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Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis

An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
9/15/09 9:30 AM
The Idiot’s Guide to Diagnosing the 16 Insight Knowledges

One of the questions that yogis ask most often is “Where am I on the Theravada Progess of Insight map?” This is a legitimate question and there can be real benefit in knowing the answer. If you are able to align your own experience with the traditional descriptions of insight it helps you to have faith that this practice works, which in turn can motivate you to practice more. Furthermore, your teacher may suggest different practices depending on how far along you are in the process.

Below is a simple guide, designed to be “idiot-proof.” It only includes the most obvious landmarks along the way. Familiarize yourself with these diagnostic criteria and use them to place yourself on the map.

Case Study # 1:

Report: “My meditation used to be good, but now there’s nothing but solid pain when I sit. I sometimes feel nauseous and I want to leave the retreat."

Diagnosis: 3rd ñana, Knowledge of the Three Characteristics.

“But I also have all kinds of cool insights about this and that.”

Doesn’t matter. If you have persistent solid pain, you’re in the 3rd ñana.

Case Study # 2:

Report: “I had this incredible energy coursing through my body, tingled all over, saw white lights, and had unitive experiences.”

Diagnosis: 4th ñana, Knowledge of the Arising and Passing Away of Phenomena.

“But I had it while on drugs (or in a dream). I never even meditated.”

Doesn’t matter. 4th ñana. Have a nice day.

“But it was so real. I saw God. I know it was enlightenment.”

No, it was the 4th ñana.

Case Study # 3:

Report: “At some time in the past, I had white lights, unitive experiences and delightful tingles. Now my meditation sucks and I hate everything.”

Diagnosis: Dukkha ñanas 6-10, aka Dark Night of the Soul.

“But I feel super enlightened.”

Doesn’t matter. Dukkha ñanas. Thanks for asking.

Case Study # 4:

Report: I went through the 3rd, 4th, and dukkha ñanas (as described above) and now I feel fine every time I sit.

Diagnosis: 11th ñana, Knowledge of Equanimity.

“But I’m not having any insights.”

Right. Knowledge of Equanimity.

Case Study # 5:

Report: I went through the 3rd, 4th, dukkha ñanas, and Equanimity ñana, (as described above), and then one day I was just sitting (or standing, or walking), there was a little blip, and I knew that something was different. It was as though a weight had lifted from me. I felt light and wanted to laugh for a couple of days. After that, my practice was noticeably different than anything that had gone before.

Diagnosis: 14th and 15th ñana, Path and Fruition (1st or 2nd Path).

“But it was no big deal. More like an anticlimax. But it’s clear that some cycle was completed.”

Exactly. Path and Fruition.


This is a place to post your responses to An Idiot's Guide to Dharma Diagnosis.

RE: Responses to An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
5/20/09 3:51 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
Severe Props on this Guide To Maps - Had some much needed laughter. Right on. To T.H.E. point.

RE: Responses to An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
5/20/09 3:57 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
Thanks Ken, as always very helpful. Question about cessation in the cycles after path are they always followed by some sought of release, change or bliss or can they it be just the cessation followed by no change (ordinary feeling) then start to cycle again

RE: Responses to An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
5/20/09 4:26 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
there's always a change of some sort but not necessarily a change in feeling-tone. the clearest thing to look for is a kind of perceptual change but that might not be perceptible unless your concentration's up. look for a change in the way your body's weight feels. of course, this is just what's apparent to me, ymmv.

RE: Responses to An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
5/20/09 4:58 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
Hi Jeff,

In order to know that a cessation has occurred, there must be some kind of a change. That's because cessation is a lack of experience. So, if there were a cessation without a change after it, you wouldn't know about it. For all practical purposes, let's say that a cessation is always followed by a change of some kind, usually described as a feeling of relief, release, or bliss.

Is it possible to miss the change? Yes, in which case the cycle would reset, as you suggested, without your having noticed the cessation. This is not uncommon; in fact, it's common to miss both the cessation and the reset of the cycle. Many people who have not been indoctrinated into the Theravada system and are thus not trained to look for cessations or cycles do not report experiencing either, despite having attained one or more Paths. It's only later, upon learning about these phenomena, that they begin to experience them. In other words, these subtle phenomena can happen, but unless you are trained to notice them you may never see them. And even if you are trained to notice them, you may be tired or distracted and therefore miss them at times. Eventually, they happen so often that you sometimes tune them out as irrelevant. As Bill Hamilton used to say, "How many times are you going to laugh at the same joke?"

RE: Responses to An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
5/20/09 5:47 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
I like this simple map.

A few things worth mentioning are the common mimics and things that get mistaken for other things. A short list of the big ones:

The A&P fools many into thinking it was stream entry.
The formless realms do the same thing.
The Three Characteristics and the Dark Night do share some commonalities, causing some confusion at times, though as stated above, if your body really hurts, probably 3C.
Occasionally the A&P and Equanimity get mixed up.
Mind and Body can be so profound for some people on rare occasions as to be mistaken for things as high as Equanimity and much further.

More simple criteria:
Thoughts seen as objects, likely Mind and Body, though if after A&Pemoticonark Night, could be Equanimity.
Noting interferes with breath: Cause and Effect.
Tense body, pain, difficulty, no A&P yet: Three Characteristics.
Energy, meditation in dreams/sleep/middle of night, big, profound opening that blew your doors off, likely A&P.
Edgy after A&P: always Dark Night.
Feel great after Dark Night: could be Equanimity, could be regression back to A&P.
The criteria for stream entry are complex: this should be its own thread.

RE: Responses to An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
5/20/09 7:21 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
Thanks for the replys I have been trying to understand something that has been happening consistently for about a year. This will happen anything from a couple of times aday (usually on the weekends when I meditate between 6 to 8 hrs a day) or every couple of days when I meditate at least 2 hrs a day. When it first started happening I thought I must have dozed off for a split second but over the past couple of months I have noticed 2 types of things that happen one is I notice a bit of a slide and then next a jolt or it feels like a sudden drop about a half second later the other type of thing its a jolt or sudden drop and I think a split second has passed. Although I have had a share of great experiences in meditation I cannot associate these blips with any incredible feeling, waves of bliss that people have been reporting. Hence my question are cessation always associated with Bliss waves and incredible changes/experiences between cycles.

RE: Responses to An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
5/21/09 12:46 AM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
Author: garyrh

Thanks for this Kenneth.

A question for the for that have gone thru this.

I am able to bring my attention to the "tingles" at pretty much anytime does anyone else have have this experience? Also at times of expansion there is strong "tingle" activity around the head.
By expansion I mean three characteristics, for me predominantly not self and suffering. Rather than using a map terminology, I call it expansion because that is what it feels like.

RE: Responses to An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
5/29/09 11:18 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
i strugle through my inglish as well as through stages of insight.little question about changes in perception-just yesturday i was at the sea side and looked at the waves and their inprint on the sand-the patterns they created and little chisps of sunlight that bursted only for moment on top of each wave before it breaks-i cought myself thinking that these things always existed but i never puted attention to them-never saw them even staring right on them.probably now the concentration grew more and i could enjoy this beuity.i am before stream entry, i guess perseptual changes after path will be even more significant-i ll not be able to miss it.

RE: Responses to An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
5/29/09 11:20 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
kenneth'thanks.couldnt help loughing-thanks for your humor-this way things stick better into the head

RE: Responses to An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
5/30/09 8:28 AM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
An isolated happening without the context of what came before and what came after is sometimes hard to diagnose, but when one really tunes into something in ordinary life and suddenly there is something beautiful and one sees thoughts as thoughts, usually this is the 1st jhana, of which Mind and Body is the first part.

RE: Responses to An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
5/30/09 11:18 AM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
also, i think some experiences could be pretty much anywhere on the insight map, because not every experience or aspect of experience must be an insight marker. lena's description sounds pretty wonderful, just a sensuous appreciation of being alive.

RE: Responses to An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
6/5/09 5:12 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
Kenneth, it was so helpful to me reading your thread, and really funny too. Thanks!

RE: Responses to An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
7/14/09 6:02 AM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
Author: kevin_stanley

Thank you so much. After reading Daniel's book I've been thinking a lot about where I might stand right now. After reading this "Idiot's Guide" it looks as though I hit A&P (inadvertently, not in the context of a disciplined practice) in the early 1990's and have been in chronic dark night territory ever since. I think it's time for me to set up a regular practice and move the ball down the field a bit.

RE: Responses to An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
7/14/09 7:12 AM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
Author: telecaster

Most of the insights I've had that I considered import were just that - insights with no accompanying spiritual "experience." Just really slight and subtle.

But I did have a moment once, which I've been thinking about a lot lately in the context of myself and these maps.

I think it was 1985. I had been practicing choiceless awareness for the majority of each day for about about a week. I think it had gotten nearly continuous and without much hard effort.

I went up to Lake Travis outside of Austin with a friend. I was standing by the car and looked over at a little streem which contained lots of plants, and surrounding the plants were 100s of tiny insects. While looking I realized or saw or experienced or lived this:
Me (my body), and the plants, and the insects, and the water, and the dirt and the rock, and the air, etc. -- were all TOGETHER in some quiet reality.


The thing that was my mind and all the myriad creations of my mind concerning me, who I was, and what the world and everything else was -- was a big ball of nothing - (something like that). It wasn't part of the world of the insects,plants, etc., and my body. I saw that It only existed because I conjured it up. And kept conjuring it up.

This lasted maybe two seconds and has never come back. Of course I tried to bring it back! There was no bliss or lights or excitement and, for sure, no change in my life. But what I knew intellectually from that moment I still know now.

It's nice to have a place to talk about this without getting embarrassed - even though I am a little embarrassed.

RE: Responses to An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
9/19/09 7:35 PM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Mind and Body, when it hits really hard, can actually feel that good, can have lots of quiet and clarity, as well as unitive experiences. It rarely recurs with anything like that level of intensity, so trying to make it come back won't work, as new insights arise after it.

The A&P can have qualities like that, and can be associated with deep unitive feelings, but it tends to have a lot more associated with it, though I know of one example where it didn't, and trying to make it come back and failing is a very common post A&P thing.

Regardless of which it was, these provide glimpses of parts of the thing, are pieces of the puzzle, inspiration for further development and attainments, and just good fun. More practice clarifies these things like nothing else does.

RE: Responses to An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
10/14/09 10:56 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
About the Vipassana Nanas

I ran across this article I wondered about what thoughts you all might have about it.

Also I was wondering if Mahasi-style practice could be termed:

1. vipassana

2. vipassana + shamata

3. shamata

4. other

p e a c e

h a n s e n

RE: Responses to An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
11/2/09 7:48 AM as a reply to Eric Alan Hansen.
I wanted to express some words of gratitude for sharing your thoughts, knowledge and insights. With metta to all of you.


RE: An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
1/2/11 7:20 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
I dunno, the maps are useful but it's hard to see where I fit into them. I seem to go through cycles of sorts...some days I couldn't give a shit about meditation, buddhism, or anything really, and I'm fairly content to basically not think...sometimes even later that night I can't find satisfaction in anything, which makes me feel irritable and like I'm on fire, just without any physical sensations (other than the mind created stiffness). I sit down and meditate, and I feel better for the time that I'm sitting: calmer, concentrated, still, a greater sense of spaciousness and awareness of the present, and that sort of looseness of mind and body lasts for an indeterminate amount of time. One thing that does seem constant though, if I go a few days without doing either formal meditation or Tai-Chi, I feel progressively less at ease.

Sorry if this isn't the correct place to post, feel free to move my post if that's the case.

RE: An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis
1/11/11 3:49 PM as a reply to Mike Kich.
That need to meditate to feel normal interspersed with feeling of disinterest or aversion to it all combined with hanging out on places like the DhO Forum: classic Dark Night Yogi stuff, meaning you crossed the A&P at some point almost certainly at least once but now in daily life don't have the concentration of someone on, say, a retreat, and so you have the classic description of someone who is in the Dark Night symptomatically but doesn't have the benefit of the concentration of retreats to enjoy the perks, if they can be called that.