Vinay Gupta on Meditation

thumbnail
Droll Dedekind, modified 6 Years ago.

Vinay Gupta on Meditation

Posts: 634 Join Date: 11/15/13 Recent Posts
Vinay Gupta on Meditation

This is a transcript from three meditation talks. It's under 16k words. The first talk is available as an mp4 file, and the other two as mp3s.

Meditation talk 1 mp4 (446MB )
Meditation talk 2
Meditation talk 3


I've selected parts of the transcript I like. The talk is already dense, so cutting it down is difficult (so, read the whole transcript). In DhO spirit, I include the description of the actual techniques cut from the first talk, and then the summary of the technique cut from the other two talks. The rest is theory, "view", and context cut from the talks in order. See the link at the top for the full transcript.

I don't think any of these techniques will seem new to many DhO members. But, I think the "view" and presentation as a whole will be appreciated. The rational/pragmatic style is definitely there.


(from talk 1)
The actual technical process of meditation.

You sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight. Probably the most important part of the meditation is getting the butt correctly positioned on the chair. Typically you’ll lean forward and scoot your butt back as far as possible and as you sit back there’s not very much of your muscle between the hip bones and the surface that you’re sitting on. It produces a very firm platform for meditation. You can also sit cross-legged or in full lotus but for any position that you’re in, you’re going to have to do this lean forward and scoot, like the butt scoot, get the firm contact position which gives you the solid posture. Typically you also want to roll the shoulders back. Any decent yoga teacher can teach you how to sit properly. It’s worth doing enough yoga that you learn how to sit properly. It’s quite a complex technical skill and when you get it right the fidget rate drops by an order of magnitude.

So, butt scoot for solid position, shoulders rolled backwards, open the chest. Breathing - traditional yogic breathing. First the lungs are completely emptied, then the diaphragm fills, then the chest fills, then the shoulders fill. Complete the breath in. Then reverse the sequence - shoulders empty, chest empties, belly empties. That’s literally the entire technical part.

Hands palm down or palm up, slightly different effects. I always got a lot of mileage putting them at the dantian kind of folded over each other. That was actually the position I used most.

Physical practices - hatha yoga, tai chi, things along those lines - very, very highly recommended. It’s super important that you do something along those lines as well. They are complete paths in and of themselves in many cases but it’s really worth doing them anyway, as well as or instead of. My primary practice in that line was Chinese martial arts - it fitted my character well. But anything will do.

Ditto therapy level stuff. Bunch of therapies - pick one. Hakomi, Feldenkreis, Rogerian therapy, Reichian therapy, Gestalt. They’re all workable.

Now, the mind. This is the one part where I have to vaguely try to remember how it was, because I haven’t actually had a mind for twenty-something years. 1993 or 94 was the last time that I had a mind. It’s getting to be a bit of a dull memory.

Typically you have this kind of flow of narration that is kind of commenting on the environment that you’re in. Some of it is external stuff like the grass is green or my shoe is blue or was that the dog. So it’s narration on the environment. Some of it is internal stuff like I feel cold, I am worried about something, where is my whatever it is. This is a line of chatter. The chatter is essentially like a log file being generated by a computer or it’s stuff being written to a white board by a bunch of people in a room who aren’t allowed to talk to each other. Most of that is internal messaging from one part of yourself to another part of yourself and if you just sit and listen to the internal messaging as if the internal messaging is a mantra, the internal messaging greatly accelerates in efficiency and eventually burns itself out. So the internal chatter is not to be suppressed, it is to be focussed on and it is to be listened to as if it was a radio in the room that you’re meditating in. I am meditating. There is the sound of the radio. I am listening to my mind. I am listening to the teletype in the corner as the teletype in the corner continues to process messages for different parts of me. It’s not suppressed and it’s not revelled in. It’s just acknowledged as being a kind of sensory stimulus. Eyes can be open or closed - usually open is better. For any of these things you want to do both - sometimes opened, sometimes closed.

This is the first kind of meditation. You sit and if there is mental chatter, you listen to the mental chatter as if it was a radio.

The second activity is mantra. You think of a word like clouds. Visualise clouds, say the word clouds. Focus the attention on the concept of clouds. For this, if the mind is pulled off in another direction by another image or another thought, that constitutes something where you’re going to make an effort to pull your mind back onto this object of clouds.

In the first kind of meditation where you’re just sitting there and having open awareness, there is no mental effort. You’re just relaxing into the stream of consciousness - whatever it happens to contain, it happens to contain. Type one.

Type two - mantra meditation, you pick the attention up and you put it back on clouds. Clouds dammit, clouds. cheeseburgers - no, clouds. Mantra meditation is proper difficult. It’s really, really frustrating. Nobody is going to be good at mantra meditation for literally months or years. But being good at mantra meditation builds this massive muscular power where you can pick up the mind with your will and put the mind where you want it to be. There might be some little corner that still says cheeseburger but it will basically behave itself most of the time and stay on clouds.

If you just do mantra meditation, you don’t get to know yourself any better because the mind is always filled with the mantra. This is no good. If you just do sitting there and getting to know yourself meditation, you never develop any muscle or any willpower so the mind continues to roam around like a feral animal. You have to have both the getting to know yourself better meditation and also the working meditation. You need both processes.

The final kind of meditation is the meditation on being miserable. This is where the real hard-core psychological, spiritual transformation stuff is.

You sit back and relax and all you get is anxiety thoughts. Then you do the mantra. Anxiety fear. Anxiety fear. I can’t shut this thing up. Neither mechanism will work because in the passive listening mode, you can’t change anything because you’re just passively allowing the stream to go through you. In the mantra mode you’re putting the attention on the mantra rather than on the anxiety.

The third mode is this kind of investigative mode. Oh I’m having a problem. I’m going to meditate on the problem by trying to feel deeply any emotional core of this thought stream. I wonder where my cheque book is. I feel the visceral anxiety about money. Am I going to be able to pay the rent next month? What if I lose this job? You feel it and you feel it and you feel it and as you really deeply feel the emotion, eventually the emotion will lessen. You keep feeling it and eventually you’ve actually felt the emotion. The part of you that’s been holding that tension finally lets it into consciousness. Then it’s experienced and released. You often feel very tired after getting rid of one of those.

That process is an emptying out of what the Indians would call karma. The emotional content of the mind that tends to produce cyclical activity is lessened because you deeply feel the emotions and then you release them. Sometimes these things will come around and come around for literally years and then you’ll have some enormous breakthrough and realise - I’ve been holding myself back my entire life because when I was thirteen, one of my teachers was mean to me when I did something that was just genius. I’ve been afraid of that happening again ever since so I’ve refused to compete.

Those kinds of processes - deep psychological insight - you can have the emotion come around and around. It’s the ability to feel these things super-deeply using the muscle that you’ve built up from mantra meditation that allows you to get through the material more quickly - because you use the muscle from mantra meditation to park your mind on the unpleasant emotion. Tell me why it is that we feel this awful feeling of dread? The muscle is how you get yourself to pay attention to it. The receptivity and the sensitivity from just listening to yourself think is what gives you the ability to feel and experience the stuff and actually understand the meaning of what’s happening.

This is very much a kind of yin and yang thing. You need the muscle for paying attention but you also need the ear of listening to what’s happening. You combine those two things to unlock the psychological and emotional patterning which allows deeper and deeper levels of experience to come up. That process is a lot like lighting a rocket engine under yourself because it hugely accelerates the speed of your life because instead of going round and round in little circles like a hamster in a wheel - it gets you out of the emotional hamster wheels.

So you’re constantly having problems but they’re constantly new problems. It begins to open the cycles of life so that you begin moving actively forward rather than going round in loops. After a few years of that, you begin to pick up a certain kind of forward momentum where everyday you meditate you release more emotional stuff, it accelerates your life even further because you’re even more fluid and flexible and capable and strong. You get into this kind of mode where you’re just rushing forward because you’re burning away your karma and you’re getting bigger and stronger all the time.

At the top end of that process, you break into this kind of supersonic terrain where everything goes batshit crazy and at that point you should call me. I’m not saying don’t call me until then, but you definitely get to a point where you become so fluid in the constant processing of emotional stuff that you begin to pick up this kind of superfluid quality where you’re always in the right place at the right time. You seem to have perfect luck and perfect health, and at that point it becomes important to do some additional practices before you just slide right the heck off into another dimension.

That pretty much concludes the technical bit.

...

(from talk 2)


Now all of this contextual stuff changes the nature of the practices. It changes what practices you do, it changes why you do them and therefore changes the results that you get. All the stuff that you’ve got in terms of cultural baggage around meditation - meditation is something that people do to feel better, it’s for managing stress, all these kind of things - all that sits in a different bucket. All of that is true but those are different practices done in a different context with a different intention. This is about going through layer after layer of mental obscuration until you hit the fear of death and pass through to the other side.

The three practices again. Practice number one - mantra meditation or mantra meditation with appropriate casual visualisation. If you think cloud, in-breath, cloud, out-breath, cloud - if the mind is going to form an image, let the image be of a cloud. The first practice. It builds mental muscle because you’re constantly putting the attention back on the object you’ve chosen to meditate on. You could pick an abstract concept like peace or calm. You could also pick an object which has broadly positive associations. Flowers, nature - things like that. You don’t generally want to use something that’s got a ton of cultural resonance - you don’t want to be meditating on, for example, the Buddha, because that just brings in all of these additional layers. This is really just weight-lifting for the consciousness. Mantra. Make the mind strong like a bull.

Second practice, which I think is written up in the old book, Eternalicious, as Nath sitting, which is as good a name for it as any - awareness - technically it’s probably vipassana. You sit and you listen to the content of your senses, internal and external, as if it was a mantra. So, external sense, you can tune in to the noises in the room and you listen - but you may also get an internal voice - narration and all the rest of this kind of stuff - you also listen to that.

Whatever you’re hearing is to be paid attention to as if it was the mantra - it’s a state of pure receptivity. There are no bad thoughts. There’s just attention to the thoughts. I am listening very carefully to my thoughts and the room. This builds high quality awareness but it doesn’t build mental muscle in the same way that mantra does. It doesn’t provide controlled focus.

The third practice is that you often find yourself having strong emotional reactions because unprocessed emotions that build up, tend to get repressed on a day-to-day basis and as you sit and make space for those emotions to come up, some of the emotions will begin to come up. In my case I am tired and mildly grumpy - turns out that work is a lot of work and it’s all very confusing and there are too many moving parts and it’s really a lot. Why didn’t I do something easy?

That kind of discontent - if I sit and I specifically feel that feeling, there’s some muscular tension associated with it, there’s some emotional stuff associated with it, there’s strong feelings there. Those are things which have built up over a few days being kind of busy, kind of ill, kind of tired, kind of over-extended and everything happening faster than everything else. If I sit and feel that, I get to know how I actually feel, and after a while, the backlog of unfelt feeling clears and I’ll feel better about it.

If you only do the mantra, you build tons of muscle but you don’t build any self-knowledge. If you only do the Nath Sitting, you build lots of self-knowledge but you don’t get any mental discipline or mental control. If you only do those two practices, the emotional backlogs that tend to accumulate never get proper attention put on them.

The theoretical model is that you take the attention and you put it onto the difficult emotion and you use the mental discipline to keep the attention on the emotion that otherwise you might tend to suppress. You keep feeling it and you have the awareness of it - so the strength is to put the attention on the emotion - the awareness is to have full awareness of the emotion as you experience it. You keep doing that for a while. Once you’ve felt it deeply or you’ve done as much of it as you can really comfortably do, then you’ll typically return to mantra or occasionally to listening but usually you go back to mantra. The notion is that you’re rocking into the difficult emotion a little way, and then you go back to mantra for a while and you chill out again. Then you do some listening to your thoughts and then maybe you go into the difficult emotion again. It’s this notion that you’re gradually rocking backwards and forwards between the different practices, in a way that allows you to get through more and more of the emotional material without really getting ground down or burned out.

That’s the theoretical frame in a nutshell.


Ingredients of successful sitting.

You need an environment which has predictable rather than unpredictable noise. It doesn’t have to be silent. It could have things like street noise but, if it’s outside of something like a playground where the noise has semantic significance rather than being a background roar, it will tend to be much more difficult to meditate. Music is usually quite difficult to meditate to, unless it’s something which is unbelievably static and repetitive. There’s quite a bit of drone music which is OK for meditating to. In general, music is better than noise with semantics, but silence is better than music.

The butt scoot - lean forward, move as much of the gluteus maximus out from under your hip bones as possible, and then, when you sit back, you get a nice stable point of contact between the hip bones and the floor.

Roll the shoulders back.

Hands can be palms down, palms up or kind of folded over the belly.

If you get physical discomfort, move. It’s way, way better for this meditation to wiggle until you’re in a comfortable position than to sit there with discomfort. This is very different from Zen where you just sit when you’re uncomfortable. We don’t do that - it just doesn’t help.

Breathing - traditional yogic breathing. Belly fills with air, chest fills with air, shoulders fill with air. It’s kind of the upper lobes of the lungs. Then exhale in reverse order. Shoulders empty. Chest empties. Belly empties. Breathe through nose or mouth depending on taste and degree of allergies.

Make sure your body is as comfortable as it can reasonably be.

...

(From Talk 3)

I’ll start from the top with the basic theoretical framework. The objective is that in ten plus years of practice, one attains a state of awareness where all fear of death evaporates resulting in a radical freedom. The best tool that I’m aware of for starting that is meditation and the meditation that I think works best for Westerners is the one that starts with mantra meditation of the very standard kind - you can learn it from a book called the Calm Technique.

Secondly a technique which is written up as Nath sitting [in Eternalicious]. It’s basically a kind of sitting where you just have static awareness of what is happening. You sit, you listen to your mind, as if your mind was the mantra. You just pay attention to the content of the mind whatever it happens to be at the time - as if whatever is in your head is the mantra.

Third kind of meditation - you find a strong emotion, which for most people will be a difficult emotion and you just sit and have awareness of the emotion. That can also be done, after you’ve done a bunch of practice, as just sitting and having awareness of feeling. It can include physical sensation, it can include the senses. But it’s important as you begin, to cultivate the practice of sitting with strong emotions, particularly difficult ones, because later on in the meditation practice you’re going to go through an enormous amount of difficult emotional stuff and you want to build up the muscle of doing that as early on in the practice as possible.

A lot of the difficult material you’ll hit later is inherently difficult. Everybody’s parents are likely to die before they are. Nobody will enjoy this experience except for a very few people who have already suffered a lot in that case. That inherent difficulty of life is always going to have to be experienced.



Most of the time when people talk about meditation, what they’re fundamentally talking about is something that leaves you more-or-less where you are, but as a calmer, nicer version of yourself. The notion is that meditation is an incremental improvement to quality of life - like getting regular exercise.

This is not that. I am teaching these classes now because in about ten years I’m going to need people that are enlightened to do some of the things I’m currently doing or new things and in order to be able to trust somebody’s judgement with tens or hundreds of thousands of other peoples’ lives on the line, I need those people to be enlightened.

So if I’m in a position where we get the hexayurt refugee camps going, I can’t be everywhere at once. If we wind up with extremely serious geo-politics around cryptography, I can’t be everywhere at once. In order for people to be able to do the things that I’m currently doing, or to be able to help at that level later, I need there to be people that have done enough spiritual practice that I can trust them with tens or hundreds of thousands of other peoples’ lives, and not worry that they will make a mistake.

Forging people to the point where they are capable of dealing with trouble on that scale without flinching requires a long process. I’m able to do it because I was put through that process and now if I want helpers at that level of capability in ten years, I have to teach it.

I don’t expect that everybody who learns this stuff will choose to exercise it in that way. It is not a responsibility that passes with the material, to teach it - but if I don’t teach this stuff relatively widely, then not enough people will try to have enough succeed to be inclined to actually help out with this stuff when the time comes.

For me, I’m making an investment in having an extraordinarily highly-trained spiritual elite to back me up, and I have to make that investment a decade before I know I need these people trained up. There may also be a side-effect which is a whole bunch of other people get a bunch of spiritual experience they wouldn’t otherwise have had - greatly to their benefit and possibly to the world’s benefit.

This is a completely different rationale for meditation than the vast majority of the processes people are meditating inside of. They’re usually meditating for different reasons and different goals. This is - the world is a pretty screwed-up place and you need a pretty strong whip-hand to be able to manage those processes if you want to improve it. Here is an armoury of usefulness. Most of the weaponry won’t fire until you’ve got a pretty high level of development - this is why it’s relatively safe to do.

Does this sort of make sense as a theoretical framework?

Now that we’ve got the notion that the meditation is inside of a different context, then we need to talk about what meditation is. The normal thinking around meditation is that you kind of sit there and you do something with your mind, and the something you do with your mind makes you more peaceful, calm, happy and relaxed and that over a period of time this kind of soaks into your awareness and you become a nicer, better, rounded kind of a human. That model is true for the kind of meditation that most people are doing, which is meditation de-coupled from any kind of urgency about the state of the world.

Most meditation that we have access to is descended from monastic meditation traditions where people first renounced all future involvement with the world, either personal or political, and then sat down to try and find enlightenment. It turns out that those people are very well positioned to get enlightened and terribly positioned to do anything about the state of the world because the detachment of the initial practice also makes it impossible for them to fully rehatch the world at a political level to go and beat the tar out of Dick Cheney or whoever the demon of the day is.

If you want the ability to do heavy-weight social engagement later, you have to start on a non-renounced footing. You either have to have kids, or you have to have family who have kids that you’re still attached to, or you have to have the possibility of having kids, or you have to be greatly attached to somebody else’s welfare who is not you, in a direct personal sense. It is the family tie that connects the meditator to the world. In my case the family tie is largely a lineage tie but that is not for want of trying. I could have settled down and got married half a dozen times if I was a slightly less obnoxious character.

Once you conceptualise that we are not stepping back from the world and meditating on a cloud, we’re meditating right where we are, then the second question is - what is it that we’re doing if we’re not renouncing first? We’re sitting there in our lives on a cushion or a chair doing nothing. How is this different from going down to the shed and having a nice cup of tea? And the answer is, it’s actually not. Most of the essential practices of meditation are as natural to human beings as sleep, where you just kind of settle down for a minute and kind of go - sigh. You take a nice little break and you have a little breather. Typically there’s some recreational activity like you smoke a cigarette or you drink some tea. You do it for five or ten minutes and then you get up and go back to work.

Imagine that reflex, which we all have, extended for an hour a day. I should really get up and do some work. Oh no I’m supposed to be meditating, this is work. Sigh. I just can’t be arsed any more. Had enough of this.

What you get is this deeper and deeper settling into a state of relaxed composure. It’s a continuation of the reflex of taking a ten minute break from your day, only the ten minute break stretches out to be 40 minutes, an hour, half-an-hour, two hours - however long it is and you sink deeper and deeper into this kind of relaxed awareness.

What goes along with that process is an enormous amount of awareness of unfinished work and incomplete tasks. So, simple stuff - I just noticed that the kitchen is filthy, I can see it from here and as my eyes fall over it I can see this really needs to be cleaned. Awful. One kind of awareness.

Another kind of awareness. I have two meetings tomorrow and I haven’t done the documentation for them. I really need to do some analysis and I need to call somebody. Wow, I’m really tense about that. This is not good.

So you enter into the relaxed state. All the incomplete transactions in your life then begin to surface and try to claim pieces of the relaxed state for themselves. Those incomplete transactions can go back to childhood. I am really upset about the way my mother talked to me on the phone yesterday. In fact I’ve been upset with my mother since I was four. I’m still upset with my mother and now I feel like an angry four-year-old. And this can go all the way back.

If you think of your life as being a sea of incomplete open transactions and within that sea of incomplete open transactions you have a desire to complete things, to finish them and to put them down, meditation provides you with an alternative to completing, finishing and putting down. The alternative it provides you is - I just don’t care any more. It’s not worth finishing. Drop.

This reflex of taking incomplete things in your life that you’ve been carrying around as open transactions and dropping them is the business end of meditation as it is practised by house-holders. You’re taking things that are draws on time, draws on attention, draws on energy. In your relaxed state you’re looking at these things and you’re saying - this is just not worth doing. Chuck. For the things you can do that with, you do that. For the things you can’t do that with, for the first couple of years, it’s often worth keeping a notepad beside you so that when something completely urgent that you must remember to do comes up in meditation, you can just write it down and then drop it from your awareness again. I don’t recommend that as a practice but for many people meditation is impossible without doing it. So it’s worth considering as an option.

We sit, we relax as if we’re about to sit down for a nice cup of tea, and then we continue to be relaxed. Eyes can be closed, eyes can be open, be half-open. If you’re uncomfortable, move. Zen is very much about, if you’re uncomfortable just sit there and face the pain of being alive. No, if you’re uncomfortable, move.

The kind of vibe that you’re looking for is a contentedly retired person with a really rather excessive pension sitting down in an armchair in their shed and staunchly ignoring doing the lawn. A sort of middle-class king in their middle-class castle who just doesn’t care. Right now I’m going to have a cuppa. Sod it. I’m not going to fix the lawnmower. Its bolt is broken and I just don’t care. Nothing to be done.

One of the things that will tend to come up in this state of profound nothing-to-be-doneness, this kind of regal indolence, is irritations at an emotional level. Because our lives are filled with incomplete emotional transactions, trauma, or if you’re unlucky, post traumatic stress disorder. There can be an ocean of incomplete emotional stuff.

The stuff which can simply be put down are the petty emotions like the murderous desire to have revenge upon the person who has finally succeeded in scuffing your new white shoes. Eventually this will just go away.

The hard stuff is the deep emotional trauma. The places where our parents betrayed us. The places when death came into our lives when we were far too young to deal with it. People that we might have accidentally got killed in a car accident if we were profoundly unlucky. All kinds of really bad real-world stuff that leaves us scarred and broken.

These kind of issues have two levels. There is the primary trauma level where there is still the open wound of the thing that happened, and the secondary trauma level, where our world model gets broken by the fact that this has happened. The primary emotional trauma, meditation is not a great way of dealing with. The primary emotional trauma is best dealt with by therapy and getting a hug or potentially things like MDMA for PTSD. All of those emotional trauma-related workloads have to be worked out somewhere if you’re going to be doing a lot of meditation, because meditation will tend to stimulate them. But meditation is a not a great way of resolving them, because if the emotional injury causes you to feel isolated and alone the best place to work that out is not when you are isolated and alone because you’re meditating. You need secondary and tertiary mechanisms for processing the emotional stuff that will come up. Meditation alone is not enough. It will cause re-traumatisation for things which are isolation-based problems.

However, in terms of coming to peace with emotions which you should have felt and choose not to, things you distracted yourself from because you stayed busy, things that you just always blocked out from thinking about, the places where you have to feel things that you already feel and acknowledge the feelings you already have, all of those kind of processes can be done alone on a mat.

What can’t be done is the stuff where you’ve become disconnected from humanity because you’re not going to get more connected to humanity on your own. That’s quite important to remember. A lot of people will say that meditation will get everything. I don’t think it will - at least it’s not the short path through everything.

The world model adjustment stuff is also very intense because once you realise that people die, you’re permanently changed by it. Death is the great forbidden mystery. Western civilisation takes it a long way away from us. It’s a very, very rough set of things. When we get to this death business, the death business is at the heart of other trauma. More or less anything that happens to us which feels bad, feels bad because we’re animals that were evolved to stay alive and things which are three steps ahead of potential death feel terrible, two steps ahead of potential death feel horrific, one step ahead of death feel unimaginably horrific. So we’re constantly navigating away from things which are associated with death because we’re animals.

We’re also constantly navigating towards things that are associated with life because we’re animals. Whatever spiritual nature we might have is completely nebulous compared to the utter blunt reality of our evolutionary heritage, which is with us every second of every day whether we like it or not. Respiration and eating.

As you sit, gradually, gradually in the relaxed state the world model is made manifest. I am uncomfortable because my parents are getting old. One day soon they’re going to die, and then I’m going to have to bury them and this is a terrible thing. Woah. And then one day it will be me. This is really, really rough.

The cycle of life that human beings experience, the current regime that we operate under where we don’t have massive life extension, we don’t have physical immortality, we don’t have evidence of heavens - you go around the wheel and you will in all probability snuff it. I say in all probability because the trans-humanist thing is getting closer and closer. Maybe in our lifetime, maybe not in our lifetime. But until that becomes matter of fact, if it becomes matter of fact, we still have to deal with death as a primary teacher.

Most of our psychological blocks are psychological blocks that are designed to prevent us from having to deal with the reality of other peoples’ death, or our own. By making a direct approach on the subject of death, you can relatively quickly cleave through more or less all of the fundamental monkey psychology problems of the human mind.

Once you are comfortable with the fact that you will die, and that everybody around you will die, modulo trans-humanism, once you’re really comfortable with that, life is joyous because you’re no longer struggling against fate and once you’re no longer struggling against fate, you can surf on it. As long as we’re not afraid of death, then all the things in life which are normally far too risky to do, become open, fun and enjoyable. Wow that’s really dangerous. What’s the worst that could happen? I could get killed. That’s going to happen anyway. Oh you mean we can do pretty much anything? Yes.

This is very much a kind of Fight Club thing. Once you realise that your death is inevitable, the only question is what are you going to do between now and then? That is a completely different framing from the pre-conscious model that we have which is probably unconscious and perhaps genetic inheritance - which is that if we do everything right, we’ll never die. This feeling that if we do everything right we’ll never die, this kind of latent immortality that we often feel, is why we’re constantly risk averse and constantly living below our potential. We’re unconsciously holding back because we think that if we never make a mistake, somehow we will become immortal. And this turns out not really to be an option.

In fact it is the complete certainty of our own death that liberates us to live. This is not a new thought, this is a very old thought, but it is the central fact of any kind of meditation which is not based on escaping into lala land and then barricading the door.

If we are not doing rainbow unicorn bliss meditation with some new age weirdo from California who lives in Mount Shasta and has a terrible attitude problem about parking tickets, then you’re going to be on the other side of the fence, meditation for bad people, death is a fact, get used to it.

Let’s talk a bit about time-scales. Actual enlightenment is about a PhD’s worth of work. And by actual enlightenment what I mean is, you should be able to take an angry person with an AK47 - they should be able to wave it in your face with all probability that they will pull the trigger and your consciousness should not fluctuate at all. Absolute rational calmness in the face of your own immediate demise or the death of somebody close to you is the baseline for enlightened consciousness. There’s a lot more to enlightenment than that, but the traditional way that enlightenment is demonstrated in the lineage is that you hand your student an enormous razor sharp knife and you have them hold it to your throat and apply a little pressure. They look you straight in the eye and you just comfortably settle. And they go you’re really not afraid of dying at all - there’s no instinct to flinch - none - OK. That is a very disturbing thing to see. The samurai talk a lot about that - The Way of the Warrior is the way of death, all this kind of stuff. It makes quite an impact seeing that. Instinctively we can tell when somebody else is unafraid in a situation where they should be terrified.

Much more comes with enlightenment. The great spiritual vision. The insight into the fundamental goodness of the nature of the Universe - all the rest of that stuff. All of that is absolutely there. But if you chase enlightenment as a path into infinite light, it’s very easy to get side-tracked by states which are closer and closer to enlightenment but will never turn into enlightenment. It’s like a Zeno’s paradox where you can get closer and closer and closer to perfect light and bliss, but you’ll never actually arrive until you go right the way down through all the levels of consciousness and unhook yourself from mortality.

It’s much easier in this culture at this time to go inwards, unhook from mortality and then ascend. Hence an approach which is very much based on the here and now mortality human life is a much better vehicle.

It’s a PhD’s worth of work to get enlightened. Some people start with natural pre-dispositions which will make it much easier. Some people start with a ton of life experience which has forced these issues. Some people start with intellectual practices that turn out to be very cross-correlated. If you’ve spent an enormous amount of time, say, as a composer of classical music, in all probability you’ve got first-rate mental focus and you could apply that mental focus to meditation. You might also find yourself just sitting there on the mat composing all day and getting nothing done at all meditation-wise.

There’s no way to know for any individual which way it will go, but you have to be thinking about this stuff as being roughly an hour a day for roughly a decade, at the end of which you will become essentially super-human. No fear of death. Infinite psychological flexibility. The ability to regenerate from almost any kind of tragic event. The ability to inspire and lead people on a scale which is largely defined by how much work you feel like doing that day. This is a path of mastery which has been conserved inside of different traditions all over the world for millennia and millennia. It’s where you get your wizards from. Every culture has wizards. All the wizards are pretty much the same. It’s where you get your wizards from. They go in. They fix it. They come back. Then they can tell people what they did and they can do things that nobody else can.

Because I’m in a position where I’m expecting to need to lot of help in about ten years, I am basically starting the wizard factory now. Not everybody that comes to the wizard factory has to become a wizard or has to help me, but if I going to get any helpful wizards in ten years, I have to start the wizard factory now. This is very much the wizard factory. It will produce a certain betterment of quality of life if you sit down and do it - but so will Hatha Yoga. It will produce a certain kind of psychological insight - but so will Vipassana.

What it will produce that most other traditions won’t produce is a condition of consciousness that in Sanskrit is called vīra. The tradition of the great spiritual hero - the ass-kicker for God - and if we’re going to get those people produced, it takes about a PhD’s worth of work, which is roughly ten years of part-time effort. So I’m going to lay this stuff out for people. I’m going to teach it on some kind of basis. I expect that there’ll be a slow growth over a few years. Then some kind of semi-stable group will form. Six to eight years after that it will begin to produce people who actually have their shit together at the required level of play, where I can hand them a situation at a level of risk and complexity that I would consider challenging, and then I can turn my back on that situation, walk away and consider it done.

This is a very, very high level game. It’s a very, very serious offer. I’ve been at this kind of spiritual hero thing really since Spring of 2001 and my batting average in that time is absolutely terrifying. The things I have achieved in that period are completely beyond human comprehension. If I lay them out end-to-end, most people assume that I’m lying and then I send the URLs.

Anybody can do that - you just have to stop being suburban. But the price of stopping being suburban is literally tearing apart the foundation of the world in which you exist and getting down to the absolute primal fundamentals of human experience. It feels in some places like walking through hell and in other places it feels like you’re being toured through heaven by a bunch of extremely giggly angels.

But the actual practice is - you sit in a chair and breathe. Your mind drags you through all of these layers of consciousness and all of these permutations, as it works out the fundamental kinks in your awareness and, one at a time knots come undone and when the final knots begin to go, your universe expands until you are literally at one with everything.

It is everywhere, it is continuous and I’m not going to die. Or at least the Universe is going to continue and I am so completely woven into that Universe, my own death is really rather irrelevant. No fear. Once you make that escape, you’re free to do anything you like for the rest of your life. It’s basically time off.

Getting there requires letting go of everything else. What makes this a householder tradition is that you maintain the facade which allows all of the other things in your life to continue to exist more-or-less as they do now or slightly improved. At the same time you completely dismantle the bondage and attachment to those things. So you wind up maintaining the superficial structures of your life because they make the people around you happy, while you yourself liberate yourself from all of these things. If you get it right and you’re perfectly good at it, you can sit there being exactly the person that everybody else expects you to be and be completely liberated within.

So that is basically the offer. I’m going to be running the hero factory, wizard factory - whatever you want to call it. Anybody who I get on with at a personal level is welcome to come and do that stuff. People that I just don’t like will not survive the process. That is a constraint - if I was a better kind of teacher I might be able to teach everybody, but people that I don’t like just won’t survive. So it’s pretty important that it’s the kind of people that I get on with. Over time there will be less of a need for me to be deeply personally involved because I’ll have other people doing a lot of the training. That will broaden the kind of people who can do it and get a lot out of it.

I can’t think of anything I should add, but let me cover two little technical points.

In the guru-disciple tradition of India the guru makes guarantee that they will get the student to enlightenment if the student does exactly what they’re told. Unfortunately there is no mechanism in Western society which allows people to form a guru-disciple relationship properly. The necessary psychological hooks just don’t exist on either side of that divide. I don’t think it’s possible for the guru-disciple relationship to come across from India and function here. That slows these processes up a good deal because it means that the student has to generate their own sense of safety and well-being and in-charge-ness because they can’t basically throw themselves on the mercy of the guru and then feel safe. We just don’t have a society that works that way. So there’s a whole bunch of additional labour that has to be done to compensate for that. I have mapped that stuff out and I know how it works. So far it looks pretty successful.

Second thing is - this stuff has been tested. I went back and re-formulated the systems in 2010 or 2011. I have been bench-testing that with a small number of people in secret. Results are extremely promising. It seems to perform more or less exactly as I would have predicted.

Although this seems like the first time the machinery is being run, it’s the first time it’s being run in public. The reason that it’s a public or semi-public tradition rather than a secret tradition is that for people to make their way into a secret tradition is basically impossible. So by having something which is a little more open, the offer is there for anybody that wants it - as long as they get on with me well enough that if they’re on fire I will choose to put them out in preference to going home and having a good night’s sleep.

That safety criteria is very real. If I was a universal teacher it wouldn’t matter, there wouldn’t be that proviso. I’m not a universal teacher, I’m a tribal or clan teacher. It’s a different kind of consciousness.

I think that is all of the theory.

...


I’ve been trying not to describe this as circuit training for the mind, but it’s actually circuit training for the mind.

Some kind of physical practice - Tai Chi, Hatha Yoga, Pilates, whatever it is. It’s very useful to be able to get a good stable position for sitting in. Practising sitting by sitting is good. Chairs are an amazing invention. Although the body does get used to the sitting stuff pretty quickly - apart from losing blood-flow to your legs which never seems to get better. For that one the quality of sitting equipment is about all you can do as far as I know.

The emotional processing step is not commonly built into meditation systems. In most meditation systems, that may happen in the process, but it’s not done as a specific thing. The reason for making it an explicit step is that, if you’re in a Western context, which is quite an emotionally messy culture, people don’t have strong family ties, they don’t have extended family units, they tend not to have a guru-disciple relationship with anybody. Most of the sources of primary emotional stabilisation are not present in the culture, which tends to produce a ton of aggregate wear and tear that the Indian systems will not typically expect to find. So there’s need for more of an emphasis on that and as you get better and better at processing the emotional garbage, and you run out of ordinary emotional garbage, it also prepares you for dealing with some of the fundamental-level cultural emotional garbage.

The primary reason that tantra and advanced meditation don’t really work very well for Westerners is the fear of God. If you’ve got practices which produce an awareness of God, whatever that might mean, and you’re very afraid that God is not very nice, the tendency is to get into that territory and then avoid it like the very plague. The last things that you want to do is to come face-to-face with your maker only to discover that he really doesn’t like you. I’m sorry, I’m very sorry, I’m very disappointed, it’s the other place for you.

That fear is very deep inside of Western culture. Part of the reason for the additional emphasis on the emotional practices is so that those cultural level fears can be dismantled at the same time as the rest of the meditation process is going on. As you get into these very high states of consciousness which eventually come, you know how to handle fear, you know how to handle the difficult emotions, the fear of God can be released at the same time as everything else is being released. That sounds kind of abstract but it took me about five years to figure out that’s why people were having such enormous trouble in high states of consciousness. It was a major discovery, an insight.

The best approach I can see for handling that is to build much stronger emotional processing machinery so that as we get closer to those kind of states, we’ve got the equipment for getting rid of those cultural level fears. It’s not easy.

...

This notion that you’re prying the mind back off the hypothesis and just sitting, over time turns into this relationship with life for when you don’t know things, you just don’t know them. We don’t have to tell a story about what it is. We don’t have to have an opinion about whether we should know. We just get into the position where, over time, the mind settles down into - I’m just not sure about that yet. It becomes comfortable to not know. Once you’re comfortable with not knowing, you can open into the enormous ocean of things that we don’t know. Is there reincarnation? Is the milk still fresh? What happened to Margaret Thatcher’s soul if she had one?

As you unpick that protective structure of certainty that we build around us, this is the second great fruit. Freedom from the fear of death, freedom from the need to be certain, the need to know, opening out into this formation of hypothesis. Maybe it’s this, let’s investigate that. Turns out not to be that, something else.

This is essentially a scientific perspective on life, but without the repeatable experiment. We acknowledge that life is a bit too complex to do repeatable experiments on most of the time, but we sit in a basically scientific relationship with what’s going on. Can I prove it? What do I actually know? Have I seen it? Is there evidence? If not, it’s mythology.

Some of that mythology might be useful sometimes. When you sit down in the meditation coat, in the meditation window, you take your sacred hour and none of that stuff is real for that period. This is a cultivation of a very specific attitude towards life, mind and knowledge. That specific attitude is kind of like Aqua Regia. It’s a universal solvent. You want this ability to dissolve out all the certainties we have about things that we don’t actually have certainty about.

What you’re left with is a bedrock not knowing, which is actually the real human experience. It’s where children are. Adults gradually lose sight of the unknown as they acquire knowledge but they also lose sight of the things that they don’t know about because they just don’t have time to investigate or they gradually lose curiosity. As a kid you can ask why and why and why. You get a little bit older and eventually somebody hands you six hundred pages of a mathematical physics textbook and says - once you get through that we can talk about it. Slowly we become dissuaded from this primal curiosity.

Meditation is a space to return to this kind of primal curiosity without having to constantly tell ourselves that we understand things we’re not sure about. The raising of the tolerance for uncertainty and unknowing, comfort in the face of not being certain, comfort in the face of open hypotheses, settling the mind down. I don’t know. I’m not sure. I kind of want to understand but I don’t right now. I have an open hypothesis. Or I’m just gathering data. That attitude, when you take it into areas of life where there are actual practical things going on in, turns into this openness to understand what is not yet understood. You can map the unknown and you discover that we’re completely immersed in it.

Actually the unknown is enormous. I’m not actually sure about much of anything. At that point, if you are lucky, things become mysterious. Wow, actually the world has these patterns, it rhymes, it seems to have a certain kind of intentionality, it seems to smile. There is a sense of humour to life that seems to emerge acausally. That kind of stuff comes out of living in this condition of open hypothesis. It begins to sound like mysticism. In a sense it is, but it’s only the mysticism of ordinary life. It’s magical realism only in the sense that reality is kind of magical and it’s not that much of a mental shift to access that because after all, we were children and everything was magical when we were kids. Cardboard box is space-ship because we say so. This is how powerful our magic is. When we are seven, it might not work any more. We had better get out there and do it.

I’m describing this stuff as a set of fruits, useful things that come out of the practice. They’re partly there as bait - this stuff is actually good and it’s hard for me to explain why it’s good without setting up a set of expectations that are bad. But these are the kinds of things which come out of it and are useful. They’re not a priori reasons to practice, but what I’m trying to point at is modes of transformation of the mind that meditation can achieve when approached in a particular way, that are not particularly well discussed or documented.

There’s a lot of discussion about mystical experience as - sit here until you see luminous figures from other dimensions come and give you blessings in the form of little purple raindrops. There’s very little in the sense of you’ll get really comfortable not understanding things and trust me, you’re human, there’s going to be a lot of that. The thing that I’m attempting to frame is the notion of a small miracle mysticism. That if you get really comfortable inside of the life that you have, inside of the mind that you inhabit, what emerges from that as you begin to get more comfortable with the unknown, is this kind of small miracle thing where actually it’s kind of wondrous. This is sort of amazing. We really don’t understand and yet it is endless.


That is basically the deal. It’s not actually very impressive in comparison with what a lot of the hard core mystical traditions will tell you. It is de-mysticising, de-mythologising, largely within a western rationalist framework as long as you don’t do too much weird stuff. A gradual, gradual shedding of certainty, shedding of hardness, emerging into ...

It doesn’t actually sound all that much like heavy mystical weirdness. It is, but it’s heavy mystical weirdness approached in this kind of cat-petting way. You just settle the thing down on your lap and you pat it on the head and eventually it starts to purr. We’re not going to actively catch the cat. It’s like - I’m just going to sit here ignoring the mystical weirdness. And eventually - oh no Mr Tiddles wants a pat on the head - oh there’s mystical weirdness on my lap. Pat, pat, pat. Purr, purr, purr. I’ve hit a great mystery. It is everywhere and nowhere. Look you can see it. Miaow. Versus this approach of going out and catching the great mystery. No, it is not going to be caught. It is eventually going to come and sit on your lap because you show up in the same place at the same time every day and wait for it. That is a comfortable lap, I will come and sit on it.

This is very much about defusing the mythology of enlightenment. It’s just that set of processes, bunch of unknowing, the cat of mystical consciousness that may eventually just come and sit on your lap if one does not scare it off and pats it enough, eventually there will be purring, and perhaps the cosmic miaow.

Then there you are, right back where you started, with everything open and flowing in some ways it wasn’t before, having a full experience of being human. But you were having a full experience of being human before - it just wasn’t as much fun because it was kind of entangled. The sink is now empty of dishes - how wonderful. It is still a sink. Yes, you are still an ape - you’re just an ape with an empty sink. Is an empty sink better than a full sink? They are both sinks. Yes, but I think you’ll find the empty one is better. But it’s still a sink. Yes, we told you it was meditation, we did not say it was miracles.

Some of the reason that this is not the way that meditation is typically taught and framed, is because most meditation is taught by people who want to make a living teaching meditation. Or you’ve got institutions that want to hold wealth and power over us for multi-century periods. So you’ve got a bunch more mythology which is essentially advertising and you’ve got a bunch of stories about certainty because it’s really easy to motivate people with certainty.

If what you’re basically selling people is - you’ll get into a position where you’ll be filled with mystical doubt of everything that you think you know and you won’t care because you’ll be super-comfortable with doubt as a way of life. Wow, that sounds amazing! No, wait, What? Or I could go over here and they’re going to promise me that sparkly cartoon beings from other dimensions will come and ....

There is an inherent participation bias against the traditions which have this kind of much more settled, much more laid back, much more continuous approach to these things. People love fireworks. There are no fireworks except when you get into certain kinds of high-stress, high-difficulty situations and it turns out that the mystical feline presence of the universe is capable of 0 to 60 in an eighth of a milli-second and can climb glass. I’m not denying that there is the great mystical thing. I’m not denying that there are mystical and magical experiences that are totally life-transforming. I’ve seen them, but they are products of crisis.

If everything is fine, you can go through a lifetime as a meditator simply sinking deeper into the mystery without ever seeing the spectacular pyrotechnics. If you do see the spectacular pyrotechnics, it is usually because something has blown up. You can see this - the traditions that are from the hardest and most difficult times and places tend to have much more spectacular pyrotechnic stuff. You look at the cultures that had warrior monks and usually they’ve got spiritual practices that are quite pyrotechnic. Turns out if you’re a warrior monk, there’s a whole bunch of running around trying to not get killed, or similar, and at that point mystical experience takes on a much more ferocious aspect.

It’s not that one must actively avoid that stuff, but it is important to understand that if you see fireballs, it is because something is on fire and usually that is an error condition. This is quite an important reframe. We acknowledge that those things are there. Usually they are there because something has gone horribly wrong. Being able to cope with that having gone horribly wrong is a good thing, but seeking out the environments where those kinds of experiences are available is madness.

It’s like enlisting in the French Foreign Legion of meditation. Plenty of people go into the jungle to take Ayahuasca because they want to see these kind of things. Confrontational experiences with jungle spirits that are in an eco-system that is dying because we are idiots. Of course these spirits are really willing to show you what you’re made of. It’s another white man. Maybe if we fix this one, they’ll stop doing it. Zap! How many of these white people are there? I don’t know - we seem to have fixed like 4 dozen of them in the last two weeks and they’re still coming. We’re still getting poisoned. What is going on?

In terms of personal practice, try and stay out of spiritual crisis as a lifestyle. Other peoples’ problems to a large degree are very difficult to resolve. If you get a bunch of meditative awareness and you take it to the trenches, you will discover that there are a whole bunch of surprising angles on these things that the samurai know all about and the rest of the stuff. The Shaolin monks are very content meditating. It’s not until you kick them out of the monastery you discover that they know kung-fu. So try not to grasp after high spiritual weirdness, it’s usually a sign that you’re in danger. Oh I didn’t know that I could do that. I seem to be running away much faster than I thought was possible. Amazing.

I’m really stressing this because it’s very, very easy for people to mistake sparkliness for progress. Comfort with the unknown is real progress, because the unknown is essentially infinite and you’re in it and that is your actual condition. Sparkly stuff and fast, hard moving objects - these are not progress. They’re signs of danger. They’re warning indicators. You might develop a bunch of capability for dealing with those kinds of problems but that is not the same as progress.

...
The Poster Formerly Known As RyanJ, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Vinay Gupta on Meditation

Posts: 85 Join Date: 6/19/15 Recent Posts
Given Shinzen's system and my own choosing, I've essentially gravitated towards this very system without anyone telling me to. In hindsight, I rushed into feeling awfulness, his third meditation, without strong concentration and that I believe was a mistake, and use English Mantras for concentration and am still experimenting with that. It probably has held me back in progress, but I've been trying to see what would happen with as little assumptions as possible, and essentially I seem to be lead into Vinay's style without knowing.
thumbnail
Droll Dedekind, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Vinay Gupta on Meditation

Posts: 634 Join Date: 11/15/13 Recent Posts
That was fast.

Let the cult recruitment begin.

I see Vinay's system as basically compatible with other 'pragmatic dharma' folk. Shinzen talks about being comfortable with uncertainty, the "don't know mind", death not being a problem, the "primal feel strata", etc.  Jed McKenna talks about being comfortable with uncertainty, being comfortable with death, synchronicity, timing, etc. Daniel talks about sitting with Suffering and noticing the tendency to turn away, etc. Of course, they all talk about being basically aware of what's going on, improving concentration, etc.

I think one who's attracted to Vinay's system is probably one who would want to synthesize/compare/contrast perspectives/techniques from other teachers/systems and verify everything for oneself, anyway. Incidentally, this seems correlated with dabbling. Whaddaya gonna do?
thumbnail
Droll Dedekind, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Vinay Gupta on Meditation

Posts: 634 Join Date: 11/15/13 Recent Posts
Vinay did some interviews for the Future Thinkers Podcast. He did one last year that was split into two parts, then he did one recently that's being released in segments. Two are out now. They're fascinating. When I feel less lazy I might make a little bulleted list of the topics. I'm really not sure how the pragmatic-dharma-whatever community doesn't know about Vinay

Last year:
FTP018: Vinay Gupta, Part 1 – Techno-Social Systems, Meditation, and Basic Human Needs
FTP019: Vinay Gupta, Part 2 – Hakuna Matata, Space Pharaoh! Quantum Mechanics, Space Exploration, and Enlightenment

Recently:
FTP026: A Scientific Approach to Enlightenment – Vinay Gupta Interview, Part 3
FTP027: The Practical Steps to Enlightenment – Vinay Gupta Interview Pt. 4
C P M, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Vinay Gupta on Meditation

Posts: 219 Join Date: 5/23/13 Recent Posts
I hadn’t read the material when you originally posted. But I started listening to the first interview from the last post. His technical work was interesting, but it got my attention when he started talking about meditation. I’ve been listening to the other interviews, good stuff, thanks for posting this.
thumbnail
Droll Dedekind, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Vinay Gupta on Meditation

Posts: 634 Join Date: 11/15/13 Recent Posts
Glad you found it useful. I think there is another episode or two to come out.
shargrol, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Vinay Gupta on Meditation

Posts: 1614 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
yes, thanks for these!
thumbnail
Droll Dedekind, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Vinay Gupta on Meditation

Posts: 634 Join Date: 11/15/13 Recent Posts
thumbnail
Elizabeth P, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Vinay Gupta on Meditation

Posts: 75 Join Date: 5/10/14 Recent Posts
Thanks for posting about these.  Enjoyed the others, hoping to find time for this one soon.
thumbnail
Droll Dedekind, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Vinay Gupta on Meditation

Posts: 634 Join Date: 11/15/13 Recent Posts
In an attempt to resist the tendency to become an Internet-addicted scatterbrain I'll try to summarize some of what I remember. Maybe it will help someone too.
  • E as a possible evolutionary adaptation
  • E'd actors possibly being better at avoiding world-ending crisis
  • The tendency for people to have an E experience and then latch onto the closest dogma that seems to explain it
  • Historical connection between E and anomalous experiences, synchronicity, magic, etc
  • Comfort with uncertainty as a fundamental aspect of E
  • Importance of integrating understanding of evolution with E traditions
  • Is E desirable?
  • What to look for in a teacher
  • How trauma and emotional development relate to E
  • Reconciling science and E
  • Hakuna matata space pharaoh

I notice that Vinay's system maps roughly onto Shinzen's definition of mindfulness as sensory clarity, concentration, equanimity. The main difference, I believe, is that Vinay doesn't mention equanimity towards pleasant sensations. He seems to be focusing on equanimity with experiencing deep emotional pain. Shinzen calls this "completing" the experience. Comparing Shinzen's system as a whole with Vinay's, I'd say the most glaring difference is that Vinay doesn't talk about impermanence or 'flow'.

When describing his own enlightenment event Vinay puts emphasis on the silencing of inner dialogue. This seems to be peculiar. I have trouble seeing this as important or even possible.

One part that I'm still hazy on is Vinay's position on what I'll call enlightenment pluralism. He seems to acknowledge that there is variety in how enlightenment is experienced. Yet, he refers to it singularly still. I'm not sure if he's agnostic on whether this variety shares some fundamental nature.

More later maybe