Is this Third Path? How to deal with it if it is?

Andrea B, modified 9 Years ago at 1/26/14 5:26 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 1/26/14 2:24 AM

Is this Third Path? How to deal with it if it is?

Posts: 29 Join Date: 4/10/13 Recent Posts
I apologise in advance for the length of this post. I divided it into sections and wrote it in bullet-point paragraphs to improve readability; I also tried to keep it to the essential but unfortunately the essential is a lot. My Dharma story is probably a little unusual, and what I need to figure out is whether I have somehow achieved Stream Entry before I had any formal practice to speak of, whether subsequently (after developing a formal practice) I got Second Path (or was it the First?), whether I am now somehow climbing my way up to Third Path and how to best deal with it.

Part 1

• In 2008, long before I had a meditation practice to speak of (let alone Mahasi-style Dharma), I entered a period of intellectual reflection and pretty engaged introspection whose contours it would be unnecessary to detail here. In retrospect I see unequivocally that it contained significant doses of at least two of the three characteristics (impermanence, suffering). This process of reflection did *not* involve spending time regularly in a secluded space with my eyes closed. It was also not a deliberate process, in the sense that I did not know that I was doing something which was “separate” from the rest of my life.

• This process brought me through different phases from an A&P phase, a Dark Night phase and Equanimity. I am debating with myself whether it produced Stream Entry. The data I am basing this theory on is as follows:

[A] I have a very clear recollection of specific moments which in retrospect can easily be identified as 1) the A&P event 2) the beginning of ñana #6 Fear (several weeks later) and #7 Misery (starting about a month later, and lasting several months), with no clear recollections for the Disgust, Desire for Deliverance or Re-observation phases, although I certainly remember situations and emotional states in a compatible time frame which were very plausibly Disgust and Desire for Deliverance. My recollection and description of all these periods and changes was independent of my knowledge of the Theravada cycle of insight, of which I have learnt only in the past year.

About 7-8 months after the first Fear event, my attitude towards the feelings that were predominant in this period (which affected me deeply and made me barely functional) changed from “let’s ignore them until to go away” to “let’s look them straight in the eye because they ain’t going anywhere”. Some time after this I slowly transited towards a stage which was very plausibly Equanimity. The transition was so slow that only at some point I realised retrospectively that I hadn't been feeling that bad about things recently.

[C] A couple of months after this Equanimity phase there was a period in which I would occasionally see “the bad feelings” surge again briefly, and then be gone shortly without giving much trouble (Dark Night during review?). At the time I interpreted them as a “scar” of what had happened which I believed I would have to carry with me.

[D] I also remembered feeling strange and somewhat worrying hiccups in reality (fruitions?) of which I didn’t think much at the time; they had come after so much mental pain and weirdness that I couldn’t care about them too much. Homer Simpson in one of the Treehouse of Horror episodes has a time-travelling toaster which keeps shooting him back and forth through strange and creepy alternate dimensions. Once he finds a universe in which the only weird thing is his family having lizard tongues, he just shrugs and says “Yeah…close enough”. That sums up my attitude towards these events at the time, so that when they stopped altogether (end of review?) I don’t think I even noticed.

[E] Once this period ended my life resumed as if it had all been a dream, which I was quite happy with, although in hindsight there have been many, little, hard to describe changes which I decided to ignore in the spirit of “Yeah…close enough” and not knowing what to do about them anyway. That period has also been the most significant watershed moment of my adult life, with a clear me-before and a me-after (something which I have considered true long before I knew what “insight disease” was).

[F] After this hypothetical stream entry I went through a period in my life characterised by a certain feeling of freedom and lightness, combined with the perception that I had somehow acquired some strange and pretty cool capacity for concentration and I realised I could play interesting mental tricks in my own head (a skill which I dropped later and whose existence I had even forgot about until very recently).

Note that:

• it was only much later (see Section 2) that I connected the earlier A&P phase (which I attributed to me just being so awesome) to the later phase, which was an utterly disconcerting period of unease which I even thought could be the sudden surfacing of some form of mental illness.
• This period is pretty far back in time. Since it affected me quite badly I didn’t exactly go out of my way to remember its details, and I do not have many fresh memories of it. I suspect I could have planted some memories, since I only now tried to remember certain things because I went looking for them with hindsight knowledge (for example the fruition part, which I had all but forgotten about for years).
• At no point in that period did I tell myself that “emptiness, suffering and impermanence are the three characteristics of perceptive reality”. I never conceptualised or verbalised the no-self/emptiness part throughout that entire time, although with hindsight I see that there was more than an smattering of it at the intuitive level. Impermanence and suffering in some guise or another were present in many of my reflections.
• This “informal” dharma path has been for the most part an eyes-open thing, with me developing concentration and insights when I was thinking intellectually about insight-related topics themselves or other topics, maybe while walking briskly around town or sitting at the computer reading and writing. Whenever now I start developing serious 3C/A&P insight (e.g. see below in Section 2) I have the urge to open my eyes and start fixating a point in space with the “thousand yard stare”.

Part 2

• Fast-forward four years. I got into meditation in 2011, and I tried a few experiments with things which I neither understand nor like much (“generic” vipassana, Goenka), and which did nothing for me. The inspiration was the growing amount of scientific evidence that there is a lot more to meditation than the hippie hogwash that transpires in pop culture. At the end of 2012 I was eventually drawn through acquaintance with people who are familiar with the Mahasi method (and thanks to my allergy for vague fluff and BS) to the DhO, MCTB and the pragmatic dharma community. With the help of a teacher (perfectly competent and capable) I put myself through noting practice for a few months, which led to some insights and a lot of third-eye headaches (incidentally, I have seen this same problem discussed on DhO by other people, with very few answers), after which I decided I needed a retreat.

• In June 2013 I went on retreat, planning to spend at the centre as much as 26 days to get Stream Entry. Mind you: at the time I had not connected any of the previous events to the map of Insight just yet, although with hindsight it seems preposterous. It only goes to show how those events had been filed in my head in completely different conceptual cabinets.

• On retreat I worked my ass off but nothing happened until day 8, when suddenly the third-eye pressure/pain dissolved suddenly (but temporarily) and a vortex of energy and momentous concentration produced incredible and incredibly quickly rising clarity. Over the course of three, maximum four hours the A&P (or something which was a hell lot like it) was in full blast and peaking. Its strength made me think of a quote from the guy who wrote on the NYT about a retreat he had at Daniel’s house: “you wouldn’t believe how hard I can stare at that tree”.

• At some point the A&P event came, and as it was unwinding into Dissolution I realised with profound clarity that I had felt that feeling before. I remembered the exact moment when it occurred back in ’08 and I instantly connected the dots. It happened in such a sudden and dramatic way that it made me feel a little like Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense when he finds out he was dead all along (spoiler I guess?).

• Consider that even as I had this realisation this time I still only imagined that I had journeyed from Zero to Equanimity (as Daniel also said it sometimes happens to some people in daily life), but I didn’t even dream I could have reached Stream Entry previously and on my own.

• Less than a minute after that realisation an unexpected and profound shiver of fear crawled up my spine. I braced for the Dark Night, and felt more and more instances of fear and anxiety throughout the day, but the next morning it was gone.

• The following five days I spent in a placid and somewhat uniform state which must have been Equanimity. The only hard proof I had that it was Equanimity was the fact that I entered quite frequently the Formless Realms whenever concentration was good enough, mistaking them for the door to Stream Entry which I felt I kept missing. I did not know that there were Formless Realms back at that point, or that they could naturally arise during Equanimity, which made scripting them impossible.

• On the thirteenth day of the retreat I tried to catch some rest since I felt very tired, but I was distracted by the usual and continuous third-eye headache (now diminished in strength compared to the early retreat, but still present). As I was staring at it with my head on the pillow, just trying to “come to terms with it”, as I had since the beginning of the retreat, I felt something strange and I raised my head quickly as a napping cat might if he heard a suspicious noise. I felt a slight tingle running through my body, but concluded it could not be Stream Entry since there were no angels and trumpets and stuff (I knew that Stream Entry was not always an angels and trumpets affair, but come on, not even a little trumpet?). I put my head back on the pillow, but within a few minutes I was back up because something simply didn’t feel right. At this point I did not know Ananda’s story, nor was I even hoping to get SE while trying to sleep, so even here no scripting on this front.

• I did a couple of hours of vipassana to check the situation and I identified clearly and unmistakably the revving up of the engine of the A&P and the successive winding down and stabilising of Equanimity. I felt the tendency to restrict the focus on a single point of the A&P and the difficulty in taking in anything less than the entire field of Equanimity. I did not feel anything unpleasant in the place where the DN should have been, much like the real DN had barely been a whimper. Cessations were incredibly faint, to the point where I suspect that scripting them could have been possible. They were certainly a lot fainter than the already faint first one which woke me up. Each review cycle lasted around 20-25 minutes.

• I did not know what to do and I did not have access to expert advice (the monks there were not exactly receptive to the idea I might be anywhere on the path of insight other than at the very beginning, and they had already politely ignored my suggestion that I might have gone through A&P and DN), so the next day I checked myself out and wrote an email to my teacher.

Note that:

• After the retreat this hypothetical review cycle continued to present itself spontaneously for 2-3 weeks in my daily life without the need of vipassana to “check” if something was still going on.
• Mind you that at this point I was still asking myself whether I had completed First Path, not the Second. I was looking for proofs of completion of First Path following the standard 10 fetter model. Over the next few months I observed that I was certainly less angry and had at least some control over cravings (which are in theory hallmarks of 2nd Path). I noticed this change before I even began considering the possibility that it could have been Second Path, so even here little chance for scripting.
• The retreat had felt relatively fruitless in terms of discovering new, interesting destabilising, truths. The only really big reveals (at least the ones which I conceptualised as they were occurring) concerned the nature and consequences of anger, and the clear intuitive viewing of the Self as a process which is generated by the mind whenever it is evoked, rather than something which just sits there and does stuff (all these intuitive epiphanies came when I was in Equanimity).

Part 3

• Not a month after these events I had a chance to spend about six days at Panditarama in Nepal. When I started the retreat I noticed that there was no review cycles going on, and as I went through the early insights I perceived them better and more clearly than before. The pressure on the Third-Eye showed up as usual. On day 5 I was hoping to get some A&P action before the retreat would end, so I really insighted the shit out of anything that happened and somehow managed to ignite something that might or might have not been an A&P, which however did not seem to reach a self-sustaining combustion and petered out within 20 minutes, bringing me back to 3C. Or perhaps I Samadhi-ed myself into imagining an A&P, if such a thing is possible? In any case, this was the first case of “non-linear” progression along the Path I had ever experienced.

• Once I returned home I practiced for about a month, hoping to get the easier Second Path out of the way “from home”, and save the next retreat for Third Path. In less than two weeks however it occurred in a couple of circumstances that I would go from 3C to A&P to pretty scary mini-Dark Nights in less than twenty minutes. At the end I would find myself again in a relatively insight-less territory, or maybe in 3C (with the Third-Eye headache often I can’t tell what is 3C and what is just a headache). These experiences left me a little shaken and decreased my real-world functionality for the rest of the day, so I resolved to just wait until the next retreat in January (now) for more vipassana.

• During the retreat (which just ended after only 10 of 18 days I had planned) Third-eye pain/pressure presented itself as usual and continued throughout the retreat, increasing when I would do focused noting and becoming less prominent when I would try to take in more of my perceptive field. It was without doubt the biggest obstacle (as it usually is) to pour in more motivation into the practice.

• In terms of insight I seemed to do a lot of back-and-forth between what I would say are early insight stages, with a couple of instances of weak A&Ps. On the first day, when I was strangely well concentrated, I even saw what I interpreted to be a mini-Dark Night which lasted for 10 minutes and eventually brought me back where I had started from there was another on day 3. When I noticed some unusual hanky-panky coming from my mind I made the connection with Third Path and I started digging back in my memory to see for proofs of Stream Entry in ’09 (which I have discussed above). The rest of the retreat was still quite strange and more than a little frustrating, with a lot of back and forth between early insights and a weak A&P on day 8. Sometimes I would have a good sense of I-get-it-ness for the three characteristics and the next day or a few hours later it would go away.

• As inspirational material I brought with me the Hurricane Ranch transcripts, in which at some point Daniel discusses the fractal, non-sequential nature of third path (of which my teacher had already told me about in passing). I registered the data as I heard it but it took me a while to make the connection: I normally use my skeptic sense to wonder if I had achieved any paths at all, not whether I had completed more than I might imagine. Knowing all this from about day 4 onwards might have affected the way I felt about the non-sequentiality, although I was expecting this non-sequentiality to start after a clear, stable and powerful A&P phase.

Note that:

• The strongest arguments that I can make myself against being in 3rd Path would seem the fact that I still don’t feel like my intuitive insight is especially strong, that dharma-insights in daily life still feel more like glitches in the Matrix rather than profound changes of perspective, and that I only ever really “got it” intuitively when I was going through the paths themselves, only to go back and be a muggle again once I get back to daily life.
• I am not sure I can tell intuitively what many of the insight stages feel like. The last path I completed six months ago did not seem to have a well-formed, clearly recognisable Dark Night with the exception of a few moments of fear, and the early ñanas #1-2-3 just felt like a lot of noise. On the other hand the alleged first Path in ’08-’09 has sedimented too much for me to clearly see stages as stages rather than simply the fabric of which my life has been made of for the past five years. When I say in section 3 that I experienced a “mini-Dark Night” I only say so because I experienced a certain destabilising feeling which made me shit bricks, not because I can clearly connect it through similarity of texture to some other experience in the recent past which I remember well.
• Until this point I have done no Samadhi work besides what is required for access concentration. I have no idea even what any of the first 4 Jhanas feel like (although I will probably realise I do if I try them), or how to enter them. All the 2nd and 3rd Path discussions I see here puzzle me endlessly when I see people discussing how they use the concentration Jhanas to help themselves moving along Paths.


Thanks for reading until the end, and sorry for the deluge of only possibly relevant data, I hope you found it at least a little interesting. I appreciate the advice and wisdom which this community has shown itself capable of producing overtime and I hope that someone has something interesting to say about all this.
While I would appreciate of course discovering I am in Third Path, I am more specifically interested in defining with some degree of certainty what is going on (regardless of what is going on) so that I can tailor a strategy to move ahead in the near future.

Thanks to everyone again

Florian, modified 9 Years ago at 1/26/14 8:08 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 1/26/14 8:07 AM

RE: Is this Third Path? How to deal with it if it is?

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
There are many maps and models. Here's one I like a lot:

Simple Model

It does not rely heavily on on-cushion experience.

One thing about third path is how the cycles are no longer a useful indicator of progress.

Another thing about it is that there doesn't seem to be anything besides the cycles.

Yet another thing is how good advice in the form of "relax, surrender" and so on is so annoying.

The other bit of good advice, "Keep doing what you're doing" is also annoying, since that doesn't lead anywhere obvious.

All that the surrender/keep going/relax advice is, is encouragement to pay attention to how things already are, cycles and dark nights and the entire huge branching fan of jhanas and ñanas and friends and family and neighbors and public transport and the plastic cup with a bit of dried up coffee dregs in it and so on. That's Dhamma, all of it. There is only one thing going on. The instructions are simple - pay attention to what's going on.

Third Path can suck. You don't have to believe in third path, however. Explore your experience, don't blindly follow maps out of habit.

Andrea B, modified 9 Years ago at 1/29/14 3:35 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 1/29/14 3:35 AM

RE: Is this Third Path? How to deal with it if it is?

Posts: 29 Join Date: 4/10/13 Recent Posts
Hey Florian,

Thanks for the reply, it's well thought out and I agree on the benefits of not counting and just going through the process as it unfolds. I am myself quite sceptical of whether there are "Four Paths" in the first place (it sounds like the typical "capitalised numbered list" which religious organisations come up with and which inevitably over-describe and constrain reality), but which I decided to use in order to have a working model, and especially one which gives a person a sense of progress like a status bar when installing software. It's hard to go through daily practice and even retreats without a sense that one is clearly headed somewhere.

Regardless of the model I use however there seems to be little to do other than soldier on and keep marching ahead letting things unfold as they unfold.
Banned For waht?, modified 9 Years ago at 1/29/14 6:58 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 1/29/14 6:58 AM

RE: Is this Third Path? How to deal with it if it is?

Posts: 500 Join Date: 7/14/13 Recent Posts
Imho there is no paths existing in reality but lost effort.

You will struggle and progress and then turn it into widom(fruition), this way your progress does not dissappear.

Basically nothing is ever lost some people say, is correct. But there is that every next fruition is harder to get. And for example you will struggle 20 years but not make it into wisdom it can be lost.

I hope it will help little bit settle your confusion about paths. The more you progeress the more open your heart is and less likely you will born in lower realms...
Daniel M Ingram, modified 9 Years ago at 1/29/14 7:48 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 1/29/14 7:48 AM

RE: Is this Third Path? How to deal with it if it is?

Posts: 3264 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Andrea B:
Regardless of the model I use however there seems to be little to do other than soldier on and keep marching ahead letting things unfold as they unfold.

One thing to think about:

This field is it, totally, completely, so committing to being totally and very clearly present to this field here and now, all the way through, and abandoning the sense of progress in favor of the sense of immediacy, not in the sense of not working to be present to the immediacy, but in terms of starting to habitually perceive everything that has to do with past and future, with progress and stages, with practice and result, with self and other, and all of that as part of this field, right here, no exceptions.

It is like taking the last stand, the total stand, the complete stand, and in that synchronizing with the thing, finally, utterly, the ultimate settling in, the resolving nothing but this.

It is committing to no way out, Pema Chodron's The Wisdom of No Escape, the Great Taking the One Seat.
Florian, modified 9 Years ago at 2/5/14 11:37 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 2/5/14 11:36 AM

RE: Is this Third Path? How to deal with it if it is?

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi Andrea,

Andrea B:
... but which I decided to use in order to have a working model, and especially one which gives a person a sense of progress like a status bar when installing software. It's hard to go through daily practice and even retreats without a sense that one is clearly headed somewhere.

Here's one exercise found in the MCTB Chapter on "The Three Kayas"which I really like to do and which I have recommended to others, who have responded with mixed enthusiasm emoticon But since I am such a big fan of it, here it is yet again:

MCTB The Three Kayas:
I think that everyone on the spiritual path should occasionally sit down with a piece of paper and list their favorite half of reality that they imagine or wish would be left if they got fully enlightened, and then list all the aspects of reality that they wish or “know” would vanish forever. They should then list the things that they imagine would show up as a result of full realization that are not here now. The differences between these lists often point directly to what blocks the development of wisdom from clear acceptance and understanding of reality.

Andrea B:
Regardless of the model I use however there seems to be little to do other than soldier on and keep marching ahead letting things unfold as they unfold.

You are allowed to have fun, you know? Whenever you do something you enjoy, there will be something practice-related to it. Soldiering on sounds like a drag (unless you enjoy soldiering on, of course).

Ona Kiser seems to be quite happy with the unfolding of things as they unfold, which involved being baptised and becoming Catholic at some point.

Me, I enjoy a bit of goofy Western Wisdom Tradition (a.k.a. Magick).

Not necessarily a third-path specific recommendation, having fun, but important, to me at least.