releasing of sankharas/algorithms (and enlightenment)

rano, modified 3 Years ago at 3/1/19 3:40 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 3/1/19 3:40 AM

releasing of sankharas/algorithms (and enlightenment)

Posts: 2 Join Date: 2/10/19 Recent Posts
I'm new to this, so hopefully this post/question lands in the appropriate place.

First a little background: I first got exposed to meditation via U Ba Khin/Goenka-style vipassana retreats almost 3 decades ago, but only started with daily practice since end 2015. I don't follow mechanically the techniques/instructions but explore, based on my experiences, readings etc. One bit of theory I related to both conceptually and practically is the idea of sankharas, which I loosely understood as algorithms (esp. dysfunctional ones), to be removed from one's body-mind construct. I like the term "algorithm" because of its simplicity as lines of code that trigger an action, usually executed automatically. (This is relevant for the rest of the post; whether the algorithms are active or dormant, functional or not depending on circumstances, etc. is not.)
I recently finished Daniel Ingram's MCTB2, which has been an important eye-opener, making me realize that the meditation universe was even broader than I thought and that there were more tools/techniques available.

In the book and elsewhere (e.g. a podcast/discussion between Daniel Ingram and Robert Wright), there are divergent views about the definition of enlightenment:
a) A definition based on relatively precise criteria, e.g. using the ñana map, what has been attained by the person, paths, fruitions. That this person may behave in a way considered by many as immoral is, technically, irrelevant.
b) Another definition based more on the actual behavior (and possible inner state of mind/intentions) of the person, a "higher than average" morality that would be the "proof in the pudding" (with the difficulties of the relativity of morality, but that is not the point here).
The 2 definitions do not exclude each other, and one could even expect a correlation between the more technical/formal attainments and moral/skillful behavior.
I had these ideas in the back of my mind when reading the MCTB2 about the ñanas, and had some kind of insight/inspiration about the dukkha ñanas that maybe could square this circle.
It goes as follows:
- The first 3 ñanas as a way of getting the "basics of perception" right.
- "A&P" as a partial and deeper rewiring of one's mind/perception – and also some kind of shock that loosens the bonds between the algorithms and the body-mind construct.
- "Dissolution" as further loosening of the said bonds.
- "Fear", "Misery" and "Disgust" as invoking/summoning of loosened algorithms, like corralling a herd. (I'd say fear focused on the future (anxiety etc.), misery focused on the present (sadness, confusion etc.), and disgust focused on the past (anger, regret etc.) … but that doesn't really matter here). The algorithms have defense mechanisms, triggered by the loosening of bonds and corralling; they try to stop the process by releasing unpleasant sensations, hence the meditator perceiving a lot of dukkha).
- "Desire for deliverance" as understandable reaction (i.e. I don't want to live like this).
- "Re-observation" as summary of the above: algorithms corralled, they are unpleasant, I want them out, let's release them.
- "Equanimity" as the actual process of releasing (some of) the algorithms. The operating word is "acceptance": not pushing dukkha away, not retreating from it, not feeling helpless over one's lot. Acceptance/equanimity as opening the doors and seeing the algorithms as they exit "kicking & screaming". Obviously, the probability of releasing them all in one go is very low.
In that hypothesis/framework, a meditator can attain paths/fruitions while still having a stock of algorithms inside, some of which leading to unskillful/immoral behaviors, possibly even nasty ones. There is still work (i.e. cycling through the ñanas) to get rid of dysfunctional algorithms (and anyway there will always be some Spring-cleaning of newly created algorithms that may not be functional anymore).
Conversely, a meditator can still improve one's lot by releasing dysfunctional algorithms even if not "technically enlightened" (cf. a) above).
So, my questions to you-as-virtual-sangha: where does such a re-visiting of (or superimposition on) the ñanas stand in the landscape, between "duh … stating the obvious" and "deluded projection"?
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 3 Years ago at 3/1/19 11:02 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 3/1/19 11:02 AM

RE: releasing of sankharas/algorithms (and enlightenment)

Posts: 6297 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
I’m rather new here and to this kind of terminology, albeit a pretty fast learner, and I think that sounds like a fair summary. I like your idea of using the term algorithms.
TomB, modified 3 Years ago at 3/2/19 6:17 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 3/2/19 6:17 AM

RE: releasing of sankharas/algorithms (and enlightenment)

Posts: 7 Join Date: 12/19/18 Recent Posts
I'm even newer than Linda, so bear that in mind. Your model sounds reasonable to me. I'd like to offer a refinement.

I like the idea of "algorithm" as a name for specific behavioral procedures that get triggered by causes and conditions, which I think is what you describe. If I've misunderstood, please correct me.

It seems (to me) like there are also "lenses" or beliefs that aren't associated with any specific behavior but condition how we perceive and understand experience that need to be jettisoned from time to time as well. Some examples would be belief in a self, eternalism (the opposite of impermanence), belief that happiness depends on "external" circumstances rather than "internal" responses, etc.

Does that make sense, or do you count such lenses as just more algorithms?
Ben V, modified 3 Years ago at 3/2/19 6:48 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 3/2/19 6:48 AM

RE: releasing of sankharas/algorithms (and enlightenment)

Posts: 389 Join Date: 3/3/15 Recent Posts
I'm not sure if I understand your question, nor if what I'll say answers it. I'm also still pre-path/SE

I also originally started with the Goenka tradition then switched to Mahasi style vipassana. One thing I found liberating and helpful in my practice was to get rid of the idea that we have to "get rid" or burn off "old stocks of sankharas" to get 1st path, and replace it with the notion that it's about seeing one's experience accurately that will get one there.

Even if one takes the Pali cannon 10-fetters model literally, stream-entry is all about seeing experience corretly in the traditional descriptions. The fetters one "gets rid of" here are all cognitive in nature, i.e. about seeing experience in a certain way (3Cs). 

This was very liberating for me because, say a difficult pattern/set of sankharas come up, instead of having the attitude that it has to burn off (which really creates tension in the mind) one simply realizes we need to just look at it and see it in the light of the 3cs, just that lifts a weight off the shoulders. Try it emoticon
rano, modified 3 Years ago at 3/3/19 3:21 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 3/3/19 3:21 AM

RE: releasing of sankharas/algorithms (and enlightenment)

Posts: 2 Join Date: 2/10/19 Recent Posts
Thank you for your feedbacks. Interesting the "reactions" that the word "algorithm" produced, I didn't expect that. It's a word I adopted for my reflections etc. because it is more down-to-earth than karma/sankharas that carry more conceptual baggage (even for me), the scope of which I discern only with difficulty. That made my thinking/understanding a bit easier
I noticed a while ago that the choice of words matters – naming as an almost magickal act. I was struggling with ideas such as "everything is an illusion". So for the most part I replaced "illusion" (connotation: a bad thing) with "construct" (neutral connotation, can be functional or not). That allowed me to circumvent blockages in my thought process.
To TomB's comment:
Re algorithm, yes, this is pretty much what I have in mind. I would actually also include the lenses/beliefs that shape our perception. But surely if "algorithm" is used as broad concept one could dive deeper and see that there could be a more or less detailed taxonomy of algorithms, some more conceptual (single beliefs, combining to form reality tunnels; the ones that trigger a thought/behavior automatically without a conscious thought; dormant or not; etc.). I understand the "menagerie" of algorithms as forming some kind of ecosystem (i.e. the algorithm don't "exist" in isolation), which would possibly complicate the task of defining a cleanly-ordered taxonomy. But anyway, I'm not there in terms of precision in my perception. Only once did I feel/see an algorithm at the level of the "lines of code"; many times, I tried to go similarly deep but never pulled it off again (my ability to focus, or not being distracted, is not strong enough yet).
The motivation behind this would be to be more precise/surgical in the cleaning up of algorithms, and also being more attentive regarding the construction of new ones. Well, let's see how that goes …
To BenV.'s comment:
Re "burn off old stocks of sankharas", I see what you mean. If it becomes an injunction (from outside and/or internatized), it becomes a new source of alienation – paradoxically a new unhelpful algorithm?
I agree with your point that "getting rid of the sankharas" is not a pre-requisite for stream entry (sorry if I wasn't clear enough about this in the initial post). Come to think of it, I don't recall hearing Goenka talking about anything like paths during the discourses (I only attended 10-day courses so far; maybe it comes later).
That being said, in my practice I still find the concept of "getting rid of the sankharas" (or dysfunctional algorithms) as useful. One of the traps I fell in was to have an unskillful approach to it, being either too passive or to active/eager or even sometimes "confrontational/judging" about them (and "me"). The change in practice is when I realized that in my practice "observing" was not the same as "accepting": I observed sensations, kinda like a white-coated scientist would do in a lab, but I wasn't getting close to the object of observation, always with a thin layer of "I wish that sensation was not there" beneath the apparent equanimity. Only after I learned about the emotional aspect of acceptance did my practice substantially change, realizing I had some sort of lever to "let algorithms flow out". The paradox is that I needed to be more "passive/receptive" (i.e. accept) to be more "active" in my dealing with algorithms. (What I also learned in the process is that equanimity and acceptance are not on/off states, but can be endlessly deep – or at least I haven't reached the bottom yet.) I don't see this as being so different from the recommendation at the end of your post; it's just that the 3Cs were not enough for me to take that step. Cf. the importance of words and their potentially magickal effect on some people.