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MCTB-- "Where" Am I?
Answer
1/6/13 7:17 AM
I am looking for input as to "where" I am as far the MCTB progress of insight goes. I realize that too much concern with maps can be a powerful obstacle, and thus I have attempted to take a more Zen approach to the whole thing. However, the stages of insight have presented themselves in obvious ways despite the lack of an intense practice, so it would seem I am on the ride.

About my practice--

I have a busy family life. My family does not support any kind of meditation practice and honestly most of them don't know about my interest in meditation or Buddhism. Finances are also rather tight Therefore, going on retreat is not feasible, as nice as that would be.

To compensate for this, I have made life itself my practice. I mostly do body-scanning, but I also do some noting, investigating the 3C's, and "bare awareness." I try to keep part of my awareness on my body at all times.

At any rate, here's my meditation history so far...

I've dabbled with concentrative meditation for about two years now. I heard about MCTB via an Erowid experience report and decided to check it out. I read the entirety of Part I in a single sitting and found it very interesting-- my mind was opened to the idea that Enlightenment was possible. I played around with some noting, but I didn't want to get too serious. The warnings about the dark night scared me, and I felt I wasn't ready for it at the time, for a number of reasons.

That night, I dreamt I was some sort of enlightened being, sitting under a tree on a hill. There was another hill across from me. A vast army of dark figures were standing there, and when I noticed them, they charged at me. My first instinct was to flee, but I felt oddly serene, and I decided to "note" them instead. They reached my position and I was overrun, surrounded by hostile forces, but their blows caused no injury and no fear.

I didn't realize it at the time, but I was "on the ride," as Kenneth Folk puts it.

Months ticked by without incident. I had little time for meditating, and after I finished MCTB I more or less forgot about it.

This past summer, the stuff hit the fan. Every moment of my existence was unbearable. My natural state of being became one of deep panic. I suddenly hated my job and dreaded going to work. The whole idea of working for a living pissed me off, and I fantasized about building a cabin in the woods and supporting myself in the wilderness, or perhaps joining a monastery and living the rest of my life in contemplative solitude. All of society seemed pointless and empty, a vast house of cards that could topple at any moment.

I felt like I desperately needed to find something, but I didn't know what it was or how to look for it. I was haunted by feelings of impending doom. I didn't realize it was possible to suffer this much. The only thing that held me together was the fact that I was the sole provider for my family, and I needed to act as normal as possible.

I maintained an interest in Buddhism at this time, so I reasoned that I must have stumbled into the dark night somehow. I began practicing body-awareness and investigating the 3C's in hopes that it would pull me out.

At one point, when I was feeling paralyzed by a panic attack, I began investigating the 3C's. After only a few moments, the panic dissolved into a warm feeling that spread throughout my entire body, and I was at peace until the darkness returned a few hours later. This experience repeated itself a couple of times throughout the course of the dark night, with the darkness returning within a couple of hours. Could this have been Equanimity?

The darkness lifted recently. I'm not sure if I'm in Equanimity, or if I've plopped back down for another cycle. I did have a sit recently where I seemed to progress through the nanas in a rather obvious fashion up until #6, Fear, at which point I ended the sit to attend to other matters. My dreams that night were nightmarish and uneasy.

So, based on all this, I hesitantly conclude that I have dropped back into the lower nanas, though I'm not sure. My mind is not as clear as it would be, say, on retreat, so the stages aren't necessarily obvious.

I'm looking for input from more experienced practitioners-- where could I be on the maps, exactly?

RE: MCTB-- "Where" Am I?
Answer
1/6/13 9:41 AM as a reply to Eric Michaels.
My own experience has led me to the point where I have no idea where I am on the maps as well. There was a time when I was fairly certain I had landed stream entry...I am not so sure anymore, not to mention paths beyond that. It has been quite confusing at times and I have mostly kind of given up on pinpointing exactly where I am.

Based on this and another post, my perspective on your situation is that perhaps the desire to "know where you are" is one of your main "big issues." If you could acknowledge and let go of this on a real time level, investigating your desire to be somewhere other than where you are, it might help you out.

RE: MCTB-- "Where" Am I?
Answer
2/21/13 3:24 PM as a reply to Eric Michaels.
Hello Eric,

My attention to your dilemma of existential angst was brought to the fore on reading a recent post by Tom Moylan in a previous thread you had posted (Every Moment is Unbearable) where you made the following observations of your state of mind at that time:

Eric Michaels:

The past few months, every moment of my existence has been unbearable. Everything feels hostile, causing intense anxiety and even panic attacks. Everything pisses me off, especially at work. The whole idea of having to work for someone else in order to feed my family seems like a cruel injustice. I stay up late into the night fearing for the lives of my children, for whatever reason.

Everything is just so meaningless, so incredibly meaningless. And I can't stand it. My natural state of being is one of deep existential despair and quiet panic. It has affected my marriage and my performance at work.


There are many here who, if they were being honest, would say that they, too, have experienced these very same "feelings" themselves at one time or another. I know that I certain have. So, you are not alone in this respect. That said, it doesn't bring much practical solace, does it, to know that you are not alone. That is, it doesn't help you to deal with the present moment events that contribute to the "feelings" of angst and panic that can easily overcome your mind and mental state of being.

Your case deserves more attention and consideration than the limited (yet well meaning) unprofessional help you may receive by posting on a forum such as this present one and expecting to receive practical answers that will assist you in dealing with a very REAL circumstance in terms of your perception of individual reality. And if I had more time available I would delve into an analysis of the posts you have presented here thus far in order to gain a clearer idea of your mental state. As it is, I have looked at one or two of the most recent posts in order to arrive at an idea of a semblance of what might pass for your state of reality.

What you (and in essence, the rest of us) are currently facing (in terms of our economic livelihood and the stress that can bring on) has to do with circumstances that are, in general, out of your control. Out of your control only in the sense that you likely have little or no idea how to deal with or handle such circumstances. Once those problems have been overcome (or at least the concern over them has been alleviated), it will be easier for you to concentrate on more personal areas relating to your ontological and soteriological concerns. (Ontology being "the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being, reality or ultimate substance," and soteriology being "spiritual salvation.")

What you are able to deal with (at least to some extent as you become able) is your perception of the problems as they lay before you, so that you can begin to develop a plan or strategy for seeing your way through them for the time being. In that respect, the change in attitude you initiated a while back (to "prefer to find happiness in family and spiritual practice") is a step in the right direction. In addition to that there may be some other steps that you might take that will help you begin to put the pieces of the puzzle that is your life back together again, such that it becomes an area of focus for wholesome activities and thought, thus adding to a sense of self-empowerment (if you will allow me that "new age" type expression).

What I'm about to suggest will involve spending some time on other endeavors in addition to your meditation practice, and while I realize that time is in short supply, these suggestions may more than prove helpful and practical in the long run enough to justify finding the time to pursue them. In addition I should say, I have taken my own advice here, as this is how I pursued my education in and practice of the Dhamma (although, to be fair, in a more forgiving atmosphere – in seclusion on private retreat – than the one you face, having to deal with your responsibilities to other people in close proximity to you, meaning your family).

Rather than pursuing an eclectic approach to your pursuit of peace of mind, (I formerly followed, to my detriment, that same kind of approach, so I know whereof I speak on such matters) I suggest you become one-pointed, so to speak, and focus on what records we have available to us in terms of what the "Buddha" actually taught in his own words. Meaning the translated Pali canon of discourses, wherein you will undoubtedly find some major golden nuggets of advice and inspiration if you look for them. The older volumes of the Sutta Pitaka (the Samyutta Nikaya and the Anguttara Nikaya) are chock full of insightful passages which help to clarify what Gotama taught. In that same vein, the Majjhima Nikaya can also be very helpful (in terms of clarification of the meditation practice) as well as various selected discourses from the Digha Nikaya (in terms of sorting through ontological concerns and his response to those areas).

Although you may not be able to at the moment for financial reasons, I recommend, when you are able, to find and purchase the Wisdom Publication editions of these volumes, as they will become a wellspring of reference that you will enjoy referring back to time and again. In the meantime, the accesstoinsight.org website contains many of the discourses from these volumes, and you can download the entire website to be able to read it off line if you wish (which I also recommend your doing).

What I found from doing this was clarification and inspiration for and about the man who uttered these ideas as well as a desire to understand what he was saying and its intended meaning. Once you begin to observe a sense of the integrity of thought and approach to spiritual matters that Gotama demonstrates, it becomes quite apparent that this man and the insight he uncovered was quite extraordinary, even for his times. Just reading the discourses helped me to re-frame my attitude toward life and to begin to embody the integrity and spirituality on display there, as well as beginning to re-condition my mind in more wholesome ways.

I mention this because it will begin to bring meaning to what seems to be a meaningless world. And right now, your mind could do with some inspiration and hope for your future. It is there, believe me, you just have to grab hold of it.

When I have some time, I'll get back to you with further suggestions for some specific suttas which you might find to be useful. In the meantime, these two from the Sutta Pitaka may prove to be a useful start:

The Kalama Sutta (AN 3.63) as well as this brief essay by Bhikku Bodhi, A Look at the Kalama Sutta. In this sutta, the Buddha explains to a group of skeptics the proper criteria for accepting a spiritual teaching.

and

The Brahmajāla Sutta: The All-embracing Net of Views (DN 1) In this important sutta, the first in the Tipitaka, the Buddha describes sixty-two philosophical and speculative views concerning the self and the world that were prevalent among spiritual seekers of his day. In rejecting these teachings — many of which are alive to this day — he decisively establishes the parameters of his own.

Also, there are brief essays by Bhikkhu Bodhi (as well as others, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, for one, comes to mind) that can be very instructive and illuminating. I am speaking about the "Cover essays from the BPS newsletter" (about a third the way down by scrolling) as these tend to be short but pithy essays. Although his other essays (further up) can be equally illuminating.

Establishing this ground of appreciation for what the Buddha taught in his own words can add a dimension to your practice that heretofore was absent, in addition to beginning to establish in your mind a respect and appreciation for revisiting original source material as well as helpful explanations of this from learned contemporary writers.

In peace,
Ian

RE: MCTB-- "Where" Am I?
Answer
2/21/13 5:03 PM as a reply to Eric Michaels.
Hi Eric,

If you take an interest in the Pali canon that Ian has mentioned -- and each person finds a tradition, and not necessarily a branch of buddhism either, that suits them best for a period -- then you can find Bhante's lectures online here:http://bodhimonastery.org/a-systematic-study-of-the-majjhima-nikaya.html
http://bodhimonastery.org/ven-bhikkhu-bodhi.html

RE: MCTB-- "Where" Am I?
Answer
2/22/13 5:14 AM as a reply to Eric Michaels.
Do you ever do concentration practice? A few sessions of blasting concentration could change your situation completely.