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Alternative Model(s) for Transitioning Between Paths

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Hello all-

Long-time lurker, first-time poster on DhO : )

I'm writing with a question about models/approaches from moving between paths in the traditional Theravada Four Path model.

Over the last five years, I've spent about 18 months on intensive retreat, most of these at a well-known Mahasi vipassana meditation center in Asia, with a wonderful teacher who trained under Sayadaw U Pandita. On my third retreat there, I experienced a pretty clear-cut fruition, started cycling through the knowledges, had many repeat fruitions, and started developing a fruition practice by setting the intention for the duration of the cessations to last longer and longer. The explanation was that the fruition practice was a way of developing the enlightenment factors and spiritual faculties, so that when starting the second path, the mind would be sufficiently sharp to have really clear-cut experiences when traversing the nanas anew.

From MCTB, I had the impression that at some point, the mind would automatically cycle back to the 1st nana (body & mind) of the 2nd path, and then the progress of insight would just unfold naturally as before, with "new" details emerging. However, when I asked, the teacher insisted that the first three nanas never return to the practice after the 1st path, and that the 2nd path starts at the 4th insight knowledge. When I had experienced a number of long cessations and could enter into these fairly reliably, I was instructed to do a "give-up" resolution, giving up the experiences of the 1st path, and resolve to experience "new Dhamma". Then to my amazement, I was formally instructed to distract myself until the practice dropped back to 4th insight knowledge (my practice generally drifted between late-reobservation and high equanimity during fruition practice).

Then, having returned to the 4th insight knowledge (this took about a week of very focused distracting, lol) I was instructed to start practicing at full speed again, at which point the 4th insight knowledge re-developed but with an absolutely breathtaking amount of new detail, clarity, and depth - it felt like the three characteristics had suddenly been supercharged, and it was a pretty intense ride, a bit like the first few weeks of my first retreat. The rate of cycling and the depth of fractals/sub(-sub)((-sub))-nanas got pretty incredible at times, and it was clear that I was in totally different territory than in previous iterations of cycling in 1st path review. That retreat ended with me somewhere in the dukkha nanas, with dissolution being once again a completely different beast and the level of fractal/sub-nana detail, and the frequency and resolution of formations breaking up being absolutely mind-blowing...

So basically, my question is - why is this experience of transitioning from 1st to 2nd path so different from what's described in MCTB? The teacher assured me this was how Sayadaw U Pandita taught the practice, including mastery of fruition practice as an intermediatary stage, the "give-up" resolution, and then starting again at the 4th insight knowledge with new depth/resolution...

I would be very curious to hear if anyone has gone through a similar process - or if not, how these two seemingly quite different models of the transition between paths might be reconciled. (Would also be curious if people are having experiences that match neither the MCTB model nor the one I've outlined...?)

Much appreciation to you all, and looking forward to hearing from you!

RE: Alternative Model(s) for Transitioning Between Paths
Answer
7/7/20 3:08 PM as a reply to David.
Hi there,

It's interesting because this kind of reminds me of what happened for me between 1st and 2nd, although i didn't receive instuctions and it happened at home.

I was in review for about a month. Then, I just gave up practice for a week being at a singing workshop which was taking all my free time and etc.

After that it seemed that things had coalesced in a way but I quickly experienced 4th ñana at a new level of resolution, when I started again.

Don't remember exactly the sequence, but it was similar to what you describe, with some variation of course.

Maybe the idea is that, since you've been on retreat and your factors are so sharp, just "being distracted" is enough to "move through" the first three ñanas without doing anything and when you start practicing again, there you go, 4th.

That being said, I don't personnally think that this stuff is like a "naturally unfolding" process with a "perfect" version ; I think the way you practice influences how things unfold, honestly.

I should add also, that U Pandita, although not the most orthodox, was dogmatic in many ways. Vivakananda told me, when I said I had gotten first path, that "sayadaw u pandita advised to wait seven years to see how morality is ; if a guy who claims to have had cessations then goes on, perhaps a few years later, to drink alcohol, that would rule the attainment out."

Cheers and metta,

Olivier 

RE: Alternative Model(s) for Transitioning Between Paths
Answer
7/7/20 4:41 PM as a reply to David.
Hi, 

No personal experience to share on the subject, but I do remember reading in DhO (probably Daniel) that the first three ñanas never return to the practice after the 1st Path, and that the 2nd Path starts at A&P. So I checked MCTB2, and it's somewhat different to that. I'll just quote Daniel to help other readers/posters of the thread, and go back to silent mode.

MCTB2    36. Beyond First Path (“What Next?”)

... For many, Fruitions tend to occur quickly, clearly, and easily—though again—not always. Given time and practice, we may begin to get bored with our current level of attainment and with our ability to attain these stages and Fruitions. Practice can begin to seem sloppy, and the quiet bliss wave after Fruitions can diminish unless we do not attain it for some longer period (which would probably require resolutions to that effect).

The realization grows that there is more suffering still to uproot. We begin to see more layers of reality that are not well-understood or illuminated by our current understanding, hints of which probably revealed themselves very soon after attainment of that path. Subtle thoughts and mental patterns may be noticed at the edge of our perceptual threshold. Attention begins to incline towards the next level of reality that must be understood and away from familiar territory. More fresh insights begin to show up.

We begin to investigate reality with more effort and clarity, as we did before, and so begins a new cycle of insight from the beginning: that is, access concentration, and then Mind and Body and the rest. This might play out as follows: soon after the sense of strong mastery, we will simply be meditating along, perhaps a Fruition will occur, and then suddenly the mind drops into this new state rather than a new review cycle beginning again. It is stable, interesting, and jhana-like. It is sort of like reinhabiting our life or reconnecting with the sense of the observer. It is also likely the next Mind and Body. This could also happen when we are just going about our day. Plenty may not notice it at all, as it can seem so ordinary and may feel very familiar.

... Insight cycles can sometimes be traumatic, and it is often advisable to take a break to recover your sense of humor and appreciation of life before plunging on if you lost them along the way. However, at this point the dharma waits for no one and may propel you onward regardless of your wishes.

Note well, for those in between stages, there is still the ability to easily attain any of the previous stages, starting at the level of the current Arising and Passing Away and moving up from there, so things can get quite murky when trying to figure out what stage we are in or attain specific new stages. It can be as if the early stages of the next large insight cycle are arising, whereas for a while practice always started out at the level of the Arising and Passing Away.

...

After we cross the next A&P, which may happen relatively quickly if we practice well and often, we will tend to have a very hard time re-attaining Fruition for a while, again assuming we were able to before. We may meditate along and then get stuck in a stage that seems to lead nowhere and is sort of like Low Equanimity, in that there are clear vibrations that are not varying with the breath or any other movement, and yet the background is too dense, noisy, and poorly perceived for clear and complete formations to show themselves...


RE: Alternative Model(s) for Transitioning Between Paths
Answer
7/8/20 7:45 AM as a reply to David.
I have my own biases, of course, but I really believe that the cycling is naturally unfolding in human development and that any divergence from that is sloppy phenomenology. I would say that somebody who hasn't gone through the first nanas again after first path still hasn't left the review phase. Give it some time. If it holds up, that's cool. Then tell Daniel all about it so that he can revise the book, if your phenomenology is convincing enough. I know he would love to hear about a more accurate model than the Theravadan model if there is one. 

So why do I believe that the cycling is natural and not a product of the practice? Because I was cycling exactly like that before I started any practice and before I had heard about it. The Theravadan maps were the one thing that explained what I had been going through for such a long time. 

Edited to add clarification: In the review phase it's of course not sloppy phenomenology to skip the lower nanas. That's how it's supposed to be. Take your time to deepen your insights and your concentration while you are in this phase, as there are many possibilities open while you're there. There's no rush. Review is a great place to be. My best wishes for your wellbeing and practice!

RE: Alternative Model(s) for Transitioning Between Paths
Answer
7/8/20 7:33 AM as a reply to David.
What happend for me was the 1st cessation, then an afterglow of about a week, than a week or 2 of cycling from 4th nana all the way up to cessation & back down again.  Then a week or 2 of everything slowing down & all the nanas sort of blending together/becoming indiscernible.  Then I landed clearly back in the 1st nana & could not progress beyond that for awhile.  That's how I knew the new cycle had started.

RE: Alternative Model(s) for Transitioning Between Paths
Answer
7/8/20 7:58 AM as a reply to Olivier.
Olivier:

I should add also, that U Pandita, although not the most orthodox, was dogmatic in many ways. Vivakananda told me, when I said I had gotten first path, that "sayadaw u pandita advised to wait seven years to see how morality is ; if a guy who claims to have had cessations then goes on, perhaps a few years later, to drink alcohol, that would rule the attainment out."

When I "landed first path" originally I posted on here that I got it at a certain date and time. You can look it up under ADR's Stream Entry Journal here on the DhO. Well, one of the things I recollect about those circumstances was that I thought I got second path just days after the first go around. I have been carrying that baggage with me ever since. And yes I have drank alcohol. But maybe, I got first path at a different time and under a different set of circumstances which would allow me to claim second path much, much later (just two days ago). This makes sense. I like the version 2.0 in that stream entry would be more compassionate, more based and rooted in sila than just some impersonal blip that fixes everything. It didn't. The new stream entry date is before the old one, and was so monumental that I didn't have the resources to analyse it at the time.

RE: Alternative Model(s) for Transitioning Between Paths
Answer
7/8/20 8:06 AM as a reply to David.
Hi David, 

It's all models, none of them are perfect.  

It seems possible your experiences are different due to spending so much time on retreat at high levels of concentration.  I've found that on retreat it's much easier to investigate small variations in the path due to the slow pace and continuous reflection available in the retreat environment.  This leads to being able to notice and name and model more subtle nanas and subnanas than is possible for me at home.  

Being very concentrated on retreat might also change how review cycles and next path cycles present, though I don't know this from personal experience.

My experience was that first path 1st-3rd nana were unsubtle and occurred in the textbook manner very similar to MCTB2 descriptions.  Possibly due to imprecise phenomenology, I haven't been able (either in the moment, or with hindsight) to confidently label a period of time post review and pre next A&P as the 1st-3rd nanas of a different path.  In my taxonomy, I'm on review, and review changes and morphs over time in ways that are difficult to describe... and then a new A&P happens that's different from the previous ones and clearly different from review A&P (i.e., a review a A&P just cycles through and can be called up on demand, typically is less intense or at least less alien and seems to be something previously discovered, more jhana like etc).  When I hit the new A&P I can usually figure out in the moment I'm on a new path, and there are other telltale signs like fruitions/previous path becoming unnattractive or impossible to access.  

I think it's entirely possible that one could label some portion of the post review / pre A&P territory as 1st-3rd nanas in a way that's explanatory and helpful.  I notice differences in the quality of sensations as review progresses that we could link up with some concepts and maybe fit into the box of the 1st-3rd nanas.  However, at this point, and with my current skill level of picking up fine grained phenomenology, that feels like shoehorning and so I just lump it all together as "review".  

My feeling is that there's no real tension here between the MCTB2 model and the 4path model.  

RE: Alternative Model(s) for Transitioning Between Paths
Answer
7/8/20 1:45 PM as a reply to David.
Hey all, thanks for the respones - appreciate the variety of input and feedback!

One other interesting detail that seems a bit different from what folks are describing here, and definitely different from what MCTB describes, is that fruitions (presumably "1st path fruitions") continued to very much be a part of the 2nd path development (ie during 4th/5th/6th/etc nanas) and were even regarded as signs of progress by the teachers: a sign that the nana had gained maturity (showing Equanimity sub-nana detail) was that the fruitions would start getting longer again, at times quite long. 

I've seen numerous references in this community to 1st path fruitions becoming unavailable once 2nd path has started in earnest, but that seemed to be held quite differently at the center I was practicing in, and when I asked about this, the teacher again assured me that U Pandita approached the higher paths (2nd and beyond) the same way, by including experiences of the fruition of the previous path during the development of the subsequent path - and suggested that it seemed very unlikely that it would be possible to do it any other way...

Thoughts?

RE: Alternative Model(s) for Transitioning Between Paths
Answer
7/8/20 2:15 PM as a reply to David.
They tend to become available again after a period of being stuck in the lower nanas. As I have understood it, and as it seems from my own experience, there is a tendency to switch back into an earlier path progression of the nanas towards the end of a new path. Therefore it is easy to mistake the fruitions for a new path moment. That is described in MCTB2. Are you reading the first edition? I haven't read that one, only the second edition.

RE: Alternative Model(s) for Transitioning Between Paths
Answer
7/9/20 10:06 AM as a reply to David.
Sorry for being off-topic here, but I was struck (in a positive way) by the apparent degree of explicitness with which your teacher discusses these things with you as an advanced student. Would you be willing to say which Asian centre it is that you were at?

RE: Alternative Model(s) for Transitioning Between Paths
Answer
7/9/20 1:20 PM as a reply to David.
A little above my paygrade, but in a recent session with Kenneth Folk he said (paraphrasing) "I'm less confident an unknowing event was a fruition the longer it lasts."  

So seems to me this might be a real difference in emphasis between styles.  

RE: Alternative Model(s) for Transitioning Between Paths
Answer
7/9/20 2:01 PM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
In principle I can sort of get behind this, as there do indeed seem to be a great variety of these kinds of experiences out there, and I trust Kenneth knows what he's talking about-

But there is an uncanny consistency about the way the mind behaves before going into these unknowing events (I still tend to think they're proper fruitions, although there are  certainly doubts from time to time for sure) and the way it emerges from them that seems hard to disregard...

The teachers also tend to quiz you on these details, and seem to be looking for certain kinds of phenomenlogical correlations, so... who's to say really? Their system seems to be generating interally consistent results, for better and/or for worse : )

And absoutely for sure, the way these things get longer in direct proportion to time spent practicing and depth of insight surely makes them doing, whatever they are - in my humble opinion : )

RE: Alternative Model(s) for Transitioning Between Paths
Answer
7/10/20 11:24 AM as a reply to David.
Agreed David!

On a personal note, I recently got into some territory with longer unknowing events.  The lead up seemed similar to fruitions, and the exit seemed similar to fruitions with consciousness roaring back in and a strong afterglow.  I also think I wasn't asleep, because say when my wife would walk up the stairs or a loud noise occurred, consciousness would come roaring back in and I'd be sitting there alert... whereas when I'm asleep consciousness sort of gradually comes back with some grogginess or a sense of discontinuity.  Anyways, maybe that was duration ?  Does it matter?

Seems like there are all kinds of different unknowing events and a continuum between conscious and unconscious.  Sleep is an obvious one.  8th jhana is another weird one.  Fruitions are one.  Lucid dreamless sleep is another weird hybrid state.  There are probably many more that people can access with different flavors.  

Depending on my mood, it can be nice to put on the mapping hat and put said experience in some conceptual framework linked to a path of development.  It can also be nice to let the experience stand alone inexplicably and pass without analysis.