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How To Read Visuddhimagga
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5/19/14 10:43 AM
I have been reading a number of Theravadan texts as of late and have started reading the visuddhimagga. It's incredibly dense, and I'm a afraid the concepts are way above my head as a beginner in insight meditation.

Has anyoen used the text to learn meditation successfully? If so, how?

RE: How To Read Visuddhimagga
Answer
5/19/14 10:27 PM as a reply to Lincoln Nguyen.
Lol, I still haven't read it, occasionally I try, its an academic reference book, but it seems to be filled also with alot of good basic advice on how to practice, like how to prepare your self and your room for meditiation.
 The best books I have read in my theravada reading, most of which are recomeneded by Ingram, are, 'A Path with a Heart', 'Living Buddhist Masters' both by Jack Kornfield, a student of Ajahn Chah and Sayadaw U Pandita (There is another title to this book: 'Living Buddhist Dharma'. They died.) 'In This Very Life' by Sayadaw U Pandita (free online: the famous student of the famous Mahasi Sayadaw) these first three books are really foundational and help to understand the MTCB.  Also 'Practical Insight Meditation' and 'The Progress of Insight." by Mahasi Sayadaw himself.

RE: How To Read Visuddhimagga
Answer
5/20/14 12:27 AM as a reply to Lincoln Nguyen.
Lincoln Nguyen:
I have been reading a number of Theravadan texts as of late and have started reading the visuddhimagga. It's incredibly dense, and I'm a afraid the concepts are way above my head as a beginner in insight meditation.

Has anyone used the text to learn meditation successfully? If so, how?

Hello Lincoln,

Yes, the impression you got about the book is correct. It is not for everyone. And from my point of view, most definitely not reading fare for a beginner. It can make meditation seem to be more complex than it actually is. Which can end up sabotaging one's practice. 

At one point in my training, I thought it might help me, too. There are some inspirational passages within it; but overall it is not really a necessary book to read, and may in the end do more harm than good. I would not recommend it. The more I learned about its production, the less favorable I looked upon it. There are portions in it that contradict the teachings in the discourses, which didn't sit well with me because I was already familiar with the integrity of the Pali Nikayas. There is also the stigma of a political agenda being behind its production that left a bad taste in my mind regarding the reasons behind its production.

Too many writers, both ancient and modern, attempting to explain what Gotama said and meant. Better to just stick with the horse's mouth for your instruction. When that insight occurred to me, I dropped my reading of the Vishuddhimagga like a hot rock and only read the discourses. That's when my practice began to yield real fruit. And I have never regretted having done so.

In peace,
Ian

RE: How To Read Visuddhimagga
Answer
5/20/14 4:49 AM as a reply to Lincoln Nguyen.
This is an advanced text that's not worth reading if you're a beginner.  There are much better books that will put your feet on the ground running.  At the beginner level I recommend a few "Introduction to meditation" or "Meditation for beginner books" as well as a few basic books on Buddhism such as Thich Nhat Hanh's "The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching" if you're working within a Buddhist paradigm.  At an intermediate level I recommend Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond for mastering jhanas (by Ajahn Brahm), MCTB (for more jhanas and insight information) and Mindfulness in Plain English (by Bhante Gunaratana).  

At a more advanced level the Visuddhimagga is useful as a reference as it contains some rather esoteric information on kasina colors, the "powers," and some interesting details and frameworks regarding the insight stages.  It's not something I, personally, would sit down and read, like a novel, cover to cover.  I tend to read that kind of stuff by skipping around the book a lot and then eventually gathering a large percentage of the information from the book, in this manner, through various sessions of doing this. The suttas are also good reading, but in my experience, I've read a fair amount of the suttas just by reading this forum as people tend to link to them and I read them and then the salient ones tend to get repeated throughout various forums on the internet.

Other slightly more advanced books I recommend are anything by Reginald Ray: "Indestructible Truth" and "Touching Enligthenment" are good ones.  These books are from a Tibetan perspective and might confuse a beginner who would be better off keeping with the Theravada perspective of MCTB until they have obtained more experience with meditation and perhaps a path or two.