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Vincent Horn on the Utility and Futility of the Maps

The following is a twitter thread posted by Vincent Horn about his experience teaching meditation:

The #1 most common question I receive as a meditation teacher is: “How do I know I’m on the right track?”

When I first was starting out as a meditation teacher I answered this question by helping people recognize and move through the traditional state-stages of the early Buddhist meditative path (ex. The 16 stages ofthe progress of insight, the 4 paths, the 8 jhanas, etc.)

I quickly realized this was a sub-optimal way of teaching because: 1) Not everyone can easily move through the traditional state-stages and have success with this approach.

It’s a system that becomes overlaid ON TOP OF people’s lives. Then they have to change themselves (including their motivational structure) and change the world around them (good luck!) to fit the practice. Again, most people can’t do this and frankly shouldn’t.

It presumes that the early Buddhist framework has the best answer on why and how you should be practicing. If this doesn’t align with why one is actually meditating it creates huge (and unnecessary) friction.

The traditions usually say to change yourself to fit “the right view”, but I’ve found it’s much more effective to work with people’s own motivational structure and offer what I’ve found useful in response to that from all the methods and approaches I’ve practiced.

Now when I’m asked the question, “Am I on the right track?” I respond by asking a series of questions to try and help expose people to their own assumptions about what the path is, how it should look, and what their deepest motivations for doing this actually are.

Once we’ve uncovered the deep motivation the path begins to reveal itself and waking the path isn’t a struggle. It’s still challenging, but it’s the challenge of transformation, not the challenge of trying to force oneself into an ideological straight jacket.

With this approach authority becomes less centralized.  The emphasis is not on helping people get enlightened (with a preconception about what that is) but rather on helping people learn how to get enlightened, while not knowing what that will be like.

Traditional maps and models become useful only insofar as they map onto a students experience and predilections. Interestingly, I’ve found they hold up fairly well and continue to be surprisingly useful.

My current guess as to why that is has to do with the deep structures of contemplative transformation as well as with people’s contemplative predilections. Some people’s awakening, even when it’s self-directed, has a “zen” or “vipassana” or “vajrayana” flavor.

When I see those contemplative predilections that’s when I suggest people check out traditional sources. But it’s more about fleshing out one’s current understanding rather than using them as functional maps.

The only functional map, IME, is one that’s being constantly reformulated using real-time data from multiple sources, including: oneself, peers, teachers, traditional sources, and wise people who exist outside of these systems. I call this triangulating the path.

RE: Vincent Horn on the Utility and Futility of the Maps
Answer
5/9/18 11:45 AM as a reply to rik.
...has a “zen” or “vipassana” or “vajrayana” flavor.
I'd be really interested in a detailed summary of what he means by this - and what other "flavours" there are. I'd include an "advaita" flavor as well.

Most of the fairly small sampling of those I have personally met (mostly from non-vipassana traditions) have "experiences" that don't quite map to the MCTB descriptions. The "blip" is usuallly a foriegn idea. Part of my theory is that SE that happens in non-vipassana schools/style seems to happen in a slower, more drawn out way, so maybe the blip is "smeared" somehow? Anyone else have thoughts on all of that?

RE: Vincent Horn on the Utility and Futility of the Maps
Answer
5/9/18 12:42 PM as a reply to rik.
I am not sure that Twitter is the best format for potentially long, nuanced discussions, so I thought I would comment here rather than contining in that Twitter thread. Vince is obviously V, and I am D in the discussion below:

V: The following is a twitter thread posted by Vincent Horn about his experience teaching meditation:The #1 most common question I receive as a meditation teacher is: “How do I know I’m on the right track?”

D: Most of which depends largely on their goals and ways of viewing the world, as people’s own sense of “right track” shows wide variability. Vince also makes a similar point below.

V: When I first was starting out as a meditation teacher I answered this question by helping people recognize and move through the traditional state-stages of the early Buddhist meditative path (ex. The 16 stages ofthe progress of insight, the 4 paths, the 8 jhanas, etc.)

D: Which is just one very narrow aspect of the path. It is good to have grown to appreciate the vast breadth of the path.

V: I quickly realized this was a sub-optimal way of teaching because: 1) Not everyone can easily move through the traditional state-stages and have success with this approach.

D: Very true.

V: It’s a system that becomes overlaid ON TOP OF people’s lives. Then they have to change themselves (including their motivational structure) and change the world around them (good luck!) to fit the practice. Again, most people can’t do this and frankly shouldn’t.

D: Models have their specific uses and functions. If a person’s meditative goal is to move through the stage of insight, then that map has value If a person is experiencing effects that the maps of insight describe well and those experiences are causing difficulty, then the maps of insight can provide normalization and also helpful stage-specific advice. It is also possible that they describe some aspects of attentional development that have some universal application, and in this they can sometimes be useful also.

V: It presumes that the early Buddhist framework has the best answer on why and how you should be practicing. If this doesn’t align with why one is actually meditating it creates huge (and unnecessary) friction.

D: No, it doesn’t. That these maps are useful for some and not as useful for others is nothing profound, as this has been noticed on this forum (which Vince helped start almost 10 years ago) many, many times. This point about various goals and various maps being helpful or not helpful for those goals has been debated literally thousands of times on this website and many others, clearly showing that his point about friction, is obvious. The degree to which that friction is unncessary is also very complex. There are multiple interpretations, including the lack of utility or applicability of the maps, the lack of the ability of the person to appreciate or utilize maps that might actually have utility and descriptive power, and various other scenarios. One must look at the various factors in the equation, part of which is the maps, and part of which is the ability of practitioners to understand and properly apply them. It is not so simple. Friction can arise from numerous causes, including maps being applied to situations they don't fit well, maps being applied in improper ways, maps being insufficiently nuanced to match with what is going on, maps being taken too seriously, maps not being taken seriously enough, maps not being appreciated when they actually fit well with a situation but are not appreciated due to other causes (which might benefit from identification, not that this identification will always allow them to be overcome), maps being misinterpreted, etc. Identifying the cause of the "friction" is not always so easy.

V: The traditions usually say to change yourself to fit “the right view”, but I’ve found it’s much more effective to work with people’s own motivational structure and offer what I’ve found useful in response to that from all the methods and approaches I’ve practiced.

D: This has been noticed on this forum and its sister communities countless times. People have very diverse motivations for practice, and generally fail when motivations and their underlying capabilities and conditioning don’t align with some practice, map, or ideal. Then the question of which should be changed, the person or the ideal, or if there should be some meeting in the middle, or even some entirely different question asked, rightly becomes the essential complex discussion.

V: Now when I’m asked the question, “Am I on the right track?” I respond by asking a series of questions to try and help expose people to their own assumptions about what the path is, how it should look, and what their deepest motivations for doing this actually are.

D: As has been noticed again and again here, most people are not motivated to pursue insight directly and deeply, instead having many other perfectly valid and also questionable agendas and goals. As it mentions in the Foreward and Warning of MCTB, even most people who identify strongly as Buddhists are not into deep insight practice and the technical aspects of the Buddhist path. Assessing motivation is clearly critical to any conversation regarding what needs people are trying to get met by engaging with meditation traditions and those in them. Clearly, discussing insight stages with people who are not into them and not interested in those topics makes little sense, as Vince points out. There is still much valid debate about what to do with people who run into identity-reality conflicts when they believe they somehow should be into technical meditation but really aren't (as is very common), as well as those who believe for some reason that they shouldn't be into technical but actually are (as is also somewhat common).

V: Once we’ve uncovered the deep motivation the path begins to reveal itself and waking the path isn’t a struggle. It’s still challenging, but it’s the challenge of transformation, not the challenge of trying to force oneself into an ideological straight jacket

D: Anyone who is using the models as an ideological straight jacket or viewing models as an ideological straight jacket should, as Vince suggests, find a different relationship to the models, as they were meant to be descriptive, supportive, and normalizing, not impeding or limiting. One must beware that one not set up a straw-man argument which says, “Those who advocate for the ideologically straight-jacketing models are on the wrong track,” as those who use the models well realize their limitations and hopefully provide appropriate qualifiers and nuance to try to reduce the occurrence of people taking the models that way.

V: With this approach authority becomes less centralized.  The emphasis is not on helping people get enlightened (with a preconception about what that is) but rather on helping people learn how to get enlightened, while not knowing what that will be like.

D: Discussions about what awakening is and what can or can’t be known about that, what can or can’t be modeled about that, and what can or can’t be predicted about that, as well as what various people think it looks like, would be long, so I will let this point go for the moment.
V: Traditional maps and models become useful only insofar as they map onto a students experience and predilections. Interestingly, I’ve found they hold up fairly well and continue to be surprisingly useful

D: I would suggest the qualifier that the degree of the teacher’s sophistication, breadth, nuance, and skill in using the maps might also come into play. I would also add that students are not static and can learn and grow to appreciate various meditative technologies that they might not initially have found as appealing.

V: My current guess as to why that is has to do with the deep structures of contemplative transformation as well as with people’s contemplative predilections. Some people’s awakening, even when it’s self-directed, has a “zen” or “vipassana” or “vajrayana” flavor.

D: I noticed something similar in my own practice, attaining Vajrayana-esque results with methods that were relentlessly Theravadin. Clearly, the various strains of Buddhism arose in response to practitioners and cultures with different styles and tendencies.

V: When I see those contemplative predilections that’s when I suggest people check out traditional sources. But it’s more about fleshing out one’s current understanding rather than using them as functional maps.

D: I agree, that careful conversations with any practitioner regarding what they are trying to do, where they come from, what they have tired so far, how that worked, what went wrong, what went right, where they are now, and all of that, can help inform a conversation about how to meet that person’s specific needs in that moment, balance what might be balanced, and enhance what might be enhanced. The basic questions, "What's going on with you now?", "What is the history of your practice so far?", "What do you need help with now?", "What skills and resources, as well as limitations and difficulties, need to be considered in providing you advice?" and "How will you judge the efficacy of any advice given?" are all a very good idea, as with any therapeutic, healing, educational, or similar endeavor.

V: The only functional map, IME, is one that’s being constantly reformulated using real-time data from multiple sources, including: oneself, peers, teachers, traditional sources, and wise people who exist outside of these systems. I call this triangulating the path.

D: This “triangulation” has been going on for thousands of years across continents, and certainly has been part of the nearly 10-year-long discussion here at the DhO, which Vince helped found with me on these original principles, as more data of good quality clearly helps move the field forward. May it continue with openness, skill, nuance, comradery, and an appreciation of the vastness and richness of the path.

RE: Vincent Horn on the Utility and Futility of the Maps
Answer
5/10/18 8:32 AM as a reply to rik.
Well... as we always say in SPUDS:

One map to rule them all, one map to find them.
One map to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.




RE: Vincent Horn on the Utility and Futility of the Maps
Answer
5/12/18 2:16 PM as a reply to Noah D.
Aaaand on a more serious note, I think there are 7 key things which contribute to different maps.
1. Some (few) people seem to get perceptual shifts gradually (which is weird) & truly do not experience the nanas
2. Everyone does things in different orders after 2 progresses of insight
3. A feeling of "doneness" or "completion" (the seeker dropping away) can arise after multiple perceptual shifts, depending on how primed the person's makeup was for that in advance.
4. Some people just suck at making progress so it's awkward to talk about this stuff without insulting them.
5.  Morality shifts - People get permanent morality "add-ons" as a result of just the nanas, not even necessarily cessation.  The exact type of improvement is based on the person's preexisting makeup.  However, if they know the fetter map, people usually try to map this onto it.
6.  It's exceedingly rare for anyone to truly acheive 3rd path based on my friend DreamWalker's Framework of Awakening (& thereby MCTB ) & also by a couple other similar standards I'm aware of.
7.  A lot of people are allergic to talking openly practice in a way that describes direct perception.  Even if poetic allegory is employed & encouraged rather than scientific observation, I have noticed the vibe of these discussions is almost always very "yang energy."  Many folks feel that it is a violation of privacy to discuss practice (even 1-1, in person) & when they do get around to doing it, they feel frustrated that they can't muster adaquete vocabulary.  


Edit: To the reader, remember to be mindful of the present before, during & after this discussion of maps!

RE: Vincent Horn on the Utility and Futility of the Maps
Answer
5/10/18 10:47 AM as a reply to Noah D.
6.  It's exceedingly rare for anyone to truly acheive 3rd path based on my friend DreamWalker's Framework of Awakening (& thereby MCTB ) & also by a couple other similar standards I'm aware of.
Meaning few progress beyond it, OR that, as a "path" it is poorly defined in a way that most never meet all of the criteria until they have surpassed it? Or? 

Maps-wise it does seem like a quagmire to me. emoticon





RE: Vincent Horn on the Utility and Futility of the Maps
Answer
5/10/18 12:12 PM as a reply to Stirling Campbell.
Bill used to say that third path was a lot harder than the first two for most people. I find the same in conversations with practitioners. It is an entirely different order and scope than the first two in many ways. That it is hard doesn't mean that the maps are wrong, just that it is more rare.

I agree that many people, having little experience, models, or training in reporting their direct experience, are not that good at it. It is almost like learning a new language or trade lexicon. May we do better at helping to support people in that work and in being forgiving and kind.

I have enjoyed learning Spanish, as I have found that nearly everyone that I have encountered who speaks Spanish is a natural Spanish teacher, and they smile and are gently supportive. May we take inspiration from their example.

RE: Vincent Horn on the Utility and Futility of the Maps
Answer
5/10/18 12:30 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Also, I see a lot of people go on their heaviest and longest retreats to get stream entry, but then, for a lot of people, the interest and resource-dedication falls off. I understand why this happens, as stream entry for a lot of people is very satisfying.

Still, I very rarely have conversations with people who are planning their long retreat(s) the way those gunning for stream entry often do, almost never hearing anyone report, "Ok, I have really nailed down second path, have repeat Fruitions, can call up the stages and substages, but now want to go off to Asia for a few months of deep retreat to attain third path." Can anyone else here recall reading of such a practitioner recently on this forum? I can't, but would be happy to be wrong and have good examples pointed out for the general inspiration of the forum readership. I admit that I don't read every thread and may have missed them.

It is ironic that third is known to be a generally harder path, a vastly more subtle, broad, complex path, a path out where the fractal is getting complex, where the cycles can go on and on, a path that the texts say requires more concentration power than stream entry, a path that requires a very different understanding in realtime than stream entry or second path, a path that requires shifting the focus from Fruition to immediate luminosity or whatever you wish to call it, and then people totally low-ball third path, giving it vastly less effort, study, energy, dedication, and retreat time than they gave to stream entry instead of more, and what do you expect will happen? Exactly what we see happening. Should this surprise anyone?

While there is rare individual variation, and for whatever strange karmic reasons I found third path easier than is generally reported, the average on this is well-known, and it is harder than the first two. That said, I had to pour resources for years into the last path, with it taking vastly more retreat time, cushion time, study, deep inquiry, and maturation than the first three did for me, and the path for me would be classified as fast but difficult.

May we all dedicate appropriate resources to the skillful goals to which we aspire.

RE: Vincent Horn on the Utility and Futility of the Maps
Answer
5/12/18 2:17 PM as a reply to Stirling Campbell.
Stirling Campbell:
6.  It's exceedingly rare for anyone to truly acheive 3rd path based on my friend DreamWalker's Framework of Awakening (& thereby MCTB ) & also by a couple other similar standards I'm aware of.
Meaning few progress beyond it, OR that, as a "path" it is poorly defined in a way that most never meet all of the criteria until they have surpassed it? Or? 

Maps-wise it does seem like a quagmire to me. emoticon





Meaning few progress beyond it.


Edit: To the reader, remember to be mindful of the present before, during & after this discussion of maps!

RE: Vincent Horn on the Utility and Futility of the Maps
Answer
5/12/18 2:17 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel:
Also, I see a lot of people go on their heaviest and longest retreats to get stream entry, but then, for a lot of people, the interest and resource-dedication falls off. I understand why this happens, as stream entry for a lot of people is very satisfying.

This matches my observations.

It all seems to depend on what type of genetics, psychodynamics, skillsets & life situations people start out with.  Less screwed-up people take less insight to become fulfilled.
It is ironic that third is known to be a generally harder path, a vastly more subtle, broad, complex path, a path out where the fractal is getting complex, where the cycles can go on and on, a path that the texts say requires more concentration power than stream entry, a path that requires a very different understanding in realtime than stream entry or second path, a path that requires shifting the focus from Fruition to immediate luminosity or whatever you wish to call it, and then people totally low-ball third path

Also, there seem to be a handful of core, walking-around features which need to be perceived.  These would include things like spaciousness, the vibrancy of the obects within space & the crystalline knowing energy inhabiting the mind-body pattern.  Furthermore, each of features needs to be opened in see, hear & feel spaces at once, rather than just one or two.  It seems common for folks to gain complete familiarity with the thinking-reflex (echo of the immediate senses) & reap the rewards which include a sense of the seeker dropping away.  When in reality the lens is still dirty, despite the motivation to clean it being gone.  

This particular conundrum may be driving the subtlety & complexity that you speak of.



Edit: To the reader, remember to be mindful of the present before, during & after this discussion of maps!

RE: Vincent Horn on the Utility and Futility of the Maps
Answer
5/11/18 4:03 AM as a reply to Noah D.
Noah D:

a sense of the seeker dropping away.  When in reality the lens is still dirty, despite the motivation to clean it being gone.  

Not to mention calling it "fourth" or "done" or something to that effect.

RE: Vincent Horn on the Utility and Futility of the Maps
Answer
5/13/18 6:11 PM as a reply to neko.
∂Dx for feeling of “done”:
  • Slacker
  • Crazy
  • A&P to Dissolution
  • Equanimity
  • Some jhana
  • Stream Entry
  • A&P to Dissolution after Stream Entry
  • Equanimity before Second Path
  • Second Path
  • Any number of endless repetitions of this basic pattern out in the nebulous cycles in middle paths territory
  • Lots of other things
  • Arahatship
These should generally be considered in this order of likehood.

RE: Vincent Horn on the Utility and Futility of the Maps
Answer
5/13/18 6:13 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
∂Dx means differential diagnosis, for those non-medical people in the crowd, and is the list conditions you should consider when trying to diagnose something.