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How would stream entry help me ...

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How would stream entry help me ...
Answer
7/26/18 5:18 AM
I don't see enlightenment as the solution to the problem of life, the problem of my life is not craving as far as I can tell.

I see the problem of life as being stuck in a biological container. For me suffering is when I feel stress because my levels of stress hormones are too high - not because of cognitive causes but because of biological causes. Or I feel sad because I don't have enough serotonin in my brain - again not because of cognitive causes but because of biological causes. The solution to these problems seems to me not to be to see through the illusions that cause clinging, but to learn to manage my biochemistry through diet, physical exericse, relaxation exercises includng meditation, and practicing soft jhanas.

This is why I am not attracted to the pursuit of enlightenment.

I am retired and live alone. If I wanted to, I could meditate all day and try to get enlightenment.

But I don't want enlightenment if it will allow me to ignore my biochemistry - it could result in damaging my system. Suffering tells me there is a problem in my body. For example, if I didn't suffer because I had enlightenment, would I ignore high levels of stress hormones and suffer adreanal fatigue? Sometimes low levels of serotonin is caused by a biological or dietary problem. If someone had low levels of serotonin and didn't suffer because he had enlightenment would he risk suicide if his serotonin levels go too low?

Sometimes low serotonin could be due to cognitive problems, but for me, I see serotonin levels as someting that is primarily influenced by diet. I call it the Thanksgiving effect. After you eat a big Thanksgiving dinner you feel great because you have a lot of serotonin in your brain. If my mood is low (I probably can't do soft jhanas, I try but get no effect) I can usually track it down to a problem with diet and can usually fix it by eating the right combination of carbohydrates and protein at the right times to increase serotonin levels in my brain (then I can do soft jhanas and get the expected effect).

Some of the stress I experience is due to the illusion of self, my ego, fear of physical harm, desire for social status, wanting to win, etc. So I understand how enlightenment could help with that. But these kinds of problems are worse when my stress levels are already high. When I am relaxed I hardly have any problems like these. However, some of the stress I experience seems to be due to biological causes, when the body experiences physical stress it produces stress hormones. It is this kind of stress that makes me irritable at which time my ego becomes a problem. For example when you are hungry and blood sugar levels are low, the body produces stress hormones which signal the cells to release glucose into the blood stream, but the stress hormones can also make you feel stress. Some people even get anxiety when they are hungry.

Can enlightenment prevent your body from producing stress hormones if it is experiencing physical stress: starving, feeling extremem cold or hot temperatures, suffering physical injury, or you are exerting yourself physically like running a marathon, or you experience mental fatigue from too much brain work like computer programming or technical writing? And if enlightenment can prevent the body from producing stress hormones in these situations would it be a good thing to monkey with the body's innate mechanisms for homeostasis and self maintenance?

tl;dr: For me suffering is when I feel stress because my levels of stress hormones are too high - not because of cognitive causes but because of biological causes. Or I feel sad because I don't have enough serotonin in my brain - again not because of cognitive causes but because of biological causes. The solution to these problems seems to me not to be to see through the illusions that cause clinging, but to learn to manage my biochemistry through diet, physical exericse, relaxation exercises includng meditation, and practicing soft jhanas.


What am I misunderstanding? How would enlightenment help me?

RE: How would stream entry help me ...
Answer
7/26/18 5:29 AM as a reply to Jim Smith.
There is a general heirarchy of needs, the classic one is described by Maslow:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs

You are correct that meditation isn't some kind of fix-all. It will not help physiological needs like shelter/clothing, water, and food  -- you really do need these things. But as you go up the hierarchy, there is more and more of a mind/psychology aspect to the "needs". Safety is physical but also psychological -- people can be safe but not >feel< safe. Same thing with love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization -- there are physical aspects but quite a lot of mental aspects.

So meditation basically helps clarify how much stress is inevitable and how much is due to faulty perception/beliefs. 

You might be interested in the idea of "biocognition" which explains how mental perception and biological stress are interconnected:

https://www.soundstrue.com/store/weeklywisdom?page=single&category=IATE&episode=10111
(see transcript)

http://www.soundstrue.com/podcast/transcripts/mario-martinez2.php?camefromhome=camefromhome

Also on you tube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNpSh0vE5Vs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJG9GTTpxvU

RE: How would stream entry help me ...
Answer
7/27/18 6:22 AM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Enlightenment can be thought of as progressively improving the mind-body system's ability to percieve itself and it's environment accurately and to respond to stimuli effectively. As these abilities are improved, biochemical self-regulation improves. 

This is not monkeying with your biochemistry like taking a drug, this is enabling the system to manage itself optimally by reducing the error rate of various feedback-loops.

Reducing suffering does not mean ignoring or suppressing pain (or any other signal), it means seeing pain clearly and responding to the stimulus with reduced need for the habitual response of suffering. Suffering could be considered an adaptation which helps a mind-body system to recognize problems and to respond appropriately, but as that mind-body system improves in self-regulation, perception and stimulus-response, suffering becomes increasingly unnecessary. A related way to look at suffering is as the result of conflict between intra-system impulses. For example, when you indulge the impulse to try to ignore or resist pain, the result is suffering. As impulsive resistance to pain is reduced, suffering decreases. By calmly and clearly observing impulses and their effects, over time the mind-body system naturally self-corrects by reducing unhelpful impulses and reinforcing helpful ones. The resultant increase in systemic harmony provides a corresponding decrease in suffering.

The whole process is a virtuous cycle of the system incrementally improving in perception, stimulus-response and self-regulation, with each small improvement helping to create the next small improvement.

Of course this is just a simplified approximation, but I think it is a reasonable high-level overview to understand the appeal. In my opinion, when people with some degree of enlightenment encourage others toward enlightenment, they are usually thinking in terms of improvements in ability to perceive clearly, respond to stimuli effectively, and self-regulate satisfactorily (even if they aren't nerdy enough to think about it in those terms).

[Lots of edits since until writing this it was just a vague idea not previously expressed. Removed stuff attempting to explain variation in results of different methods until better thought-through, apologies]

RE: How would stream entry help me ...
Answer
7/26/18 3:13 PM as a reply to Adam.
A concrete example will probably help.

At the moment there is a heat wave in the UK. Historically, I have not handled these well. Lots of poor responses to the unusual stimuli such as forgetting to apply sun-lotion, drinking too much alcohol, insomnia, over-exerting, etc.

These poor responses were due to being badly adapted to this rare occurance, and lead to ignoring the evidence of my body, biochemistry and environment (e.g. advice on tv, cortisol, dehydration, etc.) in favour of old habitual behaviours not suited to the changed environment. Naturally this produced lots of suffering of all kinds, as my mind-body system tried to induce me not to repeat the same mistakes. This learning process was slow and very unpleasant.

Now I've made some progress in enlightenment, I don't use equanimity to smugly ignore those signals and get heat-stroke, on the contrary it is natural to respond more appropriately. I see what is happening in my body and environment more accurately and without the blinkers of habit and delusion, act more carefully and mindfully and less from instinct, ego and compulsion, and my biochemistry is much more confident in my ability to not die of sun poisoning so doesn't feel the need to produce a lot of stress chemicals. If one of my responses is poorly calibrated - say I forget to put lotion on my ears and they are burned - there is pain but less suffering, since there is more confidence that this experience will be learned from and not repeated.

RE: How would stream entry help me ...
Answer
7/26/18 8:42 PM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Hi Jim!

First, I’d say if what you are doing works for you, that’s great.  No need to do anything different.  If you see the “problem,” as “being stuck in a biological container,” I’d venture to guess you are right- “Enlightenment “ will do little to help. 

For me, the main way in which the practices as discussed in MCTB have helped me is that I’ve been able to see that the clinging is caused by the idea that I think a self- an Alice- exists and that further, I think she is separate from everyone and everything else.  

The world and everything in it is always changing.  I looked for a solid Alice I could use a a ballast against this change, but every time I thought I had found one, she changed too!  Seeing that the Alice I’ve constructed isn’t “real” (metaphorically) has been quite freeing, even though I am just at the beginning of seeing it. 

I dont think this practice precludes one from using diet, exercise or any allopathic medicine.  I certainly have used those things to my benefit and actually my ability to use the practice effectively increased once I corrected a chemical imbalance caused by my thyroid.  That said, correcting my thyroid issue, better diet and exercise failed to fill the void I seemed to continuously encounter.  Seeing, in a direct way, over and over again, that “things come and go, they don’t satisfy and they ain’t me,” (to quote one Daniel Ingram)  has helped in a way that’s indescribable!  Finally seeing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, “tastes like freedom.”

All the best on your journey!  And thanks for giving me the opportunity to put together an “elevator speech” about what the Dharma has done for my life! 

RE: How would stream entry help me ...
Answer
7/27/18 1:39 AM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Hey Jim, lots of great perspectives from other commentators.  Let me add some practical examples of how meditation has helped me. 

Getting a dent or scatch on my car.

Before:  Oh no!  I am really proud of that car, it meant a lot to me and was a symbol of my success, and somehow scratching that car subconsciousnessly undermines my own sense self worth and achievement.  I'm going to get annoyed and sulk a bit (or a lot) about that.

After:  Whatever, it's only a car.

A worrying possibility

Before: That's a looming issue, I need to worry about it, plan, deal with my fear, strive to overcome it.  Thinking, thinking, thinking ...

After:  Oh yeah, that might happen, ok.  I'll deal with it if I have to.  Meanwhile, things take care of themselves, and I'll just do whatever I happen to be doing, including dealing with a problem if that is what I happen to be doing.  It doesn't matter.  I don't mind too much.

Getting triggered by a pattern of behaviour

Before: Damn it, it's happening again. Why? That really frustrates me and I will stew about that.  Maybe later I will lash back in some way.

After:  Oooh, look, frustration arises.  Haven't seen that for a while.  Well, that's not me, so I'll just watch that float by.  And look! I can see the thing in my mind that caused it.  Neat, I can let go of that mental formation, banish it, let it cease.  Oh, that letting go feels good.  I feel happy.

I don't know if those examples are helpful; however, they are real, not made up.


And to answer your questions more directly.  Yes, you are describing how you are happy due to favourable circumstances.  But if those circumstances change (e.g. you are burgled, or beaten up, or lose a limb, or lose a loved one) you might become very unhappy.  So your happiness is conditional.  The aim of meditation is, in the words of the Buddha, to achieve happiness without conditions.  Or, to quote the ancient greek Stoics, to be happy even if you are being tortured. 

This doesn't mean that you don't have physical pain or hormonal reactions.  You definitely do, although in my experience the hormonal reactions are substantially diminished by meditation, both in frequency and intesnity.  But you don't pile on all the extra stress from your mental reactions to those things.  So you are more equanimous, no matter what happens.  The Buddha said you get struck by two arrows - the physical hurt, and the mental reaction - meditation can deal with the second arrow, but not the first.

I would say that meditation has its risks, because it eventually forces you to confront the things that are making you unhappy, although in a kind of weird indirect fashion.  So the Tibetans say "Better not to start.  But if you start, better to finish."  But if you can make some progress, and get past the dangers, the results are pretty wonderful.

Hope this helps.

Metta.

RE: How would stream entry help me ...
Answer
7/27/18 4:34 AM as a reply to Jim Smith.
hey jim, if your diet as such a strong impact on your mood try WATER FASTING.

You´ll be surprised with the mental and physical benefits.

Watch a few vids on youtube.

RE: How would stream entry help me ...
Answer
7/27/18 5:47 AM as a reply to Adam.
A final addendum - your view of the importance of lifestyle management (diet, exercise, relaxation) is entirely compatible with enlightenment. Choosing your actions carefully and paying diligent attention to their consequences is considered part of training in morality, an essential part of the path to enlightenment. The things trained formally (perceptual clarity of body, mind and heart, development of mindfulness, tranquility, and so forth) all serve to help  you make better choices by increasing clarity of thought and understanding of the consequences of actions. The different trainings all reinforce one another.

RE: How would stream entry help me ...
Answer
7/27/18 2:57 PM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Hi Jim.

In the field of positive psychology and the science of well-being, scientists talk about a "happiness setpoint/ baseline hapiness". This is basically the homeostasis of how you feel i.e. the point you return to after momentary emotions/ circumstances pass. It is possible to improve this setpoint, just a little, by improving our physical and mental health, changing circumstances, improving our social relations etc. However, our programmed setpoint is more or less static.

In my experience, meditation certainly has raised my baseline happiness more than anything else I have ever tried including keeping a high-standard diet, being very physically fit, doing exciting and interesting things and living a healthy life in general. Now I can't be fully certain I have hit Stream entry, but I do believe I have. And after that shift (initial enlightenment) my whole life have without the shadow of a doubt improved drastically.

I like the way you think about biochemistry. As a student of cognitive neuroscience, I have thought along those lines as well. But I think in this case you are stuck on a superficial level. As others have pointed out, suffering is caused by clinging. Let's say you experience something traumatic -> cortisol is released -> you suffer -> you continuously buy into the following thoughts, spiraling down into negativity/ stress -> cortisol is continuously released -> you suffer more etc... Trying to override the natural release of cortisol in this case, with food for example, would probably only delay or prolong the suffering and in worst case lead to another form of clinging.

An enlightened being would have the optimal outlook on this situation i.e. ideal clarity: Stressful event -> cortisol release -> Enlightened being observes his/her thoughts and emotions -> Sees them as impermanent and so on -> Lets go of the pain caused by the event -> eventually cortisol release dies down. 

I hope this brought something of value to you. IMHO, if you keep meditating, in time, I think you will have the clarity needed to answer your own questions.

Metta

RE: How would stream entry help me ...
Answer
7/28/18 5:42 AM as a reply to Alex.
Alex:
Hi Jim.

In the field of positive psychology and the science of well-being, scientists talk about a "happiness setpoint/ baseline hapiness". This is basically the homeostasis of how you feel i.e. the point you return to after momentary emotions/ circumstances pass. It is possible to improve this setpoint, just a little, by improving our physical and mental health, changing circumstances, improving our social relations etc. However, our programmed setpoint is more or less static.

In my experience, meditation certainly has raised my baseline happiness more than anything else I have ever tried including keeping a high-standard diet, being very physically fit, doing exciting and interesting things and living a healthy life in general. Now I can't be fully certain I have hit Stream entry, but I do believe I have. And after that shift (initial enlightenment) my whole life have without the shadow of a doubt improved drastically.

I like the way you think about biochemistry. As a student of cognitive neuroscience, I have thought along those lines as well. But I think in this case you are stuck on a superficial level. As others have pointed out, suffering is caused by clinging. Let's say you experience something traumatic -> cortisol is released -> you suffer -> you continuously buy into the following thoughts, spiraling down into negativity/ stress -> cortisol is continuously released -> you suffer more etc... Trying to override the natural release of cortisol in this case, with food for example, would probably only delay or prolong the suffering and in worst case lead to another form of clinging.

An enlightened being would have the optimal outlook on this situation i.e. ideal clarity: Stressful event -> cortisol release -> Enlightened being observes his/her thoughts and emotions -> Sees them as impermanent and so on -> Lets go of the pain caused by the event -> eventually cortisol release dies down. 

I hope this brought something of value to you. IMHO, if you keep meditating, in time, I think you will have the clarity needed to answer your own questions.

Metta

Alex, 

Thank you (and everyone) for replying, I have questions for you below but first I want to clarify a couple of things...

I wrote in my first post above: "Some of the stress I experience is due to the illusion of self, my ego, fear of physical harm, desire for social status, wanting to win, etc. So I understand how enlightenment could help with that. "

Also I would not try to reduce cortisol levels just with food, I would do something that activates the parasympathetic nervous system, like meditation, qigong exercises, yoga, or crawling under the covers and hiding in bed. My long term strategy is to do regular meditation, qigong, ... using various techniques to develop my parasympathetic nervous system so that over time, through neuroplasticity I reduce my stress response and improve my ability to turn off stress and stay calm. 

And I am not experiencing a traumatic situation right now. I am just experiencing fluctuations in brain chemicals that seem to be due to purely biological causes. This thread is titled "How would stream entry help me" and that is what I am asking about.

By purely biological causes, I mean when cortisol is high because of biological reasons such as genetic or developmental factors that are not cognitive. A lion about to eat you for dinner is what I would consider a cognitive factor. You have to know something traumatic is happening to be stresssed by a traumatic event. But let me pose a general question: I've read that if someone has a lot of stress when they are a child, they may produce fewer glucocorticoid receptors. The result is that in such people, normal concentrations or cortisol are higher in proportion to their glucocortoid receptors than in normal people. Because of the concentration of cortisol is higher in proportion to the number of recpetoprs, their cells respond as if the cortisol levels were high even though cortisol concentrations might not be high. The number of glucocorticoid recptors is fixed during development (childhood), so people in this situation experience a lot of stress their entire lives. (I'm explaiing this from memory, I might have some of the details wrong but I think you can see what I am trying to say.). And there are other purely biological causes of high levels of stress hormones that are not cognitive.  Certain medical conditions can cause panic attacks, I mentioned in my first post in this thread that low blood sugar can cause anxiety in some people. 

How would enlightenment help them?  I am not being skeptical, I am not trying to imply enlightenment is useless,  I just want to know if/how enlightenment would help in those situations. Someone gives you an injection of cortisol, some stress hormone or something, and you start feeling  anxiety. Would enlightenment help? 

Even healthy people would have increased levels of cortisol if their body experienced physical stress (not psychological stress due to cognition, but physical stress due to the body detecting somthing dangerous to it) such as high or low temperatures, or mental fatigue caused by too much analytical brain work like computer programming or technical writing. These things make people irritable, in part I assume, because of higher levels of cortisol. The way I understand it, enlightenent does not remove pain but does remove suffering. What is the effect on cortisol? Do enlightened people get irritable when it is too hot and they don't have airconditioning? Do enlightened people get irritable when they are in pain? Because the stress response is, in part, designed to help the body respond to stress (not just psychological stress, but actual physical things happening to the body independent of cognition that produce a stress reaction). One example I gave was cortisol signals the cells to release sugar into the blood stream when blood sugar goes low. If enlightenment can keep cortisol levels low it would not be healthy for people with low blood sugar. I don't know all the functions of cortisol but it probably has other physical effects that are vital for the organism to function in physically stressful situations.

You can try to detach from the physical symptoms and interpret anxiety as just a set of physical sensations. But some of these brain chemicals effect the reality you experience.

The brain is really a virtual reality generator. How does enlightenment interact with the hardware? Enlightenment can stop the brain from producing fear due to cognitive causes but does it stop the brain producing fear due to purely biological causes?

When people are depressed because of purely biological factors and they are suicidal it's because when the brain chemistry changes, it affects the thoughts and impulses the brain produces. How does enlightenment affect depression that is caused by purely biological factors?

I suppose meditation and enlightenment involve changes in the way neurons are wired but at what level does it change the reality produced by the brain?

RE: How would stream entry help me ...
Answer
7/28/18 2:06 AM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Don't forget that stream entry and following paths aren't just about the benefits for you, but also for the people you interact with every day. Even if stream entry etc didn't change your day to day experience much (and i'm not saying that's the case), wouldn't it be worthwhile if it reduced the suffering of those around you? If recognizing non-duality caused you to behave more openly, with less aversion and more compassionately towards others, wouldn't it be worth it just for that?

RE: How would stream entry help me ...
Answer
7/28/18 4:31 AM as a reply to Lars.
Lars:
Don't forget that stream entry and following paths aren't just about the benefits for you, but also for the people you interact with every day. Even if stream entry etc didn't change your day to day experience much (and i'm not saying that's the case), wouldn't it be worthwhile if it reduced the suffering of those around you? If recognizing non-duality caused you to behave more openly, with less aversion and more compassionately towards others, wouldn't it be worth it just for that?

That's a good point. I notice this effect with meditation. That is an important reason why I practice soft jhanas and not just as sitting meditation but as mindfulness during daily activities. I do it for spiritual reasons, exctly what you describe. For me, that type of practice seems to produce the brahma vihara.

On my blog I described it like this:


And these experiences are not restricted to sitting meditation, you can have them walking around town or out in nature. When you do this, you see it transforms reality because when you walk around smiling, people smile back. In that way, it doesn't just change you, it changes the people around you. It doesn't just make you happy, it makes the world friendly.

But also, there are an awful lot of sex scandals among supposedly advanced spiritual teachers?



Thanks

RE: How would stream entry help me ...
Answer
7/28/18 4:05 PM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Jim Smith:
And these experiences are not restricted to sitting meditation, you can have them walking around town or out in nature. When you do this, you see it transforms reality because when you walk around smiling, people smile back. In that way, it doesn't just change you, it changes the people around you. It doesn't just make you happy, it makes the world friendly.


The bulk of my practise lately has been in that style, no regrets in doing so. Sitting mindfully in silence and isolation teaches you a lot, but it means nothing if it falls apart when you have to interact with angry, crazy, happy, sad people of every variety when you leave the house. As you mentioned, it's also nice to see how "right view" etc puts a smile not just on your face, but others as well. Lately i've been deliberately spending time with family members that used to drive me up the wall. It's becoming incredibly clear that most of our previous issues came from my own aversion. When i'm open and accepting of them, we have a great time together, smiles all around. 

Regarding the scandals, it's just more drama. Sexual desire is one of the more difficult hindrances to let go of, even the buddha claimed that if it weren't for the jhanas (and associated piti etc) he may have remained stuck in sensual desire. Personally i'm finding that it decreases with practise (though there are certain stages where it gets noticeably stronger for a while). As long as you're honest about it, not really a problem.