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Dipa Ma
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9/9/09 12:03 PM
I just read a biography of this Indian master that I got from my local library.

I recomend it for these reasons:

The book, while written by an IMS teacher, is very straigtforward about "enlightentment" and attainments and not at all in the mushroom culture. Very early on the link between enlightenment and seeing the three characteristics is made very clear. All the states and stages are laid out and explained very well. Dipa Ma and many of her students were householders and the book shows how they were able to get very far while still leading regular lives - I find this inspiring. The book gives a good overview of the vipassana culture in Burma about 1960s to 1990s which I find very interesting.

And, the best part, Dipa Ma had a very simple approach not at all unlike Dr. Ingram's: pay attention at all times, notice the three characteristics in all sensations. Period. No complicated esoteric baggage.

Criticisms:

This is minor. Apparently Dipa Ma and those around her claimed that she had extraordinary "powers" and many of these are presented in great detail: she could walk through walls, she could be in two places at once, etc. While I think such powers are unlikeley but possible such claims for me damage the credibility of the book a bit.

RE: Dipa Ma
Answer
9/16/09 5:33 PM as a reply to Mike Monson.
Mike: Walking through walls and two places at once are just old yogi tricks - they are like production of astral objects (like gold watches, which some yogis make and sell, even though they later dissolve) - astral projection, out of body experience. In India these have always been considered signs, but for a practicioner they are they are really an indulgence which may be neither skillful nor unskillful in terms of actual progress on the path. Things like telepathy and healings are more useful however.
h a n s e n

RE: Dipa Ma
Answer
9/16/09 6:49 PM as a reply to Eric Alan Hansen.
Well, I do think it is possible to do these tricks. There are so many accounts in the history of mysticism/spirituality of the same things and more. I always figured that maybe the historical jesus (if there really was one) had gone somewhere early (India?) in life and learned all those techniques and that explains his "miracles."
But, still, and this is JUST ME, I have a hard time believing. But, I'm open.

RE: Dipa Ma
Answer
9/17/09 4:35 AM as a reply to Mike Monson.
Hi Mike,

The powers should be taken "at face value", as a just another skill or ability, like singing or running marathons or whatever. Impressive in their own right, but not indicative of any kind of progress insight-wise (except that they sometimes arise during practice, for example in A&P territory).

They are not in themselves useful criteria for judging the spiritual attainment of a person. Seen this way, wielding the powers belongs to the training in morality - what matters (and is useful for judging spiritual maturity) is the motivation/intention, and whether the results are skillful.

Maybe Dipa ma found the powers useful to get people's attention. In some Chinese traditions, for example, mastery of a martial art is used to get people's attention. In the West, certain psychotherapeutic qualities of meditation are used to draw people to meditation and wisdom. There are problems with these strategies, of course, and thus we get unenlightened psychic charlatans exploiting the gullible, martial artists confusing their inner practice for outer strength (maybe even getting hurt in a fight), and meditators endlessly rearranging their psychological baggage and confusing that for insight.

I like to remember that the Buddha considered enlightenment and subsequently teaching the Dharma as one of the powers, the only noble one (noble in his technical sense, not in the sense that the other powers are somehow to be looked down upon).

Oh, and to dispel the slightly grubby aura surrounding the powers a bit: If you've ever had the dream of going to your actual bathroom to have a drink of water, and found it impossible to swallow, only to snap suddenly awake in your bed feeling strangely agitated: that was likely an out-of-body dream, and oob experiences can be counted among the powers ("walking through walls"...). Thus, while not really ordinary, the powers aren't that exotic either. We in the west often lump all kinds of strange experiences together under the label "dream/illusion/hallucination", which is fine as long as we remember that like any experience, these uncommon ones can be studied, differentiated, and mastered in their own right.

Cheers,
Florian

RE: Dipa Ma
Answer
9/18/09 5:28 AM as a reply to Florian.
I think Florians' excellent reply is very comprehensive. My sister has been in India maybe 20-30 times, she is a multi-lingual scholar and a bit of an authority on quite a few topics, and when I saw there is a fascination for these kinds of things, I am not wording it strongly enough. There is an obsession for these types of things, it's blown way out of proportion.

My rule of thumb in receiving teaching is if it inspires you, if it appeals to you, if it does you good, and if you can accept it, use it how you will. You are your own experiment. If something speaks to you only you can know what and how.

p e a c e
h a n s e n

RE: Dipa Ma
Answer
9/20/09 1:14 AM as a reply to Eric Alan Hansen.
The number of people who have attested to Dipa Ma's powers is relatively large and modern, meaning they are still living and you can ask them about it.

It is a sign she had strong concentration abilities and followed instructions, such as the Visuddhimagga, not something wrong with the book. Multiple people here have powers or have manifested powers at various times of various sorts. No biggie, really. If you want to critique the powers, get your concentration strong, and I mean really strong, and intend and see what happens. When the mind is made malleable through strong practice, amazing things can happen, but see for yourself.

I remember a teacher from the Burmese tradition who criticized a mantra I had used on that retreat as being not Buddhist enough, as it was a Hindu mantra, all this without me saying the mantra out loud, merely repeating it in my head, as it was a silent retreat.

Powers happen, that's just life sometimes. Fascination with the powers is normal and not weird at all, as, hey, they are powers, and how cool is that, eh?! That said, too much fascination with cults of personality and the like is a problem, as is substituting a knowledge of the powers for enlightenment.

As to Dipa Ma's approach and modern people getting enlightened in daily life, it is happening here also, and in relatively large numbers. Yeah! True, the website is designed to get the creme-de-la-creme of meditators, but still, it is worth noting, as it were.