MCTB Introduction to Part I
If you didn’t read the Foreword and Warning, do so now.
The Buddhist path has often been called a “spiritual path,” and this use of religious language can be very inspiring for some people. The Buddhist path could also be thought of in terms of a scientific experiment, a set of exercises that the Buddha and those who have followed him have claimed lead to very specific effects, effects that they deemed worthwhile. Using this sort of practical language can also be very inspiring for some people. In an attempt to inspire a wide audience, I will use both spiritual and practical or technical language when discussing these issues. However, my preference is generally for the practical language. You could throw out all of the spiritual trappings on the Buddhist path and still have a set of basic practices that lead to the effects promised. You could also keep all of the spiritual trappings, do the basic practices, and produce the same results, assuming of course that you had the extra time and resources necessary to do both.
Part I contains some traditional lists that were taught by the Buddha and relate directly to spiritual training. They make important and practical points in very concise ways. These teachings were made compact and portable on purpose so that people could remember them and use them. It is their very simplicity that makes them so practical and down to earth.
I, however, am going to take these very compact teachings and go on and on about them. It turns out that the Buddha sometimes made things so simple that we are left wondering what the heck he was talking about and how to do something useful with his teachings. Basically he was saying, “Get to know your actual reality really, really, really well, and try to do right by yourself and the world.” As we all know, this is not always as easy as it sounds, so that is why I include all of the additional commentary.
Thus, these teachings are designed to help people get in touch with their reality in some way that makes a difference. They can also help people avoid some of the common pitfalls on the spiritual path and in life in general, some of which I will talk about later.
To that end, we will begin with an introduction to the Three Trainings, morality, concentration and wisdom. The Three Trainings encompass the sum total of the Buddhist path. Thus, they will be used as the framework for this book. The Three Trainings involve skills that we consciously and explicitly try to master. Each training has its own specific set of assumptions, agendas, practices, and standards for success in those practices. These are actually fairly different from each other, and all sorts of problems can arise if we mix these up and use the assumptions of one training when pursuing the others. Each training also has its common pitfalls, limitations, and shadow sides. These are rarely made clear, and the failure to do so has caused much confusion. Thus, I will do my best to make them clear, particularly in Part II (Light and Shadows). Each training also has specific standards for success and mastery. These can sometimes seem a bit technical, particularly the maps of the high concentration states and the stages of insight, so I will wait until Part III (Mastery) to present these in order to keep Part I focused on the basic frameworks and practices that make the whole thing possible in the first place.
While I think that each part of this book contributes to the whole, there are reasons why you might want to skip to certain sections first and fill in the rest later. For instance, if you are having powerful visions or Kundalini experiences, you might want to read the first few chapters of Part III and then go back and read the rest. If you are simply interested in the maps of the stages of insight, go straight to the chapter called The Progress of Insight. If you just want to get right to some core insight practices, read the chapters on The Three Characteristics and The Seven Factors of Enlightenment. Should you be in a mood for some scathing social commentary, the beginning of Part II is for you. If you just want to hear my take on enlightenment, then Models of the Stages of Enlightenment might be a good place to start. I struggled for a long time debating whether to present the maps that tell what these practices lead to at the beginning or at the end of the book. I have included them last, but you might be the sort who wants to see them first, and if so you should read the chapter called The Three Characteristics and then skip straight to Part III. In my ideal world, everyone would read through this book two or three times cover-to-cover and then work on committing the more important sections to memory.