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Willoughby Britton Dalai Lama presentation

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I checked http://www.cheetahhouse.org/ today. There was a video in the home page where Dr. Britton presented to the Dalai Lama about Dark Night research. The results are quite astounding. I think she mentioned the average participant was impaired 3 years, with a minimum of 4 months and maximum of a decade. 

As someone who was severely depressed for more than 3 months, this really resonated with me. Dr. Britton is doing some valuable work.

I really, really hope that we can reach out to more people who are suffering. There were several reasons which made reaching out difficult. "No one would understand, they don't meditate." "I'm enlightened, why is this happening to me." "The household life is dusty and full of trouble, why not live the homeless life.(A passage I am averse to in the Pali Cannon)". My point is the monkey mind can come up with all types of bullshit to not seek help in these conditions. Perhaps, in the future we can set up a hotline for meditation related isssues when we have greater understanding to deal with these issues.

The Dalai Lama mentioned how there should be holisitc understanding in place before undertaking these practices, particularly hearing, critical analysis and then contemplation. I am currently helping a friend set up a centre. I'm trying to make him aware of DN consequences to make him understand the responsibility. What are your opinions and views on setting up an infrastructure and context for dealing with spiritual crisis?

RE: Willoughby Britton Dalai Lama presentation
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10/23/15 6:33 AM as a reply to Mettafore.
howdy mettafore,
i too think that her research is really valuable and a great service.  your idea of creating an infratructure / hotline ... is a great concept but i think there are many hurdles.  the first one which comes to mind is the difficuly of separating spiritual disease and medically acknowleged / organic psycholgical dosease are really blurry.

presuming this "hotline" were advertised as strictly a spiritual crisis go-to it could have some potential.  then comes the different traditions and their takes on how to deal with these things if at all.  perhaps willoughby has already given some thought to this given her rational approach to all of this.

RE: Willoughby Britton Dalai Lama presentation
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10/23/15 6:42 AM as a reply to tom moylan.
i just finished watching the vid and found it dissapointing.  the DLs answers were imprecise and generalized to the point where i had to question his engagement.  willoughby's presentation was, to be fair, pretty scientifically jargonized, but it seemed that the DL and his interpreter, understood the point.  nevertheless  the remarks and homilies provided as answers were too general to have any contextural significance.

i have listened to the DL give very very complex and advanced teachings in the past so at least his intellectual capacity cannot be the reason for the lackluster and cloudy response unless his is slipping.

somehow the people who surround him set off alarm bells for me with their acolytic nuanced behaviour.  but that's probably just me.

he is, after all, his holiness.

RE: Willoughby Britton Dalai Lama presentation
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10/23/15 3:03 PM as a reply to tom moylan.
Agree with you, bro. Perhaps, the Tibetans are too secretive about their inner teachings. The last joke he seemingly innocuously cracked left a bad taste in my mouth. It is not funny when real people are suffering without any resources. But, kudos to him at least engaging with the scientists.

RE: Willoughby Britton Dalai Lama presentation
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10/23/15 7:40 PM as a reply to Mettafore.
She's doing good work and certainly I've gone through many of those negative periods and I would say about 5 years for me was what it took to get through a lot of it. 

The Dalai Lama is right in that there is more to the practice regarding the morality side and the westerners need to create better teaching style that includes emphasis on action/karma. 

There will have to be more emphasis on a wet path than dry path like Thanissaro Bhikkhu recommends. 

I also think that pointing out that preferences are the source of stress and that the intention (movement of the attention span) is where all stress starts will help people from creating fight or flight responses in the meditation. Meditators are ruminating and bashing intrusive thoughts instead of actually meditating in many cases.

The other part of this where there is a disconnect is that Theravadan practioners often don't do Nagarjuna intellectual/meditative/debating practices. I found that some of the Time practices and even welcoming practices or skygazing or even inherent existence practices all helped to smooth out my noting practice.

EDIT: A key question I would like to ask her is why are people meditating? If they have depression doesn't that make a person debilitated? If depression is makes a person foggy wouldn't it take some time to deal with?

RE: Willoughby Britton Dalai Lama presentation
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10/23/15 7:38 PM as a reply to tom moylan.
Yes I agree, not the Dalai Lama at his best. But here is a few additional thoughts.
I'm pretty sure the Alan Wallace hasn't changed his mind and still thinks that there is no such thing as an insight path. The Dalai Lama, may hold the same underlying view to, but as he knows Kornfield and as heard of this Insight Path, is waiting for a consistent body of evidence to come out. 

I haven't read the Buddhas Brain yet and most of my contemplative science understanding is provided by having listened to all the Buddhist Geeks talks.
There appears to be some research into Nibbana, but nobody has yet felt confident enough to say here is the enlightenment test, or not to mention a distinct path test.
And even if they have, some way of measuring 'a path', this doesn't clarify whether the path was actually attained in insight. 

So, why would you go through all this suffering when you can practice shamatha first? Fair question?
And really sometimes people expect big meaningful answers, and unfortunately all that can be offered is, a simple one with an analogy maybe to emphasise its importance.
Meditators need knowledge, that is the premiss and underlying value system of the reaction to the mushroom affect associated with the Pragmatic Dharma!
Don't forget that the Dalai Lama instigated the Mind Life Science Institute. Just as Kornfield also opened new ground for the Progressive Buddhist movement with books like After the Ecstasy the Laundry.
We don't need to frame these precursors exclusively by our expectations, from a pragmatic dharma perspective. Nor do we need to frame everything in the future from that perspective.

Lastly Also, I saw the inteview in an interpersonal light. Williby reminded me of my DN experiences where some strong stuff is coming up.
Possibly fear and anxiety. In my case have a tendency to get nervous around authority figures which includes people I have imagined or think likely to be Araharts, I feel vulnerable and in adequate and am overly self conscious that they can see through me.
The Dalai Lama held space really well, we're someone was focusing very hard to stay on task, while some very strong DN feed back loops were occurring, I believe.
And picking at a few bad jokes that didn't go down so well, and were aimed possibly to lighten the mood. Or expecting some amazing unthought of solution, is possibly over expectation?
Lastly I thought it funny, that the western psychological frame work defined people's inability to work or function for a month (can't recall the exact figure). Or even to be impared for three years, so seriously.
Remember we are undertaking to attain enlightenment and remove ourselves from the rounds of samsara. A few years suffer such as from people in the DN or from great Saints Like Milarepa, is not an unexpected or unheard of endeavour. 

RE: Willoughby Britton Dalai Lama presentation
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10/24/15 2:38 AM as a reply to Richard Zen.
Thanks for your answer, Richard Zen. A Lot of food for thought, especially the stuff about preferences. How does one make decisions wihout preferences? Is it from an "impartial" understanding of Kamma rather than "preferences"?

Thanissaro is a brilliant scholar. I really enjoy his writing. Especially, the booklet he compiled on Kamma. It really drills in how important it is to be skillful in action, which I perceive as not only performing "wholesome action" but actually dong it pretty damn well.

I shall have to check out about these Nagarjuna style debates. My intellectual knowledge has been largely limited to Theravada till now for the last 2 years. Perhaps, some insight can come out of this, too.

RE: Willoughby Britton Dalai Lama presentation
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10/24/15 10:34 AM as a reply to Mettafore.
Mettafore:
A Lot of food for thought, especially the stuff about preferences. How does one make decisions wihout preferences? Is it from an "impartial" understanding of Kamma rather than "preferences"?
Here is the bread's latest theory, which beautifully answers the bolded question:

Don't think about spiritual theory any more than absolutely necessary.
It very soon makes one both dumb and confused.

I meant, just follow your heart.

Actually, I have no idea, but that question certainly isn't going to help.

RE: Willoughby Britton Dalai Lama presentation
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10/24/15 3:50 PM as a reply to Mettafore.
Mettafore:
Thanks for your answer, Richard Zen. A Lot of food for thought, especially the stuff about preferences. How does one make decisions wihout preferences? Is it from an "impartial" understanding of Kamma rather than "preferences"?

Thanissaro is a brilliant scholar. I really enjoy his writing. Especially, the booklet he compiled on Kamma. It really drills in how important it is to be skillful in action, which I perceive as not only performing "wholesome action" but actually dong it pretty damn well.

I shall have to check out about these Nagarjuna style debates. My intellectual knowledge has been largely limited to Theravada till now for the last 2 years. Perhaps, some insight can come out of this, too.
Try to welcome non-extreme unpleasant experiences:

http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/210/talk/9813/

Nagarjuna style insights?

http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/210/talk/9553/

RE: Willoughby Britton Dalai Lama presentation
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10/24/15 8:11 PM as a reply to Mettafore.
Another perspective:

"The results are quite astounding. I think she mentioned the average participant was impaired 3 years, with a minimum of 4 months and maximum of a decade."

Yes, her data is pretty dramatic, no?

Willoughby Britton ( WB ) mentioned early on that most of the 30 or so cases interviewed so far were meditation "teachers". Also (later, answering a question from the DL) that they were mostly "Theravadan", which most likely means members of the "Insight" or "Vipassana Movement" (IM/VM). As pointed out in an overview of American IM/VM by Gil Fronsdal, a large proportion of these teachers are psychologists (psychiatrists, or various other related sorts of therapists). Btw, everyone listed at the www.cheetahhouse.org website is some sort of psychologist. Richard Davidson (who appeared to be hosting /moderating that show) is advertised as "neuroscientist" and "psychiatrist". WB herself similarly "neuroscientist" and "PhD Psychologist".

WB was doing a very well-scripted presentation. She didn't respond to the DL's passing comments, plowing ahead with her agenda. She concluded with two questions:
(1) Did the DL have students in similar situations to the cases (i.e. morphologies) she outlined? (according to her framing of the situation);
(2) Given the "decontextualized" situation of Western meditation teaching, what would he (the DL) advise that Westerns do about the negative outcome problem?

The DL responded to (1), indirectly, that those negative "clinical" outcomes were the result of lack of competent training. He didn't say that his students got into such situations, or that they didn't. Steven Levine (and others) point out that when American psychologists went to Llhasa to "help" the poor Tibetan refuges with their PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorders), from Chinese oppression and torture, the Tibetans responded that they just didn't have those clinical symptoms that the psychologists thought they must (according to the Western cultural context). The Western problem is a Western problem, in effect.

In reference to question (2), the DL,with a measure of patience and humor, and also indirectly, pointed to the "decontextualization" -- concretely that meditation isn't being taught properly, on a solid basis of knowledge and study, of sila (morality), concentration and wisdom. Students aren't given the broad overview, the background, comparative study, the gradual training, a clear aim as to the traditional purpose of meditation – BEFORE undertaking meditative practice; and they come with problematic "expectations". A couple of the "jokes" had to do with (Given the bad side-effects) "Why do they do it?" "Who told them to do it?" (in the way they do that has such results).  May sound like a tall order – what the DL points to – but that's his context, what he's given his life to; and I believe he sees and understands quite well the Western context.

(Interpretation) In the West, much of the approach to meditation is to deal with "psychological problems", the realm of psychologists. Hence, they feel some compulsion to "own" Buddhism, shaped to their pre-conditioning; effectively to reduce Buddhism to psychology. (Most notably, perhaps, Jack Kornfield's "Buddhist Psychology".) Quite understandably, since the approach to issues of "self",in (at least some renditions of) Buddha's teachings, arguably renders the psychological approach as contra-productively superfluous, as perpetuating delusional framing of the issues of the experiential problems of living ("suffering"). It's a matter of, in more than one sense of the term, "self-interest","self-preservaton".

These psychological "neuroscientists", as in WB's work, tend to focus on the negative outcomes in terms of a "medical model", s/w dramatizing the situation in the "horror story" framing of the cases, which, btw, is an excellent strategy for getting media attention (and funding). Paraphrasing her: the "functional impairment", and the clinical somatic aspects are the interest of science – not the rest, which is just "subjective".

Remember where (in conclusion) the DL encourages WB – continue to study this? One can take this to mean "congratulations, good work, keep it up", and also as "look further, there are crucial aspects you don't yet understand". I think he was intending both meanings.

There's a structural problem, a paradox here: "secular", "pragmatic", etc. (modernist and post-modernist) Western Buddhism hinges on "decontextualization", on fitting, filtering it into a Western cultural framework. And on an arguably sound rational basis. Then there's the attitude, as in Frank Sinatra's "I did it my way", of centering on the individual personality as axiomatic.

A good paradox – makes for an ongoing process. Maybe also some form of "Nagarjuna intellectual/meditative/debating practices"?

RE: Willoughby Britton Dalai Lama presentation
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10/25/15 12:13 AM as a reply to CJMacie.
Thank you for your perspective, Chris J Macie. I never thought of that. The inherent assumption that 'psychology' or 'neuroscience' owns 'Buddhism' when it studies it. It sounds plausible that some researchers might have that underlying view, or maybe not. I don't know.

The PTSD incident you mentioned is very interesting. As an Indian who studied the British Raj, this seems to resonate with me how imperialists thought they clearly had nothing to learn from "primitive people" and they were carrying out the white man's burden. Sorry, a bit of a diversion.

I sent this video to a friend of mine who is much older than me. His first response was "She has clearly never experienced any of this."

You may be right that the DL might have good reasons to not be more open. Would be nice if he joins DhO emoticon .

RE: Willoughby Britton Dalai Lama presentation
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10/25/15 12:44 AM as a reply to CJMacie.
Thanks for that post, Chris! I have not even listened to the podcast but what you decribe sounds right to me. It both makes sense logically and aligns with my experience. I have recently (and still am) struggled quite a lot with what seems to be a combination of dukkha nanas and a challenging situation in life which probably was from the start likely to bring to light some unsolved psychological issues. Not a fun combination.
Looking at it with some distance, it shows me that the three trainings are really not separate. I already did do quite some concentration practice, but if my mind had been even calmer that would have been better. And insight and "how to live my life in a skillfull manner" really became mixed up in a way that I could not separate them and where one adds to the difficulty of the other. (I am also pretty sure that the specific psychological issues are very Western...) I assume that if I had done something akin to traditional Tibetan practice, this would not have happened. There probably would have been much more focus on sila before embarking on vipassana. And maybe once psychological stuff has softened and the mind become very calm, the dukkha nanas do lose much of their power and presence.

RE: Willoughby Britton Dalai Lama presentation
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10/25/15 10:45 AM as a reply to Richard Zen.
Non-extreme unpleasant experiences. Ussually happens every morning.  My sleep is very pleasurable, maybe some concentration state in play.
Then when I wake up, the head just solidifies especially the right side and I feel raw unpleasant emotions. A small session, metta and jogging helps well. Getting better everyday ;) . Finding great joy in physical labour. But, sitting in front of the computer for a long time even slightly concentrated is annoying, pressure back again in head and teeth.

RE: Willoughby Britton Dalai Lama presentation
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10/25/15 11:17 AM as a reply to Caro.
Hang in there, buddy. I'm cheering for you to get through this. I hope you are getting a healthy diet and plenty of exercise, and staying around supportive good people.

I believe, at some level in your practice the three trainings are somewhat coupled. But, it is a good assumption to keep them separate during practice. Otherwise, one can come up with faulty assumptions like "Oh! I'm such an awesome meditator. Therefore, my everyday life is going to be awesome." Or maybe, one ends up using the wrong tool for a problem "I'm going through a rough time financially. Let me meditate my way through it." I know it sounds ridiculous, but it can happen. 

Vajiramedhi's book "Nibanna in daily life" has been very helpful to me personally. One of the chapter talks about balancing the path factors of the eightfold path. Too much sitting might make you a concentration zombie. Perhaps, focus on right speech, right action spontaneity practice, selfless service. It is up to you to see which path factors are underdeveloped and focus on them.

But, I  doubt any spiritual path is without difficulties no matter how prepared or well one follows the sequence. Ofcourse, this is just my personal opinion.

Hope this helps.

RE: Willoughby Britton Dalai Lama presentation
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10/25/15 1:32 PM as a reply to Mettafore.
The focus of tibetan buddhism is more on the brahma viharas then on insight, but these are not separate. The 4 Brahma Viharas are Loving-kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic joy and equanimity. It is not weird that when these 4 are well developed that the path is less painful even if the dukkha nana come. The Fear, misery, disgust, desire for delivery and re-observation nana´s can be better coped with when Loving-kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic joy and equanimity are strong.
I am recently practising more Metta and I am noticing a big differents in the mindstate between the 3th nana without Metta and 3th nana with Metta. There is more space, more openess, more kindness for myself and others, more compassion for myself and others, more positive and more laughing, less irritation, less frustration, less judgement. So I agree with the comments about problems with are mostly western specific, like self-critic and lots of judgements, which become more pronounced during the Dukkha nana´s. So I think the Brahma Viharas can help on the path in two ways: 1. The wholesome qualities are reducing the psychological problems. And are kind of the opposites of the symptoms that become more pronounced during the Dukkha nanas.
2. The concentration that comes with the practice of the Brahma Viharas makes the mind more stable and calm to investigate the three marks of existence.

Another nice thing I want to say is that the quality of the Brahma Viharas is not directly dependent on the level of concentration or insight. That means that one can train these qualities before the Dukkha nana´s and use them during the DN. Sounds good, right?
I would love to hear what you guys think of this?

For the people who love scientific research: http://www.emmaseppala.com/18-science-based-reasons-try-loving-kindness-meditation-today/

RE: Willoughby Britton Dalai Lama presentation
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10/25/15 1:52 PM as a reply to Mettafore.
Thanks for the encouragement - much appreciated!

I believe, at some level in your practice the three trainings are somewhat coupled. But, it is a good assumption to keep them separate during practice. Otherwise, one can come up with faulty assumptions like "Oh! I'm such an awesome meditator. Therefore, my everyday life is going to be awesome." Or maybe, one ends up using the wrong tool for a problem "I'm going through a rough time financially. Let me meditate my way through it." I know it sounds ridiculous, but it can happen. 
Yep, I did realize that it is important to stay away of the notion that meditation will help with all  kinds of practical stuff. It probably may at times, but often it just doesn´t.
But, I  doubt any spiritual path is without difficulties no matter how prepared or well one follows the sequence. Ofcourse, this is just my personal opinion.
Agree - although it´s one of those things that are easiest to understand afterwards ;)

RE: Willoughby Britton Dalai Lama presentation
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10/25/15 1:54 PM as a reply to John Power.
Agree with you. That´s pretty much what I wanted to say before.

RE: Willoughby Britton Dalai Lama presentation
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10/25/15 10:18 PM as a reply to Mettafore.
Hi Mettafore,
I sent this video to a friend of mine who is much older than me. His first response was "She has clearly never experienced any of this."

Actually, she has.

I spoke with her a few years ago on the telephone and she told me about her experience with negative outcomes. As I recall (I may have some of the details wrong), she was at IMS on a long retreat and at some point, began to feel anxiety around the process of her self disappearing. This wasn't a definitive, sudden disappearance but a gradual increase in anxiety, probably due to thinking about it, until she was constantly weeping. She spoke with her teacher about it but the teacher couldn't provide any help.

When she left the retreat, the anxiety got worse. As part of her training (she was working on her PhD in clinical psychology at the time), she was required to work with psychiatric patients, and her sense of self-dissolution resulted in her identifying with (constructing a self around) her patients so strongly that she had to take a year's leave of absence from her work. She spent most of that year in her room doing nothing, occasionally going out for food. I guess during that period she lost her anxiety and regained her sense of self. Needless to say, she doesn't do long retreats anymore, except for the Tibetan style where there is a lot of talking and emphasis on reasoning.

Then there's the story in, I think, Shambala Sun from a few months ago, by a Buddhist teacher who teaches retreats at Bodhgaya. He was teaching a retreat involving a group of young college students with no or little prior meditation experience. One of them became convinced that she needed to die in order to become enlightened and jumped off the roof of the monastary, killing herself. Dan Ingram mentioned in a thread a while back, where this was discussed, that he visited the emergency room of the hospital at Bodhgaya and the doctors there said they were invariably left with the people, mostly young Westerners, who freaked out during spring break retreats, after the rest of the retreatants went home.

Willoughby's approach is somewhat aggressive and definitely follows the Western psychological tradition and of course she needs to cast her research in terms that her funding agents are willing to accept. She is (or was) an accomplished vipassana practioner, and while I think her interest in the topic was triggered by her own experience, I think she is motivated by compassion for those who are suffering. That's why she runs Cheetah House.

Whether her approach is effective in helping people suffering from a negative outcome, I do not know. The point is that these kinds of negative outcomes do happen, and more frequently than most meditation teachers will admit. I've heard that Willoughby gets several calls a week from people who are experiencing negative outcomes. Given that most meditation teachers don't want to deal with someone who is freaking out, and usually blame it on some latent psychological problem of the student, she's about the only resource people experiencing a negative outcome have (most psychotherapists rather believe that meditation has no downside). This is another side to the "mushroom culture".

In any case, these kinds of negative outcomes are not mentioned in the traditional literature of Zen or the Tibetan tradition. They are also not described in the suttas, but then that may be because the suttas stress using jhana as a path to enlightenment, the socalled "wet path". The map in MCTB identifies negative outcomes with the dukka nanas so I would suppose they are well known to Theravada teachers, yet somehow that knowledge didn't get transmitted to the Western vipassana tradition. I suppose the nature of Western society probably exaggerates the problems, since people here can't take 3 years off from work/career to handle working through the dukka nanas.

RE: Willoughby Britton Dalai Lama presentation
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10/26/15 12:02 AM as a reply to svmonk.
Thank you for the background, svmonk. Much appreciated clarity. Helps me better understand where she is coming from. I am quite lucky that my own teacher didn't freak out and actually helped me through my own problem. My response to him was maybe she has, but as a scientist she has to present her work dispassionately.

The incident you mentiones is very unfortunate. I can somewhat relate to these delusional insights. In one of the retreats, I was convinced I had r***d a beloved family member in a past life. I was weeping uncontrollably, and had to eventually stop retreat. Then, I started again.

Thank you all for these great insights. I'm currently helping a friend set up a centre in the States and I want to make sure he does it right.