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Insight and Wisdom

My dharma essay in response to Daniel’s challenge

On the Midwestern Construction Workers thread I asked about buliding a common understanding of different practice traditions.  After listening to latest Daniel's podcast I now realise I should try to answer this question myself.  (Hi Daniel ! )

So here goes. To all contributors, if you have the time, I would be grateful for feedback on this tiny abbreviated dharma essay.  I am trying to get at the core of the dharma independent of the overlay of different traditions.  Can you please tell me whether it is intelligible, and what you think I have got right or wrong?  And I know I could be very wrong.  emoticon 


1. The mind arises in response to events. Through ignorance, the mind falls into patterns of grasping and clinging that create suffering.  Ending suffering requires us to deconstruct (a) the gross ideas of mind and self, (b) the unthinking flailing reactions of our mind to its own symbolic formations, and (c) the more subtle processes that feed all this by overlaying symbolic concepts onto raw sense data.

2. To end suffering, we must first weaken our grossest mental flailings so that they don't disrupt the process of insight.  We must also build the strength and concentration required for the task. Right behavior, mindfulness, jhanas, metta, seclusion can all help here.  We may then adopt many different approaches, such as simple noting, close examination of sensations, kundalini yoga, deity yoga, deconstruction of the concept of mind, and many others.  Along the way we weaken our core suffering and we get many insights.  We also peel the scabs off our worst mental injuries so that they can heal properly; however, if we stop practice before that healing is complete, we suffer.

3. While insight and happiness build from the start of practice, a key demarcation point is Stream Entry.  This may be achieved in different ways, but in all cases the mind has an event that provides direct knowledge of its own non-existence, resulting in permanent mental changes.  Suffering is hugely reduced.  Suffering is not eliminated, as the mind may still grasp at the weakening sense of self, or at the desire for insight, and the mind may still react to painful emotions, particularly in cycles.  However, the suffering and angst that arose from the unthinking flailing reactions of our mind is cut off, or at least severely weakened.  Happiness and concentration are both much increased.

4. Repeating the process of insight and cessation leads to another event that deepens the mind’s direct knowledge of its own non-existence, a kind of Stream Entry Level 2.  The mind is then even less inclined towards unthinking reactions, although suffering is still not entirely eliminated. This can take place using whatever approaches led to Stream Entry, or by using different approaches.

5. Then the hard work starts to clean out the accumulated crap in the mind and deconstruct the processes by which that crap first arose.  For all traditions, progress will come from meditation, jhana, and mindfulness in daily life, together with examination of the processes of sensation, mind and causation - rather than just individual sensate moments.  Another important part of this phase is to mindfully identify and demolish the karmic/sankhara clingings that still lurk beneath the surface of the mind. There will be more cycles, cessations, and insight events along the way; however, these are less important than before. Instead, non-dual perception, accompanied by bliss, gradually emerges from continued practice - although a final big event may put the cap on that emergence.  Eventually, the meditator directly experiences the emptiness/non-duality of form on a frequent basis (form is emptiness), or to put it another way directly perceives the non-dual nature of causation, perception and mind.  Peacefulness and bliss predominate in daily life.

6. The process then moves on to a substantial rewiring of the brain, with accomanying pain from that physical change. The meditator may need to redouble efforts to avoid suffering in response to that pain.  Eventually, the brain changes again, and the sense of self that lurks at the centre of non-duality is finally seen through.  Then there is just effortless blissful existence which is neither dual nor non-dual.  Emptiness is seen to give rise to form (emptiness is form), and form is just accepted for what it is without being mistaken for what it is not.  Physical pain (including painful emotions) still occurs, and cycles continue, but mental flailing and angst (suffering) is completely gone. The base state of the mind is bliss, happiness and compassion.

Thanks for reading this far.  I would really appreciate feedback on whether the essay is intelligible, together with any corrections or suggested improvements.


RE: My dharma essay in response to Daniel’s challenge
4/2/18 9:24 PM as a reply to Not two, not one.
Hi curious,

You've embarked on a huge task there! emoticon

I would just add to your point 2, that something that all the Eastern religious traditions have in common is a focus on rigorous preparation prior to meditation - in Buddhism and Yoga, meditation is one of the later components of the eightfold path. Part of this preparation involves training in ethics, morality and concentration. Traditionally, morality and concentration training is the foundation of meditation practice and is seen to be a necessary requirement for the development of insight. However, modern Western adaptations of meditation often skip these preparatory stages, and modern versions of Zen, Dzogchen and Theravada have all been criticised for “dumbing down” the Buddhist tradition by devaluing ethical training and the role of concentration.

One of the major purposes of ethics is to reduce the baseline amount of mental proliferation an individual experiences. By leading an ethical life, a meditator should naturally experience less negative affect (such as guilt, doubts, and worries), which in turn supports both concentration and insight practice. Some argue that meditation without ethics leads only to superficial calmness but no lasting positive change.

The purpose of concentration practice is to achieve a degree of stable concentration that allows you to pay close enough attention to moment-to-moment mental formations and see into their true nature (i.e. insight practice). Concentration also makes it easier for meditators to deal with potentially de-stabilising insights into impermanence, emptiness, suffering and non-self. E.g. Culadasa writes that the joy, tranquillity and equanimity of samatha provide an important “lubricating” quality or palliative that relieve the internal friction associated with challenging insights.

Also, you write: "We also peel the scabs off our worst mental injuries so that they can heal properly; however, if we stop practice before that healing is complete, we suffer." I think this might be a modern Western interpretation of the dharma, as traditionally, psychological and physical stability were prerequisites for starting a meditation practice. Dharma started to mix in with psychotherapy and healing modalities when it arrived in the West - especially from the 1950s onwards. It's very difficult to separate the two without going back to source texts. 

I like what you have done so far, and can certainly relate up to and including point 5 (I have no personal experience of point 6!). I'm also not very well-versed in the yogic/Hindu side of things, so most of my comments are based on Buddhism. 

Good luck and I look forward to reading more! 

RE: My dharma essay in response to Daniel’s challenge
4/3/18 2:56 PM as a reply to Anna L.
Thanks Anna L, good points (and beautifully written). emoticon

I think I am in a similar situation to you. Some of my experiences seem to relate to point 5, and I am trying to integrate them to better understand my own situation. I am nowhere near point 6, but I have read Chris and Nick's accounts and think that I can perceive the final destination vaguely, as if behind a gauze curtain. My hope is to get some feedback from those who have finished to let me know whether my intellectual understanding is on the right path, so to speak.   

My other motivation is to understand whether I am missing something by not following South East Asian traditions. My working hypotheses is that you don't have to underake rigorourous sensate deconstruction to make progress, and this essay tries to explain why. Although having said that, I have had a couple of instances of full sensate deconstruction, just not arising from the South East Asian methods. 

RE: My dharma essay in response to Daniel’s challenge
4/4/18 3:41 AM as a reply to Not two, not one.
Thank you! I find writing about these things actually helps me make (some) sense of them; hence I am really enjoying these forums. 

Maybe you could start a wikipedia page for this and everyone could add their updates?!

RE: My dharma essay in response to Daniel’s challenge
4/4/18 5:35 AM as a reply to Anna L.
Awesome information and effort, curious and Anna! I found excellent stuff here in Noah's old log, there's gold in there especially near the end. All Path Theory I know in 18 steps (2/17/2017) might be useful. And yeah a wiki page consolidating them will be greatly appreciated!

“for the welfare and benefit of the many, for the happiness and bliss of the many”—bahujana hitāya, bahujana sukhāya

RE: My dharma essay in response to Daniel’s challenge
4/5/18 2:15 PM as a reply to Yilun Ong.
Thanks Yilun!  I will dig into that and keep thinking.