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The big WHY
Answer
7/11/09 11:21 AM
Forum: Dharma Overground Discussion Forum

This is a fairly big post. There will be some points of general interest, and some of personal interest to me. I ask you to read the later points in compassion. In any case I will mark these paragraphs with an X, if you want to skip them.

X My "moment of contact" with buddhism happened when I read Henk Barendregt's "Buddhist Phenomenology I & II" papers. I almost entirely forgot about these papers for a number of years. Until my experimentation with psychedelics brought about a number of undesireable effects: depression and euphoria, inability to concentrate, changes in perception, including extreme sensorial acuity, tactile vibrational sensations, muscle twitching, depersonalisation episodes... to summarise, "plenty of suffering", with the occasional "visit to heaven" (euphoria), such that I could not associate my mood or mental health with any specific circumstances.

X I knew of a "way to the end of suffering", so I started to meditate, and read more about buddhism.:
- The descriptions of "The Process of Enlightenment" seemed accurate, and agreed at least partly with my own sensorial experience.
- Furthermore, it was immediately OBVIOUS that meditating interfered intimately with the kind of mental phenomena that I was experiencing.
- And then I found out that all these "undesirable effects" where also consequences of something called "kundalini awakening" (http://www.elcollie.com/st/symptoms.html), and similar phenomena where described in other buddhist texts that I've read.
- And after a few weeks of meditation, my depression / euphoria was much better, and I could concentrate and work again!

(continues)

RE: The big WHY
Answer
7/11/09 11:22 AM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
X So I concluded that I had been "thrown" into this "buddhism thing" by virtue of chance and circumstance, and I might as well make the best out of it. I actually got very excited about the perspective of "getting enlightened," and kept applying the ego-attachment-suffering logic to my every day life. Meditation gave me peace and pleasure, and that was felt as evidence that I was doing something right. Now that the hype is past, now that I have a small experience in meditation (about 1-2h a day for 2 months), I realise that there was more hype than actual evidence, and I begun wondering about the desirability of the whole thing.

X That is the context. Now for the actual question, which I address to any member of the forum, whether interested in my personal story or not.

I cite Henk Barendregt (for his "buddhist phenomenology" papers go here: http://www.fnds.cs.ru.nl/fndswiki/Theoretical_papers):

"One may wonder whether it is possible at all to overcome suffering by changing consciousness. And if it is possible, whether it is desirable to do so. We shall only discuss the first question. The second is left to the reader."

This second question is upsetting me terribly. And it is pretty much left untouched by every buddhist text I have read.

I highly admire the explicative power of buddhism, and I am convinced of it's profound understanding of the phenomena of suffering. Associating "suffering" with "ego" and "attachment" seemed bizarre at first, but slowly it revealed itself as a very appropriate description. I am entirely convinced that "enlightenment" can be realised.

RE: The big WHY
Answer
7/11/09 11:23 AM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
Note: I understand the curiosity about "what happens when you kill your ego?" I am also curious, as I am curious about the mind in general.

But it Really Does Not Strike me as Obvious that "enlightenment" is a good thing. A few things worry me:
1. I have a limited, abstract, conceptual understanding of what "enlightenment" might be.
2. Daniel Ingram says that it offers a "better perspective" but that isn't very specific. I have little concrete evidence or examples or stories that allow me to evaluate "enlightenment" as desirable or not. Could stream enterers and aharats here explain why it is so good to go through this mental process?
3. It seems to me that there is not turning back once you've done it. Is this correct?
4. I worry about changes in personality. For instance:
- I already feel that I've lost the urge to "have fun for the sake of pleasure," due in part to my depression and the understanding that mood is independent of circumstance. This diminishes my impulse of being with others, it frequently feels as a "tiresome" activity, rather than something I enjoy doing. This makes me more isolated and out of contact with my fellow human beings.
- How is it with sexual desire? I have heard that it completely disappears, as you progress through the path. Is this true?
- For instance, Daniel Ingram, with respect to nirodha samapatti, says "The texts say that one inclines to solitude or quiet
after attaining this state, and in general I agree."
- What other changes in personality are to be expected? Will I miss my own mother when I am away? (I certainly do these days)

RE: The big WHY
Answer
7/11/09 11:23 AM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
5. Ego and suffering are also very human activities. The need for pleasure leads mankind to do beautiful things. Isn't attachment a characteristic of friendship? Would the works of Shakespeare make sense in a world of "enlightened" beings? Would poetry and music? Isn't the "ego" an essential part of history and culture?

Notice that I think that these questions make sense to me now, although they might not make sense after "the process" is completed. Of course if I have "no attachment" to friendship, art, or pleasure, then it won't matter that these things will have a different quality after "the process". But it matters to me now.

Bottom line is: it is not obvious that the end of suffering is desireable. So, questions to arhats and people who have been stream enterers for some time: what are the BEST and the WORST things about enlightenment? Why should it and shouldn't it be desirable?

If you have taken the time,
Thank you for reading,
Bruno

RE: The big WHY
Answer
7/11/09 1:17 PM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
Sup Bruno,

I'm only going to answer based on my experience, as a self proclaimed arhat, and from no other perspective. Doing so as a matter of expedience and practicality because these points vary widely and are hugely effected by one's personal proclivities, life situations, the stages of insight themselves, one's interpretation of the insights gained through the process, and so forth.

I was "shoved" into the path in a very similar way. Had a bad trip, landed in the "rabbit hole" upside down, thought maybe the whole buddhist thing might fix my world.

(1)(2). Dan speaks vaguely due to what I mentioned in the first paragraph. Of everyone I've met, I'm probably the least appreciative of enlightenment, and it's still the best thing I've ever done. Invaluable to me in nearly every facet of the transformation. The reason we can't "accurately" say what that transformation is, is because it's predicated on non-dual logic, rather than duality based logic. Thus, it's sort of like mixing two sets of logic together and hoping that someone with knowledge of only one will somehow understand the synthesis-- it just doesn't really work out.

(3) Correct. Note that the stages change vastly in their manifestations in one's life, and based on your interpretations and life situations. Also note that most of us consider the end result to be quite "normal." Not such a big holy damn deal as it is through other parts of the path. But yes, again, permanent and irreversible.

(4) Personality might change, but for me specifically, this was mostly stage specific. When the path was all said and done, I was quite similar to as I was before stream-entry. That said, the loss of self afforded me a flexibility to manipulate my personality in ways that I had previously been unable to. I missed my family, friends, and still do.

(cont.)

RE: The big WHY
Answer
7/11/09 1:26 PM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
(5) Yes, very human-- but does that make them worth doing? Do you really enjoy suffering or watching other people suffer? That's up to you to decide, but personally, I think it sucks and is like a vicious parasite.

I find far more intrinsic good in nearly all facets of life, especially music, poetry and other forms of artistic expression. Enlightenment itself rarely gets in the way of anything, unless one chooses to build a belief around an interpretation which then dictates the actions of said person. In other words: it's mostly your choice.

The end of suffering is desirable because suffering sucks. Suffering is a LOT worse than you can imagine-- you really cannot truly grasp just how much suffering you're doing until you see through it for the first time. I like Shinzen Young's take when he says "it's better than you can imagine, but not all that it's cracked up to be."

To answer specifically and personally, the best part of enlightenment is that I'm no longer confounded by the odd shit that I can't make sense of when I examine my world and perceptions. A lot of things make sense that I wanted to find out about, and those answers could not have come in another way. The worst part is, for me, seeing other people suffer or turn away from the practices due to the very self which needs to be eliminated. It is quite tragic to know just how much folks are suffering and just what they're turning away from. Feels kind of selfish to have something invaluable that is hard to give away, and each failure to give it away can feel like a real bummer.

Peace,
Trent

RE: The big WHY
Answer
7/11/09 10:59 PM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
Thank you for your reply Trent. The "still miss family and friends" part is a relief. You see, in times of great mental pain, I am beyond caring what I do with my mind, I just want it to end; but I dread of the possible consequences for those I love.

Two more questions:
1) Did the buddhism thing "fix your world," I mean did the unpleasant side effects of your bad trip go away in the end?
2) You say "A lot of things make sense that I wanted to find out about, and those answers could not have come in another way." Could you give concrete examples?

Bruno

RE: The big WHY
Answer
7/12/09 8:09 AM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
Bruno,

Sorry to hear your situation is so painful. Things can really suck huge, eh. =\

(1) Yeah, it did. It faded very rapidly in fact. A large portion of the "badness" faded after the first A&P, and the rest after stream-entry. In fact, I had all but forgotten the reason I got into the practice until reflecting on it some time later.

(2) Yeah, I can give a few examples. Note that I've been studying philosophy since I was 12, so I had been wondering about some existential/phenomenological things for quite a while.

(a) I use to stare at the night sky really closely, with a very open mind. Sometimes, it was as if (for 1-2 seconds) a veil would lift and I would see something that felt more real than the rest of my life. Somehow the world would be perceived more directly; somehow more pure and concentrated. I thought "there has to be something I can figure out about this, there's something behind all of this."

(b) I use to look very closely at an object, such as my desk, and wonder why the colors were not a "pure color." Why, I thought, does the color black seem to contain odd mixtures of white and gold? Walk into a pitch dark room and it's not very black at all-- why?!

(c) How do I exist if everything is relative? Why do I feel completely solid, but when I think about another person, they do not seem solid. They seem fleeting, changing, completely different from one moment to another-- I can never quite pin them down. Why am I pinned down?

(d) Where in the hell is my mind and why does it feel like there are spacial limitations to it. How does this make since in a reality which I can intellectually say contains no space or time? If there are no boundaries, what am I feeling?

Just a few examples. Maybe I was or possibly am still a weird dude.

Peace,
Trent