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Steve Armstrong's Dharma talks on Mahasi Sayadaw's Progress of Insight map

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Don't know if Armstrong is on a 'book tour' per se, given that the book he edited, The Manual of Insight was published recently. Seems though, that he has been giving more than a few public talks on Mahasi Sayadaw's Progress of Insight and how this map relates to practice. Here's a pretty good series that I listened to this past weekend. I think he does a good job elaborating on the stages and how one experiences them. He speaks from his own practice, and it is helpful to have another's perspective, I always feel.

I think it is also curious that he starts the talks with, "Why has there been so little talk about this map, when all our teachers who went to Asia in the 70's know them and used them?" and answers his own question with the old saw, "Well, they thought we Westerners strive too much so they just decided not to teach from them." It makes me wonder if he is somehow breaking from the IMS/SR orthodoxy when he gives these talks now. He also encourages his audience later on, "Don't just accept MBSR 1.0, go for the whole enchilada (awakening)." I'm taking some liberties in paraphrasing him.

I think also in recent years he has been studying with Sayadaw U Tejaniya, who takes a wholly different approach to things. So it just makes me more curious about where he's coming from. In all, I enjoyed these talks, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend them to people I feel need to hear things like this. DhO mileage may vary, since I think some of us are already somewhat familiar with this territory.

RE: Steve Armstrong's Dharma talks on Mahasi Sayadaw's Progress of Insight
Answer
9/5/16 10:46 PM as a reply to Small Steps.
Small Steps
Don't know if Armstrong is on a 'book tour' per se,...


Clearly his (and his team) are in promotion-mode (http://vipassanametta.org/wp/schedule/), ahead of the new on-line course starting-up this month. (It's too late now to take advantage of the early-reg "$50 discount" advertised earlier).

I think he does a good job elaborating on the stages and how one experiences them. He speaks from his own practice, and it is helpful to have another's perspective, ...
[transposed from below] "Don't just accept MBSR 1.0, go for the whole enchilada (awakening)." I'm taking some liberties in paraphrasing him.
Apparently he is taking the tack more or less pioneered to the public by Daniel Ingram et al, and embodied in DharmaOverground. It remains to be seen if he continues to snub the "pragmatic" tradition, as has the IM/VM establishment to date. (cf Daniel Ingram's efforts at entering dialog with Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein, documented in past DhO threads.)

After years of listening to, reading IM/VM talks & writings, it was a bit of surprise when latr I heard talks, reading from Burmese- and Thai-lineage monastics and how they could present both introductory and advanced levels of dhamma together, without frustrating beginners, and emphasize, encourage all lay students to "achieve Nibbana in the very near future" (to quote how a teacher at TMC end his talks).

I think it is also curious that he starts the talks with, "Why has there been so little talk about this map, when all our teachers who went to Asia in the 70's know them and used them?"

History is being re-written here, IMO. It's questionable that the now patriarchs / matriarchs of IM/VM were that thoroughly trained in the deeper stuff back in the 1970's. Rather, more like the Beatles et all, young hippie/alternative Westerners hanging out in Asia for a couple of years sampling multiple traditions and teachers. They received introductory teachings, naturally. True, some "ordained", but how many for more than a year or two? (Not to confuse with the Thanissaro-s, Jagara-s, etc. who spent decades in robes, study and practice in Asia.)

Rather, in the 1980s and later, bringing teachers like U. Pandita, and later Pa Auk Sayadaw to Barre for long teaching reatreats – that's when, I suspect, the IM/VM scene was first exposed to the "whole enchilada" (16 stage insight, Path of Purification, etc.) – This from listening to some of those talks (most are still there at Dharmaseed), and the questions from the students, including established teachers.

…"Well, they thought we Westerners strive too much so they just decided not to teach from them."

This I find an especially lame cover-up, and reflexively revealing – teachers striving to establish and maintain authority, particularly in matters where they themselves feel vulnerable. Notable case: jhāna practice. "Dry" insight vipassana is the standard mostly because it's all that was really known. Attending a "concentration" retreat at a top-ranked IM/VM center (in 2014), the teachers were careful to acknowledge jhāna practice, and, for instance, Pa Auk Sayadaw's teaching, but then virtually downplayed that whole arena – the whole retreat led up to focus on "choiceless" awareness. Moreover, two (of the four) teachers recounted how they were at a Pa Auk Sayadaw's 3-month retreat (at Barre) a year or two previously, and they themselves effectively dropping-out as they felt in themselves too much pressure to "strive". (A third teacher had trained in metta-concentration. The fourth teacher did have training at the Pa Auk monastery – for a year – and knew jhāna, was able to help me along with that practice.) I have trained in the Pa Auk method, and found the difficulty (as with a developing any significant skill) more an inspiring challenge than a discouragement. "West Coast Vipassana", aka "Buddhist psychology", tends to play to and hence enhance self issues, like doubt, that Westerners tend to dwell in.

It makes me wonder if he is somehow breaking from the IMS/SR orthodoxy when he gives these talks now.

It could be that establishment (orthodoxy) is evolving, adapting to changing conditions (the immensely enhanced accessibility to top-rate traditional teachers and teachings). The phenomenon s/t referred to as "wars of succession" – a new generation taking-over leadership from aging elders. That's what I sense happening here, and elsewhere in the Dharma scene.

Chris, you really do have an ax to grind emoticon Since I don't really know the veracity of the history presented by either you or Armstrong, I'll just chalk it all up as, "interesting." What do you make of this picture though? I believe it's from 1979.


I think my main point is just that it's nice that there's more public talks like this freely available on a site like dharmaseed, where the run-of-the-mill American Dharma practitioner can stumble across it and just maybe be inspired to dig a little deeper.

RE: Steve Armstrong's Dharma talks on Mahasi Sayadaw's Progress of Insight
Answer
9/6/16 3:22 AM as a reply to Small Steps.
Small StepsChris, you really do have an ax to grind emoticon Since I don't really know the veracity of the history presented by either you or Armstrong, I'll just chalk it all up as, "interesting." What do you make of this picture though? I believe it's from 1979.

Can you point to ways my post might seem out-of-line? Distorted? I see it as hard-nosed, but accurate. The IM/VM establishment is clearly into asserting authority, as Theravada Buddhism, but with Western adaptations, such as replacing monastic with lay leaders, and integrating commercialism (catering to a mostly upper-middle class clientele -- as one teacher put it "the upper-middle way").

Also, as per the gist of Thanissaro Bhikkhu's "Buddhist Romanticism", which admittedly, few people accept.

Data and good arguments to the contrary would be welcome. My reactions seem also clearly locked into a sort pattern.

The photo is well-known. I find the monks the most interesting, especially S. Mahasi, who seems coming from some completely other place. The other monks seem either curious or amused. Those in the front row appear quite delighted with themselves.

Granting the argument you raise (as also raised often in finding positive in the overall mindfulness fad) -- that increased visibility, popularity of this movement increases the chances for individuals to stumble onto more deeply traditional inroads.

Can you point to ways my post might seem out-of-line? Distorted? I see it as hard-nosed, but accurate.


With regards to your opinions, you're of course welcome to them. In truth, I'm more aligned with your views than what I might present here. On my worst days I walk out of the local Dharma centers wondering why I bother going and swearing that I'll never return. Yet...

Rather, in the 1980s and later, bringing teachers like U. Pandita, and later Pa Auk Sayadaw to Barre for long teaching reatreats – that's when, I suspect, the IM/VM scene was first exposed to the "whole enchilada" (16 stage insight, Path of Purification, etc.) – This from listening to some of those talks (most are still there at Dharmaseed), and the questions from the students, including established teachers.


That picturew was apparently of Mahasi Sayadaw authorizing IMS to teach his methods in 1979. Also, it's worth noting that Jack Kornfield's book Living Buddhist Masters (later, Living Dharma), which has a substantive summary (more like basically lifted) of the Progress of Insight was first published in 1977.

RE: Steve Armstrong's Dharma talks on Mahasi Sayadaw's Progress of Insight
Answer
9/6/16 4:22 PM as a reply to Small Steps.
Small Steps
Rather, in the 1980s and later, bringing teachers like U. Pandita, and later Pa Auk Sayadaw to Barre for long teaching reatreats – that's when, I suspect, the IM/VM scene was first exposed to the "whole enchilada" (16 stage insight, Path of Purification, etc.) – This from listening to some of those talks (most are still there at Dharmaseed), and the questions from the students, including established teachers.

That picturew was apparently of Mahasi Sayadaw authorizing IMS to teach his methods in 1979. Also, it's worth noting that Jack Kornfield's book Living Buddhist Masters (later, Living Dharma), which has a substantive summary (more like basically lifted) of the Progress of Insight was first published in 1977.
No question those Americans were over in Burma, studied the methods, were in some sense "authorized" and brought them back to the USA.

To what level of the whole teaching were they exposed?

The current story-line -- they didn't teach the whole enchilada to Americans because they were not ready -- needs better substantiation.

I'd like to see solid evidence that that isn't exactly how the Burmese probably regarded these foreigners.

Even in long-term monastic training, it's the "gradual path"; the teachers reveal the deeper aspect over time (years), as the student become able to use it, actually trained in it.

They would turn all the information over to a group of uppity kids during tourist-visa length stays?

CJMacie:
Even in long-term monastic training, it's the "gradual path"; the teachers reveal the deeper aspect over time (years), as the student become able to use it, actually trained in it.

In terms of the student " able to use [the progress of insight]:"

IMO, morality and wisdom reflexively intertwine way more than most pragmatic dharma folks would care to think.  Steve Armstrong discusses this in the talks linked to the OP.  He says that path shifts only benefit practitioners to the extent that they have developed the Paramis in daily life. The Mahasi method is what Buddhadasa called "Insight by Organized Training".  Within this context, it makes sense that some monks might spend years practicing Morality and Concentration, before developing Insight. 

I disagree that the orthodox view holds that the deepest Dhamma takes years to work.  The 3 trainings are designed to take effect relatively quickly when worked at with diligence. 

Edit/P.s. - Whether its practicing the Paramis separately from using Vipassana to develop Wisdom, or engaging in it all together, i.e. "Insight by the Nature Method", I don't think the esoterics of Theravadan training are really supposed to be a decade long game of peek-a-boo.  Of course there are many stages to awakening, but SE and further development needn't be considered the long game. 

Noah:
... Steve Armstrong ... says that path shifts only benefit practitioners to the extent that they have developed the Paramis in daily life.

He says that "path shifts" are possible, though not beneficial, even without well-developed morality, concentration,…? (Having listened to the series of talks referred to in the OP above (http://www.dharmaseed.org/retreats/2959/), I don't recall Armstrong mentioning anything along these lines -- from some other talk(s)?)

I disagree that the orthodox view holds that the deepest Dhamma takes years to work.  The 3 trainings are designed to take effect relatively quickly when worked at with diligence. 
Your post is the first mention of "orthodox" in this thread (my posts had used "orthodoxy" with reference to IM/VM party-line ideas, not Theravada in general), and uses it in a sort of "straw man" argument. The "gradual path" is widely used (V. Analayo, Thanissaro B.,… many more); though not sure if it would be considered "orthodox" generally.

Edit/P.s. ... I don't think the esoterics of Theravadan training are really supposed to be a decade long game of peek-a-boo.  Of course there are many stages to awakening, but SE and further development needn't be considered the long game
Clearly you have something to the contrary in mind – something to do with MCTB/DhO themes (although, btw, it took Daniel Ingram many years), or involvement in the Buddhahasa ideas?

RE: Steve Armstrong's Dharma talks on Mahasi Sayadaw's Progress of Insight
Answer
9/10/16 9:01 AM as a reply to Small Steps.
Small Steps, 9/5/16 11:55 PM and 9/6/16 10:01 AM

"That picture was apparently of Mahasi Sayadaw authorizing IMS to teach his methods in 1979."

Right – I didn't notice, until Armstrong mentioned it too in a talk, that the picture was at IMS, where Mahasi and his entourage were guests, and so staged for the photo. Btw. 5 monks being also the quorum for performing ordination.

@cjm

Okay, I think it was the first talk in the series that was posted??  Basically the point he makes is that benefit from the insight knowledges is sort of proportionate to one's development of the Paramis in daily life.  He then talks about the benefits of acheiving Path knowledge, i.e. suffering disappears forever.  I admit to take a logical step in connecting these things:  Paramis help insight knowledges, insight knowledges help achieve path, thus Paramis are somehow related to path. 

Look, Chris, you're a way better debater than I, and I've gotten a huge amount from your posts over time.  But I have noticed this pattern of stressing the tradition, the idea that things have to take a long time, the idea of the seriousness and/or secrecy and/or heaviness, the idea of super secret teacher-student etc.  I think I was just objecting to that specific aspect or notion.  It may be me reading into repeated references to teachers and retreats you've attended with not as much of an empasis on the qualities of your direct, ongoing, conscious experience (not saying you never describe these things). 

I'll say it another way, with this specific context in mind.  Didn't Mahasi create monastery's for lay people where he introduced Vipassana, and the progress of insight, within a single retreat?  Or did they just teach Samatha at those retreats?  I'd like this to be clarified if I'm wrong.  I just don't think the point is that you have to "pay your dues" before getting this stuff.  I do appreciate the value of well-rounded development, before, during and after 'Wisdom.'

RE: Steve Armstrong's Dharma talks on Mahasi Sayadaw's Progress of Insight
Answer
9/10/16 10:13 PM as a reply to Small Steps.
Hi Small Steps and CJ Macie.

I have read your posts in this thread and thought maybe my first person account would be of some very minimal use. What I am capable of sharing may be irrelevant to your discussion.

I am not that informed with the specifics of your thoughts regarding Steve in the wider conceptual/experiential framework of Buddhism (ie enlightenment), or the history of the batch of teachers going into southeast Asian traditions, and who then have planted themselves into the U.S. as singular "informed wise teachers" (OK I am a more than skeptical) (although I must stress that I in fact don't know what they have experienced and how their knowledge has accumulated on this.). Call me jaded! Or, whatever.

What I do have is first hand experience on retreats with these teachers: Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfeld, and Kamala Masters/Steve Armstrong (they have now split up their intimate relationship, and are independently recreating themselves as separate teachers after many years of presenting themselves as a co-teacher 'dharma' couple) (such is life and relationships) (not so unusual).

I have no idea what these teachers achieved with the training they individually sought from many prominent teachers from those countries hosting these traditions. But, then again, who really knows what they experienced?

Kamala spoke of some experiences that sounded transformative, but I heard nothing of such from Steve. Possibly he is a more reserved kind of speaker/teacher. Or, mmm....?

What I saw of Steve Armstrong during a retreat was that he seemed like a guy who was a bit of a scholarly type. Someone who could describe very detailed explanations derived from what he studied on an intellectual level (abhidhamma, et al). Maybe his knowledge went beyond the level of intellectualization into a personal level. I don't know. But it was not apparent to me that it was more than some words he leaned to speak of in some specific way.

Like I have said, I don't know. Who am I to judge? Mmm, but I do.

Never-the-less, the general impression I have is that Steve was a book type kind of guy. He could give very precise descriptions that aligned with the stories. Sorry to say this, but this is the impression I came away with. He was very skilled in understanding what was said, and was someone who always wanted to appear as an informed teacher, who was in line with the orthodoxy. Again, this may not be accurate to who he actually is. It was just an impression I had given what I thought at that time.

It seems to me, that has he been changing with the changing times and interests of an audience.... Yes, of course he has! He is someone who works as a teacher (income) to a wide audience across the globe. Such a person has a vested interest to remain relevant. When times change they will also change to remain relevant to their audience. 

I find these changes interesting and impossible to discount.

In general. I preceived Steve as a purist (orthodoxy type of guy). He is someone who has sought the perfect understanding through the abhidhamma's maps and after his whole career of studyng this orthodoxy, is now, as many other popular western teachers in the IMS / Spirit Rock lineage (ie U.S. theravadan teachers), are now clammoring around Ashin Tejaniya; seeking yet another path which is not so rigid. Enlightenment and awareness as one is? Who wouldn't want to think this is it! 

​​​​​​​So what does this reflect?

I think it reflects that all teachers don't know.

This endevour of so called enlightenment is a bit of a play of mirrors. Seek for more and you will find more. 

​​​​​​​Who knows?

I regret ever posting this. Get your shots in while you still can. I might just delete this thread (can I?) as my larger point grows irrelevant with every reply.

RE: Steve Armstrong's Dharma talks on Mahasi Sayadaw's Progress of Insight
Answer
9/11/16 8:55 AM as a reply to Small Steps.
Small StepsI regret ever posting this. Get your shots in while you still can. I might just delete this thread (can I?) as my larger point grows irrelevant with every reply.
The thread touches on many important issues -- worth muddling through, as it may seem at times; and the Manual-of-Insight project (the book and Steve's all-out efforts to promote the method) does enrich the landscape.

The politics and historical development aside, what Armstrong is trying to do is interesting and worthwhile. In those Vancouver talks he does, indirectly, claim to have experienced Stream-Entry. Clearly he has 1st-hand experience with the 16-stage model, though he tends to dramatise things emotionally, mostly negative emotions (which is right at home here in DhO).

Mahasi-system followers (as distinct from Mahasi Sayadaw himself) often exhibit a fundamentalist adherence to the system, in narrower terms than in Mahasi shows in his own writings. For instance, Armstrong adheres to the line ignoring the use of jhana, which is typical of the followers (though not necessarily of the monks), and most especially held-to by the American IM/VM school. He mentions it once, in passing and s/w disparagingly. The ways in which this attitude is in contrast with Mahasi's writing -- this isn't the place to pursue that in detail, perhaps other than the teaser that Mahasi states outright that in the Buddha's teaching Right Concentration IS the jhanas, and, in effect, the "dry" insight path is an alternative -- neither better nor worse -- for those who don't have the inclination for jhana.

btw: One can't delete a thread (except perhaps with moderator privileges). One can, I think, delete posts, or at least the contents of them, which one has posted oneself; but once a thread has posts by other people, it can't be deleted by the OP author, because he/she can't remove other people's posts. (I experimented with that once.)

Edit/P.S. I don't know that I've ever seen a discussion thread that developed the way the author inteneded or hoped (here in DhO, on DhammaWheel, or at SuttaCentral).