MCTB 16. Review
In this stage, the meditator just keeps practicing largely as before. In this way, they will learn to master the stages of insight, as they must pass through them again each time they wish to re-attain Fruition. The first few times through the cycle after the path has been obtained can sometimes be quite intense and even very disturbing, as the mind tends to be exceedingly powerful for a few days after a path has been gained and yet is navigating in territory that is not yet mastered. One is advised to be somewhat careful and perhaps very restrained in what one says and does during the few days and perhaps weeks after attaining a path or something that one thinks may be a path. However, it also sometimes happens that realizations are hardly noticed at all, or if they are noticed, there is simply the sense, “Well, I guess that’s done.” Powerful cycles and the sense that things have been completed are not sure signs that a progress of insight has been completed.
That said, when a progress of insight is completed, one may notice the mind simply not doing lots of useless things it used to do, and it may seem impossible that it even was able to do them. However, it may take some time to figure out what the permanent implications of the path are and what is just a product of its lingering and transient afterglow. It is likely to take quite a while to really integrate the understandings that come from a path into one's way of being in the world.
Mixed in with the sense of what is different is also a growing sense of what hasn’t been changed at all, what aspects of reality are still basically unenlightened and poorly perceived. After attaining the early paths, what has remained untouched by that level of understanding is usually fairly obvious. However, one of the difficulties with attaining higher levels of enlightenment is that the sense of what is left to do can become more and more vague and subtle. Again, give things time. Be patient. It can sometimes take a while, perhaps weeks, months or even years, to clearly see which understandings hold up under the pressures of the world and which fade. You might not get a clear sense of the limits of this path until you are well on your way to the next one.
Speaking of the world, Review is a great time to re-engage with the specifics of our life. It is an unfortunate but true fact that one of the possible side effects of the relentless focus on the Three Characteristics that produces these spectacular insights is the habit of not paying much attention to the specifics of our life. The specifics of our life are obviously very, very important, and so now is a great time to pay a lot of attention to them. Those around us may have noticed the side effects of the Dark Night or some of the other stages and be worried about us or even mad at us for how we behaved if we allowed too much to bleed through. It is not always possible to make up for that sort of damage, but now is a good time to try. Take the time to heal the old wounds you discovered in yourself or created in your life while you were in the Dark Night.
Also, go out and have some fun! Enjoy the richness of friendship, exercise, leisure, work, entertainment, service, and life in general. In short, do your best to make your life a great one in the conventional sense. You should have been trying to do that all along, but try to forgive yourself and learn from your mistakes if you were not able to do so. Remember, the kind of renunciation that brings insights is seeing the true nature of things. If you can see the true nature of the sensations that make up a fun and healthy life, there is no need for any other type of renunciation! In fact, buying into a strong renunciation trip is well known for making people quite neurotic, and then the challenge is to see the true nature of the sensations that make up renunciation-induced neuroses. I’m not convinced that this is an easier way to go.
After attaining a path, particularly the early ones, the feeling that one is particularly special is common, and from a certain point of view it is true and understandable. However, what is truer is that something in the understanding of the relationship to ordinary things is now “special,” or at least somewhat unusual. The attainment of stream entry or a new stage of awakening should be a cause for joy and celebration. Unfortunately, people who have never attained these things tend to react oddly or even poorly to such disclosures and sentiments. Strangely, many people are very excited about the idea of people getting enlightened but not the idea of you getting enlightened.
Those with higher levels of understanding than yours will know where you are coming from, but will also know how much farther there is to go from their own experience, and their tendency to focus on that can be frustrating. One’s teachers and more advanced companions may find it amusing to be reminded of what it was like to be caught up in the fascination with low levels of realization, but they know that eventually even that has to be seen in some other way. One of my favorite Chogyam Trungpa lines is, “You will never be decorated by your guru.” Even if you are, I doubt if it will be of any great benefit to you.
Thus, two ironies of the spiritual life that one can encounter here are that success can cause feelings of isolation and that the spiritual path can be a very lonely one indeed. Sometimes writing can help, as can finding those few people who seem simultaneously to be interested in hearing the details of what you are going through without reinforcing your fascination with these in ways that make it harder to see successes in their proper proportion.
It is also not uncommon to feel that what one has experienced is just so staggeringly profound that no one is likely to have ever really seen such amazing things, perhaps including one’s teachers. However, if they are the real deal and qualified to teach you, they are very likely to have their own extensive list of spectacular and profound experiences and realizations. However, as such things are so rarely discussed openly, one may have a hard time believing this. As I have had to learn the hard way, those who are particularly prone to extroversion and immoderate speech in the face of recent insights can easily get themselves into somewhat embarrassing and humbling situations. On the other hand, eventually you may begin to outgrow or surpass your current teachers in understanding and ability. This in and of itself can be confusing and frustrating, causing role reversals that not everyone handles well. You might be astounded at how easy it is to bruise the egos in the conventional psychological sense of those who have seen through the illusion of the ego in the high dharma sense.
As review continues, one gets very familiar with the territory of one’s current path and its stages, and they may pass by more and more quickly and easily. It can begin to seem that the only way to move through the Review stages of insight is not to investigate reality too closely. At some point, Fruition will no longer be as attractive and one will feel that one really could be practicing more clearly and precisely. This is a strong sign that the next set of stages is ready to arise.
That said, there may be times when one simply doesn’t want to make progress as one can’t afford to risk another Dark Night at that point in one’s life. Strong resolutions to stay in Review, a lack of really precise investigation and lots of indulgence in concentration states can help one stay until one is ready to move onward. However, progress of some kind can only be postponed for so long, and the dharma has a relentless way of pushing us onward.