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Magick and The Powers

The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic matters

The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic matters Ryan J 2/25/15 8:40 PM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Mark 2/26/15 5:27 AM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks 2/26/15 6:06 AM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Mark 2/26/15 9:33 AM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Ryan J 2/27/15 10:59 AM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Mark 2/27/15 11:17 AM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Ryan J 2/27/15 8:55 PM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Mark 2/28/15 7:59 AM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Ryan J 2/28/15 6:49 PM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Mark 3/1/15 6:51 AM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Ryan J 3/1/15 10:29 AM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Mark 3/1/15 12:34 PM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat svmonk 3/1/15 7:35 PM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Mark 3/2/15 3:58 AM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat svmonk 3/2/15 10:24 PM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Mark 3/3/15 6:30 AM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Ryan J 3/3/15 12:40 AM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Ryan J 3/2/15 10:58 PM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Mark 3/3/15 7:59 AM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Ryan J 3/4/15 12:23 AM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Ryan J 3/4/15 12:18 AM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat CJMacie 2/28/15 10:13 PM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Mark 3/1/15 6:01 AM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat CJMacie 3/1/15 4:44 AM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Ryan J 3/1/15 10:33 AM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat CJMacie 3/8/15 8:24 AM
RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat Ryan J 3/8/15 3:56 PM
WARNING DEAR READER, PLEASE READ THIS FIRST: The following post is a discussion of magic, magick, or the powers in a pragmatic community in a pragmatic paradigm. I therefore demand this topic be a discussion of magic on pragmatic grounds. This is not a discussion of binary stances such as: magic is not real because my local scientist said so, or, magic is real because ancient scripture X said so and it was written by a dead Asian celibate male monk, hence it is true. Please take discussions of binary conceptual stances elsewhere, as this topic is for discussing these matters from a pragmatic framework. By posting, you henceforth consent to the hegemonic tyrannical totalitarian rule of pragmatism!


This topic is a refined repost I made a few months ago. As I have stated above, this topic is about a pragmatic take on the powers. What does that mean? Let's be honest and admit it is a difficult perspective for most humans to comprehend. For what I can assume is simplicity sake, we tend to think in terms of binary groupings: true/false, good/evil, black/white, etc. Is magic true? Is magic false? No! Stop asking such questions, at least for now, dear reader! This pragmatic perspective simply reorientates our focus. Our focus is: what type of causes does magic have? Can it be useful? Can it improve our lives? How does this phenomenon effect things? My argument is that it can. I won't tell you about the strange experiences I've had running into angels and other seeming bizarre experiences I have had, maybe later. I'll simply use my favorite example of a magical experience and hope that it will at least make you think, "Well, I don't know, but that seems rather interesting! Perhaps I should be open to broader perspectives to delve into the adventure that is life and expand the tools I can use to improve myself, to help others."

And that is where I present to you what I like to claim is the greatest magical act of all time. Alan Chapman and Duncan Barford claim that working with one's Holy Guardian Angel in order to awaken is the greatest act of magic. Awakening really, really matters, so I think this is a reasonable statement, but I would like to up the ante. What about an act of magic that enables thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of people to awaken and forever alters the history of the world on a global scale, for which we have proof that it has succeeded? Bonafide Bodhichitta that has objective effects? There is such a thing. Thanks to the internet we have historical documentation of this magical spell. First, let us travel back in time and allow this magician to recall the magical event in his own words. Afterwords, I will argue why this implies magic matters pragmatically and suggest a few directions to adventure towards. Perhaps you can help add some creative, interesting directions yourself?

The spell caster recalls that fateful day, with context:

"...Even as a graduate student at MIT (1964 –1971), I had been pondering for years ‘what is my job with a capital J,’ my ‘karmic assignment’ on the planet, so to speak, without coming up with much of anything. It was a personal koan for me and became more and more a continuous thread in my life day and night as those years unfolded. ‘What am I supposed to be doing with my life?’ I kept asking myself. ‘What do I love so much I would pay to do it?’ I knew it wasn’t to continue in a career in molecular biology, much as I loved science and knew I would be disappointing my Nobel Laureate thesis advisor at MIT, Salvador Luria, and my father, himself an accomplished scientist. I was first exposed to the dharma at MIT, of all improbable places, in 1966, and started a daily meditation practice from that point on (Kabat-Zinn 2005a, 2005b). Meanwhile, I did what I could to find work, especially after I was married and, with my wife, Myla, had started a family. That included two years as a faculty member in the Biology Department at Brandeis University teaching molecular genetics and a science for non-science majors course (which was an opportunity for teaching meditation and yoga as pathways into a first-person experience of biology), and then a stint as Director of the Cambridge Zen Center under the Korean Zen Master, Seung Sahn, where I was also his student and a Dharma teacher in training. I was also teaching large mindful yoga classes weekly in a church in Harvard Square, and exploring other things, such as offering occasional meditation training and yoga/stretching workshops for athletes, especially runners.

In 1976, I went to work at the almost brand-new University of Massachusetts Medical School.4 All the while, my koan about what I was really supposed to be doing with my life in terms of right livelihood was unfolding in the background. 

On a two-week vipassana¯ retreat at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts, in the Spring of 1979, while sitting in my room one afternoon about Day 10 of the retreat, I had a ‘vision’ that lasted maybe 10 seconds. I don’t really know what to call it, so I call it a vision. It was rich in detail and more like an instantaneous seeing of vivid, almost inevitable connections and their implications. It did not come as a reverie or a thought stream, but rather something quite different, which to this day I cannot fully explain and don’t feel the need to. 

I saw in a flash not only a model that could be put in place, but also the longterm implications of what might happen if the basic idea was sound and could be implemented in one test environment—namely that it would spark new fields of scientific and clinical investigation, and would spread to hospitals and medical centres and clinics across the country and around the world, and provide right livelihood for thousands of practitioners. Because it was so weird, I hardly ever mentioned this experience to others. But after that retreat, I did have a better sense of what my karmic assignment might be. It was so compelling that I decided to take it on wholeheartedly as best I could.

Pretty much everything I saw in that 10 seconds has come to pass, in large measure because of the work and the love of all the people who found their way to the Stress Reduction Clinic once it was born, wanting to contribute their own unique karmic trajectories and loves to the nascent and then continually unfolding enterprise of MBSR, the wellbeing and longevity of which were always in some sense tentative and uncertain, because of the vagaries of medical school and hospital politics (one foot on a roller skate, the other on a banana peel, I used to say).

It struck me in that fleeting moment that afternoon at the Insight Meditation Society that it would be a worthy work to simply share the essence of meditation and yoga practices as I had been learning and practicing them at that point for 13 years, with those who would never come to a place like IMS or a Zen Center, and who would never be able to hear it through the words and forms that were being used at meditation centres, or even, back in those days, at yoga centres, which were few and far-between, and very foreign as well. 

A flood of thoughts following the extended moment filled in the picture. Why not try to make meditation so commonsensical that anyone would be drawn to it? Why not develop an American vocabulary that spoke to the heart of the matter, and didn’t focus on the cultural aspects of the traditions out of which the dharma emerged, however beautiful they might be, or on centuries-old scholarly debates concerning fine distinctions in the Abhidharma. This was not because they weren’t ultimately important, but because they would likely cause unnecessary impediments for people who were basically dealing with suffering and seeking some kind of release from it. And, why not do it in the hospital of the medical centre where I happened to be working at the time? After all, hospitals do function as ‘dukkha magnets’ in our society,6 pulling for stress, pain of all kinds, disease and illness, especially when they have reached levels where it is impossible to ignore them (Kabat-Zinn 2005c). What better place than a hospital to make the dharma available to people in ways that they might possibly understand it and be inspired by a heartfelt and practical invitation to explore whether it might not be possible to do something for themselves as a complement to their more traditional medical treatments, since the entire raison d’eˆtre of the dharma is to elucidate the nature of suffering and its root causes, as well as provide a practical path to liberation from suffering? All this to be undertaken, of course, without ever mentioning the word ‘dharma.’"

   First, I think this qualifies as a magical experience, which may also be seen as a magical spell if you assume JKZ intentionally orientated his mind in a koan-like fashion with the mind-puzzle, "What is my Job?" The key lines are: "It was rich in detail and more like an instantaneous seeing of vivid, almost inevitable connections and their implications. It did not come as a reverie or a thought stream, but rather something quite different, which to this day I cannot fully explain and don’t feel the need to." and "Because it was so weird, I hardly ever mentioned this experience to others."
   Second, that as a direct consequence of this magical experience/spell MBSR is founded. More people will pick up meditation than the world has ever seen. MBSR has been featured on the cover of Time magazine, on CBS 60 minutes, taught in the British parliament, established in many hundreds of hospitals around the world, and pushed by thousands of psychotherapists. We do not have statistics, so I am going to take some guesses and assert that:
     -Since the founding of MBSR and as a consequence more people since it's    inception have picked up insight practices today than the entirety of the human race combined before MBSR. If this isn't already true, it will likely be soon considering the pop-culture reaction to MBSR that will likely linger for some time.
     -As a consequence of this, and I know MBSR and it's offshoots are derided as giving rise to McMindfulness by serious practitioners, but nonetheless has resulted in more measurable good for people with modest practices and resulted in more awakened people, stream entry and beyond, than the world has ever seen before. I think this is especially true in light of Buddhist scholars noting it may be that very few Buddhists and monks ever meditated centuries ago. Meditation being the key aspect of awakening, and the fact meditation has historically been only for the most absolutely elite human beings, makes MBSR all the more an astronomical anomaly.
   Third, because science has taken increasing interest in mindfulness because of MBSR and it's derivatives, the chances have dramatically increased for a large scale societal awakening to happen, via Shinzen Young's hope for a technology that will allow for everyday casual people to gain awakening and Jhanic states via some as of yet invented technology without requiring thousands of hours of practice. This is reasonable as this is most likely within the laws of physics. Hypothetical, yet not unreasonable, but I suspect centuries away. This is the main reason I think MBSR is particularly so important and why I give it the five star rating of best magical spell of all time. (Runners up include 'spells' such as the US constitution, Newton's Principia Mathematica, which are too ordinary to be considered magic.)
     Therefore, with these things in mind, especially because I myself started off my practice because of Jon Kabat-Zinn videos I found on YouTube, believe that MBSR, a consequence of this koan-like magic spell, will result in more awakened people than any other single spell that has ever been casted by a human being. Often, one will say, "Oh, strange experiences, that's neat. But so what? I care about real world action, not sitting in a cave having wonderful experiences that don't do anything. All that stuff just exists in the mind. Taking action that helps others is what really matters." Exactly! But this standpoint avoids the causal relationship between magic and action. This magical experience CAUSED mindfulness based stress reduction. It is the Raison D'être for MBSR. For the confident skeptic, I challenge you to explain to me anything you have done in your life that has had 1/1000 as much of a positive causal impact on as many people as MBSR has. Said another way, the causal force on the 'real world' of this magical experience is over 1000 times greater than anything you have done in the totality of your skeptic life, unless you can give me good reason to believe otherwise.

"Okay... So... Why does this matter?" You think to yourself, arms crossed.

First, what am I not saying? I am not saying, "JKZ had a strange experience that lead to a successful life. Therefore, all strange experiences lead to useful/successful things." Let me preemptively shoot that hyperbolic straw-man rebuttal down. I am also not saying that our journey must be like JKZ's. I am not saying it must occur just like his, that we must use the same techniques and attitudes. I am not saying we must have magical experiences in order to figure out what to do with our life.

What am I saying? I am saying that magical rituals, intentions in general, and random magical experiences can be useful. And I am using JKZ's magical experience as an example. It was only until this magical experience did he have the 'aha!' moment that lead to MBSR and a lifestyle that to him was fulfilling and purposeful. Thinking it through did not yield results for him, but this strange experience did. Thus, it was useful. QED

I am saying we need to change our attitude towards magic. I wonder what the retreat teacher would have said to JKZ had JKZ said the following, "So great infallible Tulku Rinpoche Sayadaw-sama of funny tall red hats and attractor of starry-eyed robotic replicators of fortune cookie wisdom baby boomers, I had this strange vision of the future. I think after I leave this retreat I'm going to bet the entirety of my life on it. What do you think?"

The retreat teacher replies, "Ah...Jon-chan, you know... (Pauses for Buddhist persona reasons) When we let go we may have many strange experiences... (Pauses again) that the goal of meditation is to let go... (Pauses again) To awaken to our Buddha-nature... (Pauses again, extra long, Eckart Tolle length pause for emphasis) Strange experiences are not the path, they are delusion, things we get hung up on, Mara... (Pauses again) What matters is renunciation, renunciate your desire for this vision, your expectations of the future, for that is the end of dukkha, Jon-chan. (Pause with smile)"

Not 100% wrong, but it's advice applied in an inappropriate context. It's like scoring a touchdown when you're on a baseball field. Wrong sport, dude.

What I am trying to say is almost all meditation teachers have a, "We don't talk about that stuff because it isn't awakening." Mentality, which is a product of scientific materialist attitudes affecting Burma, Thailand, Japan, and so forth in the 1800s“meditation”/. MBSR has done a lot of good for awakening, therefore, ironically, this attitude could have had the opposite effect had JKZ taken it seriously because he may not have founded MBSR. After all, it's just a silly delusion of the mind, right? I don't think we should take every strange vision and magical experience seriously, that would be a disaster, but neither extreme of, "Never talk about it." Or, "It's always useful new-age-space-cadet I'm going into space with my crystal rocks!" Is appropriate. It's hard to say what system(s) should be in place, but not these extremes. It surely will be an ongoing balancing act, like all cultures and institutions. Maybe you have some ideas?

"Still... So what? But what about me?!" You ask.

I don't think we should all immediately go out and spend 30 minutes chanting the words, "What is my Job? What is my Job? What is my Job? What is..." Every day, 7 days a week, months on end. Although, feel free to try it and your post results here!

As boringly straightforward as such a meditation would be, it isn't so bad. I think there is a spectrum of actions we can take, which I will divide between secular magic and typical magic. Secular magic are meditations and intentions that aren't 'magical' in the colloquial sense. The kind of sports visualization that most people are open to. It isn't flashy. It's to the point. The kind a new atheist might actually try.

The more traditional, typical magic might have dancing, deity visualization. One might pray to some god-form to bestow a vision of, "What should I do with my life?" One might smoke some hallucinogenic drug with the intention, "What is my Job?" And attempt to have a shamanic journey where in a profoundly altered state of conscious an answer manifests. The possible variations on intentions and rituals are endless, this would be a great group brainstorm to come up with ideas on magical spells to manifest, "What is my Job?" Feel free to post some wacky ideas.

Personally, I might just get into a highly concentrated state and wish for clarity on the matter, simply so that I can focus my time on other things, like writing, guitar, hanging out with people, exercise, other meditations, learning algorithms, etc. I'm minimalistic. Lazy? That might be why. But people like David Chapman, who don't believe in magic, are still interested in ritual and would be open to doing some type of lucid dreaming magic, or some dance with witches or something to attempt manifesting an answer. They don't believe in parapsychology, yet still reap benefits of traditional magic, which is the beauty and power of pragmatism. 

My concluding personal thoughts on it all...

My daily practice started with Jon Kabat-Zinn videos on YouTube. I have been consistently repulsed by the more religious presentations of awakening. Or at least, the dogmatism. It just isn't my thing. The other day I was with my brother who has been increasingly interested in meditation. The religious trappings have driven him away from meditation consistently. He is very, very close to picking up a daily practice of meditation because of, guess who? Jon Kabat-Zinn and the whole McMindfulness movement. I have gotten my best friend into a daily meditation practice and he is now into the powers, similarly with his cousin. My mom, thanks to my zealous adoration for meditation, which is thanks to JKZ, has had a 30 minute daily meditation practice for over a year, which has significantly improved her life, more than most professed Buddhists both in maintaining a practice and results. For the traditionalists, how much Kamma is she accruing for a daily insight practice versus not meditating?

I ran into both MCTB and people like Jack Kornfield at the beginning of my daily practice and just didn't resonate with either. I just wasn't ready. I wouldn't have gotten into meditation otherwise, so I have a lot to thank MBSR for. And I certainly am not a mushroom meditator myself. I also have a degree in mathematics, one can be both interested in science and magic as they are not mutually exclusive, contrary to what almost all westerners believe and most people posting and lurking on the DhO also believe. Many people fancy themselves refined, intelligent, cosmopolitan, "I would never dare be seen associated with such woo-woo!"  Drop such false dilemmas, rethink pragmatism, and join in on the fun! 

And so here I am, pushing for magic, the most controversial aspect of the anti-mushroom movement. Born out of mushrooms, I am the antithesis of mushroom culture, which is why I see the 'cosmic place' for institutions like MBSR and why I argue strange phenomena are not to be scoffed at.

Assuming that your definition of magik does not require a large impact on the world (like the MBSR example). Any intuition that is acted on could be considered magik. 

The brain is capable of predicting/understanding many things. A subset of that is available to conscious experience. A subset of conscious experience can be formulated in language (i.e. thought) A subset of that is rational/reasoned. A further subset of what is rational/reasoned can be supported by a reductionist analysis. A further subset of that can be supported by a causal analysis. 

Given that such a small fraction of our experiences can actually be rigorously analyzed it seems that a huge amount of understanding is going to be outside the realms of language and/or rational discussion. Those experiences can (perhaps should) be interpreted as magik.

Trying to rationalize something that can't be rationalized is a gaurantee of at least one thing - reaching the wrong conclusion. Classifying some experiences as unexplainable/magik seems like a good way to "get out of the way". Basicaly letting types of understanding that do not translate into language deal with the situation.

If magik implies not rationalizing things i.e. not trying to provide a rational explanation that thinking about X causes Y. Then your idea of not falling into true/false debate makes a lot of sense. It also seems that magik is in the realm of subjective experience. There is no way of confirming those experiences or comparing them objectively.

I guess anyone who has done something that is classified by most people as "extremely creative and important" had some sort of unexplainable experience associated with that creativity. As soon as they put language on that experience they misinterpret what the experience was. 

On a slightly different topic. The experiences we have change future experiences. If someone adopts a particular perspective for a long time then the way they experience the world will change. Spending many years continually asking "what is my purpose" is going to change the brain so it becomes very good at finding a coherent (maybe not rational) experience that answers that question. That has some implications for meditation...

On a slightly different topic. The experiences we have change future experiences. If someone adopts a particular perspective for a long time then the way they experience the world will change. Spending many years continually asking "what is my purpose" is going to change the brain so it becomes very good at finding a coherent (maybe not rational) experience that answers that question. That has some implications for meditation...

Not even "for a long time". 

This study from University Of California, Santa Barbara, and University of British Columbia, September 16, 2009, via a friend (bold emphasis added):
[Edit: This study seems self-published at UCSB versus in a peer-review journal]

Reading Kafka Improves Learning, Suggests Psychology Study
Summary: Reading a book by Franz Kafka -- or watching a film by director David Lynch -- could make you smarter. According to research by psychologists, exposure to surrealism enhances the cognitive mechanisms that oversee implicit learning functions(...)

"People who read the nonsensical story checked off more letter strings –– clearly they were motivated to find structure," said Proulx. "But what's more important is that they were actually more accurate than those who read the more normal version of the story. They really did learn the pattern better than the other participants did."

In a second study, the same results were evident among people who were led to feel alienated about themselves as they considered how their past actions were often contradictory. "You get the same pattern of effects whether you're reading Kafka or experiencing a breakdown in your sense of identity," Proulx explained. "People feel uncomfortable when their expected associations are violated, and that creates an unconscious desire to make sense of their surroundings. That feeling of discomfort may come from a surreal story, or from contemplating their own contradictory behaviors, but either way, people want to get rid of it. So they're motivated to learn new patterns."

Thus far, the researchers have identified the beneficial effects of unusual experiences only in implicit pattern learning. It remains to be seen whether or not reading surreal literature would aid in the learning of studied material as well. "It's important to note that sitting down with a Kafka story before exam time probably wouldn't boost your performance on a test," said Proulx.

"What is critical here is that our participants were not expecting to encounter this bizarre story," he continued. "If you expect that you'll encounter something strange or out of the ordinary, you won't experience the same sense of alienation. You may be disturbed by it, but you won't show the same learning ability. The key to our study is that our participants were surprised by the series of unexpected events, and they had no way to make sense of them. Hence, they strived to make sense of something else."

RE: The greatest magical spell ever casted, or, an example of why magic mat
2/26/15 9:33 AM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
Hi Katy,

Agreed it is not always a long time. I had in mind some of the BATGAP interviews where long term meditators one day "wake up" to find something close to what they were hoping for e.g. no more thoughts or universal consciousness etc


I wrote this topic because I think magic is pragmatic, but the emphasis on pragmatism is to avoid the usual hostile stalemates between the scientific materialists vs. everyone else. I would LOVE to discuss if magic is 'real' outside of pragmatism, but the zeitgeist of scientific materialism is far too strong even on the DhO. It never ends well. Hence, we will not be discussing it.

I think magic is pragmatic for many reasons. A not inclusive spectrum is magic everyone here will accept as pragmatic vs magic not possible:

Unquestionably pragmatic magic:
-Magic that leads to awakening
-Magic that leads to the greatest heights of happiness ever known via ectasy, love
-Magic that heals one psychologically, emotionally
-Magic that leads to fantastical adventures like lucid dreaming/OBE

Questionably pragmatic magic:
-Magic that physically heals
-Magic that changes probability of events according to intention
-Magic that predicts events super normally

Because the effects of scientific materialism are so strong, people who don't believe in the latter inductively apply it to the former lis merely for any magical connotation. This attitude is detectable in a subtle hostility of questions that date back years on the DhO, "Why include the powers at all in MCTB at all? What's the point?" Magic is certainly pragmatic even from the most materialistic standpoint. The objective of this thread was provide an example so astounding in affect, not even the most diehard materialist could object to the pragmatism of things labeled magical.

There is no way you can do a replicated, double blind study of super-vision events like JKZ had. There would be no way to effectively reproduce it consistently. And yet, here this event has affected all of our lives. That is why we won't be discussing if magic is 'real', because it won't fit into current paradigms of science and tests that do show statistical significance of 'weirdness' like hands on healing of mice with breast cancer will just lead to entrenched opinions one way or the other. This previous sentence, despite my excessively pedantic calls for pragmatism strongly risk derailing this whole entire thread from the emotional reactions it will elicit in the readers of this topic. That's how strong scientific materialism is, for better or worse, for truth or ignorance. 

Also, the pragmatic focus I hope will lead discussion more in the direction of, "Oh that's neat. I myself had this lucid dream one time where a spirit guide showed me this weird thing and I realized I should be a lawyer. Now I am a lawyer fighting for net neutrality and I couldn't be happier." So that we can increase the community richness of information for readers to create more intricate magical spells and experiences that lead to beneficial consequences.

Hi Ryan,

You seem seem to connect magic only with very significant events. That might encourage the sort of reactions you are worried about.

Can we consider magic to be on a "grey scale". At one end you have small events and at the other large events.

In regards to a materialistic view I'm yet to hear any reasonable scientific explanation (or even theory) as to how qualia (the experience of things like color) come about. There is certainly some hand waiving about brain activity, emergent properties etc. but none of those explanations hold up to the slightest bit of scientific rigor.

I think we can firmly place qualia in the category of magic at this time. It does not preclude science one day finding an explanation but to assume that is magical thinking! If someone is very convinced that science will solve it then they have blind faith. It seems clear to me that the nature of science needs to change before it can deal with subjective experience.

So does conscious experience (qualia) classify as magic ? If it does then we all have the pleasure of experienceing it all the time. Obviously there are times when it appears much more impressive but maybe that is largely due to habituation.


I shouldnt have those reactions if I talk about magic on the dharma overground, but that's what history has shown. That's why I made things fun by short circuiting that issue and focusing on pragmatism.

My definition of magic is 3 things
1) Magic as conscious intention as Daniel Ingram describes
2) Magic as Alan Chapman and Duncan Barford describe
3) Existence

I will up your ante and claim that the very fact anything exists at all, qualia or not, is magical, moreover it is infinite magic by the sheer astounding fact that anything is. It is certainly fun to think about. But it is not the purpose of this thread.

Let me repeat my objective: To create a thread in which we discuss magic in a pragmatic setting. That therefore inclines one to see the significant aspects of magic, because the magic of intenting my fingers to type thoughts of this post are so banal as to not warrant the time of myself or the readers of this thread. Indeed, it is quite magical that thoughts arise and my fingers move and information is shared. Hardly worth mentioning in conversation, but a miracle rightly deserving to be called magical. The supreme magic is existence itself. And yet again, we have an issue of scope as I have quite magically used words to limit the range of discussion for this topic. The thought even crossed my mind when I wrote the warning at the top of this thread. But no one considers that significant to be called magic, even though by the definitions I use, it is. Moreover, it is pragmatic magic. But it is not worth mentioning given the context of my goals, which should be clear: to show the more colloquially magical aspects of reality can be pragmatic and to share and discuss.

Thus, let us talk about not what we think magic is, qualia, intentions, 'experience beyond language and conception' but instead: magic in action. Not because what magic is isn't important, qualia is VERY interesting, but that it's not the purpose of this thread.

Hi Ryan,

Sorry it is taking some time to clarify the thread. It is your thread so I'm trying to align with the intentions.

You are interested in "colloquially magical aspects of reality"

The colloquial definition of magic I'm familiar with requires an individual's subjective intentions to have objective & verifiable impacts in the world without the individual acting phyically in the world e.g. "planting" an idea in someone's mind, "reading" someone's mind, levitating etc

Under that definition I'm not sure your initial example would qualify. The skeptic might say JKZ had a vision and then acted in the world to realize that vision. Most extraordinary actions are probably stimulated by some extraordinary experience.

If you had an extraordinary experience, that led to a great insight, that led to actions, which led to a great change in the world, then most people are not going to admit that into "colloquially magical aspects of reality" but I don't think that would matter much after the fact emoticon

I'm guessing that what you want is a discussion about how extraodinary states/experiences can be reached with some intention of using those states to take positive and significant action in the world.

Are you familiar with Shinzen Young ? I liked which connects the transcendant with acting in the world. He is pragmatic I think.

The common wisdom seems to be avoid using magic (the type you are interested in) as a shortcut to achieve impact in the world. The main reason seems to be that if you are interested in doing that then you are not able to do it safely. Without buying that logic completely it still seems reasonable to travel along the path beyond those abilities before deciding on whether/how to use them.

Shinzen has mentioned an idea of teams of scientists with highly developed mindfullness skills working together to solve big problems in the future. Mindfulness is certainly getting a lot of traction in the scientific community.

My take is that if you first develop the worldly skills then develop the mindfulness skills you will have more chance of impacting the world. Because I've not heard of those who have developed extraordinary mindfulness in the west go on to use those abilities to act extraordinarily in realms outside of the mindfulness movement.

A lot of the most experienced teachers in the west seemed to have prioritized progress on the path early in life. If they woke up that does not seem to offer a free pass on the hard yards of mastering "worldly" abiltiies. It would be difficult for someone who is awake to "play the games" that give access to leading edge knowledge. For example you don't get a PhD without putting up with a lot of bullshit. And the game needs to be played well for many more years before you get access to significant funding etc.

In a podcast I listened to recently (sorry I forget the source) an expereinced practitioner described a mental breakdown (check in and all) caused by trying to meditate on retreat about how to solve global warming. That was a magical experience too.

Meditation can radically improve concentration, reduce ego and craving. Somebody with great worldy skills and those attributes seems more likely to make a large impact.

Creativity can be considered as the brains ability to map seemingly disparate patterns into a new "meta" pattern. The associative memory function in our sub-conscious might be key there. Any fresh perspective opens the door to finding new patterns - but the brain needs to have the sub patterns already and it needs a motivation to find the new pattern. Magic opens the door to a new perspective, some patterns are already there. The key then becomes how to get the brain focused on finding new "meta" patterns. The best way I know of is to be overly exposed to a problem. So for example JKZ was continuosly worrying about his karmic mission - his brain was on alert for a matching pattern. Mediating offered a different state/perspective which led to a breakthrough. 

I've not played around with this much but if you hold a "problem" in your mind as the object of meditation then the thoughts that bubble up tend to be related. If you let them go then the next thought will tend to be less obvious. It is very tempting to be side tracked when a "good" idea comes but a better one is probably on the way. It is a bit kike the Zen koan I guess. I heard about that technique on a Buddhist Geek podcast - I only remember the interviewee was female. 



Its fine, it's hard for myself to know what this thread should be precisely about. Just so long as it's in the ballpark and doesn't break down into materialists vs everyone else. I think it's naive of me to have precise expectations for this thread.

Shinzen Young is without a doubt my biggest influence for my practice and whose work I am most familiar with. In order of influence of work, it might go something like: Shinzen Young, Stephen Jourdain, Lorin Roche, Alan Chapman, etc. However, because I am so familiar with Shinzen Young, I know he falls short in three areas. In fact, a statement he likes to say is all paths of awakening are equally awful and suck because we know so little. Here are some areas Shinzen falls tremendously short:

1) How to utilize magic
2) The cultural aspects and analysis of said culture that encapsulate awakening
3) Heartfelt teaching versus cold logical precise teaching

Alan Chapman specializes in how to utilize magic. Lorin Roche specializes in heartfelt teaching. David Chapman specializes in the culture of Buddhism, how it is, how it ought to by, and why. They are masters of their trades.

Alan Chapman will tell you 1001 ways to utilize magic. He will explain how he arrived to the conclusions he has arrived to. He will tell you openly the magical spells he has casted and how they might manifest. Shinzen Young, however, avoids the topic entirely. For example, on the recent Buddha at the Gas Pump interview, the interviewer asks him about magic and Shinzen says something along the lines, "Zen produces per capita more awakened people than any other tradition and not one person of this or that tradition will say the powers exist." Or something to that effect. Alan Chapman will say, "Holy fucking shit, magick is amazing, you should give it a try, here's a bunch of ways to do things and here's what you can expect and here's where to look for further information. Have fun!"

Alan Chapman's demographic are magickians. Shinzen's demographic are scientists and secular-ish meditators. One group is open to the paranormal, one isn't. 

And you have indeed found the weakest part of my argument: that JKZ didn't, to our knowledge, cast a spell like Alan Chapman casts a spell. But I have no doubt in my mind that the experience JKZ had was extremely super normal. It would be considered 'magical'-like by 99.999% of the population had they experienced it, and likely would have been heavily mentally traumatized by it's sheer bizarreness. It also effectively 'predicted the future'. If I have a spontaneous out of body experience, even if I didn't intentionally cast it, I'm going to consider it quite magical. If I have a lucid dream in which a spirit guide tells me 3 of 5 numbers to pick for the lottery, then I pick those three correctly that week, even if I didn't intentionally cast that spell, I'd probably consider it quite magical. And those magical events would casually influence my life either in minor or major ways. But that is a difference of what you and I would consider magical.

One can utilize both worldly skills and magic at the same time. I suspect they are synergistic. There is a great post on reddit by someone who has been practicing concentration meditation for 9 years. I can't tell much about the veracity of his practice, but I asked him about the dharma overground as I felt he would benefit from this place. Here is what he had to say, which if it isn't obvious, it is essentially a negative review of the DhO,

"I am familiar with the community and have had indepth talks with the owner/operator of it. I am not too terribly impressed with them since most of those people focus very strictly on Buddhism rather than the Jhanas as actual tools to cognitive development, from what I have observed. There also seems to be a natural fear of talking about siddhis on that forum, with many people having an overall aire that they do not believe in them.

I have to remind me quite often that getting to the Jhanas is not that amazing of a feat. Anyone can do it. Hitting Jhanas does not automatically mean a person will become a highly attained Guru. Some people can practice them aimless for years without achieving much, because they lack direction. Not unlike a brilliant scientist capable of using his/her discoveries to make brilliant inventions that would make them billionaires, but only to live a broke/financially mediocre live because of a lack of trying and a lack of seeing what their potential is. Sadly many great minds fall under this.

It is extremely common in the world for people to possess fantastic abilities for years and never really have a real vision of what to do with them. Or overall lacking a belief that they are capable of doing anything with them. People are always looking for validation before they even think of trying. It's not bad to look for validation, but waiting for validation before a person tries anything is a great way to go no where in life. It is a sad but common thing in my opinion.

Not that I hate the community, not by any means. Many of the people there show that it's not difficult to get to Jhana with focused effort, but many of these people are operating off instructions they get online and not using their imagination and/or desire with using the states or going forward. In fact, there often tends to be an opposition to this sort of attitude, because it seems to come in conflict with the Dharma, which, comprises the attitudes of most of the people there.
I have actually talked to quite a number of remarkable people there, who have had higher levels of Jhanic attainment than even I have. I've asked them what they've done with their life, what they hope to do with the Jhanas, etc. Their responses have always been less than impressive. Most of them tend to be obsessed with mastering the Jhanas as sort of Buddhist attainment or right of passage, and then to go on to the next thing, with no sort of actual intention to use the Jhanas. Good if a person just wants to sit in bliss their whole life, but the Jhanas aren't just the Jhanas. To use the Jhanas properly we must also realize the inherent potential of the mind independent of the Jhanas..... the real power and utility comes in combining the two.

Hope this wasn't too long winded. I'm sure there's some people there that think like I do, but not many that I have encountered."

Thus, the spirit of this thread is powered by encountering people like this: how can we use magic in conjunction with all the other things we do, to enhance our lives? This doesn't even wade into the territory that David Chapman delves into on the importance of ritual in our lives, which is completely absent in almost all American Buddhism, which is good and bad imo.

re: Mark (2/28/15 7:59 AM as a reply to Ryan Kenneth Johnson. )

"In a podcast I listened to recently (sorry I forget the source) an expereinced practitioner described a mental breakdown (check in and all) caused by trying to meditate on retreat about how to solve global warming. That was a magical experience too."

Might that have been the interview with J.A. Kempf (known here as "svmonk") by Ted Meissner on the Secular Buddhist Assoc. website ?

re: Ryan Kenneth Johnson (2/25/15 6:40 PM )

Hi Ryan,

Thanks for pointing out those various links. You may have also in the previous post, as I had glanced at David Chapman's blog entries then. Re-reading one, found an especially good quotation:

David Chapman
says: (July 16, 2011 at 11:11 pm))
"I’d like to see an Accurate Religious Labeling Act: If you are teaching 37% German Romanticism, 18% Christianity, 23% “green meme” morality, 13% Theravada and 9% Zen, you ought to put that on the package label."
Overall, isn't it remarkable how threads seem to develop here often -- yours like, a couple of weeks ago, Kenneth Folk's "Intellectual Honesty as Right Speech" ( Sometimes, the more one, as thread author, insists on certain ground rules or a specific direction for the discussion, the more it goes off into alternative definitions and perspectives. It's like herding cats.

Chris J Macie:
re: Mark (2/28/15 7:59 AM as a reply to Ryan Kenneth Johnson. )

"In a podcast I listened to recently (sorry I forget the source) an expereinced practitioner described a mental breakdown (check in and all) caused by trying to meditate on retreat about how to solve global warming. That was a magical experience too."

Might that have been the interview with J.A. Kempf (known here as "svmonk") by Ted Meissner on the Secular Buddhist Assoc. website ?

Yes that was it, thanks Chris. I wish meditation to improve my memory emoticon 

Hi Ryan,

You are no doubt far further down the path with Shinzen than I am. I'm participating in his monthly teleconference.  Shinzen's Basic Mindfulness is not a complete path but seems to offer a lot on the cushion. It is great to discuss the strengths & weaknesses of various approaches. I'm very tempted to go down that path but I'll try to stay on topic.

You used the term paranormal and I think this is probably a good work for capturing the "colloquial definition of magic". But I think you have another definition of magic in mind. The magic we were discussing (your exmaple) is extraordinary but may not be interpreted as paranormal.

A brief clarification "And those magical events would casually influence my life either in minor or major ways. But that is a difference of what you and I would consider magical." I'm happy to put that in the category of magic, earlier I was presenting what I think the "colloquial definition of magic" is - not my definition. Personally I don't see a black and white classificaiton - it is more a scale from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Things get more and more extraordinary and somehwere toward the extreme there is the paranormal.

There is a good podcast you might enjoy making a compelling case for how blind people can literally see. It shows how important expectations are and in particualr the expectations of the people around you.

My understanding of the Jhanas is that they are a result of concentration. This is different from the insight meditation that many people here seem to be most interested in. The Jhanas seem a bit like a badge of honor and a motivation. It seems the most important benefits of insight meditation do not require the Jhanas. There seems to be a lot of value in getting past/over the Jhanas and continuing on the path. 

The impression I have is that you want to know how to use magic to align actions in your life with a purpose. I hope I am hearing you correcly and sorry if I'm not!

You mention an interest in CNNs on reddit, are you familiar with HTM ?

My guess is that getting the ego out of the way in every day life is going to do far more for what you want than the Jhanas will. That would mean more of a focus on insight than concentration. What do you think about that ?

My reasoning is that it is far easier to get very passionate and committed to something that is bigger than ourselves. It is the passion and committment to a vision that matter much more than the vision in terms of getting stuff done.

Mark, you say, "My guess is that getting the ego out of the way in every day life is going to do far more for what you want than the Jhanas will. That would mean more of a focus on insight than concentration. What do you think about that ?"

A lot.

At a first glance, it's a reasonable suggestion. But actually, I have multiple fundamental differences of opinion here that have drastic lifestyle implications, implications for how we live, how we practice, the types of shadow material we work through, and so on.

The reddit poster, David Chapman, Lorin Roche all talk about it in their own ways. So I will do a summarized, poor version of my own, as to be economical with time. This post will probably miss the mark of what I want to actually say, because I am trying to limit my time.

First, Kenneth Folk talks about the emphasis on concentration over insight past the A&P. Concentration is the move we should make to increase the probability of awakening in many cases. In MCTB, Daniel mentions that not emphasizing concentration enough in the beginning years of his practice was a mistake. And, I'm not Buddhist, but even the Pali Canon has a strong emphasis on Jhana as THE way to awakening. Jhana is where you want to be, for many, many reasons.

Your emphasis on insight as something to choose at the expense of concentration versus a cooperation of concentration in aid of awakening is very much a western Buddhist cultural value. That dry vipassana value is a product of Burmese and Thailand Buddhism that was invented in the 1800s.  I'm saying, what you consider to be Buddhism is simply a product of colonized Burma and therefore may not be pragmatic for everyone. Furthermore, your wording, has more implications than I think you realize.

The pen is mightier than the sword, as the old cliche goes. And people who get into Buddhism and spirituality don't understand this. They don't understand that meditating, dilating their awareness open, then reading texts written by feudal theocratic celibate ascetic monks is fucking them up in ways too subtle for them to realize.

As David Chapman notes, as the reddit poster notes, and Lorin Roche notes, most people who get into Buddhism or spirituality get hung up on these ancient value systems. It's either limiting them or outright wrecking their lives. They correctly identify that awakening is #1, but have been impaled in many ways with ancient value systems that were written thousands of years ago by people in very different circumstances than us today. Buddhists do not want to hear this, as it reveals a large emotional chunk of aversion of unmet emotional needs, shadow material. This chunk of emotions causes the spiritual cultural escapism that motivates their behavior. "Desire is bad!" "Get rid of ego!" "Don't have selfish motives." When these statements, I'm very sure, are intellectual exploitations of awakening. They might seem fine and dandy, real tid-bits that if followed will lead to awakening. But I suspect awakening is orthogonal to these things.  These pieces of advice are designed to shape your nervous system into a world renunciate. Someone who literally lives in a cave. Which is great if you want to live in a cave, but I don't. I want to live it up. I want to explore both the essence of what it means to be human and reach the pinnacle of what I'm capable of, not out of vanity, but out of adventure, loving-playfulness. Jhana and magic are additional tools for this journey.

You say, "My reasoning is that it is far easier to get very passionate and committed to something that is bigger than ourselves. It is the passion and committment to a vision that matter much more than the vision in terms of getting stuff done." 

I don't even disagree with this. I am talking about a sub-sub-subset of our lives: utilizing magic or jhana to our benefit. This is a false dilemma. It's using reasonable advice to throw the whole agenda of pragmatic magic under the bus: "Don't be selfish and your problems will be solved." It's the same thing as my example of the retreat teacher telling JKZ to just let go. It also ties with what I just wrote above, an aversion to desire.

Earlier you write, "The common wisdom seems to be avoid using magic (the type you are interested in) as a shortcut to achieve impact in the world. The main reason seems to be that if you are interested in doing that then you are not able to do it safely."

I think this topic just may not be for you, given this statement and the previous one. I think our conversations are just beating around this fundamental difference of value. I think you come from a renunciate Buddhist attitude and I come from a tantric Buddhist attitude, and without realizing it, we just are failing to see through to each other as a consequence. My apologies if I do not reply to your next post, as I do not have the time to keep posting long posts.



To be totally honest, this thread was mostly about me writing an essay and sharing it. I didn't expect it to be a success in terms of talking about pragmatic magic as the DhO community simply does not care. The whole time I considered this thread a Hail Mary pass. Or in Dragon Ball Z lingo (My avatar is a picture from it.) it was my spirit bomb drop on scientific materialism and the general aversion of the strange. As my first post says, it's there to merely inspire some reflection of values to the readers of the DhO on the stranger sides of meditation. So between my love for writing and making people reflect, it has been a sufficient success. 

Hi Ryan,

I'm frustrating you, sorry. It is really not the intention. I agree concentration is very important. I've spent more time with that than insight.

My mentioning insight in this thread was a discussion point not a competition. I was taking a point of view to see where it would lead  - if I'm lucky, to a change of my opinion. I don't think dry insight is some magic solution and it is not what I subscribe to.

You might not have noticed "This post will probably miss the mark of what I want to actually say, because I am trying to limit my time." followed by "Furthermore, your wording, has more implications than I think you realize." Sorry for hurting your feelings, but I am not incapable of missing the mark either.

I don't think of myself as buddhist. You seem to have decided I am. I'd rather discuss magic than defend myself.

By "common wisdom" I did not say my wisdom. I'd consider myself to be more a contrarian than most, I'm all up for seeing the "common wisdom" smashed by you. I mentioned it to see if you'd do that for me, not to hit you over the head with it. 

Regarding the question about insight, thanks for sharing. I'm fortunate to be familiar with what you wrote and hope to be avoiding those pitfalls but it is generous to bring them up.

More importantly, I was trying to understand your motivation for the thread and "The impression I have is that you want to know how to use magic to align actions in your life with a purpose." I was expecting you would tell me if I'm right or wrong about that. Was I correct ?

For me this is the crux of the question - magic is very powerful when it is directed at "the purpose" of a life. I put "the purpose" in quotes because I'm not saying there is only one or that it is static, or that there is one at all. But if you believe you have a purpose then magic is much more likely to work. On a limited scale that purpose might be short term but if you can make it the most important issue in your life for that time then it fits the bill. 

Awakening seems to leave many with a lack of purpose beyond sharing their new knowledge about awakening. Maybe that is unavoidable and maybe you want to focus on the jhanas to avoid that result.That was a lot of maybes.

From my own experience I'm sure magic does not require jhanas. I'm happy not to discuss that point further. If you want to limit the discussion to magic within states of jhanas that is fine by me.

I'm taking a point of view slightly different from you not to antagonise you or prove you wrong. The discussion would be sterile without some difference. If you are looking for agreement, that is fine, I'm happy to agree with you and leave the thread here.

So since Mark brought up Ted Meissner's interview with me, I thought I might as well chime in.

First off, I think one needs to distinguish between causality and scientific materialism. Causality covers events of any sort that can be said in a very precise sense to a) precede their effects in time b) be localizable with respect to the effects in space (except in the case of quantum mechanics but that is another story) and c) without the occurence of the events designated as a cause, the probability of the effect occuring depends on other factors and is typically considerably less than if the cause occurs, but usually never zero. In most cases, if someone actually instigates the event designated as the cause, i.e. probablity of cause is 1, the probability of the effect occuring is precisely 1 (e.g. setting a sprinkler next to a sidewalk to the "on" position causes a sidewalk to eventually become wet with a probability of 1). Scientific materialism, on the other hand, posits that only physical causes are admissable and excludes consideration of anything else.   

Now, since Ryan's rules for this thread explicitly exclude scientific materialism but say nothing about causality, I'll continue with the assumption that discussion involving causality is allowable.

I take the definition of magic or magick on this forum to be precisely generating an intention, typically under a condition of strong concentration, with the expectation that it will serve as the cause of some effect without the need for any action directed toward the effect. It has been my experience that simply generating such an intention, even under conditions of strong concentration, is insufficient in and of itself to serve as the cause for any physical effect except through the medium of one's actions. So on this issue, I disagree with Messrs Ingram and Chapman. On the other hand, it has also been my experience that generating such an intention while in strong concentration increases the probability that one will undertake the action necessary to cause the effect to come about. I take it that JKZ's insight leading him to devote his life to developing MBSR is of the latter nature, probably as pointed out by Mark because his life's mission was a burning question for him at the time.

My generating a strong desire to solve global warming triggering a psychotic episode, mentioned by Mark and Chris and as I described in the interview with Ted and in my ebook memoir, Silicon Valley Monk, was not the first time I had this experience. In the early 90's, the same thing happened, my search for the entry point to the "operating system for reality", also described in the book, though I didn't end up in a psychiatric ward. In each case, the intention was motivated by a desire to solve some serious social or political problem that was causing suffering for lots of people and that if you looked at some, often relatively low, probability cause/effect sequence down the timeline a bit, could end up causing suffering for an enormous number of people and potentially devastate the entire planet, but where the different parties to the dispute were somehow unable to come to an agreement within the standard cause and effect framework of worldly events. In every case, my intention had no effect on the world, at least as far as I can determine.

Now, you might say that my efforts to use intention to cause some outcome independent of action were too big. On the other hand, since there was literally no action I could take that could possibly have any effect on such big problems, these were good test cases of whether intention could generate an effect independent of action. Ultimately, I had and have no interest in using intention to get more wordly stuff for myself or anything like that. I read Lorin Roache's essay, I think there is a lot of truth to it. He splits practice into monks and other renuciates bound by a vow who can sort of just let their mind go when they practice and who practice for ultimate spiritual development, and householders who are or should be interested in jobs, kids, SUVs and all that stuff who shouldn't let their mind go because it interferes with their worldly life.  But monks don't care about existential threats to the planet, except peripherally, and householders have enough problems to think about. What he fails to realize is that there is another class of practitioner, those who go deep and want to use their spiritual development to solve the existential threats to the planet. When I go deep into concentration and insight on a longer retreat, one of these problems just simply pops out at me and demands to be addressed. It will not let me alone, just like JKZ's burning question of his life's mission would not. What I think is happening, as I mention in response to a question from David S on the page where Ted's interview with me is posted, is that bodhicitta, the intention to achieve enlightenment to save all beings, arises and the intention you entered the retreat with recedes to the background. In some cases, like with JKZ, you get an insight that does change the world for the better because when you get out of the retreat you can devote your life to action towards making it real. In my case, since there was never a whole lot I could do to really solve the problem when I got out of the retreat (I've never been in a position of power or had enough money to really make an impact on some of the difficult problems), the result is usually an elaborate story, kind of like a video game.

Siddhis and other such are another thing altogether. I take these to be ways to obtain knowledge through concentration meditation, independent of 5 sensory input. In my experience, sometimes the knowledge is accurate and reflects the state of the physical world, on the other hand, sometimes the knowledge is a fantasy that has some loose relationship to your spiritual development and may, in fact, hold some important lessons, but whose relationship to the physical world is pretty marginal. The problem is distinguishing between the two. If you act on something from a fantasy world before you've figured out exactly what the lesson (if any) is, you run the risk of having people think you are crazy, laughing at you, or you develop a reputation for being unreliable and behaving randomly. I believe this is one reason development of the siddhis was explicitly discouraged by the Buddha. Since siddhis seem quite unreliable, I tend to discount them, except when they occur in the context of a larger story that may have some message for my spiritual development.


Hi James,

Thanks. I imagine most people here do not have a strictly materialistic view. If they do then they need to read more science, science does not have a strictly materialistic view any longer.

I think of subjective experience as a simulation - with many approximations and therefore errors. This is convincingly shown with simple visual illusions but the same effects should exist in any aspect of subjective expereince.

For me magic includes actions that are not conscious. For example if JKZ was extremely committed to his purpose then he probably inspired confidence in peolpe that needed to be influenced, through unconscious queues like perhaps odour, body language, intonations etc.

There are plenty of experiments demonstrating the ability of unconscious behavior to massively influence the behavior of others. For both the person doing the influencing and the person being influenced this can be magical. Maybe worth mentioning that is not a materialistic explanation. It is unconscious behaviors influencing subjective experience and subjective experience is not simply materialistic.

James I'm guessing there are a few reasons why you did not see real world results, I'm using this as an example. I imagine you already know this but it might lay some groundwork for a discussion.

You mentioned that you don't believe you have the power or influence to solve the problem. One of the powers of magic is in suspending our critical beliefs - if at the deepest level we know it is possible then behavior will be different.

You may not have the neccessary knowledge. For example if you are going to solve global warming with a nuclear fission reactor you'll need to study about that first. 

It may not have been the most important thing in your life before of after the retreat. 

You are probably familiar with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and I wonder if the symptoms you suffered match up with that ?

My take is that there needs to be obsession without that somehow becoming psychotic. It basically needs to be the most important thing but NOT the only thing. There needs to be something else that gives some breething space. My experience is that a caring partner is the best solution.

Furthermore we need to have domain knowledge that can serve as a building blocks. The brain stores information physically using neurons and it can create new patterns based on previous patterns, randomness and new experiences. If it only has randomness to work with it is extremely likely to come up with crackpot ideas.

You wrote something that resonsates with me (I suspect Ryan too) "What he fails to realize is that there is another class of practitioner, those who go deep and want to use their spiritual development to solve the existential threats to the planet."

I'm not neccesarily looking to solve "existential threats to the planet." but I would like to solve more important issues than I have up to now.

It seems to me the biggest challenge for many is finding "the purpose" most get caught up in the " jobs, kids, SUVs and all that stuff" (this is not a criticism) 

It is tempting to want to take a magic wand and solve a huge problem. I'm not sure if anyone has ever done that. But having a vision & passion then starting small and being lucky seems more common. The luck may be largely magic, the vision is not too difficult (there are plenty of valid ones) but connecting into the type of passion an olympic athlete or nobel prize winner has seems to me to be the central issue (of course there is genetics and environment that limit too).

It seems to me that someone who wakes up and then through an improved ability to act in the world achieves a large material impact will do more for meditation/spirituality than all the current meditation/spirituality teachers combined. We don't lack teachers or knowledge we lack motivated practitioners. So why do those who "wake up" spend so much time teaching? 


Hi Mark,

Thanx for your reply.

Actually, my experience during the retreat was nothing like OCD. I was hallucinating, and the hallucinations broke out into my behavior on 3 separate occasions. The behavior was sufficiently antisocial as to raise concern of those around me about my safety and theirs. I hate to sound like I am plugging the book, but if you want to know more, you should really download it. It's free unless you get it on Amazon, there it's $0.99 because Amazon won't let you give a book away unless you enroll in Kindle Direct.  You can get it at Google Play and Smashwords too.

I think another example of unconscious behavior to influence people is Steve Jobs. I'm reading a memoir right now ("The Bite in the Apple") by his high school girlfriend, Chrisann Brennen, with whom he had a child when she was 24 and I think he was 25. He refused to pay more than $500 a month for child support even though his net worth was in the millions. Brennen brought her daughter up in extreme poverty until she was around 12, at which point Jobs was ousted from Apple and started another company, NeXT, and he paid more attention to his daughter. Jobs had a long term relationship with a Zen master, Kobin Chino Roshi, who, according to Brennen, taught Jobs how to manipulate people when Jobs was in his early 20's and just a hippie, the famous "reality distortion field". But from what she said, I think it goes even further than that. I think he also humiliated people, especially her. I think he derived a kind of power from manipulating and humiliating people. This isn't just unconscious behavior of course it is also conscious behavior. In other words, he became a kind of demon in order to achieve power and success. In the end, I think Kobin even had his doubts. Brennen describes a dinner party where Kobin spends most of the time throwing subtle digs at Jobs, which Jobs ignores. Of course, it is really hard to tell if Brennen is completely accurate in her account. She may have misremembered things, or fictionalized some, though she says nothing about fictionalizing.

Actually, this brings up the fundamental problem with working in the world. In order to get into the position of power and authority you need to really solve the problems, or alternatively amass a fortune large enough to really make a difference, you need to be comfortable manipulating people. By the time you are in the position, you have completely compromised your integrity, and in a case like Jobs, sometimes your humanity. I've seen this over and over in Silicon Valley. People here talk about "changing the world". They never say "changing the world for the better". In the 40 years I've been practicing, I've never been able to see a way out of this dilemma. I suspect this is why renunciates don't concern themselves so much with the sorry state of the planet.

According to my Zen teacher Yvonne Rand, enlightened behavior shows in everything you do. Going into every moment, the enlightened mind seeks to achieve the best possible outcome for everyone, including yourself. So you set your intention to be that, and not for any specific outcome. This is, in a way, prajna, the wisdom of emptiness.


I have time, but when writing long posts takes time out of my actual practice or other parts of my life, I will drop posting immediately. My posts are mostly stream of conscious, but I don't want to make the mistake of replying to the wrong post because I didn't read it carefully.

This thread has the following intentions:
To prove that magical experiences, which are loosely listed in the A&P section, not inclusive, have implications for our lives that are useful using a very abnormal example, MBSR.

To solidly establish that strange experiences, magical experiences, are worthy of our examination. There is a prevelant view that this stuff just doesn't matter, and it's a direct consequence of scientific materialism. The essay portion of this thread is designed to use an example so extreme, it becomes unarguable that these strange experiences are massively effecting us. Most human beings, as most human beings subscribe to scientific materialism, abstract out this aspect of our humanity because it doesn't fit the narratives of our especially scientific world. I am jamming open this denial by this example. I have seen Daniel Ingram list example after example of magic and people saying, "So what?" This is my rebuttal to their, who are legion, so what. also think it's really funny that I'm using the McMindfulness movement as an argument for magic, I just had to write that essay.

I had no hope for what came after my first post. But if I did have a hope, it would be a discussion of people using magical spells pragmatically. For example, I'll jump off the deep end, say your cat has a growing mole that's been there for years, your vet noticed it and suggests a biopsy. You do some sort of spell to get rid of it, and then 2 weeks later, it's gone. Pragmatic, right? But suggest that in today's world, and you'd be ridiculed. I actually did this. Coincidence? Quite possibly. I can't quite say. That example is too one off, too minor, too potentially simply a coincidence to make an argument for magic being pragmatic. But JKZs strange experience is so absolute in size, you can't ignore it.

To summarize: the first post is meant to destroy any doubt that magical experiences can impact our lives. The thread is meant to discuss the pragmatical aspects of magic generally. I should have been more clear. I mean generally, not just about magic meant to find 'purpose'. But instead of theory, I'd like examples, sharing of experiences, methods others use to 'do' magic, whether they do or don't believe in actual magic but are interested in the playfulness of it all. My posts were trying to push you away from being theoretical, to avoid the risk of debate between those who 'believe' in magic and those who don't. I like the contents of your posts mostly, I'm trying to avoid the mistakes of previous threads on magic.


I do not believe you need jhana for magic. Alan Chapman explains this, but in my own words maybe what is needed is equanimious intention, and jhanas are often mentioned because they bring about equanimity, otherwise you risk attachment to outcome, lust, hoping, which seems to destroy magic. But non-Jhanic rituals could achieve the same end, for example. SVMonk and you have also correctly identified some of Lorin Roche's weakness, he is quite mushroomy in that he doesn't provide for the third type. I have the same criticism, but I enjoy him for his other strengths.

Hi James,

You don't sound like you are plugging the book - I'm asking questions when I should just read the book!

I (clearly) don't know much about OCD and assumed it could lead to hallucinations - thanks for clarifying that. Not so long ago I listened to a podcast about someone with OCD leading to extreme visualizations and jumped to an assumption.

People who are successful in worldy pursuits are often extremely driven. One reason for that drive is a feeling that individual effort can change one's destiny. It is a very powerful idea and makes for quite a big ego! Some degree of success can open the door to being appreciative for all the things that allowed that success i.e. the ego takes a hit. On the other hand not opening that door could lead to someone with a Job's like mentatility.

A very strong belief in one's ability to influence destiny does not seem to fit well with a non-dual perspective. But it seems clear that there really is something magical about people who have that belief. From cult leaders to technologists.

An enlightened person can only act in best interests based on the knowledge and abiltiies they have. For example if an enlightened person does not have a healthy diet they risk to suffer the same physical problems as an unenlightened person. Learning would seem like a good thing for an enlightened person to do and if the enlightened mind is able to "achieve the best possible outcome for everyone" then we should expect great results. 

I'm leaning more toward a theory of human development where exceptional ability comes at the expense of other abilities being undeveloped. So someone very spiritually "evolved" will not have much of a clue about other fundamental human abilities e.g. tool making.

I'm not sure you are right that every person achieving great material things is morally bankrupt. Money and power does seem to corrupt most people. The corruption we see at the top  is also in the everyday behavior of many ordinary people dealing with small amounts of money and power. One could hope the enlightened mind would avoid those pitfalls. It seems most are not willing to take the risk!

Hi Ryan,

I don't see most people being materialists, I see many believing in magic. Praying is casting a spell, many people would pray for their cat. When a spell/prayer works people can ascribe it to many different things "god", "paranormal", "universal consciousness", "chance" etc.

You might be confusing people who don't want to accept arguments for the paranormal as scientific materialists. There are a lot of people using magic: lucky charms, prayers, visualization in a jhanic states etc.

I don't think I've ever met a true scientific materialist. Science's understanding has been turned on it's head several times in the last 100 or so years. Anybody with a slight familiarity is unlikely to claim today's theories as absolutes. There may be a few philosophers who have a job in presenting that view.

I'm not bringing up scientific materialist arguments nor is anybody else so I guess you are reacting to something you are imagining.

Perhaps if you swapped the word "spell" for "prayer" you would not even raise an eyebrow in most circles emoticon

I'm struggling to get a point across, I was not writing "about magic meant to find 'purpose'" I was saying that purpose is central to effective magic. That is not theoretical from my point of view but very pragmatic. Which is why I seem to be repeating it emoticon

More people are interested in the stories and "way out" experiences than the pragmatics. Some would like to use these storeis to refute someon'e belief e.g. the paranormal or support some belief e.g. god. As soon as you start to try to offer explanations "it was the spirit of my anscestor powered by the solar panel" then it will attract a critique. Your example of JKZ was fairly tame so maybe that is why this thread did not generate the push back you worry about.

To satisfy your curiosity ;) I'd say a good example was finding a new use for some mathematics that was created relatively recently (transferring reliability theory into the discrete domain). I don't have a strong math background but found a paper, a vision of how that mapped to the problem at hand occured and I knew it would work. But we needed to visit the professor to convince a colleague to implement it. Funnily I ended up having to convince the professor too! He assumed more traditional methods (that we had tried and failed with) would be best. I guess it seemed strange that someone with undergrad levels of math was explaining to a professor how to use the math he "invented". The experimental results matched so well to the theory that the professor said it was one of the most conclusive results he'd seen!

The ritual I've used is not particularly enjoyable. It involved trying to find a lot of diverse possible solutions - that is giving the brain the "sub-patterns" it will need. Then cycling with a background attention to the problem and periods of intense worry about it (over a period of months). I mean real worry - the more worried the better (and the less enjoyable unfortunately). When things are intense some small periods of time spent in a somewhat meditative state allowing free association - preferably visual. A huge amount of the brain is related to vision so I guess tapping into that is more effective.

My example is tame but I can see some similarities with the example you gave about JKZ. 

What rituals do you employ ?

Mark, you write, "The ritual I've used is not particularly enjoyable. It involved trying to find a lot of diverse possible solutions - that is giving the brain the "sub-patterns" it will need. Then cycling with a background attention to the problem and periods of intense worry about it (over a period of months). I mean real worry - the more worried the better (and the less enjoyable unfortunately). When things are intense some small periods of time spent in a somewhat meditative state allowing free association - preferably visual. A huge amount of the brain is related to vision so I guess tapping into that is more effective."

I believe that is called thinking.

My ritual is to read this, also relevent to your musing on purpose:

Mark, you write, "... I was not writing "about magic meant to find 'purpose'" I was saying that purpose is central to effective magic." I don't think it is, here is an actual example of winning a noble prize for being anti-purpose, otherwise known as frivilous, adventurous, driven by playfulness with no reason whatsoever. In his ritual of thinking, he doesn't seemed too tortured by worry. In fact, it seems quite opposite! This is a repost of mine from another thread about Richard Feynman:

"Then I had another thought: Physics disgusts me a little bit now, but I used to enjoy doing physics. Why did I enjoy it? I used to play with it. I used to do whatever I felt like doing – it didn’t have to do with whether it was important for the development of nuclear physics, but whether it was interesting and amusing for me to play with. When I was in high school, I’d see water running out of a faucet growing narrower, and wonder if I could figure out what determines that curve. I found it was rather easy to do. I didn’t have to do it; it wasn’t important for the future of science; somebody else had already done it. That didn’t make any difference. I’d invent things and play with things for my own entertainment.

So I got this new attitude. Now that I am burned out and I’ll never accomplish anything, I’ve got this nice position at the university teaching classes which I rather enjoy, and just like I read the Arabian Nights for pleasure, I’m going to play with physics, whenever I want to, without worrying about any importance whatsoever.

Within a week I was in the cafeteria and some guy, fooling around, throws a plate in the air. As the plate went up in the air I saw it wobble, and I noticed the red medallion of Cornell on the plate going around. It was pretty obvious to me that the medallion went around faster than the wobbling.

I had nothing to do, so I start to figure out the motion of the rotating plate. I discover that when the angle is very slight, the medallion rotates twice as fast as the wobble rate.  Then I thought, “Is there some way I can see in a more fundamental way, by looking at the forces or the dynamics?”

I don’t remember how I did it, but I ultimately worked out what the motion of the mass particles is, and how all the accelerations balance… I still remember going to Hans Bethe and saying, “Hey, Hans! I noticed something interesting. Here the plate goes around so, and the reason it’s two to one is …” and I showed him the accelerations.

He says, “Feynman, that’s pretty interesting, but what’s the importance of it? Why are you doing it?”

“Hah!” I say. “There’s no importance whatsoever. I’m just doing it for the fun of it.” His reaction didn’t discourage me; I had made up my mind I was going to enjoy physics and do whatever I liked.

It was effortless. It was easy to play with these things. It was like uncorking a bottle: Everything flowed out effortlessly. I almost tried to resist it! There was no importance to what I was doing, but ultimately there was. The diagrams and the whole business that I got the Nobel Prize for came from that piddling around with the wobbling plate."
From Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman!

re: Ryan Kenneth Johnson (2/25/15 6:40 PM )

Hi Ryan,

Not to reawaken this thread per se, bu tI've run into a practical problem where you may be able to help. To jump to the end, what are good avenues to recommend to people with a casual interest to get to the original, basic method of MBSR for simple practical use?

Why a problem?

I do acupuncture medical practice, and patients, more often recently, ask about how to get a handle on meditation. (Sometimes I recommend patients use a kind of bare awareness when lying there a while with needles -- just watch what and how sensations come and go; there might arise clues as to understanding or dealing with the situation that brings them to in for treatment…)

I'd been recommending them look up some local MBSR program and check it out. I'd known a couple of MBSR teachers about a decade ago, friends and colleagues, and it seemed to me a simple, accessible approach. The idea is point patients in the direction of something very basic, and non-sectarian.

But recently it's come to my attention that the MBSR programs around here have become highly institutionalized, demanding, and even expensive. A colleague who's a psychologist mentioned she won't even recommend that avenue for patients any more due to reported unfortunate experiences with it.

For instance, the program at a local hospital (that otherwise has a high reputation) has become quite forboding. I'm not even sure how it relates to Kabatt-Zinn's original approach. It goes under the name "ART" (Awareness and Relaxation Training). It runs two months with a weekly 2.5 hour session, plus one all-day session, for $300 + $35 for "materials". It seems to be run like a college course, with required readings, a kind of survey approach introducing different techniques each week (rather than something simple like breath meditation and cultivatedsticking with it into more experiential depth). The classes are crowded, in less than ideal rooms (not like quiet, dimly lit meditation halls).The teachers are a bunch of academics and psychologists, and mix in gigong, yoga, dance, poetry, etc. They emphasize academic pedigry, e.g. even when mentioning "Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D."

It looks to me like the hospitals see it as a profit center, like increasingly everything else they do nowadays. I estimate the programs bring in $8000-10000 per month, for 10 hours use of a room and a teacher, i.e. a cost of $1000-2000 per month.


Any ideas?



My understanding of MBSR came from YouTube. A quick search yields one of JKZs books, Whereever You Go There You Are

I would recommend listening to stuff like that, as I never took a formal MBSR class. My exposure is from going to my University meditation club then later local meditation centers. The Twin Cities area in Minnesota has a strong collection of meditation centers, some of which offer MBSR. If they lived here, I could recommend them a plethora of places which range from free (IMS satellite Common Grounds) to moderately expensive all run by highly competent teachers, such as Eric Storlie who works here: who authors stuff like this, which is probably why he politically aligns with institutions like MBSR:

My next secular choice would be Shinzen, but I don't recommend him often because even he is a little too much for beginners. A lot of people at the meditation centers I go to, maybe 40-60% of the attendees have some tie in with MBSR, and I see MBSR as similar to it's IMS affiliates, Zen centers, etc. People who go to these places seem to know about and really like MBSR, so I assume if someone is open to MBSR they will be open to these places, maybe, meaning these could be replacements for MBSR.

I figure this thread will be reawakened every few weeks. I plan to post here in a few months once I play around with some reinvented loving-kindness 'spells' or meditations and such among other things I'm doing that are too in the alpha stage for me to want to post now. I consider this thread a long term occasional investment.