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Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2

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Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
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2/10/15 12:51 PM
I'm restarting this thread independent of Kenneth.  Ultimately, this is his thread and he can choose to set the parameters of this thread.

Ground Rules: This thread is specifically for concise dharma questions for Kenneth Folk, i.e. questions about Kenneth's teachings.  The format is "Question to Kenneth", "Answer by Kenneth".  All questions may not be answered; Kenneth will choose.  Once a question is anwered, a follow-up question is allowed.  Discussion and debate concerning the questions and Kenneth's answers should be initiated in separate threads. 

Disagreement is allowed, but take it to a separate thread. Any attempt to invalidate Kenneth or his answers, or to invalidate those who post questions  what is posted in this thread are is not welcome.  Disruptions are not welcome.  Harassment is not welcome.  If you disagree, take it to a separate thread. If you feel the need to invalidate, take it to a separate thread.  If you don't understand or you don't agree with these ground rules, don't post in this thread.

Please. 

Abstraction of Kenneth Folk’s Online Q&A Sessions As of 02/04/2015:

Abstracted from:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBXz8UVs2Pk
http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5660045
http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5664257


Training Attention
"Being aware of experience, and then becoming conscious that you are aware of experience" describes the process of systematically training attention. It's useful to think of this as a series of steps. It might look like this.

1. Embedded in experience. You're a cat on the front lawn, staring at a gopher hole, waiting for the gopher to emerge. You have no self-awareness. You aren't even conscious that you are seeing. You are fully "in it."

2. Able to name the object. You can play the children's game "I Spy with my Little Eye." If someone were to ask you what you are looking at, you would say, "A gopher hole."

3. Able to form a concept around the activity. If someone were to ask you what you are doing, you would say that you are waiting for the gopher to emerge, and that you understand that gophers live in holes.

4. Able to observe the experience as experience. This is the beginning of vipassana. If someone asked you about your direct experience, you would answer "seeing." You understand that all seeing has something in common, irrespective of what is seen. Seeing a gopher hole has a lot in common with seeing a house or another cat.

5. Able to conceptually separate object from apparent subject. If you are asked who is seeing, you would say "I am seeing."

6. Able to attend to the apparent "I". You can turn attention toward the one who seems to be seeing. You can even become absorbed in this experience of witnessing and reify it as "the witness."

7. Able to deconstruct the witnessing state by looking directly at its component parts. At this point, "the witness" no longer seems to be "I"; it is revealed as just another state.

8. More of the same, at various levels of subtlety, always moving from identification to conceptualization to investigation to deconstruction and around again.

We could add more sub-steps and detail, but this shows the trajectory from absorption/emeddedness toward seeing experience as experience. We could also extend the steps to become aware of what appears at first to be a ground state, aka Primordial Awareness, within which everything else arises, and then to investigate the component parts of the apparent ground state to see that our experience of the supposed ground state is just another experience.

To summarize, the process of waking up involves becoming aware of experience, then becoming aware that there seems to be someone having the experience, and then becoming aware that this apparent someone is also an experience. We aren't able to find a personal nugget of knowing or an impersonal field of knowing that can stand apart from experience and evaluate it from on high. No experience is more real than any other, or prior to any other; there is only experience, always moving, referring back to no one.

This does not mean that the momentarily arising sense that "this is happening to me" stops arising. It continues to arise, which is good, because this sense of provisional identity is fundamental to functioning in the world. However, this oft-arising sense of I is seen as just another experience. It is no longer seen as the one immutable lens through which all other experience must be filtered.

Not-self
One way to think of not-self would be as doctrine. For example, one might believe that "the Buddha said there is no self," and therefore we should also believe that there is no self. Or, from an Advaita point of view, one might believe that we should "eradicate the self!" and that the goal of spiritual practice is to find a way to live in which there is no sense of "I".

I don't find either of those perspectives useful. For me, it starts as a question; Is there a self? Many questions arise from there:

What is the self?
Who am I?
Where am I in this picture (and why do I think so)?

When I ask these questions, I do not find a self. Whenever I investigate experience directly, it seems that "I" cannot be what I am looking at; if there is an "I", it must be the one who is looking. And since everything within experience can be looked at (objectified, or made an object), an "I" is never found. Nonetheless, the sense that I am the one who is looking continues to arise, many times a day. This seems normal and fine. The sense that "this is happening to me" is just another experience, like an itch or a sound. It does not need to be "eradicated." This is a source of much misunderstanding among spiritual practitioners; we often trip over ourselves to convince ourselves and everyone else that we "have no sense of self." But it is unnecessary. If we don't posit a self in the first place, we don't have to get rid of it. And when the momentarily arising impression that "this is happening to me" is seen as just another experience, there is no reason to feel ashamed of it or to pretend that it doesn't happen. I would go so far as to say that this perceived need to be rid of the sense of self is one of the misunderstandings most likely to prevent further development for intermediate and advanced yogis.

To summarize, the idea of not-self as a prescription is less than useful. And the hope of cultivating "not-self" as a persistent experience is counterproductive and based on a misunderstanding. But the exploration of experience, with the aim of finding out whether there is a self, leads to liberation.

Quiet Mind
Although some practitioners do report a quiet mind, it is not an end in itself nor an ideal state; it's just one of the things that can happen to some people sometimes. For some, it's a phase that lasts a long time; for others, it passes quickly. In either case, it's just another state, and shouldn't be considered an end state or a sign that one has arrived. If anything, the danger is that the practitioner will fetishize the state, become attached to it, and try to cultivate it to the exclusion of other experiences. Down this road lies dukkha.

Model of Awakening
With regard to models, I'm pretty much back to the basic four-stage model Bill Hamilton taught me in 1990. After the fourth stage, development doesn't stop, though, so the idea of "full enlightenment" at Fourth Path is misleading. Development/adaptation continues forever, without any pre-ordained endpoint, very much like evolution. So, Fourth Path practitioners can look very different from one another, and at a certain point, the question of who is more enlightened than whom is meaningless in the same we that we can't say whether Michael Jordan was a better athlete than Serena Williams. They are both excellent, and they cannot be compared, apples to apples.

Three Speed Transmission
Yes, the Three Speed Transmission continues to be the backbone of my teaching. By lighting up the present experience from every possible angle, I think we come up with a very robust kind of awakening. And the three gears are a powerful framework for understanding how to do that.

Experience as Process
By "the ability to see experience as process" I mean seeing in real time that everything within experience is moving, including the oft-arising sense that "this is happening to me." Seen this way, there doesn't seem to be any abiding nugget of consciousness that could be considered "I". There also doesn't appear to be any abiding field of consciousness within which all of this is happening. Every aspect of experience has exactly the same status as any other; it's just what is happening. The perception of an apparent field of awareness is also just what is happening. The absolute, self-validating conviction that this apparent field of awareness is the Truth of the Universe is itself just something that is happening. There is no place to hang your hat.

I like to think of a dust devil in an open field. It spins around, kicks up dust, lasts as long as it lasts, and then peters out. It arises according to conditions in the environment, and passes away when the conditions that created it no longer exist. Each of us is a dust devil. We spin around, interact with other dust devils, make some noise, and then stop spinning, either suddenly or gradually. In the same way that we don't assume there is anyone inside a dust devil making it go, we don't have to assume there is anyone "in here," inside of our own whirling experience. The sense that "this is happening to me" is just another gust of wind. The disappointment that may arise on noticing that "I" am much less substantial (and therefore much less important) than I had hoped, is itself a gust of wind.

Absence of an Abiding Phenomenon
Yes, on at least two occasions, for periods lasting several years at a time, I thought I'd found something static, constant, or perhaps abiding, within experience. The first was what seemed to be a kind of witnessing consciousness that could be found within any moment of experience irrespective of whatever else was going on. I was able to cultivate this into a recognizable and reproducible state that I thought of as the witness. I also believed that this witnessing consciousness was there in the background even when there was no conscious recognition of it. The witness, when cultivated as a state, was compelling because it felt like an upgrade from my default identity as Kenneth; from the point of view of the witness, there wasn't any concern for whether Kenneth lived or died. There was very little sense of time; it felt like riding the razor's edge of now, without reference to past or future.

The second candidate for an abiding phenomenon was a subtle, exquisite, diffuse presence that seemed to underlie and pervade or contain all experience but had no location or individual identity. From this point of view, which I thought of as primordial awareness, "I" seemed to disappear and merge within the totality of experience. This was, subjectively speaking, the best of all; it felt wonderful to meld into the universal consciousness and cease to exist as a separate entity.

In both cases, as I continued to cultivate, explore, and investigate the experiences, the orientation toward them changed. It became apparent that as wonderful and valuable as these experiences were, they were still experiences. For "experience," I'm using a simple, common-sense definition: if it can be remembered, it was an experience. If there was consciousness during it, it was an experience. Notice that this definition of experience doesn't posit an "I" to have the experience; that's a separate question.

As the experiences of the witness and primordial awareness were integrated through the years, it became increasingly difficult to think of them as special, or to believe that they were more real, more valid, or more ontologically significant than an itch, a sound, or a thought. This was simultaneously devastating and liberating. I could no longer privilege even the loftiest of phenomena as the "right" way to be or the "truth." The common habit of spiritual teachers to speak of Reality as though it had a capital "R" no longer made sense to me.

Here is my current working model: all experience has exactly the same ontological status as any other. In other words, there is no reason to believe that any experience, however subtle, exquisite, or profound, gives one special knowledge or insight into the ultimate nature of the universe. As humbling and discouraging as this may sound, it turns out to be a great relief, once integrated. It's terrible when Santa Claus dies, but at least you don't have to drag him around anymore. Now, having grieved extensively the death of my sacred states, I am much more likely to be delighted than discouraged upon noticing that there is nothing in this or any other world that we can be sure of.

From this point of view, experiences of the "witness" or "merger with the cosmos" can still be valued as beautiful and enriching, and one can enjoy them for their own sake.

An Empowering Understanding
Perhaps the most empowering understanding about the practice that leads to awakening is that it doesn't matter what is happening as long as you know it's happening as it's happening. So much freedom flows from there. Even if what is happening is absolutely dreadful, it can be objectified, noticed, lit up by consciousness, named, and noted. And that's all you have to do. About the time you see it clearly, it's gone, replaced by something else. Which can also be noted.

In '93, I was living and meditating in a monastery in Rangoon, Burma. One day, at interview, one of the yogis asked the monk teacher whether we should be doing "letting go" practice. The monk said, "You don't have to let go of anything. Just see it clearly. It will go away by itself."

Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes.

If you pay careful attention to your experience … there are no hindrances in the realm of vipassana properly understood; the moment you objectify the supposed hindrance, it becomes fuel for your awakening.

Three Characteristics of Existence
Think of the 3Cs as a description, after-the-fact, that may or may not fit your experience. Your job is to find out whether dukkha, anicca, and anatta accurately reflect your experience. The 3Cs should not be seen as a prescription; don't let anyone tell you what is real in your own experience. If anything, it's fun to challenge these sacred cows. Maybe the Buddha was wrong. Find out.

With this orientation, all becomes clear. You can float the question of whether any given experience is impermanent, unsatisfactory, and lacking a persistent self. But then forget about all that and just pay careful attention to your experience. Your experience is as it is, regardless of what the pundits say. Your description of spontaneously noticing the 3Cs at times, but sometimes feeling ineffectual when forcing it, rings true for me. Keep up the investigation, consider the possibility that the Buddha was wrong, and see what you see.

Free Will
Hmmm. Free will. Philosophically, I don't assume free will. Everything is conditioned by lots of things, so the idea that one could stand outside of conditions and call the shots doesn't make sense to me. Practically speaking, though, it does appear that we sometimes have choices. Fine. Choices get made. Without, hopefully, being cavalier about it, I think the question of free will is mostly a non-issue as we go about our lives. Interesting for philosophers, yes, but for daily living, we don't have to know the answer. It sometimes seems that we are presented with choices, in which case a choice is made, either proactively or by default.

Letting Go
I was heartbroken to realize that many of my most cherished hopes and beliefs about enlightenment were childish fantasies. On the other hand, there has been great relief and freedom each time a layer of calcified beliefs has dropped away. This process has been both much better and much worse than I imagined. I never expected to be so disappointingly flawed and human after more than 30 years of diligent practice... and to see, after spending significant amounts of time with some of the greatest Buddhist teachers of our time, that they too were just people. That awakening/enlightenment does not, will not, and could not make one anything other than an ordinary human being with strengths and weakness, hopes and fears, blind spots and great insights, and subject to old age, sickness, and death, just as the Buddha pointed out so many centuries ago.

On the other hand, I could never have imagined how very liberating it would feel to give myself permission to be ordinary. Seems obvious, from where I stand at the moment, that human life is a mixed bag. And that it's just what it is... joyful when it's joyful, sucky when it's sucky. But for many years, I was heavily invested in my projections about the way things ought to be, and I suffered a great deal, thinking I was doing it wrong. Overall, it feels so much better to be free than to enslaved by one's own fantasies of perfection-in-the-future.

We can only really be free when we also cut our spiritual heroes loose, showing them the compassion of accepting their humanity, whether they are living or dead, and forgiving them their own delusions and pretensions in cases where they claimed to be something they were not. They were/are only human, after all.

Most interesting, currently, is to see if I can notice what I'm hanging onto now. Hmmm...

The Pure Awareness Concept
Now, access the nondual experience and hang out there a little bit. Then come back to the dualistic experience and notice that some whiff of the Pure Awareness experience is still present in ordinary experience, as I believe you reported a little earlier.

Consider each aspect of experience carefully. Be patient, this may take some time. What is actually happening? Are there mental events? Are there physical sensations? Look at the emotions, the "spacious, clear, unmoving" qualities you reported earlier, and the "subtle current of easeful joy and contentment." Can these be seen as mental and physical phenomena, however subtle and exquisite? What about the self-validating quality of this experience? Is this not, in itself, another experience?

Is it possible to consider that this Pure Awareness experience, while valuable and wonderful, exquisitely subtle and profound... is just an experience? Other than the subjective quality of self-validation, which is itself an experience, what could be the basis for concluding that the nondual or Pure Awareness experience is more real or more true than any other experience?

How do you feel as you consider this possibility? When I first started to question Pure Awareness in my own practice, I felt traumatized. I wanted to fight about it, insist that anyone who dared to question the ultimate nature of Pure Awareness simply hadn't seen it yet. I told myself that I pitied the poor fools, and that someday, if they practiced enough, their eyes might be opened to the Truth that was so obvious to me.

But there was something about my own reaction that was a red flag for me. The very fact that I felt I needed to defend this Ultimate Reality... was kind of weird. I am a very slow learner. It took me several years, and a lot of false starts before I could really question my own entrenched belief that I had plumbed the depths of Reality, and could access and merge with it at will. It was devastating and humiliating. But I let it in. I grieved the loss of my own projection... and eventually, I started to feel lighter. I didn't have this concept of Ultimate Reality to carry around anymore. What a relief! I could finally just let experience be experience, without needing it to be special, ultimate, or nondual, or to even know what it was or what it stood for. And I finally understood what the sages meant when they said that whatever you think is IT... isn't it.

Experience and Awareness
I'm suggesting that there is no experience of awareness. Awareness is always inferred. The experiences you are calling "awareness," however subtle, exquisite, profound, and self-validating, are just experiences, with no more or less claim to Ultimate Reality than an itch, or a thought, or gas pain. I'm suggesting that neither you, nor I, nor anyone else, past or present has ever perceived or apperceived, quasi-perceived, or otherwise-perceived awareness, either personally or impersonally. What people (understandably) mislabel "Awareness" is, in fact, a mental construct, a composite of physical and mental phenomena. I'm suggesting that the next step for you (and anyone who is talking about Awareness) is to grieve the death of your projection. With this understanding, this process of awakening takes a sharp turn into territory we never bargained for and couldn't have anticipated in advance. This is why it's hard, and rare. Most people will not take this step. They will park themselves in their mental constructs, surround themselves with people who believe the same thing, and fail to move beyond their current understanding.

I'm not questioning inference that there is awareness. It is an excellent inference and part of a good working model of the world. I'm asking you to see that it IS an inference. You have no direct experience of awareness. Awareness is always inferred.

Understanding my point depends on first making the distinction between your simple, direct experience, on the one hand, and what you think about your experience, on the other.

If you carefully examine your experience in this moment, you will not find awareness. You will find seeing, hearing, tasting, touching/feeling, smelling, tasting, and mental phenomena. There is nothing in experience except experience, irrespective of whether it seems to be happening to an "I" or not.

All of your conclusions about the nature of experience are thoughts. They may be accurate. They may not. We may never know in some cases. The important thing is to be able to see that they are thoughts. If you can meet me at this basic level of understanding the difference between 1) experience, and 2) thoughts about experience, you're halfway to understanding my main point, which is that there is no such thing on Earth as the experience of awareness. Whether there IS anything that could be reasonably called awareness is another question; we don't have to solve it here, and in fact it's a matter of hot debate among some philosophers.

Awakening doesn't depend on getting philosophy right. It's more about being ruthlessly honest with yourself about what is being experienced in the moment, and resisting the temptation to filter raw experience through our beliefs about what should be happening. If you think you already understand what is going on, it's very difficult to see clearly. For awakening, seeing clearly is everything.

About Synesthesia and Changes in Visual Perception
Yes, this happens to a lot of meditators, myself included. There is often a low-level synesthesia when the mind is very quiet. Sounds, for example, are experienced as both sounds and physical sensations, and sometimes colors or shapes. Visuals can be felt in the body. Mental phenomena and mind states can have a characteristic inner sound (or inner silence). As you say, this is variable, depends on conditions, and is trainable. I would add that it is reproducible, within limits, by which I mean that one can get better at it, but mastery will never be absolute.

Changes in visual perception similar to those you describe, e.g., richer colors, brightness, things appearing two-dimensional or hyper-three-dimensional, are also very common occurrences among meditators. All of this is normal, and has been reported by many meditators.

These are interesting and valuable experiences, and worth cultivating for their own sake. They can also be investigated from a vipassana point of view. I recommend that you do both.

About Rebirth
I don't believe in rebirth, even though I've had experiences that seemed at the time to be vivid recollections of past lives. This is related to my basic assumption that subjective experience does not equal direct insight into the ultimate nature of reality, or as in this case, the mechanical functioning of the universe.

Once, while on retreat in a monastery in Burma, I spent a couple of days calling up memories of past lives. It worked, and I recalled several episodes in great detail, along with metadata about the lives overall. Earlier, as a teenager, I underwent hypnosis and past life regression, and had a similar recollection of what seemed to be a past life. This happened at a party and was all in good fun.

Also, I sometimes have vivid experiences of visiting other realms and interacting with the beings I find there. In Buddhist terms, these might be called devas. They might seem as real as the people I interact with in normal waking life, and they might seem intelligent, self-aware, and aware of me as not only a self-aware being, but also a visitor or alien in their world. If I believed that my subjective experience alone was an unfiltered lens into Truth, I would assume that these devas exist, similar to the way I think my family and community exist, and that when I am not there visiting or observing them, they go on about their lives just as any Earthbound human would do.

But I do not assume that. Rather, I assume that this human organism can have all kinds of experiences that are completely made up by this human organism. In fact, this happens several nights a week in the form of vivid dreams. Just as most of us would not assume that our dreams are windows into another reality, but rather ephemeral events confined to our own minds, I don't assume that devas exist outside of our dreams or visions.

In this same way, I don't assume that my vivid experiences of past life memories are actual memories of real events involving other historically existing humans. In the absence of this assumption, and in the absence of independently verifiable evidence, I can only say I'm highly skeptical about rebirth. Rebirth, it seems to me, is a religious belief with no more or less validity than the belief that a partisan God created the Earth in seven days and then spent centuries punishing people for not believing in him. Both notions seem equally unlikely from where I sit.

Most importantly, I don't know; which is in no way the same as saying that anything is as likely to be true as anything else. My default response to unverifiable, unsupported, and unfalsifiable claims is to assume they are untrue. I would recommend this approach to anyone, as I believe it stands at the very foundations of sanity, intellectual honesty, and the ability to communicate clearly with others.

About Nibbana
First, nobody knows what the Buddha's teaching was. We have only interpretation … It's tempting to imagine that there is one correct way to understand the Buddha's teachings, and that all other interpretations are fringy. This is wrong, of course. There has never been consensus about what the Buddha meant, throughout the history of Buddhism. This means that even today's popular Western view of nibbana as eternal bliss-out, which is highly influenced by New Age thought and Christian images of heaven, should not be taken as orthodoxy. Gasp. emoticon

So, while is correct that my teachings are mine and not the Buddha's, it's essential that we understand at every step of the way that everything that has ever been written about the Buddha in the history of Buddhism was written by someone other than the Buddha. Even this is too sloppy, because we must also admit that we aren't absolutely sure there ever was a historical Buddha. If we can be this honest in the foundations of the discussion, we can skip over a lot of pointless arguments. Suffice to say that I think there is value in assuming that there was a Buddha and that the early Buddhist texts were, at least sometimes, fairly representative of his thought. This gives us some sound conceptual frameworks with which to understand our experience, and some effective techniques to try out for ourselves.

I love to bring this word "oblivion" into the discussion because it so clearly galvanizes our thought around what nibbana might be. Among my Burmese and American teachers in the Mahasi tradition of Buddhism, there was very little controversy about the understanding that nibbana is the complete and utter lack of experience. Take a moment to let that settle.

Nibbana, in the Mahasi tradition, as it was explained to me, is not a special kind of experience. It's not an impersonal background glow of awareness into which we will merge. It's not pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. It is simply the end. While that may feel very scary to those of us steeped in the Christian ideal of eternal life, try to think of what it might have meant for the Buddha, to whom life was an almost unendurable parade of sorrows; since the Buddha believed that the default case was an infinite chain of rebirth across all the realms, including the hell realms, animal realms, hungry ghost realms, and jealous god realms, it would have been great comfort indeed to believe that it might finally come to an end.

Viewed from the point of view of the person to whom it happens, then, nibbana is indeed extinction. And that is a very welcome situation if you believe the alternative is unsatisfactoriness punctuated by hell. You don't get to enjoy nibbana. Nobody does. But the cultural lens into which the idea arose made the idea of the utter, complete, and permanent end of experience a cause for celebration. Nibbana is peace.

Now let's consider oblivion. Notice that the description, from the point of view of the person to whom it happens is exactly the same as nibbana: the end of experience. In oblivion, there isn't anyone there to suffer. Nonetheless, viewed through the cultural lens of someone who grew up in a Christian/New Age culture, the very idea of it is horrifying. Imagine the opportunity cost; surely almost any kind of life is better than none at all. And if there is a chance of melding into the Universal Consciousness, leaving behind all traces of "me" while still being able to feel the bliss... how wonderful that would be, and how cruel and pointless it seems to contemplate a world in which my essence cannot take part.

Two words. Nibbana and oblivion. Both look exactly the same to the person to whom they happen, which is to say they don't look any way at all; there is no one there, either to celebrate or to complain. And yet the words themselves evoke such different responses.

This cultural revulsion toward the idea of oblivion is so entrenched that even some senior Western Buddhist teachers won't go near it. I recently heard an interview in which a Western teacher described nibbana by saying there is no experience. "But it's not nothing!" he quickly insisted, and went on to try to explain using the simile of the zero in mathematics. It made no sense. For me, it seems pointless to speculate about the ontological significance of nibbana if it is the end of experience for the person who enters it. At the same time, I do acknowledge that some people are comforted by the idea that even though they won't be there to appreciate it, nibbana is warm, welcoming, and enduring. In any case, there is no need for us to know the answer to what the Buddha meant by nibbana. I don't think we can know. My hope is that we can see our beliefs as beliefs, and not put too much stock in them either way.

Please note that I have not claimed that Mahasi Sayadaw, or indeed anyone, taught that nibbana = oblivion. In fact, I'm not even claiming that myself. I'm not interested in ontological speculation.

I'm talking about the phenomenology of direct experience. What I am saying is that from the point of view of the person to whom it happens, nibbana and oblivion are indistinguishable, an observation that to me is so blindingly obvious that I'm surprised anyone is willing to dispute it, since to believe otherwise is to imagine that you or some disembodied awareness that used to be you is going to be sitting around in nibbana enjoying it.

It's also important to note that the Mahasi tradition teaches us to systematically develop the ability to access nibbana, aka cessation or fruition. Many people, including myself, have trained in this way, and their reports are remarkably consistent; there is no experience in nibbana. You simply lose consciousness. I realize this isn't very romantic, and I apologize for being such a bubble-burster, but there it is. If Buddhists who have had this experience are teaching that nibbana is "not nothing," it is presumably because (1) the fact that one feels really good upon emerging from this unconscious state leads them to infer that something wonderful must have been going on there or (2) to admit to students that nibbana is the lack of experience is to risk scaring off the students. As you can see, I'm not very worried about scaring off students, and prefer to tell it as I see it, whatever the outcome. As for the inference that something wonderful must have been going on in nibbana since you feel so good when you emerge from it, I would point out that after you die, assuming you have entered nibbana, there will be no emerging. There will just be the lack of experience. Good news, bad news, who knows?

The reason this matters is that if you are a New Age Buddhist who has put all her/his eggs in the nibbana-as-cosmic-blissout basket, or a confused Buddhist who doesn't understand that Hinduism and early Buddhism are diametrically opposed on the question of what happens to meditative adepts after death, you have a right to be told that the foundations of your belief system are based on a misconception. The very fact that some people on this thread are shocked or outraged by what I'm saying is evidence that it needs to be said. The real outrage is that you haven't heard this before.


Edits: Ground Rules

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/9/15 2:28 AM as a reply to AugustLeo.
Hello Kenneth,

You wrote in the article 'Jhana and Nana'
That pre- and post- fourth nana yogi's need to follow two different instructions. A pre- fourth nana yogi should put his focus in penetrating the object. A post- fourth nana yogi must concentrate.

My question
I am planning to do a home retreat for a longer duration, maybe 30 days. I am following the mahasi sayadaw noting technique. In the retreats I have been to I just kept noting and noticing everthing that I would experience. During sits I would take the abdomen as my ancher and would stay there but with the intension to notice the characteristiscs (four elements). During walking I would stay with the feet and notice the characteristiscs. I wouldn't switch to more concentration practice but just follow the same technique and instructions during the whole retreat. The article is from 2009, do you still hold the opinion that post- fourth nana yogi's should concentrate more? Do you suggest that when I cross the A&P, I should do more samatha practice like counting my breath or using a mantra to boost the concentration?
I get the idea that concentration is important, but isn't it key to understand what is happening in your experience? Or is the ability to understand your experience automatic after your have crossed the A&P and is it just a matter of concentration, so you can see deeper?

Thanks in advance for your answer!

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/9/15 11:02 AM as a reply to John Power.
John Power:
Hello Kenneth,

You wrote in the article 'Jhana and Nana'
That pre- and post- fourth nana yogi's need to follow two different instructions. A pre- fourth nana yogi should put his focus in penetrating the object. A post- fourth nana yogi must concentrate.

My question
I am planning to do a home retreat for a longer duration, maybe 30 days. I am following the mahasi sayadaw noting technique. In the retreats I have been to I just kept noting and noticing everthing that I would experience. During sits I would take the abdomen as my ancher and would stay there but with the intension to notice the characteristiscs (four elements). During walking I would stay with the feet and notice the characteristiscs. I wouldn't switch to more concentration practice but just follow the same technique and instructions during the whole retreat. The article is from 2009, do you still hold the opinion that post- fourth nana yogi's should concentrate more? Do you suggest that when I cross the A&P, I should do more samatha practice like counting my breath or using a mantra to boost the concentration?
I get the idea that concentration is important, but isn't it key to understand what is happening in your experience? Or is the ability to understand your experience automatic after your have crossed the A&P and is it just a matter of concentration, so you can see deeper?

Thanks in advance for your answer!
Hi John,

Sorry to take so long to get to your question. I just looked at the essay you mentioned, and I don't think I could do any better now. Here's the link:

http://www.dharmaoverground.org/dharma-wiki/-/wiki/Main/Jhana+and+%C3%91ana+/en

So, yes, if you are working toward the arising and passing away phase, focus on "penetrating the object," which means to look carefully at some aspect of your experience and watch it break down into its component parts. If the sensations of the rise and fall of the abdomen are the object, for example, break the experience down into pressure, warmth, coolness, tightness, release of tension, softness, hardness, expansion, contraction, etc. How big is the area of sensation? How long does it last? Is it changing? Does it go away? Does it get stronger or weaker? Investigating your experience with these simple questions in mind will bring you to the all-important 4th Insight Knowledge, which is the beginning of true vipassana and the doorway to the Paths.

Having attained the A&P, the project is to learn to concentrate, which means to develop the skill of non-distractedness. This is a big job, because it's so dynamic. Things are changing all the time, so learning to be non-distracted isn't something you can learn once; you have to keep learning it over and over again in different situations. It can be done, though, and it's well worth doing.

Post A&P, the mind has gotten the knack of penetrating the object, and it will do so automatically. So all you have to do is concentrate, and you will eventually move through the remaining insight knowledges toward Stream Entry.

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/9/15 12:07 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
Kenneth Folk:
John Power:
Hello Kenneth,

You wrote in the article 'Jhana and Nana'
That pre- and post- fourth nana yogi's need to follow two different instructions. A pre- fourth nana yogi should put his focus in penetrating the object. A post- fourth nana yogi must concentrate.

My question
I am planning to do a home retreat for a longer duration, maybe 30 days. I am following the mahasi sayadaw noting technique. In the retreats I have been to I just kept noting and noticing everthing that I would experience. During sits I would take the abdomen as my ancher and would stay there but with the intension to notice the characteristiscs (four elements). During walking I would stay with the feet and notice the characteristiscs. I wouldn't switch to more concentration practice but just follow the same technique and instructions during the whole retreat. The article is from 2009, do you still hold the opinion that post- fourth nana yogi's should concentrate more? Do you suggest that when I cross the A&P, I should do more samatha practice like counting my breath or using a mantra to boost the concentration?
I get the idea that concentration is important, but isn't it key to understand what is happening in your experience? Or is the ability to understand your experience automatic after your have crossed the A&P and is it just a matter of concentration, so you can see deeper?

Thanks in advance for your answer!
Hi John,

Sorry to take so long to get to your question. I just looked at the essay you mentioned, and I don't think I could do any better now. Here's the link:

http://www.dharmaoverground.org/dharma-wiki/-/wiki/Main/Jhana+and+%C3%91ana+/en

So, yes, if you are working toward the arising and passing away phase, focus on "penetrating the object," which means to look carefully at some aspect of your experience and watch it break down into its component parts. If the sensations of the rise and fall of the abdomen are the object, for example, break the experience down into pressure, warmth, coolness, tightness, release of tension, softness, hardness, expansion, contraction, etc. How big is the area of sensation? How long does it last? Is it changing? Does it go away? Does it get stronger or weaker? Investigating your experience with these simple questions in mind will bring you to the all-important 4th Insight Knowledge, which is the beginning of true vipassana and the doorway to the Paths.

Having attained the A&P, the project is to learn to concentrate, which means to develop the skill of non-distractedness. This is a big job, because it's so dynamic. Things are changing all the time, so learning to be non-distracted isn't something you can learn once; you have to keep learning it over and over again in different situations. It can be done, though, and it's well worth doing.

Post A&P, the mind has gotten the knack of penetrating the object, and it will do so automatically. So all you have to do is concentrate, and you will eventually move through the remaining insight knowledges toward Stream Entry.

As I understand it, the Mahasi tradition encourage a form of practice that lead to crossing the A&P early, crossing it often if necessary, in othe words, moving in the latter stages the faster the better. Daniel somewhat present it that way. Do you think someone can work on "stuff" by cycling in stage 1-4 (mainly 3-4), if he is not ready to get into the dissolution process. By "not ready" it could mean that it's a bad timing in the person life but also, it could be not psychologically ready. In other words, is it possible to ease the dissolution process by doing work in the early stages, beside developping single-pointed concentration. For instance, a lot of emotional stuff can bubble up in the 3C, could someone deal with this stuff at that stage and make it easier for the future?

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/9/15 1:31 PM as a reply to Simon T..
Simon T.:

Do you think someone can work on "stuff" by cycling in stage 1-4 (mainly 3-4), if he is not ready to get into the dissolution process. By "not ready" it could mean that it's a bad timing in the person life but also, it could be not psychologically ready. In other words, is it possible to ease the dissolution process by doing work in the early stages, beside developping single-pointed concentration. For instance, a lot of emotional stuff can bubble up in the 3C, could someone deal with this stuff at that stage and make it easier for the future?
Hi Simon,

I think it's good to work on your stuff all along the way. Progress through the Insight Knowledges is by no means a cure-all, and in fact, as you pointed out, it can actually cause emotional stuff to bubble up even more than usual.

My teacher Bill Hamilton, who had a degree in psychology, believed it was best to postpone working directly with emotional/psychological content until after attaining stream entry. I disagree, mostly because I tried it that way and it pretty well drove me mad for awhile. Attainment on the ladder of developmental meditation just one line of human development. It's important, but not more important than emotional and psychological health; and although meditation can contribute greatly to emotional/psychological health, it simply isn't enough. To really get your stuff together, you have to work at many levels. Please take care of your emotional and psychological health all along the way. There are lots of ways to do this. Therapy is good, discussion groups are good, friends are good, education is good. Above all, remember that humans are social creatures. We don't thrive in isolation. So spend time with people, even when it feels awkward, and when the silence and isolation of intensive meditation retreat gets too much, take a break and seek out human companionship.

If you seek balance all along the way, you can be both sane and awake. Easier said than done, and the pendulum is likely to swing into the red zone from time to time no matter what you do, but you have a much better chance of maintaining a healthy balance if you make it a conscious goal.

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/9/15 2:20 PM as a reply to AugustLeo.
Hi Kenneth,
I'm curious what effect you feel this new secular take on mindfulness is producing on tech leadership in the SF bay area? I understand you lived here for a while and had some students from this leadership stratum.

I've read articles that suggest that there are some companies with more of an interest in meditation (Google and Medium come to mind), but always with the bend that they are looking for that magical mixture of a rise in productivity tied to quality of life (workers who are happy to work longer hours and produce higher quality work, in other words). I cringe every time I listen to the Googler who wrote Search Inside Yourself wax on about "emotional intelligence," as it feels like he's the perfect shill for this.

I'm very curious because I've worked in tech my entire professional life, and until recently worked for a major company in SF whose wellness programs never got beyond soulcycle, cross-fit and yoga. The entirety of their meditation efforts were a 15 minute guided sit given once a week by the ashtanga yoga instructor and a 20 minute self-led effort, daily attended by 1-5 employees (I was one, so maybe it's 0-4 now).

I feel it's important to look more closely at this, as this region of the country is now being studied for innovation and job production in our ever transitioning financial landscape. I would not hesitate to conjecture, as goes the bay area, so may go the rest of the country. As such, there's a feeling of tremendous opportunity to bring folks to a significant practice, but that the window is fast closing.

edited: for clarity

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/9/15 5:53 PM as a reply to AugustLeo.
Kenneth Folk’s Process of Training Attention :

"Being aware of experience, and then becoming conscious that you are aware of experience" describes the process of systematically training attention. It's useful to think of this as a series of steps. It might look like this.
 
1. Embedded in experience. You're a cat on the front lawn, staring at a gopher hole, waiting for the gopher to emerge. You have no self-awareness. You aren't even conscious that you are seeing. You are fully "in it."
 
2. Able to name the object. You can play the children's game "I Spy with my Little Eye." If someone were to ask you what you are looking at, you would say, "A gopher hole."
 
3. Able to form a concept around the activity.  If someone were to ask you what you are doing, you would say that you are waiting for the gopher to emerge, and that you understand that gophers live in holes.
 
4. Able to observe the experience as experience. This is the beginning of vipassana. If someone asked you about your direct experience, you would answer "seeing." You understand that all seeing has something in common, irrespective of what is seen. Seeing a gopher hole has a lot in common with seeing a house or another cat.
 
5. Able to conceptually separate object from apparent subject. If you are asked who is seeing, you would say "I am seeing."
 
6. Able to attend to the apparent "I". You can turn attention toward the one who seems to be seeing. You can even become absorbed in this experience of witnessing and reify it as "the witness."
 
7. Able to deconstruct the witnessing state by looking directly at its component parts. At this point, "the witness" no longer seems to be "I"; it is revealed as just another state.
 
8. More of the same, at various levels of subtlety, always moving from identification to conceptualization to investigation to deconstruction and around again.
 
We could add more sub-steps and detail, but this shows the trajectory from absorption/emeddedness toward seeing experience as experience. We could also extend the steps to become aware of what appears at first to be a ground state, aka Primordial Awareness, within which everything else arises, and then to investigate the component parts of the apparent ground state to see that our experience of the supposed ground state is just another experience.
 
To summarize, the process of waking up involves becoming aware of experience, then becoming aware that there seems to be someone having the experience, and then becoming aware that this apparent someone is also an experience. We aren't able to find a personal nugget of knowing or an impersonal field of knowing that can stand apart from experience and evaluate it from on high. No experience is more real than any other, or prior to any other; there is only experience, always moving, referring back to no one.
 
This does not mean that the momentarily arising sense that "this is happening to me" stops arising. It continues to arise, which is good, because this sense of provisional identity is fundamental to functioning in the world. However, this oft-arising sense of I is seen as just another experience. It is no longer seen as the one immutable lens through which all other experience must be filtered.

Kenneth,
 
How does the progress of insight (ñanas) and physio-energetic development fit into the process of systematically training attention to achieve awakening as a part of Contemplative Fitness? 
 
Thanks,
Michael

Edit: to remove "to achieve awakening" and add "as a part of Contemplative Fitness"

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/9/15 6:48 PM as a reply to AugustLeo.
I like to think of a dust devil in an open field. It spins around, kicks up dust, lasts as long as it lasts, and then peters out. It arises according to conditions in the environment, and passes away when the conditions that created it no longer exist. Each of us is a dust devil. We spin around, interact with other dust devils, make some noise, and then stop spinning, either suddenly or gradually. In the same way that we don't assume there is anyone inside a dust devil making it go, we don't have to assume there is anyone "in here," inside of our own whirling experience. The sense that "this is happening to me" is just another gust of wind. The disappointment that may arise on noticing that "I" am much less substantial (and therefore much less important) than I had hoped, is itself a gust of wind.
Kenneth, the above is an awesome metaphor, thanks for that.

Question:

So, given that we are all like dust devils, just in a more complex configurement, how is it that we can somehow incline our minds or lean our minds towards one way or another of acting and reacting?  This still baffles me, In other words I am asking how does this whole impersonal process come together and still seem at times to be so personal and consciously changeable?  Granted, in retrospect, the words come to the mind faster than I can type, so I know there is no I thingy in here thinking these words up, no homonculus pulling the wires and turning the gears, so to speak.  But, as I am typing there is the illusion of I am typing...  Or , ah, that is just another experience too, huh?

So, and sorry if this is getting haywired.  

Question:

Given we are like dust devils, though more complex, how does the impersonal human process have the seeming ablility to move in seemingly conscious decision making directions of life?

If that makes any sense....  

Psi

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/9/15 9:25 PM as a reply to AugustLeo.
Greetings, Kenneth:

Here is a snip from the Hurricane Ranch talks on "Doing It versus Getting It Done":


KENNETH: So does each path have its own logic about what it means to "get it done"?
DANIEL: Yes. Definitely.

Daniel goes on from there to talk about the complexities and fractals that emerge in second path.

For context, I'll say thatI 
I apparently finished second path 10 days ago. My walking-around 24/7 "perception" (experience) is changed, very changed. Some of my dharma friends say my phenomenological descriptions fit third, not second. Half of what came up for me on this second path seemed to fit second, and half, esp. all the spaciousness and boundless space, seemed to fit third.

First path--I had one earth-shattering cessation/fruition experience, with a spectacular nondual reignition-of-reality phase, but not a single additional fruition until second path, and then the the fruition came days after the 24/7 shift, not before. 

First path--reduced my anxiety by 85% in one stroke, which has continued since Sept. Also had boundless jhanas suddenly, hard jhanas. Really, I had a whole list of specific things that I could describe as the changes. Supposedly, first pathers don't nornally know what changed.

I'm saying all this because second path was exceedingly confusing to me, and the path models made this confusion, expectation, and communication barriers with mentors worse, not better. It made me mad. Daniel's Revised Four-Path Model and his Simple Model--useless, or actually worse than useless.

Moreover, when I once asked Daniel whether one should practice in
a path-appropriate way, he told me, no, to stop asking about paths and mappy stuff and get back to my cushion and investigate experience! LOL! This, from the map monger, and I have a pretty open, intuitive practice (not Mashasi style, really). But see above what he said in the Hurricane Ranch talks.

My understanding from those ahead of me is that the path models completely break down at third.

So, if the path models break down at third, if they don't actually fit progress in a semi-reliable way even before then, and if there are no "special" frameworks, agendas, or practices specific to "paths," then why the hell even have these stupid things? What good do they do? None, so far as I can see. Please explain yourselves, you two!

I've proposed to Daniel that in MCTB2 he make a Simpler Two-Stage Model if he wants to be honest and consistent:

Path 1. On the ride but not done.
Path 4. Done.

Thoughts?

By the way, I spent honeymoon of first suddenly in jhanas no matter what I intended and suddenly interested in powers. I regretted having not focussed on fruitions. Since the mind is powerful during this honeymoon phase, what are some good things to work on now? 

Thanks!
Jenny

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/9/15 11:20 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
Excellent post.

In your online ebook you mentioned something to the effect that as new 'layers of mind' are uncovered via vipassana that concentraton has to be relearned. Can you explain that with a little theory and give some tips for working with it?

And, I find that when I get concentrated certain 'energetic blocks' become intensified and I become hyperaware of them. At that frustrating point I usually give up on concentration and make an excuse to vipassanize it. Any tips for this?

Finally, how does baseline concentration tend to progress over years and decades of practice?

Thanks

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/10/15 4:36 AM as a reply to AugustLeo.
kennethfolkdharma.com:
Kenneth is an instructor of meditation who has received worldwide acknowledgement for his innovative approach to secular Buddhist meditation. After twenty years of training in the Burmese Theravada Buddhist tradition of Mahasi Sayadaw, including three years of intensive silent retreat in monasteries in Asia and the U.S., he began to spread his own findings, successfully stripping away religious dogma to render meditation accessible to modern practitioners.


Hello!

Could you please write more about this twenty years of training under Burmese Theravada Buddhist tradition?
What teachers did you trained under? What monasteries did you visit during that 3 years of silent retreat?
Finally, what made you part away from that tradition? Is there a Biography available?

Regards,
Connie Dobbs

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/10/15 11:38 AM as a reply to AugustLeo.
Here's more from my YouTube comments thread with a woman named Elizabeth. Including it here because it overlaps with some of the questions asked and represents my latest understanding of the phenomenon known as Pure Awareness. I wrote:

Hi Elizabeth, what happens when you consider the possibility that your thoughts, and therefore your beliefs, however compelling and deeply held, may be not be quite right? If you were to assert that Pure Awareness remains even when there is no experience, you would be stating a belief. It cannot be based in experience, because if there was no experience, there was no experience, personal, impersonal, or otherwise.

When we can't rely on our beliefs to be correct, things get simpler; we're left only with experience. This is very threatening, since we are used to being able to depend on our beliefs to orient ourselves in the world. But if we're committed to finding out what's really going on here, we have no choice but to question our beliefs.

Simply repeating, again and again, that Pure Awareness remains, short-circuits the discussion and the investigation, and prevents further progress and deeper insight.

If, on the other hand, you say that you know Pure Awareness is real because there is direct experience of it in this moment, we will be talking about something real as opposed to something speculative. And I will point out that the experience you are calling Pure Awareness has something in common with all experiences; it is an experience.

Awakening can be seen as the process of iteratively lighting the up lenses that are not being seen as lenses. When the lens itself is taken as object (directly lit up by attention), it loses its power to confuse. It is seen as just another experience. There is no fixed position from which to view all the other lenses. There is only experience, with no place to plant your feet. Even the momentarily arising sense "this is happening to me" is just another experience.

So far, your belief that there is an abiding Pure Awareness is functioning as a lens that is not being seen as a lens. It is a sacred cow and a glass ceiling. If you can see it as a lens, an even greater freedom becomes possible. If fear arises as you consider even the remote possibility that you may be missing something important, this is a sign that you are on the right track.

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/10/15 12:40 PM as a reply to AugustLeo.
Hi Kenneth,

Your website states:
Kenneth is an instructor of meditation who has received worldwide acknowledgement for his innovative approach to secular Buddhist meditation. After twenty years of training in the Burmese Theravada Buddhist tradition of Mahasi Sayadaw, including three years of intensive silent retreat in monasteries in Asia and the U.S., he began to spread his own findings, successfully stripping away religious dogma to render meditation accessible to modern practitioners.
To clarify: Do you consider that you teach secular Buddhist meditation, or that you teach meditation that is influenced by Buddhism but also other sources (such as your own findings)?

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/10/15 2:42 PM as a reply to Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem.
Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem:
Hi Kenneth,

Your website states:
Kenneth is an instructor of meditation who has received worldwide acknowledgement for his innovative approach to secular Buddhist meditation. After twenty years of training in the Burmese Theravada Buddhist tradition of Mahasi Sayadaw, including three years of intensive silent retreat in monasteries in Asia and the U.S., he began to spread his own findings, successfully stripping away religious dogma to render meditation accessible to modern practitioners.
To clarify: Do you consider that you teach secular Buddhist meditation, or that you teach meditation that is influenced by Buddhism but also other sources (such as your own findings)?
(With apologies to those higher up in the queue, I want to quickly answer a couple of these questions related to teaching approach and training, as I know this is important to many people here, as well it should be.)

Hi Claudiu,

It almost looks like an either/or question the way you've framed it, but the answer is yes to both. I consider that I teach secular Buddhist meditation, because I teach Budddhist meditation techniques and concepts as they were taught to me by my Buddhist teachers but without claiming that the Buddhist way is the best or the only way. For me, that Buddha was just another human, albeit a genius at teaching, communication, and community administration in addition to being awake. All in all, quite a package, but not holy or magical, and not the final word on anything. It's this last part, the unwillingness to make something superhuman out the Buddha, that I believe makes my teaching secular rather than religious.

I also teach meditation techniques and concepts that are influenced by Buddhism, Advaita, Dzogchen, my own experience, and my experience in working with students. In other words, I've always been and continue to be open to experimentation and multiple influences. The fundamental assumption underlying my approach is "if it works, do it. If you're not sure whether it will work or not, try it. If you're afraid to try it, talk to someone who has. If you can't find someone to talk to, read about it. After you've read about it or talked to someone who has done it, if it looks like it might work, and seems reasonably safe, go back to step one and try it."

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/10/15 3:16 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
Kenneth Folk:
Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem:
Hi Kenneth,

Your website states:
Kenneth is an instructor of meditation who has received worldwide acknowledgement for his innovative approach to secular Buddhist meditation. After twenty years of training in the Burmese Theravada Buddhist tradition of Mahasi Sayadaw, including three years of intensive silent retreat in monasteries in Asia and the U.S., he began to spread his own findings, successfully stripping away religious dogma to render meditation accessible to modern practitioners.
To clarify: Do you consider that you teach secular Buddhist meditation, or that you teach meditation that is influenced by Buddhism but also other sources (such as your own findings)?
(With apologies to those higher up in the queue, I want to quickly answer a couple of these questions related to teaching approach and training, as I know this is important to many people here, as well it should be.)

Hi Claudiu,

It almost looks like an either/or question the way you've framed it, but the answer is yes to both. I consider that I teach secular Buddhist meditation, because I teach Budddhist meditation techniques and concepts as they were taught to me by my Buddhist teachers but without claiming that the Buddhist way is the best or the only way. For me, that Buddha was just another human, albeit a genius at teaching, communication, and community administration in addition to being awake. All in all, quite a package, but not holy or magical, and not the final word on anything. It's this last part, the unwillingness to make something superhuman out the Buddha, that I believe makes my teaching secular rather than religious.

I also teach meditation techniques and concepts that are influenced by Buddhism, Advaita, Dzogchen, my own experience, and my experience in working with students. In other words, I've always been and continue to be open to experimentation and multiple influences. The fundamental assumption underlying my approach is "if it works, do it. If you're not sure whether it will work or not, try it. If you're afraid to try it, talk to someone who has. If you can't find someone to talk to, read about it. After you've read about it or talked to someone who has done it, if it looks like it might work, and seems reasonably safe, go back to step one and try it."

Thanks for the answer. That makes sense. I did think it was an either/or question without realizing that it wasn't, necessarily.

So is it fair to say that you teach what works? If what works is Buddhist, then you do/teach that. If something Buddhist doesn't work, then you don't do/teach that. You don't adhere to a particular tradition or a rigid framework - you take what works from any tradition and leave behind what doesn't.

If that's all fair and correct, then the next question is - how do you define "what works"? Based on your Quick Start Guide, is it fair to say "what works" is what leads to awakening, and "what doesn't work" is what doesn't lead to awakening? If so then that gets to the age-old question though of "What is Awakening?", which this is probably the wrong format to discuss! If you've already written anything about what you understand the goal to be - what you understand "what works" to mean - then I'd appreciate a link. Or if you'd like to write up a summary now, that would be informative. I won't follow up in-depth here - if I'm curious then I'll start another thread about it.

Regards,
Claudiu

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/12/15 5:52 PM as a reply to Connie Dobbs.
Connie Dobbs:
kennethfolkdharma.com:
Kenneth is an instructor of meditation who has received worldwide acknowledgement for his innovative approach to secular Buddhist meditation. After twenty years of training in the Burmese Theravada Buddhist tradition of Mahasi Sayadaw, including three years of intensive silent retreat in monasteries in Asia and the U.S., he began to spread his own findings, successfully stripping away religious dogma to render meditation accessible to modern practitioners.


Hello!

Could you please write more about this twenty years of training under Burmese Theravada Buddhist tradition?
What teachers did you trained under? What monasteries did you visit during that 3 years of silent retreat?
Finally, what made you part away from that tradition? Is there a Biography available?

Regards,
Connie Dobbs
Hi Connie,

Here are brief answers to your questions:

"What teachers did you trained under?"

Teachers I've trained with personally, roughly in chronological order from the time I first met them:

Bill Hamilton
Shinzen Young
Stephen Armstrong
Steven Smith
Sayadaw U Rajinda
Sayadaw U Vivekananda
Sayadaw U Pandita
Sayadaw U Kundala
Rabbi David Cooper
Shoshana Cooper

Teachers whose retreats I've attended, but without much one-on-on interaction:

Joseph Goldstein
Sharon Salzberg
Michelle McDonald
Jack Kornfield

Teachers with whom I discuss dharma on an informal or peer basis:

Daniel Ingram
Hokai Sobol
Michael Gozen Latorra
Vincent Horn
Ronald Crouch
Shinzen Young
Sean Pritchard (ex-U Vamsa)

Some of my students or former students who have gone on to become successful teachers in their own right:

Daniel Ingram
Vincent Horn
Ronald Crouch
Abre Chen

What monasteries did you visit during that 3 years of silent retreat?

Insight Meditation Center, Barre, MA
Malaysian Buddhist Meditation Centre, Penang, Malaysia
Panditarama Yeiktha, Rangoon, Burma
Saddhamaranthi Yeiktha, Rangoon, Burma
Whidbey Island Retreat
Forest Refuge, Barre, MA

What made you part away from that tradition?

If I ever was a part of any tradition, I still am. The one tradition I claim as official is the Bill Hamilton tradition. He called me his dharma heir, and his deathbed request was that I carry on his work.

In 1995, Sayadaw U Kundala, abbot of Saddhamaranthi Yeiktha, and a direct disciple of Mahasi Sayadaw, much beloved and revered in Burma although not well known outside of his home country, called me into his room along with two monastery board members for an informal meeting in which he asked me to help to spread the dhamma in the West. I agreed, and told him I would be honored to do so. But I do not claim formal lineage in his tradition, because I don't know if he meant it as formal transmission. U Kundala died in 2010.

Is there a Biography available?

I tell some of my dharma story in the book-in-progress, Contemplative Fitness. I usually make the latest draft of the book available online at contemplativefitnessbook.com, but I'm having trouble transferring the domain to a new registrar, so the site is currently unavailable. I hope to have it back up soon. Thanks for asking.

edit: "students of formal students" corrected to "students or former students"

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/10/15 4:50 PM as a reply to Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem.
Jenny:
Good question, well put, Claudiu.

Especially if some sort of ad hoc helpings on a "cafeteria plan" are being mixed or consumed on demand, then the question is, are all the original traditions thus appropriated in bits and pieces even leading, or purporting to lead, to the same "awakening?" Techniques come with certain assumptions about goals, and those matter to the techniques in theory and application.

I started out in a Tibetan center, and we were always warned against mix-and-match eclecticism. Now, that may have been self-serving on the part of that tradition, but they did have some pretty sound reasoning, it seemed to me, for being cautious about cafeteria plans. For starters, things can quickly become confusing, murky: I assumed that mahamudra practice was much like MCTB's practice of vipassana with samatha jhana as object, for example. Yet a practitioner I know here mainly from Tibetan tradition says they aren't the same at all.

So, yeah--seconding Claudiu's question here.

Jenny
Respectfully, Jenny, please clarify your question to Kenneth.  Claudiu posed more than one question.  Let's give Kenneth a chance to answer each question in turn.

Thank you and metta.

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/12/15 5:31 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
Kenneth, I appreciate the answer. (btw, nice registrar = gandi.net, maybe they can help)

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/14/15 4:36 AM as a reply to AugustLeo.
Hi Kenneth,

Great discussion on BATGAP, thank you. The explanation of noting I heard clarifies our dualistic perception i.e. a separation between subject and object. This resonated with me.

I tended to note and then concentrate on the object being noted. It seems you suggest to note and observe the experience of subject and object rather than observing the object. Is this correct ?

Thinking more about this I wonder about non-dual reported as connection to "everything". It seems the notion of "everything" requries a dualism as something needs to hold the concept of "stuff not being experienced now". Would a non-dual experience be closer to a merging of subject and object so there is no witness, no concept outside of present experience ?

I'm confused how noting that reinforces a dualistic experience leads to non-dual awakening. I wonder if the noting allows a clear understanding of the dual view and needs to be combined with an investigation into the impermanence of self. But if we define "self" as an ongoing process - which I think is a fairly mainstream/common view - then I don't see how proving that an ongoing process is no one thing unhinges an understanding of the self as process. 

Best wishes,
   Mark 

 

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/17/15 6:44 PM as a reply to AugustLeo.
Michael+:
Kenneth Folk’s Process of Training Attention :

"Being aware of experience, and then becoming conscious that you are aware of experience" describes the process of systematically training attention. It's useful to think of this as a series of steps. It might look like this.
 
1. Embedded in experience. You're a cat on the front lawn, staring at a gopher hole, waiting for the gopher to emerge. You have no self-awareness. You aren't even conscious that you are seeing. You are fully "in it."
 
2. Able to name the object. You can play the children's game "I Spy with my Little Eye." If someone were to ask you what you are looking at, you would say, "A gopher hole."
 
3. Able to form a concept around the activity.  If someone were to ask you what you are doing, you would say that you are waiting for the gopher to emerge, and that you understand that gophers live in holes.
 
4. Able to observe the experience as experience. This is the beginning of vipassana. If someone asked you about your direct experience, you would answer "seeing." You understand that all seeing has something in common, irrespective of what is seen. Seeing a gopher hole has a lot in common with seeing a house or another cat.
 
5. Able to conceptually separate object from apparent subject. If you are asked who is seeing, you would say "I am seeing."
 
6. Able to attend to the apparent "I". You can turn attention toward the one who seems to be seeing. You can even become absorbed in this experience of witnessing and reify it as "the witness."
 
7. Able to deconstruct the witnessing state by looking directly at its component parts. At this point, "the witness" no longer seems to be "I"; it is revealed as just another state.
 
8. More of the same, at various levels of subtlety, always moving from identification to conceptualization to investigation to deconstruction and around again.
 
We could add more sub-steps and detail, but this shows the trajectory from absorption/emeddedness toward seeing experience as experience. We could also extend the steps to become aware of what appears at first to be a ground state, aka Primordial Awareness, within which everything else arises, and then to investigate the component parts of the apparent ground state to see that our experience of the supposed ground state is just another experience.
 
To summarize, the process of waking up involves becoming aware of experience, then becoming aware that there seems to be someone having the experience, and then becoming aware that this apparent someone is also an experience. We aren't able to find a personal nugget of knowing or an impersonal field of knowing that can stand apart from experience and evaluate it from on high. No experience is more real than any other, or prior to any other; there is only experience, always moving, referring back to no one.
 
This does not mean that the momentarily arising sense that "this is happening to me" stops arising. It continues to arise, which is good, because this sense of provisional identity is fundamental to functioning in the world. However, this oft-arising sense of I is seen as just another experience. It is no longer seen as the one immutable lens through which all other experience must be filtered.

Kenneth,
 
How does the progress of insight (ñanas) and physio-energetic development fit into the process of systematically training attention as a part of Contemplative Fitness? 
 
Thanks,
Michael

Edit & Bump emoticon.

Kenneth,

Is Awakening as much a physiological (somatic) process as it is a cognitive process, in your experience and understanding?

Thanks.

Michael

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/18/15 7:34 AM as a reply to AugustLeo.
Hi Kenneth,
I remember you saying somewhere that you usually try teaching students of Vipassana the noting practice first because it has some psychological advantages over other Vipassana methods.
What are these psychological advantages?
(I hope I didn't completely mix that statement up because I can't find the reference right now.)

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
2/23/15 9:17 PM as a reply to AugustLeo.
Bump

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
3/2/15 6:49 AM as a reply to AugustLeo.
Kenneth, at one time you seemed to teach that first gear was "lower" than second and third, i.e., one shifted back to first gear when concentration was lacking. Later you said you thought all three gears were equal in "worth". In your Batgap interview, you said first gear was the only way to get to awakening. Do I understand this correctly? Has this been a shift in your understanding? Or does each gear fit into a stage of development?

From my own experience and from reading meditation journals of others, many if not most practitioners seem to leave first gear as they become more advanced in their practice and spend their time in third gear with a few spending time in second gear. In my case, first and second gear do come up when I am in third gear.

jack

RE: Q&A with Kenneth Folk #2
Answer
6/19/15 3:25 PM as a reply to AugustLeo.
Well, this is incredibly insightful, and it makes total sense from both my own direct experience and some of the teachings I have read.

That said, I never had any problems or pain before I was born, so such an experience of oblivion sounds perfectly fine with me!