly superior to the other, I say: go ahead and get it, and if you don't like it, I am sorry, but you will be the only one who I have ever heard of who had that reaction. (DhO)

Awakening is vastly better than the other ways of perceiving reality. Very briefly:
  • The naturally clear mind is much better than the unclear mind, the semi-clear mind and the intermittently clear mind
  • The awake mind is much better than the less awake mind
  • The timeless mind is much better than the mind caught in the illusion of time
  • The mind without any artificial boundary is much better than the artificially bound mind
  • The mind that knows there is no mind is much better than the mind that believes there is one
  • The directly perceiving mind is much better than the mind that filters things through thought and the sense that there is attention
  • The mind that knows there is no perceiver is much better than the mind that believes it is perceiving
  • The mind that is stainless is much better than the mind that is stained
  • The mind that is the same as bare phenomena much better than the mind that is the same as bare phenomena but doesn't know it
  • The mind that is without extraneous noise is better than the noisy mind
  • The mind for which all the world arises effortlessly, naturally, lawfully, causally, this is much better than the mind that pretends it is creating effort, creating thought, creating anything
  • That fluxing, shimmering field of bare experience that occurs on its own, knows itself directly where it is, as it is, is totally ephemeral, totally fresh, totally natural: this is so much better than the world perceived some other way
  • In that mode: there is nothing to want anything
  • In that mode: there is nothing to know anything
  • In that mode: there is nothing to do anything
  • And yet, wanting occurs, as there is an animal that has needs from an ordinary point of view, which is still a valid point of view, but this wanting is just a natural part of the field
  • There are preferences, but they are just causality functioning, shimmering, fluxing, doing what it does and always has done
  • There is knowledge, but nothing that knows it beyond the shimmering, dancing, flickering little tingling bursts that make up knowledge
This is vastly, immeasurably better than the other ways of perceiving reality. To prefer something less is madness. (DhO)

Phenomena pretending to be Awareness. When you say "awareness", what do you mean exactly? Something that is the same as phenomena, or something that is different from phenomena. It sounds like a semantic question, but is a good thing to examine, actually a key thing, actually the most fundamental question of all. If awareness is the same as phenomena, is there really awareness, or just phenomena pretending to be it? If this "awareness" is different from sensate phenomena, how can you possibly experience it?

... Try this one on for size: the sensations that have the content "I", the feel of "I", were always as they are, always of the true nature of things also, even if that was not clearly perceived. Once that true nature of those sensate patterns and qualities is clearly perceived, they are known to just be more textures and colors and flavors of transient, ephemeral, intrinsically luminous space, as they always were. (DhO

This is it. I talk to lots of people about meditation, sometimes up to 15 per week, sometimes as few as 1-2. They talk about memories and plans mostly, hopes and fears, and occasionally sensations going on that moment, but rarely. Almost none of them get that THIS IS IT.

Even the ones that are so impressed with their attainements, the powerful insight cycles, the magical experiences, the deep formless stuff, the very strange experiences that can arise in the far fusions of insight and concentration, nearly all of them fail to appreciate the simple point of these sensations, right now, right here, being it.

By "it", I mean:

1) The only thing going on in experience.
2) Utterly transient.
3) Utterly natural.
4) Utterly ungraspable and unstopable.
5) Utterly without anything that could even attempt to grasp or stop them.
6) Utterly immediate.
7) Utterly just as they are.
8) Utterly the immediate and perfect solution to their insight quest.

Then, every now and then, someone comes along that get it. They say things like:

(i) "The experience of the memories of meditation experiences are themselves the answer to the question of vipassana."

(ii) "The experience of the koan is the answer to the koan."

(iii) "Everything has the same nature all the way through. How utterly obvious this is in all things now. How could this possibly have been missed?"

(iv) "Thought and the things that thought appears to be operating on all satisfy, in that they cannot be grasped, cannot be stopped, cannot occur other than they do: what freedom!"

Those sound like things from a stylized book, but, on rare occasions, people actually do declare that their experience is like that.

When that quality of natural, inevitable, non-negotiable knowing is known to apply to all experiences immediately, automatically, naturally, without any other option, and even when not obviously payed attention to, and that holds up over all states, all stages, all shifts, all highs, all lows, all qualities of experiencce, that's really it.

If you find yourself reflecting on your past or future, and you don't notice that something in those reflections are equally of the same nature as everything else, or you are sure that some specific experience was it or closer to it and some other experiences are farther from it or less it, rather than appreciating those moments themselves as they occur then as simply, straightforwardly, easily, naturally it, however they are, consider tuning to that aspect, and see if it helps. (DhO)

About an Ultimate Reality. Very simply and from a basic, down-to-earth, and simple point of view, these sensations now are aware where they are, and the sensations towards the apparent center that seem to be perceiving those sensations are also just aware where they are. Further, these are all transient, causal, happening on their own, natural, and ordinary.

Perceiving these simple truths directly again and again reveals the completeness of those assertions at the level of natural perception, and thus what was always true becomes obvious.

In this way, this is it. The language of ultimate reality can easily create a seeming divide between the obvious here and now and some ideal of something profound. However, it is actually something very straightforward about what is happening in ordinary, sensate reality that reveals what has been called ultimate reality and other names, and it is true that seeing this ordinary, straightforward thing about our current sensate reality is profound in its way, but one should be careful not to get to far out there with ideals about Reality and ultimate reality, and instead ground down in the simplicity of ordinary investigation of whatever happens, even esoteric things like altered states and visions, etc., all of which are just sensations manifesting now, simple, transient, aware where they are, causal, natural, etc.

In short, as others have said: practice, but practice perceiving this ordinary sensate world with great clarity, precision and inclusiveness so that these simple truths become even more directly obvious than they already are and locked in as your baseline level of perception 
...

... I like ByPasser's points (post 1, post 2 also check post 3, post 4) and agree with Yabaxoule. This should not get too complex, and adding in terms such as Awareness and Ultimate Reality and the like can cause complexities. I talk about this in a chapter in MCTB called No-Self vs. True Self. In reality there is no conflict.

Sensations arise. They vanish. This happened on its own. There are many perspectives one can take on this, many lenses, many emphases, but in the end, they all had those qualities, as did the lenses and emphases. One can spin it any way one wants to. One can look at the sensations that seem to make up Subject or Object or both. One can attend to the sensations that seem to imply a permanent Awareness: they all vanish.

Pragmatically, this works well. Those who haven't attained to Stream Entry who look at everything as being solid Awareness tend to get stuck. Those who are working through even the Anagami paths who focus on Awareness being permanent tend to get stuck for some period of time, and the tendency there to wish there to be such a thing can really gum up the seeing through of a very subtle process of creating continuity out of absolute transience.

While there are interesting points to emphasizing True Self teachings, they are more slippery then they appear, and without a good balance of No-self teachings and impermanence and suffering tend to cause difficulties. I hit about as hard as one can on the no-self end of things and it ended up revealing both sides of the equation nicely. Thus, it is hard for me to not advocate something similar.  (DhO)

By 'Ultimate' I mean the Three Characteristics. I guess people may use the word "ultimate" in various ways, but for me, it means the Three Characteristics, in that these apply to all sensations at all times, before and after, all the way through, so they are the common denominator of all experience, as well as the basic sensations themselves, as these are the first foundation of all of it.

Actual Freedom (AF) seems to delineate two worlds, one Real, the other Actual, and says they are not the same, as questions of Ultimate should seem to apply to all things (Real and Actual), then to call the Actual world Ultimate would seem to be missing something.

As to whatever I did, how it lines up with anything related to AF I have no idea, but I like that mind mode and would recommend it, regardless of how you label it. (DhO

An Ultimate Reality: an historical report on the evolution of my understanding on the subject. (circa 2009) I was over at KennethFolkDharma posting about enlightenment, Rigpa, ultimate reality, with my attempt to simplify things in a section called The Controversy and it lead to the standard complexities that arise around this perennially complex and difficult topic.

[Kenneth Folk stated somewhere back then: “There is no consensus in Buddhism about what Ultimate Reality is. Let’s be honest about this from the start and not soft-pedal it. Broadly speaking, there are two competing and mutually exclusive views about what constitutes the "final understanding.” One view is that everything that can be experienced is “dependently arisen” according to conditions. That means that there is no inherently existing Primordial Awareness. Let’s call that the conservative Theravada view. The other view is that there is an inherently existing Primordial Awareness that is uncompounded and unconditioned. It is said to pervade and give rise to all things, and as such is considered “non-dual” or “not-two.” Let’s call this the Mahayana/Vajrayana Buddhist view, although it is also shared by the more progressive elements within Theravada Buddhism such as the Thai Forest Tradition".]


As I got nothing like the responses I wanted there, I thought I would post something back on home turf over here that explores some of this from my current point of view and practice, with a bit of history thrown in.

I remember the period in my practice from 1997 to 2003 April when I was a self-declaired anagami, could see emptiness in realtime, could get Nirodha Samapatti (Cessation of Perception and Feeling), had all 8 standard jhanas, chanced into the Pure Land jhanas but didn't know what to call them, and was really, really into dharma practice and my whole dharma trip.

I read book after book, poured through texts both for confirmation of what I was perceiving and also for pointers as to how to finish things up, including particular attention to Mahayana, Vajrayaha, Zen, and Vedantic texts, as well as Ceremonial Magick, Shamanistic texts. Most of the time things seemed pretty straightforward, empty, luminous, effortless, centerless, some very obvious mix of transcendence and intimacy, and I worked more and more to stay in a way of perceiving things that seemed right, clear, straightforward, direct, literal, non-dual, etc. By the end of that period, I would spend weeks thinking I had finished the thing up, very impressed with my insights, only to have a new A&P arise, and the thing would go round again with a new insight cycle, and during the Dark Night period doubts would set in as new, clearly not-that-well-illuminated territory would arise, I would see it the way I had learned to see layer after layer of experience, a new Fruition would arise, I would feel great, clear, like a spiritual superstar, and then around again.

During this period, luminosity was fascinating, emptiness was fascinating, centerlessness was fascinating, my jhanic abilities were fascinating, the whole grand quest, teachings, subtleties, and the like were amazing, so impressive to me, and it was a time of great profundity, arrogance, occasional confusion, rare humility, and lots of very clear, wonderful insights into the direct workings of experience and the mind. I relished my deep and profound understanding of very subtle concepts and teachings. It was during this period that I wrote most of MCTB, and these fascinations, perspectives, abilities and issues show through it clearly. Just so I am clear on this, I am not claiming not to be arrogant now, as that would be really delusional, but there is something about it that is different now, and seeing the last thing had this humbling quality to it in some ways.

I state all of this both to try to figure out what is happening with some of the people I see posting about various topics, as it is my nature to try to figure out where people are and what they may need, as well as to contrast it with what came next and to try to explain my current practice and reality as best I understand it, and explore how such apparently different visions of dharma practice and results can arise in people who have come up on what superficially appear to be so much the same traditions.

What came after April 2003 on that last retreat was something that was very different in most ways from what came before, and marked the largest shift in my practice since stream entry. It has taken years to try to get a sense of the full implications of the thing, but these are the highlights:

1) No longer does there seem to be any interest in the highest teachings, the rare texts, concepts like Rigpa, Maha Ati, True Self, Emptiness, and the like in the same way there is before. Before I was always seeking some concept to help me see something final, to verify something, fill some need, or provide a door to something even more amazing. Now, everything seems really literal, direct, obvious, clear, straightforward, and I can't come up with any ultimate concept that seems more profound than the obvious, basic, often relatively boring sensate world as it does its thing. The drive is gone. To pick up a dharma book and read it has to involve something related to my daily life practice or it has no appeal at all.

2) Before, I really liked the jhanas in a way that was beyond my like for most things. Now I look at them as something that I do to help heal, support and nourish this Daniel, as they do good things, and thus, whereas before they were viewed more like someone would view a pleasurable drug, now I think of them as just another component of healthy living, like nutritious food, the vitamins I take, drinking enough water so I don't get more kidney stones, etc. In this way, something really different has arisen in my relationship to them, and, just like my vitamins, I find myself having to remember to use them for what they do rather than thinking, "First thing when I get home from work: Nirodha Samapatti, Baby!" as I used to do.

3) Before, there seemed to be options. Even at the best of my seeing emptiness and effortlessness in realtime, there seemed to be options. Now reality is this non-negotiable, complete, no-way-out sort of thing that simply does exactly what it does as it likes all the time, and whatever arises is simply it, however it is. This is a very different way of viewing things, and has profound implications, but the experience of the thing has taken years to get used to, and that getting used to it is just part of it, arising in its time and on its own, with this Daniel just being a part of that. Thus, whatever experience, rapture, perspective, state, stage, sense of non-duality, appreciation of emptiness, luminosity, degree of mindfulness, etc that arises is just that moment's thing as it is, nothing more, nothing less. This is something like the way things were before practicing at all, but with Fruitions, States, Stages and a whole host of previously unavailable ways that reality can present itself added to the mix.

4) No-Dog and Some-Dog seem fundamentally the same to me, whereas, for a brief period, No-Dog seemed like The Bomb, The Answer, The Ticket, and Some-Dog seemed so last week.

5) Training in Morality seems to be 90% of the practice at the moment, whereas for most of my dharma practice insight and concentrations seemed to be everything and morality was just something I did to support those most of the time. I say 90% due to the next point:

6) There are these energetic disturbances in the body-mind that arise sometimes and are unpleasant in varying degrees. Sometimes they are very short-lived, other times some aspect of the pattern morphs and changes and lingers for days to weeks. They are usually in the stomach, chest, neck or head, or some mix of these, and their frequencies, qualities, specifics, locations, and other aspects vary also. Sometimes they are clearly related to some issue or life-challenge, sometimes they seem completely random. These seem only superficially related to any sort of insight cycle and much more about something I have come to think of as an integrated psychological-emotional-energetic-body-mind field thing. The solution to these in general seems to involve patience, time, living well, honesty with myself in a relative way, healthy living, and mindfulness of the qualities of the thing as they arise and change. Most of my reading, practice, and interest these days has to do with these aspects of things, but as they seem to encompass my life in a broad way, this is a broad practice that is inherently integrated with daily life. In general, as they move through, I feel something good has happened and something has been learned or worked out. This seems to be my cutting edge of practice at the moment and it has been for years now, sort of a fusion various aspects of human growth and development. It is a very intuitive thing most of the time, and talking about it in more specifics is like talking about the qualities of light on water or the flight of a swarm of insects. I find most of my time going into things like work, building a straw-bale house, working on my relationships with people, helping my family, playing music, cooking food, thinking about how to help people coming up in this stuff, and some going to these energetic body-mind-emotional-psychology things. This is radically different emphasis from my practice before, where technical dharma practice came first, and the rest was seen as swirling around that for better or for worse.

I say all this as I see a number of people, most of whom have moved to KennethFolkDharma.org, who are fascinated with attaining to Rigpa, emptiness, joyful states, high concepts and rare teachings, plunging, debating, fascinated with all this, and it reminds me so much of my practice for those anagami years, and I so much want to try to tell them a skillful way to frame all this that at once brings it all back home and yet doesn't deny the beauty of all of that, and I am finding it really, really difficult to land this well with any of them, leading me to the conclusion that they will have to find it out for themselves.

There are lots of ways to interpret all this, and I am willing to play Devil's Advocate with myself as I make this list:

1) I have attained something that those who are still at what I call anagami haven't realized yet, with some of them calling "arahatship" what I called "anagram". As pointed out before by others including Kenneth, the irony of the title anagami being used in a pejorative way is clear and humorous and enviable. However, this clearly explains why they seem to be going through what I went through and have the same fascinations and difficulties that I did during that period I call "anagami" and yet can't seem to understand what I am saying as they are not there yet, just as I couldn't have understood what I am talking about now when I was in that territory either. This also explains why they have such strong reactions to Tarin and Trent, both of whom claim arahatship and describe things very much like what I describe, and when the three of us talk about this stuff, we are on similar pages much more than those over at KennethFolkDharma are. I am not sure how much of this rift is cultural, social or conceptual and how much is about divergent or disparate practice and attainments, but the effect is clear and real and worthy of serious consideration.

2) I have no idea what they are talking about. Haquan assumes that one must have had Rigpa pointed out in some specific way for one to find it. Kenneth, who says Rigpa and arahatship are two different phenomena, seems to think that with arahatship, one has the best platform to stabilize Rigpa, whereas I claim that arahatship is Rigpa, stabilized and done without other options. Either I have no idea what the Rigpa they are talking about is, having not run into it in 6.5 years since what I call arahatship, or they are thinking the emptiness and luminosity thing I saw on and off and worked to stabilize during my anagami period is Rigpa and they simply can't or don't want to understand my descriptions of that territory and make the connection.

3) We simply are both describing the same thing and using words really badly to do so, so we can't understand each other, but as the descriptions diverge so widely, and the attitudes and relationships to the thing are so different, it is hard to imagine this option.

4) There are parallel or divergent tracks of awakening. I loathe this argument with the whole of my being, but admit the possibility and my possible inability to see it.

5) Some other explanation I can't imagine at this point.

Some over there define Rigpa as precluding or excluding dualistic thought. I claim that Rigpa does not and cannot, with thoughts or any other experiences being just more things that arise in the clear light of wisdom, as thoughts clearly arose before the understanding of Rigpa, so how could something that is one definition of ultimate reality exclude any aspects of reality that could arise?

I put his out there realizing that I will probably be really frustrated with what follows, as this topic hits so close to people's senses of identities in multiple ways and aspects, and that tends to produce strong reactions, but perhaps something good will come out of the continued attempt to make sense of this apparently faction-producing and controversial issue and how our practice and good communication can help clarify these things. (DhO)

Arahatship is not quite full awakening, Buddhahood is. I don't know anyone here who actually uses the term "full enlightenment" to describe their practice or claims that. Various people here claim various things that are in some ways seemingly definite to them, some have claimed things they feel are somewhat terminal (of which plenty have later changed their minds). I personally still meditate: I think it is good for the brain and body to do so and it just seems a natural, skillful thing to do, as well as it also being basically unavoidable past a certain point.

If you like the technical dogma: arahatship is not quite full awakening: Buddhahood is. Even the Theravada is very clear on this. I personally see so many avenues or axes of development that the term "full awakening" sort of misses some basic point about human growth and progression on various fronts.

... Consider MN 1 The Root of All Things, where the Buddha says that arahats understand something, but Buddhas (the Tathagata, as he often referred to himself) understand it "to the end". Consider MN 4 Fear and Dread, where he goes on and on about all the stuff he accomplished. Actually, the number of places where Buddhas are distinguished as arahats-plus-lots-more is extensive, from their past-life training and purification (Buddhas going through many, many lives to get the necessary learning and purification to become a Buddha), to the fact that Buddhas are supreme teachers of gods and humans beyond just being arahats, as well as having all the powers, having purified all behavioral traits, etc. etc.

... Certainly not everyone is adding stages and models every 5 minutes, though there are those who are revising what they previously thought due to having access to new and better information. Science does that also. The problem with revising models based on new and better data is?

It should be noted, as one who has spent a whole lot of time over about 18 years thinking really, really hard about the models and talking with a lot of people about them as well as living them: it is not easy to model these things. What is found in the world of meditators, the jungle if you will, is extremely diverse, and various people develop all sorts of interesting and transformative abilities, perceptual changes, and understandings in various sequences that don't all line up, don't all come in the neat packages people think they will, don't all conform to ancient maps and yet may be truly remarkable and produce profound benefits. The diversity of this continues to surprise me, but, given the complexity of the mind and the many, many innovations in meditation and large numbers of combinations that are happening these days, it is not really that strange, and probably should have been expected. (DhO)

Post 4th Path Practices. My formal practice has been all over the place, everything from samatha to magick to Brahma Viharas to AF-inspired stuff to very Dzogchen-inspired stuff to lots of things that are really hard to describe, as I don't see a lot of people talking about that territory, such as what to do with the waves of subtle unrightness that can slowly move through the body (did have a brief conversation with Chuck Kasmire about that years ago), and things like energy work, cognitive restructuring, and things that are very vipassana: noticing very fine points of subtle parts of feelings and the like, as well as dream-work, things that are very zazen (practice-enlightenment, which, from a certain point of view encompasses all of this), and on and on...

More specifically, and to paraphrase Chi Nul, just because the Sun is shining brightly, that doesn't mean all the snow will melt at once, and the implications of the field integrating this understanding into all sorts of brain regions, patterns, feelings, old habits, constructs, and things has been totally fascinating. That has been the most remarkable thing, as the fundamental insight runs into parts of the brain that might not have been used for years, feelings that might not have been felt since decades ago, ways of thinking about the world that are clearly out-dated and yet didn't get reworked until some very specific situation brought them to light in some way, and all of that, now being perceived in this totally different way, can transform itself into something better

That basically goes along with my very brief blurb on integration in MCTB, which says basically: get the insight, and reality will integrate itself.

Overall, it has been fascinating to explore old things in a new light, as well as get into new things in that same new light, and so the key really is the new light. (DhO

Actualism-inspired practices

Actual Freedom, a quick summary. If you stick to reasonable first principles, such as paying gentle, kind attention to what you are feeling and wondering why (being mindful and inquisitive regarding of feelings and mind states), paying attention to how you are experiencing this moment of being alive (mindfulness and investigation of your immediate sensate world), paying attention to something pleasant about experience (cultivating rapture), and the like, then it is hard to go far wrong, and many who do these have noticed benefits.

If you begin to chase emotional elimination, then it is definitely true that people here and other places have reported some mild to severe problems as a result of that fixation and focus, as denial and repression are sticky and tempting traps to be ensnared by. (DhO

My Experiment in Actualism-Influenced Practice. As I get asked about this so often, I finally wrote down a summary of the thing and then answered some questions about it afterwards based on two emails I received. Perhaps something in this will help clarify something for someone. (DhO)

Somewhere in early 2009 or so some dharma friends of mine got very interested in the teachings of a guy named Richard and his teachings of Acutalism, by which he had claimed to have eliminated all emotional affect and was living in a fairy-tale-like world of perfect benevolence. The basic message was to follow a sort of mix of the path of feelings and attentiveness to feelings and their useful and non-useful aspects, tuning into the sensuous beauty of the sensate world and the body, and attaining something called a PCE (Pure Consciousness Experience) and using that as a guideline for how to incline ones efforts and practice. In particular, my friend Tarin, who had been on retreat with me twice at my house, really wanted to check out what it had to offer, so he ended up going to visit Richard in Australia somewhere around early 2010.

When he got back to Los Angeles in February of 2010, he said he had done it, meaning totally eliminated all emotions entirely as felt experiences, and also said that some other remarkable transformations of himself had taken place, including a markedly reduced need for sleep (somewhere around 4-5 hours was plenty, he said), and that a remarkable sense of the wondrous nature of the sensate world pervaded his waking life. I knew Tarin to be a serious practitioner and knew what his practice had been like, so this was truly a remarkable claim. At about this same time, a friend named Trent also made the same claim, though he had worked in his little apartment in the Dallas area using a technique that sort of fused the standard jhanas of Buddhism with his own interpretation of the teachings of Actualism, something that would end up really annoying Richard, but I will try to leave off most of the politics, of which there was a lot, in favor of the practice itself as it came to me through four people in somewhat modified form (the modifications of which would endlessly annoy some Actual Freedom Trust (AFT) people, but that is neither here nor there, really).

Trent had a day job, but Tarin was free to wander around, so I flew Tarin out to my house in Alabama for a few days to see what this was all about and what it looked like. I have to say I was impressed. He seemed quite different from the Tarin I had known just a few months before, and also seemed to be able to point very clearly at something that I was pretty sure I wasn't seeing, or at least not yet.

Revising my impression of the Emotional Limitation Models, something I was pretty convinced of, was not easy. However, I had the distinct impression that something worthwhile was to be found by doing so, and thus, inspired by my friends and their claims, I began to practice very differently from how I had been.

The first thing I did was adopt a much higher level of every-second when possible daily mindfulness, as I was working somewhere between 17-20 shifts per months, and these were a mix of 10-12 hour shifts that often became 11-14 hours shift, with 1.5 hours of commute time each way, so practice in daily life was basically the only option. Actualism billed itself as a daily life practice anyway, so that all worked out just fine. Basic attentiveness had always served me well in the past, and seemed an unassailable first principle that could be counted on again.

Second, I began to try to figure out what was being pointed to regarding PCEs. Before long, I began having various experiences that seemed to fit the bill. Now, it must be mentioned that at this point in my meditative career I had already gotten to the point in playing around with various jhanic abilities that I could create all sorts of unusual, customized experiences, compound and fusion jhanas, and the like. The power of scripting and customization of something fitting my thoughts of what a PCE must be like almost certainly came into play here. 

That said, it was not that long before I was having some experiences that were very impressive, wondrous, in which everything was just totally fascinating and amazing, all experiences seemed to delight the sense doors, and the only obvious feeling was one of strong wonder, at least initially, until that would give way to fear that the experience would end, which they all did after some minutes or occasionally hours. On the slightly lighter side, I began to feel that I was able to get into a second mode of experiencing reality, something sort of like a muted version of a full PCE, something I thought of as the PCE-mode, and, if I could get into that, the whole rest of my day would be much more enjoyable and easy, timeless in some way, lighter, and clearly better.

Nearly every morning that mode of attention would be gone again, but pretty soon I got pretty good at finding it, such that within some minutes or hours of waking I would be back in it and really doing everything I could to try to use it to increase the enjoyment of the ordinary, the simple, the direct sensate world of this body and mind.

Something else that I was doing, though I didn't have good words for it at the time, was working on something that I would later think of as total commitment to the volume and alternately describe as full-field sensate integration. This was related to things I had seen before and had some pretty good walking-around experience of, but I began to get the sense that there was still something not quite done about all that, not quite totally taken as far as it could go. What I mean by those terms is that I was really seeing all thoughts and sensations as part of one totally integrated space, exactly where they were, with this where component becoming really important, as it was through the where part that some things began to become clear that were not quite as clear before.

There also began to be this tension around something else I started referring to as the Attention Wave, meaning some part of the fluxing field that interfered with other experiences and did so totally unnecessarily. It was also sensate but, on careful inspection, actually didn't seem to add any mental functionality and instead seemed to dull experience. In some modes of attention it barely seemed to operate, and these modes were clearly better than those in which it did and nothing seemed to be lost by its being nearly absent.

Thus, there began to be a natural inclination even more to have the volume speak for itself rather than being manipulated or in any way tarnished by anything resembling anything having to do with attention at all. You see, before this, all things attentional, all the structures of attention, those involved in aiming, moving, comprehending, etc. had all been seen to be just part of the field, totally empty, natural processes, which they were. This was now something different: those processes seemed to not just be useless, but actually causing distortion of perception of the other specifics. Thus, the mind began to tend more and more to letting the field be untarnished by any of that, with tarnished being a strange word to use, but it somehow fit.

That meant that suddenly anything related to jhanas, which were clearly a manipulation of the field, seemed like something headachy, artificial, and needlessly contrived, when the field itself, when in the mode that seemed untrammeled by any manipulative components (however empty and natural they might have been), was so pristine, so satisfying, so wondrous. During that period, not only did I have no interest in them anymore, but occasional attempts to make them happen seemed like something poisonous, toxic, and just plain wrong. That was very strange, as they had always been something totally opposite to that. How odd it is to re-work the way the brain is functioning in real-time and see how totally different our perceptions and relationships to things can become.

Because of this, I went through what I think of as a largely ajhanic period, which was quite a departure from my relatively ritualistic rising from 1st-8th and coming out and then getting a Fruition, some Pure Land Jhanas, or whatever every night when I laid to down to sleep and plenty of mornings when first waking up. However, the thing now was the field itself, and the field itself became more and more compelling, for a while at least.

In August of 2011, Tarin came out to visit again and he talked more about various aspects of his practice, the world of experience he was living in, and related topics. I flew out to the Dallas, Texas area that Thanksgiving for a weekend of hanging out with Trent and Tarin that year also, and then in December, Tarin, Trent and Jill (a long-time meditator and old friend of Tarin who also claimed to have eliminated all affective feelings) came out to my house in Alabama to stay for a little while. I also had one or two conversations with a similar practitioner who they all knew and named Stef, a social science professor at a university who knew Tarin and Trent, but I never met her in person. Each of them had something truly impressive and inspiring about them, something that I felt I could learn from.

It seemed like there was this totally different axis of development that paying much more attention to feelings would help develop. It was a topic that, as you can guess from reading MCTB1, I hadn't given really that much attention to, at least in comparison to lots of other things, such as technical meditation mastery. I had few problems with emotional stuff in my formal practice most of the time, with reality easily dissolving into fine and then flowing, wide, inclusive vibrations or formless realms or whatever, and the sense of subject being totally gone from the field of experience beyond some of the qualities that used to imply that there truly was such a thing. However, something called to me, something that said that there was more to be gained.

I felt very lucky, in that I had plenty of up-close-and-personal exposure to people who claimed to have eliminated all affect. That said, there were some creepy aspects to all of this. Tarin, Trent and Jill had all gotten into a mode of being that was probably best described by the word "zombie", like you could just set them down on the floor and they would just sit there unmoving and undisturbed for some long period of time. It was definitely odd. Stef, on the other hand, seemed not affected in this way at all.

Also, somehow the topic of Actualism and things related to emotions had totally blown up on the Dharma Overground, with people's reactions to something that to me seemed to have value often being quite negative, hostile, incredulous, angry, territorial, and dogmatic. Many wished the site to be one purely about Buddhism, and very specific strains of Buddhism, and when other things got all mixed in that clearly seemed to directly contract some of the things they believed, people freaked out and a bunch left, leading to what I call the First Great Schism of the DhO, which is a somewhat dramatic way to put it, but, when that is your sangha, it seems like a big deal.

Then there was everything related to things back in Australia and that old guy called Richard, the Genitor of Actualism, Discoverer of The HAIETMOBA (How Am I Experiencing This Method of Being Alive) Method, something he claimed was unique on this Earth, never before known or experienced before he experienced it. It must be noted here by way of reasonable disclaimer, I have never met or spoken with Richard. We did have one brief exchange on a Yahoo forum dedicated to Actualism regarding sleep and dream effects of Actualism that was straightforward enough. That said, numerous creepy rumors of unknown accuracy related to him just kept surfacing, things that again and again just didn't seem to add up totally with what he had claimed. There were hints that reminded me of things that Bill Hamilton had warned about in his one book, Saints and Psychopaths. Others had more extreme views on him, considering him to be a totally insane, delusional, narcissistic psychopathic cult leader to be avoided at all costs. It created large tensions between me and some of my dharma friends who saw all of this Actualism stuff as being a totally terrible idea created by a terrible person.

Luckily for me, I didn't have to address those questions related to Richard directly, as I had my friends, and my friends were available to me easily and freely gave plenty of their time to answer questions and provide pointers. All of those pointers, namely really high levels of appreciating the field of sensate experience at all times when awake, trying to figure out how the PCE pointed to something important and clear, and really investigating the world of feelings honestly and simply, seeing how they arose, what conditions lead to their continuation, what value they had and didn't have, and the like, all seemed perfectly sound advice that was leading to good things.

These assumptions, practices and emphases seemed to violate no obvious first principles I held dear, no money was involved, no exploitation was occurring that I could see, there were no major power plays related to Richard that had anything to do with me personally, so all seemed ok on this end. In fact, to me they seemed basically totally Buddhist, and, as you can tell, I am a big fan of many of the practical aspects of Buddhism. That Richard disagreed that they had anything to do with Buddhism concerned me not at all.

Then I entered a period I think of as the Dark Night of my Actualism Phase in the Fall and Winter of 2011. The PCE mode began to seem far away. Things got dry, tense, like something was off. It was hard to explain then and still is. It was like I was out in some no-man's-land where nothing applied well any more. Finally, by late December, PCEs were gone, jhanas were gone, sensuous appreciation seemed pointless, and yet, somehow, based on the memory of those things, I kept going, kept just trying to see how everything was beautiful, clear, direct and wonderful, as I had had glimpses of before. It seemed contrived, artificial, and finally basically unworkable. I began to notice tensions I hadn't before, fears that were not previously obvious, and a level of restlessness began to creep in that seemed totally new and bleak.

Further, my memory was really starting to get affected by this. I didn't feel cues in the body the way I typically would when I was supposed to do something. I was having to make long to-do lists to remember things that ordinarily I would have easy access to a complete list of in my mind. It was concerning.

Finally, on the afternoon of January 18th, 2012, I was trying to get sleep between two night shifts in the same room where Tarin had gotten stream entry while on retreat with me, a windowless attic room over my wife's art studio. Being very circadian rhythm-disrupted from flipping from day shifts to nights too rapidly, as was par for the course with that job at the time, my sleep was restless and sporadic. So, being awake and having nothing better to do, I began again as I had many, many times recently, relaxing things, checking out the body, finding the tensions, and gently bringing slow, easy mindfulness to them, with that careful attention easing things gradually, and then something remarkable happened.

It felt like some part of things directly related to time and some perception of time synchronized in some way that I found totally surprising. The analogy that always comes most readily to mind is that of an engine with its timing belt off one notch: it will run, but it will shake just a bit, or perhaps a lot, depending on the engine. Yet, strangely, this was a shaking I never really noticed until suddenly it was as if the timing belt of the mind jumped back into the right alignment and suddenly the subtle shaking stopped. The entrance to this was not during a Fruition, making this the first of two major shifts that would involve some seemingly somewhat permanent (who though who knows, really) transition into an alternate and better way of perceiving reality that didn't involve that entrance into it.

After that, time pressure was suddenly really different and seemed nearly totally eliminated. Further, the perception of time itself was totally different. Whereas before I could clearly see that time was constructed of thoughts of past and future happening now, and that was something that I could notice when attention turned that way it had taken that sort of attention to that specific aspect of things to receive that benefit of seeing through time creation itself. Now it seemed that those benefits were now hard-wired into my baseline way of being, and those benefits were immediately obvious.

I felt better, clearer, more easy. The Dark Night of my Actualism phase seemed to have vanished. Suddenly I felt that I had gotten what I was looking for, that some new window had been opened, that something was now activated and working through old structures again, a feeling I hadn't had since April, 2003. What was interesting is that this was not at all what my friends were talking about, though they had mentioned things about time effects that were similar, and yet it seemed to be where those practices lead for me. I must assume that some aspect of this is idiosyncratic, though I have a few friends who have described the elimination of time pressure also, just at a totally different phase of their practice and by slightly different methods.

So, for the next 6 months it felt like that basic thing moved through this mind and body, touched things, changed something for the better in the way this system functioned, clarified things, made things bright, easier, more straightforward. It was during that time that the clarity of the field itself was everything, a path that naturally lead onward into itself, reinforcing itself. It was very nice. It rested on its own self-evident assumptions, which were just the sensate world being more and more fascinated by itself, like it was caught in the gravity of some large star and just getting more and more filled with light as it got closer.

Then, on July 27th, 2012 (which is also the same day of the year that I got second path in 1996, interestingly enough), I was driving home at 2am or so after a brief late-night post-work workout at a little 24-hour gym on my way home, and, just after I pulled out of the parking lot and onto the rural highway, it suddenly felt like this veil that I had never noticed was pulled off of my head, and suddenly the full field of experience shown in all its unbridled, direct glory, the glory I had seen in the best of the PCEs, but this time with no obvious going back, at least so far, with this being written in September of 2013. Remember how there was that thing I called the Attention Wave? It seemed totally gone, so far as I could tell. Remember the pristine clarity of field that had so called to me? It shone in everything and still does.

What is also interesting is it still seems to have been a totally different axis of development from my previous meditative work, operating on some other set of parameters and structures of consciousness and perception. It definitely broadened my appreciation for various cool things you can do to your mind and how different practices and emphases really can work on totally different pathways and levels, something that should have been obvious but wasn't as clear as it is now.

Another effect of this that I noticed as a result of this were that the body image, meaning the internal image of the body, seemed totally, well, integrated, which is an odd way to put it. It is not that it is not there, as there is still some functioning mechanism by which intention and coordination monitor where the body is and come up with the plan for how things will move and all of that, but now there is something much more subtle about it that feels much better somehow.

So too ended my interest in anything related to Actualism. It felt like whatever it was going to do it had done. The field clarity shone and still shines. It is really, really nice. Here is the other thing, that really, really nice-ness also did something good to my emotional life. Being as most ordinary sensations are now so generally satisfying, this itself really takes a lot of pressure off of everything else and makes so many things so much more fun and enjoyable. It is not that there aren't hard periods and difficulties, as there are. It certainly didn't eliminate affect, which still seems to be there and capable of a full range of affective feelings, but it did make some large difference, and I would recommend it, as, for me, it is clearly a vast improvement on numerous fronts.

There are some other things it didn't do, such as markedly reduce my need for sleep, which is sort of too bad, but in other ways not, as sleep has dreams, and I very much like dreaming, as they were what got me into all of this stuff in the first place and still seem very relevant, recreationally interesting and important as a tool for exploration of various aspects of this many-faceted life.

However, it did do something totally remarkable, and that was create the ability to sit totally at rest, totally at peace, just like that, and I don't mean in some stage or state, not in some jhana, just by the field being nice to itself. That simple thing was well worth the work it took to get it. It doesn't sound as fancy or as flashy as all the other stuff I have done, but it is more valuable than them all. Another interesting effect is that to get a PCE that would or could be different from this now seems absurd, and there is no draw to it or sense that it could be something that could occur, though I can't be certain of this.

It has also been interesting to have the vagaries of reality performance test it and see what it did and what it didn't do. Two recent examples: my 11th or so kidney stone showed up about 9 months later and it was the worst one so far in terms of sheer crazy totally over-the-top pain, pain the likes of which threatened to make me pass out. That I managed to drive the 40 minutes or so to the emergency department I worked in without killing myself or anyone else is remarkable. It luckily passed less than 2 hours after it hit, but during that time all I could think of was getting a shot of Toradol (sort of like a strong IV version of ibuprofen) or passing out so the pain would stop.

What was also interesting is that when I showed up at the emergency department the pain was still through the roof, and yet my heart rate was about 75, my blood pressure about 110-120/70 or so, as it usually is, and this despite me sweating and shaking from the pain and feeling like at any moment it would be so strong as to make me vomit. How this related to whatever happened in my practice I have no idea, but they are interesting data points that I was surprised by, as I would have expected my heart rate to be much higher and my blood pressure up as well, as it felt like my sympathetic drive was on full throttle.

Next, a month or two after that, I got something that I think was influenza. I was basically totally incapacitated by it and astounded as how much a simple virus could totally strip away the appreciation that was seemingly such a natural part of the field of experience. Whatever inflammatory cytokines my body produced to fight it coupled with whatever the virus does was sufficient to really  knock me down to a level that felt totally ordinary, like anyone else who was sick, with the exception of the center-lessness, panoramicity, etc. that had been clear since April, 2003, but all of those being basically totally irrelevant against the fact of the body being very much laid low and aching all over. It stripped nearly everything away except just basic, exhausted survival, with any attainments seemingly being of nearly no value in the face of it. In a very reluctant way I was totally impressed by it and its lessons of morbidity and mortality. Luckily it resolved without complications, but it viscerally reinforced a lesson I learn daily in the emergency department, that this body will get sick and die.

Those exceptional qualifiers aside, when not laid out by mind-blowing pain or some horrid illness, I am very much happier than I was. When I was asked about my practice recently, the analogy that came to mind was of someone sitting in an old abandoned train station on a beautiful day with the windows and doors of the place all open. No trains are coming or going. Nobody else is there. Nothing much is going on. Flowers are starting to grow on the tracks. A gentle breeze is blowing. There is an easy silence about the place. Just that. It is nice, I must say. Will it get boring at some point? Who knows? I have continued to be surprised at the various additional avenues that present themselves and the strange things that can call one to begin again, so there is no telling what further compelling something will drag this practitioner off on some other practice adventure.

So, what happened to everybody? Tarin, Jill and Stef all renounced their claims to have eliminated all emotional and affective qualities on the Dharma Overground forum, and all said in one context or another that they didn't think the people they were around who also had claimed to have eliminated all feelings had actually done it totally either. There were others who were rumored to have renounced their claims as well, but I didn't know them, so they don't really bear much on this except as second-hand additional data points.

As to Trent, his story is his own, and I will let him tell it if he wishes. So, whereas before I had 4 friends who all said they had done it, had eliminated all feelings entirely, now I have at least 3 who said they now think that they haven't done it. Then were all the weird reports and rumors of other strange things happening in the inner circles of the Australian Actual Freedom Trust contingent, and large amounts of other complex politics related to all of that that raised the question of self-delusion and shadow-sides to all of this, though the veracity of these reports and rumors are unknown to me, and they actually matter little, except to point out that all of this is a very human endeavor. Regardless, the relevance of these rumors to me and my practice was actually quite minimal, as I haven't met any of them.

Regardless, for me the whole thing sort of dissipated, and now there is just this simple, direct, straightforward niceness. Cycles still occur. Fruitions still occur. Jhanic things show up sometimes but without the headachy quality, and they are nice things when they do, but the draw to them is currently very minimal. Just the inclination to jhana is so nice that it need not even go into jhana to be good. There is something nice about the whole thing, with the exceptions of pain and the like, which are still negative consequences of this body being what it is and this life being what it is, but again, the old question of what can be mitigated or transformed by meditative and perceptual development and what is just the baseline level what difficulties there will be continues to be explored in real-time, and I find no answer that, based on previous totally unexpected improvements, I can be certain is the definitive one.

I would definitely recommend taking some time to really see how ordinary sensations, colors, textures, smells, tastes and all of that can be simply delightful on their own, as well as take the time to investigate carefully and honestly how feeling arise and vanish and how they are in this body, as well as attending mindfully to the whole wide field of experience doing its own thing, on its on, all the way through in an integrated way that embodies the sentiment of committing totally to this field of experience as an integrated volume here and now, as it all did me good and seems to rest on sound principles of basic practice, regardless of who has attempted to brand these things or claim them as proprietary and unique technology, as they all seem to me to be well within the ordinary teachings of Buddhism and just make good sense on their own. How much of these specific effects that I noticed due to these practices over about 2.5 years are due to the idiosyncratic mix of my basic wiring, my previous practice, and the specific way that I implemented the basic instructions of Actualism, as translated through my friends, is unknown to me, and, if you want to answer the question of what these things will do for you, you must do the experiment yourself. (Daniel's Blog)

Trying to map AF/PCE to anything else is beyond not helpful. Having lived through the toxic crazy that accompanied the first major round of discussing AF/PCE/Rigpa/Arhatship/etc. on the DhO, and spent countless hours having this debate with people in person and watching the forums burn with this stuff, I am of the opinion that trying to map AF/PCE to anything else is beyond not helpful and into the realm of highly radioactive poison, like DhO kryptonite.

I reject Richard's opinion that AF is 180 degrees from awakening in the same way that I reject attempts to definitively correlate it with any other framework I have come across. I personally am and have been friends with many of the major players back in the day, and keep in touch with some of them still, and have had many hours of intimate, honest, open conversations with them about how they were practicing and what they were experiencing, so have an unusually solid base of knowledge accumulated over nearly ten years on which to base this opinion. No, I am not going to connect you with any of them or discuss anything about what they said beyond what I wrote in that article, just in case you were going to ask.

Practically, and looking through a larger lens, I saw nearly nothing good come from such discussions and a ton that was bad, socially toxic, and based on wanton speculation, tribal spasmodic reactions, and ignorance.

Even from those who, rather than armchair-quarterbacking the whole thing, really did the work and tried the experiment in some mature, open-minded way, like a true Naturalist explorer, I found no discussion of the phenomenology of what they actually experienced that seemed to map well to pre-existing frameworks as I understood them, nor did I come to any good correlations when I did the experiment myself.

Imagine if the British Naturalists back in the day found three bugs in a jungle, one yellow one with four red dots on its back, one red one with two green dots on its head, and one blue one with three purple stripes on its underside, and they then spent years yelling at each other like pathologically mood-dysregulated children and freaking out about whether the blue one with the purple stripes really was the same as the yellow one with four red dots or the red one with the two green dots: that's my impression of how mind-bogglingly painful and foolish most of the debates on the DhO were around the results of AF-related practice and other maps.

I remain staunchly agnostic in my assessment of the deeper meanings of all of those mapping attempts, so, instead, simply reported the phenomenology that I experienced without fancy terms, and left it at that. It is honest, avoids a ton of social/political/spiritual/tribal/culty bullshit (which resulted in the first Great Schism of the DhO, by the way), and attempts no awkward shoehorning of experiences into maps that never seemed to be a perfect fit, at least to my eye.

Thus, my strong summary advice is:
  1. If you wish to know for yourself, do the experiment honestly in sufficiently high dose over a long enough timeframe and see what happens.
  2. Report the phenomenology of you own true experiences straightforwardly without attempting to line them up or compare it to anything else. Real results should stand on their own regardless of any conceptualization or system, and should withstand the test of time, so keep a long time horizon and an open mind.
  3. Avoid like the plague any scripting and denial based on expected results.
  4. Stick to sane, reasonable first principles.
  5. Keep your wits about you.
  6. Avoid arguing about Actualism and practices inspired by it with those who just hate it, as you won't change their mind.
  7. Avoid fawning echo chambers that retain no critical eye on it either.
  8. Avoid the politics around Richard, as it can be a massive distraction and time-suck.
  9. Do not pay large corporate fees for proprietarily rebranded information that is already freely available and open-source.
  10. If you don't really care to the degree that inspires properly repeating the experiment and seeing for yourself, then let it go and move on to something else.
These basic principles in more generic form may skillfully be applied much more broadly than just to this discussion. (DhO

AF emphasis as an opportunity to counterbalance some of the residual effects of a narrow practice. As to AF, there are so many axes of development, so many things to spend time paying attention to, so many neural channels to strengthen in various ways, so many interesting ways we can continue tweak the mind. People make it out as if there is just this one thing and if we get that then that is all we need or could ever wish to accomplish or explore: it is a extremely naive notion, one that I hope becomes less pervasive as the world of meditation gets more mature and sophisticated and ancient models that promote very simplistic and hyper-reductionist views of development fade in favor of those with much more range, nuance, bredth, and realism, and that Package Models, those that say that if you develop this very specific axis of development that you will always automatically acquire these other things, will fade in favor of models that are not so rigid and out of touch with the wide range of what can happen to individual practitioners.

I personally spent a long time hitting one very specific set of emphases, that of the Three Characteristics, very hard. I also had a talent for not getting all caught in my psychological and emotional stuff and just taking reality and the illusion of duality apart layer upon layer regardless of the other costs of doing so. It was in some ways a very narrow practice aimed at one very specific target, and in that it was successful. I saw in the emphasis of AF, emphasis you can also find elsewhere, BTW, an opportunity to counterbalance some of the residual side effects of the way I had gone about things and the things I hadn't paid that much attention to at all. This is a normal thing to do.

Beware ever adopting some model that due to pride, labels, dogma, theory, or abstract concept deprives you of the benefits of pursuing other areas of development and emphases that might help to round things out. Realize that by expressing disappointment for people exploring areas that from your limited vantage point are not appealing, you will help to create a subtle or overt culture which will dissude people from doing similarly. I am relatively comfortable mixing things up, drawing from lots of sources, being open about the good and bad in my practice, and the like, but plenty aren't.

Now, if someone said here, "I am now exploring smoking crack and embalming fluid as my primary path," I could understand your skepticism.

However, if someone was really bugged by a seasoned practitioner who has evaluated their own practice and said, "I am really carefully exploring the delights of the sensate world and this is counterbalancing the residual effects of my years of relentless focus on the subtle points of fundamental suffering, as well as exploring more of my feeling life because I neglected aspects of that for years to help focus on other trainings," that being bugged is harder to understand and would seem a misplaced worry. What about those specific things bugs you at this point and what does that say about your models and practice? Help me understand that comment better. I am really glad that my criteria for exploring various reasonable emphasis in practice do not include your stamp of approval, or anyone's stamp of approval, actually, except my own.

It is so interesting the things people hook onto and get upset about. Why did you not get upset at other things I have done that might produce skepticism in a fervent Buddhist, such as drinking Ayahuasca in Peru or pursuing Ceremonial Magick, or going to medical school rather than becoming a monk (not worried I might have died on April 27th, 2002 after attaining to arahatship on April 20th, 2003, as the dogma says?), or being married, or playing music, or dancing, or all sorts of other things that a very traditional Buddhist might look down their nose at? I really hope those things don't bug you also, as, were I to keep listing, the things you might be bugged about in my life would probably be very long.

Further, those reading the fine print rather than the advertising will realize that "the state of desirelessness" (if that is what you personally wish to use as your primary label for the elimination of the perceptual illusion of duality, stability, will, observer, etc.) involves things like pain, frustration, hunger, sleepiness, sickness, and the like, as any careful reading of things like the lives of the Buddha and his skilled retenue will reveal quite easily, actually. It is really too bad that the Vinaya is not more readily available in electronic format, as it contains lots of fun reading about problems in the Sangha and in their personal lives, but in the readily available sections of the Pali Canon you can find all sorts of great stories that clearly illustrate that there are zillions of other things to work on and take care of even if the perceptual illusion of duality is gone.

One could easily extrapolate from assumptions such as the notion of the relentless bliss of desirelessness and then ask preposterous questions like why you would feed yourself, or why you would bother to bathe, or why you would pay your bills, or why you would to all sorts of other reasonable things that help promote relative happiness and well-being in the face of that theoretical torrent of bliss. Life is more complex than that, and happiness has many aspects, both ultimate and relative. It is amazing how many times you have to reiterate the basics, but here goes again:

There are Three Trainings, Morality, Concentration and Wisdom, these being the divisions of the Noble Eightfold Path. Each is designed to support the others, true, but each is also designed to eliminate various forms of suffering.

Training in Morality, meaning skillful living in all its forms, is designed to eliminate those forms of suffering that come from unskillful living, and they are many, and to promote the happiness that comes from skillful living, which is so vast a topic as to be essentially uncircumscribable. It is a field of work that has many aspects that no amount of skill in the other two trainings will compensate for a lack of work on Morality, such as feeding yourself, unless you believe in breathairians, in which case you would still have to breathe... ;)

Training in Concentration, meaning the jhanas, is designed to eliminate those forms of suffering that come from not having that refuge as an option, as well as to promote the happiness that comes from jhana. To get all traditional about it, the Buddha praised those who were "Liberated Both Ways," meaning that they had eliminated duality and also had access to the jhanas and Nirodha Samapatti. Why would he bother to praise them if simply landing the end of fundamental ignorance was enough? Why would the Buddha himself bother with jhana? Oh, yes, he got really bad headaches, really bad back pain, and also apparently liked them.

Training in Wisdom, that of right view and right understanding, is designed to eliminate that very specific yet generic form of suffering that comes from the illusion of a continuous, permanent formed self and the numerous complex perceptual, emotional and paradigmatic problems it creates and to produce that happiness that comes from understanding. However, that happiness doesn't negate the need for the other forms of happiness.

You should check out my book, MCTB, where I talk about that very early on in Part I in precise detail. Or, you can try reading the Pali Canon, as you will find the same thing there, or try just practicing the various practices available in the Three Trainings, or some similar formulation from some other mature and broad tradition to see how this all fits together and how working on various aspects of our life and mind can improve our lives. (DhO

Chasing limited emotional range model dreams. I know a very large number of people who have run into trouble chasing limited emotional range model dreams, of which a few of them are here, but plenty are up at IMS or were sitting there, were in various places I have practiced over the last 20 years, etc.

The amount of shadow sides, guilt, repression, and the like that can result from that is simply massive, both in teachers and students, as countless reports over the decades show all too well.

As to Jill, Tarin, Trent and Stef, I also know things about them from speaking to them as people beyond what they have posted here. I will allow them to say more if they wish to and leave my commentary to the words of the essay. I sent that essay on my experiments in Actualism to Tarin and Trent for approval before I published it online, and they didn't have problems with it as written. They have requested a degree of privacy about further details, so I will respect that.

Interpretations about what they were experiencing seem to be an ongoing source of debate, even for some of them. I will leave that to them also if they wish, as my last attempt to clarify this lead to indefinite conclusions from some.

Manifesting emotions from time to time is normal, and I never ever meant to imply that I would consider that horrible. I consider it normal, which is why I warn against imagining that it is likely to not happen, as that can create all sorts of problems. Thus, there is no contradiction at all between my stating that it is normal to revoke claims and that there is danger in following high and life-denying ideals about human emotions.

Jill herself specifically told me that due to her following a model about eliminating emotions she was actually ignoring more of what was happening than being clear about what was happening, so she went back to vipassana to undo some of that conditioning.

I will leave the others to tell their own stories if they have any interest in doing that.

Even Gary Weber clearly manifests what appear to be emotions even if he is totally unaware of them. On deeper questioning, he actually will admit to certain things that are emotion-like. I talked with him at Buddhist Geeks briefly about this topic and heard him discuss it with some other people also. How much of this reframing is related to models and denial is a frequent source of debate here and elsewhere not likely resolved soon.

I totally disagree that being skeptical of limited emotional range models is anything like the models that say doing nothing is better and that seeking to develop oneself spiritually through training, scholarship, practice, and the like. How do you come up with that comparison? I may have missed something or presumed something about what your argument might be.

In short, I still totally believe that the models that say that progress involves eliminating emotions causes problems and that paying attention to what is going on honestly and fully helps more than that. It is not that conscious restraint and redirection of clearly acknowledged emotional impulses isn't skillful, as it clearly is, but the denial and guilt and confusion that comes from unconscious repression is perennially destructive, as is endlessly demonstrated in spiritual communities.

... I know Tarin as a person and a friend and I know that he has definitely renounced his claim to freedom from emotions.

Jill has had very little affect for years, and this from before Actualism practice. I have had her out at my house and talked with her about this and still come to the same conclusions: see post above.

It definitely is the case that all 4 renounced their claims of having no emotions. I have additional data not presented here. Remember, we know each other as people beyond forum posts.

I actually went out of my way to spread none of the complex specific rumors that swirl around Actualism, but to not in some way mention that, which was actually a huge part of the whole thing and significantly colored the whole set of interactions and the way I (and many others here that were going along on the journey with me) viewed the ride, would be to be really dishonest. I think that that single paragraph shows a huge degree of restraint and decorum, and it also mentions nothing specific at all, meaning it spreads no rumors. As it is basically impossible to cruise around the internet and look up Actualism without running into a ton of this stuff, giving people a head's up about that is totally reasonable, I find. My attempts to sort out what was going with Actualism involved the Yahoo forum on that, and Richard and I actually had a brief exchange there about sleep and dreams and AF, but that forum is also like something beyond the wildest soap opera you have ever heard of, so if you want to get a taste of that, check it out, assuming it is still online: I haven't look at it for about 2 years so don't know. It was part of the journey, I mentioned it and minimized it, and if there is anything wrong with the article, it is the degree to which I downplayed that aspect, not that I mentioned it very briefly.

I haven't misrepresented the data on people that used Actualism in any way that I know of. I know them as people. I have heard their personal reports. I have talked with them as friends. I know more about them than you will find here on the DhO. I am sorry if I didn't make that clear in the article, but I though I mentioned that we all knew each other and they were personal friends. I don't know Stef as well as the other three, having only talked with her briefly, but while she did report a change in her emotions, she did renounce her claim to having eliminated them all.

It is not strange that doing emotionally-focused work will bring clarity and benefit to the emotional life. It is actually totally normal and expected. What we bring the clarity of our minds to we can transform in positive ways: that is the basis of the path. My emotions have been transformed in various ways as well, though not in any way that clearly fits with any of the standard models or any model that I have been able to come up with. Thus, I still warn against them as I did before.

Find me the confirmed example of someone who can be known in person who has achieved what the limited emotional models purport and actually holds up to the scrutiny that long exposure as close and honest friends across years and in adverse circumstances can provide. Until then, this is pragmatic and reasonable, I feel.

So far, I have been lucky enough to have spent time running in some pretty amazing circles of practitioners for about 20 years and have failed to fine one person who meets the ideals that the Theravadan models in this regard, and yet I do know a few who appear to know non-duality to the end: none are emotion-free in practice.

Explain how those who believe otherwise explain this.

The standard explanation is that there are none living beyond second path, or perhaps a few who have made it to third path. This explanation is very problematic. It either means that the practices and tradition are ineffective or that the goal is so far out of reach as to be inaccessible to people in this time, even if it was somehow accessible in some perhaps mythical past. It is a load of trash, in my view.

... 
As a number of AF claimants later said to me: Richard may not be as emotion-free as he reports, if their experiences in various forms with him are any guide, and hopefully it would be.

I realize there is always the argument made by Gary Weber et al. that one may externally look for all the world to have emotions and yet internally have none, but there is something about this argument that seems, well, how do I put it: The high ideals that most people put out there would have a perfect parity, a one-to-one correspondence with internal experience and external manifestation: if you are willing to throw that out the window and allow all sorts of what seems to be emotive behavior with yet no internal experience of emotion at all, they you will have eliminated a major personal stumbling block to buying the party line. I myself haven't managed to make that leap yet: perhaps this is my own failing. (DhO

[There's an earlier thread Eliminating Emotional Affect that also addresses the same topic.

I did benefit from giving emotional patterns more bare investigative attention. [Check this great thread, which started by Nikolai pointing some similarities between Goenka's method and AF, but then evolved as many seasoned meditators chimed in, including TJ Broccoli and Tarin Greco, by then still related to AF]. 

I personally still hold that bare sensate investigation is key, though I did benefit from giving emotional patterns more bare investigative attention. 

(By bare sensate investigation, I mean) Direct comprehension, the sensations speaking for themselves, as they are, where they are, on their own is what I personally meant, but each person must figure out what works for them in that moment.

There is so much data coming in all the time, sensations of the scalp, the nose, the face, the visual field, various points in the body: neck, chest, back, arms, hands, fingers, legs, toes. There are so many sounds, so many subtle and not-so-subtle smells, the air on our skin, the feel of our tongue in our mouths. There are so many mental images, subtle impulses, mental impressions, subtle feelings, stories going on, various subtle pains, tensions, subtly pleasant sensations, neutral sensations. So many things happening on their own, where they are, in this wide open, boundary-less field of textures, qualities, aspects.

If all of those just show themselves in all their natural, rich detail directly as and where they are: that is great practice on its own.

If paying attention to them helps using some technique, that is good also.

Figure out what helps with the direct experiences showing themselves everywhere and all throughout all the time in some way that the whole field integrates into this fluxing, ephemeral, luminous, just-as-it-s, just-where-it-is, just-on-its-own, known-by-itself sea of direct manifestation, including as part of that anything pretending to do something and anything pretending to know something else, as really everything is just where it is, doing its fluxing, fading, flashing dance. (DhO)

By not promising total emotional sanitization, people will hopefully practice with a model that is less about denial, suppression and imitating some imagined emotionally perfected state, and instead go for something that is much more about clarity, honesty and recognition of basic sensate truths. I, for one, totally agree that there are many significant emotional benefits to be had from the various practices, Buddhist, Buddha's, or whatever: most of them if not all of them are likely to produce various benefits regarding emotions, some of which are mentioned in MCTB, if you read it carefully, and include:

(1) Temporary surpression of the emotions in the concentration states, with a nice, lingering afterglow even once they end that can cause the mind to be much more clear, quiet, peaceful, etc.

(2) A great increase in the ability to see thoughts as thoughts, pains as pains, and to see things in their proper perspective both in terms of intensity and the amount of the wide field of reality that they actually occupy and for how long, leading to an increased ability for the mind to keep its keel straight and true while sailing those waters rather than capsizing at the lightest zephyr, as is so common in the untrained and unclear mind.

(3) A great increase in meta-cognitive abilities, meaning those that recognize mind states and emotions and the like as being what they are as they arise, such that even when they do, there can be more and more of the mental faculty that is not caught up in them, leading to further chances of things going much better.

(4) A true re-routing of some of the hardwiring of consciousness and the way emotions work, such that, when some stimuli arise that might in the past have gone down one channel that was unskillfully emotive, they now simply, harmlessly and automatically dive down another, which can be just like grounding out a lightening bolt: just drops to earth and is gone. This is one of the most fun things to feel as a result of dharma practice, I think, and there are a whole lot of fun things to feel in the world of dharma practice.

(5) An appreciation of something that might be termed a certain sweetness or wondrousness even in unpleasant aspects of reality, such that, while they might be unpleasant and even very strong, there is yet something that is not bad about them. The limits of this may vary in regards to how heavy-duty a set of sensations it can handle, but nonetheless, the effect can be real past a certain point, and it helps a lot.

(6) Even the standard training in Morality, in which we cultivate wholesome states of mind consciously and wholesome actions, this itself, both before and beyond things related to meditative attainments, can really help change the mind's conditioning and increase psychological and emotional well-being, as well as personal and interpersonal outcomes.

... You are right in some ways about the tactic that is behind that chapter (The Psychological Models in MCTB), it being to counterbalance some strains of "Buddhism" that are so heavily influenced and basically dedicated to Western Pop Psychology rather than careful sensate investigation and traditional attainments.

Practically, so many people practice with aversion to their emotions rather than simple, brave, careful, inquisitive investigation of those processes as sensate processes, noticing their causes, effects, impersonality, transience, suffering, and the like. Thus, by not promising total emotional sanitization, people hopefully will practice with a model that is less about denial, suppression and imitating some imagined emotionally perfected state, and instead go for something that is much more about clarity, honesty and recognition of basic sensate truths, as it is those that lead to some of the best emotional outcomes from the above list. (DhO)

Actualism-Inspired Practice Basic Instructions. (Short version) Regardless of issues of proprietary terminology, wars over who discovered what, accusations of various kinds, possible personality disorders, psychopathy and/or other forms of mental illness, cults of personality, politics, who is in what club or clique, and all the rest of that sort of human muck, there is clearly nothing wrong with the following things:
  • Paying attention to the beauty of the sensate world.
  • Paying attention to this moment as it is.
  • Paying attention to feelings.
  • Paying attention to things happening on their own.
  • Cultivating peace and clarity.
  • Aspiring to one's vision of a mind well-trained in freedom from suffering and dwelling in happiness.
  • Attending to what leads to what, specifically what leads to happiness and what leads to suffering.
  • Enjoying enjoyable and clear mind states.
  • Noticing the difference between superficial feelings and core drives.
  • Examining the structure of the process of identity creation.
  • Sorting out what mundane aspects of social interaction with various people are conducive to good practice and which aren't for one's self.
  • Engaging with the advice of those of those with long and deep experience in these things and taking what is good and leaving what is not.
  • Doing the experiment for one's self and relying upon that as the first basis of certainty and keeping an open mind that balances skepticism and empowerment, not that these are necessarily opposites.
  • Avoiding entangling relationships with people with Cluster B personality disorders or the strong possibility of those: not pointing any fingers here, just making a good generic point. (DhO)
... (Long Version) Realize this is AFT-related stuff translated through Tarin, Trent, Stef and Jill and then modified to suit my own inclinations and leanings and filtered through my own way of seeing the world and background, just so there is full disclosure of the path this all came through.
  1. Really pay attention all day long to just what its going on, particularly in the wide visual field and in the body. This sounds like the typical mindfulness advice and is, but that sort of attention forms the basis of so much that is good that it is very worth repeating.
  2. Notice the beauty and niceness in ordinary and beautiful things, sounds, tastes, textures, feelings, the body, visuals, smells and the like. Really take time to smell the proverbial roses of the ordinary sensate world you find yourself in. Appreciate the feel of air on your